Coagulation from Hurricane Sandy

A few class periods ago, Beth presented us with What We Saw When the Lights Went Out: A Portfolio from Hurricane Sandy  Many of the pictures are moving, both literally and figuratively. Excessive amounts of running water where it doesn’t belong is the subject of the first image, while the following images are more bleak and show stagnant water- the aftermath serving as a memorial to the catastrophic devastation. Some of these images are rendered black and white, perhaps as an artistic gesture towards depicting sorrow and hopelessness while showing contrast. However, other pictures alternatively tell a different, more heart warming story. These images show children huddled up on a couch, neighbors and strangers coming together to eat, and community members cooperating and sharing electricity. These stories are refreshing in that people coagulated and came together to survive and thrive, yet depressing in that people were constantly reminded of the traumatic event that brought them together.

As the forceful, violent process of Hurricane Sandy flooded parts of NYC and the surrounding areas, people coagulated around safe locations away from the water. The moving water, which encompassed the initial violence, became stagnant in flooded streets and basements as an effigy to remember the violent event which preceded it. One image of a flooded basement is particularly striking because of what is unknown. The image simply shows an entrance leading to the basement that is completely filled with stagnant, green water. However, there is no way to know what, or maybe who, was down there when it flooded. There is also a similar image with a couple inches of water coming up on a white door covered with sandbags. Contrasting these images, the first image shows the flooding of an urban center that is so extreme it looks like an ocean with waves. Where many of the other images are black and white, or generally bleak, the first one is entirely blue and almost mystic. It reminds me of “The Day After Tomorrow” in how it pays respect to how awesome (grand and strong, not good!) the storm was in some places. One image shows a helicopter in the air above what looks like a war zone, while several other ones show empty, seemingly abandoned homes and businesses.

Beginning the portfolio collection with an image of the violent storm in all its glory sets the necessary precedent for both the devastation and collective rebuilding efforts depicted in the wallowing images that follow. Based partially on Roach and in class discussions, I believe that remembering and accepting, rather than suppressing, traumatic memories can be cathartic, especially when the ramifications of people’s memories are expressed through art. When theoretically viewing the streets of New York from an aerial view immediately following Hurricane Sandy, the streets would be flooded as barriers and human settlements would coagulate and form as a result. Whether it be people coming together to charge devices, or cook food before it spoils and is wasted, this communal effort to help oneself and others perfectly fits within the conceptual narrative that “violence is the performance of waste” and “care is the antidote to violence.” The other portfolio Beth presented shows this aerial view seen here. The presence, and equal absence, of electricity demonstrates which areas were affected as the lights of cars light up otherwise dark streets, showing the movement of people in a still image.

Violence as the Performance of Waste in Northern Irish Poetry

This semester, I am taking English 403 with Dr. Robert Doggett and the course is about northern Irish poetry during the Troubles. The Troubles was a multiple decade long time period of horrendous, terroristic sectarian violence in northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics. Examining the works of Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and others, a central, recurring theme found across their poetry was a comparison of beauty and atrocity on the same spectrum when writing about corpses and the violence during the Troubles. I couldn’t help but relate the ideas discussed in Engl 403 with Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone” as giving meaning to dead corpses through artistic performance has been central to discussions in both classes.

A constant issue these poets seem to grapple with is balancing appreciation for the individuals’ lives who are lost without creating a rallying cry for further violence. The poets literally objectify the dead corpses and make artifacts out of memory through performance. Roach would note that the attempted closure these poets look for in light of their catastrophic realities (men, women and children died everyday in random explosions and shootings based solely on religious associations) is Eurocentric as the poets recall the past memory of the individuals lost, while emotionally turning to the future as “God’s will be done.” This final line, found in Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone,” is most pertinent as the violent performance of wasting lives resulted entirely from religious hate and cultural misunderstanding. People felt that they were absolved of accountability because their violence was collateral damage resulting from a Holy War that had to be waged.

