Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Suppose They Plan to Paint it Red

A couple recently bought a whole town on ebay for $360,000 dollars. Not a bad price considering that here in New York for that price you get a 1 bedroom home in a decrepit neighborhood, or maybe the terrace in a highrise apartment in Manhattan. I hear they were very interested in it because, being a town, it has no idiots, who apparently only reside in villages. I think it will make for some very confusing weekend planning: "Hey, honey, do you wanna go out on the town tonight?" "Nah, I'd rather go out."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Volcanic Ash Good For Taxi Business

Apparently desperate travelers have resorted to paying large sums of money to travel within Europe by cab, the most famous so far John Cleese, formerly of Monty Python. Cleese forked over $5,100 to travel from Oslo to Brussels.

I wonder how much he tipped the driver and whehter he was able to keep his eye on the meter for the full 12 hours. If I were the cabby, I would have taken advantage of the chance to do Monthy Python skits with Cleese, the way I used to do them Monday mornings in the mid-70's at Bronx Science. Yes, that was one way that I spent my adolescent Sunday evenings: begging my father to let me stay up late to watch the latest Monty Python episode. He just did not understand how important it was to come in on Monday morning fully prepared to recreate the Python skits.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Shopping in Handcuffs Will Save You Money

That's right folks, recent research shows that how long you touch or hold something has an effect on your likelihood of buying it. So when you go shopping, ask the security guard to place you in handcuffs as a pre-emptive measure. Tell him that it will look as if he apprehended a shoplifter, and it will make him look good.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Book Review: The End of Sadness

Why are so many people in this country seemingly suffering from depression and why are anti-depressants one of the biggest selling drugs? The answer, according to the authors of The Loss of Sadness is that the definition of depression has been set in such a way that many more people than should will be diagnosed as suffering from depression. What's so bad about that? For one, people will be medicated who are not suffering from depression but appropriately responding to a life circumstance, like the loss of a job or the breakup of a romantic relationship. The problem is that reaction to these life events will express the same symptoms as those delineated in the latest version of the mental health diagnostic manual, the DSM. Second, a false measure on the true extent of depression will shift resources to where they are not truly needed. Third, there is the philosophical issue, not directly addressed by the authors, of what persistent medicalization against life's unwanted but unavoidable circumstances does to us as human beings.

Authors Wakefield and Horwitz show how normal sadness was always understood as a natural response to certain types of life events, and that abnormal responses were always differentiated as such. The latter was seen as a type of condition that was without context or out of proportion to the event in question. The effort to focus on symptoms at the exclusion of context was partly driven by the mental health profession's desire to systematize diagnosis, thereby making it more likely that psychiatrists or general practitioners would arrive at the same diagnosis given the same symptoms. Unfortunately the human mind is not so submissive to external labeling, and this cookie cutter approach was bound to identify a great number of false negatives. This Wakefield and Horwitz show as they expose the biased results of community surveys, particularly those of adolescents, whose lives and mindsets can fluctuate in mood almost daily, depending on where they are on the "cool" scale.

Now that so-called Big Pharma is a major player in the Name the Disease Game, it seems virtually impossible that the mental health profession will reverse on this issue. Nevertheless, as the next version of the DSM is revised (due out in 2011), Wakefield and Horwitz urge their mental health colleagues to consider reuniting context with symptoms so as to revive the traditional distinction between normal sadness and true depression.

This is a great read on the history of how depression came to be defined the way it is today. In particular, it sheds light on how the wrong premises can lead to faulty conclusions and to misguided public policy. In how many other fields could this exist?

Why We Need Brtiney Spear Statues at Dangerous Intersections

According to the blog run by economist Richard Thaler, in India authorities placed a religious shrine near a dangerous intersection to slow down drivers. They don't seem to follow traffic rules, but they do hold their sacred images in high esteem. The obvious solution for America is to have our own sacred images for the same purpose. Remember folks, you're supposed to slow down, not stop and gawk.