Monday, December 31, 2012

The Sex Lives of New York Men

For reasons that are not too difficult to understand, debate about sexual behavior usually focuses on women.

It is generally assumed that in a hookup culture, men are getting all the sex they want, for free. It is also assumed that women are being taken advantage of... even if they are fully consenting.

To say that men merely want a steady supply of cheap thrills is demeaning. Almost as demeaning as saying that a woman's goal should be to offer such cheap thrills.

Until the new order arrives, what is bad for women is also bad for men. If women are being diminished by the hookup culture, then the men who happily participate are suffering too. 

Even if the immediate trauma of hooking up is more likely to be borne by a woman, at the end of the day when men and women put away the toys of their childhood they will discover that draining sex of its meaning is bad for both sexes.

When those of us who are older and presumably wiser tell those of you who are younger that today’s sexual culture is not a good thing, we are not, as you might assume, trying to be killjoys. We are trying to show you the way to a good sex life.

Now, psychologist Brandy Engler has written a book in which she will regale us with the case histories of the dysfunctional males who seem to gravitate to her office. I am sure that they will all be thrilled to receive the attention.

As a tease, or what the French call an amuse bouche, the New York Post has provided us with a few of the stories. Since the book is being published today, it’s the best we can do.

As titillating as these cases might be, they do come to us from the practice of a single therapist.

We are dealing with a self-selected group of men who consult with a therapist named Brandy, whose office is near Times Square and who has apparently had, as they say in NYC, some work done.

For the most part therapy with Brandy does not, as she explains in the New York Post, help them very much.

Has Engler isolated a cultural phenomenon?

She explains that these men have all grown up with internet porn. Whatever their sexual histories, some have clearly been diminished and demeaned by women, at home and at work. They have been having sex with women who know what they want sexually and who are assertive about getting it.

Today’s modern woman is sexually savvy and sexually experienced. It sounds good in the pages of Cosmo, but Engler found that it is not such a boon to the male mind. She says:

I was surprised at how many of my male clients were anxious to the point of dysfunction over their desire to satisfy a woman.

If you think it’s easy to make love to a strong, assertive, modern liberated woman, think again.

Of course, many of the men in Engler’s practice seem to be making the worst out of a bad situation.

Begin with the case of Charles. He had suffered the gross indignity of being dumped by his fiancée on his wedding day. At the least, it was a major trauma.

He now suffers from a peculiar sexual dysfunction. He cannot become aroused unless his girlfriend pretends that she is cheating on him.

It is not, dare I say, the most respectful attitude toward a woman. Charles’ girlfriend ends up cheating on him for real.

Is Charles repeating a trauma in order to exercise a fictitious mastery over it, or is he punishing his girlfriend for what his fiancée did to him?

In either case, his do-it-yourself approach to trauma management has not been a great success.

Then there’s Paul the banker. His desire for his wife is flagging so he affirms his virility by hiring prostitutes.

Perhaps he can only feel aroused by having sex with women he calls  “non-beings.” Or else, he might have learned that his interest in prostitutes is a sign of a mental defect.

As for Paul’s wife, Engler calls her “sexual, challenging and exciting.” The description can mean anything, and it probably does.

Trained therapist Engler gives Paul some homework assignments… simple and easy ones like limiting his physical contact with his wife to cuddling… the better to get a grip on what she seems to see as his performance anxiety.

You will think and I will agree: not the worst idea in the world.

Unfortunately, Paul’s “sexual, challenging exciting” wife was not interested in being cuddled. She declared that she was “too tired.”

End of therapy.

Does this tell us that Paul has a problem or does it tell us that the dynamic between him and his wife was hopelessly skewed? It would not take too much acumen to imagine that his wife might be part of the problem, not part of the solution,

Engler dismisses Paul as a “non-being.”

Another of her patients, David, is a player. He has the perfect model girlfriend, but he still goes out trying to pick up girls in clubs.

How does David describe the perfect girlfriend: “My girlfriend is absolutely gorgeous…. She’s tall and blond, a model with a perfect rack and rock-hard abs.”

We wish David all the best, but, be serious—describing a woman with a string of clichés you got out of Maxim magazine does not suggest that you are connecting with her.

Excuse me for being naïve, but when did the ne plus ultra of feminine sex appeal become “rock-hard abs?” Am I the only one who thinks that there is something bizarre about that?

Unfortunately for David, his perfect model girlfriend had been cheating on him. Does this tell us that she got fed up with his philandering or does it mean that he was philandering because she was just not that into him?

We don’t know. Engler does not raise the question. She knows so little about human relationships that she cannot understand why a man who is dating the most beautiful woman in the world would cheat.

Then there is Alex who complains that it’s difficult making love to his girlfriend Kasha because she is unresponsive, “like a mannequin.” (That’s a sophisticated term for a model with a perfect rack and rock-hard abs.)

