Friday, November 30, 2012

Benevolent Sexism

At first it looks like a parody.

It looks as though someone with less than tender feelings about feminism had published some pseudo-research that would make feminists look like fools.

The Onion could not have done a better job.

Unfortunately, it’s not a parody. It’s what passes these days for serious research by scholars from a serious American university.

With heavy heart we turn to Kathleen Connelly and Martin Heesacker’s article, entitled: “Why Is Benevolent Sexism Appealing?” Co-authored by a graduate student and a professor at the University of Florida, is has been published by a scholarly Journal called the Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Here is how the PWQ describes itself:

Psychology of Women Quarterly (PWQ) is a feminist, scientific, peer-reviewed journal that publishes empirical research, critical reviews and theoretical articles that advance a field of inquiry, brief reports on timely topics, teaching briefs, and invited book reviews related to the psychology of women and gender.

The journal is so reputable that it charges $25.00 to read Connelly and Heesacker’s pseudo-research.

The buzz words in the description—“scientific,” “peer-reviewed,” “empirical research”—would lead you to believe that the articles in this review aspire to present objective facts.

In truth, they present feminist propaganda organ gussied up as serious academic research. 

It’s easier to indoctrinate your students in your ideology if you pretend that your dogmas are hard science.

When a journal uses the trappings that accompany serious scholarship to hide its game, it is doing what I would call it cargo-cult scholarship.

The term cargo-cult originated with indigenous Pacific Islanders during World War II. Until the American military arrived in their midst these peoples had never before seen airplanes deliver provisions. When the cargo planes began to arrive they noticed that prior to each landing the soldiers set out two rows of smudge pots to demarcate a landing zone.

Naturally enough, they concluded that if they needed some now provisions all they had to do was to put out the smudge pots.

Thus, a cargo cult goes through the motions but does not deliver the goods.

A more benevolent soul than I, Charles Murray declares the Connelly/Heesacker research a window into the wild and wacky world of academic research. I see it as a sign of the systematic corruption of the marketplace of ideas.

Here is the authors’ abstract of the results of their research:

Previous research suggests that benevolent sexism is an ideology that perpetuates gender inequality. But despite its negative consequences, benevolent sexism is a prevalent ideology that some even find attractive. To better understand why women and men alike might be motivated to adopt benevolent sexism, the current study tested system justification theory’s prediction that benevolent sexism might have a positive linkage to life satisfaction through increased diffuse system justification, or the sense that the status quo is fair. A structural equation model revealed that benevolent sexism was positively associated with diffuse system justification within a sample of 274 college women and 111 college men. Additionally, benevolent sexism was indirectly associated with life satisfaction for both women and men through diffuse system justification. In contrast, hostile sexism was not related to diffuse system justification or life satisfaction. The results imply that although benevolent sexism perpetuates inequality at the structural level, it might offer some benefits at the personal level. Thus, our findings reinforce the dangerous nature of benevolent sexism and emphasize the need for interventions to reduce its prevalence.

Murray points out that “benevolent sexism” means gentlemanly behavior. He entitles his post: “The bad news is that gentlemanly behavior makes people happy.”

I’m assuming that the authors are echoing the concept of “benevolent despotism,” an eighteenth century practice whereby European rulers tried to manage the rising demands for greater freedom by instituting “benevolent” reforms.

Connelly/Heesacker have discovered that when men behave like gentlemen toward women it produces “life satisfaction” for both parties.

They conclude that gentlemanly behavior is “dangerous” and that we must intervene “to reduce its prevalence.”

By their pseudo-reasoning, the positive benefits that accrue to men and women when men act like gentlemen provide a false sense of satisfaction that undermines the feminist revolution.

It’s not a new idea. It echoes an old idea that we owe to Karl Marx. Translated it means that “benevolent sexism” is the opiate of the masses.

Since I did not spring for the $25.00 fee to read the article, I can only surmise that by benevolent sexism the authors mean such simple courtesies as asking a woman out on a date, paying for her, holding the door for her, helping her with her coat, accompanying her home and so on.

This argument is not new. It came in with second wave feminism. It was intended to assert women’s independence and autonomy. It resulted in more men treating more women discourteously and disrespectfully.

From a feminist perspective, if a man acted like a gentleman, a woman was expected to act like a lady. This was a bad thing, a betrayal of a woman's allegiance to the feminist cult.

Feminists believed that gentlemanly behavior signified that women were the weaker sex, needing male protection.

They also believed that when a man paid for dinner and a show a woman felt obligated to repay the favor with her “favors.”

From a feminist perspective it’s better for women to give it away for free because then she will not feel that she is being bought.

As I say, feminists have been rebelling against “benevolent sexism” for around four decades now.

As a result, women are more likely to be abused. They are more likely to be used for sex. They are less likely to be involved in sustained relationships.

Men have been excoriated for acting courteously and politely, lest they be accused of being patronizing, so they have concluded that they need to act badly toward women.

