Saturday, July 31, 2010

In case you missed it...
some nice words from Ireland


There's a pretty cool interview with pictures and audio i did with State radio in Ireland while I was there. It was just posted with a nice article a few days ago. (watch it below)



Here'a a few other nice bits of press i received while i was there:

IRISH TIMES - Punk Rock Power Shots

Thumped - Let The Kids Shoot Them Now

TOTALLY DUBLIN

BoingBoing - Road notes: 24 hours in Dublin with photographer Glen E. Friedman and...




video

Friday, July 30, 2010

If you're depressed, the world really looks gray



from MSNBC

Retina scans show problems seeing black-and-white contrast differences

The world really does look gray to depressed people, at least on a subconscious level, new research suggests.

Researchers at the University of Freiburg in Germany had previously shown that people with depression have difficulty detecting black-and-white contrast differences. But the scientists had used a somewhat subjective measure — psychophysical tests — and others in the field had suggested perhaps depressed individuals had a harder time holding their attention and that explained the results.

The new study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, relies on an objective measure of the retina, suggesting depressed people may see the world in a different way from the non-depressed.

"These data highlight the profound ways that depression alters one's experience of the world," said Dr. John Krystal, editor of the journal. "The poet William Cowper said that 'variety's the very spice of life,' yet when people are depressed, they are less able to perceive contrasts in the visual world. This loss would seem to make the world a less pleasurable place."

Vision test
The research team had 40 patients with major depression and 40 healthy individuals view a sequence of five black-and-white checkerboards of different contrasts. Each checkerboard flickered (with a black square turning white and white turning black) 12 times per second on a computer screen.

Meanwhile, the researchers used an objective measure called the pattern electroretinogram, which is similar to an electrocardiogram (ECG) of the retina of the eye. The retina ECG shows the response of neurons inside the retinal cells. "That's not conscious vision, it's much earlier than you conscioulsy perceive something, within milliseconds," said lead researcher Dr. Ludger Tebartz van Elst.

The depressed patients had dramatically lower retinal responses to the varying black-and-white contrasts than healthy individuals. The results held regardless of whether patients were taking antidepressants.

Since conscious vision wasn't measured, the researchers can't say for certain whether the patients would be aware of the visual "impairment" in the real world, though they suspect that would be the case.

How the depressed eye works
While the researchers aren't sure exactly why depressed people might sort of "see the world as gray," they have a strong hypothesis. Here's how they figure it works: Contrast vision relies on so-called amacrine cells within the retina, which horizontally connect the retina's neurons called ganglion cells with each other. These cells rely on dopamine, a substance known to be important for drive and attention – when lacking, two main symptoms of depression.

"We think the retina is some sort of outpost marker of the integrity of the dopaminergic system in the whole brain," van Elst said. So the dopamine is linked with both the vision and the depression.

The finding has plenty of practical implications, van Elst said, including acting as an indicator of whether anti-depression drugs are working. In addition, the test could provide an objective measure of depression, as clinical tests are not always reliable.

"It's really amazing that we are able to distinguish healthy controls from depressed patients. That means we have an objective marker for essentially the subjective state of being depressed," van Elst told LiveScience.

The study scientists noted that although these findings are strong, they still need to be replicated in further studies.

* 7 Thoughts That Are Bad for You
* Different Colors Describe Happiness vs. Depression
* Top 10 Mysteries of the Mind

from LiveScience.com. via MSNBC

thanks, Chris!

photo above from The Idealist

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Viral Video Commercials of the Month

Serious


Humor


And let's throw in a trailer for a movie that also looks hilarious:
THE OTHER GUYS

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

more sumer tips:
Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning


The kind of drowning you see on T.V.—think thrashy, screamy—doesn't have much in common with what real drowning looks like, according to writer and Navy/Coast Guard veteran Mario Vittone. That's because of something called the Instinctive Drowning Response, a pattern of behavior that appears to be hard-wired into humans and pops up whenever somebody feels like they're suffocating in water.

Frank Pia, Ph.D., the psychologist and lifeguard to first described the Instinctive Drowning Response explains it this way:
1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.

2. Drowning people's mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people's mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.

3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water's surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.

4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.

5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people's bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

In real life, a drowning person will be a lot more still and silent than you expect.
Thanks, BoingBoing And read the incredible comments at BoingBoing, here. Here's an example of one comment that does not describe thier own personal drowning stories (as most did in bone chilling detail), this one kinda hit it on the head for me:
"Is the detatched, clinical tone of this account more chilling than a more dramatic account for anyone else? Cause it's freaking me the fuck out."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

BOLD NATIVE (the movie)
Animal Rights Consciousness for the People

I was invited to a screening of the movie Bold Native earlier this evening, and although it certainly wasn't the best movie I've seen, i was really impressed that it was in fact even made. It had it's great moments among too much cliché - but the fact that more than 20 years since i became vegan i see a motion picture that is not a documentary, made about the animal rights movement really moved me. And it certainly moved everyone in the theater, vegan, vegetarian, animal lover or not.

I have no idea how they even got funding for such a film that looks big time and Indy at the same time, maybe it's just the technology today? I had a few words with the director after the screening and he said it didn't cost much for them to make and they financed it themselves. So then I tell him he's got to get people like my host for the evening, Russell, to speak to people at HBO and call Bill Maher too, this film deserves to be seen and enjoyed, and to be an educational tool like no documentary on the subject can be. For all it's cornball I do believe it's something that the average person can watch and learn from and probably enjoy.

I never became a vegan for the animals, I did it for the environment, and over the years I have become way more sympathetic to the animal rights groups and cause in general, it's just a consciousness that develops i guess over time. This movie slams home that consciousness in a great way. Get to see it or get some one you know who does not yet have the consciousness to see it.



Check out this great editorial from the Director, Denis Henry Hennelly, The Rebirth of Revolutionary Filmmaking

Monday, July 26, 2010

Birth of the Illuminati (or not?)

In DarkLore Volume II, an anthology of writings on high weirdness and secret history, Mike Jay lays out the birth of the Illuminati conspiracy at the end of the 18th century. The Daily Grail has just published the article, which tells how the modern myth (?) began with a society floundering to understand the French Revolution. From "Darkness Over All: John Robison and the Birth of the Illuminati Conspiracy:


"At the beginning of 1797, John Robison was a man with a solid and long-standing reputation in the British scientific establishment. He had been Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University for over twenty years, an authority on mathematics and optics, and had recently been appointed senior scientific contributor on the third edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, to which he would eventually contribute over a thousand pages of articles. Yet by the end of the year, his professional reputation had been eclipsed by a sensational book that vastly outsold anything he had previously written, and whose shockwaves would continue to reverberate long after his scientific work had been forgotten. Its title was Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, and it launched on the English-speaking public the enduring theory that a vast conspiracy, masterminded by a covert Masonic cell known as the Illuminati, was in the process of subverting all the cherished institutions of the civilised world and co-opting them into instruments of its secret and godless plan: the tyranny of the masses under the invisible control of unknown superiors, and a new era of ‘darkness over all'.

