Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The old song says it well: breaking up is hard to do.

It’s hard when you’re breaking up with a lover; much harder when you are breaking up with a spouse.

But, what about breaking up with a friend? On Facebook it’s called defriending, but it happens all the time, usually without fanfare or drama.

Marriage is a contract. Romance is a prelude to a contract. Siblings are connected by blood. They do not need a contract.

Friends are not bound by contracts. We make friends freely. We are not bound to our friends. Our ties to our friends are defined by ethical principles. We are obliged to be loyal to our friends. We are not bound by blood. 

Being friends with someone does not imply gaining a new title or a new status. Being John’s friend is not analogous to being John’s wife or child.

If you lose touch with a friend he ceases to be your friend, in the active sense of the term. If you do not often speak to members of your family, they are still your relatives.

Friendship is the purest of voluntary social ties. Friendship requires better behavior than do family ties.

It is very rare that a psychologist will privilege friendship. Psychologists see human relationships as a function of early childhood family ties.

They even see human social organizations as a function of the earliest relationships, the ones that concern mother and father and child.

Thereby, they see human beings as family-bound, with sociability an afterthought or a function of whatever is happening in the family.

One important work of philosophy gives pride of place to friendship. In Nichomachean Ethics Aristotle privileged the relationship that exists between friends. Since his ethics was about how to build character by doing the right thing he saw friendship as the kind of relationship where good character was most important. 

If family life so often descends into drama, then perhaps the reason is that family members remain related no matter how they behave.

What are the implications of Aristotle's idea. It suggests that if you have a choice between treating your siblings with the respect you would accord a friend or else treating your friends with the disregard you would accord a family member, then it would be better, Aristotle seems to be saying, to make friendship the paradigm that determines how you conduct all relationships.

Instead of trying to make all of your relationships into family dramas, try making your family life into a harmonious exercise in good behavior.

Now, there’s a radical idea.

People have to work harder to make their friendships work. They should put the same amount of work into making their family relations work.

Of course, most family ties are forever. Few friendships are.

Our circle of friends expands and contracts. Some people are always our friends; others come and go. We make new friends and grow distant from old friends. We grow closer to some people and grow apart from others.

Since we choose our friends we have a free choice between remaining friends or, as the new expression goes, defriending them. There is no such thing as a family relation that vanishes by the click of a link on Facebook.

Strangely, more free will is exercised in friendships than in family ties.

But, being free to choose your friends does not tell you how best to exercise that freedom. 

Surely, you should exercise care and caution in choosing your friends. Cassie Murdoch brings us the news on Jezebel. She might be exaggerating slightly, but certain kinds of friends can become toxic. Certain kinds of friendships stress you out and make you sick.

In her words: “We all have those friends who are competitive or are constantly causing drama for one reason or another. It's tempting to just put up with them, but a new study has found that conflicts with those kinds of people could actually be irritating you physically—as in causing your immune system to fire up. This leads to your body to become inflamed, a state which has been associated with things like cancer and diabetes.”

Yesterday I wrote a post about living a long healthy life. Today I will add another item to the list: choose your friends well.

People who are constantly causing drama in their or your life are a drain on your emotional resources. They are all take and no give. You would do best to maintain a safe distance from them. If they have little to offer in terms of comity and harmony, then it is probably a good idea to defriend them.

Friendship is based on reciprocity. Friends return the favor. Friends stick with you when things are not going well. And, as Aristotle said, friends see the best in you, assuming that you see the best in them.

Anyone who is constantly carping on your faults and inadequacies is not your friend.

Of course, there are early warning signs. Bad character is high on the list. Do not get too close to people who fail to return messages, fail to show up on time for appointments, or who embarrass you in public.

Do not get too close to people who are not good friends to others. A man who brags about how he betrayed or undermined a friend is not someone you should want to be friends with.

Anyone who is trying to build himself up at your expense is not a friend. If he constantly insults or demeans you, if he fails to respect your achievements he is using you, as a foil, perhaps. He is not treating you like a friend.

Most friendships end by inertia. A mutual recognition that the friendship is counterproductive often causes it to fade away.

Much has been written about how to end a romance. Less has been said about how to end a friendship.

Thus, we should welcome Alex Williams’ long article in the New York Times about this topic. Williams explained it clearly and well.

Preferably, Williams says, you allow a friendship to fade away.  You stop returning messages, become too busy to get together, cease to share important information… and generally become more distant.

Friendships require active management. Where family relations can continue on auto-pilot friendships cannot.

The fade-away approach avoids conflict and confrontation. This is always a good idea, though, it is often easier said than done.

When you confront a friend with a list of grievances you will do damage to both of you. Moreover, you are leaving open the possibility that the friendship can be saved.

If you have really come to the point where you want to end a friendship it is best to end it, not to create a scene.

As it happens, Williams acknowledges that some therapists believe that ending a friendship requires the kind of direct conversation that would normally be needed when ending a romantic relationship.

Even then, non-confrontation should always be the by-word. It is better to end a relationship by agreeing not to blame each other.

When it comes to a friendship, however, it is best not to see it as a romance. It does not involve a breach of contract and does not require negotiation about future contacts.

"First, Kill All the Burmese Pythons"

Kudos to Jonah Goldberg for proposing a brilliant solution to South Florida’s Burmese python problem.

