Friday, March 31, 2017

Does Obamacare Save Lives?

After sharing his agony over the Republican failure to repeal and replace Obamacare—a broken promise if ever there was one—Ross Douthat moves to a salient point. Has Obamacare made America healthier? Clearly, that is what matters. The rest is noise. Sort of….

For our part we will note that the health care debate also defines our national purpose. Are we a caring and nurturing nation or are we a wealth generating nation? Are we more motherly or more fatherly. But it also tells us that professing concern for the ill and wanting to treat them is not the only or perhaps not even the most important factor when it comes to health.

There is far more to good health than access to health care. And there is far more to good health care than having insurance. 

Good personal habits have an important influence on whether we stay healthy or fall ill. Moreover, if we look at the opioid crisis that has reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the nation and if we examine the poor health that white males, in particular, are suffering, we note that these men are suffering for lack of gainful employment… not because of their health insurance. 

More emphasis on jobs will produce better health. And yet, as Joe Biden announced yesterday, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate did not even mention jobs, except for the coal mining jobs she wanted to kill in West Virginia.

With that in mind we turn to Douthat’s argument. He intends to shed some light into the darkness of the health care debate, and without taking sides on this or that plan. His argument is, in the words of Nate Silver, data-driven, not idea driven. The distinction matters, especially since those who are caterwauling about facts are far more concerned about ideas.

Douthat notes that Republican lawmakers turned to “jelly” because they were afraid of the PR campaign that would fill the airways with people who were dying for lack of health insurance.

In his words:

One of the most powerful arguments in the litany that turned moderate Republican lawmakers to jelly was that they were voting to “make America sick again,” to effectively kill people who relied on the Affordable Care Act for drugs and surgery and treatment. Tens of thousands of people, Democrats warned, would die if Paul Ryan’s stingy replacement took its place.

True enough the leftist propaganda machine will show us endless images of children dying for lack of Medicaid. Of course, this will happen no matter what reform the Republicans propose… assuming that they are capable of agreeing on something.

Yet, the truth lies elsewhere:

… studies going back decades that show little evidence that giving people insurance actually makes them healthier.

To begin, Romneycare did provide benefits for the newly insured, but Oregon’s Medicaid expansion showed no such benefits:

study of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts insurance expansion showed health benefits for the newly insured (most of whom got private insurance), but a study of Oregon’s pre-Obamacare Medicaid expansion found that the recipients’ physical health did not improve.

Since most of the new Obamacare insurance was provided through Medicaid, the latter seems to be the more salient statistic:

Writing in National Review during the brief repeal “debate,” Oren Cass argued that since most of Obamacare’s insurance expansion was accomplished through Medicaid, one would expect the new health care law’s impact on health to be closer to what happened in Oregon than in Massachusetts. And indeed, despite confident liberal expectations about how many lives Obamacare would save each year, the only noticeable recent shift in the American mortality trend has gone in the opposite direction — upward, likely thanks to the opioid epidemic.

Americans are sicker, not because of whether they do or do not have access to Medicaid, but because they have been thrown out of work, find their lives to be purposeless and get addicted to narcotics. Douthat does not mention the point, remarked by Tucker Carlson the other night, that the problem with opioid abuse begins with the pharmaceutical companies that are making a fortune over it and with physicians who are writing an unconscionable number of prescriptions for these drugs. This is not just a public health crisis. It is a physician generated crisis. One might ask whether the Obamacare Medicaid expansion is paying for these opioids; one would be surprised to learn otherwise.

Statistics point in this direction:

Nor has Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion been a bulwark against opioid-related misery. As Cass points out, the mortality rates in states that expanded Medicaid rose faster in 2015 than in the states that did not. This correlation also shows up when you drill down in county-level data, as the pseudonymous blogger Spotted Toad has shown: Overall, areas that have implemented the Affordable Care Act in full have seen more deaths from drug overdoses than areas where the Medicaid expansion didn’t take effect.

Douthat continues:

The divergence in deaths between Medicaid and non-Medicaid counties started in 2010, and the full expansion went into effect in 2014, so it can’t be just that Medicaid has made it easier for addicts to get painkillers. (The Spotted Toad analysis speculates that an Obamacare provision that was implemented earlier, allowing twentysomethings to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans, may also have made opioid prescriptions easier to obtain.)

As for the bad habits that contribute to bad health, Obamacare has not influenced them. This seems to explain why Obamacare has not produced any notable improvement in public health.

Douthat writes:

And so is a new paper, just released through the National Bureau of Economic Research, that tries to look at the Affordable Care Act in full. Its authors find, as you would expect, a substantial increase in insurance coverage across the country. What they don’t find is a clear relationship between that expansion and, again, public health. The paper shows no change in unhealthy behaviors (in terms of obesity, drinking and smoking) under Obamacare, and no statistically significant improvement in self-reported health since the law went into effect. (There is some improvement for older Americans in Medicaid expansion states, but not for the population as a whole.)

Obviously, having insurance is not the same thing as having access to health care. It tells us nothing about the quality of the healthcare available to those who have Medicaid or to those who buy policies through the exchanges. At best, Douthat remarks, it provides peace of mind. It’s not nothing, but it’s not the same thing as health care or good health:

that the bill was likely to provide its beneficiaries with more financial security and greater peace of mind, but that it was not likely to be the sweeping lifesaver that many of its most morally imperious advocates insisted that it would be.

And also:

Security and peace of mind are very good things, which is why voters like the Medicaid expansion. The confidence that they don’t have to rely on the emergency room or friends and family when they face an unexpected medical calamity is something that Medicaid recipients would understandably prefer to keep.

Douthat does not address in detail the trade-offs produced by Obamacare, but he notes that the program has had some influence on employment, on how many people a company can hire and how many hours they can work. Surely the example of France has shown that when it becomes too expensive—because of different government mandates—to hire people companies do not do so. 

