Sunday, September 27, 2020

The End of the Affair: Why I Quit Psychoanalysis

Here are some special treats for Sunday morning. A text I just wrote about why I stopped doing psychoanalysis was just published in the French  blog-- Mediaparte. It was skillfully translated by Sophie Robert, famed documentary filmmaker.

For those who do not read French, I am adding the original in English, to this post. Even if you do not read French, that version is illustrated.

https://blogs.mediapart.fr/sophie-robert-realisatrice/blog/270920/fin-de-partie-lacan-vu-des-etats-unis

Is psychoanalysis a science? Does it work as well in all cultures? If not, then perhaps it’s more about acculturation than about treatment.

When I returned to New York from Paris I tested the hypothesis. When I studied in Paris I was full of faith in the Freudian truth. When I returned to America and started looking at it pragmatically, my faith was challenged and ultimately discredited.

My text recounts my own journey out of the Freudian wilderness. I lost faith in Lacan. I lost faith in Lacan’s theories. I lost faith in psychoanalytic practice. Some will find it sad, but it was certainly for the good.

After spending four and a half years training in psychoanalysis at the Ecole Freudienne de Paris, I arrived back in New York City. I should not have been surprised, but I quickly started hearing stories about Lacan. People, even serious intellectuals who had studied the theory, cared more to tell stories about the man himself.

It made some sense. Why slog through the swamp of Lacan’s thinking when you could skip to the end of the story, there to find the meaning of it all. The meaning was the man himself, the theory made flesh. 

In truth, for all the hubbub about Lacan’s seminars in Paris, precious few of his followers had any idea of what he was talking about. They tossed around his favorite terms as though they were passwords, showing that they belonged to the cult. It was like learning how to speak a private language.

So, in 1977 people were talking about the impression Lacan made during his 1975 lecture tour in Cambridge, New Haven and New York.

One suspects that Lacan believed that he was bringing the Word to the heathens. He even declared that, before coming to America, he had only ever lectured to psychoanalysts-- a manifest falsehood. He claimed that he would address Americans exactly as he addressed his students in Paris. This tells us that he did not know where he was and did not care to accommodate the sensibility of his audience.

Yet, Lacan had earned some Parisian respect for having published a massive tome of his Ecrits in 1966. French intellectuals came into vogue during the late 1960s and early 1970s in America. Lacan was part of the group. In 1975, at the time of his third and last American trip, only a few of his writings were available in English.

Lacan lectured in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the invitation of famed linguist Roman Jakobson. Many serious intellectuals, from Willard Quine to Noam Chomsky attended. 

Unfortunately, they were not impressed by Lacan.  They thought that he was clowning around. Chomsky declared that Lacan was a charming charlatan, a man who had beguiled his Parisian audience with mounds of nonsense. Leading American intellectuals were not fooled by Lacan’s performance. 

After Cambridge, Lacan spoke at a psychoanalytic seminar at Yale University. While in New Haven, he did not just show himself to be a confused thinker. He showed himself to be a profoundly unserious human being. 

When there, a trio of distinguished professors, Geoffrey Hartman, Harold Bloom and Paul de Man invited Lacan to lunch at a legendary New Haven club, called Mory’s. As the story was told, when Lacan was served his lunch he took serious offense to what he saw and threw the food on the floor. Perhaps he had gotten in touch with his inner child, but his petulance made him appear to be a buffoon.

From there Lacan moved on to New York City, where he lectured at Columbia University and stayed at a luxury hotel called the St. Regis. A couple of graduate students were charged with escorting Lacan around the city, assuring that his needs were met. By their account, the old man spent half his time writing whiny telegrams to his Parisian mistress. He ran the students ragged with his demands that they instantly send them off.

If this was what it meant to act on one’s desire, they were not about to join the Lacanian cult.

They came away thinking that Lacan was pathetic, seriously lacking in self-respect. Strangely, this picture of Lacan the man comports well with the portrait that Philippe Sollers later painted in his 1983 novel, Femmes, where a Lacan-like figure called Fals makes a fool of himself over a woman..

Whether or not Lacan fell in love with America, it seemed clear that the Americans who had direct commerce with him in the United States came away unmoved, by his mind and his charms. He was more the insolent child than the great thinker.

As everyone knows, Lacan and his heirs found it far easier to beguile listeners in South America. After all, the unconscious desire that animates people in Argentina is to be French. In America, no such desire exists.

Yet, other French writers have been received cordially and respectfully in America. Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Julia Kristeva taught for many years in American universities, but they did not manifest the same level of bad behavior that Lacan did.

For most people, in France and around the world, Lacan’s theories were largely impenetrable, a confidence trick, one might say. But Lacan’s appeal lay in his ability to perform in public, in lectures, to entertain, to amuse and to ensorcell.

Still, Lacan was a psychoanalyst. In principle psychoanalysis is a healing activity. With Lacan, such was not the case. Lacan never seemed to care about therapeutic results. He did not seem to care about whether treatment had been effective. Like a good Freudian, he was more concerned with storytelling than with problem solving. 

Apparently, he had a late epiphany and declared in 1977 that clinical practice was a scam. Dare I say that many of his cult followers refused to accept the Freudian truth.

Anyway, three years after I landed in New York, 1980 Lacan dissolved his Freudian School of Paris and founded something called the School of the Freudian Cause. He seemed more to care about advancing a cause than about training psychoanalysts. 