Why would Kasha be unresponsive to Alex? It turns out that she has been cheating on him.

Engler blames it on Alex. He’s too nice a guy and does not know how to keep lust alive.

For all we know Alex is a crashing bore. But we do not know whether Kasha was turned off by Alex’s poor technique or whether she was not present for their lovemaking because she was elsewhere.

Engler tried to teach Alex how to be more romantic. It worked for one night, but then it didn’t.

Alex ended his therapy.

And then there was Oscar. Feeling belittled and demeaned by his wife Alex began an affair with his much younger assistant.

Here, Engler is right to point out that many men who do not feel appreciated or valued by their wives seek validation elsewhere.

Oscar eventually decided to separate from his wife. Immediately thereafter, his mistress left him.

Not a great success story.

Then, there’s Casey, an “enlightened soul,” a professor, who is the son of a feminist.

He has a girlfriend named Amy whom he calls a “porcelain doll.” (Have you noticed how many of these enlightened New York men treat women as less than human?) Instead of making love to his fragile girlfriend, Casey spends his evenings watching internet porn. He prefers the tapes in which women are the most degraded. 

Apparently, his feminist mother did not teach him how to respect women.

Finally, there’s Mark.

Mark works at a magazine that is run by women. The women who run the magazine bully him mercilessly; they diminish and degrade him.

To compensate he hires prostitutes and tortures them.

Engler thinks that he needs to resolve his Mommy issues.

In truth, he needs either to find a more effective way of dealing with the abuse he is receiving at work or else to find another job or even a new career path.

The moral of the story: Brandy Engler is now living in Los Angeles. She is "happily married."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

It's a Shark-Eat-Shark World

As a fisherman in New Zealand reels in the shark he has just caught, another bigger shark decides to take his fair share of the bounty. From Reddit, via the Daily Mail.

Chomp: The Kiwi fisherman took the spectacular photo, pictured, on December 28

Rid Your Mind of Negative Thoughts

It sounds too good to be true.

Ohio State University professor Richard Petty recommends this therapy. If you want to rid your mind of negative, disparaging thoughts about yourself, just write them down on a piece of paper and throw it away.

Your negative thoughts will go out with the trash.

If, however, you write down your negative thoughts and don't throw them away, you will continue to think ill of yourself.

Whether or not it works, it has one thing going for it: it costs nothing.

It also sounds like it is well beneath your dignity as a serious thinker. So, allow me to put it into context.

When Aaron Beck invented cognitive therapy for depression he instructed his patients to perform a homework exercise:

First, they were to write down one of the self-deprecating thoughts that had been tormenting them. Something like: I am not worthy; or I never get anything right.

Second, under the sentence they were to draw a line dividing the piece of paper into two columns.

Third, in one column they were to list facts about themselves that confirmed the negative judgment. That is, reasons why they really were not worthy.

Fourth, in the other column they were to list facts about themselves that disproved the negative judgment. That is, reasons why they were worthy.

It didn’t matter how deeply convinced they were of any of the facts. They finished the exercise with a chart. The chart showed negative thoughts being subjected to doubt.

In place of the monomaniacal focus on negative thoughts they would have produced a more balanced judgment of their character or achievements.

Thus, would the hold of the negative thought be weakened and depressive moods diminished.

In many ways Beck discovered a writing cure. It was also a cure for psychotherapy’s obsessive interest in introspection. 

If you put your thoughts outside your mind, in a place where you can evaluate them objectively and from a distance you will have more control over them.

If you keep them inside you will believe that you are powerless to control them.

Prof. Petty’s technique is a variation on Aaron Beck’s theme, but it begins with externalizing thought.

But why does Petty want you to throw away the piece of paper that contains your negative thoughts?

For one, if you toss it in the trash no one will ever see it.

If you put it in your pocket or leave it in a notebook or diary, then it is always possible that someone might see it.

What makes thoughts your own is not that you are thinking them but that other people know you are thinking them. If no one else knows that you are thinking ill of yourself, the negative thoughts will lose their ability to influence you.

It’s a lot easier to rid your mind of a negative thought about yourself than it is to rid someone else’s mind of a negative thought about you.

It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway: don’t post your negative thoughts on Facebook or to text them to your friends.

Once you tell the world that you hate your body or feel like a chump you will find it much more difficult to rid your mind of the thought.

In short: share your best; keep the worst to yourself. If you can’t conjure it by other means, try writing it down and tossing it in the trash.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Retirement Conundrum

In a typically thoughtful Economist column, “Buttonwood” asks whether nations should address their budget crises by increasing the state retirement age.

Lately, those who want to reform entitlement spending in America have suggested that we increase the eligibility age for Medicare and even increase the age at which someone can receive Social Security benefits.

And then we need consider the pensions that state and local governments pay out to their employees. The extent of the payouts to public employee pensions is an important part of the problem.