The random killings, led by groups like the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Ulster Defence Association (UDF) felt random and especially devastating as most of the lives lost were those of completely innocent, everyday civilians. The violence was direct and intentional as hundreds of lives were wasted over arbitrary, cultural distinctions and the poets’ works relating to the Troubles served as “both quotation and invention” through artistic performance. The memory of individuals were brought to the forefront then manipulated by the poets to create a work of art that attempted to properly remember the lives that were wasted. Roach includes a quotation that “Spirits always addressed humans as bodies.” (Echoes in the Bone, p. 35) In many of the poems we read, they view the dichotomy of beauty and the sublime, or what humans can understand, compared to what they cannot. This further connects with Patricia Smith’s “Ethel’s Sestina” found in Blood Dazzler. In that poem, Smith introduces Ethel Freeman’s body while alluding to her “wait for salvation.” Dealing with Ethel’s dead body sitting in the middle of the street for days is difficult, but glorifying her life through her connection with God, and more importantly her sorrowful son, creates a sort of beauty in the absence of life within her body, or eventual corpse.

Carnal Desire in New Orleans: How Allochthonous Tourists Sully New Orleans

Throughout Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, Solnit and Snedeker present various color maps which simultaneously reveal details about both New Orleans geography and culture, many of which contradict each other in subtle ways. Whether it be map 11 showing the locations of seafood shacks contrasted with nightclub and brothel locations, or map 16 showing key locations of music development juxtaposed with types of sediment, both maps paint New Orleans as dirty, but also as a hotbed of cultural development. The map from chapter 11 also gives locations of where Judeo-Christian televangelists were caught with prostitutes, which paints a more accurate picture of where these money making preachers’ morality often times truly lies. Esteemed members of the church getting caught with prostitutes dirties the church’s reputation which is the only counterbalance for New Orleans’ moral sanctity against prostitution and political corruption.

In chapter 11, readers learn that “one out of every seventy jobs in the Pelican State is seafood related” (Solnit and Snedeker, p. 84). As a result of the BP oil disaster, seafood prices rose as much as $3 in some instances. While this is not a problem for the allochthonous tourists, who are able to spend their outside money on both seafood and prostitution/nightlife(alcohol consumption) at higher rates when on vacation, the everyday, working class New Orleans citizens have to pay these absorbent prices regularly. BP, a company not even based in the US, nevermind New Orleans, reap the economic benefits of New Orleans natural resources (oil) while burdening the city’s everyday citizens with the dirty, polluted aftermath. The Atlas mentions people having to eat shrimp that have tumors, while paying more for them.

Prostitution and corruption represent New Orleans’ lack of moral cleanliness, while the marshy swamps, increasing sea level and results of both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill left literal dirt. Whether it be the influence global climate change has on New Orleans, or the allochthonous industry titans like BP which ravaged the Gulf of Mexico, it is outside activity that has devastated New Orleans’ fragile ecosystems which the locals rely on for life, and leisure. Tourists bolster New Orleans illegal prostitution industry which exploits its sex workers (disproportionately black and transgendered workers report the most abuse). Out of this muck however, a multicultural society with a thriving nightlife, food industry, and music scene has blossomed. This pursuit of leisure, in concert with the prevalence of crucial natural resources, is what ironically attracts the allochthonous people in the first place. Shutting down these cultural and literal borders would preserve New Orleans’ longevity, however, this would simultaneously trap them, which seems to be a trope which will be revisited throughout the semester.

Disparity in Pain Management due to Racial Biases

Earlier in the semester, we listened to a podcast that shed light on the “backfire effect” which is the idea that people who hold deeply rooted opinions are not going to change even when presented facts. Rather, these facts actually make the person feel more confident in themselves because they doubt the source of information. Myth-based beliefs and biases can be stronger than proven ones. Eventually however, when presented with enough mounting evidence, people eventually come around and accept the new fact as true. This last caveat is important as it ultimately means that ignorance can be overshadowed by truth, as it just takes a patient, concerted effort.

Blacks and whites have experienced systematically different treatment by the medical community, as outlined in class and class readings. However, more seemingly benign disparities that were never mentioned in class add up. For example, black Americans have been proven to be under treated for pain relative to whites. While this is not the workings of a certain entity trying to systematically oppress blacks for no reason, it has been systemic nonetheless. This manifests itself in part because physicians might assume that black patients are more likely to abuse the medication, or because they fail to realize that pain medication is necessary.