By now you have heard the bad news. Pet lovers in South Florida imported all manner of Burmese pythons. When the snakes ceased to be cuddly, these eco-friendly pet lovers let them loose in the Everglades.

Goldberg describes the problem: “I understand that the serpents are very well suited to survive in the Everglades, they have no natural predators, they possess the ability to swim and go without food for up to a year, and the native animals have no natural fear of giant snakes etc etc. Ecologists talk as if this is a lost cause. This amounts to blanket amnesty for illegal immigrant giant snakes.”

Sounds like an eco-calamity, doesn’t it?

As a good Republican, Goldberg opposes blanket amnesty. Fair enough. He also opposes the creation of yet another government bureaucracy to study the problem. Goldberg states correctly that bureaucrats would try to solve the problem by getting into the business of raising snakes.

His solution: put a bounty on Burmese pythons. Let the hunters loose in the Everglades and pay them to kill as many of the snakes as they like. I suggest that we send S. E. Cupp to Florida to lead the charge.

It’s a free market solution.

Goldberg describes his plan: “But, are you telling me that during a time when unemployment is outrageously high, the government can’t put a bounty on snakes and get results? I don’t know what the right number is but for the sake of argument if we had a hunting season in which you could bring in unlimited number of Burmese pythons for $50 per pound, my hunch is Burmese pythons would be erecting memorials to the great snake genocide of 2012.”

Instead of wasting money hiring bureaucrats to produce reports explaining how dire the situation is, we would be incentivizing results. For once stimulus funds could be put to good use. 

It's best to get going on this before some bureaucrat decides that Burmese pythons are endangered species.

For the record, I have re-used Goldberg’s great title: “First, Kill All the Burmese Pythons.” It's a variation on a line in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part 2: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Monday, January 30, 2012

Autism in France

Those of you who have been following the intense debate about autism in France and who wish to judge whether Sophie Robert’s movie The Wall was caricaturing the way autism is treated in France will be interested to read the following remarks by Chantal Sicile-Kira, the mother of an autistic boy.

Sicile-Kira wrote an article called “Autism and Education in France” for the Huffington Post in June, 2010. In it she explained what happened to her when her son was diagnosed with autism in 1993.

She appears to be more hopeful than many people in France today, but her testimony confirms the influence that psychoanalysis has exercised over the way autism has been treated in France. 

In her words:

In 1993, my family left France, where we had been living since 1981. Both Jeremy and his sister, Rebecca (who is neurotypical), were born in Paris at the time when children with autism were considered mentally ill, not developmentally disabled. They had no right to an education. Instead, they were enrolled in day programs on hospital sites, where they were treated with psychoanalysis. Parents had no right to visit the day program, nor did they receive any communication about what went on during the hours their child spent there.

When Jeremy showed autistic tendencies, I was told by the powers that be to take him to see a psychoanalyst. The psychoanalyst concluded that Jeremy was autistic because he suffered separation issues from breast-feeding. This the analyst gleaned from watching him spin round objects (which reminded him of his mother's breasts) and chase after one that he had "lost" when it fell and rolled under a piece of furniture.

The French genetic specialist who handed me my son's diagnosis, also handed me some advice. She told me to look for and find a good institution for Jeremy. I have -- it's called public school. On June 18th, both Jeremy and Rebecca will be graduating from high school. Jeremy will have taken seven years to do so, in comparison to Rebecca's four. I am equally proud of both of them.

I am not sharing this information to knock the French; I have heard similar stories in the UK and in the US: Parents seeking help were often blamed for their child's autism and were given no hope and no answers. The big difference however, is that back then there were no French laws allowing children with autism to be educated; and now there are.

For my prior posts, see here and here.


In this corner, representing feminists who are not afraid to be bitchy, is Anna North. North writes for Jezebel.

In that corner, representing women who want to be more effective leaders, is Cheryl Isaac. Isaac writes for Forbes.

Let the games begin.

Anna North wrote her article first so I will allow her to throw the first jabs. Fair is fair.

North wants women to become more assertive. For reasons that North does not explain, after decades of feminist indoctrination women are still having problems asserting themselves.

Given that she's a feminist, North tries to blame it on the patriarchy, that is, on the culture’s expectations about women.

In reality, the ambient culture has been all too friendly to feminist ideas. In my view, feminism is the problem more than the solution.

If a woman believes that she has to choose between being a doormat and being a bitch, which is the way feminism presents these alternatives, she will most likely choose the former.

The feminist party line does not see things this way. It assumes, as North states it, that women fail to assert themselves because they fear being seen as bitchy.

As you know, feminist grievance mongers always make the point that if a woman acts as aggressively as a man she will be disparaged.

They fail to mention that no one respects a woman who is pretending to be something she is not.

North explains that the culture tells women to be nice, to smooth things over, to conciliate and to compromise. Thus, it follows, as the night the day, that women are being socialized to be passive and non-confrontational.

North quotes Dr. Lois Frankel’s typical feminist boilerplate: “What women need to understand is that the fear of being seen as ‘not nice’ or bitchy comes from social messages about how they should behave.  It's the way men have gotten women to acquiesce for centuries.  Just the thought of being considered less than nice makes a woman feel less than feminine.  Each time you hesitate or avoid asking for what you want you've bowed to these messages.  The vast majority of women could be more assertive and still be far from bitchy in reality.  When you're called that, it's usually because you didn't do what someone else wants –- in which case, kudos to you!”

