Saturday, October 25, 2014


Call it the battle of the titans.

Billionaire Warren Buffett insists that Hillary Clinton will be the next president of these United States.

Billionaire Jim Rogers guarantees that it will not happen.

As of yesterday, Rogers seemed to be more prescient.

Speaking at a Massachusetts rally in support of gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley, Hillary declared:

Don’t let anybody tell you that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs,” Clinton said. They always say that.

As Bryan Preston notes, the “they” in question is the Congressional Budget Office. It has predicted that raising the minimum wage will destroy half a million jobs.

Hillary continued by showing off her understanding of economics.

Preston quotes:

“My husband gave working families a raise in the 1990s,” Clinton said, saying she herself voted for raising the minimum wage when she served as a senator from New York. “Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.”

Now we know, Hillary Clinton does not believe that businesses create jobs. Doubtless she will quickly walk back this piece of nonsense. And the press will probably not hold her to account.

For all I know, Warren Buffet might be right. Hillary might well be the next POTUS. But before that happens, she will have to find a way to keep her foot out of her mouth.

Renee Zellweger's New Face

Renee Zellweger is the talk of the nation. If her fondest wish was to be able to walk down the street again and not be recognized, she has succeeded. If she wanted to play roles that were written for women two decades her junior, she has probably not.

You see, it’s all about face. It’s about saving face and losing face. In the most literal sense.

Whatever the concept of face means in Chinese culture, by using the word face, the Chinese are referring, among other things, to the way we look to other people—above the neck.

Those who are obsessed with how they look below the neck should probably pay more attention to their face. People identify you by your face, not by your abs or your thigh gap.

I suspect that I have written more about the topic of “face” than nearly anyone who writes in English. See my book, Saving Face and my new book, The Last Psychoanalyst. Thus, I consider myself something of an authority on the topic.

If Western culture values the state of your soul, if today’s therapy culture cares primarily about how you feel and if psychologists believe that you have an identity because you are conscious of always being the same person, Chinese culture differs markedly by defining individual identity by the way you look to other people.

In Chinese culture the requirement to express yourself pales next to the requirement to look respectable to other people and to behave decorously. Chinese culture cares about social harmony. If that offers you individual fulfillment, well and good. If it does not, social harmony is more important.

No one will grasp the distinction between Western and Chinese cultures without understanding the difference between “face” in China and “soul” in the West.

Some Western scientists are studying face. They are drawing some interesting and important conclusions.

Alex Kuczynski writes in the New York Times:

Nancy Etcoff, an evolutionary psychologist at Harvard and author of “Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty,” said: “We have gotten used to seeing bad plastic surgery. Two big basketballs on the chest, fish lips, blown-up cheeks. But this is a little different. This is about a lot of subtle changes that add up to a person who no longer looks like our memory of them. She looks like a different person.” Instead of aging along with us, she jumped off the path directly into another identity.

Faces are tightly packed with important biological information, Dr. Etcoff said. “They tell people who we are, who our relatives are, how we feel,” she said. “We are face virtuosos. We can discern one face from thousands, even millions, of other faces. When someone does something to their face that renders them unrecognizable, when that impacts our ability to read their face, it really is a jolt.”

As for Ms. Zellweger… she is about to discover anonymity and will perhaps not find it to her liking.

Dare we say, it is slightly ironic to see that someone who has made a living pretending to be someone she’s not now appearing to be someone she is not. It’s as though her face has been replaced by a new mask. It’s decidedly disconcerting to witness it.

In the public debate over the Zellweger transformation, a couple of points stand out. Naturally, those who do not believe in free will and personal responsibility have absolved her of any agency for her decision to undergo so many cosmetic procedures. They have blamed it on the American cult of youth and on the American demand that women to look eternally young.

Of course, this is a moral cop out. I will not name all of the forty-something actresses who do fine work without having modified their faces, but the truth is that no woman is forced to alter her appearance. 

It might be that we no longer respect the wisdom that comes from age, but the truth is, botox—to take the least of these procedures—makes faces look eerily masklike, to the point where the face’s role in communicating emotion is compromised.