All told, it’s a difficult and complicated issue. Buttonwood, however, seems to care most about fairness. Are the poor hurt disproportionately when we increase the retirement age? If so, is it fair to do so?

He reasons that since the rich live longer on average than the poor, extending the retirement age will give the poor less time to enjoy their leisure.

Buttonwood does not consider that too much leisure might not be such a good thing. He does not even consider whether, perhaps, leisure is not the meaning of life.

And he does not consider the obvious corollary. If we are seeking fairness and if increasing the retirement age would be unfair to the poor, why would we not, in the interest of the same fairness, lower the age at which an individual could receive retirement benefits?

As soon as you scratch the surface, you, like Buttonwood, will discover that the question is extremely complicated.

Ought we to have the same retirement age for people whose occupations involve entirely different levels of stress?

A coal miner’s job imposes considerably more physical and psychological stress than does that of a government bureaucrat.

Why would we not try to solve the fairness problem by improving the quality of life of the poor so that they might enjoy their retirement as much as the wealthy.

One way to do so, Buttonwood suggests, would be providing access to better health care. He does not say how we would pay for all of the readily available free health care.

He also notes that the wealthy tend to have healthier lifestyles. They tend to smoke less, to exercise more and to eat more nutritious foods. He suggests that this might be a function of cultural factors, but does not propose how to level the wage and wealth gap.

Since longevity depends more on a healthy lifestyle than the availability of better health care ought we to punish the rich by making them work more because they are in better health? And ought we to punish them for using proportionately fewer health services?

Thee are just the first complications shrouding the retirement issue.

Unfortunately, Buttonwood has omitted reference to one salient fact. Research has suggested retirement is bad for your health.

A 2006 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research argued:

Results indicate that complete retirement leads to a 5-16 percent increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activities, a 5-6 percent increase in illness conditions, and 6-9 percent decline in mental health, over an average post-retirement period of six years. 

In a more recent report Swiss researcher Stefani Behncke explained:

Delaying the retirement age, though, might have consequences for the health of the elderly. Retirement is accompanied by many basic life changes: time availability, income streams, social networks, social status and so on. Lifestyle changes are likely to affect the retiree's state of health.

Behncke makes an exceptional effort to take into account all of the variables that would contradict her conclusion.  

She recognizes that leisure is not necessarily the best for one's well-being. For example, retirees might suffer from social isolation and feelings of uselessness.

Undoubtedly, the feeling of uselessness afflicts the poor more than the rich. When a wealthy individual retires, he will often take on the job of managing his personal assets. It might not be a full time job, but it will certainly involve work, focus and purpose.

And yet, she summarizes an earlier report, suggesting that retirement is not necessarily a boon:

Using British data, they found that men who retire due to other reasons than ill health and who were apparently healthy at baseline had an 86% increase in mortality compared to men who remained continuously employed. In particular, they had a significant increase in both cardiovascular mortality and cancer mortality.

Having factored in all of the relevant variables, Behncke concludes:

We find that retirement increases the risk of being diagnosed with a chronic condition. In particular, it raises the risk of severe cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, strokes or angina. We also find that it increases the risk of being diagnosed with cancer, but we cannot disentangle whether the likelihood of diagnosis or the actual incidence has increased. We do not  find any significant effects for diagnosis of psychiatric problems, but are aware that psychiatric conditions often remain undiagnosed. These results are fairly robust with regard to different specifications….

Under the assumption that onset and diagnosis of a disease rather coincide, our findings suggest that, on average, retirement has detrimental health effects. Furthermore, there is evidence for a substantial effect heterogeneity: retirement does not harm every retiree, and - if it does - it provokes different conditions.

Unfortunately, Buttonwood has ignored this information. He seems to be looking at the world in terms of a class conflict between rich and poor. He seems to want to eliminate many of the advantages that accrue to those who become wealthier.

And he seems to be prey to the illusion that the reward for wealth is idleness and that it needs to be shared.

Friday, December 28, 2012

How To Be an Overachiever

‘Tis the season for making lists….

Overachievers make lists. And they do what the lists tell them to do.

When Penelope Trunk and the Thought Matters blog wanted to lay out road maps to overachievement they wrote lists. Trunk found 15 qualities that will make you an overachiever. TM listed 20.

Much of the advice is sound and helpful. Some of it I can live without. Follow most of it and you too will overachieve.

I am not going to write yet another list. I prefer to ferret out the principles behind the list.

First principle: overachievement comes from without, not within.

Overachievers do not trust their whims; they do not follow their bliss; they do not dig deep inside to discover their true feelings.

They know that it’s not how badly they want it, but how hard they will work to get it.

Rather than trust the vagaries of their mental states they make and follow lists. If the list says it has to be done it has to be done. If you do not feel like doing it and the list says you must do it, you must do it.

