7/26/2011 12:39:56 PM
How should a civil society manage its juvenile delinquents, those that “grew up on the streets and have only known a life of crime, slums, and jail”? Imprisonment and other costly government-funded programs are the most commonly used options. But Shimon Shocken, an IT professor from Ra’anana, Israel, sees a different path to delinquent recovery—a dusty, rocky, uphill trail best traversed on the saddle of a mountain bike.
DavidBoernerprofiled Shocken’s program, which pulls 10 youths out of their detention facility every week to participate in some physically demanding mountain biking, Israel’s new national pastime. Widespread Israeli interest in mountain biking helped Shocken raise the initial capital for the program, according to Boerner, as well as the $15,000-per-year operating costs. Most of the donations come from family foundations, individuals, and private businesses. The generous support is almost counterintuitive.
“One might think juvenile delinquents like these should be punished, rather than allowed to go on [a] mountain bike ride each Tuesday,” writes Boerner. But Shocken contends that his program has a much lower-than-average rate of recidivism than other programs for juvenile delinquents. As Shocken told Dirtrag:
In the last four years 50 kids have gone through the program and been released. Only five of them went back to jail, which is extremely good. Normally, 50 percent will end up back in jail within a year.
Source: Dirt Rag (print only)
Image by Teosaurio, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/19/2011 10:14:10 AM
Happiness. Well being. Living fully. The good life. If you’re an Utne reader you might call it mindful living. But what does it all really mean? And how do we find it?
The summer issue of ARCADE tries to tackle those questions from a design perspective. Guest editor Ray Gastil introduces a section called “The Good Life Reconsidered” with a short essay pondering what role design can and will play on the road to a sustainable future and a good life. “Design is a way of thinking,” Gastil writes, “and it has an extraordinarily powerful ability to shape the way we live, and in particular, the way we choose to live.”
Sustainability advocates know that they have to present a future that is desired and chosen, not mandated and enforced. If we are open to it, design can harness the power of aspiration and choice, leading to diverse new ways of thinking, whether from the corporate suite or down the street. We can design a smart, green life, but it needs to have rewards.
Following that introduction we get opinions on the matter from a range of voices, like a reminder from Jessica Geenen, program manager for the Energy Efficient Communities program at Puget Sound Energy, that the “word ‘community’ comes from the Latin roots cum, meaning ‘with,’ and munus, meaning ‘responsibility.’”
There’s also a call for “biophilic neighborhoods” from Tim Beatley, a professor of sustainable communities:
I would like to propose…that we significantly update the neighborhood concept to better take into account our growing appreciation for the value and need to reconnect with nature and natural systems, building on the insights of “biophilia,” a concept popularized by E. O. Wilson. In Biophila, Wilson defines the term as “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms,” something essential for healthy, happy, productive humans and an essential quality of urban life.” Nature, we increasingly understand, is not something optional, but absolutely essential to modern daily life, and not something to be relegated to the occasional visit to some mostly remote place we think of as “nature”—something “over there.”
Those and many more take on the issue of how where and how we live can lead to “the good life,” whatever that may be. What’s your definition of that tricky phrase? And how does your neighborhood, community, and work life lead you toward achieving that definition?
Image by blhphotography, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/15/2011 12:49:47 PM
If the waiting room at the doctor’s office is purgatory, then the process of diagnosis and—eventually, hopefully—recovery is hell.
In a frank and darkly funny essay, The Morning News’ Paul Ford chronicles the three years of reproductive therapy he and his wife endured on a the path to conception. Many of their experiences were downright absurd, as if they had been lifted directly from a Kurt Vonnegut novel.
Ford recounts when nurses complimented his wife’s lucky socks, brightly adorned with monkeys or ninjas, while she was splayed out in stirrups. The awkward professionalism of his clinic’s sperm-collection rooms is epitomized by a bit of legalese: “If you read the paperwork,” Ford deadpans as he is about to hand-off his sperm sample to the nurse, “there is a request that you don’t make any jokes during this moment.” In a last ironic twist, on the morning his wife is supposed to get a minor surgery for in-vitro fertilization, Brooklyn is buried under two feet of snow.
The essay deftly captures the physical, psychological, and social frustrations of trying and waiting (and waiting and waiting) to conceive. “Three years of waiting,” Ford writes,
Everywhere around us there are waves of bouncing sons, bounties of daughters, stroller wheels creaking under the cheerful load. Facebook updates, email messages, and Christmas cards arrive with pictures of tots, their faces smeared with avocado or cake frosting. Babies on rugs, babies in hats. Invitations to baby showers with cursive script and cartoon storks. Over a beer an expectant father—another expectant father—gives me the news, tells me that his wife will soon have her second or third. Am I happy for him? What else can I be? Once again I put out my hand, close my eyes, and wish them joy.