Perhaps a botoxed face can pass in a still photo, but anyhone who spends some time conversing face-to-face with someone who has been botoxed will quickly feel the loss of face.

It is ironic to see so many women blame the Zellweger transformation on Hollywood. After all, cameras and makeup can be very forgiving. They can make you look younger or older, more or less beautiful. If it were just for career, one suspects that fewer Hollywood stars would be going under the knife.

The greater irony lies in the fact that four decades ago second-wave feminism burst on the scenes by insisting, among other things, that women had to be recognized for their minds not their bodies. How did it happen that this emphasis produced generations of women who are obsessed about the shape of their bodies and the look of their faces.

As Kuczynski wrote in her book, Beauty Junkies:

…looks are the new feminism, an activism of aesthetics. As vulgar and shallow as it sounds, looks matter more than they ever have — especially for women.

How did such a well-planned assault on the feminine mystique and the beauty myth come to grief?

If you accept that biology trumps ideology it is not very difficult to understand.

If women are naturally more attractive to men in their twenties—studies from the dating websites all arrive at this conclusion—and if feminism told women not to marry until they were firmly established in their careers, this policy has produced a wave of thirtysomething women competing for men with twentysomething women.

And, competing at a disadvantage. In truth the disadvantage lay in pheromones--in sexual attraction hormones--but modern liberated women denied reality and decided that the problem lay with their bodies and their faces. They even refused to accept that fertility had something to do with sexual attraction. 

As if that were not sufficient, feminism produced even more single women by giving rise to a wave of divorces. Declaring marriage oppressive to women, feminists wanted to destigmatize divorce. Naturally, women suffered the most.

The newly single divorcees entered the marriage market, to compete with younger women. Thus, the market for aesthetic enhancements increased.

In consequence, women in their forties and fifties were competing for men against women who were considerably younger. Moreover, everyone woman knows—she may or may not want to tell you—that she dreads the day when she will become invisible to the male gaze. The male gaze is mostly drawn to young women, whether youth appears in the look on a face or in the shape of a figure.

But, when a woman who is in her mid-forties, like Zellweger, tries to make herself look ten or twenty years younger she will be engaged in what can politely be called deception.

And this is the problem with thinking that it’s all about aesthetics.

However young a woman appears, a moment of truth will inevitably arrive when her paramour realizes that he has been deceived. At times, he will not react well.

A woman who has spent considerable amounts of money enhancing her bodily and facial aesthetics will not understand why a man sees her at her true age, not her surgically enhanced age.

She might respond by becoming more desperate and by doing more surgery. She will ignore the fact that she will be more attractive if she uses fashion and cosmetics to enhance who she is rather than use surgery to look like someone she is not.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fear of Ebola

What if a lax immigration policy allowed numerous people carrying a deadly virus to enter the country? What if that virus had infected hundreds of children and killed seven? What if the CDC had nothing to say about it? What if the press did not cover it? What if no one noticed?

It’s not just because everyone is distracted by Ebola, but the arrival of Enterovirus D-68 has largely gone unreported.

Sharyl Attkisson has the story:

According to the latest update from CDC, at least 796 people in 46 states have been sickened with the respiratory illness that can cause paralysis from mid-August through October 16. The outbreak is likely more widespread than reported since some states are not lab testing all respiratory illnesses to confirm. Most cases are said to be mild.

The virus is not new to America, but the number of cases today is far greater than any we have seen before.

What accounts for the new cases? We do not know to a certainty, but the evidence suggests that the virus has been brought here by some of the Central American immigrant children who entered the nation this summer.

Attkisson explains:

Enteroviruses commonly circulate in the U.S. during summer and fall. EV-D68 was first identified in California in 1962. Over the past thirty years, only small numbers were reported in the U.S.

The CDC hasn’t suggested reasons for the current uptick or its origin. Without that answer, some question whether the disease is being spread by the presence of tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children from Central America admitted to the U.S. in the past year.

The origin could be entirely unrelated.          