When you follow lists you are being organized and disciplined. You are also exercising self-control, even when no one is watching.

Second principle: overachievers take advice.

Trunk notes that overachievers very often have mentors and coaches. They seek out advice and guidance from those who are wiser and more objective.

They see no virtue in doing it their own way or in making their own mistakes. Overachievers hate making mistakes; they especially hate making unnecessary mistakes.

When they receive advice, they follow it.

Third principle: overachievers focus relentlessly on the task at hand.

Trunk points out: overachievers are not well-rounded. They don’t try to become professional dilettantes.

An overachiever is not a “jack of all trades, master of none.” He masters one trade and works to excel at it. He ignores the others.

Being great at one thing is far better than being mediocre at many things.

If you are focused on one thing you will be spending more time working at it. This will greatly increase the probability that you will excel.  

Fourth principle: overachievers persevere.

An overachiever keeps at it until he gets it right. He does not let himself be distracted by bodily demands or even by insistent text messages.

You will recall that the Tiger Mom made her daughter sit at the piano and work at a difficult composition until she got it right.

You will also recall that all sensible people were horrified at the vision of a poor child who was not allowed to leave the piano, even to perform a normal biological function.

It turns out, this is the way you learn perseverance. We should be more concerned with the children who are not being taught to persevere than with the children who are being trained to be overachievers.

Fifth principle: overachievers self-deprecate.

Overachievers do not burden their colleagues with empty assertions of self-esteem.

There is no virtue in feeling good about yourself when you have done a half-assed job.

Overachievers know the difference between success and failure. They know when they are being patronized.

If they fail, they shoulder the blame and resolve to do better the next time. If they succeed, they are humble and modest about their success.

Overachievers do not puff up their self-esteem when they fail and do not brag about their success.  

When you brag you are putting everyone else down.

The people you are putting down today will sabotage you tomorrow.

Besides, if you become too full of yourself you are more likely to slack off on the next job.

In moderation, confidence is a good thing. In excess, it will make you lazy and unfocused.

Sixth principle: overachievers are never satisfied with doing their best. They strive to be the best.

Overachievers never excuse themselves by saying that they have done their best.

"I did my best" … is a rationalization for failure.

It’s a cheap feel-good excuse.

If you want to overachieve or even to perform at your peak you need to stop making excuses. Instead, make it your business to do your job better than anyone has ever done it before. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Global Cooling

It wasn’t too long ago that environmentalists were insisting that Hurricane Sandy had proven, definitively, that global warming was real, that the ice caps were melting and that the next time the sea would rise up to eat the American East.

Sandy, you see, was a prelude to the fast-approaching environmental apocalypse. If only we would stop exhaling all of that carbon dioxide, all would be well.

In the hubbub and the furor over Sandy, we have missed the Russian winter, which, inconveniently, is the worst it’s ever been. The bad winter weather has enveloped large regions of Central Europe and Asia.

Cold weather in the past few days has sadly gone from severe to deadly. While unusually high snowfall has disrupted the travel plans of millions of Americans, freezing temperatures have taken the lives of hundreds of people from Central Europe to South Asia. The BBC reports that in Poland, 49 people have died; in Ukraine, 83; in Russia, 88; and in India, at least 93. The majority of those dead are the elderly and the homeless.

Besides being an obvious tragedy for many across the world, this is a reminder that “weather” is not “climate,” unless it suits the needs of environmental hotheads to claim that it is. When there’s a hot spell or a dry spell or a wet spell that can somehow be connected with the climate change narrative, the media resounds with panicky warnings. But when people die of frostbite in Punjab and temperatures hit -58F in Russia, the silence of the alarmists is deafening.

Does this prove that a new Ice Age is fast approaching? Can we now go back to exhaling? Should we try to save the planet by burning more fossil fuels?

‘Tis a puzzlement….

Woman Fighting Islam

One does not get the impression that Sabatina James’ Pakistani parents have strong Islamist leanings. Her father holds to traditional Muslim values, but he is not a terrorist.

Her parents brought her up in Austria where Sabatina acquired some bad Western habits.

In a Daily Beast article she explains that when she refused an arranged marriage and kissed a boy, she was beaten, brutalized and terrorized. 

Apparently, her parents did not assimilate into Austrian culture.

It's a harrowing story, well worth your attention.

Eventually, she converted to Catholicism.

Today, Sabatina James has changed her name. She still lives in constant fear that representatives of the religion of terror will track her down and kill her.

Surely, many Muslims are appalled at such practices. Will we hear their voices rising in protest?

Nicholas Kristof and the Ups and Downs of Charitable Giving

If you miss a Nicholas Kristof column you never feel deprived.

True, Kristof’s fulminations occasionally target outrageous practices, but he rarely gets beyond his overwrought emotions.

