Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Debate About Teachers' Unions

Brought to us by our friends at Xtranormal, here is a debate about teachers' unions. Via Ari Mendelson. As the saying goes... priceless!

Penelope Trunk: Say No to Divorce

Penelope Trunk is against divorce. She considers it a selfish and immature thing to do.

In a passionate and persuasive screed she denounces divorce. It’s bad for you; it’s bad for your children. Better to solve your problems than to get a divorce.

Sometimes the problems are insoluble. Mostly they can be solved. It takes time and work, but it is better than getting a divorce.

More often than not discussions of divorce hedge the moral issue. Divorce’s apologists pay lip service to the importance of preserving marriages and then start laying out conditions under which divorce is a good and necessary thing.

No one is going to deny that some marriages deserve to end. Still, in recent years the debate has centered on justifications and rationalizations for divorce. This has effectively encouraged divorce.

Trunk does a great job of framing the issues and presenting the case against divorce.

In so doing she outlines the duties and responsibilities that come with marriage. If you are thinking of divorce or are married you will do yourself a large favor by reading her piece.

Trunk is implying that for too many people divorce has become a developmental stage.

Happily enough, the divorce rate seems to be diminishing. Of course, the marriage rate is diminishing too.

Divorce is a major life trauma. If you do not get married you can be assured that you will never get divorced.

I was shocked to discover that the Charlton, OH shooter had been abandoned by his parents when they divorced. They went their separate ways and left him with his grandparents. Was he too much trouble? Had he gotten in the way of their pursuit of bliss?

We cannot know.

Still, as the media narrative is claiming that he became homicidal because he had been bullied someone should underscore the fact that he was abandoned by his divorcing parents. 

Trunk has done so and we ought all to be grateful.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Energy Policy

Perhaps you have seen this. Yesterday at the Republican Governors Association meeting Jindal was asked what the president could do to institute a better energy policy. If you delight in seeing a politician who has full command of policy analysis you will find it more than worth your time to spend five minutes listening to Jindal on energy policy.

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Energy from Republican Governors Association on Vimeo.

Overcoming the Hook-up Culture

If you, like me, can barely remember what it was like to be in college, you, like me, will find the dating experience of today’s college students to be too depressing to be true.

Apparently, it is true. So explains Patricia Vanderbilt in an excellent column about the problems with the hook-up culture on college campuses.

Vanderbilt is not the first to analyze this situation. There are excellent websites dedicated to the issue. Among them, my personal favorite: Hooking Up Smart.

Vanderbilt, however, offers a first-hand account that I find especially insightful.

First, she explains that when hooking-up is the norm, dating feels abnormal.

In her words:

When short-term flings are the expected mode of sexual interaction, we tend to regard other, more slow-paced forms of romance as abnormal. A girl asking a guy out? Weird -- not because of gendered social norms, but because going out on dates before hooking up is weird. If a student met someone he is attracted to at the dining hall, talked to her through lunch and thought that he might want to spend more time with her, he probably wouldn't ask for her number. More likely? He'd hope to catch sight of her at a frat party that coming weekend.

Second, she describes how a hook-up culture creates a situation where students come to believe that they are being forced to choose between two extremes: hooking up or nothing.

Vanderbilt writes:

Hook-up culture creates a strange binary: on the one hand, students are having casual sex. On the other hand, students are having no sex at all. With the exception of an occasional long-term relationship, there is virtually nothing in-between.

Obviously, this is a depressing state of affairs. Life exists in the “in-between.” If college students are trained to think in all-or-nothing terms or to function in a culture that forces them to choose between two unacceptable alternatives they are being put on the road to depression.

Third, Vanderbilt explains that the atmosphere promulgated in politically-correct classrooms contributes mightily to the tendency to hook-up.

We're also taught in class to analyze every word. As a result, we are terrified of sounding pretentious, ethnocentric, heteronormative, orientalist or anything else that is insensitive, not politically correct or just plain stupid. It's a wonder that we find anything to talk about at all.

The hook-up is an attractive option when we consider these anxieties. We don't have to prove our intelligence or our sense of humor. There's something safe about this anonymity (though at a school of 1,596, nothing is really anonymous).

Political correctness stifles speech. Who knew? For all the talk about free and open expression we have allowed university students to be terrorized into speechlessness by radical professors.

What can be done?

Try reading Lysistrata. Perhaps if all the girls on the Whitman campus went on strike and chose to withhold their favors for a time, dating would come back into vogue.

One does recognize that on a campus like Whitman, where women outnumber men by 3 to 2, the sex ratio makes women more desperate.

But, there is no rule that says they need to act on their desperation.

But, why not try something new, like a sex strike. The hook-up culture cannot exist without the active participation of a sufficient number of women.

On their own, men are not going to put a stop to it. Women of the campus should take responsibility for their own behavior and put an end to hooking up. It’s well within their power.

At the least, it’s worth a try.

The Four-Hour Cure

The good news is that a four-hour treatment will shield you from depression and burnout.

The bad news is that it’s four hours a week, not just four hours.

If you were thinking that it would only take four hours you really need this treatment.