Obamacare is surely a step toward the welfare state that is crippling French employment. At the least, the constant talk about death and dying obscures the fact that the Obama administration, through Obamacare and through job-killing regulations has contributed to worse health and higher mortality:

But the health and mortality data is still important information for policy makers, because it indicates that subsidies for health insurance are not a uniquely death-defying and therefore sacrosanct form of social spending. Instead, they’re more like other forms of redistribution, with costs and benefits that have to be weighed against one another, and against other ways to design a safety net. Subsidies for employer-provided coverage crowd out wages, Medicaid coverage creates benefit cliffs and work disincentives, and there are other possible interventions — direct cash support for work and family, above all — that might make more of a difference to opportunity than funding a slightly better health insurance plan.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

In Therapy: Big Little Lies

Given the nature of the relationship it’s nearly impossible to know what really goes on in most therapy sessions. A shroud of confidentiality prevents therapists from talking about what they really do. Most patients prefer not to discuss what happens in therapy, either. At times they are embarrassed. At times, they would rather not admit that they wasted a lot of money on mental drool.

Therapists also have a vested interest in making themselves look good. It’s good for business.

But, now we have a way of knowing what really goes on in therapy. We discover, via New York Magazine, that Dr. Amanda Reisman, therapist to Celeste and Perry Wright on HBO’s Big Little Lies represents their idea of the perfect therapist. Many therapists see themselves in the person of Dr. Reisman, so we will take them at their word and assume that this is at the least what therapists aspire to become.

One notes in passing that Celeste and Perry are the Wrights. One imagines that this is supposed to tell us that they represent the right wing. I doubt that it is meant to suggest that Perry is a descendant of the Wright brothers.

I note, in passing, that BLL is a very good television show. I understand that it’s all a matter of taste, but the show is compelling and very well acted. I have some doubt about presenting a murder mystery where the murder does not occur until the last episode—coming up on Sunday—but David Kelley is very talented, so he draws us along and into the story. The show revolves around four women, played by four great actresses. Somehow or other, it works. The combination of acting talent and great writing brings it off.

On the other side, the show often feels like a soap opera. The characters and situations are occasionally too clichéd and too stark. This applies most especially to the marriage of Celeste and Perry. While some of the other characters in the show manifest shades of gray, Perry is presented as raw, unadulterated evil—a perpetrator of constant spousal abuse. As drawn, Perry Wright is unreal, almost cartoonish. Any comments about how their therapist handles their problems ought to be seen in that context.

Since anyone can deal effectively with a caricature, especially one where the morality is presented in black-and-white terms, you can count me as less than impressed. Since their marriage is presented through the lens of a simple-minded moralistic therapist, one suspects it is being played for the melodrama, not the technique.

The therapists interviewed by New York Magazine believe that the therapy is perfectly realistic. Perhaps it is. Perhaps many therapists, especially woman therapists, see human life as a battle between female goodness and male evil. If so, they are not acting as professionals, but are inculcating an ideology. They do not want to resolve the conflict, to negotiate the differences and to set the marriage on a better footing. They look to sharpen the conflict, to the point where only the most drastic solutions present themselves.

Dr. Reisman and her fans seem to be incapable of dealing with subtlety. It makes for better drama, but it is not a sign of being professional. Surely, there is something wrong with seeing therapy as not wanting to try to save a marriage, to put it back together. In truth, Dr. Reisman does nothing more than try to destroy the marriage. True enough, some marriages do best to be destroyed, but that should certainly not be the default position. And it should not appear to a coterie of therapists to be the right way to conduct a practice.

One notes that the therapist writes the marriage into a narrative, a cosmic battle between good and evil. The therapists marvel at Dr. Reisman’s ability to get both Celeste and Perry to admit that their marriage—or better, their sex life—is based on violence, what some would call very rough sex.  Celeste has the bruises to prove it. At this time one might mention the extraordinary popularity (among women) of a series of books about shades of grey… but perhaps I do not need to do so.

Given the ideology at play, Celeste comes to one session explaining that she wants to go back to work. She had floated the idea to her husband and he rejected it, sadistically. Another blow against women’s liberation. One notes, because one manages to come across every sort of gossip that the David Kelley’s wife, Michelle Pfeiffer, recently explained that when her children were young she placed their interests ahead of her career ambitions. Now that they are older she wants to return to acting more regularly.

The therapist spins a narrative. She does not consider how Celeste might negotiate her responsibilities to young children and her wish to work… with her husband. Or how the therapist might help to teach her how to do so.

At some level the couple’s sexual activities must have been consensual, but Dr. Reisman wants Celeste to believe that she is the innocent victim while her husband is the evil rapist.  In the 5th episode Dr. Reisman loses control—not a good sign in a therapist—and harangues her patient about how her husband is going to kill her, how she must immediately leave him and find her own apartment. Celeste responds that Dr. Reisman is being anything but professional, but the good therapist is so absolutely, utterly and totally persuaded that Celeste’s life is in danger that she loses it. One suspects that many therapists hold to the same dream. Even though some therapists question this, in the end they still find Dr. Reisman to be a great therapist.

The therapist lacks subtlety and finesse. She does not try to solve problems. She wants to rescue her patient from impending doom. She does not consider how and whether Celeste should explain her departure to her husband.  Since he is evil, any effort at conciliation will lead to her doom.

Since she is emotionally overwrought and righteously moralistic, Dr. Reisman does not consider that abandoning Perry might not bring out his best. And that it might put Celeste in even more danger.

One notes that after Perry confesses to being violent in his first session with Dr. Reisman, he never returns. If Perry has a problem, Dr. Reisman is not the therapist he needs. She got him to admit to his violent behaviors but at the cost of losing him as a patient. One understands that a profession that has increasingly become feminized will not be able to deal with very many male patients—most especially those with a more sadistic bent.

