Later On

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Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

81 Awesome Mental Health Resources When You Can’t Afford a Therapist

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I’ve added this link to the list of links at the right.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2018 at 8:33 am

Posted in Mental Health

Michael Pollan: “My Adventures with the Trip Doctors”

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Michael Pollan writes in the NY Times Magazine:

My first psilocybin journey began around an altar in the middle of a second-story loft in a suburb of a small city on the Eastern Seaboard. On this adventure I would have a guide, a therapist who, like an unknown number of other therapists administering psychedelics in America today, must work underground because these drugs are illegal. Seated across the altar from me, Mary (who asked that I use a nickname because of the work she does) began by reciting, with her eyes closed, a long and elaborate prayer derived from various Native American traditions. My eyes were closed, too, but now and again I couldn’t resist peeking out for a glance at my guide: a woman in her 60s with long blond hair parted in the middle and high cheekbones that I mention only because they would, in a few hours, figure in her miraculous transformation into a Mexican Indian.

I also stole a few glances at the scene: the squash-colored loft with its potted plants and symbols of fertility and female power; the embroidered purple fabric from Peru that covered the altar; and the collection of items arrayed across it, including an amethyst in the shape of a heart, a purple crystal holding a candle, a bowl containing a few squares of dark chocolate, the personal “sacred item” that Mary had asked me to bring (a little bronze Buddha a friend brought me from Tibet) and, set squarely before me, an antique plate holding the biggest psilocybin mushroom I had ever seen.

The crowded altar also held a branch of sage and a stub of palo santo, a fragrant wood that some Indians in South America burn ceremonially, and the jet-black wing of a crow. At various points in the ceremony, Mary would light the sage and the palo santo, using the crow’s wing to “smudge” me with the smoke — guiding the spirits through the space around my head.

The whole scene must sound ridiculously hokey, not to mention laced with cultural appropriation, yet the conviction Mary brought to the ceremony, together with the aromas of the burning plants and the spooky sound of the wing pulsing the air around my head — plus my own nervousness about the journey in store — cast a spell that allowed me to suspend my disbelief. Mary trained under one of the revered “elders” in the psychedelic community, an 80-something psychologist who was one of Timothy Leary’s graduate students at Harvard. But I think it was her manner, her sobriety and her evident compassion that made me feel sufficiently comfortable to entrust her with, well, my mind.

As a child growing up outside Providence, R.I., Mary was an enthusiastic Catholic, she says, “until I realized I was a girl” — a fact that would disqualify her from ever performing the rituals she cherished. Her religiosity lay dormant until, in college, friends gave her a pot of honey infused with psilocybin for her birthday; a few spoonfuls of the honey “catapulted me into a huge change,” she told me the first time we met. The reawakening of her spiritual life led her onto the path of Tibetan Buddhism and eventually to take the vow of an initiate: “ ‘To assist all sentient beings in their awakening and enlightenment.’ Which is still my vocation.”

And now seated before her in her treatment room was me, the next sentient being on deck, hoping to be awakened. She asked me to state my intention, and I answered: to learn whatever the “mushroom teachers,” as she called them, could teach me about myself and about the nature of consciousness.

PSYCHEDELIC THERAPY, whether for the treatment of psychological problems or as a means of facilitating self-exploration and spiritual growth, is undergoing a renaissance in America. This is happening both underground, where the community of guides like Mary is thriving, and aboveground, at institutions like Johns Hopkins, New York University and U.C.L.A., where a series of drug trials have yielded notably promising results.

I call it a renaissance because much of the work represents a revival of research done in the 1950s and 1960s, when psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin were closely studied and regarded by many in the mental health community as breakthroughs in psychopharmacology. Before 1965, there were more than 1,000 published studies of psychedelics involving some 40,000 volunteers and six international conferences dedicated to the drugs. Psychiatrists were using small doses of LSD to help their patients access repressed material (Cary Grant, after 60 such sessions, famously declared himself “born again”); other therapists administered bigger so-called psychedelic doses to treat alcoholism, depression, personality disorders and the fear and anxiety of patients with life-threatening illnesses confronting their mortality.

