Sunday, June 17, 2018

Air Pollution in Democratic India

One tends, as a matter of course, to inveigh against pollution in China. The world has never seen a quicker leap into industrialization than what has happened in China over the past four decades. But, we also know that industrialization is the enemy of the pristine purity of nature. And we are well aware of the fact that China sports an authoritarian government, one that keeps its hold on power by poisoning its people.

We keep those facts and beliefs firmly in mind when we examine the state of today’s largest democracy. That would be India. How is democratic India doing with air pollution? We note the said pollution is not the same as the greenhouse gases that our environmentalists hate so much. Those latter include large quantities of carbon dioxide, aka, plant food. Pollution in India is of another order.

Anyway, India is not doing so well on the pollution scoreboard. If you think that toxic masculinity is a problem, wait until you get a whiff of toxic smog.

 The Guardian reports:

Smog more toxic than can be measured by monitoring devices has blanketed the Indian capital this week, months before the start of Delhi’s traditional “pollution season”.

A thick haze was visible across the city from Tuesday and some government pollution monitors have recorded concentrations of 999 – the highest they can measure – as dust storms kicked up in nearby Rajasthan state blanketed the region.

Though the billowing clouds of dust and sand were blamed for the immediate spike in pollution levels, the sight of dense smog engulfing Delhi months before winter has underscored a growing awareness that harmful air is a year-round problem for the city.

Democratic India is leading the world in pollution. With pollution comes respiratory disease:

India, home to 14 of the world’s top 20 most polluted cities, has the highest rate of respiratory diseases of any country. A leading lung specialist, Arvind Kumar, says the cancer patients he sees Delhi are younger, more often female and more likely to be non smokers than those outside the city.

Children are the most vulnerable: a 2015 study concluded about half Delhi’s 4.4m schoolchildren had stunted lung development and would never completely recover.

Viva democracy!

Should You Detox?

Among the joys of blogging is this: you give yourself permission to write authoritatively about things you know nothing about. It doesn’t happen all the time. It only happens some of the time. Today is one of those days.

The topic is: detoxing. By that I am referring to the now trendy effort to cleanse your body of noxious toxins… through diets and even colonics. As I said, I know nothing about this. It has never registered on my mental radar screen. So I am barely competent to know who is telling the truth.

Yet, I have a nose for scams and de-toxing seems to qualify. Thus, the opening of a recent Slate article—written by someone named Rebecca Onion-- rang true:

Scientifically speaking, “detoxing” isn’t a thing. Your body doesn’t retainso-called toxins ingested via food or drugs or plastic dishes, or breathed in through air. You don’t sweat them out at yoga, get rid of them via special massage, or purge them through colonics. As writer Dara Mohammadi put it in a scorching takedown of the dominant wellness watchword of the past decade: “If toxins did build up in a way that your body couldn’t excrete, you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention.”

Yes, I am aware of the obvious fact that Ms. Onion’s surname has a marked affinity with a certain satirical publication. Such is life. By all indications, the comparison goes no further.

Dara Mohammadi’s piece appeared in the Guardian.

According to Onion, the New York Times has its very own My Detox column. Thus, it has found a way to appeal to a segment of its readers, even if the medical world thinks that it’s all a scam.

Given that scientists, doctors, and nutritionists have united in rejecting the very idea of a “detox,” it’s a bit head-scratching to read the New York Times’ T Magazine’s My Detox column, featuring attractive “creative people” sharing “the homemade recipes they count on to detox, cleanse—and refresh.” In a recent installment, the model Alek Wek recommends a Sudanese okra stew; she “adds a glass of detoxifying lemon juice” to her recipe when her life is about to get especially busy. In the column before that one, the rapper Junglepussy (Shayna McHayle) describes how she makes a lemon-scented body oil at home. “McHayle is choosy,” the writer Coco Romack notes, “about where she sources her beauty products, which she prefers chemical free.” (“Chemical-free,” like “detoxing,” is not really a thing.)

If you find the topic boring beyond your imagination, console yourself with the knowledge that you just learned that there is a rapper who has named herself Junglepussy.

