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Interesting mainstream article on "mental health"

Have you seen this week's New Yorker?
(cocktail party)
SEATTLE, Washington - It's nice to see some swipes being taken at the mental health industries in a mainstream publication. The New Yorker is the mainstream, an opinion maker, right? Are there actually cocktail parties where everyone stands around, the guys with a drink in one hand and the other hand in their pants pocket, which crumples up the bottom of their blazer under their forearm, as they discuss what's popped up in The New Yorker? I mean, does this happen outside of movies set in Manhattan.

The chattering class can now chew on Louis Menand's article on psychiatry. The article cites many books both past and present on the topic and plucks out many nuggets regarding the shifting and dubious nature of the alleged nature and causes of "mental illness", the current decades-long push of chemical explanations and solutions, and the pathologizing of everyday thoughts and emotions.

Some clips:
There is little agreement about what causes depression and no consensus about what cures it. Virtually no scientist subscribes to the man-in-the-waiting-room theory, which is that depression is caused by a lack of serotonin, but many people report that they feel better when they take drugs that affect serotonin and other brain chemicals. [I'd swear I saw an ad the other day about how low serotonin levels cause depression - jeff]
As a branch of medicine, depression seems to be a mess. Business, however, is extremely good... By 2005, one out of every ten Americans had a prescription for an antidepressant. [I never cease to be shocked by these massive ratios - jeff]
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that more than fourteen million Americans suffer from major depression every year, and more than three million suffer from minor depression (whose symptoms are milder but last longer than two years). [author Gary] Greenberg thinks that numbers like these are ridiculous—not because people aren’t depressed but because, in most cases, their depression is not a mental illness. It’s a sane response to a crazy world.

Greenberg basically regards the pathologizing of melancholy and despair, and the invention of pills designed to relieve people of those feelings, as a vast capitalist conspiracy to paste a big smiley face over a world that we have good reason to feel sick about. The aim of the conspiracy is to convince us that it’s all in our heads, or, specifically, in our brains—that our unhappiness is a chemical problem, not an existential one.
It has been claimed, for example, that up to 18.7 per cent of Americans suffer from social-anxiety disorder. In “Shyness” (2007), Christopher Lane, a professor of English at Northwestern, argues that this is a blatant pathologization of a common personality trait for the financial benefit of the psychiatric profession and the pharmaceutical industry... Turning shyness into a mental disorder has many downstream consequences... Centers are established (there is now a Shyness Research Institute, at Indiana University Southeast) and scientists get funding to, for example, find “the gene for shyness”—even though there was never any evidence that the condition has an organic basis. A juggernaut effect is built into the system.
But after recounting all the dubious history Menand rolls back to a pro-psychiatric-drug position, which is pointed out by Robin Hanson with what his colleagues would call a Hansonian explanation.


Eastside density proponents getting screwed - in the Sammamissionary position

SEATTLE, Washington - I've written several times about the dyspepsia brought on in a tiny percentage of the Seattle population when developers want to make substantive investments that may result in some small change to the "character" of the community. The sourness apparently extends to the suburbs, as the Sammamish city council voted 5-2 to squash a plan for increased density in an under-development part of town.

This being government, they didn't shoot down the plan, they shot down a plan to start thinking about the plan:

What council was asked to decided on Tuesday night was not whether to allow that level of commercial density, but whether or not to begin a process of considering that level of commercial density, as part of an annual Comprehensive Plan revision.
Later in the article, the author notes that both the county and state governments have set growth targets that some communities have to meet. What to do, what to do... layer after layer of government engaged in turf and numbers wars while developers sit around waiting with their thumbs up their asses.


Landscapers: may want to join the 21st century and make websites

SEATTLE, Washington - When I Google around West Seattle and environs for landscapers, it's sad how few have a website to check out. It's a pretty visual thing, landscaping, a few pics can help a guy to make decisions.

I guess any dude with a wheelbarrow, a shovel, and a cell phone pitches himself as a landscaping concern, no web site needed.

I don't want to be reduced to consulting the phone book on this matter.


Some notes on recently screened movies

SEATTLE, Washington -

The Hurt Locker: This is why I usually don't bother with war movies - they all seem to have the same cast of characters. The wild and crazy guy, the play-by-the-rules guy, the young scared guy who gets killed or maimed, the Black guy - over and over. Even the great Mr Kubrick fell right into stereotype with Full Metal Jacket.

de Kooning
(val kilmer)
Pollock: Who casts these things? Val Kilmer as Willem de Kooning? His characterization seemed to consist of a bad haircut and trying to talk without moving his mouth.