From Dr. Reisman’s perspective Perry is evil. Period. End of story. He is irredeemable and untreatable. Perhaps he is untreatable by her, but is he really untreatable by any therapist? The possibility does not seem to cross her mind.

In truth, the good therapist is playing out a rescue narrative. Perhaps it’s a narrative of her own making. Perhaps it’s a narrative she learned in grad school. But she sees her role as rescuing abused women from evil men. Thus, of breaking up marriages and homes.

She is trapped in the narrative and cannot see reality. As one of the therapists noted in the New York Magazine article, Dr. Reisman shows no concern for Celeste and Perry’s two children. It’s nice to think that Celeste must save herself from the evil within her home, but don’t you think that Celeste would consider what was best for her children? Is it conceivable that Celeste would abandon her children to such a man in order to hide in a new apartment by herself? If she takes them along, it will be impossible for him not to find out where they are.

Of course, men like Perry do exist. Some men are so abusive that a woman has no other choice but to pack up and leave. Mercifully the number is extremely small, but, to be fair, any woman who is dealing with such a man should seek legal counsel, an order of protection and even personal security. And, why not try to have him indicted for assault?

Admittedly, that sounds naïve, but if Perry is really that bad the best place to deal with the problem is with the police and the court system, not with a therapist. One understands that they are woefully inadequate in dealing with such problems, but still it is better than to run off and hide. Dr. Reisman is telling Celeste to play it for the drama, to pack up and leave, the better to save her life.

If a therapist were dealing with Perry directly—evidently Dr. Reisman is too afraid to do so— he might tell this domestic abuser that if his little secret gets out, his professional reputation will be destroyed… as well it should be. Not so much because Celeste should do so, but because this is an option. It might very well cause him to come to his senses. Since Perry is presumably a successful businessman, one suspects that he values his reputation. Of course, a lawyer might tell him the same thing. Given that a lawyer can file charges or request an order of protection, his words might have some weight.

The drama tells us that the good therapist sees herself as fighting the good fight for innocent women against evil men. Presumably she sees many men as irredeemably evil, unworthy of the least effort to try to help them to overcome their sadistic sides.

When she insists that Celeste leave her husband immediately, she seems to come into her own… as emotionally overwrought and out of control.

We do not know the outcome yet, but we suspect that this is not going to end well. We happily counsel therapists to be more objective in evaluating the fictional therapist.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Russian Dressing Undressed

Democrats are playing the Russia narrative for all that it’s worth. They may simply want to console themselves for being unable to beat Donald Trump.. or any other Republican. They may be trying to undermine the legitimacy of an elected president… in the interest of respect for the rule of law. One thing is certain, the level of hypocrisy is so high that it climbs into the clouds. After all, the party’s leader once claimed that Hillary Clinton was the most qualified candidate for the presidency in American history. It used to be called "the big lie."

How could the most qualified candidate lose to Donald Trump? It had to have been a massive right wing conspiracy. The Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House. It doesn't make real sense, Victor Davis Hanson explains, because the Obama administration was and the potential Hillary administration would have been far easier to deal with and far better for Russian interests than Trump.

In his words:

If Putin were really a conniving realist, he would have much preferred Hillary in the 2016 election — given his success in manipulating the Obama-era reset.

Unlike Trump, Clinton would probably have kept the radical Obama defense cuts and perpetuated the restrictions on domestic energy development that were helping Russia. She probably would have likewise continued Obama’s therapeutic approach to foreign policy.

From Russia’s point of view, considering their strategic and economic interests, a pliable Obama 2.0 would have been far better than Trump, with his pro-oil-and-gas domestic agenda, his promised defense buildup, and his unpredictable Jacksonian promises to help friends and hurt enemies. 

It makes no rational sense. Yet, those who are peddling the narrative for their own political advantages… or perhaps as a psychological balm to soothe their own narcissistic injuries.. do not care.  Then again they might really believe it all... which would be very frightening.

Hanson’s analysis of the plays and the players in this burgeoning conspiracy narrative is exemplary for its detail and it depth. I heartily recommend that you read the whole thing.

Hanson begins by reminding us that American liberals used to be great fans of Russia. They were even fans of the Soviet Union. They preferred Boris Spassky to Bobby Fisher and Mikhail Gorbachev to Ronald Reagan.

Hanson explains:

In sum, the American Left always felt that Russia was unduly demonized by the American Right and was a natural friend, if not potential ally, of the United States. That tradition no doubt influenced the decision of the incoming Obama administration to immediately reach out to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, despite its recent aggressions in Georgia and steady crackdown on internal dissent, and despite Russia’s estrangement from the prior Bush administration. 

Who can forget the Russian reset? Call it diplomacy by plastic toy. Who can forget the Obama administration’s efforts to reach out to the Russians, to correct the manifold errors that the Bush administration had made. By now, it has all been forgotten. The Messiah was right in all matters and the Antichrist is wrong.

And then of course, in a famous hot mic moment, President Obama told Dmitri Medvedev that after his 2012 election victory he would be more than happy to make deals with Vladimir Putin.

Hanson describes it:

Barack Obama naturally wanted to continue a fourth year of his reset and outreach to Vladimir Putin, the same way that he was reaching out to other former American enemies such as the Iranians and the Cubans. … In other words, he couldn’t publicly assure Putin that he would be “flexible” about implementing missile defense in Eastern Europe (“all these issues”) until after he was reelected.

An apprehensive Obama, in his hot-mic moment, was signaling that after his anticipated victory, he would revert to his earlier reset with Putin. And most significantly, Obama wished Putin to appreciate in advance the motives for Obama’s campaign-year behavior. Or he at least hoped that Putin would not embarrass him by making international moves that would reflect poorly on Obama’s reset policy.

Furthermore, Obama did not want his implicit quid pro quo proposal to become part of the public record. Had it been public, it might have been interpreted as a message to Putin that he should empathize with Obama’s plight — and that he should interfere with the American election by behaving in a way that would empower Obama’s candidacy rather than detract from it.