However, a study published in Virology Journal, found EV-D68 among some of the 3,375 young, ill people tested in eight Latin American countries, including the Central American nations of El Salvador and Nicaragua, in 2013.

Though the U.S. government is keeping secret the locations of the illegal immigrant children, there are significant numbers of them in both cities in which the current outbreak was first identified, Kansas City, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois, according to local advocates and press reports.

The EV-D68 outbreak was first recognized after Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri notified CDC on August 19 of an increase in severe respiratory illnesses. Four days later, on August 23, the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital notified CDC of a similar increase.

Why then are we so worried about Ebola and so unconcerned by EV-D68? It might have something to do with race, but it is also true that the causality is far clearer in the case of Ebola.

Ebola was never here. Now it is. EV-D68 has been here for some time. Now there are many more cases. And yet, it seems clear that far more people will contract EV-D68 than will come down with Ebola.

That raises the question: why the hysterical overreaction to Ebola?

David Brooks suggests that the cause lies in our cultural segmentation, which I would call our social anomie. He is too kind to say so, but those who have pushed the gospel of multiculturalism bear some responsibility for dividing the nation against itself. Some would add that the current administration has done a very good job here, too.

Brooks analyzes the problem and we shall examine his ideas.

First, he explains that American class distinctions have hardened. There is less social mobility, less interaction between people of different social classes, less marriage across class lines.

Grant that he is right. Is that the reason why people distrust scientific authority?

It might also be  that people might distrust science because there is too much scientism floating through the Zeitgeist. We are told that we must believe this or that because it is settled science. Every day brings new studies that prove definitively that this or that foodstuff will cause this or that biochemical reaction. And we are deluged with articles explaining that neuroscience has answered all of the great philosophical questions.

Obviously, these grandiose claims cannot be true. Science is always subject to doubt; science cannot answer metaphysical questions; and there is no such thing as a scientific fact about tomorrow.

One reason that people distrust scientific authority is that scientists have overplayed their hand.

Next, Brooks suggests that the hysteria about Ebola reflects a fear of globalization.

In his words:

Along comes Ebola, which is the perfect biological embodiment of what many fear about globalization. It is a dark insidious force from a mysterious place far away that seems to be able to spread uncontrollably and get into the intimate spheres of life back home.

Frankly, this doesn’t feel quite right. Surely, we can distinguish between free trade and immigration policy. If Americans are in despair about jobs moving out of the country, that does not feel like the same thing as being in despair about an incurable virus entering the country.

Surely, most people understand that the Obama administration’s open borders policy and its refusal to profile people who pose a greater risk to the population have created a situation where the nation is going to have an increasingly hard time assimilating new immigrants.

In the past America has succeeded at assimilating immigrants. As opposed to many other countries America offers immigrants the identity of being an American.

And yet, there are limits to how many people can be assimilated. If the government allows in more immigrants than can be easily assimilated they will disrupt the social order, producing the kind of segmentation that Brooks identifies.

Continuing, Brooks also blames the Ebola hysteria on the twenty-four hour news cycle. After all, the news business requires dramatic stories to engage the interest of the population. It is also true that many politicians welcome such crises because it gives them an opportunity to look as though they are in charge.

Finally, Brooks shares some of his reflections on death. He would have done better to keep them to himself.

In his words:

Fourth, you’ve got our culture’s tendency to distance itself from death. Philip Roth once wrote: “In every calm and reasonable person there is a hidden second person scared witless about death.” In cultures where death is more present, or at least dealt with more commonly, people are more familiar with that second person, and people can think a bit more clearly about risks of death in any given moment.

In cultures where people deal with death by simply getting it out of their minds, the prospect of sudden savage death, even if extremely unlikely, can arouse a mental fog of fear, and an unmoored and utopian desire to want to reduce the risk of early death to zero, all other considerations be damned.

Brooks does not seem to notice that Roth’s phrase—“scared witless”—is intended to be humorous.

To blame the nation for not thinking enough about death makes no sense whatever. Brooks seems to be counseling a more morbid frame of mind, a more Goth sensibility… but clearly this is not the problem.