Men concluded that they could further the revolutionary feminist cause by being revolting.

When feminism decided that courtship and even dating was a relic of a bygone age, all the rude, lewd, crude dudes rejoiced.

Today, Connelly and Heesacker have their backs.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Republicans Face the Political Cliff

Unsurprisingly, Ann Coulter is still defensive about her support for Mitt Romney. She has written two columns defending the candidate, and, by extension, herself from the charge of political misjudgment.

Even though Romney lost an eminently winnable election, leaving the Republican Party leaderless and rudderless, Coulter still insists that he was the best of the best.

If he is the best of the best, then Republicans have good reason to be demoralized, discouraged, and in disarray.

Coulter notwithstanding, Mitt Romney will never have a prominent role in the Republican Party. That says it all.

For those who are looking for consolation, Coulter opens her column today with some conservative Schadenfreude. She notes, sagely, that the people who provided the largest percentages for Obama are also the people who are most likely to suffer from his policies.

In her words:

One bright spot of Barack Obama's re-election was knowing that unemployment rates were about to soar for the precise groups that voted for him -- young people, unskilled workers and single women with degrees in gender studies.

You may not think that it’s social justice, so let’s call it divine justice. It’s something to feel good about.

For those who are not too distracted by what are called social issues, budget issues are front and center.

Everyone is becoming more optimistic about the economy, but I believe that today’s political wrangling is really about who is going to take the blame when the economy fails.

My optimistic side says that Obama will take the blame—because who else can take it—but my pessimistic side tells me that Obama and the media are trying to set up Republicans to take the fall.

But now the Democrats are sullying my silver lining by forcing Republicans to block an utterly pointless tax-raising scheme in order to blame the coming economic Armageddon on them. 

Surely, Obama knows that raising taxes on the rich will do nothing to reduce the deficit. He must know that it will damage the economy.

Yesterday, the London Telegraph reported that when the British government raised taxes on people who earned more than a million pounds, two-thirds of the millionaires left the country. The net result was less tax revenue. 

More likely, Obama loves the politics and the symbolism of raising taxes on the rich. By forcing Republicans to choose between voting for higher taxes, and thus, alienating many of their constituents, and taking the blame for an incipient economic collapse, he has boxed them into a corner.

If the budget goes over the fiscal cliff and a recession ensues, the media will surely blame Republican intransigence. Moreover, Republicans they will be accused, as Coulter says, of “caring only about the rich.”

Coulter is persuaded, as I am, that the Obama program will ensure an economic calamity, no matter what.

In her words:

The economy will tank because, as you will recall, Obama is still president. Government rules, regulations, restrictions, forms and inspections are about to drown the productive sector.

Obamacare is descending on job creators like a fly swatter on a gnat. Obama has already managed to produce the only "recovery" that is worse than the preceding recession since the Great Depression. And he says, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

The coming economic collapse is written in the stars, but if Republicans "obstruct" the Democrats by blocking tax hikes on top income earners, they're going to take 100 percent of the blame for the Obama economy. 

With heavy heart, she recommends, as I have, that Republicans give Obama what he wants. They need, above all else, to ensure that the economy belongs to Barack Obama.

The key for Republicans, Coulter continues, is getting their message out. Considering the headwinds called mainstream media bias, it is easier said than done.

She does not notice that  a messaging problem is often the messenger. Which Republican leader of national importance can do the job?

The Romney campaign has made some Republicans nostalgic for John McCain, but the senator from Arizona has already demonstrated a marked ineptitude when it comes to communicating ideas about economic policy.

Republicans would be in a better place if they had had a presidential candidate who had made the case against Barack Obama, a candidate who took the fight to Obama.

Mitt Romney could not do it and did not do it. He ran scared and tried to run out the clock.

The Ann Coulters of this world should have considered the point when they were beating the drums for Romney.

And then there is Chris Christie. Arguably the best communicator in the Republican Party, admired by Coulter and by me, Christie has now taken himself out of the game.

Whatever he thought he was doing by embracing President Obama in the last days of the campaign, Christie has alienated major segments of the Republican Party. When push came to shove, the big guy blinked.

Four years is a long time, but Christie will have a very difficult time restoring his position within the Republican Party.

A communicator as savvy as Chris Christie could have found a way to lead his state, even to welcome the president to his state, without damaging himself by showering Obama with excessive and unearned encomia.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nick Crews, Meet David Brooks

Overwhelmed by his children’s constant whining, retired British submarine captain Nick Crews snapped.

He shot off an email to his three adult children expressing his and their mother’s severe disappointment in the way they were living their lives.

With his permission one of his two daughters released the email to the press. As they say, the rest is history.

Crews began his email:

With last evening's crop of whinges and tidings of more rotten news for which you seem to treat your mother like a cess-pit, I feel it is time to come off my perch.

It is obvious that none of you has the faintest notion of the bitter disappointment each of you has in your own way dished out to us. We are seeing the miserable death throes of the fourth of your collective marriages at the same time we see the advent of a fifth.