The first edition of Proofs of a Conspiracy sold out within days, and within a year it had been republished many times, not only in Edinburgh but in London, Dublin and New York. Robison had hit a nerve by offering an answer, plausible to many, to the great questions of the day: what had caused the French Revolution, and had there been any plan behind its bloody and tumultuous progress?

Many had located the roots of the revolution in the ideas of Enlightenment figures such as Voltaire, Diderot and D'Alembert, who had exalted reason and progress over authority and tradition; but none of these mostly aristocratic philosophes had advocated a revolution of the masses, and indeed several of them had ended their lives on the guillotine. In the early 1790s, it had been possible to believe that the power-hungry lawyers and journalists of the Jacobin Club had whipped up the Paris mob into their destructive frenzy as a means to their own ends, but by 1794 Danton, Robespierre and the rest of the Jacobin leaders had followed their victims to the guillotine: how could they have been the puppet-masters when they had had their own strings so brutally cut? What Robison was proposing in the densely-argued and meticulously documented pages of Proofs of a Conspiracy was that all these agents of revolution had been pawns in a much bigger game, whose ambitions were only just beginning to make themselves visible."
from "Darkness Over All: John Robison and the Birth of the Illuminati Conspiracy" (Daily Grail) via BoingBoing

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The State of Black Skate

With the opening of "How We Roll" a six-month exhibition on African-America’s contribution to surfing, skateboarding and rollerskating culture at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, undoubtably there will be more and more attention being paid to the underground culture that has seen an incredible awakening in the inner cities. Here's a great clip on the subject from current TV.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Taking Photos In Public Places Is Not A Crime

from our friend Xeni at BoingBoing

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has a piece in Popular Mechanics about the growing trend of cops bullying photographers who take pictures in public places, and why officials who believe such photography is against the law are mistaken.


I believe there is a good case to be made that having lots of cameras in the hands of citizens makes us more, rather than less, safe. Here's how bad it has gotten: Not long ago, an Amtrak representative did an interview with local TV station Fox 5 in Washington, D.C.'s Union Station to explain that you don't need a permit to take pictures there--only to be approached by a security guard who ordered them to stop filming without a permit.

Legally, it's pretty much always okay to take photos in a public place as long as you're not physically interfering with traffic or police operations. As Bert Krages, an attorney who specializes in photography-related legal problems and wrote Legal Handbook for Photographers, says, "The general rule is that if something is in a public place, you're entitled to photograph it." What's more, though national-security laws are often invoked when quashing photographers, Krages explains that "the Patriot Act does not restrict photography; neither does the Homeland Security Act." But this doesn't stop people from interfering with photographers, even in settings that don't seem much like national-security zones.

Taking Photos In Public Places Is Not A Crime: Analysis (popularmechanics.com, Illustration by Rui Ricardo, courtesy Popular Mechanics)

Friday, July 23, 2010

What If The Tea Party Was Black
&
The End of Whiteness


Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams’s demotion in the amorphous movement—read the foul bit of racial satire he wrote that prompted it—has put the Tea Party’s racial issues in clear focus lately, which made me think of two hip-hop-generation responses to where racial politics stand in the country.

First: Hua Hsu wrote his piece “The End of White America?” for The Atlantic‘s January ‘08 issue, many months before the Tea Party crystallized white resentment. Launching from the refined racial paranoia in The Great Gatsby, Hsu delves into a high-level overview of whiteness and how whites are fleeing both from and into it. The core of it:

Today, the arrival of what [Pat] Buchanan derided as “Third World America” is all but inevitable. What will the new mainstream of America look like, and what ideas or values might it rally around? What will it mean to be white after “whiteness” no longer defines the mainstream? Will anyone mourn the end of white America? Will anyone try to preserve it?

Lots of food for thought, and still highly relevant. Please check it.

Second (and more rhetorically), check Pittsburgh MC Jasiri X‘s new video, based on Nashville anti-racist writer Tim Wise’s essay which asked the same trenchant question:



from Dangerous Minds

Thursday, July 22, 2010

BIG BANG BIG BOOM: Incredible New Urban Art Animation By BLU

Another great piece from BLU !!!!
One of the true tests of innovative sequential/evolving visual art is whether it hits you as a fantastic story that a little kid could describe…”Then the van had eyes and then it ate the worm…” This thing does it.

Although the anonymous, hyper-proficient Bologna-based artist Blu has nothing near the global profile of Banksy, s/he’s shown and worked in as many regions, including the wall at the West Bank. S/he’s also been able to work stop-motion animation into his/her ouvre, and the ten-minute video below is the latest fruit.

It seems absolutely relentless and almost epic in its scope. Enjoy.



thanks, Dangerous Minds

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Explaining the giant holes in Guatemala

from forgetomori:

4657053554_ccf901edb5_o

They are an amazing sight: even though the initial size figures were eventually corrected to a more comprehensible 66 feet diameter crater, 100 feet deep, those are still impressive and quite regular holes. The one in the image above engulfed a factory in the end of June at Zona 2, Guatemala, while a similar event happened in 2007 a few miles away, Zona 6. Below, an image of the 2007 hole:

4657514771_4574c38b76_b

While people were puzzled and many joked about these giant holes in the ground, the event in 2007 resulted in two casualties and the one a month ago in one death. Taking this seriously, we have to explain that these features are not mysterious nor have anything to do with “UFO tunnels”. Both features were ultimately the result of intense storms – and it’s an interesting coincidence that the new hole opened after tropical storm Agatha, since Agartha is the legendary city inside the hollow Earth.

These features do not lead to the center of Earth, however, at their bottom a hundred feet down what one finds is quite simply a sewage water collecting system. The infographic below, from Nuestro Diario (June 30th, p.5), illustrates how exactly below the opened hole a water collector tunnel around 10 feet in diameter goes through.

craterzona2

A few days ago a team of geologists also explored the bottom of the Zona 2 hole, you can find the whole Picasa set of photos here. All the soil in the giant hole didn’t disappear magically, it was simply washed away with the water and on to the sewage system. So much so that the sole victim’s body in the Zona 2 hole, Edwin Roberto Velásquez Salazar, was found days later in Las Vacas river, where the water from the collector system ends up.

Not only at the bottom of these giant holes one finds tunnels of the water collecting system: more importantly, perhaps, is that both of these holes were originally vertical shafts, that is, there were already originally vertical holes there, even though they were obviously not that large. Unfortunately many water draining shafts and tunnels were built in the 1950s and some were not properly recorded, and as the city grew some buildings were built over some shafts. That seems to be the case here.

Local geologists suggest then that the heavy water stream from the storm must have damaged the underground collecting tunnels, a problem aggravated by the fact that there was a difference in the level of tunnels. The graphic below (click to enlarge, from Diario de Centroamérica) illustrates, above, the proposed evolution of the holes in the first (above) and second holes.

guatemalagiantholes

Add to that that the soil in the city is particularly fragile, basically pumice fill – ash flows made up of loose, gravel-like particles deposited during ancient volcanic eruptions, and there’s no mystery here.