In the present hysterical climate, substitute the name Trump for Obama, and we would be hearing Democratic demands for impeachment on grounds that Trump was caught secretly whispering to the Russians about compromising vital national-security issues in a quid pro quo meant to affect the outcome of the 2012 election. 

And, what was the Obama record on Russia. Did Jeremiah Wright’s protégé stand up against the big, bad Russian bear? Did he show resolute toughness when faced with such an implacable enemy? Or did he do with Russia what he did with most of America’s enemies: appease, appease and placate?

Hanson reports:

Over the next few years, the reset policy consisted of, among other things, backtracking on previously agreed-on missile-defense plans in Eastern Europe….

The Obama administration invited Russia into the Middle East for the first time in nearly a half-century to help Obama back off from his own redline threats to attack Syria if evidence of WMD usage appeared. Moreover, after the Crimea and eastern Ukraine aggressions, the perception in most of the Western world was that the U.S. was not sufficiently tough with Putin, largely because of its commitment to a prior (though failed) outreach.

America Goes Psycho

In a country where correct opinion seems increasingly to be defined by stand-up comedians who are not funny, it’s refreshing to read the words of a true wordsmith, a novelist, no less.

Bret Easton Ellis is best known for a book called American Psycho. As you know, the psycho in the title is not short for psychotherapist or psychoanalyst. It’s psycho, tout court, for your information.

Anyway said psycho, by name of Patrick Bateman, first came to fictional life in 1991. I will not recount the story, which was over-the-top gory-- to the point of being cartoonish-- but I will mention, because Ellis wants us to recall it, that Bateman idolized… you guessed it… Donald Trump. I don’t know whether you want to credit Ellis with prophetic powers and add his name to the list of those who predicted the rise of Trump, but still….

Having established his bona fides as a  man of the political and liberal left, Ellis is well placed to call out his fellow Hollywood liberals for their mental and moral deficiencies.

This comes to us from a podcast and from Vice:

You can dislike the fact that Trump was elected, yes, definitely, and yet still understand and accept ultimately that he was elected this time around. Or you can have a complete mental and emotional collapse and let the Trump presidency define you, which I think is absurd. … If you are still losing your s— about Trump, I think you should probably go to a shrink and not let the bad man that was elected define your self-victimization and your life. You are letting him win.

Certainly, it’s a cogent thought. When you define your life by your opposition to Donald Trump you are allowing Donald Trump to define your life. As Ellis says, this gives Trump yet another victory.

Blaming Trump for your problems, he continues, does not make you sound very bright:

Barbra Streisand says she’s gaining weight because of Trump. Lena Dunham says she’s losing weight because of Trump. Really? You’re blaming the president for your own problems and neuroses?

Being a resident of the left coast Ellis has a few words for Meryl Streep. You recall that Streep became a leftist culture hero by using her speech at the Golden Globes to rant about Trump.

It was very bad form, Ellis replies:

Instead of talking about all the filmmakers she had worked with and who had passed away in the last two years — Michael Cimino, Mike Nichols, Nora Ephron, or especially what it was like playing Carrie Fisher in ‘Postcards From the Edge,’ since Fisher had died just two weeks earlier, Streep used this moment to go on an anti-Trump rant for 10 minutes on national TV, instead of eulogizing her friend — again, reinstating the moral superiority of the left and ignoring aesthetics in place of ideology.

He is quite right to say that it’s all about virtue signaling, showing off one’s moral superiority. One must add that it’s also about pretending to be intellectually superior.

Vice reports his words:

Ellis said one of the “morally superior wealthy people” who ruined a recent dinner with friends by complaining about white male patriarchy lives in a penthouse on the Upper West Side — “and probably has a net worth of $10 million dollars.”

And, also:

Liberalism used to be about freedom but now is about a kind of warped moral authority that is actually part of the moral superiority movement. This faction of the left is touchingly now known as ‘The Resistance.’ Oh yes, the resistance. What is this resistance? There are posters all over my neighborhood in West Hollywood urging me to resist, resist, resist,” he said.


But some of us, who did not vote for Trump, and who located exactly who he was decades ago … some of us have been wondering: Resist what, exactly? And who is telling us to resist whatever? The people who voted for the candidate who lost — I’m supposed to listen to them? Is this a joke? … Well I’m certainly resisting the childish meltdowns I’ve been witnessing at dinners and on social media and on late night TV and too many times in my own home.”

Childish meltdowns… who knew? Ellis is correct to call out his Hollywood neighbors for their puerile rants and their pretense of being intellectual sophisticates.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sexual Desire in Iceland

Sexual desire counts among the great human mysteries. What turns people on? What turns people off? What does not turn people either way?

Serious thinkers will tell you that taboos do it. Prohibit sexual congress between mothers and sons, for example, and a good Freudian will insist that mothers and sons want nothing more than to bounce around on the downy billows. This good Freudian will also explain that everyone wants only one thing in life… that being to copulate with his or her mother. You will appreciate the genius and you will also appreciate how nonsensical it all is.

If desire, as the Freudians insist, is elicited and excited by women, one must also admit that a woman's ambiguity, not availability and not unavailability, proves to be the best incitement.

In my humble way I once offered a slightly different idea. Since depression manifests itself in the absence of desire one would suspect that lifting the depression, recovering one’s pride and one’s morale would, ipso facto, cause a return of desire.

But, how can we ever measure something so nonspecific as human desire? Try this: if an event restored pride to a nation one would suspect that nine months after said event there would be more births and thus more epidurals. Such events are eminently calculable.

Last summer little Iceland became a giant killer, ousting England from the European Soccer championships. It was an enormous event in Iceland and produced a spike in the number of epidurals. We all understand that Iceland has never been known as a hot place.