His friends and neighbors were regaling him with stories of their children’s successes in life; his own brood had turned into chronic underachievers. Among them they had produced six children, with a seventh on the way. They had all divorced.

By their father’s account they had been superbly educated, but were not making the best use of their training or their talents. None were able to support for their children.

They rarely ask for parental advice. When it was offered they ignore it. Crews is especially upset at the way his children are or are not caring for their children.

He doesn’t exactly disown his children, but he comes fairly close. He ends his email:

I can now tell you that I for one, and I sense Mum feels the same, have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children's underachievement and domestic ineptitudes. I want to hear no more from any of you until, if you feel inclined, you have a success or an achievement or a REALISTIC plan for the support and happiness of your children to tell me about. I don't want to see your mother burdened any more with your miserable woes — it's not as if any of the advice she strives to give you has ever been listened to with good grace — far less acted upon. So I ask you to spare her further unhappiness. If you think I have been unfair in what I have said, by all means try to persuade me to change my mind. But you won't do it by simply whingeing and saying you don't like it. You'll have to come up with meaty reasons to demolish my points and build a case for yourself. If that isn't possible, or you simply can't be bothered, then I rest my case.

Naturally, the letter has become a political issue. Leftist Amanda Marcotte disparages Crews because he has not bought into her own cult of mediocrity:

[Crews was] all but disowning his children for failing to become the wealthy prudes he imagined when he and his wife created them for God and country. Right-wingers apparently love this letter, which was pretty much made to be forwarded to you by your gun-collecting uncle, lovingly embellished with animated GIFs of crying eagles and marching cartoon soldiers.

Marcotte assserts that the younger generation does not have the same opportunities that the older generation had, and blames the  “age of austerity.”

Believing, despite all evidence to the contrary, that government creates jobs she fails to notice that America, for example, has not been suffering from austerity. And she pays no mind to the fact that austerity is imposed by bond markets on governments that are profligate.

Marcotte ignores the fact that Crews is comparing his children to the children of his friends and neighbors. How does it happen, he is asking, that his friends’ children are making them proud while his children are not?

Marcotte descends into self-parody when she declares that couples who stay married are “prudes.” To her mind, divorce is a sign of sexual liberation.

Being of the radical left Marcotte has penned a paean to underachievement. She obviously rejects the arena of economic competition where people strive for excellence.

Marcotte sympathizes with the Crews children because, after all, she is a chronic whiner herself.

That the Crews children might do better and might strive to accomplish does not cross Marcotte’s mind. If you have gone all-in on blaming the system, you will not hold young people accountable for their own decisions or their own actions.

Which brings us to David Brooks.

Brooks has never missed an  opportunity to show the world how little he understands about human psychology, so he weighs in here to criticize Nick Crews for failing to apply the latest motivational techniques.

Allow me to point out that Crews was a senior naval officer who commanded a submarine. This means that he knows something about how to manage and to motivate young officers and sailors.

To my knowledge, Brooks has never managed or motivated or counseled anyone. He does keep abreast of the latest and most trendy psycho research and he seems to believe that since he writes for the New York Times he is something of an expert.

Allow Brooks to argue his case at length:

The problem, of course, is that no matter how emotionally satisfying these tirades may be, they don’t really work. You can tell people that they are fat and that they shouldn’t eat more French fries, but that doesn’t mean they will stop. You can make all sorts of New Year’s resolutions, earnestly deciding to behave better, but that doesn’t mean you will.

People don’t behave badly because they lack information about their shortcomings. They behave badly because they’ve fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they’re unable to escape.

Human behavior flows from hidden springs and calls for constant and crafty prodding more than blunt hectoring. The way to get someone out of a negative cascade is not with a ferocious e-mail trying to attack their bad behavior. It’s to go on offense and try to maximize some alternative good behavior. There’s a trove of research suggesting that it’s best to tackle negative behaviors obliquely, by redirecting attention toward different, positive ones.

It’s foolish to imperiously withdraw and say, come back to me when you have a plan. It’s better to pick one area of life at a time (most people don’t have the willpower to change their whole lives all at once) and help a person lay down a pre-emptive set of concrete rules and rewards. Pick out a small goal and lay out measurable steps toward it.

It’s foolhardy to try to persuade people to see the profound errors of their ways in the hope that mental change will lead to behavioral change. Instead, try to change superficial behavior first and hope that, if they act differently, they’ll eventually think differently. Lure people toward success with the promise of admiration instead of trying to punish failure with criticism. Positive rewards are more powerful.

Of course, Crews was not telling his children that they were fat. He was expressing his disappointment at their moral character. And he was telling them that he was no longer going to enable their self-destructive pattern of failing in life and complaining to him and their mother about it.

Brooks says that people do not behave badly because they lack information but that they behave badly because they develop bad habits, “patterns of self-destructive behavior.”

As it happens, Crews was not providing information. He was not trying to find the meaning of his children’s underperformance. He was not offering insight. If one had expected Brooks to know the difference, one can only be disappointed.