Kristof is not a thinker. His strong suit is reporting. If he ever found himself in the marketplace of ideas he would be lost.

Today, Kristof is not crusading against something horrific. He has offered a paean to philanthropic billionaires, like Ted Turner, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

To keep it balanced he includes a couple of gratuitous swipes at a billionaire named Trump whose eleemosynary instincts are, to Kristof, underdeveloped.

Kristof thrills to the fact that billionaires have made charitable giving cool. He is ecstatic that they are funding leftist causes—like the United Nations.

The prospect of seeing all of those capitalists billions funneled into the hands of leftist do-gooders excites Nicholas Kristof. Just think of how much trouble they can cause for big business. Just think of how much social justice they can engineer.

The mind boggles.

Kristof notes happily that Ted Turner’s billion dollar gift to the United Nations has restored the prestige of the United Nations.

But, ask yourself this: what has the UN done lately? Kristof does not raise the issue because he is gaga over the UN, but this same organization, its prestige raised by Ted Turner’s gift, has recently recognized the legitimacy of Palestine. Lest we forget, the UN seems often to be in the business of bashing Israel.

Were it not for the fact that New York City profits greatly from having the UN in town, few would notice if it disappeared tomorrow.

If Kristof had practiced the intellectual virtue of consistency, he would have recalled one of his best columnar efforts,one in which he, in a rare moment of lucidity, explained that the people of Haiti need more factories and less charity.

Obviously, all of those charitable donations are not being and have not been invested in Haitian industry.

I don’t need to tell you how that’s working out for the people of Haiti.

Today, Kristof devotes his column to the lame idea that Ted Turner has made charitable giving cool again. Forgetting the great philanthropists of the past, Kristof opines:

Tycoons used to compete for their place on the Forbes and Fortune lists of wealthiest people. If they did give back, it was often late in life and involved museums or the arts. Tycoons used to compete for their place on the Forbes and Fortune lists of wealthiest people. If they did give back, it was often late in life and involved museums or the arts. They spent far more philanthropic dollars on oil paintings of women than on improving the lives of real women.

Turner’s gift helped change that culture, reviving the tradition of great philanthropists like Rockefeller and Carnegie. Turner publicly began needling other billionaires — including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — to be more generous. That was a breach of etiquette, but it worked.

Only someone as dense as Kristof would write a sentence like: “They spent far more philanthropic dollars on oil paintings of women than on improving the lives of real women.”

Does Kristof really believe that billionaires collect “oil paintings of women” instead of helping real women? Does he believe that philanthropists who support the arts are to be condemned for not giving their money to boondoggles like the United Nations? Does he not understand that buying art is an investment? Does he want to explain to all of the female artists whose careers are support by charitable donations that they are not real women?

Does he really believe that the United Nations does yeoman work supporting real women around the world? Will he explain how much it is helping the women who are oppressed by Islamist cultures? Is it so distracted by its hatred for Israel that it does not have the time or energy to help those women? Does Kristof really believe that the best way to improve the lives of real women is to give them handouts?

Obviously, Kristof did not think about what he was writing. In his columns, it’s a reversion to the mean.  

If you ask why these billionaires like to give money to leftist causes, the reason might lie in the fact that they can count on useful columnists like Kristof to shower them with good press.

These people did not make fortunes by being stupid. They are happy to enhance their reputation and shield themselves from the peasants with pitchforks by buttering up the zealots of the mainstream media.

My misgivings notwithstanding, Kristof is a star columnist in a newspaper that has seen better days. If you want to know why the New York Times is in something of a death spiral, you should compare and contrast Kristof’s praise of charitable billionaires with a recent article in a reputable newspaper-- the Financial Times.

Admittedly, Kristof writes an opinion column. The FT article was reporting news.

But, even opinion writers should know the facts and should know better than to allow their fantasies to replace reality.

The FT reports the state of charitable giving. It may be cool to give money to charity, but the truth is, charitable giving has fallen off of the cliff.

The FT reports:

The woes of the global charity industry are deepening as donations – both smaller individual gifts and philanthropy – continue to contract as demand for the services of non-profit organisations keeps mounting.

Charity officials and experts harbour little hope for a meaningful recovery in 2013. Individual donations – the single biggest source of revenue for most charities – have shrunk sharply in many western countries. Bigger gifts from philanthropists and endowments have also slumped after the financial crisis took its toll on their assets.

Also, the FT reports that: “…philanthropic giving in the US has contracted for five straight years, from a total of $43bn in 2007 to $11bn this year – the lowest since the list began in 2000.”

It may be “cool” to give money to charity, but, in reality, a drop from $43,000,000,000 to $11,000,000,000 is huge. If it happened to your portfolio you would fire your broker.

As for the United Nations, one of its least controversial arms, UNICEF has been receiving less money: “Unicef, the UN children’s agency, estimates that its income declined 7 per cent to $3.4bn in 2012.”

