Sunday, April 26, 2015

Misrepresentations continue in coverage of Honduras reelection decision


The AP article printed the other day in the Guardian, “Honduran judges throw out single-term limit on presidency,” features what will surely be the accepted mainstream-media tropes for the coverage of the decision (to the limited extent that the story is covered at all): it’s ironic and controversial because these were the same people who carried out a military coup against the democratically elected Zelaya for wanting to do away with presidential term limits to extend his own rule back in 2009. As the article portrays it, the
Ruling revives tensions that led to coup and ouster of Manuel Zelaya six years ago when he sought to change constitution so officeholders could stand again

…The supreme court in Honduras has voided a single-term limit for the country’s presidency — the issue at the heart of the political conflict that led to the ouster of socialist [!] incumbent Manuel Zelaya six years ago when he sought to hold a referendum on rewriting the constitution.

Forces that united to remove Zelaya from office, including some members of his own party, had contended he wanted to end the ban on second terms so he could remain in power.
Yes, they contended it then, and it was patently false then, as many – including Mark Weisbrot, who writes frequently for the Guardian - pointed out at the time* and since. The majority of commenters on the article itself have explained (yet again) that this was a fraudulent pretext for the coup, but there’s little chance that a correction or clarification will be forthcoming.

There’s no parallel here, and there’s no irony. The “tensions” are not the same. This is simply a continuation of the ambitions of the coupists. A good rule of thumb is to assume that any authoritarian plots of which rightwingers accuse their enemies are really projections of their own desires.

* As Weisbrot wrote then:
Zelaya's referendum, planned for the day the coup took place, was a nonbinding poll. It only asked voters if they wanted to have an actual referendum on reforming the country's Constitution on the November ballot. Even if Zelaya had gotten everything he was looking for, a new president would have been elected on the same November ballot. So Zelaya would be out of office in January, no matter what steps were taken toward constitutional reform.

Paula J. Caplan, When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans (2011)


This isn’t a review, as I’m only a few chapters in. But already I can recommend Caplan’s book to anyone who cares about the experience of war and the continuing failure to address soldiers’ and veterans’ problems. It’s received far too little attention – I didn’t know about it until I happened to see it cited in a journal article yesterday – which is unfortunate.* I’ve of course added it to the psychiatry-skepticism-social justice reading list, and urge others to check it out:
Traumatized veterans returning from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are often diagnosed as suffering from a psychological disorder and prescribed a regimen of psychotherapy and psychiatric drugs. But why, asks psychologist Paula J. Caplan in this impassioned book, is it a mental illness to be devastated by war? What is a mentally healthy response to death, destruction, and moral horror? In When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home, Caplan argues that the standard treatment of therapy and drugs is often actually harmful. It adds to veterans’ burdens by making them believe wrongly that they should have “gotten over it”; it isolates them behind the closed doors of the therapist’s office; and it makes them rely on often harmful drugs. The numbers of traumatized veterans from past and present wars who continue to suffer demonstrate the ineffectiveness of this approach.

Sending anguished veterans off to talk to therapists, writes Caplan, conveys the message that the rest of us don’t want to listen -- or that we don’t feel qualified to listen. As a result, the truth about war is kept under wraps. Most of us remain ignorant about what war is really like -- and continue to allow our governments to go to war without much protest. Caplan proposes an alternative: that we welcome veterans back into our communities and listen to their stories, one-on-one. (She provides guidelines for conducting these conversations.) This would begin a long overdue national discussion about the realities of war, and it would start the healing process for our returning veterans.
* The vague, nondescript title hasn’t helped, I’m sure.

Honduras is now the most dangerous country for environmental activists


Honduras Culture and Politics discusses a new Global Witness report about killings of environmental activists, which notes that Honduras is “the most dangerous country to be an environmental defender.”