Rather than argue the case, Brooks is arguing with a straw man.

Read Crews’ letter carefully and you will see that he was not attacking bad behavior. He was really expressing his and his wife’s disappointment and exasperation at their behavior and he was saying that they no longer wanted to be a receptacle for bad news.

In the namby-pamby world that Brooks inhabits human behavior “flows from hidden springs.” If that is the lasts piece of wisdom from the world of cognitive neuroscience, the field is in trouble.

Comparing the human soul to mineral water, Brooks excludes the possibility that human beings have free will and rational faculties. He ignores the possibility that they might actually make a decision and carry it out.

So he claims that prodding is better than hectoring. Of course, if you prod someone often enough, it can feel like torture, but why quibble.

Besides, hectoring is repetitive action. The Crews missile, as it is called, was not repetitive. It was a singular event. Nick Crews was not hectoring his children.

I agree with Brooks when he explains that the best way to overcome bad habits is to replace them with good ones. Aristotle said it first, and he was right.

Brooks is also correct to say that when people are trying to develop good habits it is helpful to encourage them.

He ignores the larger and more salient question: what would motivate anyone to want to change? Since his column is supposedly about how people change, the omission is striking.

Brooks seems to believe that people change bad habits because someone shows them a better way to do things.

This is idiotic. People change bad habits because their bad habits have been sanctioned. The strongest motivation for changing bad habits is shaming. 

In effect, Nick Crews was trying to shame his children out of their bad habits. When he says that he no longer wants to hear from them until they have developed a plan to improve their lives, he is not hectoring and is not punishing—he is shunning.

Think about someone who suffers from a bad habit. Will an alcoholic stop going to bars and start going to meetings because you have kindly suggested it to him. It is nonsense to believe that he would.

Regrettably, many alcoholics have to hit rock bottom, as they say, before they have any incentive to change their bad habits. The shame of seeing their own degradation moves them to want to change. Without it they will keep drinking. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Marriage of Resentment and Contempt

It begins in the schools. There, empowered female teachers have set out to enhance the performance of girls by systematically favoring them at the expense of boys.

The Huffington Post reported that British boys are convinced that female teachers grade them unfairly. On the other hand, schoolgirls believe that male teachers grade them fairly.

I do not know the extent to which female American teachers try to punish boys in order to improve the performance of girls, but girls are consistently outperforming boys in schools and are taking up most of the places in colleges.

It seems inevitable that some boys are dropping out of school and failing to pursue advanced education because they have been demoralized.

Think about it, if all the girls receive great grades then boys will, at first try to improve their performance. Once they discover that they are still receiving lower grades, they will give up. This translates into depression.

Convinced, and not without reason, that the game is rigged, they stop playing.

Depression, as Martin Seligman defined it, is learned helplessness. When something is learned, someone is teaching it. When your female teachers convince you that you can never get it right and that you will never be judged fairly, you will become demoralized and depressed.

If any teachers are using their power to depress boys in order to favor girls they are engaging in child abuse. They might think that they are advancing a cause, but their behavior needs to be called out and stopped.

Of course, a boy’s experience with empowered female teachers will surely not encourage him to become very closely involved with girls.

If he is not allowed to express his anger toward his female teachers, he might try to avenge the slights by punishing the girls he becomes involved with. He will not be looking for love; he will be looking for payback.

Their experience with empowered female teachers will not encourage boys, once they become men, to trust women or become very closely involved with them.  

Rob Long suggests that when these boys grow up they are unlikely to believe that it is possible to have harmonious relationships with women. 

A recent poll bears this out. Suzanne Venker reports:

According to Pew Research Center, the share of women ages eighteen to thirty-four that say having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives rose nine percentage points since 1997 – from 28 percent to 37 percent. For men, the opposite occurred. The share voicing this opinion dropped, from 35 percent to 29 percent.

More women want to get married and more men don’t. This suggests that men are increasingly being conditioned to dread close contact with women. It also suggests that men have discovered that, like school, the marriage game is rigged against them.

One would suspect that men who are brought up in such schools would be insufferable husbands. Yet, surprisingly, when men do get married they make a great effort to make their marriages work. If we believe Lisa Hickey these men marry women who resemble the harridans they have known in the classroom.

Hickey does not mention it, but I will assume that the modern marriages she describes involve people who did not marry young. I also imagine that these modern marriages involve two-earner couples who divide up household chores.

If Hickey’s article suggests anything, it tells us that the interactions between these modern married couples are contentious and bitter, a marriage of resentment and contempt. It demonstrates that this new modern version of marriage is unworkable.

Hickey believes that it can all be solved if couples merely learn how to communicate better, this being the therapeutically correct panacea for marital strife.

Yet, her male interviewees have largely passed beyond the stage of talking it out. They have discovered that they cannot win an argument with a modern woman. They know that it is impossible to negotiate or compromise with someone who is all take and no give.