Naturally, we turn to the Daily Mail for the story:

And it seems we know exactly how Iceland fans celebrated their historic win after a hospital in Reykjavik reported giving a record number of epidurals over the weekend.

The weekend marked almost exactly nine months since Iceland's 2-1 victory in Nice which saw then-England manager Roy Hodgson throw in the towel.

While the exact number of epidurals given is not known, any increase is likely to be significant since 10 per cent of the country's population travelled to France to watch their team play. 

Landspitali Hospital in Reykjavik, the country's largest, said a record amount of pain medication was given to women giving birth between Friday and Sunday night, according to Icelandic magazine Visir.

Those figures were backed up by a tweet from Asgeir Petur Porvaldsson, a resident from the hospital's anesthesiology department.

He wrote: 'Set a record for the number of epidurals in the maternity ward this weekend - nine months after the 2-1 win over England.'

So, there you have it. Definitive proof of what provokes lubricious longings. One suspects—without any real evidence—that said coital actions were taking place in duly sacrilized conjugal beds.

Apparently, the same rule applies in cities whose teams win the Super Bowl. And yet, to keep some perspective, we note that New York City saw a significant increase in births nine months after an event that had nothing to do with sports. After a blackout, when all of New York's lights went out, the city's denizens, perhaps out of boredom, perhaps because they were thrilling to how much electricity was being saved, got busy and produced children. 

Is Islam Compatible with French Values?

Vive la France!

France is going to have a presidential election this year.  The first round will occur in late April. The final vote will happen in early May.

Today the two leading candidates are Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Representing the radical right Le Pen opposes Muslim immigration and French membership in the EU. Many people are horrified at the prospect that she might win. Macron is a disenchanted socialist technocrat and investment banker. He is all of 39 years old.

If the polls are correct, Macron seems to be an easy winner. For the record the more conservative candidate Francois Fillon has gotten caught up in a scandal. He seems to have used his political influence to find his wife a well remunerated job where she did not exactly earn her way. Without the scandal he would have been the frontrunner.

Anyway, the French have taken a poll about religion, specifically about whether or not certain religions were compatible with French values. They take such polls occasionally. This time, to no one’s surprise, the voters—61%-- declared Islam—and not just Muslim terrorists—to be incompatible with France.

One notes that France has been opening its doors to Muslim refugees for decades now. It is not new to the game. Today, more than ten percent of the population is Muslim. Many Muslims live in enclaves in the Parisian suburbs, in no-go zones, zones where it is too dangerous for ambulances, fire fighters and even policemen to go without an armed paramilitary escort. Given the recent attacks by Muslim terrorists, both large and small, the nation remains in a state of emergency. 

Anyway, in the interest of perspective, some French people—6%-- believe that Roman Catholicism is incompatible with French values while some 16% believe that Judaism is. One does not know how many of those who took the survey were Muslims… which would certainly influence the vote.

The Daily Mail reports:

Sixty one per cent of French people believe Islam is incompatible with their society, according to a new poll.

That figure had been falling sharply until the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, and has been steadily growing ever since, an Ipsos survey found.

That is compared with six per cent of people who believe Catholicism is incompatible and 17 per cent who believe Judaism is incompatible.

The massacre at Charlie Hebdo, coupled with the attack on the Bataclan and the horrors committed at a Bastille Day celebration in Nice persuaded French citizens that Islam and France did not mix. So much for good Muslims and bad Muslims. So much for the religion of peace.

It does not stop there. French people do not even support any conspicuous public display of the Muslim religion:

A further 79 per cent of French people supported banning headscarves on university campuses, while another 77 per cent want to see the burkini banned.

France already has a nationwide law banning anyone from wearing a full-face veil, while several French Riviera towns attempted to ban full-body 'burkinis' in 2016, but the law was overturned.  

The nation that invented the bikini obviously finds the burkini an offense of its values.

The Rude and Crude Senator Schumer

Back in the day the United States Senate was called the world’s greatest deliberative body. Being a member of such a body required that you to show decorum and good manners, at all times and in all places. A senator did not cease to be a senator when he walked out of the chamber.

The world’s greatest deliberative body is governed by rules of propriety. It is governed by rules of gentility, rules that allow one to behave as a gentleman or a lady. These rules proscribe rants, raves and even fisticuffs. Each member calls each other member "honorable" and takes him or her to be so.

We are living in the Age of Trump, however, and New York’s senior senator and Democratic leader Charles “Chuck” Schumer has chosen to give the senate a black eye. He has chosen to tar the reputation of the body. Chuck recently made a spectacle of himself by throwing a tantrum at Hilary Califano, wife of longtime Democratic political operative Joseph Califano. For the record Joe Califano worked for both the Lyndon Johnson and the Jimmy Carter administrations. His wife Hilary is the daughter of William Paley, famed founder of CBS.

Anyway, the Califanos were dining at a popular New York neighborhood eatery, called Sette Mezzo last Sunday. There they encountered the rude and offensive and obnoxious Chuck Schumer, who went off at Hilary Califano because she had voted for Donald Trump. One does not know how he knew it, but apparently his capacious memory had been storing the detail for just such a moment.

Fox News reported the incident:

One witness said of the restaurant rant, “They are a highly respected couple, and Schumer made a scene, yelling, ‘She voted for Trump!’ The Califanos left the restaurant, but Schumer followed them outside.” On the sidewalk, Schumer carried on with his fantastical filibuster: “How could you vote for Trump? Hes a liar! He kept repeating, Hes a liar!

Hilary confirmed the confrontation, telling Page Six, “Sen. Schumer was really rude ... Hes our senator, and I dont really like him. Yes, I voted for Trump. Schumer joined us outside and he told me Trump was a liar. I should have told him that Hillary Clinton was a liar, but I was so surprised I didnt say anything.”