A study derived from https://news.virginia.edu/content/study-links-disparities-pain-management-racial-bias was conducted at the University of Virginia, and found that the differences in pain medication prescriptions result, in part, from white medical students holding false beliefs about African Americans. In the University study, white medical students were surveyed on whether they believe various beliefs (false) about race and then asked them the pain levels they would associate with different, mock medical scenarios. These false beliefs include that African Americans skin is thicker than whites and that their blood coagulates more quickly. Other false beliefs include that black people’s nerve endings are less sensitive than whites and that blacks age slower than whites (reference to idiom “black don’t crack”). These false beliefs are not predicated on facts, and they can therefore be overrode. In the University study, at least half the sample of white medical students believed in one of the false beliefs stated above. The study ultimately found that those who did not hold any false beliefs did not show any evidence of discrimination in treatment. This suggests that systemic racism, no matter what domain it is found in, can be eliminated, but only after confronting and proving wrong the false belief that predicates it.

Bodies Found Buried Beneath University of Mississippi Medical Center: Mental Health Plight akin to Racial Discrimination

In Medical Apartheid, Harriet Washington details how African-Americans, during and post-slavery, were disproportionately victimized by grave robbers and unauthorized autopsies and dissections. This issue of informed consent was not considered for African Americans because they were considered less than oeople. That being said, pseudoscientists were intrigued by eugenics and used this to justify shoddy treatment and immoral, non consensual experimentation on blacks. A central theme to the literature examined earlier in this course refers to a lack of consideration for the proper burial of African American corpses. African Americans were treated disproportionately bad in life, and this did not stop in death. Black bodies were considered expendable, according to Medical Apartheid, as grave robbing was common in African Americans cemeteries while black prisoners were often executed and used as cadavers. There was no consideration for the individual as a person, as scientists viewed them as only being of use dead, as cadavers to help understand the human body and develop medicine for the benefit of whites.

In https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bodies-buried-at-university-of-mississippi_us_5911d47fe4b05e1ca201e553, Nina Golgowski explains the discovery that at least 7000 bodies were found buried beneath the former Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum which was in operation between 1855 and 1935. This time period, which overlaps with Medical Apartheid, saw African Americans as not the only people to be mistreated. People with mental illness have long been stigmatized, and during this period, the mentally ill were summarily dismissed and categorized together despite having varying conditions. Prior to the discovery, there were many people who wondered where their ancestors had disappeared to.  Upon the discovery, many people still wondered where their ancestors could be found in the records which led people to regularly email Dr. Molly Zuckerman (who presided over excavations) asking about them. None of the emails included happy stories, as “It was always tragic.” The stories of African Americans and the mentally ill were similarly tragic. The way the mentally ill were summarily dismissed after death was similar to how African Americans were. Both were centers of scientific inquiry and in each group of victims, the families were never notified of death and their burials were equally ill considered. This suggests that discoveries about the atrocities perpetrated against downtrodden groups of people in past centuries are still coming to surface and that the complete histories of these people are not yet completely and clearly mapped out. In this sense, we are still living history, which is a theme central to Zone One.

Employer/Student Study

In a 2015 employer/student survey done by Hart Research Associates, which was presented at the beginning of the syllabus, there were several key findings which ultimately relate back to Geneseo Learning Outcomes Baccalaureate Education: GLOBE. Firstly, the researchers found that employers overwhelmingly endorse broad learning as the best preparation for long term success as these skills are important for a wide range of potential occupations. These broad skills must cut across majors and be demonstrated proficiently. These desirable skills include written and oral communication skills, team-work skills, ethical-decision making, critical thinking, and the ability to apply these skills to real world applications. These overlapping skills presented in the research as well as GLOBE include critical thinking, communication, creative thinking and leadership and collaboration. The Geneseo mission statement also clearly articulates that the most important skills Geneseo attempts to improve cut across all majors. This is a central principle to liberal arts schools in general.