(Also: For its vivid detail, sardonic tone, and sense of personal violation, this essay reminded me of Thomas E. Kennedy’s 2007 award-winning essay, “I am Joe’s Prostate”, which was featured in New Letters [PDF excerpt only available online].)
Source: The Morning News
Image by nerissa’s ring, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/8/2011 2:06:47 PM
According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 26 percent of Americans live with some type of mental illness. (Read Utne’s coverage of America’s mental health crisis here.) The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—or more commonly the DSM—dictates how the entire body of medical professionals diagnose mental illnesses. Thus, changes to the manual affect the lives of thousands of people. The fifth version of the DSM is due out in 2013, and the expected changes to the psychological definition of grief, reports Scientific American, are evoking intense controversy.
Specifically, the DSM-V would change our understanding of grief in two important ways. First, the manual introduces a new diagnosis dubbed “complicated grief disorder,” which entails “powerful pining for the deceased, great difficulty moving on, a sense that life is meaningless, and bitterness or anger about the loss” past six months after the death. More controversially, the new version of the DSM will allow depression therapy as early as the first few weeks after experiencing a loss. (Currently, doctors and psychologists must wait until two months have passed since the death.)
Eventually we all suffer crippling grief; it’s a universal facet of the human condition. Then most of us overcome that grief. The proposed changes to the DSM-V make it easier for typical grief to be conflated with depression or diagnosed as abnormal.
Critics of the DSM change worry that grief will be overdiagnosed and exploited by pharmaceutical companies. “There will be vitriolic debates when the public fully appreciates the fact that the DSM is pathologizing the death of a loved one within two weeks,” grief researcher Holly G. Prigerson told Scientific American. On the other hand, professionals like Kenneth S. Kendler of the DSM-V Mood Disorder Work Group, who claim that “on the basis of scientific evidence, [mourners are] just like anybody else with depression,” argue withholding depression treatment is professionally unfair.
The article concludes: “In many ways, parsing the differences between normal grief, complicated grief and depression reflects the fundamental dilemma of psychiatry: Mental disorders are diagnosed using subjective criteria and are usually an extension of a normal state.” Those probably aren’t very reassuring words to someone on the precipice of despair.
Source: Scientific American
Image by e3000, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/1/2011 3:59:32 PM
When the Toronto Star (May 21, 2011) reported that a Canadian couple is keeping their baby’s gender private in the name of freedom and choice, the story went viral. People around the world read about four-month-old Storm Witterick, whose gender is unknown even to the baby’s grandparents. Only the midwives who birthed Storm are in the know, along with one family friend and brothers Jazz and Kio.
At first blush, it seems pretty wacky. Crazy. Attention-seeking. Progressive beyond the point of rationale. Potentially damaging to baby Storm. Who wants to be the kid whose nutty parents turned a simple fact—I’m female or I’m male—into a media-fueled social experiment?
Amid the cacophony of criticism aimed at Storm’s parents, Columbia professor Patricia J. Williams shares her thoughtful response in The Nation (June 20, 2011). Williams reminds us about the powerful gender stereotypes assigned to boys and girls—specifically, her own two-year-old son and his nursery school pal Jessie, who both loved to help out by carrying their playmates’ lunches to the fridge every morning. Their teacher unconsciously divided their identical behavior along gender lines: “Your son is such a sturdy little security guard! And Jessie, she’s our mini-hostess with the mostest!”
Boys are strong and protective; girls are sweet and nurturing. That’s the gender profile, anyway. Boys get camouflage pjs and puppy dogs, girls pink tutus and kitty-cats. With a gender-neutral household an unattainable dream for many parents, Storm’s parents came up with a creative way to circumvent it all.
The media outlash compelled Storm’s mother, Kathy Witterick, self-described as “shy and idealistic,” to respond in a heartfelt open letter in the Ottawa Citizen (May 28, 2011). It’s a hugely likeable letter. She writes about their five-year-old son Jazz, whose clothing choices—including pink dresses and long braids—don’t fit the world’s notion of boy’s clothes. Keeping Storm genderless was born out of a simple discussion of the impending onslaught of pink or blue clothing.
In her letter, Kathy doesn’t seem wacky. Or crazy. Certainly not attention-seeking. More progressive than the average mom, but with reasonable limits. Baby Storm will certainly grow up differently than other kids, but that’s not by definition a damaging thing. In fact, in some ways, Kathy seems downright brilliant:
The strong, lighting-fast, vitriolic response was a shock.... [T]o protect our children from the media frenzy that we did not anticipate, we have declined over 100 requests for interviews from all over the world, including offers to fly to New York all expenses paid and to appear on almost every American morning show. We have learning to do, parks to visit and butterflies to care for.
(free registration required), Ottawa Citizen
Image by sarahemcc,
licensed under Creative Commons.
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