The moral of the story: when you write for today’s New York Times you do not have to bother with the facts.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Rigging the College Admissions System

Everyone knows that the college admissions game is rigged. No one believes that it is based solely, or even primarily on merit.

If a certain number of places are reserved for minority group members whose test scores and academic achievements are consistently lower than their non-minority cohorts, then clearly the system suffers from some corruption.

On a 1600 point SAT scale African-American student scores at top universities were around 300 points lower than white student scores and 400 points lower than Asian student scores.

As Ron Unz documents extensively in his article “The Myth of American Meritocracy” college admissions officers, especially those in the best schools have instituted a quota of Asian students.

Yet, that is not the surprising statistic in his article.

There’s nothing new about quotas. In the past a quota system was used to reduce the number of overachieving Jewish students on Ivy League campuses.

Today, however, Unz points out that the era of Jewish overachievement has passed and Jewish college applicants have been consistently underperforming.

At the same time, surprisingly, their numbers have been increasing at the top Ivy League schools.

The two groups that have suffered in the rigged college admissions game are Asians and white Christians.

The percentage of White Christians has been declining while the number of less qualified Jewish students has been increasing.

Unz points out:

But the objective evidence indicates that in present day America, only about 6 percent of our top students are Jewish, which now renders such very high Jewish enrollments at elite universities totally absurd and ridiculous. I strongly suspect that a similar time lag effect is responsible for the apparent confusion in many others who have considered the topic.

Most of my preceding analysis has focused on the comparison of Asians with Jews, and I have pointed out that based on factors of objective academic performance and population size, we would expect Asians to outnumber Jews by perhaps five to one at our top national universities; instead, the total Jewish numbers across the Ivy League are actually 40 percent higher. This implies that Jewish enrollment is roughly 600 percent greater relative to Asians than should be expected under a strictly meritocratic admissions system.

He adds:

Indeed, the official statistics indicate that non-Jewish whites at Harvard are America’s most under-represented population group, enrolled at a much lower fraction of their national population than blacks or Hispanics, despite having far higher academic test scores. …

This period certainly saw a very rapid rise in the number of Asian, Hispanic, and foreign students, as well as some increase in blacks. But it seems rather odd that all of these other gains would have come at the expense of whites of Christian background, and none at the expense of Jews.

Unz has been criticized for is methodology. How does he know who is and who is not Jewish? His answer: he considers that some family names are far more likely to be Jewish than others. A Rosenberg is far more likely to be Jewish than an O’Malley or a Jones.

Evidently, this is imprecise and subject to question. Yet, when college admissions officers were setting up quotas for Jewish students in prior years, how did they know who was and who was not Jewish?

When Unz asks why the admissions process employs a preference system that favors Jewish students, he arrives at some surprising conclusions.

In some cases legacy counts. Wealthy donors, Jewish or not, will more likely be able to buy their children a place at Harvard.

But then, Jewish applicants are also receiving a preference because they are more likely to be liberal and progressive. Everyone knows that universities only hire professors who are on the political left. It should not be surprising that the admissions committee skews its decisions in favor of students who are more likely to hold the same political persuasion.

It’s about cultural markers. Unz writes:

One of [Princeton Professor Thomas] Ephanshade’s most striking findings was that excelling in certain types of completely mainstream high school activities actually reduced a student’s admission chances by 60–65 percent, apparently because teenagers with such interests were regarded with considerable disfavor by the sort of people employed in admissions; these were ROTC, 4-H Clubs, Future Farmers of America, and various similar organizations.87 Consider that these reported activities were totally mainstream, innocuous, and non-ideological, yet might easily get an applicant rejected, presumably for being cultural markers. When we recognize the overwhelmingly liberal orientation of nearly all our elite universities and the large communities of academics and administrators they employ, we can easily imagine what might become of any applicants who proudly proclaimed their successful leadership roles in an activity associated with conservative Christianity or rightwing politics as their extracurricular claim to fame.

He adds:

The overwhelmingly liberal orientation of the elite university community, the apparent willingness of many liberals to actively discriminate against non-liberals, and the fact that American Jews remain perhaps the most liberal ethnic community may together help explain a significant portion of our skewed enrollment statistics.93

The least surprising observation is that liberals discriminate on ideological grounds.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas, from Johann Sebastian

I’ve been looking for just the right Christmas present for you.

Naturally, I lit on Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

But, I thought, it’s much too long, and it’s in German. Happily, I was able to find a version with subtitles.

Nothing says that you have to listen to it all or all at once.

All things considered, it’s a great gift, well worth however much time you would want to devote to it.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Rationality and the Gun Control Debate

Mitt Romney might not have won under any circumstances but the last-days of the campaign love fest between Chris Christie and Barack Obama did not help things.