Does the Times know that its My Detox column is there for amusement, not to save your body and soul? Yes, it does:

“ ‘My Detox’ is a column that is not essentially about science,” Jordan Cohen, a Times spokesman, wrote in an email. “It’s a subjective column meant to introduce T readers to interesting people and the personal stories of their own routines. As the tagline reads, T is simply putting a spotlight on the homemade recipes they count on. ‘My Detox’ pieces are not meant to serve as instructional stories.” (Though, if these “personal stories” are “not intended as instructional stories,” why include recipes?) Cohen added: “The Times’ science and health editors regularly offer guidance on relevant subject matter for sections when necessary.”

Onion continues that it all feels like binging and purging, a decidedly modern habit classified under the rubric of bulimia:

As the Times’ Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote in her great 2017 piece on the shift between an old “diet” paradigm and our “clean eating” world, talk of “cleansing” hides old compulsions in new clothing. In other words, the “detoxing” concept implies that it’s normal to lead a life where your body is “dirty,” then clean; dirty, then clean; over and over again. Boringly, the actual best way to stay healthy is to maintain a Pollan-esque diet, drink enough water, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep—over and over again, forever and ever. “Detoxing” is much more narratively exciting, but it also smacks of bingeing and purging, which isn’t sustainable or healthy.

So, you will wondering, what’s really going on here? Could it be that detoxing is a pseudo-religious ritual, a way to purify your psyche while supposedly purifying your body? In that case it seems to have more to do with mental health and enhanced spirituality than with anything else.

But, why do we feel that we are so corrupt. Why do we feel that we are walking cultures for contaminants? Why are we terrified that these toxic substances are about to kill us all? Is this just environmentalism gone amuck?

And besides, what is the gender breakdown of detoxing? Are men or women more likely to undertake these cleansing rituals?

If we are talking about bulimia, we are dealing mostly with females. There are precious few male bulimics, and precious few males who suffer from eating disorders like anorexia.

So, what are women gaining by detoxifying their bodies? Are they trying to rid their corporeal substance of the consequences of their encounters, casual or not, with toxic masculinity? Perhaps all of that sexual liberation is not quite as salutary as it seems? Perhaps women feel dirty—as well as ashamed-- for having engaged in liberating hookups?

As I said, I am not an expert on detoxing? But I am happy to ask a few questions that might provide a framework for addressing the prevalence of this bizarre quasi-religious ritual.

If you think that this is all crazy speculation, recall that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception involves a retroactive cleansing of a female body. Perhaps the Church-- via Duns Scotus-- was on to something.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Nation Makes the Case Against Mueller

As the old saying goes… consider the source. In this case the source for an extensive debunking of the Mueller investigation into Trump campaign Russian collusion is… The Nation. Yes, indeed, a pillar of the progressive left, The Nation has never bought into the Russian collusion narrative. Among its contributors, noted Russia expert Stephen Cohen has never believed that there was any there there.

Thus, we are not surprised to read an extensive analysis of the Mueller investigation in the Nation. And we are not surprised to read its opening paragraph:

In just over one year, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign and Russia has generated five guilty pleas, 20 indictments, and more than 100 charges. None of these have anything to do with Mueller’s chief focus: the Russian government’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s suspected involvement. While it’s certainly possible that Mueller will make new indictments that go to the core of his case, what’s been revealed so far does not make a compelling brief for collusion.

And we are not totally surprised to read its conclusion:

The January 2017 intelligence report begat an endless cycle of innuendo and unverified claims, inculcating the public with fears of a massive Russian interference operation and suspicions of the Trump campaign’s complicity. The evidence to date casts doubt on the merits of this national preoccupation, and with it, the judgment of the intelligence, political, and media figures who have elevated it to such prominence.

Credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, too few media outlets are following The Nation on this score. But, in some quarters integrity has not gone completely out of fashion. In others, on the left and on the right, it is still alive and well.

I heartily recommend that you read the whole thing.

Seymour Hersh on the Trump Phenomenon

Last Wednesday CNN’s Don Lemon interviewed famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Given that Hersh has most often been associated with the American left we might have expected him to show his fealty to the Resistance and to shower Donald Trump with high-minded invective.

To Lemon's surprise Hersh chose another tack. He began by noting that Trump has done wonders for the bottom line of media companies. He has increased circulation and subscribers at the New York Times exponentially. In Hersh’s words, many media outlets consider Trump to be “catnip” for their readers.

But, this has some unfortunate side effects. First, it means that the Times and other media outlets feel obliged to offer their audience a steady diet of Trump bashing. Second, it means that the media landscape has become increasingly polarized. If you want the leftist spin, you watch the leftist media. If you want the rightest spin, you watch the rightest media. There seems, Hirsh says, to be no middle ground, journalism that is dedicated to reporting the facts.