Hickey describes husbands’ attitudes:

…there is despair in the voices of married men. The refrain heard over and over is some variation of “I want to have a good marriage. I love my wife. But sometimes, all I feel is resentment—from my wife, toward my wife, toward the marriage. I believe my wife thinks I am an asshole, and she treats me as such.”

One admires the stoic fortitude of these men, but still, they should have seen this before, not after they got married.

Bitter experience teaches them that if their wives are treating them contemptuously trying to talk it out is another losing game. 

These men can either tune their wives out or get angry. They have few other choices.

Marriage coach John Wilder offers a picture of what happens when couples try to communicate:

 “Women are constantly trying to control their husbands. If a man dares to critique his wife, she immediately goes on the attack, screaming and crying with the express intent of teaching, so that no good man would ever do it again. Most men learn the lesson well and early and learn to ‘seethe in silence.’ The resentment continues to grow. Men feel defenseless against this kind of attack and don’t know how to have any equality.”

Unfortunately, men try to placate their intemperate wives, the better to stop the criticism and the complaining.

Hickey explains:

Often a man will admit that a central issue in their [sic] lives is dealing with the irrational-seeming criticism from their wives in a way that isn’t defensive but shows compassion and love, despite the cost to their souls.

When a man engages with irrationality he will never win. If he tries to be compassionate and understanding, his wife will think less of him and feel more contempt. 

If, as Hickey suggests, these wives are dishing out far more humiliation than love, then the women need to change their mode of interaction. They need to tamp down the criticism and complaining and to stop expecting that their husbands should be just like their girlfriends.

Unfortunately, today’s modern woman has developed an expectation that men should act like women in a relationship. It's a formula for repeated disappointments. 

Women who have postponed marriage in favor of career, have, Hickey suggests, assembled a coterie of unmarried female friends who salve the pain of a singlehood they have chosen freely by commiserating and sharing their contempt for men.

It isn’t a good preparation for marriage.

Hickey contends that the men often have good intentions. Yet their good intentions and their best efforts never seem to improve the situation, so they become demoralized and give up.

In her words:

But almost always, the men we talked to start with an intention of trying to understand their wives, get a grasp on what would make the marriage work, and have an intense desire to move toward an increasingly great relationship, instead of one where they feel continually disconnected. And yet, they can’t seem to get there. Despair is the end result of ongoing frustration and disconnection. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Agony of Divorce

You probably don’t remember, but once upon a time feminists were encouraging women to get divorced. They declared it to be liberating.

What could be more liberating than escaping from a patriarchal institution like marriage?  Once divorced, a woman would be better able to develop an independent career.

As most people know, divorce is a painful experience. When women are lulled into believing that it can be liberating they are unprepared for the wave of negative emotion that descends on them after they get divorced. The emotion becomes even more painful when you believe that it is unintelligible or abnormal.

Writing on the Huffington Post Carissa Henry offers a harrowing portrait of what happened to her after her amicable divorce.

After explaining that there is no such thing as an easy divorce, Henry renders her emotional state in lines that offer a brilliant description of anomie:

I didn't realize how much of my identity was associated with being married, nor did I realize that I would suddenly feel like a stranger in my own life. Most of us are dedicated creatures of habit and the drastic change that divorce brings to our lives is shocking and disconcerting. Friendships change. Holidays change. Paperwork changes. Everything changes. Amidst my naivety, I was oblivious and unprepared for how different I would feel, how utterly uncomfortable in my own skin I would become. Order and routine were replaced by uncertainty and chaos, and I felt lost without the habits and rituals we had established as a family over the years.

With all the talk about marriage being an expression of love we sometimes lose track of the monumental social-psychological consequences of being married. Henry's lines correct the mistaken belief. 

As her mind went to war against itself, Henry found a limited consolation in the eventual realization that her emotions fit her circumstances.

If you expect to feel liberated and end up feeling an anguish that goes well beyond anything you can imagine, the pain of divorce is going to become excruciating.

Our culture is so thoroughly involved in the business of eliminating all negative emotion, numbing us to it, that we often forget that sometimes anguish shows that we have grasped the reality of our lives.

Note that it was not anyone's empathy that helped her. She did not find consolation in the fact that someone else could feel her pain. She found relief in knowing that hers was a normal, albeit painful, reaction.

Jeremy Grantham on American Economic Growth

After my previoust post commenter JP linked to a recent report by Jeremy Grantham on America’s economic future.

Effectively, the Grantham report is very important and very interesting. I do not want it to get lost in the comments section, so, with thanks to JP, I am giving it its own post.

I will spare you a summary, but will note that Grantham sees America entering a period of substandard economic growth. I would add that he is one of the most respected investment advisers in the world. Serious investors take his opinions very seriously, indeed.

This one is well worth a read and your attention.

Young Americans Find Jobs By Self-Deporting

When we Americans read that young people in economic wastelands like Spain and Greece are leaving their countries to search for opportunity, we often feel smug.