They point to how the numbers killed in Honduras (111 people total between 2002 and 2014) increased abruptly after 2009, as shown in the Global Witness graphic:


From 2002 to 2009, Honduras had 0, 1, 2, or 3 deaths per year of environmentalists. Starting with 2010, those numbers skyrocketed: 21 deaths in 2010, 33 deaths in 2011, 25 deaths in 2012, 10 deaths in 2013, and 12 deaths in 2014. 90% of the Honduran environmentalist deaths occurred in the last 5 years!

Global Witness found that mining and other extractive industries caused the largest number of deaths in 2014, with a tie for the second spot between Water and Dams, and Agribusiness. These three accounted for 84% of the environmentalist deaths in 2014.

This violence has come down particularly hard on indigenous environmentalists. Three Tolupan leaders were shot and killed during an anti-mining protest in 2014.
Because readers of the blog are likely to be familiar with the country’s recent history, HCAP doesn’t explicitly point to the transformative event in 2009: the military coup against democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya. When Hillary Clinton worked to “render the question of Zelaya moot” and institutionalize the coup, this is what she helped set in motion. They also don’t mention – again because most readers will be all too aware – the impunity with which these crimes are committed. But I’m sure the Marines will help with that.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Quote of the day


Commenter Charles at the Honduras Culture and Politics post “Presidential Re-election?!”:
The only fitting end to this farce would be if Manuel Zelaya ran again and won.

Psychiatry-skepticism-social justice reading list: user-friendly edition


I thought it might be helpful to provide the list without the distractions of links or commentary. I’ve provided links only to those materials available free online.

• Robert Whitaker, Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill (2002)

• James Davies, Cracked: The Unhappy Truth about Psychiatry (2013)

• Irving Kirsch, The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth (2009)

• Robert Whitaker, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America (2010)

• Brett J. Deacon, “The biomedical model of mental disorder: A critical analysis of its validity, utility, and effects on psychotherapy research” (2013), Clinical Psychology Review 33, 846-861

• Marcia Angell, “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?”, “The Illusions of Psychiatry,” and “‘The Illusions of Psychiatry’: An Exchange” (2011)

• Jeffrey R. Lacasse and Jonathan Leo, “Serotonin and Depression: A Disconnect between the Advertisements and the Scientific Literature” (2005), PLoS Medicine 2(12): e392.

• Joanna Moncrieff, The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment (2008)

• Paula J. Caplan, When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Veterans (2011)

• Stuart A. Kirk, Tomi Gomory, and David Cohen, Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs

• Ethan Watters, Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche (2010)

• Christopher Lane, Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness (2007)

• Jonathan Leo and Jeffrey R. Lacasse, “The Media and the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Depression” (2008), Society 45(1): 35-45

• Glen I. Spielmans and Peter I. Parry, “From Evidence-based Medicine to Marketing-based Medicine: Evidence from Internal Industry Documents” (2010), Bioethical Inquiry 7: 13-29 (I don’t link to PDFs, but you can find it free online)

• Jeffrey Lacasse, “After DSM-5: A Critical Mental Health Research Agenda for the 21st Century” (2014), Research on Social Work Practice 24(1): 5-10

• Sam Kriss, “Book of Lamentations” (2013), The New Inquiry, October 18

• Ben Goldacre, Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks (2008)

• Ben Goldacre, Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients (2012)

• Paul Moloney, The Therapy Industry: The Irresistible Rise of the Talking Cure, and Why It Doesn’t Work (2013)

• Erich Fromm, various

• Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth and New Ways in Psychoanalysis

• Marcia Westkott, The Feminist Legacy of Karen Horney (1986)

• Alice Miller, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child

• Ignacio Martín-Baró, Writings for a Liberation Psychiatry

• Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

I’ve updated the list with one new item, and will probably just continue to update it over time. I’ve reviewed several of the books and provided supplementary materials on this blog, so if you’re interested you can find the link-annotated version of the list here. As I said there, “I’ll note that recommending these books doesn’t mean that I endorse each and every argument they contain, which would be impossible in any case as they often disagree amongst themselves.”