That all changed in the mid-’60s, after Timothy Leary, the Harvard psychologist and lecturer turned psychedelic evangelist, began encouraging kids to “turn on, tune in and drop out.” Silly as that slogan sounds to our ears, a great many kids appeared to follow his counsel, much to the horror of their parents. The drugs fell into the eager embrace of a rising counterculture, influencing everything from styles of music and dress to cultural mores, and, many thought, inspired the questioning of adult authority that marked the “generation gap.” “The kids who take LSD aren’t going to fight your wars,” Leary famously claimed. In 1971, President Nixon called Leary, who by then had been drummed out of academia and chased by the law, “the most dangerous man in America.” That same year, the Controlled Substances Act took effect; it classified LSD and psilocybin as Schedule 1 drugs, meaning that they had a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use; possession or sale became a federal crime. (MDMA, which was still being used therapeutically, was not banned until 1985, after it became popular as a party drug called Ecstasy.) Funding for research dried up, and the legal practice of psychedelic therapy came to a halt.

But beginning in the 1990s, a new generation of academics quietly began doing psychedelics research again, much of it focusing on people with cancer. Since then, several dozen studies using psychedelic compounds have been completed or are underway. In a pair of Phase 2 psilocybin trials at Hopkins and N.Y.U., 80 cancer patients, many of them terminal, received a moderately high dose of psilocybin in a session guided by two therapists. Patients described going into their body and confronting their cancer or their fear of death; many had mystical experiences that gave them a glimpse of an afterlife or made them feel connected to nature or the universe in a way they found comforting. The studies, which were published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology in December 2016, reported that 80 percent of the Hopkins volunteers had clinically significant reductions in standard measurements of depression and anxiety, improvements that endured for at least six months.

Other, smaller studies of psilocybin have found that one, two or three guided sessions can help alcoholics and smokers overcome their addictions; in the case of 15 smokers treated in a 2014 pilot study at Hopkins, 80 percent of the volunteers were no longer smoking six months after their first psychedelic session, a figure that fell to 67 percent after a year — which is far better than the best treatment currently available. The psychedelic experience appears to give people a radical new perspective on their own lives, making possible a shift in worldview and priorities that allows them to let go of old habits.

Yet researchers believe it is not the molecules by themselves that can help patients change their minds. The role of the guide is crucial. People under the influence of psychedelics are extraordinarily suggestible — “think of placebos on rocket boosters,” a Hopkins researcher told me — with the psychedelic experience profoundly affected by “set” and “setting” — that is, by the volunteer’s interior and exterior environments. For that reason, treatment sessions typically take place in a cozy room and always in the company of trained guides. The guides prepare volunteers for the journey to come, sit by them for the duration and then, usually on the day after a session, help them to “integrate,” or make sense of, the experience and put it to good use in changing their lives. The work is typically referred to as “psychedelic therapy,” but it would be more accurate to call it “psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.”

Though the university researchers seldom talk about it, much of the collective wisdom regarding how best to guide a psychedelic session resides in the heads of underground guides like Mary. These are the people who, in many cases, continued to do this work illicitly, long after the backlash against psychedelics during the 1960s ended most research and therapy. But their role in the current renaissance is an awkward one, as I discovered early this spring when I sat in on the nation’s first certificate program for aspiring psychedelic guides.

ON A FRIDAY AFTERNOON in late March, 64 health care professionals of various stripes — doctors, therapists, nurses, counselors and naturopaths — gathered in Namaste Hall at the California Institute of Integral Studies (C.I.I.S.), a school of psychology and social sciences in San Francisco, to begin their training to become legal psychedelic therapists. To be admitted to the program, an applicant must have a professional medical or therapy license of some kind, and most of the trainees — whose average age looked to be about 45 and whose number included nine psychologists, nine psychiatrists and four oncologists — had enrolled in this certificate program in the belief that psychedelic drugs like psilocybin and MDMA, administered with the proper support and guidance, hold the potential to revolutionize mental health treatment. The career path might not be clear or straight yet, but these people want to be ready to lead that revolution when it arrives — which may be sooner than we think.

It quickly became clear that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. A note at the end:

This article is adapted from “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence,” published by Penguin Press. Read the book review here.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2018 at 1:12 pm

Can Psychedelic Drugs Do Good?