Call it evidence of Trump Derangement Syndrome, but it shows that Sen. Schumer has no business criticizing anyone for a lack of decorum and for bad public behavior. It was a pathetic display and he ought to stand up in the the senate and offer a public apology. He did not just tarnish his own reputation; he diminished that of the senate itself. After all, he did not rant and rave in private. And besides, what gentleman accosts and assaults a lady in public.

We are now waiting for feminists to defend Mrs. Califano.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Price of Solitude

It’s not your oral fixations. It’s not your anal retentiveness. It’s not your infantile narcissism. It’s not even your Oedipus complex.

Scientists—what would we do without scientists?—have discovered that people are getting sick and dying from a lack of social connections. That is, they are dying from loneliness. And from anomie, of course.

The evidence is clear. Karol Markowicz presents it in the New York Post (via Maggie’s Farm):

John T. Cacioppo, author of the book “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection,” writes that “social isolation has an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity or smoking.” Numerous studies have concluded that loneliness is actually killing men prematurely.

Writing in The New York Times, Dhruv Khullar, a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, noted that “a wave of new research suggests social separation is bad for us. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.”

Should we blame it on social media? Or on traditional media? The truth lies elsewhere. 

Let’s blame it on social mobility, and diversity. How many people do you know who grow up and grow old in the same neighborhood, within the same community? The ties that bound people in traditional communities no longer bind them. People get up and go. They move around the country and around the world. Everywhere they go they try to make new friends, often at the cost of old friends.

Adapting is not easy. Adapting means learning new customs and new mores. Sometimes it means learning a new language and new table manners. It means getting up to date on prior events in the community. It means understanding cultural references and social codes. It means working to make contact and to maintain contact. But it also means not being overly clingy and overly needy. It is a challenge, one that many people cannot meet.

If you move to a place where the population is diverse you will have even more problems fitting in. You will often not know the rules or even the game that people are playing. Different people come from different places and bring different customs with them. They are not necessarily going to throw it all away in order to assimilate into the new neighborhood. In some cases they will not throw any of it away. They continue to speak the language they spoke in the old country and function as though they had never left.

In a more diverse the community social life is more chaotic. In such cities people form subgroups that have their own rules and their own codes. But, such groups are often not easy to penetrate.

One hastens to add that falling in love does not address the issue. Finding your soul mate or the “One” will not solve the problem. Consider that many therapists believe that once you find true love your problems will vanish in the cold night air. Being in love is a type of social connection, but it does not and cannot and should not be a substitute for friendships and collegiality.

Obviously, it is easier to integrate if you have a job, if you are gainfully employed. That’s why Dr. Richard Mollica suggested that the best anti-depressant is a job. When you have a job you belong to an enterprise. The rules are clear. The roles are defined. People get along easily because they are not obliged to be too personal or too intimate with each other.

Or else, Markowicz explains, you can participate in activities with other parents in your child’s school. She notes that it does not feel very natural, but that it is a good thing.

Young people join cliques and gangs. Belonging brings them status and a structured social world. And yet, when they get older, when their old friends have moved away, they have more difficulty forming new friendships. Perhaps they should figure out a way to join a clique or a gang or even a club. Or maybe they should start hanging out at Cheers.

The moral of the story is that when we are thinking of how best to deal with mental health problems the answer does not lie in having more and better treatment options. It lies in more social contacts and more social relationships.

Capitalism Comes to Cambodia

The New York Times is reporting that Cambodians have replaced Karl Marx with Peter Drucker. You know all about Marx. As for Drucker, I have mentioned him occasionally on the blog. He was a famed management consultant, someone whose advice was sought out by the titans of American industry.

The Times reports:

For years, Tep Khunnal was the devoted personal secretary of Pol Pot, staying loyal to the charismatic ultracommunist leader even as the Khmer Rouge movement collapsed around them in the late 1990s.

Forced to reinvent himself after Pol Pot’s death, he fled to this outpost on the Thai border and began following a different sort of guru: the Austrian-American management theorist and business consultant Peter Drucker.

“I realized that some other countries, in South America, in Japan, they studied Drucker, and they used Drucker’s ideas and made the countries prosperous,” he said.

The residents of this dusty but bustling town are almost all former Khmer Rouge soldiers or cadres and their families, but they have come to embrace capitalism with almost as much vigor as they once fought to destroy class distinctions, free trade and even money itself.

After being impoverished by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, former Communist officials have discovered the virtue of prosperity. They are a bit late to the game. China turned got on the capitalist road in the late 1970s, under the aegis of Deng Xiaoping. Like the Chinese, the Cambodians decided to stop railing about inequality and to seek prosperity. They drew the same lesson that the Chinese did. Capitalism is better than starving to death. Who knew?

Here is one story of one former soldier, with a nod to the horrors that were inflicted on the Cambodian people by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge:

“We joined the communists, and now we have joined the capitalists, which is much better,” said Dim Sok, a local official.

Mr. Dim Sok, 65, was a nearly illiterate farmer when he became a revolutionary in 1970, fighting in the jungles with the Khmer Rouge for five years before they seized power. In an effort to remake the country into an agrarian utopia, the Khmer Rouge government swept the urban population into the countryside to live like peasants and smashed up banks and schools. At least 1.7 million people died under their nearly four-year rule.

The Times returns to Tep Khunnal, and show how he developed his business:

Malai was still a malaria-infested jungle stronghold when Mr. Tep Khunnal moved here in 1998, bringing with him Pol Pot’s widow, whom he married shortly after his boss’s death.

Along with a barely educated but savvy ex-soldier, Soom Yin, he took out a bank loan to test some of his ideas. Their company bought the area’s first corn-drying machine, imported a new breed of sun-resistant corn from Thailand and set up a quality-control system for the corn and cassava that moved through their warehouse.

Today, Mr. Soom Yin owns the largest export firm in the area and can talk for hours about the minutiae of the cassava trade, from moisture levels to price fluctuations. In his spare time, he said, he reads books on management.