Yet, young Americans have also been self-deporting in greater numbers.

They are seeking economic opportunity, even economic freedom. They want to escape from a nation where big government is suffocating the economy with taxes and regulations.

Robert Samuelson wrote this morning:

The recovery's languor is striking. Bernanke, speaking to the New York Economic Club, noted that the economy's annual growth rate had averaged only about 2 percent since the recession officially ended in mid-2009. By contrast, the average growth rate of post-World War II recoveries at a similar stage is almost 4.5 percent. This means the economy is producing about $1.4 trillion less of everything, from Big Macs to cars, than it would if we'd had an average recovery.

More and more young Americans are escaping from Barack Obama’s America.

Some few are moving to South America and to Europe, but most are going where the action is, and that means the Far East.

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Emily Matchar painted a grim picture of American self-deportation.

In her words:

According to State Department estimates, 6.3 million Americans are studying or working abroad, the highest number ever recorded. What’s more, the percentage of Americans ages 25 to 34 who are planning to move overseas has quintupled in two years, from less than 1 percent to 5.1 percent. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 40 percent are interested in moving abroad, up from 12 percent in 2007.

In the past, Americans often took foreign jobs for the adventure or because their career field demanded overseas work. Today, these young people are leaving because they can’t find jobs in the United States. They’re leaving because the jobs they do find often don’t offer benefits such as health insurance. They’re leaving because the gloomy atmosphere of the American economy makes it hard to break through with a new innovative idea or business model. “This is a huge movement,” says Bob Adams, president and chief executive of America Wave, an organization that studies overseas relocation.

Matachar herself moved to Hong Kong when her philosophy professor husband could not find a job in America. She is thrilled at having made the move.

Other Americans living abroad paint a picture of Asian economies that offer opportunity. In these nations policy favors economic growth, not dependency.

Many young Americans, in Matchar’s words: “… have lost faith in the United States as a place of innovation and possibility….”

Of course, very large numbers of young Americans voted for the culture that they are now trying to escape.

Call it social justice.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Is There a Cure for Media Bias?

One hesitates to discuss media bias. So many writers have written so many articles and books about the bias of the American mainstream media that one feels that the prejudice is so deeply ingrained that it no longer responds to criticism.

Still, one soldiers on, because giving up does not feel right. Besides, of the alternative explanations, one is better than the others.

Peter Wehner asks whether the mainstream media is cynically manipulating the news in order to advance the candidates and agenda it prefers? Or do journalists really believe in their heart of hearts that they are purveying facts objectively?

Wehner compares press coverage of the September 11 terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens with coverage of the Valerie Plame kerfuffle.

Benghazi was a monumental failure:

The September 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi. We witnessed a massive failure at three different stages. The first is that the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and others asked for additional protection because of their fears of terrorist attacks. Those requests were denied—and Mr. Stevens became the first American ambassador to be murdered in more than 30 years, along with three others. The second failure was not assisting former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty when they were under attack (both were killed). The third failure was that the administration misled the American people about the causes of the attack long after it was clear to many people that their narrative was false.

Wehner then states the obvious:

In the Benghazi story, we have four dead Americans. A lack of security that borders on criminal negligence. No apparent effort was made to save the lives of Messrs. Woods and Doherty, despite their pleas. The Obama administration, including the president, gave false and misleading accounts of what happened despite mounting evidence to the contrary. And the person who was wrongly accused of inciting the attacks by making a crude YouTube video is now in prison. Yet the press has, for the most part, treated this story with ambivalence and reluctance.

If the exact same incidents had occurred in the exact same order, and if it had happened during the watch of a conservative president, it would be a treated as a scandal. An epic one, in fact. The coverage, starting on September 12 and starting with Mr. Friedman’s newspaper, would have been nonstop, ferociously negative, and the pressure put on the president and his administration would have been crushing. Jon Stewart, the moral conscience of an increasing number of journalists, wouldn’t have let this story die. 

He then describes the media-generated hysteria that surrounded the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity:

It’s not that it hasn’t been covered; it’s that the coverage has lacked anything like the intensity and passion that you would have seen had this occurred during the presidency of, say, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. I have the advantage of having worked in the Reagan administration during Iran-contra and the Bush White House during the Patrick Fitzgerald leak investigation—and there is simply no comparison when it comes to how the press treated these stories. The juxtaposition with the Fitzgerald investigation is particularly damning to the media. Journalists were obsessed by that story, which turned out to be much ado about nothing—Mr. Fitzgerald decided early on there were no grounds to prosecute Richard Armitage for the leak of Valerie Plame’s name—and obsessed in particular with destroying the life of the very good man who was the architect of George W. Bush’s two presidential victories (thankfully they failed in their effort to knee-cap Karl Rove).

Wehner observes:

They appear to be completely blind to their biases and double standards. If you gave them sodium pentothal, they would say they were being objective. Self-examination, it turns out, is harder than self-justification. And of course being surrounded with people who share and reinforce your presuppositions and worldview doesn’t help matters.