 

Later in the study, the researchers assess “How much more likely your company is to consider hiring a recent college graduate if they have had this experience, completed this course?” The results indicate that a study abroad program was actually the least appealing while an internship was the most. This goes back to the consistent reference of medical voluntourism. While we came to the collective realization that many students simply study abroad to distinguish themselves from others, this study suggests that there are more lucrative avenues for making oneself appealing to employers. Students allegedly travel to help both their resumes as well as the indigenous people. Throughout the semester, we have questioned the latter assumption as we find that many medical voluntourist programs create adverse effects as students either lack training and/or a deep respect and understanding of the people they are ‘helping’. However, this study shreds doubt on the other assumption, that study abroad programs make students a lot more appealing employers. While it may help, the study finds that time would be better well spent by either honing skills (through senior thesis writing, or taking writing course) or developing real experience (internships, apprenticeships, projects). The most essential, key finding however was that acquiring specific knowledge and skills for a specific occupation before entering the field was not the best path for long-term success. This means that building general skills applicable across fields is superior to learning specific skills. This course is therefore preparing us for future employment as improving writing and general communicating skills, as well as critical thinking, has been central to this course through the blog posting and in class discussions.

 

Collective Course Statement: How We Met Learning Outcomes Working Through It

On the Geneseo website, Geneseo’s Mission Statement is followed by GLOBE: Geneseo Learning Outcomes for Baccalaureate Education. These learning outcomes are sought after by all professors in all academic fields at Geneseo. In crafting our final collective course statement, which relates GLOBE and the work we’ve done in class concerning medical voluntourism, we are informing prospective study abroad students about the implications their travel will have on the indigenous people they seek to help. There are many motivations for going abroad, some are intrinsic and some self-seeking and career related. Nonetheless, motivation is less important than the actual results.

 

In working together in individual groups, and ultimately as a collective group, we demonstrated key learning outcomes as they are presented on the website. The eight outcomes highlighted are as follows:

  1. Critical Thinking
  2. Communication
  3. Quantitative, Computational, and Symbolic Reasoning
  4. Informational and Digital Literacy
  5. Creativity and Creative Thinking
  6. Leadership and Collaboration
  7. Diversity and Pluralism
  8. Global Awareness and Engagement

This end of year assignment deals with numbers 1,2,5,6,7 and 8 specifically. Assessing these learning outcomes through this assignment actually improves these skills, in a meta way. Most of the course statement is about medical voluntourism as we refer to various readings throughout the semester. Taking this information and regurgitating it for future study abroad students in a concise way where students understand and respect the indigenous populations requires critical thinking. Communication skills were also central to this assignment as taking the thoughts of over 25 students and condensing it into less than two pages of concise information required communication among sub groups as well as communication between these groups, and ultimately all students in the class at the end. Combining all this information in a cohesive way also required creativity as well as leadership and collaboration. This collective statement is a collaboration in itself and through group work, people had to display leadership (being scribes in group discussions) as well as a respect for the leaders. As there is a diversity of opinion and experience across the class, coming together was essential. The most operative learning outcome, global awareness and engagement, was developed through the content of the statement itself. Shaping what it requires to be a good global citizen when voluntouring was central to the statement, and this is the skill that was most notably improved on for me because other assignments had dealt with the other outcomes where global awareness and engagement is rarely, if ever the focus, of my English and Psychology courses. All skills listed above are important and were mostly honed through the development of the course statement, however the final one was most significantly improved.