The Khmer Rouge ways are “very old now,” he said. “Even me, I don’t even dream about that anymore. We just do business.”

Today Khunnal has retired and is teaching management theory in universities:

He said he began reading about economics while serving as a Khmer Rouge envoy to the United Nations in the 1980s. Although he liked Milton Friedman, the free-market economist, and Frederick Taylor, who pioneered scientific management, he was most drawn to Drucker’s insistence that employees were central to an enterprise’s success.

“What I find interesting for me is that he talks about individuals, he gives power to individuals, not to collectivism,” he said of Drucker. “Frederick Taylor in the early 20th century, he talked about efficiency, but Drucker talked about effectiveness.”

During a recent lecture, Mr. Tep Khunnal exhorted his students to remember that good management was just as important as good ideas.

“In-no-vation,” he said, using the English word, “means a new idea, but to be successful you need strategy.”

It’s not just an idea. In order to succeed you need to have a plan and an organization. And one thing is clear. Rail all you want about inequality, collectivizing agriculture is, as the Chinese discovered in the early 1960s, a formula for mass starvation.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Warrior in a Garden

From American Digest:


Tyranny in the Academy

Some time ago I suggested that New York is a city of free thinkers all of whom think exactly the same thing. The most recent presidential election proved my point. There is less diversity of opinion on Manhattan Island than there is in Manhattan, Kansas. Better yet, the margin of electoral victory in Clinton-loving New York far exceeded the margin of electoral victory in Trump-loving West Virginia.  And New Yorkers think that they are much, much smarter than the rubes in West Virginia. 

New Yorkers are twisting their minds into knots because they do not understand what happened to “their” country. They ought to have noticed that their favorite sources of information, led by The New York Times have been feeding them predigested propaganda, little of which is designed to inform and most of which is designed to tell them what to think. It provides them with just enough skewed facts to make the accepted beliefs plausible. I will not rehash the issue, but in the aftermath of the election Times media critic Jim Rutenberg apologized to his readers for the appallingly bad job the newspaper had been doing. Of course, when it comes to the media, there is a marketplace, and media organs like the Times are barely surviving.

Anyway, New York’s intellectual guardian class cannot enforce its will by the exercise of raw power. It can punish people by marginalizing them, by ensuring that they not be invited to the right cocktail parties, and even, at times by stifling their careers. One suspects that the work of brainwashing and indoctrination began earlier in a place where a guardian class did its work by exercising power over children’s lives and livelihoods.

American institutions of higher and lower education seem, to the eye of John Boyers, to be functioning through social coercion, but in truth they exercise power with the grading pencil. They determine where you can go to college and graduate school. A student who has not escaped to the STEM world will be judged negatively (and ruthlessly) for any deviation from politically correct thinking. A child who defies the brainwashed legions who are controlling academia will end up with bad grades. At the same time, those students who buy into the prevailing ideological dogmas will have been deprived of an education, will have been taught how not to think. In some sense it’s more serious, because such a cohort cannot be expected to lead a great nation to a great future.

Aside from this minor point, Boyers’ article about how the American academy produces groupthink is excellent. He notes that in places like Middlebury College the politics of hysteria have taken hold. Anyone who would dare hold a dissenting opinion has been put on notice. Your job, your career, your future, even your life will be attacked if you hold the wrong opinion. We are obviously dealing with an inquisitional atmosphere where witch hunts are the order of the day. If these grand and petty inquisitors feel threatened by certain political figures, this does not feel like a very bad thing.

Boyers points out that liberal academics insist that they embrace diversity of opinion. This means that they are either deluded or are self-righteous hypocrites… or both:

… the Middlebury incident doesn’t begin to reveal the depth or virulence of the opposition to robust discussion within the American professoriate, where many self-described liberals continue to believe that they remain committed to "difference" and debate, even as they countenance a full-scale assault on diversity of outlook and opinion.

Boyers offers up a passage from John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” noting that all academics agree with its every word:

Of course we understand that "the tyranny of the majority" must be guarded against — even when it is our majority. Of course we understand that "the peculiar evil of silencing"— or attempting to silence — "the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing … posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: If wrong, they lose … the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

What can be more obvious than that? Of course we understand that there is danger in abiding uncritically with the views of one’s own "party" or "sect" or "class." Who among us doesn’t know that even ostensibly enlightened views cannot entitle us to think of those views, or of those who hold them, as "infallible"?

And of course, these principles are discarded when liberal academics are facing ideas that they define as “heretical,” that is, inherently dangerous. One notes, because one does not want to miss the point, that these card-carrying atheists have managed to dig up some of the long buried horrors of Western civilization:

Thus a great many contemporary liberals subscribe to the belief — however loath they may be to acknowledge it — that certain ideas are "heretical" or "divisive" and that those who dare to articulate them must be, in one way or another, cast out. The burning desire to paint a scarlet letter on the breast of those who fail to observe the officially sanctioned view of things has taken possession of many ostensibly liberal people in academe, which has tended more and more in recent years to resemble what the Yale English professor David Bromwich calls "a church held together by the hunt for heresies."

How is it all enforced?

While dissentient views are today not always "absolutely" interdicted, and we do not hear of persons who are imprisoned for espousing incorrect views, we do routinely observe that "active and inquiring intellects" are cast out of the community of the righteous by their colleagues and formally "investigated" by witch-hunting faculty committees and threatened with the loss of their jobs. 

What does it look like when a university ceases to be an institution of higher learning and gives itself over to a totalizing process where all courses— especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences— must produce minds that are connected by thinking the same thoughts and believing the same beliefs:

In the university it looks like a place in which all constituencies have been mobilized for the same end, in which every activity is to be monitored to ensure that everyone is "on board." Do courses in all departments reflect the commitment of the institution to raise "awareness" about all of the approved hot-button topics? If not, something must be done. Are all incoming freshmen assigned a suitably pointed, heavily ideological summer-reading text that tells them what they should be primarily concerned about as they enter? Check. Does the college calendar feature carefully orchestrated consciousness-raising sessions led by "human resources" specialists trained to facilitate "dialogues" leading where everyone must agree they ought to lead? Check. Is every member of the community primed to invoke the customary terms — "privilege," "power," "hostile," "unsafe" — no matter how incidental or spurious they seem in a given context? Essential.