Frankel seems to be a true believer in the social construct school of thought. This school claims that there is nothing about a woman’s genetic makeup or her body that has any intrinsic connection with nurturance.

In her mind women have been induced to be caring and nurturing creatures because men want them to be subservient.

Niceness has been imposed on women by the patriarchy, the better to control and subjugate them. Were they to be liberated from their chains women would happily be bitchy, nasty, aggressive, and confrontational.

If this is being passed off as scientific opinion, then something is wrong with our graduate degree programs.

North herself then adds some bad advice about relationships.

She says: “You may think you're being nice by keeping your emotions to yourself, but you're also depriving the people around you of the opportunity to know how you're feeling. People who care about you — partners, friends, family members, etc. — don't want to unintentionally bug you or make you feel bad. Nor do they deserve the simmering resentment you may start to feel if you never speak up. So while being assertive about your own needs may seem like a more confrontational choice in the short term, in the long term it can actually be the loving thing to do.”

Just in case you were wondering how the therapy culture is doing, it is alive and well in feminist fantasyland. I promise you, if you follow North’s advice you will soon be rushing in tears to your friendly neighborhood therapist.

In truth, a relationship normally involves two people. Those two people are NOT you and your emotions.

Moreover, emotions are not toxic gasses that must be expelled immediately, lest they cause cancer.

Expressing or not expressing an emotion has nothing to do with being nice or bitchy. As an aside, I would note, that within any normal human relationship nice usually works much better, for men and for women.

Aristotle had a better idea here. He said that you should express emotions at the right time in the right place to the right person under the right circumstances.

Before you decide to vent ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. If you are mostly trying to expel toxic gasses, shut it down. If you are trying to show your lover that you are a good feminist you are going to turn your loving relationship into a permanent psychodrama. If you believe that you can improve your relationship without looking like you are out of control, be my guest.

Your choice.

Happily enough, North’s advice is not all bad. She recommends that you prepare for important meetings, start small, and “don’t be a total dick.”

Nevertheless, her advice aims at advancing feminism, so it teaches you how to posture more than to lead.

If you do not care to accomplish anything and if you do not care to have a good relationship, if you only want to look like a feminist rebel asserting herself at the wrong time in the wrong place with the wrong person under the wrong circumstances, then Anna North’s advice is for you.

The first step toward becoming a more effective leader is to think in terms of what you want to get done, not what role you think you should be playing.

I have often quoted Dwight Eisenhower, to the effect that leadership is getting other people to do what has to be done because they want to do it.

And that should be distinguished from getting them do things because you have told them to.

The notion that leaders must be tough, assertive, aggressive, and confrontational is appealing to people who know nothing about leadership.

Leadership exists in the way a company runs, not in the posture the manager assumes.

Since both North and Isaac address the question of women leading, it’s worth thinking about a great woman leader: Oprah Winfrey.

As she was taping her final season Oprah allowed her team to record the behind the scenes activities, the better to show how much hard work went into making the show seem effortless.

Note especially that two of the last shows, at the United Center in Chicago, were organized by Oprah’s staff without Oprah’s knowing anything about what was going on.

Oprah was not posturing. She was not asserting herself. But everyone knew that she was in charge.

Oprah had no need to prove anything to anyone. She had one interest, shared by her staff, and that was to put on great shows. And, she never acted bitchy.

Moreover, she always acted like a woman. She did not pretend to be a man.

As Cheryl Isaac pointed out, the first and most important lesson about women leaders is that they should never forget that they are women. They should not even try to act like men, or to mimic a male leadership style.

Perhaps it is more difficult for a woman to exercise leadership in certain industries, but that does not mean that women should be encouraged to act like ersatz men.

A woman who tries to act like a man is not going to fool anyone. And she will lose respect. No one respects you for not knowing who you are or for pretending you are someone you are not.

If a kind word gets the job done, then offer a kind word. If a scowl motivates, then use a scowl. If a smile of approval or a frown of disapproval is needed, there is no law that says that a woman cannot do it.

Women should not run around cursing like truck drivers, but then again, male leaders shouldn’t either. Women should try to negotiate differences, but men should also do so. Women should not bark orders, but men should not either.

Isaac, however, seems to see leaders as charismatic. There, I do not agree with her. A charismatic leader leads with emotion and that is far too New Agey for my taste.

I can offer some better advice. It applies equally to men and women, but we’ll refer to women leaders.

A good woman leader is trying to get the job done. She is not trying to make a political or ideological point. If she sees herself advancing the cause of feminism she will never be able to lead.

A good woman leader is in charge of herself. If she has no discipline or self-control no will have confidence in her ability to take charge of a situation.

A good woman leader is clear, firm, and precise. She is capable of articulating policy so that everyone will understand it. She does not waffle, hesitate, or inject any unnecessary emotion.

A good woman leader lets her subordinates know what their jobs are and she ensures that they have the tools they need to do them.

A good woman leader allows others to make mistakes. She also allows them to correct their mistakes.

A good woman leader is in complete command of her brief. She knows everything there is to know about her company, its operations, its markets, its sales, its production schedules, its staff, its history, and its mission.

Running a company or a department is not the same as running a private equity firm.