Do Not Resuscitate: A Debate About Consent

Suzanne was frustrated by the bureaucratic government that decided an arbitrary limit on how many sessions sexual assault victims could go to simply because of budget constraints not a consideration of whether they made enough progress. The victim felt guilty at first, defending her adult, married assalent like a “defense attorney.” She described herself as innocent, rarely drinking or smoking with honor roll, but that this night, she was as guilty as he was because she was so passive. She wrote the truth in her journal, buried deep inside her backpack. Suzanne immediately gave off a concerned, sympathetic vibe because she said she wasn’t ready to talk but that she couldn’t help it when Suzanne looked at her in her eyes simply saying “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” Suzanne helped with police statements, court cases and the other semantics. Suzanne made it clear that the limited charges of fourth degree sexual offense instead of rape was in no way indicative of the truth of the matter. Suzanne gave her a sense of being heard and believed, unlike the law. The therapist also did a good job of prodding enough that other things came out; her parents were divorced and she had a boy in her life who wouldn’t commit to dating but kept her around with well placed affection. Suzanne clearly explained to the young girl that love is an action and that she didn’t have to commit to this pseudo-boyfriend. Between the rape and this boyfriend, Suzanne helped her realize her self worth and that she has agency over her sexuality. “She cleared the path for the woman I am going to be.” She was a victim’s advocate and life coach and she wanted to hug Suzanne but was afraid she would reject the gesture. At the end of the sessions, she went in and asked Suzanne to hug which she did, and the emotions were overpowering as Suzanne was able to say “You’re a good person, Allison. You are better than what happened to you.” Allison stopped smoking (the cigarettes were a symbol of the event because he gave them to her) and she also stopped seeing the pseudo boyfriend. She was given all the important advice, she took it, and the emotional hug at the end. While she would never completely recover, in the sense that her childhood is shrouded with that memory, she maintained the ability to keep herself in a better place by doing the right things, despite it being hard at times. Suzanne taught Allison to reach out and express needed emotions.

The beginning talks about how a therapist is like a dwindling safety net as the termination process ultimately leads to being released back into the wild. The therapist enjoys seeing future wedding cards, gifts, obituaries and whatever else indicates how the client progressed after being terminated from therapy. She also likes seeing old clients in public as she always remembers them, without fail. Authentic connections however brief, last forever. The therapist compares the termination to a break up as sometimes it is sudden, by text or simply by disappearance and the client never responding again. These are the worst for therapists as the lack of closure is difficult to tolerate. Also the “lifers” are the ones with such a traumatic history that they should be entitled to a lifetime worth of therapy. Psychotherapy was compared to ongoing “spiritual hygiene” Clients become therapists so that they never leave therapy- this is interesting and surprising as one might think that someone who went to therapy would not be able to reverse roles and help others when they themselves are hurt or damaged. The crow metaphor was interesting as well, however, it was not very informative of real life therapy as it is more the idea of being rehabilitated and visiting the center that helped you after you are strong enough on your own to leave. This therapist lets his clients go if they want to leave, that is, they will not stop someone who resists by leaving just as it gets hard and beneficial. Other therapists might but that is wrong because clients should feel autonomous and in control of their respective destinies. Watching clients fly away is bittersweet as it is good that they can leave but you can never truly predict how well they will do in the wild.

Average Mark Spitz Deals with ‘Sea’ of dead

After grappling with Colson Whitehead’s Zone One in its entirety, I found that the racial element of the story is not as prominent and obvious as I had anticipated it would be. For one, we do not learn of Mark Spitz’s race until far into the narrative. However, this is really the only distinguishing characteristic of Mark Spitz, other than that he is male and described as “average,” which may be a comment on race itself. Mark Spitz’s race and mediocrity are his only distinguishing traits, and it is precisely his mediocrity that allowed him to survive the infestation for as long as he did. He is described as being “neither the captain…nor the last one picked.” In the context of the zombie infestation, the last one picked would surely fail, but so to would the captain because he/she would be responsible for other people.

Being that Mark Spitz is presumably a minority and Colson Whitehead is as well, Whitehead is possibly trying to convey that a young person of color could easily see being average as the best route in traversing through society. As it is the least notorious, because people tend to ignore the average person as they prioritize helping the below average person as well as praising the above average person instead. The character’s name “Mark Spitz” is itself a racial slur derived from a moment where instead of jumping off a bridge into water to flee from a swarm of “dead,” Mark Spitz shoots his way out of it screaming that he cannot die. There is a similarly climatic scene on the final page where after the final barricade is breached by the dead, Colson writes “Fuck it, he thought. You have to learn how to swim sometime. He opened the door and walked into the seas of the dead.” Perhaps this is him embracing who he is as he self-actualizes and “swims,” conquering his fear of “water.”