He might have noted that the business press is, as it has always been, most likely to report fact as fact.

But, he does have a point when he says that the media are no longer trusted by most Americans. He is suggesting that they have brought it on themselves, what with their pursuit of filthy lucre. Strangely, at a time when the newspaper business was about to go down the drain, Trump has saved them. But, at a price.

Hersh explains:

… there was a time when the media was trusted. You go back to the old days of networks and those days are long gone. I always felt like when I worked at the 'New York Times' what we wrote was trusted. We now have a situation where a lot of people tune in to what they like and don't listen to what they don't like. It's good for cable television on both sides. For FOX News and for MSNBC and CNN, you guys. You've got great ratings. You're making money.

This does not make them all look like noble idealists.

So, Hersh, being a generally contrary soul, has started asking himself why Trump appeals to people. And he noted that the #GetTrump left still has no message, no policies, nothing to offer the people. Consumed by hatred they have lost the ability to think.

He said:

I don't see the Democratic party doing anything but basically running sort of as Hillary did, running against him for the last two months against him in the last two months of the campaign. And I'm not sure if I'm not in the major city in America, I'm not sure -- this guy is different. And I think people are tired of politicians and he appeals for a lot of reasons that maybe we don't all understand, I certainly don't understand him. He's got 48%, 47% of the people. He appeals to them. There's something about him. This is a guy that took down 13 Republicans with a history of more than 200 years of political life.

Of course, the standard leftist explanation for Trump is… bigotry. The left believes that Trump is a sign that much of America is mired in bigotry. And yet, Hersh avers, there must be more to it. After all, Trump beat more than a dozen Republicans for the nomination. And he single-handedly put an end to the Bush and the Clinton political dynasties. Ignore him at your peril, Hersh is saying.

Worse of all, the media has been running a caricature of Trump for so long that it no longer sees what is true or false. It risks underestimating him and consigning itself to oblivion:

Yes, Trump went to the summit not knowing much about it and, yes, he doesn't read anything and he's famous for just running on instinct. There's just an outside chance with all these tweets and all that other stuff, he just may have some idea what he's doing. He's keeping it focused on him, whether good, bad or otherwise, it works for him.

Of course, we must consider that Trump was far better informed than he let on, and that he was playing the media by telling them that he was not going to prepare for the summit. Why is it that the media is so quick to take everything Trump says literally?

Hersh is sounding a warning to the liberal media and the Democratic Party. One suspects that Don Lemon did not get it.

By the by, we should also consider the words of Caroline Glick, someone who is far more favorable to Trump. She praises Trump’s negotiating efforts in Singapore and notes sagely that those who are criticizing him, members of previous negotiating teams, were complete incompetents.

She describes the expert commentary:

We didn’t learn this week whether North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons. Only time will tell.

But we did learn that US President Donald Trump knows how to negotiate.

All of the negotiations experts insist the opposite is true. “How could they agree to a presidential summit without first guaranteeing its end product?” they sigh, knowingly.

“Trump’s showmanship is dangerous and counterproductive,” they sneer.

“At the end of the day, for this to work, Trump will have to copy Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran,” they insist.

Dennis Ross, who mediated the negotiations between Israel and the PLO that led directly to the largest Palestinian terrorism campaign against Israel in history, and Wendy Sherman, who negotiated Bill Clinton’s horrible nuclear deal with North Korea in 1994 and Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, as well as all their esteemed colleagues have taken up their pens and stood before the cameras and clucked about how Trump’s Singapore Show is amateur hour.

Evidently, Dennis Ross and Wendy Sherman are not household names. But they symbolize the incompetence of people who have gained stature as negotiation experts. Perhaps it is not necessary to point it out, but neither of them seemed to put American interests first.

Is the Merkel Era Ending in Germany?

Perhaps it has nothing to do with President Trump, but Germany seems poised to turn away from the Merkel open-arms immigration policy and toward the Eastern European closed borders policy.

While learned commentators on this side of the Atlantic have been bewailing Trump’s difficulty in getting along with Merkel, it seems that Merkel’s governing coalition is disintegrating. The cause, her very own Interior Ministry, Horst Seehofer, has declared that, Merkel or no Merkel, he will start closing Germany’s borders.