In a gesture that appalled most of his longstanding followers, he gave control of the institution to his son-in-law Jacques-Alain MIller. It was a gesture worthy of a hereditary aristocracy. Miller himself was a singularly unimpressive figure who had never written anything of consequence, and who had little, if any clinical experience. It would be an understatement to say that Miller was in way over his head. It would be equally true to suggest that he did not know it.

In the United States, at that time proselytizing the true Freudian faith was going very slowly indeed. I discovered that, aside from a few academics, few people cared to plumb the depths of the soul of an enigmatic Frenchman.

That continued until 1983 when I wrote a book called, Jacques Lacan: The Death of an Intellectual Hero. It was published by Harvard University Press and was reviewed very favorably in the New York Times. I think it fair to say that it was a defining moment; it established Lacan in America. 

Evidently, it seriously disturbed certain French analysts, beginning with the dyspeptic Jacques-Alain MIller. He commissioned some comments by Prof. Patrick Colm Hogan for his publication, Analytica 37, published in 1984. The comments were derisive and dismissive, as though to tell people that they had best not read the book. Later on, Hogan apologized to me for the article, explaining that Miller had forced him to make it negative and hostile.

The book was eventually translated into French (and several other languages. The French version entitled, Jacques Lacan, Maitre Zen,  was largely ignored by French readers. In the world of French Lacanian analysis, when Miller says not to read something, the lemmings bend over and obey.

One suspects that Miller, who considered himself to have been anointed the leader of the worldwide Lacanian movement felt slightly eclipsed-- or should I say, put in his place-- when someone else garnered an audience. Somehow or other, he seemed to want to be in charge of whatever was happening in America. Neither he nor his lieutenants knew anything about America. Their knowledge of the place seemed to derive entirely from what they had read in Time Magazine. It was embarrassing to hear them opine about it. 

One of his satraps told me that they had planned first to colonize South American minds-- easier to colonize-- and would then invade America through Florida. I told them that I thought they had completely lost their minds. 

Miller owed his standing to his marriage. As a writer and a thinker, he was a nullity, easily ignored, more easily forgotten.  In the American academic world, and not just in the American academic world, people respect those who publish consequential works. If he had established himself as a clinician, he could certainly have presented himself under that rubric. He had not. For that reason, he did not command respect in the world of American psychoanalysis

Thus, when Miller was invited to attend a large symposium at  the University of Massachusetts in 1984, he seemed to be all pretense, and no substance. He did succeed in making a perfect fool of himself. He was not the only one to speak at the conference. And yet, after each presentation he arose to explain what Lacan really thought. He seemed to be a jack-in-the-box, a man who did not know who he was, where he was, or what he was doing there. People felt embarrassed for him. Precious few ever invited him back.

When it was his turn to lecture, the anointed heir to the throne of Lacanism declared that he was St. Paul. He had come to proselytize to the heathens and to the gentiles. Most people thought he was a pretentious twit, a walking affectation.

Needless to say, thanks to Miller’s inability to accept my book’s success, we were not getting along. Nevertheless, we patched things up enough to co-sponsor four yearly meetings of something I called the Paris-New York Psychoanalytic Workshop. It was reasonably well attended and it gave Miller a New York audience. 

Unfortunately, most people came away thinking he was an oleaginous, self-important, arrogant fool. His lectures, punctuated by sighs, sounded like the adolescent adoration of a cult follower. St. Paul he was not. Since he had still not written anything of consequence, he could only show off his high self-esteem.

After embarrassing himself, he ended the last meeting by trying to embarrass me. Dare I say that you do not, if you have the minimal sense of decorum, embarrass your host. Miller’s appalling behavior ended our association.

To be more specific, I had, during the last  workshop, delivered a talk about Gilles de Rais, entitled “The Worst Perversion.” If you do not know the story, I recommend Georges Bataille’s book: Le Proces de Gilles de Rais. 

Miller was unhappy with my talk, but he was even more unhappy when he heard William Richardson suggest that Lacan had misunderstood Kant. Saying that Lacan was wrong was almost as bad a crime as writing a successful book about the idol.

Anyway, Miller closed out the meeting with a lame attempt to ridicule my talk. The worst perversion, he claimed, was not the serial killing sexual sadist, Gilles de Rais. The worst perverts were the judges who had tried him and had ordered his execution. 

To bring the argument into the twentieth century,  Lacan’s heir was arguing that the worst criminals at the Nuremberg Trials were not the Nazi war criminals, but the panel of judges convicted them. It takes a special kind of stupid to believe such things.

Anyway, Miller and I had a private conversation the next day. It did not go well. He announced that henceforth he would only allow me to write about Lacan’s texts. Apparently, he thought that he had to assert his authority and his control.

Seriously. One does not know who he thought he was and where he thought he was, but the statement told me that basically his role, as bequeathed by Lacan, was to be a bookseller, to generate royalties that would constitute an inheritance for members of his family.

Apparently, Lacan knew his son-in-law well; he wanted him to have a role that he might have been able to fulfill. For my part, I refused Miller’s demand and never again had significant dealings with him. And I never again wrote about Lacan’s texts.

As for my own disillusionment, a year or so after the end of the Workshop I found myself in a conversation with a famed philosopher in South America. I was joined by a friend, a leading local Lacanian, for a conversation with someone who, I was assured, was one of ours. That is, who was an ally.

It was less a conversation and more a thirty minute harangue,delivered by the professor, about Lacan’s theoretical failings. The man, an authority on logic, declared that he was seriously tired of hearing his students quote Lacan on Frege and Godel. Lacan understood nothing about either man and this professor was appalled to hear his students mouthing egregious errors.

