Thursday, March 15, 2012

Depression, Happiness, and the Power of the Anonymous Article

It is possible, according to the anonymous author of this Guardian piece. Kind of long, so here are some highlights:
"I wanted to write this article to demonstrate that a successful career, mental illness and enjoyment of life need not be incompatible." Word.

"As proof of this, I don't feel able to 'come out' in this article. I am not ashamed but I do wonder how the relationship with colleagues, and pursuit of promotion might be affected if it was generally known that I suffer from depression." Fair enough. Two observations. I guess the most apparent one, the one I feel somewhat obliged to say, is the "this shows that there needs to be more open discourse about depression." True, and I think this writer is contributing to that. I can't, however, take issue with his decision to remain anonymous for a few reasons. First, I like the idea that "it could be anyone", and I'm sure that he is speaking for a number of people. Second, though he writes that he doesn't "come out" because he doesn't "feel able", he is also making the article about the issue itself rather than about him. I have a lot of respect of famous people who open up about their issues with depression, and we certainly need people to be the "faces" of depression (though those faces should not be associated solely with depression or it would take away the point), but the focus here is rightly placed on the issue. The writer does not need to flaunt his accomplishments, unlike Greg Smith did in the New York Times:
"My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from South Africa to Stanford University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts."
And this relates to Goldman how? Oh, because "Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement." Rather than boost his credibility with that little paragraph, Smith simply made people question his motives. The author of the depression piece doesn't do that.

To close, the author remarks:
Finally, I love the words of the Roman poet Catullus who was obviously suffering, when he said: "One day all this will seem funny." 
Nope, not Catullus. You're thinking of Vergil's line in the Aeneid, "forsan haec olim meminisse iuvabit." I was always taught to read it as "perhaps even this it will be pleasing to remember" but I know there are other more literal translations.

But in all seriousness, whoever you are, it was a good piece with an important message. Respect.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Meanwhile in Morningside Heights

So, Barnard and Columbia students are apparently at war with President Obama's decision to deliver a commencement speech at Barnard rather than Columbia. Time to weigh in. (Not literally, I'm a heavyweight).

  • There's no excuse for the kind of commentary that has come from some of the Columbia students, and I'm disappointed that neither Barnard President Debora L. Spar or Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger have the guts to call them out on it. For some of the extreme comments, check out this Jezebel article. It should be noted that I find the term "feminazi" to be highly objectionable. In fact, I don't understand why the term "Nazi" is thrown around so casually in so many areas ("Grammar Nazi" etc.). Nothing about Nazism was funny. It was a terrible, terrible part of history.
  • Obama's motives for this choice are interesting. If the New York Times article is correct on the fact that Obama has generally been unenthusiastic about his time at Columbia, then this does seem to be a jab at his alma mater. The decision to speak at a women's college is also obviously an attempt to appeal to women voters, but the choice of Barnard specifically can't be ignored. After all, if it was simply about promoting women's rights, why Barnard specifically? It's certainly a great school, but what about it makes it more worthwhile of his time than Wellesley, Smith, or Mt. Holyoke?
  • Barnard and Columbia have a unique relationship as far as I can tell; I can't think of any other schools where the women's college is "independent" but also gets this kind of access. If you're looking at the women's college experience (which I never was), this would seem to offer you a great opportunity to have the women's college community while still taking classes and pursuing opportunities at a coed Ivy League university. (It's worth noting that Barnard athletes compete for Columbia sports teams.) That being said, many Columbia students are clearly of the opinion that the two are unequal partners, that Barnard students are undeserving of the access they have to Columbia activities and the Columbia name on the diploma. This incident seems to reflect a fairly tense relationship between the schools though this of course could be overstated by the few extremely obnoxious students that are present at every school (unfortunately). Based on these incidents, if I were interested in a women's college (I never was) but also wanted to experience a coed school, I might be more inclined to head to Smith or Mt. Holyoke, where I could be part of an all women's community but still take classes at coed Amherst or UMASS. New York City might have something to do with your interest in Barnard or Columbia, and they don't have that at Smith. And I do know of people who have had great experiences at Barnard and don't mean to knock it as a school. But it is an imperfect relationship.
  • That being said, I highly doubt having Barnard students in Columbia classes is that large an impediment to learning. I know there have been concerns in the past over Barnard not agreeing to contribute to funding of clubs and Columbia students proceeding to kick Barnard students out of said clubs. That's an issue, to be sure. But I would need to see hard data to believe that Barnard students prevented Columbia students from learning course material.
  • And the lesson is, as it almost always is: people should treat others with respect. Life will work much better that way.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Bad Old Days

"I don't think other people are cool because they smoke ... [But] I think I'm cool because I smoke."
A Harvard student really said that. On the record.
While reading about the recent discussion on campus about the potential for a campus wide smoke-ban, I came across this gem of an article from 1998 that profiles various students who smoke.
I find it worth reading for the following reasons:

  • Apparently Reverend Peter J. Gomes (now deceased, unfortunately) served as a faculty advisor for a Harvard Cigar Club, which held meetings at his house. The club was founded in 1997. Not sure how long it lasted. 
  • Samuel Sheridan '98 is the most interesting character of the bunch. Sheridan started smoking while working on a merchant marine ship after high school and gives "I think it's important for young people to carry around a reminder of death" as one of his many justifications. As a nonsmoker, I am naturally skeptical of all of his reasons and wonder why he couldn't pursue other avenues for his "reminder of death" (like reading sad books or something). Apparently, though, he has continued to pursue this "reminder" in other ways and has done some interesting things, which I found out from this Boston Globe article from 2007.
  • As for Gavin Moses: I'm glad he saved someone's life. That's great. Maybe he would have prolonged socializing with his friend anyway, but saving people's lives is always good. As for his initial reason: Who does something hazardous to one's health as a way to remember a past romantic relationship? When relationships don't work out, don't you try to forget them? Or take up healthy activities to help you move on? Moses took the complete opposite approach.
  • I'm not sure whether the quotes were taken out of context, but some of these interviews give very stereotypical justifications for smoking. Aaron Mathes's thoughts on being cool are the most obvious; "It's part of the way I think of myself. It helps me constitute my identity." But many of the interviewed discussed how smoking helped them make friends. Isn't this why D.A.R.E. was founded in the first place? To combat this kind of peer pressure? It's sad that these pressures were so evident at a place like Harvard.
  • There's nothing really wrong with the opening paragraph, but I find it interesting that the author takes the time to note that smoking is indeed bad for you. Didn't everyone already know that?
  • Harvard's been a part of the cigarette-cancer connection from the beginning. Its researchers have contributed to the discovery of it, and one scientist, Dr. Carl C. Seltzer, refuted it. (Yikes)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Welcome back Dreamland!

Nantucket Dreamland is back!
The Dreamland is a Nantucket institution that has been a big part of the Nantucket experience for me, my mom, and especially my aunt who worked there one summer. Nantucket was lucky to have great operators in the past who made it a special place and is lucky now that the members of The Nantucket Dreamland Foundation were in it for the long haul and made it happen. With the real world beckoning, it's unclear when I'll be able to head to Nantucket again, but it's great to know that Nantucket's year round residents will once again be able to spend time there.