Ironically, four hours a week used to be the standard for real psychoanalysis. In the old days you needed to lie on the couch for at least four hours a week. Otherwise you weren’t doing a real psychoanalysis.

At least, the analysts got the four-hour part right. They were wrong in prescribing four hours of mind-numbing and slothful inactivity.

Substitute four hours on the treadmill for four hours on the couch, a good habit for a bad one, and you will do yourself a world of good.

The research coming out of the University of Tel Aviv, thoroughly consistent with other studies, says that four hours of strenuous physical exercise will effectively keep depression and burnout at bay.

Strenuous means breaking a sweat.

The American Friends of Tel Aviv University  website reports on the findings:

Depression and burnout rates were clearly the highest among the group that did not participate in physical activity. The more physical activity that participants engaged in, the less likely they were to experience elevated depression and burnout levels during the next three years. The optimal amount of physical activity was a minimum of 150 minutes per week, where its benefits really started to take effect.

In those who engaged in 240 minutes of physical activity or more, the impact of burnout and depression was almost nonexistent. But even 150 minutes a week will have a highly positive impact, says Dr. Toker, helping people to deal with their workday, improving self-efficacy and self-esteem, and staving off the spiral of loss.

But, what happens when it feels like everything is coming apart, like our world is unraveling, that we are overwhelmed.  

Sometimes it takes more than exercise to deal with a major life crisis.

Happily, today’s Wall Street Journal shows how a Florida woman, Hannah Shapiro, facing a major life crisis, got her life back under control.

After ending an unhappy marriage and getting laid off twice, Hannah Shapiro last year found herself alone with two small children to support in Miami, far from her family in England. "I was so scared, I was paralyzed," she says. "My heart was racing. I would take the kids to school and get back into bed."

After a week like that, Ms. Shapiro, age 33, says she had a "light bulb" moment. "I thought, 'What the heck am I doing in bed? I can turn this around.' And I did." She put her writing skills to work and set up a communications consulting business. She still gets anxious at times but no longer feels she's on the edge of breaking down. "I just made myself snap out of it," she says.

Hannah Shapiro had a suck-it-up moment. She did what she had to do. It’s fair to say that she did not have another option. She was the sole support for two small children. Spending all day in bed was not an option.

Flirting with a major depressive episode, Shapiro roused herself from her bed because she had no other choice.

Obviously, she was not cured by a flash of insight, a therapeutic epiphany. Her problems were real, not psychogenetic.

Now, think about how much depression could be controlled, if you cured, by four hours of exercise a week and by resilience. If so, why do we have a major industry devoting itself to treating and curing depression? Why does it happen that when someone gets depressed or burned out, the first thing everyone says is: get a prescription or get some counseling?

Doesn’t it feel like we’re shifting responsibility? And doesn’t it feel like we, as a culture, are feeding depression by telling people that there is nothing that they themselves, as moral agents, can do to ameliorate their condition?

Why do we have armies of therapists insisting that an injection of empathy is the cure?

If you don’t do your four hours of exercise empathy might console you, but it will not compensate for your sloth.

Empathy did not cure Hannah Siegel. Her moral sense did. She acted as a responsible adult should act. Not to put too fine a point on it, she could not afford to be depressed.

Granted, not all depressions are the same. Some do require medication. Still, you have to wonder which side the therapy profession is really on.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Self-Denial, Self-Control and Abstinence

Everybody knows that denial is a bad thing. When someone says you are “in denial” he is saying that you are failing to face the truth.

So our culture would have you believe. Therapy culture began with Freud’s critique of repression, but nowadays the terms have changed and repression has morphed into denial.

Sometimes it seems that everyone agrees that denial is bad.

If it’s bad to deny the truth, just think of how bad it is to deny the truth of your own being.

According to the therapy culture the truth of your being is, alternately, your impulses, your instincts, your passions, appetites or your desires.

Denying your truth means not allowing your impulsive, instinctual truth to express itself. According to the gospel of expression denial does violence to our soul. The therapy culture tells us that it will make you sick. If it doesn’t give you a neurosis it will surely give you cancer.

Of course, giving your appetites free reign can make you a slave to your appetites. Letting it all hang out and being open and honest about your sexuality might make you into Anthony Weiner.

Until recently we were all told that denial was the eighth deadly sin. We were counseled to avoid it at all costs, lest it harm our mortal souls.

Upon such a foundation the therapy culture was built. If you believe that denial is a bad thing you inhabit that culture.

Recently, TimeMagazine cast a disparaging vote against the culture of expression. It found a virtue in self-denial.

Thanks to some recent research, it has discovered that, in moderation, it is good to exercise self-denial and self-control. It builds character.

It pointed out that denying ourselves a pleasure, whether it be for Lent or Yom Kippur, is good for both your soul and your character.

Of course, the self-denial that occurs in Lent or Yom Kippur is a form of penance. It is a sacrifice that involves self-punishment. It’s a way of overcoming guilt.