Besides, he went on, Lacan’s theory of the four discourses was a piece of theoretical nonsense. As I had already known, the grid that was supposed to show the four ways that human beings could establish a social connection was merely an arithmetic group. (That is, a function for mapping a set of numbers onto a grid.)  

But, the man continued, there are many arithmetic groups. Why choose one and not the others? Lacan never explained it, so he was trafficking in a cheap analogy. Besides, he concluded, Lacan seemed to believe that because mathematicians called the function a group, that meant that it offered the structure of a social group. He noted that the choice of the work “group” was arbitrary. It was certainly not meaningful. 

Needless to say, I was shocked. I had spent considerable time working on Lacanian and Freudian theories. I was certainly not happy to hear that they were mostly constructed on sand. So, disillusionment over the behavior of Lacan and his acolytes led to disillusionment about the validity of the theory. Perhaps it was all a scam.

The worst was yet to come. It came one day in the early 1990s when a woman came to see me from a foreign country. She recounted that while she was doing her training analysis, her analyst had jumped her while she was on the couch, and raped her… in session. She did not name the analyst. When I asked myself why she was telling me this, I could only conclude that she wanted me to know the kind of people I had been frequenting. It was a very bad day.

It was not the only time I had heard of such crimes. I had heard of women being assaulted in analytic and supervision sessions. We all knew that Lacan himself had been having an affair with one of his patients, but we were far too sophisticated to worry about it. Rape, however, was another story. At that time, I ceased associating with the Lacanian world.

Evidently, certain analysts had taken Lacan’s ethical precept-- to act on one’s desire-- far too literally. 

As I discovered years later, psychoanalysis had arisen from a rape culture. When Freud was at the Salpetriere, the neurology resident physicians were routinely raping their patients. Did Freud know it, Andre Breton and Louis Aragon asked in the 1920s? 

Surely, Freud’s emphasis on sex and the treatment for hysteria that had been touted in Charcot’s service-- namely, penis normalis dosim repetatur-- was consistent with the notion that psychoanalysis, as I began to realize and as I argued in my book The Last Psychoanalyst, was structured like a sublimated rape.

If women do not know what they want, as Lacan intoned endlessly, why should any man take a lack of consent literally? Perhaps when she says No, she is just denying her true desire. If a woman does not know what she wants, and if her analyst does, why should he not give her what she wants, even if she does not know that she wants it. 

One might say that Freudian practice enacts a question: is a rape still a rape when you convince the victim that she really, really wanted it, but was so repressed that she could not admit it to herself. 

We see this most clearly in Freud’s last written up case of a hysteric, the case of Dora. Wasn’t Freud trying to convince Dora that the reason she slapped Herr K’s face at the scene by the lake was that she really, really wanted him, [but could not admit it to herself ? Wasn’t he saying that this was the reason she had manifested hysterical symptoms.]  We note that Herr K was the husband of Dora’s father’s mistress. The notion that hangs over the case was that Dora’s father offered her to Herr K as recompense for allowing him to continue his affair with Frau K. Obviously, no one needed the notion that Dora was unconsciously lusting after Herr K to understand her distress. We emphasize, because no one else seems to, that Dora was 13 at the time.

Remember when Freud pretended that psychoanalytic treatment took such a long time because patients refused to yield to his interpretative importunities. Why did he need to hear that they were completely and totally convinced that he was right? Why did he deprive them of the ability to agree or disagree, to consent or not to consent?

If Freudian theory, as Karl Popper explained, could not be science because it could not be falsified, why not ask whether, if the Freudian analyst can never be wrong, does this not also imply that he can never do wrong?

Anyway, my disillusionment with the Lacanian movement was a function of the simple fact that I was practicing in New York. Unlike Argentinians, New Yorkers are not dying to become French. They want to get better. They want to improve their ability to function in the world. They are more interested in being efficient, effective and productive. They are less interested in seducing people. They do not spend their time trying to rationalize their failures. They are more practical and more empirical. Evidently, Anglo-Saxon culture differs from traditional French culture. As we know from watching Sophie Robert’s documentary, The Wall, one thing that Lacanian analysts reject above all else is the chance that their pure culture will suffer the invasion of Anglo-Saxon empirical treatments. They would rather see autistic French children not be treated, than be treated successfully by a behavioral technique.

Americans judge treatment in terms of clinical effectiveness, a term that never crossed the minds of Parisian cult followers. Parisians embraced the theory because they thought it would innoculate them against the dreaded Anglo-Saxon empirical thinking. A Belgian Lacanian, by name of Alexandre Stevens, declared that  he feared an invasion by the armies of the Anglosphere. A strange thought when placed in historical context.

Obviously, this sense that psychoanalysis is a cause, a side in a culture war that explicitly rejects empirical and pragmatic thinking, does not play well in America.

Lacan himself seemed to undertand this. At one point in his seminar he declared that if anyone gets well while undergoing psychoanalysis, it is a fortunate accident. The treatment does not treat and does not cure. This means that if your clients want to get well, you as a clinician will not do psychoanalysis. Some clients told me explicitly--  you can keep that Freudian stuff to yourself. 

Many New York clients did not care about the workings of their unconscious minds. They wanted help with managing their lives; they wanted to know how to solve difficult social and moral problems. They wanted to improve the way they function in the world, not to discover how badly they wanted to copulate with their mothers.