The story has been widely reported. I will give you the New York Times account. It is comprehensive and well-written, but it shows that a beacon of the American left gets it. Gets what, you may ask. Gets the fact that the Merkel policy, a policy promoted by our own citizen of the world, President Obama, is about to enter the dustbin of history. The only question is whether the policy or Germany will fall apart first.

The Times reports:

The populist surge that has left Hungary, Austria and Italy threatening to close their borders to migrants has now spread to Germany, where it could even bring down Chancellor Angela Merkel and further unhinge Europe Union’s cohesion and stability.

In recent days, Ms. Merkel has faced an increasingly virulent mutiny over the issue, which threatens to fracture her governing coalition as early as next week.

The mutiny is led by her own interior minister, Horst Seehofer, a former Bavarian premier with a towering stature and plenty of beer-tent charisma, who sounds more in line with the nativist forces shaping politics in neighboring countries than with his own boss.

His region found itself on the front line of the refugee crisis in 2015, when Ms. Merkel opened the borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants who poured into Bavaria. He has long been an outspoken critic of her decision, and in recent days the two leaders have been locked in a standoff.

Merkel has been blocking Seehofer’s plan:

Like Europe’s more hard-line politicians on the right, Mr. Seehofer wants Germany to turn back at the border migrants who have no papers or who are already registered in another European country.

Ms. Merkel has blocked the proposal because it would defy Europe’s open-border agreement; place an even greater burden on southern European countries, often the first ones to register migrants; and risk widening the already gaping divisions in the European Union.

From whence cometh the reaction:

The Bavarian revolt, coming as the region is preparing for state elections in October, has now provided a powerful glimpse of the groundswell of nativist anger that is building even in the richest parts of Europe’s richest country.

“The Bavarian conservatives are closing ranks with Europe’s populists,” said Andrea Römmele, a professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. “This is serious. It’s pure populism.”

The decision to open Germany’s borders to more than 1.4 million migrants has politically haunted the chancellor. Opposition to the decision buoyed the far-right in elections last year, leaving a weakened Ms. Merkel to struggle for six months to form a governing coalition.

Part of the price for the support of the conservative, Bavaria-based Christian Social Union was having Mr. Seehofer in the powerful position he now holds.

Tension between the two leaders have steadily built. In March, Mr. Seehofer stirred controversy when he declared that “Islam does not belong to Germany,” only to be contradicted by Ms. Merkel.

Ms. Merkel wants to find a European solution to the migration issue at a summit meeting of the 28-country bloc in two weeks. “It is an issue that we must resolve at a European level,” Ms. Merkel said this week. “That is very important to me.”

But Mr. Seehofer is not budging.

Seehofer’s Christian Social Union, a center right party, has been losing support to the far right Alternative for Germany, the AfD. He has his back against the wall, and has acted accordingly:

In a spectacular gesture of defiance, Mr. Seehofer has given Ms. Merkel an ultimatum: If she does not agree to the measure, he will carry it out against her will.

The implication is that the border police in Bavaria, the main gateway into Germany for migrants, could start turning them back at the border as early as next week.

It is the most direct challenge to Ms. Merkel’s authority yet — and to the values her chancellorship has embodied.

For Mr. Seehofer, turning migrants back at the border has become a symbol of re-establishing control. For Ms. Merkel, keeping the border open is the last remaining symbol of her liberal migration policy.

“Asylum tourism must end,” said Markus Söder, the Bavarian premier, using language frequently used by populists to describe the influx of refugees. His government has recently passed a hard-line police reform measure that restricts civil liberties, and has floated the idea of a Bavarian border force — although Bavaria borders only fellow European Union member states.

The question for Germany is whether Merkel’s governing coalition can survive. The larger question is whether Germany can survive. At the least, it appears that the Obama/Merkel cosmopolitanism is dead and awaiting burial.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Having Sex at Work

You may or may not want to grant very much credence to a survey about sex in the workplace when it was conducted by a company that makes sex toys. After all, it has skin in the game. It wants to sell more sex toys and uses the survey to recommend that, instead of having sex with a co-worker or a boss, you whip out your sex toy and take care of business that way.

And, we do not know, from the New York Post story, whether the survey respondents were self-selecting or chosen at random.

Dare we mention, even in this gender neutered age, that the market for these toys is female? Or so I assume. So, even if women fell in love with a sex toy, what are men to do? I will leave it to your imagination.