Days after the recent hole, called by many a giant sinkhole, geologist Sam Bonis, who was part of the team that investigated the 2007 case, correctly pointed out that it wasn’t in fact a sinkhole. As he told Discovery News (and National Geographic), "Sure, it looks a lot like a sinkhole. And a whale looks a lot like a fish, but calling it one would be very misleading.

According to Bonis, the hole was rather a “piping feature”, and the further info, photos and graphics here may help understand the giant holes in Guatemala.

Colectores-for-dummies

Graphic: Nuestro Diario

[Almost all the info for this post comes from the blog “Ciudad Nueva zona 2 Guatemala”, with updated and detailed information on the events. It was suggested to me by friend José Ildefonso, who also provided me with most of the other information on the case]


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Penn Gillette: Reading The Bible (or the Koran, or the Torah) Will Make You An Atheist

From Richard Metzger at Dangerous Minds


Normally I don’t find much to agree with when it comes to the (rather strongly stated) opinions of magician Penn Gillette—“Libertarian” is synonymous with “asshole” in my book and the “Penn & Teller’s Bullshit” episode on chiropractic care pissed me off!—but he’s right on the money when it comes to this to the camera interview about reading the Holy Books and the influence of Frank Zappa on his young mind.
Why would reading the Bible make you an atheist?

Penn Jillette: I think because what we get told about the Bible is a lot of picking and choosing, when you see, you know, Lot’s daughter gang raped and beaten, and the Lord being okay with that; when you actually read about Abraham being willing to kill his son, when you actually read that; when you read the insanity of the talking snake; when you read the hostility towards homosexuals, towards women, the celebration of slavery; when you read in context, that “thou shalt not kill” means only in your own tribe—I mean, there’s no hint that it means humanity in general; that there’s no sense of a shared humanity, it’s all tribal; when you see a God that is jealous and insecure; when you see that there’s contradictions that show that it was clearly written hundreds of years after the supposed fact and full of contradictions. I think that anybody… you know, it’s like reading The Constitution of the United States of America. It’s been… it’s in English. You know, you don’t need someone to hold your hand. Just pick it up and read it. Just read what the First Amendment says and then read what the Bible says. Going back to the source material is always the best.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Catatumbo, The Everlasting Storm

from Fogonazos

The mysterious “Relámpago del Catatumbo” (Catatumbo lightning) is a unique natural phenomenon in the world. Located on the mouth of the Catatumbo river at Lake Maracaibo (Venezuela), the phenomenon is a cloud-to-cloud lightning that forms a voltage arc more than five kilometre high during 140 to 160 nights a year, 10 hours a night, and as many as 280 times an hour.

This almost permanent storm occurs over the marshlands where the Catatumbo River feeds into Lake Maracaibo and it is considered the greatest single generator of ozone in the planet, judging from the intensity of the cloud-to-cloud discharge and great frequency. The area sees an estimated 1,176,000 electrical discharges per year, with an intensity of up to 400,000 amperes, and visible up to 400 km away. This is the reason why the storm is also known as the Maracaibo Beacon as light has been used for navigation by ships for ages.

In 1595 sir Francis Drake tried to attack the city of Maracaibo but the local defence caught sight of his ships thanks to the light from the storm. It is also said that Catatumbo lightening gave Almirante Padilla victory over the Spanish float during the independence war, on july 24 1823.

The collision with the winds coming from the Andes Mountains causes the storms and associated lightning, a result of electrical discharges through ionised gases, specifically the methane created by the decomposition of organic matter in the marshes. Being lighter than air, the gas rises up to the clouds, feeding the storms.

Some local environmentalists hope to put the area under the protection of UNESCO, as it is an exceptional phenomenon, the greatest source of its type for regenerating the planet's ozone layer.

More info and sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Animals that glow and other genetic modifications

This is fucked up...
from BoingBoing:

The piggy above was genetically modified to have a yellow nose and feet, while the kitty was engineered so its skin glows in ultraviolet light. The aim is to develop ways to genetically modify animals to have properties not found in nature that have scientific or agricultural benefits. New Scientist surveys the latest variety of "Altered animals: Creatures with bonus features." Paging Eduardo Kac and Alba, your meme is ready! From New Scientist:
Ultimately, the adoption of GM farm animals may hinge on public opinion and the demand for the benefits they can offer. That demand may be felt most urgently in countries such as China, where meat consumption is skyrocketing. "I anticipate that genetically engineered livestock will be first used in China, Cuba and other places around the world, and then come to the US and Europe," says James Murray, an animal geneticist at the University of California, Davis. "It'll be the reverse of what you saw with the plants."
So in 20 years' time will GM animals be as widespread as their botanic counterparts are now? "Technologically, nothing is standing in our way," says Fahrenkrug. "Really, the issue is coming down to: what are you going to make?"
"Altered animals: Creatures with bonus features"

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ireland In My Eyes For A Few Days



These are some stills and video clips i mostly shot on my point and shoot digital camera while in Ireland for a few days. I was there primarily for my FUCK YOU ALL exhibition in Dublin, but did some sight seeing, bumped into some great people, including the infamous Gerry Adams! This was my first time ever visiting here.

The soundtrack comes from two of my favorite Irish bands: "Stiff Little Fingers" and "The Undertones".

Extra special thanks to my host Aidan Kelly from the Candy Collective for setting the whole thing up (as well as shooting the one picture of me that appears in this clip).

Ireland was a learning experience as well as a great time.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Air conditioner running 'round the clock these days...
reminds me of
NYC Blackout '77

July 1977, I remember well coming home to my fathers Fort Lee, New Jersey apartment, that sits across from Manhattan at about 145th street. The skyline always lit up the apartment that had floor to ceiling sliding glass door and windows facing the river between the city and Jersey. This night we came home from dinner and it was dark, it was scary, it was intense.

from Dangerous Minds

NYC BLACKOUT ‘77: FROM THE STREETS TO THE TOWERS


At 9:30 PM EST exactly 33 years ago [Tuesday], New York City’s five boroughs suffered a massive power outage that changed plenty about the United States and the Western World. It took a little more than 24 hours for the ’77 blackout to end, but not before 1,616 stores were damaged in looting and rioting, 1,037 fires were responded to, and 3,776 people were arrested. The event and its effects are still under study at places like George Mason University in Virginia.