To put it in the terms I used in my book, knowing why you got it wrong does not tell you how to get it right. And, you do not need to learn why you got it wrong in order to get it right. Searching through your mind bank in order to discover the reasons why you are neurotic will simply distract you from the task at hand. Learning to tell your life story, the better to pass the pass, as Lacan called it, does not tell you how to conduct your life. It only makes you a storyteller. And this explains why I called psychoanalysis-- overpriced storytelling. 

The moment when I saw this most clearly occurred in a session that occurred when I was practicing psychoanalysis. A young man was involved in a messy break up with a woman he wanted to marry. She had rejected his marriage proposal and he refused to accept her answer. Thus, he was calling her and trying to contact her far too often. He was becoming a stalker.

When he asked me what he should do to deal with the situation-- and to get back in her good graces-- I first offered up the normal psycho analytic response, namely that I was not in the business of giving advice and guidance about the conduct of everyday life. He was undeterred. 

 “If you don’t tell me what I should do,” he replied, “I have an astrologer in Moscow who will.” (And no, I did not invent that detail.)

Naturally, I considered his statement to be a challenge. So I replied, without thinking about it, that I would tell him what to do if he promised to do what I told him. He agreed to the terms of the agreement, and we had made a deal. I would underscore the fact that the type of relationship you construct when you are making a deal is not the same as the relationship you forge when you are hovering over someone pretending to be a dummy. 

You are more an ally helping him to deal with current affairs and less a blank slate awaiting the moment when you can tell him that he is mistaking you for your crazy Aunt Sadie. When I offered him a plan of action to deal with his situation, I did not declare that they were the last word. Where Freud insisted that his patients accept his interpretations unqualified, I was offering hypotheses that could be tested in the real world. 

I did not address what this man really, really wanted. I told him that he should apologize to the woman for his appalling behavior, that he should send her a gift of flowers, accompanied by a note renouncing all of his importunate advances. I told him that I wanted to see [the note] before he sent it, and that he should not contact her until I gave him permission to do so.

 So, I set down a plan. He did not have to accept it, but he did. And he stopped the stalking behavior immediately. For what it is worth, the story had a happy ending.

Rather than help him to discover why he was stalking and why he was so sorely offended, I got him back in the game. I gave him some understanding of what the game was and how he could play it. With guidance he got in control of his life. I find it more important than allowing him to decompensate or to seek advice from a Russian astrologer.

In time I tried this new approach more and more often. I started seeing that my clients who were being coached did better than the clients who wanted to explore their unconscious minds and interpret their dreams. Eventually, I ceased doing psychoanalysis altogether.

As of now, psychoanalysis is just about dead in America. It has been largely supplanted by cognitive-behavioral therapy and by coaching. In a nation known for its pragmatism, what matters is what works.

As William James put it: the truth is what works. Psychoanalysis considered the truth to be the truth of your desire, presumably dramatized in the story of Oedipus. Playing a game, understanding the moves you can or cannot make, is not the same as enacting a drama (or even your primal fantasy) in your relationship with your psychoanalyst. 

Learning what you really, really want does not tell you how to play the game, or even what the game is. It might allow you to diddle with your desire but it does not show you how to function in the world. 

Evidently, a nation that is a world power is more likely to see problems in terms of competition than is a nation that is not. A nation that had won wars was more likely to value competition than was a nation that needed, above all, to recover the pride lost during World War II.

Of course, the idea of coaching, or of cognitive and behavioral treatments, disturbs Lacanian analysts. Belgian psychologist Jacques van Rillaer has documented their hysterical jaculations in Mediaparte, in an essay entitled: “De Freud et Lacan au TCC.” Lacanians object that cognitive and behavioral treatments, as well as to coaching deaden the soul. 

Is this not another way of saying that winning wars is not worthwhile if it costs you your soul? For these analysts, it’s one Faustian bargain too many. 

As I argued in my book, The Last Psychoanalyst, psychoanalysis began as a pseudoscience and became a pseudoreligion. That is, a cult. In that case Lacan was the truest Freudian. Thus, he also showed that Freudian psychoanalysis deserved to be buried. One suspects that, by the end of his life, when he pronounced psychoanalytic practice to be a scam and when he said that if anyone ever gets well doing psychoanalysis, it is a happy accident, he understood that basic truth.


Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Religion of Peace Strikes Again in France

The religion of peace is at it again. Yesterday, terrorists in Paris attacked two people on the street with a meat cleaver. The terrorists apparently associated them with the dread Charley Hebdo magazine, magazine that had had the temerity to publish caricatures of the prophet Mohammed. The occasion that spurred the attack was the trial of the accomplices of the radical Islamists who had terrorized the magazine and other parts of Paris.

As it happened, the police gunned down the terrorists. The French authorities apparently did not even read them their rights first. 


It makes it hard to understand why a certain unnamed country is now trying to force its Muslim population to assimilate.


The religion of peace respects everyone else’s culture. Or not. As a sidelight, a day before yesterday, a woman in Strasburg, France was punched in the face on a city street for the crime of wearing a short skirt. The same happened to two other women in the French city of Mulhouse a couple of days previously.


Like I say, assimilation is alive and well in France. It is, except when members of the religion of peace are out imposing their culture on the open-hearted French.


Anyway, the Wall Street Journal reports on yesterday’s cleaver attack, and the prior terrorist actions against a satirical magazine. Nothing is quite as offensive to the religion of peace as humor:


Two people were seriously wounded in a knife attack near the former office of Charlie Hebdo that prosecutors are investigating as a possible terrorist act, more than five years after gunmen opened fire in the satirical magazine’s newsroom.


