The Ivy League, Mental Illness, and the Meaning of Life

ivy league mental illness

 

An interview with William Deresiewicz, former Yale English professor. Read the full story at The Atlantic.

 

Excerpt:

 

These kids were always the best of their class, and their teachers were always praising them, inflating their ego. But it’s a false self-esteem. It’s not real self-possession, where you are measuring yourself against your own internal standards and having a sense that you’re working towards something. It’s totally conditional, and constantly has to be pumped up by the next grade, the next A, or gold star. As Miller says, what you’re really learning is that your parents’ love is conditional on this achievement. So when you fail, even a little bit, even if you just get a B on a test, or an A- on a test, the whole thing collapses. It may only collapse temporarily, but it’s a profound collapse—you feel literally worthless.

These are kids who have no ability to measure their own worth in any realistic way—either you are on top of the world, or you are worthless. And that kind of all or nothing mentality really pervades the whole system. It’s also why it’s Harvard or the gutter: If you don’t get into Harvard, Yale or Princeton, it’s a disgrace. If you go to Wesleyan, you can never show your face in public again.

The War Photo No One Would Publish

first gulf war

 

 

 

Not long after the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 (with more than one million casualties on both sides), Saddam Hussein, then-Iraq’s leader, had his troops aimed, again, at its neighboring country, Kuwait, bringing the exasperated country back at war. The consequences were deadly for both Iraq and Kuwait, and nearly for Saudi Arabia; almost 800,000 US and NATO troops had to be brought in to stop Iraqi troops from invading the wider Middle East region. Thus began First Gulf War in 1991. Nonetheless, the war played upon was all huge mess not only for the military, but also civilians; while hundred thousands of soldiers were either dead or killed under the storms of fires, bombardments, and mortar shells, millions of civilians were also massively displaced. Most depressingly, Iraq had to pay war reparations to Kuwait almost equivalent to 80 billion US$, severely hampering the country’s already fragile financial stability.

But the public worldwide didn’t really have a complete idea about how the war was truly about. Kenneth Jarecke captured raw, real pictures about the worn-out troops, dead bodies, and all gruesome scenery from the battlefields, but none of the mass media wanted to publish his work instead. And much of the public remains concealed by the reality, up to now.

Read the full article in The Atlantic about Jarecke’s photographs.

 

Excerpt:

 

Not every gruesome photo reveals an important truth about conflict and combat. Last month, The New York Times decided—for valid ethical reasons—to remove images of dead passengers from an online story about Flight MH-17 in Ukraine and replace them with photos of mechanical wreckage. Sometimes though, omitting an image means shielding the public from the messy, imprecise consequences of a war—making the coverage incomplete, and even deceptive.

In the case of the charred Iraqi soldier, the hypnotizing and awful photograph ran against the popular myth of the Gulf War as a “video-game war”—a conflict made humane through precision bombing and night-vision equipment. By deciding not to publish it, TIME magazine and the Associated Press denied the public the opportunity to confront this unknown enemy and consider his excruciating final moments.

The image was not entirely lost. The Observer in the United Kingdom and Libération in France both published it after the American media refused. Many months later, the photo also appeared in American Photo, where it stoked some controversy, but came too late to have a significant impact. All of this surprised the photographer, who had assumed the media would be only too happy to challenge the popular narrative of a clean, uncomplicated war. “When you have an image that disproves that myth,” he says today, “then you think it’s going to be widely published.”

The Crash of EgyptAir 990

egyptair

 

As the world still mourns the devastating Malaysia Airlines’ MH17 shoot-down incident in Ukraine (the second time the country’s national carrier faces its tragedy after the disappearance of MH370), let us take a look at another case of plane crash, as seen from the case of EgyptAir 990, which crashed into the waters surrounding Nantucket Islands, Massachusetts, on a flight scheduled between Los Angeles and Cairo, Egypt’s capital, 15 years ago.

The real cause of the crash, though, remains up to speculation nowadays. Some disputed if it was caused by mechanical failures or a deliberately planned act by the main crew themselves.

Read the full story, written by veteran journalist and aviation enthusiast, William Langewiesche, released in 2001, in The Atlantic.

 

Excerpt:

 

Flight 990 pushed back from the gate and taxied toward the active runway at 1:12 A.M. Because there was little other traffic at the airport, communications with the control tower were noticeably relaxed. At 1:20 Flight 990 lifted off. It topped the clouds at 1,000 feet and turned out over the ocean toward a half moon rising above the horizon. The airplane was identified and tracked by air-traffic-control radar as it climbed through the various New York departure sectors and entered the larger airspace belonging to the en-route controllers of New York Center; its transponder target and data block moved steadily across the controllers’ computer-generated displays, and its radio transmissions sounded perhaps a little awkward, but routine. At 1:44 it leveled off at the assigned 33,000 feet.

The en-route controller working the flight was a woman named Ann Brennan, a private pilot with eight years on the job. She had the swagger of a good controller, a real pro. Later she characterized the air traffic that night as slow, which it was—during the critical hour she had handled only three other flights. The offshore military-exercise zones, known as warning areas, were inactive. The sky was sleeping.

At 1:47 Brennan said, “EgyptAir Nine-ninety, change to my frequency one-two-five-point-niner-two.”

EgyptAir acknowledged the request with a friendly “Good day,” and after a pause checked in on the new frequency: “New York, EgyptAir Nine-nine-zero heavy, good morning.”

Brennan answered, “EgyptAir Nine-ninety, roger.”

That was the last exchange. Brennan noticed that the flight still had about fifteen minutes to go before leaving her sector. Wearing her headset, she stood up and walked six feet away to sort some paperwork. A few minutes later she approved a request by Washington Center to steer an Air France 747 through a corner of her airspace. She chatted for a while with her supervisor, a man named Ray Redhead. In total she spent maybe six minutes away from her station, a reasonable interval on such a night. It was just unlucky that while her back was turned Flight 990 went down.

 

 

Analyzing Kafka

kafka

 

 

This is how Kafka interprets the world: a man wakes up to find himself transformed into a huge bug (literally) with no obvious cause. An ordinary employee was, against his own destiny, detained by unknown agents, and put into trial for unclear reasons. A lonely old man is disrupted by two rolling balls with origins totally unknown. And these all resonate pretty well with the oftentimes disturbing, and incomprehensibly enigmatic, reality of our universe.

The Atlantic provides an in-depth analysis of Kafka’s literary realm. Read the full article here.

Excerpt:

Kafka created “obscure lucidity,” Erich Heller wrote in his book on Kafka. “His is an art more poignantly and disturbingly obscure,” he added, “than literature has ever known.” One thinks one grasps Kafka’s meaning, but does one, really? All seems so clear, yet is it, truly? A famous aphorism of Kafka’s reads: “Hiding places there are innumerable, escape is only one, but possibilities of escape, again, are as many as hiding places.” Another runs: “A cage went in search of a bird.”

As with Kafka’s aphorisms, so with his brief parables. The parables, Walter Benjamin wrote, are “never exhausted by what is explainable; on the contrary, he took all conceivable precautions against the interpretation of his writings.” Whatever these precautions may have been, they were inadequate, for the works of Franz Kafka—apart perhaps only from the Bible and the works of Shakespeare—may be the most relentlessly interpreted, if not overinterpreted, in the modern world.