In some ways I think it would be better if they were perfectly cynical and were consciously slanting the news. Pretending to have integrity is better than not having any at all.

If this is not true they might simply see themselves as propagandists using their power to destroy those who disagree with them.

If neither of these is true, they have been brainwashed to the point where they believe that they are being objective and fair. They really believe that the Valerie Plame scandal was an unmitigated horror while the Benghazi terrorist attack was, in Tom Friedman’s words, a “tragedy.”

Adding it all up I would rather think of them as cynical. At least then they would know that they are being dishonest.

Obama's Man in Cairo

To survive in the Age of Obama you will need to brush up on your irony. You no longer live in a world where your government says ways it means and means what it says.

John Hinderaker uses irony to reveal the gross disparity between what the administration says and what it means when it comes to Obama's friend in Cairo:

Mubarak was our friend, but a bad guy. So he had to go, and Obama denounced him and helped force him out. Morsi is our enemy, and also is a bad guy. So Obama thinks he’s A-OK, and helped Morsi take power. That’s called “smart diplomacy.” You probably wouldn’t understand.

Other things are confusing, too. Did Obama know that Morsi was about to claim dictatorial powers when he made Morsi the “hero” of the Israel-Gaza cease fire? If so, did he mind? If Obama didn’t know–which seems more likely–does he now think that Morsi double-crossed him by capitalizing on his faux diplomatic mission to proclaim himself a dictator? Or is that one more thing that is A-OK with Obama? If Obama doesn’t like the fact that Morsi has cut “Arab Spring” democracy off at the knees, does he intend to do anything about it? Or, when bad things happen, is it “smart diplomacy” to do nothing and pretend you don’t mind?

Investor’s Business Daily also compares administration statements about the last year’s Arab Spring with this year’s Morsi coup:

Just don't expect White House press secretary Jay Carney to announce that the Egyptian people's "grievances have reached a boiling point, and they have to be addressed," as his predecessor Robert Gibbs did when Mubarak was on the ropes.

And don't hold your breath for Clinton — or whoever her successor is at the State Department — to call for "an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy" in which "the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive," as she said two years ago during street demos against Mubarak.

It took 24 hours for Morsi to take advantage of the prestige Obama and his secretary of state handed him. Now he's using America's stamp of approval to oppress his own people.

We can choose between thinking that the administration speaks with forked tongue or that it favors an Islamist regime in Cairo.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Is Therapy Dying Out?

Call me prescient.

When I began this blog four and a half years ago I named it “Had Enough Therapy?”

It didn’t make me a lot of friends in the therapy world.

Yet I could see around me that traditional psychotherapy, the kind that peddled insight and understanding had outlived its usefulness. If, indeed, it ever had any.

Patients no longer wanted it. Insurance companies were refusing to pay for it.

It had lost out in free market competition. Patients preferred medication and cognitive-behavioral treatments.

They had also discovered that four hours a week on the treadmill will improve your mood while four hours on the couch would disprove it. Come to think of it, the choice was obvious.

Psychotherapy was losing customers because it did not provide what it was supposed to provide. When a product does not offer value, consumers they look elsewhere.  

By now the therapy profession has caught up. Within limits, of course. It doesn’t really understand why it no longer attracts patients, but it knows that the party is over.

Lori Gottlieb sums it up today in a long article in the New York Times Magazine.

In her words:

What nobody taught me in grad school was that psychotherapy, a practice that had sustained itself for more than a century, is losing its customers. If this came as a shock to me, the American Psychological Association tried to send out warnings in a 2010 paper titled, “Where Has all the Psychotherapy Gone?” According to the author, 30 percent fewer patients received psychological interventions in 2008 than they did 11 years earlier; since the 1990s, managed care has increasingly limited visits and reimbursements for talk therapy but not for drug treatment; and in 2005 alone, pharmaceutical companies spent $4.2 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising and $7.2 billion on promotion to physicians, nearly twice what they spent on research and development.

According to the A.P.A., therapists had to start paying attention to what the marketplace demanded or we risked our livelihoods. It wasn’t long before I learned that an entirely new specialized industry had cropped up: branding consultants for therapists.

So far so good.

Therapists lost out because they have no sense of reality. They are all about image and feeling. Seeing their business crash they have decided that the profession needs to be rebranded. That is, it needs an image make-over.

Since Gottlieb is not a very clear thinker, she spends much of her article explaining that she, as a trained therapist, is not just rebranding herself. She has begun to offer an entirely different service: she has started working as a life coach.

When they know what they are doing, coaches are not doing therapy. They are helping people to solve real problems and real dilemmas in the real world.

When Gottlieb consults with Casey Truffo, a former therapist become branding consultant, she hears this:

“Nobody wants to buy therapy anymore,” Truffo told me. “They want to buy a solution to a problem.” This is something Truffo discovered in her own former private practice of 18 years, during which she saw a shift from people who were unhappy and wanted to understand themselves better to people who would come in “because they wanted someone else or something else to change,” she said. “I’d see fewer and fewer people coming in and saying, ‘I want to change.’ ”

People no longer want the ephemeral change that comes from self-understanding.

