Beyond the Veil
I was disappointed if not surprised by Sandy Asirvatham's reaction to the suicide of Susannah McCorkle (Underwhelmed, June 6). Disappointed because the otherwise perceptive Asirvatham displays a typical misunderstanding of the nature of depression; unsurprised because this misunderstanding is the result of our culture's love affair with reductionist medical models of complex matters of the spirit.
Depression is not "ultimately no different from cancer or any other disease," just as cancer is not ultimately no different from tuberculosis. Ever since the "conquest" of infectious disease (whoops--we forgot about AIDS), the medical model of identify-the-cause-and-knock-it-out-with-a-drug has been applied to conditions much subtler and more complicated than those triggered by pesky microbes. Depression is a disease of the spirit that manifests in the body; if conceptualizing it as a neurotransmitter imbalance allows us to develop drugs that enable depressed people to function--by our culture's definition of that word--and turns a stigma into the more socially acceptable concept of medical diagnosis, that's fine. But it will never help anyone understand why depressed people sometimes kill themselves.
Depression is an absence of veils, the necessary veils that obscure seeing, feeling, and knowing too much. It doesn't matter what one's circumstances are: If the veils are in place, the worst conditions, the greatest losses and frustrations, will not create the deep, tenacious despair of depression. If they are not--as is often the case for people whose heightened sensitivities make them so creative--then the fact that they may be doing what they love and making other people happy becomes irrelevant. Sometimes, the pain of living with no filters becomes so great that the life that bears it begs for an end. If Asirvatham cannot reconcile her admiration for McCorkle's artistic success with her "inability" to go on living, then her veils are in place. May they never be lifted.
Sandy Asirvatham responds: You are right to point out the grave shortcomings of the "medical model" of depression, but I am not so certain that depression can be defined as an absence of veils. It seems to me that the depressive personality is also capable of creating veils by being ultrasensitive to life's pain but insufficiently sensitive to its joys. I don't know that anyone can be said to live truly "without filters"; some people seem to have a lot of rose-tinting in theirs, while others--especially those with some kind of abuse or trauma in their backgrounds--see everything through a glass darkly.
Is Our Leaders Uniting?
Is anything more fun than reading an expression of all you feel about a politician you can't stand? Wiley Hall III hit the mark with "Burning Bush" (Urban Rhythms, June 6). Unfortunately, it was a mark closer to a bull's-eye before Sen. Jim Jeffords made his move.
I believe Jeffords' defection from the GOP may go down as a political moment as important as that day in 1952 when somebody finally got up the nerve to ask Joseph McCarthy the question that rings down through the years: "Senator McCarthy, have you no shame?" That was the beginning of the end of the red-scare witch hunt that destroyed the lives of many good people.
Jeffords was speaking out at the way the Republican Party has been operating since President Reagan. Ideological purity has been demanded with a fervent and vengeful intensity that would do a Bolshevik proud. It was just bad manners when the GOP enjoyed comfortable majorities in the both houses of Congress. Trouble is, martinets like Tom DeLay, Bob Barr, Dick Armey, and, last but not least, everybody's favorite ex-cheerleader from the University of Mississippi, Trent Lott (God love him), are carrying on as if George W. Bush had gained the presidency by a landslide and he had a filibuster-proof majority. Lott tried the shove the right-wing goose-step agenda down Jim Jeffords' throat, and Jeffords bolted. It was about as stupid a political move as I can remember, and I lived through Watergate!
Lott's response to costing his party control of the Senate? He declares war upon the Democrats! I say, go Trent! It's about time the wing nuts came out the closet and paraded their storm-trooper attitudes in front of all the country-club Republicans who still cling to the belief there is room for them in a political party that winks at the murders of abortion doctors and quietly encourages militia groups at home and fascists abroad with their pro-gun and anti-government rhetoric.
I hope all moderate Republicans will see the light and start a new political party. Much in the manner that, ironically, the Republican Party quickly supplanted the Whigs, a new centrist conservative party would go a long way toward putting the so-called cultural issues that only muddy the waters out of mainstream politics.
The Democrats basically showed left-wing nuts the door when Democratic Leadership Council ideas and policies were given flesh in the person of Bill Clinton. It's time for the GOP to do the same. Is John McCain the man to lead conservatives out of the wilderness? Is Jeffords?
One thing is certain: The moderates, like Weimar Germans, can't pretend they don't know what's going on. If this doesn't result in the isolation of the Republican Party into an extremist third-party movement, then the moderates are moderates like Bush is "a uniter."
Vengeance in Blue
Perhaps Wiley Hall III, in his piece "Black, White, and Gray" (Urban Rhythms, May 30), might have spent half the column on a much more relevant subject, given the point he was trying to make. The context of a comparative analysis between police Commissioner Edward Norris and former commissioner Ron Daniel might have given his readers more to think about. He could have explored the "culture of vengeance" that should have been as central to this column as race was.
He could have explored the lack of outcry over Daniel firing so many officials in so little time, and compared that to the furor over only two of the four officials affected by action taken by Norris after a year. Many of those fired by Daniel were terminated for what appeared to be disloyalty to him. Perhaps, with some knowledge of the facts, Hall could have explored how race played into Daniel's loyalty to the police department and the city that he served.
Loyalty, vengeance, and race all played a part in what transpired with Daniel. Daniel made comments about then-commissioner Thomas Frazier that were reported to Frazier. A rift ensued. It widened when Daniel called Frazier a racist during sworn testimony in a deposition. If you consider that Daniel withheld damaging information about the plaintiff in that lawsuit, it makes you wonder who was disloyal and who was racist.
Without the facts, all the facts, there can be nothing more than speculation about race as an issue in the Baltimore City Police Department. By failing to touch on the "culture of vengeance" in the department, Mr. Hall's comments fall short of what his readers and Commissioner Norris deserve.
Teachers' Pet Peeve
I have been catching up on some of Wiley Hall III's past columns. I felt I had to comment on the May 16 one concerning education (Urban Rhythms). At one time, I "tread the boards" as a teacher at South Philadelphia High School. While I agree that more standardized tests are not the answer, I am troubled by Hall's idea that things can be improved instantaneously by parents marching down to the school and agitating. Sure, that will get something, a grade change or something else to satisfy the mob. But will it change the education of your kids? I doubt it--the principal will do anything to get you out of his or her office.
Are you concerned about uncertified teachers? There was an interesting story in that issue of the paper concerning teacher training (Mobtown Beat, May 16). Some of those uncertified teachers have advanced degrees but lack the education-course credits to make them fully credentialed. Do you think a person can teach better with more teaching credits, or do you think that a teacher is born, not made? I do, and I have seen many instances that lead me to believe it is true. But the thing that I think can guarantee effective education is parental interest and long-term involvement.
One particular interest that can be taken is that of budget. How much money does your school system get, and where does it actually go? Why does it go there? How many staff members are in the supervisor's office and why? How many people do you really require to do curriculum development at a staff level? Does the school administration own cars? Why? Who gets them? Why? Is your administration staff so bloated and overpopulated that very little money gets to the school? What would happen if you made every person justify his or her position? I think you would really be surprised at the results of a good, hard look at where the dollars are going. By the way, I am sorry I missed the reparations column; I have seen a few of the letters it generated.
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