By now it is well established that the attack was terrorism:


The assault began late Friday morning when a man wielding what appeared to be a butcher’s knife approached and began stabbing two employees of a television production company who were taking a cigarette break in front of their office, according to a person who viewed video surveillance footage of the attack. One of the victims fled to a nearby street and was pursued by the attacker, the person added.


The incident occurred on the Rue Nicolas Appert, the street where Charlie Hebdo’s office was located at the time of the 2015 massacre, police said. Police had two suspects in custody, including a man who authorities said identified himself as a native of Pakistan.


The cleaver attacked was timed to coincide with the trial of the accomplices of the dead terrorists. The Journal reports the details, for your edification:


Earlier this month, France opened a trial of alleged accomplices in the attack on Charlie Hebdo and a deadly assault days later on a kosher grocery store. The magazine, which has since relocated its office, recently republished the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that triggered the attackers. A media group affiliated with al Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen released a statement encouraging attacks in France as a response to the republication, according to the Counter Extremism Project, a nonprofit.


Officials were investigating Friday’s attack as a terrorist act because of its timing during the trial and proximity to the old Charlie Hebdo office, and because of “the attacker’s obvious desire to take the lives of two people he knew nothing about,” Paris Prosecutor Remy Heitz said when visiting the scene.


As for what happened in 2015, the Journal details the events:


On Jan. 7, 2015, Chérif and Said Kouachi stormed the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo wielding AK-47 rifles. After gunning down a receptionist, the two brothers reached the second floor, where reporters and cartoonists were holding their weekly editorial meeting. In a burst of gunfire, they killed eight staffers, one guest and a police officer serving as bodyguard to the magazine’s editor in chief. They also killed a police officer as they fled.


Two days later, police cornered the Kouachi brothers inside a printing house northeast of Paris. As police surrounded the facility, a third gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, took hostages inside a grocery store, threatening to kill them if the Kouachi brothers were harmed. Four people died at the store.

The three gunmen were killed in simultaneous raids hours later. Islamic State released a video days later calling Mr. Coulibaly its soldier. Al Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack on the magazine.


The Journal correctly reports that the other terrorist attack took place in a kosher grocery store. 


Doubtless, I do not need to remind you, but when the events in Paris went down, America’s president-- Barack Obama-- refused to say that the attack by Islamist terrorists on a kosher supermarket had anything to do with anti-Semitism or with Jews. And he refused to say that the Islamist terrorists were Islamist terrorists. Jeremiah Wright taught him well-- he had become a portrait in cowardice.


At the time he said:


It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.


So, Obama refused to declare Islamist terrorism against a kosher supermarket a terrorist anti-Semitic attack.


From that you must conclude that Donald Trump is an anti-Semite. After all, he is wildly popular in Israel. And Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu aid that Trump has been a great friend to Israel and to the Jewish people.


Now you can easily understand why supposedly Jewish tycoon Michael Bloomberg is putting a ton of money into the effort to defeat Trump. And to put Obama's vice president in the White House-- to undo the Trump legacy and to empower anti-Semitic terrorism in the Middle East.


Way to think clearly, Mike.



Charles Barkley: The Voice of Reason

In time of trouble and turmoil we naturally seek out the voice of reason. Even if it is crying out in the wilderness. In today’s America we have been primed to seek out the voices of unreasonable idiot celebrities, of people who know less than everyone else but who have been richly rewarded for it. 

Of course, being a celebrity does not necessarily mean that you know nothing. It does suggest that you do best to keep your jejune and uninformed opinions to yourself. If you are pulling down twenty million a year no one really wants to hear how oppressed you feel.


Anyway, among the celebrities who often offer cogent commentary on the passing scene-- the exception that proves the rule-- we have basketball legend Charles Barkley.


After all, Barkley ensured his place in the commentariat when he stated the obvious, many years ago: “I am not a role model.”


More recently Barkley got himself into a bit of trouble when he offered his views on the Breonna Taylor brouhaha. You recall-- it was only the day before yesterday-- that a Louisville grand jury did not indict the police officers who killed her for murder or manslaughter. It indicted one of them on a lesser charge.


The result was: rioting in the streets of Louisville. One man shot two police officers. And peaceful nonviolent protests broke out across the nation, disrupting public life and burning down what was left of America’s inner cities. 


It remained for Barkley to state the obvious and glaring truth. When the police officers entered Taylor’s apartment, after knocking and announcing themselves as agents of the law, her drug dealing boyfriend started shooting at them. They returned fire-- which apparently according to the finely honed anti-racist mind, means that the police were racists. 


In Barkley’s words, via Zero Hedge:


I don't think this one was like George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery and things like that. I feel sad that this young lady lost her life. I think this one was — the no-knock warrant is something we need to get rid of ... across the board. But I am worried to lump all these situations in together."


He continued, "And I just feel bad that the young lady lost her life. But we do have to take into account that her boyfriend shot at the cops and shot a cop. So like I say, even though I am really sorry she lost her life, I just don't think we can put this in the same situation as George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery."


It sounds reasonable. It sounds like a perfectly appropriate exercise of one’s rational faculties-- not lumping all situations together because the victims were black.


Apparently, such was insufficient for the activists who are ginning up civil discord. That would be the woke mob.


Zero Hedge reports:


In a league that, like the NFL, is seeing ratings impacted presumably by the overwhelming message of social justice that seems to be taking away from the actual games, Barkley was one of the first voices to speak out and defend the police as the nation grappled with the result of the Breonna Taylor verdict.