The real issue is whether the people feel that the government and especially the president is working to protect them.

Brooks does not say so, but the national mood and the nation’s culture is defined by the president. These crises are Obama’s. They are his to manage. The national mood is a direct function of the fact that people have no confidence in his ability to do same.

People are in despair and anguish because they do not believe that the president cares about them. They do not believe that he wants to protect the American people. He seems to care more for ideas and votes.

They believe that he is willing to open the borders because he believes the certain classes of immigrants will be more likely to vote Democratic. And they believe that he has refused to close the nation to people from the Ebola-afflicted areas because it feels like profiling black people.

Similarly, Americans believe that Obama has not protected the nation sufficiently from terrorism. The Obama policy of refusing to call terrorism by its name feels cowardly. His policy of retreat in Iraq felt like surrender. Surely, the world’s terrorists know that he is a weak leader. They feel emboldened by the chance of defeating or humiliating the United States.

It feels like Obama is more afraid of offending Muslims than he wants to protect the American people from terrorism.

China: Laboratory for Capitalist Wealth Creation

It’s a thoroughly unpleasant fact.

If we compare the welfare spending in today’s China with that in today’s America, as Joe Hoft does, we are forced to conclude that China is more capitalistic, America more socialistic.

You are perhaps thinking that China has accomplished what it has accomplished without liberal democracy and with an apparent disrespect for human rights. Such would be true.

And yet, it is also worthwhile to point out that democracy and human rights are not Chinese cultural values. As history has shown, China prefers social harmony and social order.

If American democracy means a burgeoning welfare state and the dissipation of wealth, China does not want any part of it.

Author of Falling Eagle-Rising Tigers, Hoft outlines the problem. And rest assured, for America it is a major problem:

When Deng Xiaoping took over China in the late 1970’s, China was a very poor country.  One of the first things that Deng did was to allow individuals to acquire and maintain property.  This capitalistic approach started one of the greatest economic transformations in world history.  More people in China have been lifted from poverty in a shorter span of time than ever before in human history.

China still has its problems, but while the US is moving more and more towards a welfare state, China is moving more and more towards prosperity.  Deng (Xiaoping) rejected any possibility of importing the welfare state into China.  He insisted that the enhancement of welfare should be coordinated with the development of production.  Other Chinese leaders have reiterated Deng’s approach.  Today China’s welfare spending is low but it is increasing.

China may be leading the world in economic growth and wealth creation, but America vastly outdistances its competitor in spending on social programs:

According to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the People’s Republic of China, the total amount of outflows for China’s social programs in 2011 was $287 billion USD.  On the other side of the Pacific, the US spent somewhere between $1.7 and $2.1 trillion USD in 2011 on health, welfare and pension (old age) benefits.

When comparing the US numbers to China’s the results are very clear.  The US spent nearly seven times as much on social programs in 2011 than China.  According to the World Atlas as of 2010, China had a population of 1.3 billion people and the US had a population of 310 million. Based on these numbers, China had more than four times the number of people living within its borders than did the US in 2010.  The result of this comparison is to point out that the US conservatively paid 30 times more per capita to its citizens in the form of social benefits than did the socialist country China in 2011.
Keep in mind, today’s great liberal thinkers believe that all of our problems can be solved by more social programs. If they see a problem—like injustice—that fails to fulfill their ideals, they insist that the government must immediately solve the problem with yet another program.

As America marches backward toward a socialism that has consistently failed, China has become the laboratory for capitalist wealth creation.

Hoft writes:

When we think of an example of a socialist country we probably think of China based upon its recent history with communism and when we think of a capitalist country the US is probably the first country that comes to mind.  However, if the definition of a socialist country is primarily based upon the amount of dollars spent on social programs, then the US is clearly the socialist country and China is the capitalist country.  Even if you do not agree with this, it is hard not to see that the line between what is a socialist country and what is a capitalistic country has become blurred.