“There is no reality”


What would happen if the Kochs and the heads of all of the think tanks funded by fossil fuels interests publicly announced that AGW was real and serious, and candidly spoke in interviews about the history and mechanics of AGW denialism? If the reaction to public announcements and other statements from the current and former heads of the NIMH and various DSM task-force chairs and editors is any predictor, not much. When a myth has taken root in the public imagination, even the admission that it’s a myth by the mythmakers themselves seems to do little to dislodge it.

I’ve posted some of these statements in various places, but I thought I’d amass them in one spot so they can be read and appreciated together:

“His psychiatric colleagues, he said dismissively, ‘actually believe [that the diseases they diagnose using the DSM] are real. But there’s no reality. These are just constructs. There is no reality to schizophrenia or depression...we might have to stop using terms like depression and schizophrenia, because they are getting in our way, confusing things[’].” – NIMH Director Thomas Insel, interviewed in 2013

“The weakness [of the DSM] is its lack of validity. Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure.” – Thomas Insel in 2013 on why the NIMH would cease using DSM diagnoses

“In the future, we hope to be able to identify disorders using biological and genetic markers that provide precise diagnoses that can be delivered with complete reliability and validity. Yet this promise, which we have anticipated since the 1970s, remains disappointingly distant. We’ve been telling patients for several decades that we are waiting for biomarkers. We’re still waiting.” – David Kupfer, DSM-5 Task Force Chair, statement in response to the 2013 NIMH announcement

“…‘So presumably’, I asked, ‘these disorders had been discovered in a biological sense? That’s why they were included [in the DSM-III], right?’

‘No, not at all’, Spitzer said matter-of-factly.

‘There are only a handful of mental disorders in the DSM known to have a clear biological cause. These are known as the organic disorders [like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s disease]. These are few and far between’.

‘So, let me get this clear’, I pressed, ‘there are no discovered biological causes for many of the remaining mental disorders in the DSM?’

‘Not for many, for any! No biological markers have been identified’.

…[I]f the findings of biology did not help the Taskforce to determine what disorders to include in the DSM-III, then what on earth did?

‘I guess our general principle’, answered Spitzer candidly, ‘was that if a large enough number of clinicians felt that a diagnostic concept was important in their work, then we were likely to add it as a new category. That was essentially it. It became a question of how much consensus there was to recognize and include a particular disorder’.

…What sprang to mind at Spitzer’s revelation was the point I made in the previous chapter about agreement not constituting proof. If a group of respected theologians all agree that God exists, this does not prove that God exists. All it proves is that these theologians believe it. So in what sense is psychiatric agreement different? Why, when a committee of psychiatrists agree that a collection of behaviors and feelings point to the existence of a mental disorder, should the rest of us accept they’ve got it right?” - DSM-III taskforce chair Robert Spitzer, interviewed by James Davies (Cracked, 2013)

“[T]he field has…failed to identify a single neurobiological phenotypic marker or gene that is useful in making a diagnosis of a major psychiatric disorder or for predicting response to psychopharmacological treatment.” – DSM-IV Editor Michael First, quoted in Brett J. Deacon, “The biomedical model of mental disorder: A critical analysis of its validity, utility, and effects on psychotherapy research,” 2013, Clinical Psychology Review 33, 846-861

“There is no definition of a mental disorder. It’s bullshit. I mean, you just can’t define it.” – DSM-IV Task Force Chair Allen Frances, interviewed by Gary Greenberg in 2011, quoted in Mad Science

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pope accepts resignation of US bishop who covered for child sex abuser


Evidently, this is the first case of a bishop even being “removed” for such a crime in the US, which is itself shocking. The resignation appears to be the result of sustained public pressure.
Pope Francis on Tuesday accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn, who led the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

Finn pleaded guilty in 2013 to failing to report a suspected priestly child abuser in the first known case of a pope sanctioning bishops for covering up for pedophiles.

The Vatican said Tuesday that Bishop Robert Finn had offered his resignation under the code of canon law that allows bishops to resign early for illness or some “grave” reason that makes them unfit for office. It didn’t provide a reason.