May You Live a Long Happy Life

None of us is going to live forever, but most of us would like to live long healthy lives.

Unfortunately, in the ongoing debate about health care our politicians obsess about health insurance, not health.

We are being led to believe that the road to good health involves becoming a consumer of health care.

But, pursuing and consuming health care is not a formula for a long healthy life.

Among the unintended consequences of this debate is that the nation is being consumed by a generalized anxiety about getting sick. How much does this anxiety improve your health?

We all know that good habits advance good health. Being anxious and stressed about getting sick is not a good habit.

Today I want to share a checklist of good habits that will help you to live a long life in good health. Link here.

Happily, from my perspective, many of these habits are counterintuitive. They are exactly the opposite of what the culture is telling you.

Turn on the television and you will be told that the meaning of life is having fun, especially on vacation.

So, it’s striking that the first item on the list is: Don’t retire.

The evidence suggests that retirement is bad for your health. Lounging around the pool, relaxing at the bar, getting up when you please… all of it will probably make you sick.

The second item on the list is something that your dentist has told you more times than you care to remember: Floss every day.

When it comes to your teeth, the culture has made a fetish out of teeth that look like chiclets. People are consuming teeth whitening products in massive quantities. They thrill to porcelain veneers. They are looking to flash the perfect smile.

None of that is going to improve your general overall health as much as flossing. If you don’t believe me, ask your dentist.

So, now that we are well into the Year of the Dragon, allow me to wish you the courage and fortitude necessary to develop the good habits that will make you consume less medical care and live a longer happier life.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Alissa Nutting's Anxiety

In a New York Times column yesterday Alissa Nutting recounted her attempts to find solace from a severe anxiety disorder and panic attacks.

I daresay that her story is a lot more compelling than your average Modern Love column.

I might have been drawn to the piece because it addresses a topic that is relevant to the theme of this blog. But, I was more impressed by the exceptional quality of the writing.

It doesn’t happen every day that you discover great writing, so, I reasoned, why not give it its due and link it without a disquisition on anxiety disorders or anything else.


You’ve probably never had the experience, so bear with me on this one.

Two days ago I clicked on a link on an Economist blog and, alas, saw one of my finely-crafted sentences reduced to onomatopoeia.

Last Wednesday, blogging about Obama’s State of the Union address I opened with this sentence: “There’s talking down to people, and then there’s condescending.”

I was referring to a study showing that the most recent Obama SOTU address was pitched at an 8th grade reading comprehension level.

Our president was treating the American people like a bunch of 8th graders.

Then, on Friday, E. G.,  writing on The Economist blog called Johnson, reduced my sentence to a single onomatopoetic word: harrumph. If you go to the Johnson blog and click the hot link on the word harrumph you will arrive at my post.

To say that I am grateful for the attention would be an understatement.

Just so that you do not get any wrong ideas I will mention that the Johnson blog does not have anything to do with anyone’s johnson. It refers, respectfully, to the great 18th century British man of letters, Samuel Johnson, author of A Dictionary of the English Language among other notable works.

In other words the Johnson blog concerns language and its usages.

Blogger E. G.did not merely call my sentence a harrumph. He called it a typical harrumph. (I will note parenthetically that I do not know whether E. G. is male or female. I will use the male pronoun as a default. If E. G. is a she, not a he, I offer my most contrite apologies.)

I have been trying to figure out what an atypical harrumph would sound like, but, alas, to little avail.

Still, an old British adage tells us that one good harrumph deserves another, so here goes.

The dictionary tells us that a harrumph is the sound one makes while clearing one’s throat. It is a non-verbal dismissal uttered by someone of, dare I say, a certain age.

You do not imagine a teenager or young adult dismissing anything with a harrumph. A young person would lack sufficient gravitas to issue a persuasive harrumph.

I will mention, and even underscore, that neither I nor the professors who established the grade level of Obama’s speech, said anything about the presidential IQ. My statement concerned attitude, not intelligence.

Hopefully, you can all see the difference.

You will also understand that those who have manned the ramparts to defend the intellectual superiority of Barack Obama have recently spent eight years happily impugning the intelligence of George W. Bush.

For my part I have warm positive feelings for The Economist. It is a great journalistic endeavor, an extraordinarily successful publication, and worthy of considerable respect.

Thus, I do not want to limit my remarks to the portion of E.G.’s post that concerns me. That would be egotistical… not a good thing.

Austin begins his post by creating the category in which he will embed my finely-crafted sentence. He mentions: “the endless stream of non sequitors surrounding America’s 2012 election.”

I ask you, what possible understanding of the meaning of the non sequitor would suggest that the notion that Barack Obama takes Americans, or perhaps his supporters, or perhaps Congress, to have an 8th grade reading comprehension level is a non sequitor?

What exactly does not follow from what here?

Note that I will not try to ferret out the meaning of the “endless stream.” It feels like bathroom humor and I choose not to go there.

Regardless, E. G. quickly changes the subject from attitude to intelligence. Let’s assume that he knows the difference himself but is obfuscating the issue, because otherwise he might have to explain why he thinks that it’s a non sequitor to say that Obama talks down and/or condescends to the American people.

It is, however, a non sequitor to change the subject from attitude to intelligence. No one suggested than talking down to people or even condescending to them was a sign of limited intelligence. Quite the contrary, you cannot talk down to people unless you are intelligent.