Today communist China is becoming more capitalistic and the US is becoming more socialist.  As a result, socialist China is becoming more prosperous and the US is approaching a fiscal cliff.  Poverty is being reduced in China and poverty is on the rise in the US under Barack Obama.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What To Do with Bad Feelings

Feeling bad is not necessarily a bad thing. Some studies have suggested that bad feelings can be a good thing… as long as you do not take them personally.

Coming after (or before) a post on how to induce positive feelings, this idea must feel slightly incongruent. That is all the more reason to include it here.

Of course, the therapy culture has long since believed that we should take our bad feelings personally. It has declared them to be meaningful indications of some unresolved psychic wound. If such is the case they need to be resolved through an extensive analysis of our upbringing and our repressed fantasies.

Such an introspective approach sends us into our minds, the better to insulate us from reality. Thus, it teaches us to take bad feelings personally and makes it more difficult to resolve them or to use them effectively.

Obviously, some bad feelings are bad for you and for those around you. If you are hostile, withdrawn, contentious or demoralized, your attitude is not going to do you or anyone else any good.

And yet, feeling too positive, being too optimistic might just make you careless. In some situations, this means that you are out of touch with the reality of the situation.

Anna North describes some of the research in the New York Times:

Dr. Kashdan and Dr. Biswas-Diener cite air-traffic control (ATC) as one profession in which worry can be especially helpful:

“Pushing tin, as ATC work is sometimes irreverently called, requires an eye for detail; those little blips on the radar screen are actually airplanes, each with its own call number, altitude, speed, and flight plan. Negative emotions like anxiety and suspiciousness can act like an attentional funnel that narrows the mind’s eye to important details. There is no room in ATC for good enough.”

If you are cavalier about your job as air traffic controller you are detached from the reality of the situation, distracted by phantoms and less likely to concentrate on the situation at hand.

In that situation, failing to feel anxious means that you do not understand what is going on.

Of course, it can happen that you become so anxious that you will be unable to function. Too much anxiety is no better than too little.

As Aristotle suggested, emotional extremes need to be overcome in favor of emotions that are tempered, that is, are appropriate to the situation at hand.

But, if your anxiety surpasses the situation at hand, doesn’t that prove the point that therapists have been trying to make: your excessive anxiety is really a throw-back to, for example, an unresolved prior trauma.

And yet, when an individual believes that his anxiety can only be resolved by introspection, the thought might well cause him to withdraw from reality. Retreat in the face of danger makes the danger more formidable and the anxiety more acute.

It is also possible that an individual will feel more anxious when faced with an unfamiliar set of circumstances. A neophyte air traffic controller would be expected to feel more anxious than would a veteran. To solve this level of anxiety, one should lean on the wisdom and guidance of someone older and more experienced.

Those who do not take their bad feelings personally will have the confidence and the courage to ask what those feelings are trying to say. Emotions often signal a situation that we are ignoring. They might be telling us that we are, unbeknownst to ourselves, in danger or are being demeaned.

If we do not take the emotion personally we will look around us, evaluate our current situation and try to understand what the emotion might be saying. Then we will act accordingly.

North offers an example:

Bad feelings (her team looked specifically at “distress, irritation, boredom, tension, upset and hostility”) can make you “think there’s something wrong,” Dr. [Rebecca] Mitchell told Op-Talk, “and so you tend to look for external information to support your argument, to be much more rigorous about questioning your own presumptions and other people’s perspectives, much more reliant on objective data.” All of these tendencies can be especially helpful in a work environment “where everybody’s agreeing, and everybody’s being super-cooperative, and everybody’s trying really hard not to rock the boat” — where people “don’t want to engage in any sort of conflict or challenge.”…

In a workplace where everyone has taken a few too many congeniality pills, a negative emotion is signaling a danger that everyone is ignoring.

It is a call to action, not an occasion for rumination.

Walk Happier

Today we learn of yet another way to improve your mood, to help you feel happier.

Psychologists who work in the field of embodied cognition have discovered that if you walk like a happy person you will become happier. Walk like a sad person, however, and your mood will descend.

That’s right: don’t worry so much about your unconscious motives. Don’t worry about discovering the deep, underlying meaning for your unhappiness. Change your posture! Surely, it's better than taking yet another pill.