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Jason Diamond writes in The New Republic:

On October 29th, 1966, the Austin-based band 13th Floor Elevators performed their psych-rock hit, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” on American Bandstand. It’s an incredible song, but not one of the greatest performances. The band is lip-synching and obviously high off their asses. Singer Roky Erickson’s manic voice and demonic yelp don’t sound like what you’d hear on the radio in those days (or any day, really). What makes the clip memorable is when Dick Clark thrusts the microphone in the face of the band’s jug player, Tommy Hall. Clark, America’s preeminent cool old guy at the time, asks, “Who is the head of the group, gentlemen?” Hall replies: “We’re all heads.”

Author Michael Pollan was eleven years old when that episode of Bandstand aired. It hit the airwaves just six months after Life magazine released an editorial boldly titled “LSD: Control, not Prohibition,” and two months after the Beatles released what was their most acid-inspired album to date, Revolver. But Pollan wasn’t paying much attention to any of that. As he writes in the prologue to his latest book, How to Change Your Mind, he was born “halfway through the decade that psychedelics first burst onto the scene,” but he considers himself “less a child of the psychedelic 1960s than of the moral panic psychedelics provoked.”

One of the aims of his book is to correct that sense of panic. It’s a rare take on psychedelics that does not come dressed up in a cheesy colorful montage and backed by the sounds of the Doors and Jefferson Airplane. Pollan takes his time to show what LSD and 5-MeO-DMT (also known as “The toad,” smoked venom of the Sonoran Desert toad) can actually do: He reaches for enlightenment, and drags us along for the ride. He documents the positive effects of these drugs, from curing addiction to bringing relief to cancer patients, and shares some of his own experiences. As America struggles to help people who deal with addiction and mental health issues, Pollan supplies ample evidence that substances like LSD and psilocybin could actually help—if we’d just move past what we thought we knew.

Derived from the ergot fungi, Albert Hoffman accidentally created LSD in a Swiss lab in 1938. Within a decade, it was being used commercially in Europe for psychiatric use. By the time it made its way to the United States in 1949, scientists were split over the question of how it should be used. As Pollan lays out in his succinct history, some researchers believed that the drug originally known as psychotomimetic, “held promise as a tool for understanding psychosis.” Aldous Huxley famously tripped on his deathbed, while Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, believed that a hallucinogenic experience on the plant-derived alkaloid belladonna helped him become sober.

In the mid-1950s, Wilson attempted to introduce LSD into AA treatment, but his colleagues felt that introducing a mind-altering substance into treatment went against the organization’s core mission. By that point, the drug was already gaining a bad reputation among some doctors, but mostly thanks to a misunderstanding of how to administer it. Some, like Abram Hoffer and Humphry Osmond considered psychedelic experience “a key factor in the therapy,” which could lead alcoholics to “something closer to transcendence, or spiritual epiphany.” But other trials put test subjects in constraints, blindfolded them or both. This, of course, led to more than a few bad trips, and, Pollan writes, “critics of treating alcoholics with LSD concluded that the treatment didn’t work as well under rigorously controlled conditions.”

Some groups actively looked to weaponize the drug. One popular myth throughout the 60s was that terrorists were plotting to dump LSD into the water supplies of American and European cities. During the 1968 Democratic convention, rumors swirled that Yippie protesters, led by Abbie Hoffman, were conspiring to spike Chicago’s reservoir. Yet somewhat ironically, it was the CIA that came closest to using LSD for ill, when, starting in 1953 and only officially ending twenty years later in 1973, they carried out mind control experiments, secretly dosing subjects with the drug and observing their behavior.

Ultimately, prohibition won out. LSD was made illegal in 1968. Its connection to the growing counterculture made it appear more of a threat than a cure for anything. By the time the 1980s rolled around, psychedelic drugs had undergone an extensive smearing. Any discussion of possible medical benefit fell silent. From after-school specials dramatizing the devastating effects of drugs to the harsh law enforcement policies of the War on Drugs, the message was that if you took psychedelics, you could lose your mind and even your life. Pollan doesn’t review these psychedelic dark ages much, although he does devote a hefty page count to the work of underground scientists who kept researching these drugs through the 80s and 90s, believing that the maligned substances could be used for good. Those doctors and scientists helped inspire a new generation of researchers, some of whom are now funded by universities, while others still operate illegally and in secret.