I will not refrain from pointing out that, what with the American workplace having been transformed into a boudoir, the incidence of workplace sexual harassment, whether through the activities of predatory males or through honest misinterpretations, must increase. 

When women decided to postpone marriage in favor of career, they flooded the workplace. The new women employees were young, attractive, looking for romance, even looking for husbands. They were unattached. If they had been older, married mothers, would things have been different? I leave that to your imagination also.

Thus, it adds a level of complexity to the #MeToo narrative whereby men are the predators and women are the prey. Sometimes, women want it too. And sometimes they are more than happy to spice up a dreary workday with a tryst in the broom closet. Speaking of romance….

Of course, even when they were not having sex in the workplace did not prevent large numbers of Americans—44%-- from getting romantically involved with their co-workers. This number stretches credulity... even mine.

Anyway, we now know that over 10% of employees have had sex on the job. Nearly twenty percent of those have been caught in the act. Apparently, discretion has gone out of style, along with caution.

The survey also strains credulity when it suggests that workplace sex improves productivity and morale. We might accept that people who are going to have sex at work might feel more motivated to go to work. And yet, if they are planning their next hookup, they are perhaps less focused on work. True, they say that the sex has made them more productive, but that is self-reported, not necessarily objective fact.

We are more interested to see that 34% of the 14% who have had sex with their bosses did it in order to climb the corporate ladder, thus to advance their career prospects. Does the name of Ali Watkins resonate in this context? It’s so hard to believe that today’s modern liberated women would want to screw their way to the top… but, stranger things have happened.

Among the other fascinating statistics. One in five of those who have engaged in sex on the job lost their jobs. 60% of office romances ended within twelve months. This made the work environment awkward. And yet, a quarter of office romances ended in marriage… so, there’s still hope.

And yet, 34% percent of office lovers were already married or engaged to someone else. How did that work out?

The moral of the story is that #MeToo was not happening in a vacuum. It was happening in an overly sexualized office environment. This does not mean that sexual predators have not taken advantage of the situation and have even committed criminal assault. And yet, information about the context allows us to temper our judgment.

When Medication Makes You Depressed

Fair enough. The results are not definitive. To some people they are controversial. And yet, while we are having a conversation about suicidal depression we ought to place some emphasis on the role that medication plays in the process. Today’s article from the Washington Post does not directly address whether or not SSRIs produce suicidal ideation, but looks at what is called polypharmacy.

It means that more and more Americans are prescribed drug cocktails, multiple medications, many of which carry a depression risk. The question researchers are trying to answer is: how do these drugs interact? What happens to people who are taking several medicines, many of which increase the chances of becoming depressed.

More than a third of American adults are taking prescription drugs, including hormones for contraception, blood pressure medications and medicines for heartburn, that carry a potential risk of depression, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study found that people who took multiple drugs associated with a possible increased risk of depression were also more likely to be depressed, but researchers couldn’t distinguish whether the medications were the cause. It's possible people already had a medical history of depression prior to taking the drugs, or the medical conditions they were being treated for could have contributed to their depression….

The work is part of a provocative and growing body of research that documents how polypharmacy — the use of multiple prescription drugs at the same time — has risen in the United States. The number of Americans taking at least five prescription drugs at the same time rose sharply between 1999 and 2012, and the elderly are particularly at risk for dangerous interactions between drugs.

The study examined drugs that list possible adverse side effects including depression and suicide, but that does not mean the link was always well-characterized — or that people should stop taking a drug that could be helping them. Painkillers and antidepressants were listed, which could be related to underlying reasons for the depression.

Pharmacy Professor Dima Qato of the University of Illinois has led the research:

Over the decade, Qato and colleagues found that 37 percent of U.S. adults, on average, took medications associated with a side effect of depression.

The team also found that the number of people taking at least three medications that carried a potential side effect of depression increased over the survey time period, from 6.9 percent in the 2005-2006 survey to 9.5 percent in 2013-2014. The rate of depression tripled in people taking at least three medications with a possible side effect, compared to people taking no drugs with that side effect.

As we emphasize, the results are preliminary. Yet, they suggest a clear correlation between the drugs and depression.

The Post concludes:

But even if doctors don't have definitive proof that a particular drug is causing a depression, the study is a reminder that physicians should consider the role of medications  — particularly for patients on multiple medications associated with increased risk of an adverse side effect, which the study shows are commonly used.

We are all interested, perhaps too interested, in how medication can treat depression. We have overlooked the question of how medication can produce depression.