Of course, no one asks whether change is change for the better or the worst. 

Gottlieb wants to show us that her six years of graduate training were not for nothing, so she follows the time-honored therapeutically-correct path and blames everyone but herself and her training for the problem.

Why has the marketplace cast such a negative judgment on therapy?

First, therapeutically correct self-awareness encourages patients to withdraw from their lives, the better to transform them into new stories.

It’s better to live your life than to narrate it.

Second, the therapy that Gottlieb spend years learning offers patients little more than a warm bath of empathy.

Since therapy is now a woman’s profession, it teaches aspiring therapists, both male and female, how best to mother their patients.

Many years ago young women therapists claimed they could offer something that male therapists could not: that experience of being mothered with empathy.

It was inevitable that clients would wake up to the fact that you do not need six years of graduate training to learn how to mother or to empathize.

Once patients decided that they would rather solve their problems than share the pain, they decamped from the offices of these mother therapists.

If are now seeking out coaches who will help them to solve their problems, we should applaud, not whine.

Unfortunately, Gottlieb and her team of consultants seem to prefer whining about the current state of affairs.

Significantly, Gottlieb’s fails to acknowledge the importance of cognitive and behavioral therapy.

Since cognitive treatment is notably more effective than empathy baths and emotional insights patients increasingly prefer it.

In much of Gottlieb’s drawn out article she shares her feelings about changing from therapy to coaching. She does not understand that sharing feelings is not very interesting or very useful activity.

Finally, she blames the world because it is not interested in something that she spent six years learning.

In her words:

It’s precisely this double bind in which many of my colleagues and I feel caught. If we give modern consumers the efficiency and convenience they want, we also have to silence our nagging sense that we may be pandering to our patients rather than helping them. Will we do therapy in 140 characters or less, or will we stick to our beliefs but get a second job to put food on the table? It’s one thing to be more than a blank slate and even to focus on finding solutions, but will we throw away so many doctrines of our training that we cease being therapists entirely? The more we continue in this direction of fast-food therapy — something that feels good but isn’t as good for you; something palatable without a lot of substance — the more tempted many of us will be to indulge.

After explaining that her coaching practice has produce more beneficial results than her therapy work Gottlieb begins to flagellate herself for “pandering.”

Inadvertently, Gottlieb tells you all you need to know about why no one wants to do therapy any more. For all of their graduate training therapists cannot even think straight; they are stuck in a world of image and feeling. They whine about reality and fail to develop clear concepts.

Why would anyone pay for such an intellectually inferior product?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Is Breast Cancer Overdiagnosed?

Yikes is the word. Writing at Jezebel Laura Beck has found just the right word to describe the latest research on the value of mammograms.

Americans believe in mammograms. They believe in preventative testing. They believe that the sooner you catch an incipient tumor the better the chances for effective treatment.

Americans believe so strongly in mammograms that President Obama made a campaign issue out of the Republican proposal to defund Planned Parenthood. He claimed that Republicans would thereby deprive countless women of their access to mammograms.

Of course, Planned Parenthood does not perform mammograms, but why let reality get in the way of a good story line.

Anyway, most of what we think we know about mammograms turns out to be questionable.

Allow Laura Beck to summarize the new research:

Roughly one third of tumors found in routine mammography screenings are "unlikely to result in illness, according to a new study that says 30 years of the breast cancer exams have resulted in the overdiagnosis of 1.3 million American women."

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, claims that the increase in breast cancer survival rates over the last few decades is because of improved therapies and not screenings, and not because of the widespread use of mammograms. In fact, the widespread mammogram usage resulted in overdiagnosis of breast cancer in roughly 70,000 women a year. Which is a problem as being diagnosed with breast cancer is a big fucking deal — think about the cost, anxiety, radiation exposure, false positives, and overtreatment. Yikes.

"Our study raises serious questions about the value of screening mammography," wrote Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, an epidemiology and biostatistics professor at Dartmouth College's Geisel School of Medicine. "It clarifies that the benefit of mortality reduction is probably smaller, and the harm of overdiagnosis probably larger, than has been previously recognized."

Breast cancer screening are often unnecessary. In many cases they cause harm. 
1,300,000 women have been overdiagnosed because the tumors discovered by mammograms will probably not become illness.

And then, Beck adds, think of how much this overdiagnosis costs in emotional well-being and in aggressive cancer treatment.

As for the idea that screening has helped increase the survival rate of breast cancer victims, Dr. Welsh asserted that the improved results derive from improved treatments, not from early detection.

He concludes that women who are at higher risk for breast cancer should receive mammograms but that the test is not necessarily appropriate for everyone.

Naturally, the research is controversial. Beck adds the opinion of a physician who believes that Welsh’s research is bunk.