Finn, who leads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, waited six months before notifying police about the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, whose computer contained hundreds of lewd photos of young girls taken in and around churches where he worked. Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges.

Finn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure to report suspected abuse and was sentenced to two years’ probation in 2012. Ever since, he has faced pressure from local Roman Catholics to step down, with some parishioners petitioning Francis to remove him from the diocese.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sunday, April 19, 2015

You and Me


Whatever the vicissitudes in the quality of Revenge,* the music has never faltered. In the last episode:



* The line last week about how Amanda was being seen as the modern-day Count of Monte Cristo was perfect.

What’s this blog about?


I’ve never entered anything in the “About Me” section of the blog. When I started, I wanted to leave it open, and since over time my emphases have shifted quite a bit I believed there wasn’t enough consistency to characterize the blog as being “about” this or that. It’s also difficult to estimate how much attention you’ve paid to various subjects over an extended period of time – you tend to be more aware of recent interests.

But I’ve just discovered that Blogger has a handy feature that tells you how many times you’ve used each tag, and it turns out I haven’t shifted topics so much as expanded on them, while the core subjects – to be sure, there are several - have stayed largely the same.

Across more than 900 posts, these have been my main emphases:

• social movements

• human and animal rights (this is really one category – animal rights – of which human rights is a subset; I’ve had a surprising emphasis on whales)

• the US and the Americas, with a focus on Honduras and Venezuela

• science, research, and technology

• ethics

• women, gender, and sexuality

• atheism and religion

• corporations

• health, with an emphasis on biopsychiatry (for which I don’t have a tag) and humanistic alternatives (especially those of Erich Fromm and Karen Horney)

• law

• spin (mostly corporate and government)

• art, film, and music

• history, with an emphasis on the Holocaust and the Cold War

Other major topics have included:

• nature and evolution

• the media

• academics and education

• skepticism

• race

• photography and poetry (mine and others’)

• veganism, food and drink

I’ll probably summarize the information for the “About Me” page, or maybe I’ll just link to this post.

UPDATED: Psychiatry-skepticism-social justice reading list


Back in 2012, I wrote about why psychiatry is an important skeptical and social justice issue and created a short list of reading suggestions for approaching psychiatry from these perspectives. The impending release later this week of Psychiatry Under the Influence has nudged me to update it.

Much has changed since 2012, and all of the developments point to the urgency of critically examining and speaking out about psychiatry and psychopharmaceuticals. Just prior to the publication of the DSM-5 in 2013, the NIMH announced that it would no longer use psychiatric diagnoses, acknowledging that they’re not scientifically valid,* which was then publicly admitted (again) by the leaders of the APA. Studies completed over the past three years have provided more evidence of the ineffectiveness and harms of psychiatric drugs, and others have demonstrated the profound psychological effects of marginalization and socioeconomic trauma. Professional movements challenging biopsychiatry and its drugs have continued to grow.

Today, many continue desperately to try to sell the myths about brain diseases and disorders and chemical imbalances, at the same time as others have taken to claiming astonishingly that reputable psychiatrists never made such claims at all. Countless people, including children, have had their rights violated and been injured or killed by psychiatric drugs since 2012, while pharma has reaped the profits and its representatives in psychiatry continue to operate with impunity.** Tragically, the skeptical community continues to exclude and attempt to silence critical perspectives while promoting psychiatric myths. I have no doubt that they believe their arguments and recommendations to be compassionate and helpful, but genuinely helpful approaches should be based in reality and not pseudoscience.