In a chapter headed “The Trip Treatment,” Pollan observes the university-funded programs as he delves into psychedelic therapies for quitting smoking. The results are significant. As Pollan points out, giving up cigarettes is considered by some to be tougher than getting off heroin. Yet, after being administered a psychedelic, one patient finds that cigarettes simply “became irrelevant, so I stopped.” This patient participated in the Johns Hopkins smoking cessation pilot study that combined cognitive behavioral therapy with a compound containing psilocybin, the chemical that gives some mushrooms psychedelic properties. The reason this treatment is effective remains the subject of some debate. Pollan notes, “it may be that the loss of self leads to a gain in meaning,” and says explaining the change can’t be explained biologically “yet.”

Pollan compares the patient’s experience to the experience of astronauts who report that, having gone into space and looked down at the “pale blue dot” that is their home planet, their ego vanished. The idea is that taking psilocybin allows patients to confront “the immensity of the universe,” “making possible a shift in worldview and priorities that allowed them to let go of old habits.” Psychedelics can switch things in the brain around, in what amounts to a reorganization of the mental furniture. Pollan theorizes that psychedelics “relax the brain’s inhibition on visualizing our thoughts, thereby rendering them more authoritative, memorable, and sticky.”

These effects may also be therapeutic at the end of life. While some of the people Pollan talks with are trying to live longer and be healthier, some have decided to undergo testing with psychedelics as they come face to face with their own mortality. “I am the luckiest man on earth,” notes Patrick, a man dying of cancer, who participated in an NYU psilocybin trial. Throughout his sessions, he talks of “something beyond this physical body,” and the cancer as a “type of illusion.” For every report of a “bad trip,” there are a dozen stories of profound enlightenment and happiness experienced by people who have dropped acid or taken mushrooms.

Pollan had his whole life to try psychedelics, but for the baby boomer journalist, there was no dropping acid in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead show in the 1970s or anything like that. Pollan, who says early in the book that he tried magic mushrooms “two or three times in my late twenties,” only started experimenting in earnest in his sixties. “I’m not sure what I was waiting for: courage, maybe, or the right opportunity, which a busy life lived on the right side of the law never quite seemed to afford.”

In the chapter entitled “Travelogue,” he goes on three different trips. The guide who gives him LSD for “Trip One,” is the son of a man who served in the SS during World War II.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2018 at 9:26 am

Your Best Tips for Beating Burnout

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Burnout has not been a problem since retiring, but it hit me a few times along the way, starting in my sophomore year of college. Tim Herrera has some suggestions in the NY Times:

Last week we talked about what to do when you’re feeling burned out, and the response was overwhelming — in the best way possible.

Hundreds of readers shared insightful advice about dealing with burnout, but more important, reader after reader was thankful we’re simply talking about burnout and acknowledging how it can affect our everyday lives.

One reader whose partner has cancer said getting outside to feel the warmth of the sun helped her with the stress. A college student on the verge of full burnout said hard-core Netflix bingeing is helping out during finals. The broad message was clear: Everyone feels burned out sometimes, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Below are a few of my favorite responses. If you have a tip you’d like to add, tweet me @timherrera or email me

Have a great week!

• “When I feel burned out at work, I read the cover letter I wrote to get this job.” — Pamela Kaye

• “Whenever I feel burned out, I love to listen to music and organize things. My room is in a constant state of disarray, so I always have something to clean there, and feeling like I have something under my control always makes me feel less overwhelmed.” — Erin Farmer

• “There are phases when I feel stuck between being overwhelmed yet feeling unmotivated to address it.

When I recognize this pattern, it’s time for me to plan a break. Two or three times a year I mentally book a “sick day” where I won’t book any meetings or important tasks, and instead I take a day for myself at the beach, get a massage, eat lunch at my favorite restaurant or take a leisurely walk.

