Once again there’s nothing I see that stimulates me to write; am I running dry, is there no news of note, or is everything happening just a reprisal of what I’ve commented on before? At any rate, there’s no need for me to write when I am not compelled to say something, so perhaps we can have a discussion instead. (I’ll put up a photo-and-video post of Botany Pond’s ducks and turtles later.) But there are things we can discuss.
Here are a few subjects, but you needn’t limit yourself to these.
A lot of people, and not just right-wingers, are complaining about the rapid changes in recommendations by the CDC about how to behave during the pandemic. While the vaccination recommendation remains strong and in place, lockdown and especially mask recommendations seem to change daily. Is this just what happens when what we know about the new variants and about science changes over time, or is the CDC itself conflicted about what to do and say, perhaps because there’s a conflict between their medical opinions and how Americans would react against more restrictions? On the NBC Evening News yesterday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky was asked if she thought there should be the “government should mandate the vaccine on a federal level”. They were asking her opinion, but she punted, saying that the administration was looking into it, and later issued the following “clarification”:
Even so, I don’t know what she’s talking about. My own view is to act like I did last year and earlier this year: wear masks indoors, stay 6 feet away from people who I don’t know are vaccinated, and wash my hands a lot. And I’ll get a booster. I am less fearful than I was last year, as we know the vaccine strongly protects you against death or hospitalization. But all over America, people are resistant to new lockdowns. Given the data on the delta variant, and the claim that it can accumulate in the nasal passages of those who have been fully vaccinated, and that those people can infect other people—even other vaccinated people—is the federal government acting properly? (I assume people will agree that some state governments have their heads in the sand.)
After missing a vault and falling on her back in practice, gymnast Simone Biles has apparently pulled out of all team and individual events. This is surely wise, as she seems to have lost either her confidence or sense of where she was in the air. She said she had the “twisties”. Apparently this is not uncommon among gymnasts. As Time Magazine reports:
And every gymnast can relate. Biles has since said that the combination of mental stress and pressure leading up to the Olympics have affected her confidence. But, more importantly, she felt a disconnect between her mind and body; her body was no longer doing what she wanted it to. Whatever the trigger, gymnasts call this the “twisties.”
“If you say ‘twisties’ every gymnast knows what you’re talking about,” says Jordyn Wieber, member of the 2012 Olympics gold medal team and now head women’s gymnastics coach at the University of Arkansas. “It’s something all gymnasts experience at one time or another.”
. . .What causes the twisties varies from gymnast to gymnast—sometimes, they can be triggered if the gymnast is training different twisting skills at the same time, for instance going back and forth between double twisting elements, one-and-a-half twists, and triples. Stress could contribute to them. Or they can just descend out of the blue for no reason.
For Biles, they occurred on the world’s biggest stage, and the look of concern everyone saw on her face makes sense. “She is doing some of the most difficult skills in the entire world, and if you’re not mentally in a great place, or have the twisties, then that can be a matter or life or death,” says Wieber. “One wrong landing, or landing on your neck, could be really, really dangerous.” Biles has four skills named after her on the vault, floor and beam, including the daring triple-twisting double back flip on floor exercise.
Biles has been answering questions on Instagram about the twisties, and it’s clear she is experiencing the classic signs. “Literally cannot tell up from down. It’s the craziest feeling ever, not having an inch of control over your body,” she wrote. “what’s even scarier is since I have no idea where I am in the air, I also have NO idea how I’m going to land. or what I’m going to land on. Head/hands/feet/back…”
What worries me is not Biles’s or her teammates’ behavior, but the reporting that has analogized the “twisties” with serious mental illness: the kind of depression, for example, that still affects swimmer Michael Phelps and perhaps Naomi Ozaka. Biles in fact seems to be receiving support for going public with being mentally ill, something that she hasn’t done!
What’s good about the Phelps/Ozaka cases is that they’ve led to the de-stigmatization of mental illness and the recognition that it’s more frequent than people think. But is there a downside with conflating nerves, “twisties”, or a loss or proficiency with mental illness? I think so, but want to hear from readers.
Finally, speaking of the Olympics, is there too much jingoism evinced in the coverage? Every night on the reports, nearly all the coverage is about Americans, with the inevitable chart showing how the countries rank in terms of medals, like this one:
I know you can’t get rid of patriotism completely, but it seems that this concentration on countries is inimical to the spirit of the Olympics, where politics isn’t supposed to matter. And I suspect there are a lot of fantastic athletes from other countries with stories as compelling as, or more so, than those of athletes like Katie Ledecky and Sunisa Lee. Where are their stories?
Well, those are three suggestions, but any topic is open. As always, I regard such discussions as failures if we get fewer than fifty comments (it’s a peccadillo of mine), so weigh in.