Here are Grandmaster Caz, Disco Wiz, KRS One, Annie Sprinkle and others reminiscing from the street perspective…



…and below, leave it to the BBC to credit post-welfare-state neo-liberalism for saving the Big Apple so that Moby could have an apartment there:

New York - Nightmare In The City that Never Sleeps Pt.1

Thursday, July 15, 2010

THE DOCUMENTARY CRISIS
BY IAN F. SVENONIUS

from Vice magazine:

Oil painting has been pursued for around 600 years. Screen-printing was developed during the Song dynasty in China during the tenth century, making it around 1,000 years old. Perhaps the oldest-known poem is the Epic of Gilgamesh, written in cuneiform in the third millennium BCE, making written poetry at least 5,000 years old. Music probably emerged along with Homo sapiens in Africa as an intrinsic feature of human culture 160,000 years ago. In comparison, cinema has had the life span of an American box turtle: approximately 124 years. Yet although just a babe in “art years,” today it faces an existential crisis.

Hailed by Lenin as “the most important art form” during its infancy and still transfixing the world just a generation ago, film now struggles for life, for relevance, for viewers, and even to resemble something worthy of discourse at all. Since film developed out of topsy-turvy industrial capitalism, this condition of crisis is not so strange. In fact, since capitalism’s persona is perpetual crisis, it makes sense that film—a chip off the old block—would be marked by the same manufactured hysteria that typifies the system that spawned it.

When it first developed into something more than a novelty, film was an extension of the theater, a way to tell stories about the world. But as opposed to theater, film was the industrial era’s contribution to art, and therefore—unlike other, more ancient media—it inevitably resembled new industries, such as steel and oil, with the same stratified division of labor, unions, strikes, insidious contracts, pitiless exploitation, and a monopoly-minded owner elite.

Indeed, since ownership of the means of production is the central issue in such types of industry, the great film houses—Warner Bros. and MGM—contrived a stranglehold on film, processing, supply, workers (actors and directors were bought and held under contract), and distribution so as to stifle, destroy, and otherwise discourage competitors.

Thus, like rock ’n’ roll in its “classic” phase, film in the USA was, almost from the beginning, an unaffordable venture for all except the Hollywood studios, with a few designated “auteurs” holding forth with their new offerings each season. Humanity was hypnotized by the fables they were taught in the hermetically sealed movie houses that dotted every city block. To be a participant in “the movies” was a glorious dream. Would-be actresses hurled themselves toward the merciless megalith of Hollywood like so much sacrificial foodstuff, and to be a director was a laughable, fanciful ambition, akin to being president or king of the world.

When video technology was proliferated on the cheap beginning in the 1980s, it was, like all new consumer gizmos, hailed as a revolution for the everyman. Video was cheap and portable, and it existed outside the film industry’s monopoly over the means of production. Now anyone who had the smarts and the ambition could make a film, not just those with show-biz connections, family ties, or the willingness to surrender on a casting couch. Like most supposed triumphs for “the people,” this was in truth a matter of one industry (Japanese electronics) asserting itself over another (Hollywood movies).

The only problem with video was its crudity and ugliness. The picture was rough, and it didn’t have the same magic sensibility that viewers saw in celluloid. Therefore, despite the almost immediate mass proliferation of video cameras, few films of any note were produced using the new equipment. Instead the now ubiquitous camcorders were carted dutifully to underground rock shows until another use—documenting sex acts—was discovered.

Hollywood responded to the threat of video democracy, though, by making their means of production even more unassailable. Films were driven by super-celebs and special effects more than ever before. Storytelling became a low priority next to monster makeup, interstellar explosions, and megastars. As cable television and rental video continued to smash away at the revenue of the cinema house, the desire to produce spectacle was more and more the overriding concern of the studios. For a film to have a theatrical release, it had to resemble a carnival ride with the attendant thrills, chills, and nausea-inducing spills. Breakneck editing, zany camera work, excruciating volume, and lurid, freakish violence have now rendered many films, ironically, unwatchable. Every year or so, due to forgetfulness, one may wander into a theater, lured by a hysterical advertising barrage, convinced that seeing a particular film is indispensable to one’s continued cultural literacy. Then, emerging sullied, degraded, insulted, and $20 poorer, one swears never to be tricked again. This life lesson is typically learned about once a year. In fact, movie watching in a theater is generally an exercise in nostalgia, akin to hearing a Drifters song on an oldies station.

This decline has been long coming. Jean-Luc Godard once memorably noted in an interview that when he discovered cinema in the 50s it was in fact “already over.” Indeed, in 1946 America, with a population of 141 million, 100 million film tickets were sold each week for a total of 36.5 billion tickets that year. Now, with the US population more than doubled, ticket sales for all of North America in 2007 (including Canada) were just 1.4 billion.

Of course, people are still passively watching their master’s morality plays, but now at home on television, so picture quality is no longer as important. Sensing an opportunity for breakthrough, video makers—people not necessarily anointed by the studios—started trying to exploit the enormous potential for a decentralized movie industry comprised of real auteurs and enthusiasts, similar to decentralized scenes of musicians, painters, and poets. But the video camera’s initial utilization as a tool of documentary was never shaken. Nor was the universal disdain for something that could film just anybody or be afforded by anyone. In a society with an institutionalized contempt for poor people, video’s very cheapness was actually a liability.

Because of its roots in recording music shows and pornography, video was seen as “truth.” Therefore, the new generation of filmmakers, barred from the use of film by its untenable expense, bothered themselves with making “documentaries” instead of dramas with their video cameras. Documentaries are now produced at an unbelievable rate. They are typically portraits of an unusual person, such as an archer with no arms or a vegetarian who hunts, or a political diatribe about a war, or a historical piece celebrating a particular rock group featuring testimonials from people who were “there” or were profoundly affected. Grants for documentaries are comparatively easy to come by, and documentary festivals abound.

While a portion of these video documentaries is interesting, what is truly fascinating is the volume that is being produced as opposed to traditional fictional narratives. What does it say about a generation that can’t seem to write a story with characters or a plot with tension? While music has gone absolutely fantasist (rife with “psych-folk” singer-songwriters warbling about magic and elves, electro composers proposing sex with robots, and alt-country crooners lamenting the passing of an imaginary world), new filmmakers are obsessed with presenting a picture of “reality.” They have a doomsday cult’s concern with presenting their time as they see it since they are disbarred from the official surreal dialogue that is being inscribed by imperialist lechers like the New York Times and the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward.

While this impulse to present one’s own era to the earth’s inheritors echoes a human need seen since the cave paintings of yore, the artlessness of the video medium needs to be taken to task. These films are usually bad-looking, un-nuanced, propagandistic tellings of events. The camera work is almost always execrable, the narration is simplistic, the method of storytelling is usually a parade of talking heads; they feel like audiovisual presentations in a grade school. While utilizing this powerful medium and trying to express a particular ideological argument could be admirable, the aesthetic decisions of the video auteurs often reveal an infantilized weltanschauung, a stunted artistic vision, and a linear and impoverished mindset.

It all raises the question: Who is the imagined audience for such expositions? Is it one’s contemporaries? This seems highly unlikely since the retold Iraq-war tidbits and rock ’n’ roll mythos featured in such pictures are well known to their watchers. If the point is a mere recitation of folklore, that is a defensible raison d’être, though the trappings of cinema hardly seem necessary for such a task when a pamphlet or magazine article could do the job at least as well, without all the self-important fuss. Making money can’t be the reason, since these projects are typically a financial risk.