You will be thinking that your sad walk expresses how you really, really feel. And yet, it may simply be a habit that you picked up along the way, one that persists even when your mood improves. Also, if you surround yourself with people who manifest a sad walk you are more likely to mimic their posture.

Melissa Dahl brings us the good news at New York Magazine:

Research has shown that depressed people tend to walk with poorer posture; they also tend to sway their upper body a bit from side to side as they move, but their arms don't swing at their sides too much. Non-depressed people, on the other hand, walk upright; their upper body stays steady, and their arms swing at their sides as they go along.

Among the results:

The people who'd been prompted to walk like a depressed person ended up recalling more negative words and (slightly) fewer positive words than the people who'd merrily bounced along on their treadmills. This, the authors conclude, means that the people who'd walked as if they were sad did, in fact, end up feeling sadder. 

Is it all true? I believe that it is. Dahl points out that the results are consistent with those attained by other studies:

Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy found that if you stand like a powerful person would, with your chest puffed out and your hands on your hips, you'll feel more powerful; she calls this "power posing" and has hinted at preliminary research that suggests this even works in your sleep. Likewise, a famous study in the 1980s showed that if you hold a pen between your lips, it activates the muscles you use to smile, which seems to actually put you in a better mood, as if you were smiling spontaneously. 

We are so habituated to thinking in inside/out terms that we tend to scoff at these studies. Inside/out thinking, the notion that there is a ghostly mind directing all our actions, is so habitual that we take it as gospel.

In truth, the idea of outside/in thinking is not as novel as it appears. When soldiers are taught to stand at attention, to stand tall and proud, to look powerful… surely this time-tested tactic must produce the desired result. Otherwise, the military would not continue to do it.

For those of you not in the military, and who wish to overcome your tendency to slouch and to mope around, a few Pilates classes will improve your posture.

Dahl explains that she once heard the governing principle from her swimming coach: fake it until you feel it. Participants in AA meetings learn to: fake it until you make it.

In my version, from one of my books: If you want to build character, it’s better to pretend that you have it than to prove that you don’t.

The Truth about Egg Freezing

Young women, Fortune magazine tells us, are about to learn a very hard life lesson. If they thrilled to the news that Apple and Facebook are now going to pay for them to freeze their eggs, they will not be happy to discover the truth about the procedure.

Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos explains that certain forces in the media and the culture have been covering up the truth, thus giving young women a false impression that they can delay childbearing as long as they wish, the better to advance their careers.

Tsigdinos reports:

Egg freezing is far from settled science. In the UK, which is one of the few countries to track and account for fertility treatment outcomes, only 20 babies have been born from frozen eggs, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). And no one knows for sure how egg freezing chemicals are absorbed by eggs, or how they affect cell development.

For a 38-year-old woman, the chance of one frozen egg leading to a live birth is only 2% to 12%, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). This is a key finding given that the average age of non-medical egg freezing customers in the U.S. is 37.4.

Amid the latest tech perk bragging rights, sobering facts about the procedure’s limitations and the associated risks have been overlooked and underreported.

First, most people don’t realize the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the ASRM do not endorse the use of egg freezing to defer childbearing. The ASRM’s decision to lift the “experimental” label from this still young procedure in 2012 only applied to medically indicated need, such as women with cancer.

Second, there are no guarantees for a successful or healthy pregnancy and delivery. In order to attempt pregnancy, egg freezing must be followed by in vitro fertilization (IVF) with another laboratory procedure, a technique known as ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection). For the latest flash freezing process trumpeted by enterprising fertility clinics and a host of profit-driven service providers, the most comprehensive data available reveals a 77% failure rate of frozen eggs resulting in a live birth in women aged 30, and a 91% failure rate in women aged 40.

For women who want to have children, the old fashioned way is still the best… by far. If that does not work, women have every right to avail themselves of the best that modern technology has to offer.

Yet, telling young women that deferring childbearing is just another lifestyle choice, one that will not exact a cost beyond the price your employer is willing to pay, is dishonest.