Bombastic Christie claimed that he was merely doing his job, but he looked to all the world as though he was being played by the Obama re-election campaign.

You can insist on your good intentions all you like, as Christie has, but if the world perceives you to be throwing your moral support to Barack Obama you are throwing your moral support to Barack Obama.

Clearly, Christie’s popularity has not suffered. On the contrary, he has been receiving glowing press reports, he is more popular than ever in New Jersey and is now a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

If he should ever run for president against, say, Hillary Clinton he will discover how deep those feelings really go.

For now, the Republican Party has lost its best communicator. Score one for the Democratic Party and the mainstream media.

When it came time to shed the light of reason on today’s media-driven hysteria about guns, Christie came down firmly on the side of the media.

Admittedly, the hapless president of the NRA has made it impossible to speak well of him, but Christie might have said something consequential, something that would have set the debate on a less emotional, more rational course.

He did not.

Keep in mind: the media rants against guns are having their desired effect. Not to get guns off the streets; not to decrease gang violence in Chicago; not to protect schoolchildren. No, they are serving to demoralize and discredit the Republican Party.

That is why a reasonable public statement by a leading Republican governor would matter.

Last week Christie was asked to react to Wayne LaPierre’s statement that we should have armed guards in schools.

He responded:

Listen I don’t necessarily think having an armed guard outside every classroom is conducive to a positive learning environment. But let me just say in general I don’t think that the solution to safety in schools is putting [in] armed guard – because for it to be really effective in my view, from a law enforcement perspective, you’d have to have an armed guard outside every classroom.

The statement makes very little sense on its face. When you shine the light of reason on it, as Ann Althouse did, you discover that it is nonsense:

Not that NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said there should be an armed guard outside every classroom. That's an interpretation imposed by Christie for the purpose of rejecting the proposal. Christie conceded that he didn't "know the totality of the proposal," but he seemed to think that "from a law enforcement perspective," you’d have to have an armed guard outside every classroom since schools have so many doors. But isn't that like saying there's no point having police officers on the street unless there can be one on every corner? Wouldn't an armed guard somewhere in the school be able to rush to the scene of a disturbance anywhere in the school within a few seconds? That would be better than waiting for the police, wouldn't it? And consider the deterrent value. A school with an armed guard wouldn't seem like such an obvious soft target, and that might make all the difference to the sort of coward who would murder children. 

She might have mentioned that the police arrived at the Sandy Hook School twenty minutes after Lanza had opened fire.

I would add that if we follow Christie’s argument we would end up saying that there is no point to having armed air marshals on some flights because we don’t have one on every flight.

Christie continued:

I am not someone who believes that having multiple armed guards in every school is something that will enhance the learning environment, and that’s our first responsibility inside of school, is the learning environment.

You don’t want to make this an armed camp for kids. I don’t think that’s a positive example for children. We should be able to figure out some other ways to enhance safety it seems to me. I think that’s the easy way out.

Althouse responded:

Okay, what are the other ways? It's good to be open to other ways, but, ironically, Christie only perceives one way to implement the NRA proposal. He sees the school looking like an "armed camp" with a guard displaying a gun at every door. That's the easy way to dismiss the NRA proposal. Why not consider positive ways to bring armed security into the school — at least before rejecting the idea? Claiming you're resisting the "easy way" when you refuse to do that is pure sophistry.

Christie deserves to be called out for sophistry, and for sucking up to the media. He may look good for shooting down a straw proposal, but he has not advanced the public debate.

Althouse noted the same irrationality in a New York Times editorial.

Denouncing LaPierre’s Friday press conference, the Times said that he uttered a: “…mendacious, delusional, almost deranged rant.” It went on to describe him as “wild-eyed at times.”

Never say that the Times is not good at demonizing people.

Wanting to outdo the Christie vision of an armed guard at the door of every classroom, the Times says:

We cannot imagine trying to turn the principals and teachers who care for our children every day into an armed mob...

Althouse responded:

He proposed a mob? This is a failure (or pretended failure) of imagination. What if those who worked in schools were offered training in weapons and permission to carry in schools if they could qualify — entirely optional? Is that idea obviously mendacious, delusional, and almost deranged? The NYT is hot to exclude it as something any sane person would even begin to contemplate. They'd like an instant crazy image of teachers gone wild.

Of course, the award for emotionally overwrought rhetoric and general irrationality goes to Andrew Sullivan.

Last week Sullivan ranted:

Between the humiliating and chaotic collapse of Speaker Boehner's already ludicrously extreme Plan B and Wayne La Pierre's deranged proposal to put government agents in schools with guns, the Republican slide into total epistemic closure and political marginalization has now become a free-fall. This party, not to mince words, is unfit for government. There is no conservative party in the West - except for minor anti-immigrant neo-fascist ones in Europe - anywhere close to this level of far right extremism. And now the damage these fanatics can do is not just to their own country - was the debt ceiling debacle of 2011 not enough for them? - but to the entire world.