Austin writes: “For several years Mr Obama has been repeatedly attacked, from the right, for not being as intelligent as Democrats would have people believe. To be more precise, there are a lot of people who angrily object to the idea that Mr Obama might be reasonably good with words.”

Truth be told, no one really believes that a president writes his own State of the Union address. Neither I nor anyone also who contributed to what Austin saw as an endless stream suggested that Obama wrote his own State of the Union speech.

Presidents are busy people. They employ an army of speechwriters to perform menial tasks like writing speeches.

We were merely pointing out that Obama’s speech showed a man or a presidency that does not respect the intelligence of the American people.

One might have said that the speech itself was filled with mindless and divisive platitudes, phrases and locutions that the president had been using over and over again on the campaign trail.

Everyone knows that Barack Obama used the solemn occasion of the State of the Union to deliver a campaign speech. Again, this does not signal an absence of intelligence. It's a strategy.

To give Austin his due, a fairly large number of Barack Obama’s detractors believe that the claim about his exceptional intelligence is ... a myth.

The mainstream media has chosen to cover up Obama’s stylistic infelicities and egregious errors of fact. They have followed the Obama camp’s party line, stated explicitly by consigliere Valerie Jarrett, that Barack Obama is too good and too smart for America.

Someone whose leading advisor is a flagrant sycophant might very well be expected to talk down to people, even to condescend to people.

Like it or not, this matters. Today’s politics contains the myth that Republicans are stupid while Democrats are smart.

You wouldn’t want to belong to the stupid party, would you? Given a free choice, you would naturally want to belong to the smart party.

Austin should point out that the meme about Democratic intellectual superiority is an important selling point for the Democratic Party. How many people would rethink their political allegiance if they believed that Democrats were less intelligent than Republicans?

Impugning someone’s intelligence is not an idle slander. It’s a way to keep members of a political party in line.

This despite the fact, discovered by no less than the New York Times, that the more ignorant you are the more likely you are to vote Democratic.

Blogger E. G. dismisses as ridiculous the claim by certain right-thinking people that Barack Obama did not write the two best sellers that he claims to have authored.

If you do not believe that Obama wrote the two books you are, by Austin’s logic, part of a cabal that is working to disparage the intelligence of this brilliant man.

In truth, this issue has nothing to do with the charge that the State of the Union speech was addressed to 8th graders. It simply says that a man who is not a writer, who has never published another word, could not possibly have written Dreams of my Father.

It’s as likely as having someone who never wrote a note of music sitting down and writing a symphony.

The notion that an aspiring politician could hire a ghost writer and pass off a manuscript as his own work is not farfetched. John Kennedy did it with Profiles in Courage.

If you want to establish Obama’s brilliance look elsewhere.

As it happens, Obama has never released any of his grade transcripts or test scores. If the objective evidence is so compelling, why have we never seen any of them?

Blogger E. G. continues his spirited defense of the presidential intelligence by disparaging the Flesch-Kinkaid test. That test established that Obama’s SOTU was pitched to 8th graders.

He writes: “However, there's no normative weight to the Flesch-Kincaid grade level. The score is a function of how long the sentences are and how many syllables the words have. It's a weak proxy for accessibility, not substance or value.”

To test the test E. G. submitted Economist articles and found that they scored at or above the 10th grade comprehension level. This is the level that most previous SOTU addresses score at. I'm not sure what this shows about the test, but, as always: I report; you decide.

But then, he discovered that T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” scored at a 5th grade level. We can easily imagine that Hemingway would also have scored rather low on the test.

This is clever and entertaining, except for the fact that the initial researchers tested SOTU speeches against other SOTU speeches. That feels like a reasonable comparison. Comparing Obama to T. S. Eliot or Hemingway does not seem quite so apposite.

The long and short of sentence construction coupled with a comparison between monosyllabic and polysyllabic words might not tell us everything, but it does tell us something.

Since E. G. does not feel that I was being fair when I taxed the Obama White House with talking down and/or condescending to the American people, I feel duty bound to offer an analysis of the substance of the speech.

Was Obama’s speech a towering rhetorical masterpiece or was it a grab bag of empty election-year platitudes?

That feels like a fair question.E. G. wants it answered, and he deserves an answer.

Rather than offer yet another harrumph-worthy sentence of my own I will quote the justly famed Lexington column from The Economist.

Here’s Lexington’s take on the Obama State of the Union address:

IT IS becoming hard to remember that Barack Obama’s speeches were once described as inspiring, visionary and transformational. His state-of-the-union message on January 24th was none of those things. Then again, circumstances were against him. He said, as presidents must, that the state of the union was “getting stronger”. But everyone knows that the true state of the union is dire: 13m Americans are unemployed, the recovery is fragile and at any moment the economy could be blown sideways by a new gust of bad economic news from Europe. Nor, frankly, was this speech a useful guide to the administration’s legislative plans for the coming year. Since the mid-term elections of November 2010, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has blocked most of the Democrats’ legislation, and will continue to do so, which means that the president’s plans count for little. To be understood, this speech needs to be seen for what it was: an audition for re-election.

I hope that this clears things up.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Are Men an Appetite Suppressant?

Man or woman, it doesn’t matter. Whichever which gender you belong to, if you want to eat less, eat with a man. Link here.

