Recommended (online) reading

Woman reading computerI’m still on “sabbatical.” Mostly reading. Thinking about what I most want to write about. I know what my interests are — the problem is, I have too many. Meanwhile, here are some blogs I enjoy reading.

Thought Broadcast by Dr. Steve Balt

Psychiatry is a controversial topic these days. We (speaking for myself, anyway) love to criticize the overprescription of psychopharmaceuticals, the medicalization of the slightest deviation from “normal,” and those psychiatrists who are eager to take “gifts” from the drug companies whose products they subsequently prescribe and promote.

I suspect people relate to psychiatry more readily than to the science of medicine. We’ve all known moments of slippage along the spectrum of mental health. We’d all like to understand ourselves better, something psychiatry used to promise before it tried to reduce us to the chemical interactions inside our brains.

Dr. Balt writes about all of this. What I especially like about his blog is his compassion for patients and his honest assessment of the psychiatric profession. His writing has a quality like Gawande’s: He maintains a strong personal presence without straying too far into the overtly personal.

To get a sense of Thought Broadcast, read Dr. Balt’s My Philosophy page. A recent post I’d recommend: How to Retire at Age 27. It’s on psychiatric qualification for disability. His point is that labeling (and medicating) someone as disabled does nothing to solve underlying social problems. It concludes:

Psychiatry should not be a tool for social justice. … Using psychiatric labels to help patients obtain taxpayers’ money, unless absolutely necessary and legitimate, is wasteful and dishonest. More importantly, it harms the very souls we have pledged an oath to protect.

Abetternhs’s Blog by Dr. Jonathon Tomlinson

The name “Abetternhs’s” always strikes me as an obscure word in Welsh, but it actually parses to “A Better NHS.” Dr. Tomlinson is a GP in the UK. What I first noticed about him was his appreciation for the impact of neoliberal politics/economics on health and medicine. For example,

At the heart of the NHS reforms is the intention to convert patients into consumers and to shift the responsibility for health as far downstream as possible. The neoliberal project is to explain illness in terms of moral failure and the consequences of this are self loathing and social prejudice, directed overwhelmingly at the poor and vulnerable.

Quite understandably, the focus of Dr. Tomlinsons’ blog these days is the British government’s proposed NHS reforms. It’s an excellent source of information if you want to stay up-to-date on issues and developments.

Like Dr. Balt, Dr. Tomlinson provides an inspiring example of how we would like all doctors to regard their patients. See, for example, the post Doctors, patients and obesity. Over and over, he returns to the importance of listening to his patients, regarding each in their uniqueness, understanding what makes their lives difficult.

Also like Dr. Balt, Dr. Tomlinson is an excellent writer. An essay of his appeared in the London Review of Books this past summer. It was called Diary: In the Surgery. With restrained anger, it describes a typical day in the life of a GP who must cope with a dysfunctional health system while caring deeply about patients. (Unfortunately, the complete article is behind a paywall.)

Laurie Essig

I’ve been a big fan of Laurie Essig ever since I read her book American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and the Quest for Perfection (which I’ve written about here, here, and here). Essig is a professor of sociology who applies her academic discipline to contemporary phenomena: Lady Gaga, Michelle Bachmann, the royal wedding, Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars, Harry Potter, Anthony Weiner (forgot him already?). Many of her essays concern sexuality, alleged deviance, heteronormativity, and political hypocrisy.

Essig’s work appears regularly in the Chronicle of Higher Education. She also has a blog at Psychology Today called Love, Inc. Here’s a description:

Love, Inc. is about the intersection of emotions and capitalism. Human emotions may be more or less universal, but how they are acted upon is firmly rooted in particular histories, cultures, and economies. In the US, how we feel is always a potential source of profit- from big white weddings to porn to romantic comedies. This blog is about emotions and the industries that profit from them.

Essig’s writing is funny, incisive, sarcastic, incensed, biting, and outraged. You probably won’t find her appealing unless you’re already sympathetic to her socio-political stance. For example, she understands – and can be extremely articulate about – why neoliberalism is so objectionable. I think every piece she writes is a near gem, but as a recent sample, try The Revolution Will Be Livestreamed, about the Occupy Wall Street events.

Carl Elliott

I’m also a big fan of Carl Elliott. I enjoyed his most recent book, White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine. I was even more impressed, however, with his earlier book, Better than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream. White Coat offers a fresh take on corruption, greed, and collusion in the medical/psychiatric/pharmaceutical complex. It’s a topic many authors and bloggers discuss, and it’s of interest to a wide audience, especially those who enjoy feeling incensed. Better than Well, however, strikes deep into your psyche. You come away, not with your sense of moral outrage stoked and thus partially appeased, but disturbed by what it means to be a human being living in a commercial, consumer culture. Elliott manages to accomplish something I’ve long admired: He reveals those operating assumptions of our lives that only rarely make it into consciousness.

There’s a passage from Better than Well that I’ve quoted more than once in previous blog posts. It concerns the illusion of choice about personal appearance. What I like about it is the impact of the insight it captures.

You can still refuse to use enhancement technologies, of course – you might be the last woman in America who does not dye her gray hair, the last man who refuses to work out at the gym – but even that publicly announces something to other Americans about who you are and what you value. This is all part of the logic of consumer culture. You cannot simply opt out of the system and expect nobody to notice how much you weigh.

There’s a list of some of Elliott’s online articles on the Better than Well website. It appears it was last updated in the middle of 2008. There is another, more current list, but be forewarned: This is on a strange website, purportedly by one of Elliot’s brothers. It’s either an outlet for Elliott’s dark sense of humor or it’s somewhat embarrassing. It keeps me guessing, which may or may not be the intention.

Included in that more recent list is a superb, classic essay, Medicate Your Dissent. Not included are the more recent The Deadly Corruption of Clinical Trials (Mother Jones) and Meddle Management (Wall Street Journal), a review of the book “The Fall of the Faculty.” Maybe I should create a bibliography page here on my site and keep it updated.

Elliott sometimes links to his writings from the blog Fear and Loathing in Bioethics — a site related to a seminar on investigative journalism and bioethics — but he’s not a reliable self-promoter.

Bottom line: Anything by Carl Elliott is worth reading.

I’m Not Tired Yet: Larkin Callaghan

One more blog. Larkin Callaghan is currently writing her dissertation at Columbia in Health and Behavior Studies. Her specialties are reproductive health and body dysmorphia, with a focus on “the relationship between weight perception and high risk substance use and sex behavior in adolescent girls.” Since finishing her thesis keeps her busy, she only has time to blog when she comes across something that really annoys her.

That seems to happen with some regularity. Sample posts: The sexualization of young girls in advertising, Yoplait commercials that question whether a woman is “good enough” to eat cake, the ’humorous’ portrayal of women as “unpredictable shrill harpies who have no control over their emotions,” JC Penney’s “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me” shirts for girls ages 7-16, how feminism is not about hating men.

What I like about this blog is its worthy subject matter and the passion of a young, idealistic blogger who wants nothing more than to make the world a better place. May we all be fortunate enough to retain that sentiment ‘til our dying day.

Related posts:
Why do we feel bad about the way we look?
Imagine a future without cosmetic surgery
Feeling sorry for plastic surgeons
The politics behind personal responsibility for health
Healthy lifestyles serve political interests
Padded bikini bras for seven-year-olds
The death of Wang Bei: Cosmetic surgery as a moral choice
Get thee glass eyes

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