About which Althouse said:

If that kind of hysteria — sounding deranged in the condemnation of derangement — is what counts as unminced words these days, I'd like to put in an order for minced words. I'd like to aim a precise scoff at the phrase "government agents in schools." Agents! Sounds very scary, but the truth is, teachers are government agents.

Among other pieces of nonsense that is help up as an important fact is this: people who are against having armed guards in schools have noted that there was an armed guard on duty at Columbine  High School when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire.

Those who trot out this fact conclude that it demonstrates that armed guards do not deter violence.

Does one imagine that the absence of an armed guard would have made it more difficult for the Columbine killers? Does one think that we should have no police officers on the streets of Chicago because they have not prevented the city from becoming the murder capital of America? Does one imagine that we should model the nation’s gun control laws on the ones that exist in Chicago because they have worked so well there?

Republicans who are worrying about how to respond to the increasingly shrill and hysterical media denunciations of ideas that are not liberal dogma would do well to follow Althouse's example. 

Therefore, I nominate Ann Althouse for the Light of Reason Award.

Tax Rates and Tax Revenues

We live in an Age of Unreason. Public debate seems more and more to be  controlled by those who shout the loudest and those who evince the most irrational emotions.

Witness the mindless debate over raising taxes. The Obama administration has won the argument: one way or another, taxes on the rich will be raised, supposedly to support more government programs.

People who pay very little in taxes have been more than happy to sock it to the rich, the 1% or the 2%, to make them pay what is called their fair share.

Since the 1% pays close to 40% of the taxes, one wonders what would be a fairer share.

The debate and the pending tax rate increases have nothing to do with raising revenues. They are intended to punish the rich and to inscribe class warfare in the American political system.

For people who know nothing, they exert a powerful political influence.

Writing on the Reason site, Simon Richman explains that raising tax rates does not necessarily produce more tax revenue. More often than not, higher rates produce less revenue.

The reason: the rich are not cardboard figures, dramatic personae who roll over whenever they are told to give more to the government.

In Richman’s words:

Those who are singled out for tax increases are not stationary targets. The means of avoiding and evading the taxman are legion.

U.S. government agencies routinely issue estimates of how changes in the tax code will affect the flow of revenues to the treasury. President Obama says the tax changes he has been seeking will bring in $1.6 trillion over a decade. But such estimates assume taxpayers are something other than human beings who engage in purposive action. People like to keep the money they make—why shouldn't they?—and they typically avail themselves of every legal (and not-so-legal) strategy to do so. Change the tax environment by raising rates or adversely modifying the rules, and taxpayers, especially those in the upper echelons of earners, can be counted on to modify their conduct accordingly; there's no reason to think their wish to hold on to their money has diminished just because the tax code has changed.

Or, as Kurt Hauser wrote a few years ago:

When tax rates are raised, taxpayers are encouraged to shift, hide and underreport income. Taxpayers divert their effort from pro-growth productive investments to seeking tax shelters, tax havens and tax exempt investments. This behavior tends to dampen economic growth and job creation. Lower taxes increase the incentives to work, produce, save and invest, thereby encouraging capital formation and jobs. Taxpayers have less incentive to shelter and shift income.

Janet Daley argues that the tax increase on the rich is only the first volley. Since the rich do not have enough money to fund the entitlement state, if Obama wants to stick to the one principle he seems to know, he will have to increase tax rates on the middle class.

The amount of money that is required to fund government entitlement programmes is now so enormous that it could not be procured by even very large increases in taxation on the “rich”. Assuming that you could get all of the rich members of your population to stand still and be fleeced (rather than leaving the country, as Gérard Depardieu and a vast army of his French brethren are doing), there are simply not enough of them to provide the revenue that a universal, comprehensive benefits system requires. And if all the French rich did stay put, and submit to President Hollande’s quixotic 75 per cent income tax, they would soon be too impoverished to invest in the supply side of the economy, which would undermine any possibility of growth.

Barack Obama knows that a tax rise of those proportions in the US would be politically suicidal, so he proposes a much more modest increase – an income tax rate of around 40 per cent on the highest earners sounds very modest indeed to British ears. But that is precisely the problem. If a tax rise is modest enough to be politically acceptable to much of the electorate, it will not produce anything like enough to finance the universal American entitlement programmes, social security and Medicare, into a future with an ageing population. There is no way that “taxing the rich” – that irresistibly glib Left-wing solution to everything – can make present and projected levels of government spending affordable. That is why Britain and almost all the countries of the EU have redefined the word “rich” to mean those who are earning scarcely twice the average wage, and pulled more and more middle-income people into high tax bands. Not only are there vastly more of them but they are far more likely to stand still and be fleeced, because they do not have the mobility of the truly rich.

Welcome to the future.