What makes it special is that I don’t tell anyone about these days off, including my family, so that I’m not accountable to anyone or needing to explain myself (for a change!). I also enjoy the anticipation of that private day off and mentally planning it when I feel stressed.” — Anonymous (“Just hope my manager doesn’t see”)

• “I’m a student at Carthage College and just like other students around the country, I too face the challenge of burning myself out. So I had to develop a system that would thrust me forward and help me finish my school years.

1. Take time for yourself.

2. Make friends, particularly those who are in the same field as you.

3. Set small goals.

4. Take breaks.

5. Keep a journal.

6. Recognize your vices but do not abuse them.” — Aaron Bollinger

• “I’m in an epic burnout phase, as I type this. My burnout is not professional, but comes from repetitive negativity in my personal life. Like working for a boss who says your work isn’t good enough.

I am handling this exhaustion and stress by making my own life nicer, buying myself a new dress, or getting a pedicure and a Frappuccino. It’s good to remember who we are, and how we are more than the situation we’re burdened by.” — Jenny Alford

• “I always tell my team at work to ‘eat the frog.’ The thing you are procrastinating most is probably the thing you really hate doing — that’s your frog. When you get to work in the morning and eat the frog, it will increase how productive you are for the rest of the day. We tend to joke about it and use it “to hold each other accountable. When someone follows up with a task that is overdue, the response is often something like, ‘Ribbbit! Yummy frog!’” — Nicole Johansson

• “When I am starting to feel burned out, I find that I have to start saying “no” to things and give myself permission to take a break and just do nothing. I also sometimes have to ask for help and to delegate tasks. Even taking half a day can help enormously.” — Lindsay McDonald . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2018 at 10:59 am

Envy’s hidden hand

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James Suzman, an anthropologist and head of the Cambridge-based research and support group Anthropos, has in Aeon an extract from his latest book is Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen:

Selfish traits such as envy have a bad reputation. They are, after all, ‘deadly sins’, ‘impurities of the heart’ and, according to the Summa Theologica (1485) of Thomas Aquinas, their ‘object is contrary to charity, whence the soul derives its spiritual life’. And it is not just Catholicism that has it in for them. All major religions decree that a special kind of damnation awaits those in thrall to the green-eyed monster.

Yet, as socially corrosive as it might appear, there is an awful lot of envy about. Social media is saturated in it. So much so that it has spawned a flourishing new line of business for therapists, as well as a range of new diagnostic terms such as ‘Facebook envy’.

Reflecting its amplification in social media, envy has now moved from the shadows of the corridors of power to centre stage. But beyond headline-grabbing squabbles about inauguration turnouts and sniping on social media, envy plays a far more profound role in shaping our choices and actions than most of us would care to admit. This is not just because it often masquerades as ambition. Nor is it because so many of us now conflate self-worth with impossible expectations.

Rather, it is because envy served an important, if surprising, evolutionary purpose, one that helps us to reconcile this most selfish of traits with the sociability that was so critical to the extraordinary success of our species. If the behaviour of 20th-century hunter-gather societies is anything to go by, over and above its obvious selective benefits for individuals, envy formed part of the cocktail of traits that ultimately assisted Homo sapiens to form and maintain strong social groups.

Nyae-Nyae in Namibia’s Kalahari Desert is a synonym for remoteness in a country where everything is remote. It is also home to the Ju/’hoansi ‘Bushmen’, the best-documented hunting and gathering community on the planet. But no one in Nyae-Nyae depends exclusively on hunting and gathering any more. A half-century of land dispossession, well-meaning if ineffective economic development programmes and a decade of military occupation make it no longer possible for the Ju/’hoansi to live as their ancestors did.

But research conducted among the Ju/’hoansi in the 1950s and ’60s when they could still hunt and gather freely turned established views of social evolution on their head. Up until then, it was widely believed that hunter-gatherers endured a near-constant battle against starvation, and that it was only with the advent of agriculture that we began to free ourselves from the capricious tyranny of nature. When in 1964 a young Canadian anthropologist, Richard Borshay Lee, conducted a series of simple economic input/output analyses of the Ju/’hoansi as they went about their daily lives, he revealed that not only did they make a good living from hunting and gathering, but that they were also well-nourished and content. Most remarkably, his research revealed that the Ju/’hoansi managed this on the basis of little more than 15 hours’ work per week. On the strength of this finding, the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins in Stone Age Economics (1972) renamed hunter-gatherers ‘the original affluent society’.