It’s controlling and coercive. In such a world all academic material is judged by its ability to advance the ideological agenda. There is no right or wrong except as it affirms the value of the dogmatic beliefs. Your task, whether you like it or not, is to persuade your guardian masters that you are a true believer and that nothing can shake your belief.

It’s not just students minds that must be occupied and controlled. Thought leaders on campus have made it their mission to police the minds of their colleagues. You might have thought that tenure would protect professors from such harassment. You were wrong. What is happening on campus looks, feels and appears to use the tactics that were afoot with witch hunts and inquisitions.

Boyers writes:

The desire to cleanse the campus of dissident voices has become something of a mission. Shaming, scapegoating, and periodic ritual exorcisms are a prime feature of campus life. A distinguished scholar at my own college writes in an open email letter to the faculty that when colleagues who are "different" (in his case, nonwhite, nonstraight, nonmale) speak to us we are compelled not merely to listen but to "validate their experiences." When we meet at a faculty reception a week or so later and he asks what I think of his letter, I tell him I admire his willingness to share his thoughts but have been puzzling over the word "compelled" and the expression "validate their experiences." Does he mean thereby to suggest that if we have doubts or misgivings about what a colleague has said to us, we should keep our mouths firmly shut? Exactly, replies my earnest, right-minded colleague.

As for the theological roots of these efforts, Boyers explains:

In the early 1950s, Isaiah Berlin identified what he called "a common assumption" informing the work of Enlightenment thinkers: "that the answers to all of the great questions must of necessity agree with one another." This "doctrine," Berlin argued, "stems from older theological roots," and refuses to accept any suggestion that we must learn to live with irresolvable conflicts. The consequence? John Gray calls it "a monistic philosophy that opened the way to new forms of tyranny."

Do you see that it’s a form of tyranny?

The word "tyranny" is perhaps just a bit extravagant as a description of tendencies at work in the contemporary academy, and yet, when we speak of the attempt to create a total culture, dedicated to promoting a perfect consensus, we may well feel that we are confronting a real and present danger. The danger that context and complexity will count for nothing when texts or speech acts become triggers for witch hunts, and that wit and irony will be regarded as deplorable deviations from standard protocol. "Tyrants always want language and literature that is easily understood," Theodor Haecker observes.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

When Jack Becomes Jill

If there’s any consolation, the story comes to us from Great Britain, from the BBC. A television documentary entitled: “Young, Trans and Looking for Love” has discovered the brutal reality: when a young boy who thinks he is a girl goes out to try to pick up boys, he quickly discovers that when a boy learns that the boy who thinks he is a girl has boy parts he ceases to manifest any romantic interest.

Apparently, it never crosses anyone’s mind that these boys who think they are girls might try to pick up gay guys. I am confident that a gay male will not be put off by their boy parts.

There you have it. Problem solved. Sort of….

The producers of the documentary are puzzled. How does it happen in our enlightened age that these lotharios refuse to accept these boys who think they are girls for whoever they think they are? How dare they care about anatomy or even chromosomes?

The Mirror reports:

Claire has also begun making social media diaries of her transition, sharing her experiences with transgender teens across the world.

Hoping on finding a boyfriend, she reveals that she doesn't like telling people the truth and is desperate for an operation.

She says: "In a lot of ways, I don't like telling a guy. Once I tell him all respect goes out of the window.

"Straight guys just can't get over you having the male parts.

"Once I've had or get the surgery, I think it will change a lot for me because right now if I meet a straight guy and he doesn't know - we can't get physical if I don't tell him.

"And then if he finds out, things just get so complicated, I can't even begin to explain."

Are these young people born that way or are they being induced to choose to believe they are transgendered. The medical profession in the US, for example, approves fully of this mass delusion. Of course, there are still a few recalcitrant outliers who think it’s all a delusion, but they are being drowned out… in the name of scientific fact. Link here.

But, the medical profession has failed to explain to Claire that no surgery can turn male genitalia into female genitalia. Surgeons can produce a reasonable facsimile, but they cannot produce the real thing. I will spare you the details. Of course, other aspects of female anatomy will obviously be lacking. All the hormones in the world are not going to cause him to grow a uterus and ovaries.

Of course, the BBC presents this all as something akin to growing pains. And yet, despite what the cowed medical professionals think, we are still dealing with … a belief. People who could not bring themselves to believe in God, are happy to believe that a child is whatever gender he or she chooses to be. People who proclaim their allegiance to science imagine that some people have been given the wrong bodies and are really members of the opposite sex.

No one seems to care that these young people have XY chromosomes and that this is unalterable. As Camille Paglia famously said, this is a sign of cultural collapse.

Worse yet, when the media presents this as just another lifestyle choice it risks manipulating children into believing that they are transgendered. If it’s all about belief, it is possible to manipulate belief. A boy who finds that he is attracted to boys might very well think that he may choose between being gay or being transgendered. The media and the medical profession has given him an option: to mutilate himself and to allow his body to be invaded by hormones... without anyone really knowing the long term effects of said treatments. One does well to consult Ethan Watters’ book: Crazy Like Us… which tells us about media induced psycho epidemics.

If a boy lives in Iran, apparently the nation leading the world in gender reassignment surgery, he has a very good reason to choose to be transgendered. If he announces that he is gay he will be hanged.

How much of this condition is being produced by the media frenzy that presents it as just another way to correct God’s mistake? The great proponents of political correctness and equal rights ought to ask themselves how much responsibility they bear for producing new cases of transgenderism.