Pierrot Le Fou: I used to say that Alphaville was the most Euro movie I've seen. Euro as an adjective. Well, we have a new champion - Pierrot Le Fou. The new most Euro movie ever.

Waterworld: Bad as expected.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence: An unmitigated disaster! I knew it would not be the darker movie Kubrick would have done - but come on. Someone owes a dead guy an apology.


Someone once pestered me about my electricity usage - I ate his liver with some fava beans

SEATTLE, Washington - I'm one of the lucky 20,000 Seattle City Light customers selected to receive condescending lectures about their electricity usage. I'm now burdened with bar graphs and smiley-face ratings concerning my electricity use relative to the use of my neighbors.

These are the people who sell me electricity. They should be lobbying me to use more, not less. They should be trying to sell me my own Large Hadron Collider, not telling me to use CFLs.

The folks who deliver these sorts of lectures don't seem to understand that we don't use electricity for the pleasure of seeing the big number on our bill, we use it because it makes our life better.

The implication of this image is that I'm spending too much on electricity, because look, some of my neighbors are using less. I look at this as me having a better life than my neighbors. How much better? At least $198 better, or else I wouldn't be spending it.

There's so much more to the story of comparing electricity usage than looking at these raw numbers - for instance, I work at home, so I have 2-3 computers and lights burning that many others won't have. Of course the busybodies have an answer for this; their literature implores me and the other victims of this "assistance" to contact them and tell them all about our life, so they can fine-tune their reports.

The real reason this program exists is that some people get a special thrill out of lecturing people, but the putative reason is concern about carbon emissions. (In fact if you go to the city climate web site they'll assign you a "carbon coach"). But if you look at the most recent (2006) figures, the power supplied by Seattle City Light is more than 89% hydro, and only about 2% comes from carbon-emitting sources. My breathing while walking back and forth to Bakery Nouveau probably emits more carbon than my electricity usage.

I'd really rather have a private electricity provider, motivated by good old fashioned "greed", than a public utility that uses me as a captive audience for their lecturing.


Ben & Jerry's declares victory in fight against extreme global poverty

A glitch
(ice cream)
SEATTLE, Washington - I've spent enough time posted up in front of the ice cream freezer at the supermarket to notice when there's a subtle change. It's like seeing the cat twice in The Matrix. My senses tingled when I saw "Cheesecake Brownie" flavor in the case today.

This flavor used to be called "ONE Cheesecake Brownie" and proceeds benefited the ONE Campaign, an advocacy group concerned with fighting poverty and preventable diseases. I guess the goals have been achieved. Where's the money going now, Messrs Ben and Jerry? Obscene profits? Executive perks?

Still tastes good.

This is the most subtle name change at least since ESPN's Rome is Burning morphed into Jim Rome is Burning. Maybe even since USAir became US Airways in the 1990s.


Look the hell out Oregon, Richard M. Daley is coming for your businesses

Come to Chicago
(Richard Daley)
SEATTLE, Washington - As we all know here in the Northwest, Chicago plucked Boeing's corporate headquarters away from Seattle in 2001. A coup to be sure, but not nearly enough to satisfy the appetites of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, who is responding to Oregon's recent, ill-advised tax increases by criticizing their bash-the-"rich" premise and promising greener pastures in Illinois:
“What happened in Oregon is not good news for Oregon. They believe that anybody who makes $125,000 or more [annually] or businesses or anyone who makes $250,000 — they’re gonna start taxing them. They call them ‘rich people,’ ” the mayor said.

“I’ve always thought America stands for [rewarding success]. You finish high school. You work hard, go to college and you hope to succeed in life. I never knew it’s a class war—that those who succeed in life are the ones that have to bear all the burden. I never realized that. It will be a whole change in America that those who succeed and work hard [that] we’re gonna tax ‘em more than anyone else.”
He's acting like this whole tax the successful thing is new, it's not, but I appreciate the sentiment.
Daley said Oregon’s tax blunder spells opportunity for Chicago.

“It will help our economic development immediately. You’d better believe it. We’ll be out in Oregon enticing corporations to relocate to Chicago. I’ll be very frank. I make no bones about that. If those states want to do that, so be it,” he said.
You hear that, Oregon? He's not just blowing hot air from 1,800 miles away - he's sending operatives to Oregon to seduce the businesses there.

Now this may all be smoke, mirrors and propaganda - the commenters on the Sun Times story linked above are killing Daley for hypocrisy, for his bloated and corrupt government, etc., and a hottie in Chicago I'd like to seduce an operative of mine in Chicago noted to me that the sales tax is 10.5% in Chicago and the property taxes are no picnic either.

Still, if you treat the productive class as an ATM machine they may just decide to move on; this is true both for individuals and businesses.