This research also revealed that the Ju/’hoansi were able to make a good living from a sparse environment because they cared little for private property and, above all, were ‘fiercely egalitarian’, as Lee put it. It showed that the Ju/’hoansi had no formalised leadership institutions, no formal hierarchies; men and women enjoyed equal decision-making powers; children played largely noncompetitive games in mixed age groups; and the elderly, while treated with great affection, were not afforded any special status or privileges. This research also demonstrated how the Ju/’hoansi’s ‘fierce egalitarianism’ underwrote their affluence. For it was their egalitarianism that ensured that no-one bothered accumulating wealth and simultaneously enabled limited resources to flow organically through communities, helping to ensure that even in times of episodic scarcity everyone got more or less enough.

There is no question that this dynamic was very effective. If a society is judged by its endurance over time, then this was almost certainly the most successful society in human history – and by a considerable margin. New genomic analyses suggest that the Ju/’hoansi and their ancestors lived continuously in southern Africa from soon after modern H sapiens settled there, most likely around 200,000 years ago. Recent archaeological finds across southern Africa also indicate that key elements of the Ju/’hoansi’s material culture extend back at least 70,000 years and possibly long before. As importantly, genome mutation-rate analyses suggest that the broader population group from which the Ju/’hoansi descended, the Khoisan, were not only the largest population of H sapiens, but also did not suffer population declines to the same extent as other populations over the past 100,000 years.

Taken in tandem with the fact that other well-documented hunting and gathering societies, from the Mbendjele BaYaka of Congo to the Agta in the Philippines (whose most recent common ancestor with the Ju/’hoansi was around 150,000 years ago), were similarly egalitarian, this suggests that the Ju/’hoansi’s direct ancestors were almost certainly ‘fiercely egalitarian’ too.

Ju/’hoansi egalitarianism was not born of the ideological dogmatism that we associate with 20th-century Marxism or the starry-eyed idealism of New Age ‘communalism’. There was no manifesto of ‘primitive communism’. Rather, it was the organic outcome of interactions between people acting explicitly in their own self-interest in a highly individualistic society. This was because, among foraging Ju/’hoansi, self-interest was always policed by its shadow, envy – which, in turn, ensured that everyone always got a fair share, and that those with the natural charisma and authority to ‘lead’ exercised it with great circumspection. This was best exemplified in the customary ‘insulting’ of the hunter’s meat.

Skilled Ju/’hoansi hunters needed a thick skin. For while a particularly spectacular kill was always cause for celebration, the hunter responsible was insulted rather than flattered. Regardless of the size or condition of the carcass, those due a share of the meat would complain that the kill was trifling, that it was barely worth the effort of carrying it back to camp, or that there wouldn’t be enough meat to go round. For his part, the hunter was expected to be almost apologetic when he presented the carcass.

Of course, everyone knew the difference between a scrawny kill and a good one but continued to pass insults even while they were busy filling their bellies. Hunters rarely took the insults to heart, and those dishing them out often did so through broad grins. This was a performance in which everyone played well-rehearsed roles. But it was also a performance with a clear purpose, as beneath the light-hearted insults lay a sharp and potentially vicious edge.

More than any other food, meat was capable of making the Ju/’hoansi forget their customary good manners, so it required extra diligence in distribution. It also meant that there was a risk that particularly skilled and energetic hunters might begin to consider others to be in their debt, so fracturing the delicate egalitarian balance that sustained band (or small kin-group) life. The insults ensured that individual hunters took care not to be so successful that they stood out or, worse still, began to imagine themselves to be more important than others.

One Ju/’hoansi man gave Lee a particularly eloquent explanation of this, quoted in The Dobe Ju/’hoansi (1984): . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2018 at 11:10 am

“We Wouldn’t Need the Suicide Hotline If Dairy Farmers Were Getting Paid What They Deserve”

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Rowan Walrath writes in Mother Jones:

Brenda Cochran was a self-described “city girl” before she married her husband in 1973. He was a dairy farmer, so she joined him on a small farm in Pennsylvania. They’ve been working together since 1975. Cochran says that if she’d known how difficult dairy farming would be today, she never would have done it.  “We have rampant corruption in the agricultural and food policies of this country,” she says. “So corrupt that until we get everybody who eats up in arms, more and more farmers are going to go out of business. They’re going to be the ones who take their own lives.”