So, because hope springs eternal, I’m adding a few more resources which might entice the curious or the concerned. The original list included:

• Robert Whitaker, Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill (2002)

• Irving Kirsch, The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth (2009)

• Robert Whitaker, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America (2010)

• Marcia Angell, “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?”, “The Illusions of Psychiatry,” and “‘The Illusions of Psychiatry’: An Exchange” (2011)

Ethan Watters, Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche (2010)

• Christopher Lane, Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness (2007)

• Ben Goldacre, Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks (2008)

• Ben Goldacre, Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients (2012)

Erich Fromm, various

And here are the additions, several of which I’ve reviewed in the intervening years:

Joanna Moncrieff, The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment (2008)

• James Davies, Cracked: The Unhappy Truth about Psychiatry (2013)

• Stuart A. Kirk, Tomi Gomory, and David Cohen, Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs (2013)

• Paul Moloney, The Therapy Industry: The Irresistible Rise of the Talking Cure, and Why It Doesn’t Work (2013) (I hope to critically review this in the not-too-distant future)

Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth and New Ways in Psychoanalysis

• Marcia Westkott, The Feminist Legacy of Karen Horney (1986)

• Alice Miller, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child

Ignacio Martín-Baró, Writings for a Liberation Psychiatry

• Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (1961) (don’t know how I neglected this the first time!)

Once again I’ll note that recommending these books doesn’t mean that I endorse each and every argument they contain, which would be impossible in any case as they often disagree amongst themselves.

In addition to Psychiatry Under the Influence, there’s a new book by sociologist Andrew Scull, Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine, that looks interesting (though the Kindle price is pretty high). This excerpt contains an interesting note about Thomas Insel:
A few months earlier, in a private conversation that he must have realized would become public, Insel had voiced an even more heretical thought. His psychiatric colleagues, he said dismissively, ‘actually believe [that the diseases they diagnose using the DSM] are real. But there’s no reality. These are just constructs. There is no reality to schizophrenia or depression...we might have to stop using terms like depression and schizophrenia, because they are getting in our way, confusing things[’].
Apparently, this was from a conversation recorded in Gary Greenberg’s The Book of Woe, which I haven’t yet read and so couldn’t add to the list.

* Thomas Insel remains faithful to the idea that the biological roots of psychological problems will be found, even if it takes, as he expects, decades.

** I’ve discussed all of this in much more depth here over the years – posts on the subject can be found under my “health” tag.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

No, that’s not a reason to love Ricky Gervais


Ecorazzi is gleefully reporting on a “Twitter war” sparked by a tweet by Ricky Gervais targeting a trophy hunter. Trophy hunters (and hunters in general) are overwhelmingly male, and the majority of animal liberation activists are women (not that you’d know it from all of the attention paid to male voices or the misogynistic stunts of some organizations); but Gervais chose to “call out” a woman, Rebecca Francis.

He had to know that his tweet would lead to Francis being barraged with threats. The Ecorazzi writer, pleased that the conflict is bringing attention to wildlife-protection organizations, breezes right past this inevitable result - “It wasn’t long before some of his over 7.5 million followers started posting death threats to Francis saying she should be the one shot…” – without a word of objection. In some of the first responses to Gervais’ original tweet people call Francis an “ugly bitch” and a “massive cunt” and write “disgusting trash box I hope the rifle backfires and explodes in that cunt’s face,” eliciting no negative response from Gervais. (This isn’t especially surprising - not long ago, he came up with the hilarious idea to rename hunters “cunters.”)

I’m sure there are many reasons to like Gervais, including his commitment to animals and his humor (some of his tweets in this episode would be funny and useful in another context). But this isn’t one of them. We don’t advance the cause of compassion by riling up threatening, misogynistic mobs. Targeting and harassing others, leading them to fear for their safety, is what hunters do. Surely it should be obvious to vegans that this sport shaming is contrary to our values.

Friday, April 17, 2015

In short,…

“In short, Obama’s diplomacy at the Summit of the Americas in part consisted of going around promising not to overthrow his fellow leaders, which would be faintly ridiculous if Washington hadn’t in fact intervened so much in neighbors’ affairs.”Juan Cole

You don’t say.

“We spoke to multiple U.S. law enforcement and intelligence sources who had direct knowledge of our case. They all said they did not doubt our story back in 2012 or anytime since.”Richard Engel

In the path of a World Bank project


A trail of stolen homes and shattered lives for millions of people.

(And no, the World Bank isn’t “committed to fighting poverty,” any more than the “key purpose” of clinical trials in a capitalist system is “producing accessible knowledge for clinical decision making.”)