The obvious answer seems to be that videos are produced to explain ourselves and our situation to some future alien race. The documentary’s careful and childlike elucidation of events is calculated to be understood by an exotic sensibility, and the genial idiocy on display seems to speak to an interstellar consciousness of which no subtlety can be presumed for fear of misinterpretation, and for which no common culture can be assumed. Why else would a film like Standard Operating Procedure be so asinine and simpleminded? Every human who saw that particular film must have been baffled at its apologist stance for what everyone knows is an ethics-free killing machine, the United States Army.

Other apparently pointless documentaries are legion. No End in Sight, for example, is a propaganda piece that suggests that the war in Iraq was “mishandled” and then raises the specter of Iran as bogeyman in its closing statements, leaving the door open for a spectacular sequel. With these views palpably omnipresent on television and in the papers, who are the intended viewers for such abominable drivel? Perhaps a future race that will sort through the detritus of our civilization and to which the filmmakers feel a responsibility in explaining their damnable capitalist ideology, the system that spelled an end to such a luscious planet. Perhaps they believe that while the transmissions of television will be lost and newspapers burned away in the nuclear holocaust, the video documentary will survive, protected by its tough plastic sheath. Maybe their propaganda is supposed to mitigate the disgust the aliens will feel when witnessing human senselessness, the same feeling you get when you find, at a thrift store, a great record collection that’s been stepped on, scratched to hell, and left to molder.

The clues are all around that documentaries, and video in general, are meant for aliens. Why are DVDs shaped like flying saucers? To appeal to aliens. Why do porn performers shave their genitals? Because their directors imagine this will appeal to the aliens for whom the video porn is actually meant—the same aliens who are commonly depicted as hairless. Who determined that video would be used this way? No one in particular. It was unconscious. Something about video screams “The Future” to people. Video fonts and screens always feature in futuristic television, records, and films. Perhaps there is some astral travel we’ve made through which we’ve witnessed this posthistorical environment.

This impulse, to create explanations of our time for a future superior race or being, is understandable, of course. It’s been the impetus for many esoteric and religious writings through the ages. But it’s a mistake to assume that the aliens are so aesthetically stilted that they can’t appreciate a little artistry in their propaganda. What the videos are really explaining to this future race is how stylistically impoverished our era is. From the new buildings authored by a diabolical breed of “architects,” to the office workers’ khaki pants, to the artless business signs in the same few computer fonts, to the cars that are designed using the same horrible computer, the population is being aesthetically defecated on, and they know no better. Years of artistic retardation and philistine admonitions against art from everywhere, whether it’s Jesse Helms of the federal government or the rock ’n’ roll stars of the culture industry (“A French Small Faces EP cover can piss all over any of [Picasso’s] paintings”—Paul Weller), have resulted in a kitsch country (the USA) that looks like shit, and through that country’s outsize influence on the rest of the planet, a kitsch world that also looks like shit.

Of course, it’s important not to be too harsh in one’s judgment of the auteurs of these mediocre video movies. They are working under a fascist dictatorship, after all, with its attendant psychic torments, idiot citizenry, and nasty bedfellows born of the need for funding. It is especially difficult to produce anything worthwhile when one feels there is no audience for it. The mass media has successfully made us all feel remote, hapless, crazy, alone. Certainly, relatively little interesting art was produced in Pinochet’s Chile.

In Bob Dylan’s famous interview in the D. A. Pennebaker documentary Don’t Look Back where he chastises a Time reporter by saying, “There’s no ideas in Time magazine… just these facts… the article you’re writing, it can’t be a good article; it doesn’t mean anything,” he might as well have been discussing this new documentary craze. When, upon being pressed for an alternative approach, he suggests, “The plain picture… the plain picture of, let’s say, a tramp vomiting in the sewer and next to it a picture of Mr. Rockefeller,” he could easily be talking about the collage newsreels of Santiago Álvarez.

The work of Álvarez points the way toward the solution to the current quagmire in which the documentary world finds itself. A Cuban filmmaker who Fidel Castro charged with producing newsreels upon the revolution’s successful bid for power, he created an average of a film every two weeks for 30 years. He did this with almost no materials at his disposal, and yet his constructions are fantastic evocations of the circumstances in which they were constructed. An alien viewing his work would certainly be delighted at the humanity that created it, would understand the complexity of their breed and the circumstance and the contradictions in their characters that ultimately led to the destruction of the planet. It would be sort of like if the aforementioned ruined record collection at the secondhand shop had a poignant explanation that elaborated the owner’s struggle against the dire forces that created the calamity that ultimately befell it.

One of Álvarez’s films worth watching is LBJ, made in 1969. It insinuates that LBJ killed MLK, RFK, and JFK (L for “Luther,” B for “Bobby,” J for “Jack”) and does so with almost no words or narration. The tools are stark: a few Life and Playboy magazines, détourned and slowly panned across. Ingenious editing. Bewitching use of music. This is a documentary that could be played to speakers of any language to similar effect, and it also works divorced of its political program, as beautiful collage art for the ages. Music by Carl Orff, Miriam Makeba, Nina Simone, the Trashmen, Pablo Milanés, Leo Brouwer, and others follows LBJ’s daughter’s marriage through to his dastardly deeds. The film closes with the birth of his grandchild montaged with a clip of a Vietnamese peasant burned alive by napalm. Almost all of it uses pictures from newspapers or the society pages of magazines. Álvarez is free to take whatever newsreel footage, magazine photographs, found images, and pop, jazz, or classical tunes he chooses, from whatever sources he wants, since he is working for El Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos of the Republic of Cuba, which was and still is in a state of war with the capitalist world and therefore disdains copyright laws.

Envious filmmakers will watch Álvarez and cry “No fair!” when they see what this allows him—but they should quit their bellyaching and get with the program. Modern licensing and intellectual-property laws have destroyed art and expression in this country. It’s time for a rebellion against filmic conventions and, yes, the laws that enforce modern film’s mediocrity. Santiago Álvarez, who made over 700 films in his career from 1959 until his death in 1998, would be much better appreciated by any aliens who happen to wander by our planet than the hokey simplistic garbage that the documentary makers typically churn out nowadays.
Originally Published September, 2009 in Vice magazine, but i just finally read it on the plane tuesday...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"How We Roll"
at The California African American Museum

This exhibit is opening next week in Los Angeles. I've contributed a few of my classic shots to help with the historical perspective. Including several shots of Marty Grimes from the banked school yard days and up to the remake of the original DogBowl at the Marina skatepark several years later. Also the first ever Black skater to grace the cover of a major skateboard magazine, my photo of Chuck Treece that was a cover of Thrasher in the early 80's.