Farmers, fishermen, and forestry workers, who are lumped together by government statisticians, have the highest suicide rate of any occupational cluster: 84.5 self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 workers, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis—that would have amounted to almost 900 suicides in 2016. (The CDC does not break out data for farmers specifically.) Cochran says she personally knows of two dairy farmers who have killed themselves since February.

In general, farmers—at the whims of large agribusinesses, supply and demand, and the weather—always face some degree of uncertainty, with some worries exacerbated by President Donald Trump’s brewing trade war with China. Members of a coalition of agricultural interests, including the National Farmers Union, co-signed a letter in April asking Congress to provide funding for helplines and mental health support groups for agricultural workers. But in dairy circles, the stress is coming to a head as a result of long-standing policies that have nothing to do with Trump.

Dairy farmers in the United States are paid by the hundredweight—that’s 100 pounds of milk, about 12 gallons. Milk prices, after peaking in 2014, have plummeted to roughly $15 per hundredweight, forcing many dairy farmers to operate in the red. Tina Carlin, executive director of Farm Women United and a Pennsylvania farmer herself, says the cost of production ranges from $22 to $25 per hundredweight. “We wouldn’t need the suicide hotline, we wouldn’t need the mental health services, if dairy farmers were getting paid what they deserve to be paid,” Carlin says. She and her husband quit dairy farming in 2012, switching to beef and vegetable crops.

As president of Farm Women United, Cochran is lobbying Congress alongside Carlin to institute a $20 emergency floor price on every hundredweight of milk. The women have also advocated public hearings, but with little progress so far. Since February, Carlin has written three letters to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.). An aide responded after the third one, but she has not heard anything since: “His agricultural aide said that he would circle around, and he has not circled around,” she says. Casey’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lorraine Lewandrowski, a lawyer and dairy farmer in Herkimer County, New York, agrees that a $20 emergency floor price would help in the short term. Long term, though, the dairy pricing system isn’t necessarily designed to benefit family farmers

Here’s how it works: Class I milk—the kind you buy off the shelf—brings farmers the most money. Then come three other classes, ranging from powdered milk to cheese and yogurt. “I would say the milk pricing formula is by and away the most important thing in terms of what we end up with,” Lewandrowski says. “When the government has the formula and you go by that formula, it can work for you, or it can work against you.”

As it stands, she says, the system incentivizes farmers to produce more and more milk as prices drop in reaction to oversupply. She would prefer a system more like Canada’s, where farmers are not allowed to sell more than quotas set for them by the federal government.

This certainly isn’t the first time milk producers have been hit by hard times. In 2009, prices were down around $11 per hundredweight—but this time, small farmers aren’t optimistic about a rebound. “We are seeing a number of very large farms coming on line and also expanding that we didn’t see nine years ago,” Lewandrowski says—and that makes the smaller players “very, very anxious.”

Legislation introduced in March by Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) would make mental health treatment accessible to farmers, but that bill remains with an agriculture subcommittee. “Last Sunday, my neighbor just collapsed crying in the barn,” Lewandrowski says. “Her family called, and my sister and I went over there. She just sat there sobbing and said she couldn’t cope with the debt anymore. She couldn’t take it.”

“Small and medium-size dairy farmers are really attached to their cows,” she adds. “They really don’t want to just send their cows to be slaughtered. A truck would come and take everybody, and everybody would be killed.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2018 at 5:00 pm

Oregon Doctors Warned That a Killer and Rapist Would Likely Attack Again. Then the State Released Him. Then He Murdered Again.

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Oregon needs some attention. Jayme Fraser reports in ProPublica:

In September 2015, Oregon’s Psychiatric Security Review Board faced a decision with potentially momentous consequences for public safety. Sitting before them in a small hearing room at the state hospital was Charles Longjaw, a 50-year-old killer and rapist judged to be guilty except for insanity.

