It’s just three weeks now since Cascadia lost Alex Dold, another young man killed by the combination of untreated mental illness, untrained police, and a broken mental health care system. Alex, 29, fell into crisis and—haunted by the demons created by his mental illness—became a danger to himself and his family. Desperate to protect him, his loved ones called 911. The officers who responded, unequipped to de-escalate a mental health crisis and unfairly expected to fill the hole where our mental health care system ought to be, used their Taser. Alex died.
To be sure, we need better police training—one-quarter of people killed by police last year in the United States were in the grips of the extreme mind states caused by mental illness—but we need much more than that. We need to build a civilized mental health care system. Ten times as many Americans with severe mental illnesses are currently locked in jails and prisons as are recovering in residential psychiatric care facilities. Cascadia can do better.
To gain insight into this crisis, I especially recommend the first chapter of “My Damn Mind,” on the This American Life podcast. It is a revealing look behind the veil at the extreme states of mind that afflict about one in every hundred adults, sufferers of bipolar and schizophrenia. A young Haitian-American man named Alan Pean narrates one of his own manic episodes and the tragedy that it unleashes: he admits himself to a Houston hospital seeking care and ends up handcuffed, Tasered, and shot in the chest by untrained security guards. The New York Times did a feature on the same incident and the larger trend of shootings and mental illness in hospitals.
“Five ways to reduce racial bias in your children” seems well-grounded in research.
A fresh profile of searingly smart and politically acerbic speculative fiction author Margaret Atwood? Yes, please. The “prophet of dystopia” gets a deep and well-timed exploration of her writing, her feminism, her reflections on our dark political moment, and her hopes—yes, hopes—for our shared future.
Last summer, Rahawa Haile, hiked the Appalachian Trail. She writes for Outside Magazine about the experience of being a queer Black woman in the AT space, moving between Trump-sign-dotted and Confederate-flag-adorned towns, enduring the obliviousness of white fellow hikers, and simply making it through that physically grueling challenge. I tried to pick an excerpt to include here, but the whole thing is so great, I just recommend you read it in full.
One of The Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day picks this week was this Sherman Alexie gem, “The Powwow at the End of the World.”
Archeologists discovered a 14,000-year-old village site in British Columbia. It’s one of the oldest settlements ever found in North America.
This week, I finished two excellent books. On Trails, by Robert Moor, is anchored by his experience hiking the Appalachian Trail, but it expands to becomes a wonderful examination of the ways that trails (and trail-making) shape living organisms and, indeed, whole civilizations.
Nietzsche once wrote that “we have art in order not to die from the truth.” That line appears as an epigraph to one chapter of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I think it captures the careful and mysterious beauty of her story. It lives up to its Pulitzer Prize-winning hype: the characters are astonishingly well-drawn and the dramatic sequences are almost hypnotic. I’m not even sure whether I regret that I listened to an audio version of it. The prose surely deserves more careful attention than listening, but the narration by David Pittu is nothing short of masterful.
As I sit down to go over the news items that caught my attention this week, the sun is shining through my window, and Seattle is gearing up for not one, but two giant protest marches this weekend. This, combined with the abundance of hopeful articles I’ve been reading, has left me feeling ever so slightly optimistic about the future—a welcome change of pace from the literal doom and gloom that have characterized the present over the last several months.
For one thing, it’s starting to seem likely that the Republican Party of the near future may actually be run by reasonable people who have a minimal respect for science. According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a majority of current college Republicans both believe in man-made climate change and think we have a moral obligation to do something about it. Notably, “the University of Pennsylvania’s College Republicans called it ‘ludicrous’ to suggest the climate is not changing or that humans are not driving that change,” while Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo states: “I get thanked by young Republicans over and over again for my engagement on the topic of climate change and other environmental policies. This is the generation that’s going to ironically take us back to a time when environmental protection was not a partisan issue.” Here’s hoping.
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Until then, however, thank goodness for Congressmen Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, who has filed a lawsuit seeking to delay the much-hyped US-Mexico border wall by requiring an environmental impact analysis before construction can begin. These analyses tend to take years to complete and cost a lot of money. Since Mexico is still refusing to pay for the wall, and other funding for the expensive project has yet to materialize, this might just be one less bad decision we’ll have to deal with later.
One last hopeful note: according to FiveThirtyEight, the recent attacks on the EPA may not actually mean that much for environmental protection in the long run. Researchers who’ve studied past governments that were hostile to their own environmental regulatory agencies, including that of Ronald Reagan, have found that “these efforts, while damaging to the environment in some cases, don’t seem to have led to long-term, universal reductions in environmental quality. Instead… the results have mainly come in the form of slower progress on environmental protections and the exacerbation of regional differences as local governments respond to changes in federal policy.” All the more important to keep up the good work here so that we can provide a model for change once the federal government catches up to reality.
The Wildlife Services of the US Department of Agriculture uses M-44 “Cyanide bombs” to kill livestock predators in the western United States. But when a teenager near Pocatello, Idaho, accidentally triggered one device, it harmed the boy and killed his dog. That got the attention of Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad, Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen, and a coalition of conservation organizations. As a result of the public attention, the Wildlife Services agreed to remove M-44 devices from Idaho—at least temporarily. Meanwhile, the coalition of organizations seeks a national ban on the M-44 and similar devices.
In the science category, the New Yorker ran this article on two NASA engineers who decided to become politically active. On a similar topic, Grist reported that the March for Science organizers plan to continue activities after the March on Earth Day, April 22. Events on that day are now planned in both Northern and Southern hemispheres. If readers are interested, they can find an April 22 event nearby.
In a positive development in “coal’s War on the health of humans and other living things,” Grist reported that Pacific Rim Coal suspended all permitting efforts on its proposed Chuitna, Alaska, coal mine, because the company could not find investors to finance the project.
For that matter, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign and Bloomberg Philanthropies maintain a running tally of US coal power plants that have been retired, or announced a planned retirement. The total has been steadily rising, with the current count at 251 coal plants. Their map and other information can be found here.
John Abbotts is a former Sightline research consultant who occasionally submits material for Weekend Reading and other posts.