Here's some info i found at Driftsurfing.eu -

News from the other side: The California African American Museum (CAAM) presents How We Roll, a unique exhibition featuring African Americans in skateboarding, surfing and roller skating.

How We Roll takes the viewer through an historical step-by-step fantastic voyage of how surfing evolved into skateboarding, the kinship with roller-skating, and how “The Roll” created a cultural revolution that has influenced every corner of popular culture over the past four decades. This exciting exhibition is free to the public, and begins its six-month run on Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 at CAAM (600 State Drive, Exposition Park, Los Angeles, CA 90037).

The How We Roll exhibition opens one week before ESPN X-Games 2010; and, both events are located in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park. Viewers and participants will benefit from the close proximity of these two extraordinary affairs, and will experience a high-energy visual and physical extravaganza that is guaranteed to delight and engage.

How We Roll showcases a legendary list of skateboarding pioneers and their accomplishments, from the late ‘60s and ‘70s, including Marty Grimes and Alan Scott (first generation Dogtown), Steve Steadham (participating in X-Games), Chuck Treece (first black skater to appear on the cover of a major skate magazine, Thrasher), Ron Allen, and others who laid the foundation for core achievements in skateboarding with their extreme tricks and artistic expression. They paved the way for the newcomers of successive generations in the ‘80s and ‘90s, like Stephanie Person, Ray Barbee, Kareem Campbell, Karl Watson, Rodney Smith, Chris Pastras (owner of Stereosound and television host for FUEL TV – Fox 24-hour extreme network), and Stevie Williams, who took the sport to a new level of competition and entrepreneurial possibilities. This groundswell of popularity has transformed skateboarding into a respected sport where today’s athletes – Terry Kennedy, Paul Rodriquez, Nyjah Huston, Theotis Beasly, Malcolm Watson and others – have celebrity status and lucrative business ventures.

read more about the exhibition HERE.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Noam Chomsky on "Ron Paul Libertarians" *

"So pretty soon it will be April 15th, and the people in your neighborhood are going to have to send in their income taxes. The way they’re going to look at it, and the way they’ve been trained to look at it is that there is some alien force, like maybe from Mars, that is stealing our hard earned money from us and giving it to the government. Okay, well, that would be true in a totalitarian state, but if you had a democratic society you’d look at it the other way around You’d say "great, it's April 15th, we’re all going to contribute to implement the plans that we jointly decided on for the benefit of all of us." But that idea is even more frightening than Social Security. It means that we would have a functioning democracy, and no center of concentrated power is ever going to want that, for perfectly obvious reasons. So yes there are efforts, and pretty successful efforts to get people to fear the government as their enemy, not to regard it as the collective population acting in terms of common goals that we’ve decided on which would be what have to happen in a democracy."

video
This is my first Noam Chomsky post on this blog. Chomsky has been an heroic figure to me for many years. In fact i look out for his perspective often. This bit i found on Wikinews with a few other recent choice clips from an interview he did on March 13th here.

*recycled old post (4/7/09) while i'm in Dublin, I should be live again tomorrow - thanks.

Monday, July 12, 2010

X-Clan (another underrated group) you should know ... *



from the album To The East Blackwards, there are at least four incredible songs on this record that you should check out:

"Verbs of Power"


"Heed The Word of the Brother"


"Verbal Milk"


"Day of Outrage"


I love all these tracks!

The X-Clan was from Brooklyn, originally consisting of Grand Verbalizer, Brother J, Professor X the Overseer, Paradise the Architect, and Sugar Shaft the Rhythm Provider. These guys were the O.G. on the Afrocentricity and really took it to another level. The first song is a good example of Brother J's skills and flow as well as the extended intro by Professor X who appeared at the beginning of most songs on the LP. - (Professor X's real name was Lumumba Carson, he died in 2006 after contracting meningitis, he also was the son of famous civil rights activist, Legendary Black Nationalist Figure in Brooklyn Sonny Carson who died in 2002.)

Below is a bad ass clip I found from the 1974 film "The Education of Sonny Carson"


*recycled old post (4/8/09) while i'm in Dublin

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Did you know Dr. Seuss was a "Lefty"? *

"Most people know Dr. Seuss as the man behind 'The Cat in the Hat.' But how many know that 'Yertle the Turtle' was modeled after Hitler--or that Dr. Seuss created WWII political cartoons that denounced racism, isolationism and other issues of the day. 'The Political Dr. Seuss' reveals how popular children's author Theodor Geisel advocated social change, teaching generations of children not only how to be better readers, but better people as well." -PBS
A few years ago when i was getting ready to become a father for the first time i started to look more closely at the children's books i knew we would soon be reading, and of course Dr. Seuss was one author at the top of our list. At around the same time PBS aired "The Political Dr. Seuss" on their [i]ndependent Lens series, Although i had some memory of some slightly political themes that may have been touched upon in his books, i really had no idea of how deep his political roots were, and really how overt the statements. Although he had a couple of political missteps in his career, my admiration of his body of work went to an entirely new level.

I've found the documentary on Google video (with a few minutes cut off the end), so you can check it out below, if you don't buy it directly from its producers.


The Lorax
Dr. Seuss Enterprises / Random House

(August 1, 1971)
Still an environmental warning over three decades after its publication, The Lorax (1971) is an allegory on the dangers of deforestation, industrial pollution, and corporate greed. Another Seuss book about how individuals can make a difference, The Lorax was his personal favorite.


You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.
--The Lorax
Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel is an incredible hero. I highly recommend this film. Check out more about it on the PBS site where they discuss the film, Dr. Seuss, his early life, political cartooning and more

*recycled old post (3/8/09) while i'm in Dublin

Saturday, July 10, 2010

FREE RANGE STUDIOS make fantastic videos *

The Story of Stuff was one of my favorite forwards a few years ago, you might have seen it already, if not then go watch it now!
Free Range Studios first came to my attention with their anti-corporate, factory farming animated video The Meatrix, as well as The Meatrix II ½. Then Grocery Store Wars, and today they released a great one where they have teamed up with social values business leader Mark Albion to create the parable of The Good Life, a story that asks what "enough" really means.
Go to the Free Range Studios YouTube channel to check out all the clips that'll wake your ass up.

*recycled old post (2/24/09) while i'm in Dublin

Friday, July 9, 2010

Zeitgeist The Movie *


I can't say i support or believe everything in this film, but it's pretty heavy duty to say the least.

*recycled old post (2/21/09) while i'm in Dublin

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Psychic Soviet and Other Works
by Ian F. Svenonius *


Ian Svenonius has written probably my favorite book made in the last ten years. All-time top ten for sure. Unfortunately i've just noticed it's no longer available at the usual places online, so not only could i not link to it here, but i don't know where to tell you to get it. If you happen to see a copy on the shelf at your local book store, DO NOT HESITATE, buy it! I think i saw a few copies at St. Marks bookshop here in the city not long ago. - The humor, insight, and politics are spot on. Not only that, it's all terrain cover and size make it perfect for trips, walks, or coffee shop hang. I love reading it on the plane (when I'm not looking out the window due to darkness), and laughing out loud waking up everyone around me. I have bought at least ten copies for friends already. Oh, did i mention, in case you did not know, Ian has also written several pieces for some of my books, including a short story for The Idealist, the afterword for RECOGNIZE, and the lengthy introduction to my Fugazi book Keep Your Eyes Open. Not only is he one of my favorite people in the world, Ian was also founding member and singer for the Nation of Ulysses, The Make-Up, Weird War, and currently Chain and The Gang. He is also the host of the internet television program Soft Focus, well worth watching. If you see this book, GET IT!