Imagine that-- defending the police. Surely it is better than defunding the police, don’t you think? Of course, Barkley took it one step further, by calling out the leftist idiots who want to defund the police. An opinion, dare we mention, that is wildly popular within minority communities. Who do you think is going to suffer if there are less police in town?


Barkley said this about that:


Who are black people supposed to call? Ghostbusters? When we have crime in our neighborhood? We need to stop that defund or abolish the cops crap.


Completely sensible remarks-- though sensible remarks are no longer allowed in America.


Anyway, if you think that Barkley was bad, Shaquille O’Neal, another legendary basketball player, chimed in on the same program:


I have to agree with Charles, this one is sort of lumped in. You have to get a warrant signed and some states do allow no-knock warrants. And everyone was asking for murder charges. When you talk about murder, you have to show intent. A homicide occurred and we're sorry a homicide occurred. When you have a warrant signed by the judge, you are doing your job, and I would imagine that you would fire back.


Naturally, the woke mob is now trying to silence these brave souls. The least we can do is applaud their efforts to shine the light of reason into today’s darkness.


Friday, September 25, 2020

Some Perspective on China Bashing

I do not need to tell you that China bashing has become all the vogue. Especially on the political right. On the left, not so much, given that Joe Biden’s son Hunter was bought and paid for by China.

This does not mean that China is the new evil empire. It does not mean that trashing China is going to lead to any good outcome for America. Niall Ferguson has warned against starting another Cold War, and he is certainly correct.

Most observers believe that Republicans are engaging in China bashing because they need to defend our data from Communist Party officials, the ones who are using Tik Tok and other apps to spy on us and to collect personal information. On the other hand, God only knows what is happening with the Tik Tok sale.

Other officials seem to believe that the Trump administration is launching attack after attack on China for political advantage. This may be the case. We will see on November 4.

Anyway, with the exception of someone like David Goldman, who quit an administration task force on China, most Republicans believe that they are going to punish China and to make China pay. As noted on this blog, they have not calculated the cost they will incur when China fights back—as they most assuredly will. Ask the residents of Hong Kong. It is a genuinely bad idea to threaten China's face-- by talking to them as though they are children. For that they will always retaliate.

Besides, at a time when American cities are suffering repeated violent insurrectionary riots, it is strange to denounce other countries for failing to tolerate the same.

For your further edification I report on an intriguing article from an academic in Singapore. Kishore Mahbubani wrote about American misperceptions about China in the Financial Times on 9-21-2020.

 It is interesting to see what this all looks like from an Asian perspective—one that is not run by the Chinese government. According to Mahbubani Americans are misreading the situation in China. 

First, he addresses the bogyman, the Chinese Communist Party. I have often suggested that this is not Mao’s Communist Party, but the message seems to have gotten lost.

 In his words:

Yet there is plenty of evidence to suggest most Chinese people do not perceive the CCP to be oppressive. In fact the latest Edelman Trust Barometer report suggests that support for the Chinese government is among the highest in the world. A Chinese-American psychology researcher from Stanford University, Jean Fan, observed after visiting the country in 2019 that “China is changing . . . fast, in a way that is almost incomprehensible without seeing it in person. In contrast to America’s stagnation, China’s culture, self-concept and morale are being transformed at a rapid pace — mostly for the better.”

Anyway, we do not think it matters. We think that China would do much better to switch to liberal democracy, because, look at how well it is working in America.

Mahbubani writes:

Despite all this, few western minds can escape from the second flawed assumption: even if most Chinese people are happy with the Communist party, they and the rest of the world would be better off were they to switch immediately to a democratic system.

Strangely, the Chinese people do not want to go the way of America, and certainly they do not want to follow the failed role model of Russia:

Until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent implosion of the living standards of the Russian people, some Chinese may have believed in an instant transformation to democracy. Now, many have no doubt that a weak central government will result in massive chaos and suffering for the Chinese people. For evidence, they look to 4,000 years of Chinese history and, particularly, the so-called “century of humiliation” China suffered from 1842 to 1949.

We take it as an article of faith that a weak central government, beholden to the will of the people, would be more peace loving. But, is this really the case. Mahbubani demurs:

Moreover, a democratically elected government is not necessarily a liberal one. The democratically elected Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru seized back the Portuguese colony of Goa in 1961, against the protests of then US president John F Kennedy and British prime minister Harold Macmillan. A democratic China would probably be even less patient in dealing with Hong Kong and Taiwan.

A democratically elected Chinese government would also be loath to be seen as weak in dealing with separatist movements in Xinjiang — look at the Indian government’s crackdown in Kashmir. Indeed none of China’s neighbours, not even the biggest democracies in Asia, are pushing for regime change in Beijing. A stable, predictable China, even as it becomes more assertive, is preferable to the alternative.

Note this, while we are strongly opposed to what is happening to the Uighurs in Xinjiang province, the Chinese consider them to be a separatist movement. While we see concentration camps run by Nazis, not one international Muslim leader has denounced them. Of course, we consider China to be evil so we consider that whatever is happening in those camps is evil. We do not consider that the information we receive might be tainted.

But, isn’t democracy sweeping the world? Isn’t liberal democracy the wave of the future. Francis Fukuyama said so and you do not want to puncture his Hegelian reveries, do you?

As for the possibility of there being a Westernized China, whose politics can be as appalling as ours, Mahbubani demurs:

The third flawed assumption may be the most dangerous: that a democratic China would inevitably accept western norms and practices, and happily become a member of the western-plus club, as Japan has done.