That’s right. If you are eating with a real, live breathing manly man, you are naturally going to eat less.

A man eating with a man will eat less than he would if he were eating with a woman. A woman eating with a man will eat less than she would if she were dining with a woman.

One can only conclude that sisterhood makes you fat. Or, at the least, that it makes you eat more. Imagine that!

But, how can we possibly explain this socio-biological phenomenon?

Some believe that women are socialized to eat dainty portions when they are in the company of men. Perhaps this makes them look or feel more feminine, and thus, more attractive.

But, we might also say that a woman does not want to appear to have a ravenous appetite because her male companion might believe that she wants to eat him alive.

Despite rumors to the contrary, most men are not looking to be eaten alive for dessert.

Why then will a man who is eating with a woman eat more than when he is with another man?

Does he want to show her that he is hungry for her love? Does he want to show her that he has enough status and confidence to have a healthy appetite?

Do men know intuitively that higher status means less depressed and that less depressed means a better appetite.

But then again, how many women women are impressed by a gluttonous male stuffing his face throughout a romantic dinner.

Explaining this is not as easy as you think.

On the one hand, it appears that men, by their very being, are civilizing agents. Their manly presence causes all manner of humans to temper their appetites.

But, it might also be true that men have such bad table manners that their mere presence at a dinner functions as an appetite suppressant.

Watching a man pig out at dinner, chew with his mouth open, and dribble gravy onto his tie is enough to suppress anyone’s appetite.

Women Seeking Men

Women who are either looking for a partner or trying to take the temperature of a current relationship should pay very close attention to Susan Walsh’s valuable advice.

In a recent post on her blog Hooking Up Smart Walsh provides a checklist of the green lights that tell you to move forward. If those signs are absent you would do well to hesitate before getting more involved in a relationship.

The list is especially valuable because it will, when used properly, help women to overcome the tendency, engrained in our culture, to think that true love will solve everything.

If love is blind, Walsh’s list will hopefully open your eyes.

For those who believe that love, in and of itself, is all you need to have a great relationship I will share my own observation. The four scariest words I have ever heard from a woman are: “But I’m in love.”

Here’s a link to Walsh’s post. It is as good a set of relationship guidelines as I have ever seen.

Some Inconvenient Facts about Climate Change

One day, hopefully sooner than later, America will wake up and see that the “settled science” of climate change is specious.

Ginned up by environmental activists, promoted by that great scientist Al Gore, enshrined as dogma by the courts and regulators, climate change has very little to do with science.

I myself have no qualifications in the field, so I rely, as nearly all of us do, on the opinions of the scientific community.

At the very least, there is a division of opinion on the matter of climate change.

Yesterday in the Wall Street Journal sixteen distinguished scientists signed an open letter to politicians.

They began:

A candidate for public office in any contemporary democracy may have to consider what, if anything, to do about "global warming." Candidates should understand that the oft-repeated claim that nearly all scientists demand that something dramatic be done to stop global warming is not true. In fact, a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed.

The scientists move on to present us with some inconvenient facts. The first is that for the past ten years there has been no global warming:

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. This is known to the warming establishment, as one can see from the 2009 "Climategate" email of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." But the warming is only missing if one believes computer models where so-called feedbacks involving water vapor and clouds greatly amplify the small effect of CO2.

The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause. Faced with this embarrassment, those promoting alarm have shifted their drumbeat from warming to weather extremes, to enable anything unusual that happens in our chaotic climate to be ascribed to CO2.

And then there’s the matter of carbon dioxide. Ever since carbon dioxide was declared a pollutant, environmentalists and regulators have been doing their best to shut down industry and the energy grid.

What is the truth about carbon dioxide?  The scientists explain it so that even I can understand:

The fact is that CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere's life cycle. Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth. This is no surprise since plants and animals evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 10 times larger than they are today. Better plant varieties, chemical fertilizers and agricultural management contributed to the great increase in agricultural yields of the past century, but part of the increase almost certainly came from additional CO2 in the atmosphere.

Later on the scientists consider the policy implications that derive from the fact that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.

Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.

Greenhouse gas controls stifle economic growth and make it more difficult for underdeveloped countries to emerge from poverty. They damage developing economies and produce more joblessness and poverty.

These are more things for environmentalists to feel proud of.

Primary Incivility

For some time now I have been commenting on the general nastiness that has enveloped the Republican nomination process. As I see it, the process if awash in negative emotion and incivility.

Victor Davis Hanson tries to move the warring parties toward comity by making it a no-fault situation. Tactically speaking, he can note that both Newt and Mitt are indulging in the same kind of negative campaigning, but, truthfully, Romney bears the greater part of the responsibility.

It does not make sense that a sane and sensible man like Mitt Romney would be leading a scorched earth campaign, but he is. And he should be held accountable.

Certainly, it’s not a winning strategy.

Hanson offers a cogent analysis, coupled with a warning:

But something about this particular spat seems nastier than, say, Romney–McCain or McCain–Bush (and remember, neither of those eventual nominees won the popular vote in the fall), or even Ford–Reagan and Reagan–Bush.  Romney supporters are not just for Mitt, but furiously seem to loathe Gingrich; Gingrich’s team equally seems to hate Romney. This is especially odd given that on the issues, there is very little actual difference between the two candidates at all (which might, counterintuitively, explain the animus: personal characteristics, style, comportment, class, and background instead are the main differences between the candidates, hence the clumsily dubbed “Tea Party vs. Country Club” rivalry).  