*recycled old post (2/18/09) while i'm in Dublin

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

BLACK FLAG while recording DAMAGED c.1981 *

Here's another rarely if ever seen shot. It was taken down the block from Unicorn studios in West Hollywood in 1981 or so. At this time Black Flag were recording what would be their first full album release, and in my opinion one of the greatest albums of all time, (sorry I can't say that for any of the non-compilation LP's to follow). The band was living at the studio and coincidentally i happen to be living in my first apartment just a few blocks away. I'm sure if you've found this post you've got this album, if not, go get it now fool.

*recycled old post (2/17/09) while i'm in Dublin

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Probably the best photo and art book store in New York City



I've known Larry for years, he sets up on the North East corner of Prince and Mercer in Soho, he's been doing it for as long as i could remember.


Even when there were the great "Photographer's Place" and the flagship "Rizzoli" book stores just steps away from his tables, Larry battled them head to head. Often he has the latest titles when everyone else is sold out, or some old editions of books that no one else has had for years, or even signed editions that he usually gets from the artists themselves (like me), or who happen to be fans and sign when they walk by, as many do. I know all this because i've bought books from Larry, hang out with him on the corner down there on occasion to talk shop, and I've sold him my books to sell too (he tells me Fuck You Heroes is one of his all time most consistent sellers!). He's good, he knows his stuff, and he's always giving customers a good deal. If you're ever looking for any photo or art books and you happen to be in New York City look him up. But don't ask my man to unwrap the cellophane if you're not really interested in buying, he'll show you, if you might, but if your just looking with no real intent to buy, please keep walking.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Better living through green chemistry
Taking the petro out of petrochemicals


from The Grist.org
BY Todd Woody
You can buy green jeans, green greens (at the farmer's market), and green beer. But the reality is that many, if not most, products in our industrial society contain some petroleum-based chemicals.

In fact, up to a quarter of the oil consumed in some regions of the United States -- such as on the Gulf Coast -- goes into petrochemical production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. A number of startups, however, are working to develop green chemicals that take the petro out of petrochemicals and eliminate the environmental and safety hazards from manufacturing industrial chemicals.

A couple of years ago I wrote about one of those companies, a San Diego startup called Genomatica, that had developed a green version of a chemical compound called 1,4‐butanediol, or BDO. Your skateboard wheels, sneakers, golf balls, and a host of other products are all made with the chemical, whose manufacture alone is a $3 billion business.

At the time, Genomatica, which was spun out of the University of California, San Diego, in 2000, had only produced batches of BDO in the lab. The startup's scientists had bioengineered a microorganism that eats water and sugar and spits out BDO. Goodbye hydrocarbons, hello carbohydrates. The microorganisms are designed and tested "in-silico" -- in other words, on computers, which also simulate chemical production.

Last year, the company, which is backed by top Silicon Valley venture capital firms Mohr Davidow Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson, announced that it had also bioengineered a benign version of an industrial solvent called methyl ethyl ketone, or MEK. Better yet, Genomatica planned to produce MEK in shuttered ethanol plants.

On Tuesday, Genomatica executives said they had successfully moved from the lab to small-scale production, producing 3,000 liters of BDO in a pilot plant.

"By successfully implementing the manufacturing process at this scale, we have shown that our first product is ready for commercialization and that our platform delivers," Mark Burk, Genomatica's chief technology officer said in a statement.

The company claims its technology can cut chemical development costs and time by 50 percent to 75 percent.

Ramping up to industrial-scale production is another matter, of course. But if Genomatica and other green chemical startups succeed, expect to see a lot more green products on the shelves in the coming years.

via BoingBoing

Also may be of interest:
The world produces about 225 million tons of plastic annually.*And nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today

http://plasticpromise.org/

OUR MISSION

To motivate individuals worldwide to evaluate their everyday plastic consumption, and implement simple, easy changes, relevant to their own lifestyle, to reduce their dependence on plastic

POWER OF THE PROMISE

If each of us vowed to make just three small changes in our consumer behavior in an effort to minimize the presence of plastic in our daily lives – e.g., foregoing the plastic bag at the drugstore; using a reusable shopping bag at the grocery store; and skipping the plastic cutlery with the next takeout or delivery meal – imagine the difference it would make after one week…one month…one year. Now, multiply that by 1 million people…then by 1 billion people… The changes are so simple. The impact, so great. That’s the power of the Plastic Promise.
thanks EM

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Crisis of Capitalism:
An Animated Talk By David harvey

from NerdCore via DangerousMinds
Watch this and get a lot smarter in just 11 minutes! Radical sociologist David Harvey asks: is it time to look beyond capitalism towards a new social order that would allow us to live within a system that really could be responsible, just, and humane? From a speech given at the prestigious Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

See the full speech here.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Why Psychiatry Needs Therapy

from Wall Street Journal on-line:

A manual's draft reflects how diagnoses have grown foggier, drugs more ineffective
By EDWARD SHORTER

To flip through the latest draft of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, in the works for seven years now, is to see the discipline's floundering writ large. Psychiatry seems to have lost its way in a forest of poorly verified diagnoses and ineffectual medications. Patients who seek psychiatric help today for mood disorders stand a good chance of being diagnosed with a disease that doesn't exist and treated with a medication little more effective than a placebo.


Mick Coulas
Psychopharmacology, or the treatment of the mind and brain with drugs, has come to dominate the field. The positive side is that many illnesses respond readily to medication. The negative side is that the pharmaceutical industry seeks the largest possible market for a given drug, and advertises huge diseases, such as major depression and schizophrenia, the scientific status of which makes insiders uneasy.

In the 1950s and '60s, when psychiatry was still under the influence of the European scientific tradition, reasonably accurate diagnoses still sat at center stage. If you felt blue, uneasy and generally jumpy, "nerves" was a common diagnosis. For the psychotherapeutically oriented psychiatrists of the day, "psychoneurosis" was the equivalent of nerves. There was no point in breaking these terms down: clinicians and patients alike understood "a case of nerves," or a "nervous breakdown."

Our psychopathological lingo today offers little improvement on these sturdy terms. A patient with the same symptoms today might be told he has "social anxiety disorder" or "seasonal affective disorder." The increased specificity is spurious. There is little risk of misdiagnosis, because the new disorders all respond to the same drugs, so in terms of treatment, the differentiation is meaningless and of benefit mainly to pharmaceutical companies that market drugs for these niches.