That is not the cultural dynamic that is sweeping through Asia. Both Turkey and India are friends of the west. Yet Turkey has shifted from the secular ideology of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to the Islamic one of Recep Tayyip Erdogan — and India has moved from the Anglophilic Nehru to the Hindu devotee Narendra Modi.

As Asian countries look to Western Europe and America they are increasingly deciding that they do not want liberal democracy. How many of them would want to be ruled by the Squad or by some of the clowns we put into political office?

The movement around the world is running counter to Western liberal democracy:

We must acknowledge that a tsunami of de-westernisation is under way. Even more significantly, when Mr Erdogan announces the conversion of the Hagia Sophia to a mosque and Mr Modi resurrects a long-lost Hindu temple on a contested religious site, they are signalling a desire to return to pre-western cultural roots.

Napoleon was right when he warned western nations to “let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world”. Even more than in Turkey and India, there is a potential volcano of anti-western sentiment waiting to explode in China. Currently, the only political force strong enough to hold down these forces of Chinese nationalism is the Chinese Communist party.

The successor to the party could well be far less rational. Keep that in mind, instead of proceeding on autopilot with current policies towards China. The time has come for the west to do a complete reboot and reconsider all its fundamental premises on China. Western governments should learn to live and work with the Chinese leadership, instead of wishing for its transformation or early demise.

Considering how little of the conventional wisdom about China has been disputed or challenged in our country, it seems well worth the trouble to consider a different perspective. 

Now you can rant about how bad China is, but, dare I say, ranting is precisely what your foes on the left are doing. How about a little rational thought, from a different perspective?

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Dumbing Down the Student Body

Asra Nomani and Glenn Miller are the parents of children who attend America’s greatest public high school. That would be: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia.

They have put pen to paper to write on Quillette that a group of alumni from TJ, as it is called, are now up in arms because the student body is insufficiently diverse. Their solution: dumb down the admissions process, introduce more holistic criteria-- like skin color, and downplay the importance of standardized tests.

This is not unique. In New York City, where we have great high schools like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science, the idiot schools chancellor, one Richard Carranza is hard at work trying to figure out how to dumb down the student body-- to make it more diverse.

Like TJ, the New York City schools place the greatest emphasis on a standardized test score. And like TJ, the student body is around 70% Asian, 20% white and the rest, minority.

One will pass over the obvious point, namely that this makes the student body around 80% people of color. Naturally, the Asian children who succeed are not classed as people of color because they are not claiming that they are the victims of racism. As for people of color, one does not quite understand why blacks are people of color-- given that black is not a color. It is the absence of color.

But, let’s not overcomplicate the issue. It’s really about shifting the blame for the underperformance of certain minority groups. And telling the children in said groups that they cannot compete on a level playing field.

As for why it seems so necessary to shift the blame, the proponents of this aberration must believe that it is therapeutic, because it increases self-esteem. Despite what they all tell you, increasing self-esteem by doling out unearned praise is the problem not the solution. The solution involves allowing these children and their parents to feel as though they have failed, and thus to experience shame. Then, they can correct their habits and reform their culture. We have seen it work in Success Academies in New York. We have seen it work in KIPP Academies. We have seen it work in Mikaela Academies in Great Britain. We have read about it in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. 

Authors Nomani and Miller explain what is happening:

Since early June, a small but vocal group of TJ alumni have worked with activist school-board members, state education officials, politicians, and even TJ’s principal, to undermine the school’s selective admissions process. Their language consistently channels fashionable academic doctrines such as critical race theory (popularly known as CRT), which presuppose that all of society’s institutions are embedded with implicit forms of white supremacy.

It is part of the war against merit. As you know meritocracy is under constant attack these days. Apparently, the results of fair competition do not fulfill the ideal of diversity. Ergo, there is something wrong with diversity. That there might be something wrong with the nitwits who believe that an absence of diversity necessarily involves bigotry-- has never crossed their minds.

Anyway, America has used diversity quotas and affirmative action programs to undermine meritocracy-- for decades now. The resulting failure has produced an absurd movement to double down on failure, to get rid of all merit based admissions. That is, to ignore test scores.

One notes that the notion of standardized testing as a way to open doors in administration and universities began in China around a millennium ago. As someone once noted, if the daughter of the president of China does poorly on her college entrance exams, she will not be admitted into the best university. And yet, almost assuredly she will be admitted to Harvard. Go figure.

Anyway, the war against racism is a war against merit and against standardized tests. For your information, the highly estimable Heather Mac Donald has long since pointed out that said tests accurately predict success in high school, in college and in life.

In Virginia the proposal involves replacing an evaluation of aptitude with a random selection process. 

The result is a proposal to replace the existing race-blind, merit-based TJ admissions system of standardized tests, grade rankings, essays, and teacher recommendations with a process based on random selection from among applicants who have a core class GPA of 3.5 or greater (and are currently enrolled in algebra). Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Superintendent Scott Brabrand has branded this proposed new system a “merit lottery.”

Currently enrolled in algebra does not say how well said child is doing in algebra. If you have a class where a large number of pupils have barely mastered algebra, you cannot teach calculus. Dumbing down the class will either lead to tracking or to depriving the best students of an education that will allow them to excel in school and in life. Otherwise, you do what Stanford did, you split the physics major into a standard physics major and a social justice physics major-- where you can learn about why you cannot do physics.

The new system will drop the number of Asian students, but will benefit low scoring whites. All in the name of fighting white supremacy. You imagine that this is a joke. If so, you are overestimating the intelligence of the people who are proposing these programs. Many of them were admitted to fulfill quotas, and now have fancy titles, but they still do not know how to think.