The question then arises whether, in the event Romney wins, Gingrich supporters will get out and support him, or, should Newt get the nomination, Romney people will fall into line. So many op-eds and TV ads are popping up so quickly that it almost seems impossible that any of these critics could ever endorse someone whom they have so thoroughly trashed in print or video — and whose line of argumentation will be drawn upon by Team Obama. At their worst, is not either Romney or Gingrich vastly preferable to Obama? I would think so.

Meanwhile, we are only vaguely aware that 2011 GDP growth did not even crack 2 percent, another puffed-up subsidized green company hit the dirt, and Obama climbs in the polls even as he should be having his worse quarter ever, given the debt, Keystone, recess appointments, and defense cuts. In military terms, strategy would be almost surreal: first, defeat and utterly humiliate a friendly rival, then expect to enlist what survives to form a new unified and harmonious army to defeat the heretofore untouched common enemy.

Friday, January 27, 2012

An Army of Mothers

If you haven’t see Sophie Robert’s film, The Wall, on the French way of treating autism, you had best hurry. (I linked the entirety of the movie on a previous post.)

Yesterday a court in Lille banned the movie from being shown in France. Or better, the court banned the movie in its current form. Had the producer been willing to censor her film, she might have been able to produce a version that would have been acceptable to the court.

And, No, it’s not pornography.

For now the YouTube link is still active.

In her movie Robert offered French psychoanalysts of all stripes a platform to express their views about autism. They seemed more than happy to do so.

All things considered, their words do not, in and of themselves, have very much interest. They manifest an advanced theoretical confusion, grown malignant from never having entered the international marketplace of ideas.

Initially, the film received a very narrow distribution. It mostly engaged people who were directly involved with autism. 

And then, almost miraculously, three of the psychoanalysts in the film, those of the strictest Lacanian persuasion, decided that the movie made them look bad. Suddenly, the story became worthy of the New York Times. See my prior post. (Of course, the analysts had all signed releases allowing their interviews to be part of the film.)

Naturally, they did not consider that they had made fools of themselves. They were more than happy to blame the filmmaker for their own inadequacies. In that they are good Freudians. If psychoanalysis does not teach you how to shift blame it has clearly failed in its primary task.

They did not pretend that they had not said that they said. They did not pretend that they did not believe what they said. They were seriously upset that the movie made them look bad.

So, they objected strenuously to the way their words had been edited.

You may know that I have had considerable experience with French psychoanalysts. In the past I have often witnessed their public lectures.

Trust me… they do not need anyone’s help when it comes to embarrassing themselves in public. They are masters of the game. Editing their public performances should count as an act of mercy.

In any case the aggrieved analysts sued Sophie Robert, demanding that she remove their statements and pay them monetary damages. That is, they were insisting that she censor her movie.

Yesterday, a judge in Lille accepted their claim, and awarded them damages. They had demanded $500,000, but were awarded $50,000.

The judge considered that the damage was so grave that she declared something of an emergency situation. Thus, she ordered that the film be suppressed immediately, that it not be shown on French television, as planned, and that the producer disburse the monetary award even before the decision could be appealed.

It is difficult, perhaps even impossible, for someone with no legal training and no knowledge of the French civil justice system to understand this verdict.

It is obvious enough, as Sophie Robert’s lawyer pointed out yesterday, that this decision would put an end to documentary filmmaking in France. It is fairly obvious that Michael Moore could never function under this regime. Nor could Evan Coyle Maloney, the producer of Indoctrinate U. Nor could very many journalists.

From what I understand it was based on a French law involving a subject’s “droit moral.” This complex legal concept seems to mean that a subject whose image or words are used in, for example, a documentary, has a legal recourse if the presentation makes him look bad and thus, damages is reputation.

To this outside observer, it suggests that the French have extremely thin skin. Now French psychoanalysts seem to have found a new calling as leaders of the army of the thin-skinned.

Of course, American journalists and legal scholars have long debated the question of editing an interview for journalistic presentation.

Journalists who routinely need to edit interviews have explained that if you run a literal transcript of someone’s remarks you often find that the person looks and sounds much worse than he would if his remarks had been edited.

As for the larger issue, that is, whether the editing presented the opinions of the French psychoanalysts correctly, I will offer my own opinion. I heard nothing in their presentations that seems in any way inconsistent with the dogmatic belief system that constitutes their pseudo-professional discourse. One of the analysts who filed suit has declared publicly that he does not regret one word of what he said.

I suspect that they wanted to censor the film because it made psychoanalysis look bad. Not only that, but it made psychoanalysis look like a cabal that was actively conspiring to prevent autistic children from receiving the best possible care. They were reasoning that if the best care comes from America it should not be allowed to enter France. They are willing to fight on the ramparts to prevent their country from being invaded. 

The debate over autism in France does not date to Sophie Robert’s film. In 2004 the Council of Europe condemned France for its substandard treatment of autism. Link here.

Sophie Robert refocused the debate by showing that the psychoanalytic understanding of autism had contributed mightily to the mistreatment of autistic children in France.