Mark Spitz’s fear of water is the stereotype that creates his name and enables him to share that story with Gary as he passes, which must have been especially emotional given that he and Gary were brothers in battle against the infestation. They were the only family they had left, as Mark Spitz lost Uncle Lloyd and the vast majority of the population died. In this context, it was actual great to be the minority. His fear of water is symbolic of his fear of death. Mark Spitz was not one to delude himself with hopes of the “after,” and when the barricade broke and he walked into the seas of the dead, Mark Spitz was able to feel closure. Additionally, Whitehead may have been using zombies to symbolize micro aggressions perpetrated by white people, and the barricade breaking is symbolic of the micro aggressions adding up and having a cumulative effect. At one point in the novel, Mark Spitz makes a reference to there finally being no “amateur fascist up the street machinated to steal the next cab.” The plague itself could be symbolic of retribution for the atrocities of slavery as well as the sum of centuries of micro aggressions, bigotry, racism and acts of racism.

 

Race as a False Construct Maintained due to the “Backfire Effect”

In the final of three episodes on the “Backfire Effect” by the “You Are Not so Smart” podcast, renowned cognitive psychologist based at the University of Bristol, U.K, Steven Lewandowsky introduces the concept of “motivated skepticism.” He found that people were slow to update their memories after deeply held false beliefs were corrected. People cling to beliefs about war, politics, climate change, the media and “group identity”  even after contrary evidence is presented. The threshold percentage “tipping point” that leads one to change their opinions varies but after studying the latest Presidential Election, Lewandowsky found that 40% consistently lead people to change their opinions. The amount of negativity on both sides of the election was a problem. However, “fake news” and propaganda isn’t the problem according to Lewandowsky, but it is instead control in that people choose what they hear. If a media source continually goes against your beliefs, people will walk away in favor of one that capitulates to your views.This phenomena is not necessarily unique to the United States but Lewandowsky found that Australians and Germans generally change their opinions after a belief is proven false. Whether it be climate change, race relations or anything else, little progress can be made if people cannot even agree on what information is factual and what is not, especially in a democracy.

At one point in the episode, Lewandowsky explains that “Science is smarter than scientists” and that scientists listen to science. However, as we’ve seen in class, scientists and medical clinicians have their own biases learned from society over time. As detailed throughout Medical Apartheid, these types of professionals have historically treated blacks unequally in practice. In Toni Morrison’s Home Cee admires Dr. Scott for apparently treating sick black and poor people when others would not. However, in reality, he systematically sterilized blacks exclusively, including Cee, without their consent. In the podcast episode, partisanship is the key factor in deciding what information people accept, reject, or seek out. Lewandowsky refers to partisanship as a drug or a lens that changes people’s perspective. In saying that people are partisan, he refers to synonyms “tribe, party, team and ingroup” which in relating to this class, could include race.

In American society, there is an emphasis put on race, ultimately stemming from slavery. While people may be bigots and racists behind closed doors, there is still a general consensus that all races are equal. However, even so there is still a general belief that all races are different. In reality, as we learned earlier in the semester while watching “Race: The Power of an Illusion,” there is actually no trait, characteristic, or gene inherent in people that distinguishes race. There is in fact great genetic diversity within races and there are often more commonality between people of other races than their might be within. While one could point to examples like the Sickle Cell Anemia being present in a lot of people with African ancestry, this is actually a misconception. In class we learned that the gene variant for sickle cell disease is actually related to malaria, not race or skin pigmentation.

Therefore, the concept of dividing people into races is factually wrong. However, so many people believe that race exists that it is a social fact, and therefore does. The amount of scientific information it would take to convince all people that race does not actually exist could never be conveyed because the people would walk away before even hearing it all. For this reason, voices in the black community must be very proactive in conveying their desire for equality under the law as well as to be genuinely perceived as being equal, and specifically not inferior. However, while this increased flow of information changes some people’s opinions and perceptions, the “backfire effect” leads too many bigoted or insensitive white people to get annoyed. This annoyance resulting from the dissonance between what some people believe and what they are being told can actually reinforce the false beliefs. Unfortunately, if science and reason cannot change people’s minds, protests could (and in some cases have) become riots.