According to their calculations, the share of Asian students will actually be cut by more than half—to 33 percent, and will eventually drop even further. The share of black and Hispanic students would increase only marginally. And, ironically, white students would be the plan’s greatest beneficiaries, increasing from 18 percent to at least 45 percent of the student population. 

But the school principle at TJ, by name of Ann Bonitatibus, wants to devote more class time to indoctrination in critical race theory. No kidding:

The principal also suggested that the school’s racial demographics should more closely “reflect the racial composition” in the FCPS system as a whole—an ominous sign for Asians, who comprise only about 19 percent of students in the overall FCPS. Furthermore, Bonitatibus suggested that the school’s rigorous STEM curriculum be leavened with social-justice content regarding “diverse cultures and perspectives,” quoting an alumnus to the effect that “STEM alone is not enough.” Zhou said it all reminded her of China’s Cultural Revolution.

However do you expect these children to compete against their counterparts in Asia or even in Europe?

The Dark Side of Solar Energy

I promise, this will brighten up your day. It will shed a ray of sunshine into the gloomy corner of your world.

We all know that the holier-than-thou chorus is prostrate before solar panels. Renewable energy is clean energy. Fossil fuels pollute. What a horror. What a gross violation of the pristine beauty of Mother Nature. 


Now they tell us, in the What’s Up With That blog (via Maggie’s Farm) that all those solar panels pose a potential threat to the environment. Disposing them will not be a lark. The batteries that are needed to store the energy are anything but environmentally friendly. Backup power generation, as the ever so virtuous Germans discovered, will usually be provided by coal furnaces.


But, you will say, natural gas burns cleanly. Why not use natural gas? Well, we are informed, sunlight is cheaper than natural gas. This is not true, and it does not count the government subsidies for renewables, but, let’s ignore that for now.


The WUWT blog explains:


So when you read that solar energy is already cheaper than natural gas, don’t be fooled. They are omitting the pollution and disposal costs, as well as habitat losses, solar heat islands, and the need for backup power generation or batteries – to lowball the true costs of intermittent, season, latitude and weather-dependent solar. We need some honest math now, before it’s too late to turn back.


You can feel consoled by the thought that our competitors in the Far East are happily building coal and nuclear plants-- because they would rather not have rolling blackouts.


Anyway, the problem now is solar panel waste:


The problem of solar panel waste is now becoming evident. As environmental journalist Emily Folk admits in Renewable Energy Magazine, “when talking about renewable energy, the topic of waste does not often appear.” She attributes this to the supposed “pressures of climate change” and alleged “urgency to find alternative energy sources,” saying people may thus be hesitant to discuss “possible negative impacts of renewable energy.”


Ms. Folk admits that sustainability requires proper e-waste management. Yet she laments, “Solar presents a particular problem. There is growing evidence that broken panels release toxic pollutants … [and] increasing concern regarding what happens with these materials when they are no longer viable, especially since they are difficult to recycle.”


Toxic pollutants… difficult to recycle-- who could have imagined such a thing. In truth, no one imagined such a thing. So, no one made any effort to figure out how to manage the problem:


The near-total absence of end-of-life procedures for solar panels is likely a byproduct of the belief (and repeated, unsupported assertion) that renewable energy is “clean” and “green.” Indeed, Mississippi Sierra Club state director Louie Miller recently claimed that unlike fossil fuels and nuclear energy, “Sunshine is a free fuel.” Well, sunshine is certainly free and clean. However, there is a monumental caveat.


Nothing quite like “free” to set the socialist heart atwitter. 


Still, no one has noticed the waste disposal problem:


No government grants require that solar companies set aside money to dispose of, store or recycle wastes generated during manufacturing or after massive solar “farms” have ceased functioning and been torn down. Solar (and wind) customers are likewise not charged for waste cleanup, disposal, or reuse and recycling. This and the massive subsidies distort and hide the true costs of solar power.


Guess who is going to pay for waste disposal? You guessed it: You!


But reality is starting to catch up. Disposal (or recycling) costs will have to be paid, ultimately by consumers. The more solar panels we have (likely billions within a few years), the higher those costs will be. Consumers in states like California that have committed to heavy reliance on solar (and wind) energy (and already have the nation’s highest energy bills) will have to pay even more.


And then, there is this problem. Solar farms eat up crop land. This causes there to be less crop land. And fewer crops. And even less habit for wildlife.


We are not even talking about the amount of land that wind farms eat up. Or the amount noise pollution that they generate, while they are murdering millions of innocent birds. Where's your empathy, pal. Don't you feel for all the of the dead birds?


California is also facing a secondary problem from the proliferation of subsidized industrial solar installations. A 2015 study by Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science found that nearly a third of the state’s solar development is occurring on former cropland, where many farmers are shifting from growing crops to using their land to generate electricity – rather than letting it become wildlife habitat. As Big Solar also moves into natural areas, California is losing even more habitat and scenic land, while the integrity of state and national parks suffers from the nearby glare of countless solar panels and towering transmission lines to distant cities.


The best part, the part that will surely make you smile, is that solar power plants produce-- global warming. How about that?


Other research has found that these large-scale solar power plants raise local temperatures, creating a significant solar heat island effect. Temperatures around one solar power plant were 5.4o-7.2 °F (3o-4°C) warmer than nearby wildlands. Imagine such manmade “global warming” across 20 million acres (South Carolina) or 160 million acres (Texas), to meet California or U.S. greenhouse gas reduction goals!


I told you this would make you smile.