To place the legal issue in a larger context, I am informed that the judge who decided this case and who insisted that it be enforced immediately had in the past agreed to annul a Muslim marriage on the grounds that the bride was not a virgin.

Until her decision is overturned on appeal the reputation of the French civil justice system will suffer a serious loss of reputation itself.

When it comes to damaging a reputation, French psychoanalysts are masters of the game. They have so thoroughly discredited all behavioral approaches that no French psychologist or psychiatrist would dare to use such an approach on an autistic child. The fact that these approaches are far more effective does not count.

Moreover, the French  legal system has a law on the books that allows a court to remove an autistic child from his parents’ home on the grounds that they are not providing proper care—proper care being defined as a psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy.

This despite the fact that, as the film shows, there is no evidence whatever that psychoanalysis helps these children at all.

For their part French psychoanalysts are practicing a form of cultural protectionism or cultural mercantilism. Only rarely do we see this in the marketplace of ideas. It arises from a radical leftist mindset that seeks thought control at the cost of social benefit.

I will underscore the fact that many French neurologists are horrified by the French treatment of autism. The country that gave us Louis Pasteur and Pierre and Marie Curie has long held a distinguished place in scientific research. No French scientist, serious or unserious, has ever imagined judging scientific results by their country of origin. Many neurologists have contacted Sophie Robert to assert their support for her work and their willingness to testify to the latest scientific facts about autism.

Nevertheless, French psychoanalysts have managed to make France look like a nation of cultural troglodytes.

There are approximately 600,000 autistic children in France today. 80% of them receive no schooling at all. The nation has the resources to treat 700 with the newest and most effective therapeutic techniques. Approximately 1000 or so autistic children have been sent by their parents to Belgium. Sophie Robert calls them “medical refugees.”

Worse yet, since psychoanalysis places all the blame on the mother, it contributes to a line of thinking that declares separation from the mother to be a therapeutic benefit.  There is a law in France that allows the government to remove autistic children from their homes if their parents refuse to offer them proper care, that is, psychoanalytically-oriented treatment.

This despite the fact that no evidence demonstrates the efficacy of this treatment. In effect, autistic children are warehoused in France.

Parents of autistic children live in terror of their government and the psychiatric establishment. Thus they have been slow to speak up about the way their government had been treating them.

Until now…

Because of the psychoanalysts' lawsuit, an army of mothers has started to mobilize in order to exert political pressure on the French government and to break down the influence that psychoanalysts exercise on it. Link here.

Through Facebook and the blogosphere women across France have been organizing to save their children, and even to give them productive lives. For now the government has begun to respond positively.

Of course, psychoanalysts in France exercise considerable influence. You will be surprised to learn that the French national health system pays generously for psychoanalytic sessions.

American insurance companies had done so in the past, but they ultimately decided that it was not cost efficient to pay for a treatment that could not show consistently positive results.

When you are dealing with a government-run system you do not need to demonstrate results. You need to be able to exercise political influence.

In all fairness we must give the analysts themselves some credit. They have succeeded in using their political influence to dupe the French government into putting them on the national payroll.

Moreover, psychoanalysts have developed techniques for terrorizing and silencing their opposition. They have mixed their anti-Americanism with accusations that anyone who disagrees with their theory is a fascist and an anti-Semite.

Now they have taken their war on free discussion to a new level by having a court ban a film because they find that it makes them look bad.

Those of you who still believe that psychoanalysis is consistent with the principles of free speech should do some serious rethinking.

If it should happen that Sophie Robert’s film is removed from the internet, you can gain some historical context by looking at the well-known biofilm called Temple Grandin.

The film has justly won numerous prizes and awards; it is an exceptional piece of work made extraordinary by the performance of Claire Danes.

If you watch the film through the lens of the current French debate you will see that when Temple Grandin was a child, in early 1950s America, psychoanalysis provided the framework through which autism was treated.

We see one scene where Temple’s mother is discussing her daughter with an eminent psychiatrist. The psychiatrist explains that autism is an infantile schizophrenia caused by the child’s bad relationship with her mother.

These same ideas appear in the mouths of today’s most renowned French psychoanalysts.

The psychiatrist also wanted to institutionalize Temple for life. Her mother refused to accept that verdict and insisted that her daughter receive an education.

Temple Grandin went to college, received a masters and a doctorate, and currently works as a professor at Colorado State University. She has been widely honored for her influential work in cattle ranching.

She is still autistic. There is no doubt that she suffers from this neurological affliction. And yet, she has managed to use her considerable intelligence to make an important contribution to society. Surely, this is far, far better than the kind of institutionalization that her psychiatrist proposed in early 1950s America and that is commonplace in France today.

In the movie Temple she expresses heartfelt gratitude to her mother for not giving up on her and for not acceding to professional opinion. I like to think that people like Temple Grandin’s mother were instrumental in undermining the influence that psychoanalysis had on the treatment of autism in America.

Of course, it is striking that French psychiatrists and psychoanalysts are today in exactly the same place that their American counterparts were in six decades ago. It shows that French psychoanalysts are suffering from arrested moral development.

At the very least they should stay out of the arena of public relations. By trying to defend their own reputations they have made Sophie Robert’s film into a call to arms against psychoanalysts. They have mobilized an army of mothers, a group that, I venture, they will never defeat.

For worse, or perhaps for better, they have thrown their own profession into disrepute.