A state psychologist warned that Longjaw was likely to resume his abuse of alcohol and drugs if the board released him from strict supervision. Once drunk or high, he would be unable to restrain impulses that had previously led to a brutal murder, an attempted murder and a vicious rape. He would attack again if “he feels disrespected or threatened in some fashion,” she wrote. “The victim could be a stranger or a friend.”

For reasons that have much to do with the limits of Oregon law, the three board members present that day decided to release Longjaw, regardless of the danger. Under the relevant state statute, the board concluded, he could no longer be classified as criminally insane.

“You are discharged,” the chairwoman said.

“Thank you,” Longjaw replied at the end of a nearly two-hour hearing in which he had not testified.

A little more than a year later, Longjaw was in handcuffs facing new murder charges.

About 6 p.m. on a November night in 2016, he repeatedly plunged a knife into the stomach and arm of a homeless man as they argued on a downtown Portland sidewalk. He walked away after the attack, leaving the man mortally wounded.

Longjaw is not the only person judged criminally insane in Oregon who was charged with violent crimes shortly after being released from state control.

Two weeks after he was arrested, the state board met again to consider the release of another man doctors had determined to be a danger to the public — Anthony W. Montwheeler. And just as in the Longjaw case, the Psychiatric Security Review Board ruled it had no grounds to hold Montwheeler under state law. After 19 years of overseeing Montwheeler’s treatment and movements, the board ruled he was free to go on Dec. 7, 2016.

Four weeks later, Montwheeler killed two people and severely injured a third near the Oregon farming town of Vale, prosecutors have charged.

Longjaw and Montwheeler were free because the state board itself is handcuffed by laws that haven’t been modified despite such high-profile cases.

Like most states, Oregon does not imprison people who commit crimes while in a diminished mental state. A court can send someone for mental health treatment rather than prison if he or she could not understand or follow the law because of a mental illness.

Over time, Oregon lawmakers and judges have narrowed the conditions covered by a plea of “guilty except for insanity,” eliminating defendants who only suffer from personality disorders and psychosis caused by substance use. Legislators intended to make it more difficult to escape criminal prosecution.

As a result, some people previously judged legally insane suddenly were eligible for release.

Longjaw was one such case. Doctors had said his mental illness arose from his abuse of alcohol and drugs, a condition that no longer qualified for an insanity plea.

Board officials said that under Oregon law they had no duty to warn the public of Longjaw’s release and no authority to monitor him once he was sent into the community. In interviews, an agency official said no one tracks the conduct of people like Longjaw once they are released from supervision.

The Malheur Enterprise has reported deeply on Montwheeler, who is awaiting trial and has said he intends to rely on the insanity defense again. The Oregon newspaper, based in Vale, has partnered with ProPublica to take a close look at this system. Together, the Enterprise and ProPublica are investigating how often someone found criminally insane leaves state supervision and returns to crime, why the state released people in the face of repeated warnings they were dangerous, and what changes might better protect the public without sacrificing the rights of those with mental illness or disabilities. The reporting team is reviewing the records of more than 600 people that the Psychiatric Security Review Board has placed in community programs or set free over the last 10 years.

Board members, appointed by the governor, declined multiple interview requests. Chairwoman Elena Balduzzi, a Portland psychologist who treats sex offenders, said in February that it was not the job of board members to speak to the public. She is the only current member who was involved in the 2015 decision to release Longjaw.

But in response to written questions, the board said it is “always on the lookout for ways to improve the system.” Asked to identify internal reviews or changes as a result of the Longjaw case, the board provided none.

“Bad — and sometimes serious — outcomes occur in many arenas, even when everything is done appropriately under applicable law and other guidelines,” the board wrote. . .

Continue reading.

Read also the ProPublica article Oregon Board Explains Why It Repeatedly Released Killer From Psychiatric Hospital.”

And definitely read “How an Oregon Weekly Forced Release of Key Records in Murder Cases.” That articles describes the state’s efforts to cover up what they had done.

A free investigative press is vital. The government often has its own best interests at heart, not the best interests of the public. (Cf. Mick Mulvaney, Donald Trump, Scot Pruitt, et al.)

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2018 at 12:59 pm

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