For those more seriously ill, contemplating suicide or pacing restlessly and saying "It's all my fault," melancholia was the diagnosis of choice. The term has been around for donkey's years.

All the serious disorders of mood were once lumped together technically as "manic-depressive illness"—and again, there was little point in differentiating, because medications such as lithium that worked for mania were also sometimes effective in forestalling renewed episodes of serious depression.

Psychopharmacology—the treatment of disorders of the mind and brain with drugs—was experiencing its first big push, and a host of effective new agents was marketed. The first blockbuster drug in psychiatry appeared in 1955 as Wallace Lab's Miltown, a "tranquilizer" of the dicarbamate class. The first of the "tricyclic antidepressants" (because of their chemical structure) was launched in the U.S. in 1959, called imipramine generically and Tofranil by brand name. It remains today the single most effective antidepressant on the market for the immediate treatment of serious depression.


In the 1960s an entirely different class of drugs appeared, the benzodiazepines, indicated for anxiety rather than depression. (But one keeps in mind that these indications are more marketing devices than scientific categories, because most depression entails anxiety and vice versa.) In the benzodiazepine class, Librium was launched for anxiety in 1960, Valium in 1963. Despite an undeserved reputation for addictiveness, the benzos remain today one of the most useful drug classes in the history of psychiatry. They are effective across the entire range of nervous illnesses. In one World Health Organization study in the early 1990s, a sample of family physicians world-wide prescribed benzos for 28% of their depressed patients, 31% of their anxious patients; the figures are virtually identical. In the 1950s and '60s physicians had available drugs that truly worked for diseases that actually existed.

And then the golden era came to an end. The 1978 article of British psychiatrist Malcolm Lader on the benzos as "the opium of the masses" would be a good landmark. The patents expired for the drugs of the 1950s and '60s, and the solid diagnoses were all erased from the classification in 1980 with the appearance of the third edition of the DSM series, called "DSM-III." It was largely the brainchild of Columbia University psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, an energetic and charismatic individual who had been schooled in psychometrics. But his energy and charisma nearly led psychiatry off a cliff.


Mr. Spitzer was discouraged with psychoanalysis, and wanted to come up with a new illness classification that would ditch all the old Freudian concepts such as "depressive neurosis" with their implication of "unconscious psychic conflicts." Mr. Spitzer and company wanted diagnoses based on observable symptoms rather than on speculation about the unconscious mind. So he, and members of the Task Force that the American Psychiatric Association designated, set out to devise a new list of diagnoses that correspond to natural disease entities.

Yet Mr. Spitzer ran smack against the politics of the American Psychiatric Association, still heavily influenced by the psychoanalysts. Mr. Spitzer proposed such diagnoses as "major depression" and "dysthymia," diagnoses that were themselves highly heterogeneous, lumping together a number of different kinds of depression. But the terms turned out to be politically acceptable.

So in DSM-III there was a lot of horse-trading. The biologically oriented young Turks got a depression diagnosis—major depression—that was divorced from what they considered the psychoanalytic mumbo-jumbo. And the waning but still substantial number of analysts got a diagnosis—dysthymia—that sounded like their beloved "neurotic depression," that had been the mainstay of psychoanalytic practice. Psychiatry ended up with two brand-new depression diagnoses with criteria so broad that huge numbers of people could qualify for them.

There was one more bow to psychoanalysis: DSM-III continued to make depression separate from anxiety (because the analysts thought anxiety the motor that drove everything). And in homage to several influential figures in European psychiatry, DSM-III brought in "bipolar disorder," a condition alternating between depression and mania thought separate from "major depression."

A word of explanation: The evidence is very strong that the depression of "major depression" and the depression of "bipolar disorder" are the same disease. Experienced clinicians know that in chronic depressive illness many patients will have an episode of mania or hypomania; it is implausible that such an event would change the patient's diagnosis completely from "major depression" to "bipolar disorder," given that they are classified as quite different illnesses.


These rather technical issues in the classification of disease had enormous ramifications in the real world. Bipolar disorder became divorced from unipolar disorder. And anxiety—the original indication for the benzos—became soft-pedaled because the benzos were thought, incorrectly, to be highly addictive, and anxiety became associated with addiction.

Major depression became the big new diagnosis in the 1980s and after, replacing "neurotic depression" and "melancholia," even though it combined melancholic illness and non-melancholic illness. This would be like incorporating tuberculosis and mumps into the same diagnosis, simply because they are both infectious diseases. As well, "bipolar disorder" began its relentless on-march, supposedly separate from plain old depression.

New drugs appeared to match the new diseases. In the late 1980s, the Prozac-type agents began to hit the market, the "SSRIs," or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa and Lexapro. They were supposedly effective by increasing the amount of serotonin available to the brain.

The SSRIs are effective for certain indications, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and for some patients with anxiety. But many people believe they're not often effective for serious depression, even though they fit wonderfully with the heterogeneous concept of "major depression." So, hand in hand, these antidepressants and major depression marched off together into the sunset. These were drugs that don't work for diseases that don't exist, as it were.

The latest draft of the DSM fixes none of the problems with the previous DSM series, and even creates some new ones.

A new problem is the extension of "schizophrenia" to a larger population, with "psychosis risk syndrome." Even if you aren't floridly psychotic with hallucinations and delusions, eccentric behavior can nonetheless awaken the suspicion that you might someday become psychotic. Let's say you have "disorganized speech." This would apply to about half of my students. Pour on the Seroquel for "psychosis risk syndrome"!

DSM-V accelerates the trend of making variants on the spectrum of everyday behavior into diseases: turning grief into depression, apprehension into anxiety, and boyishness into hyperactivity.

If there were specific treatments for these various niches, you could argue this is good diagnostics. But, as with other forms of anxiety-depression, the SSRIs are thought good for everything. Yet to market a given indication, such as social-anxiety disorder, it's necessary to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on registration trials to convince the FDA that your agent works for this disease that previously nobody had ever heard of.

DSM-V is not all bad news. It turns the jumble of developmental syndromes for children into a single group of "autism spectrum disorders," which makes sense because previously, with Asperger's as a separate disease, it was like trying to draw lines in a bucket of water. But the basic problems of the previous DSM series are left untouched.

Where is psychiatry headed? What the discipline badly needs is close attention to patients and their individual symptoms, in order to carve out the real diseases from the vast pool of symptoms that DSM keeps reshuffling into different "disorders." This kind of careful attention to what patients actually have is called "psychopathology," and its absence distinguishes American psychiatry from the European tradition. With DSM-V, American psychiatry is headed in exactly the opposite direction: defining ever-widening circles of the population as mentally ill with vague and undifferentiated diagnoses and treating them with powerful drugs.

—Edward Shorter is professor of the history of medicine and psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Toronto. His latest book, written with Max Fink, "Endocrine Psychiatry: Solving the Riddle of Melancholia," is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.