But, there’s more to self-denial than penance. When you swear off certain foods or pleasures you are also exercising self-control. By exercising self-control you are tempering the expression of your appetites. And you are showing yourself that they do not and will not dictate your behavior.

Self-denial is therefore a form of temperance. It involves the exercise of reason and of willpower. Moreover, it builds character.

I’m not sure why we needed scientific proof of the fact, but character works like a muscle. You do not strengthen it by learning what it is. You do not build it by trying to find out why you don’t have any. You strengthen and build character by using it.

Better yet, if you exercise self-control in one area of your life you are far more likely to exercise it in another. Once you learn to follow one set of rules you are more likely to be able to follow other rules.

If you learn to follow rules and participate in ritualized self-denial—during Lent or Yom Kippur—you will be more able to do so on the job or in your relationships.

Time Magazine reports:

Indeed, the best way to think of willpower is not as some shapeless behavioral trait but as a sort of psychic muscle, one that can atrophy or grow stronger depending on how it’s used. What’s more, neurologists and behavioral psychologists generally think of willpower as what’s known as “domain general,” which means that the more you practice it to control one behavior — say, overeating — the more it starts to apply itself to other parts of your life like exercising more or drinking less.

If the Time article is an indicator it appears that the era of self-indulgence is fading away. Not a minute too soon, I would say.

Self-control is not entirely the same thing as self-denial and it need not explicitly target appetite. It might also target the sin of sloth.

Take yoga or Tao Chi or pilates or another form of exercise that requires strict self-control Beyond their mental and physical benefits  these exercise regimens teach self-control. They place less emphasis on self-denial.

One might normally apply the same principle to children in a classroom. Sitting at a desk receiving instruction requires a high level of self-control and some self-denial.

Many forms of self-denial involve ritualized group activity. If you are not in it alone it is not just a struggle between you and your appetite.

If it is just you against your appetite the chances are good that you are going to lose. If you participate in a ritualized form of self-denial and self-control you are acting in harmony with other members of your group. Feeling like you belong will give you the strength to succeed.

If you do what the group requires, you will be affirming your membership in it. Actively affirming your identity as a social being confers positive psychological benefits and builds character.

Religion does involve belief, but there is more to it than what you believe.

True, it would be difficult to be a good Christian if you did not believe that Christ was the Son of God. And you would have a difficult time worshipping God if you did not believe that God existed.

A religion is a social tie. It involves membership in a congregation. Belonging to it obliges you to perform certain rituals. Religion is a primary moral agent that shows you how to temper the expression of your instincts, emotions, appetites, and desires.

As we think about religiously directed self-denial, we cannot help but notice that self-denial is another term for abstinence.

We have been told, over and over again, that abstinence education is bad for children. Serious researchers explain to us that teenagers do not need to be taught abstinence because it never works.

Teenagers will always have sex, so why not teach them how to have it the right way.

In far too many schools today sexual abstinence is considered a bad thing. It is considered a form of denial.

Usually, the risks of early sexual activity are overlooked in favor of full and free expression of sexual appetite. This is presented as a transcendent virtue, one that is so important that it supersedes all considerations of moral, physical, or emotional hygiene.

Religions do not just foster rituals that involve self-denial. They also regulate sexual behavior.

Religions do not regulate it out of existence, but they do have rules about which sex acts are desirable and which are undesirable, when and with whom such sex acts should be performed. Some religions also require that the priesthood remain abstinent.

You may or may not like the strictures that religion puts on sexual behavior. Clearly, the specifics are always evolving. Rather than debate one or the other rules we should understand that these rules involve tempering your sexual appetite, learning how to control it, and learning how not to be its slave.

Ask yourself whether it is more important for children to learn how to temper their burgeoning sexual desires or to learn how to express them?

Tempering sexual impulses does not preclude some forms of expression. But, the gospel of full expression does preclude abstinence.

That is how I would define one aspect of the moral conflict that is currently bedeviling our culture.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Scientific Truth About Climate Change

When the fog of emotion lifts the light of reason can shine through and allow us to see the facts.

It's now happening in the debate over climate change. Efforts to stiffly discussion are failing. Threats and intimidation against “skeptics” are finally proving futile.

A great intellectual con job is unraveling. At some point in the near future many people are going to look back in shame because they bought into climate change hysteria on the word of a “crazed sex poodle” named Al Gore.

The dogma of anthropogenic global warming was sold to the public as “settled science.” Led by real scientists pushing a political agenda the media made it seem that all the smart people believed in it while all the dumb people didn’t.

The propaganda campaign was so successful that governments started implementing policies that would protect us against a threat that wasn’t really a threat. An army of tree-hugging reactionaries had finally found a way to induce us to take steps toward repealing the Industrial Revolution.

Worse yet, global warming hysteria threatened our faith in our rational faculties. Many people were induced to abandon reason in favor of emotion and superstition. Thinking that they were engaged in the most advance scientific thinking they allowed themselves to be blinded by a fog of emotion. They closed their eyes and put their rational faculties to sleep.

Prophecies about the state of the climate a century from now were taken to be scientific facts.

As happens with many radical political ideas—you know which ones they are— liberal intellectuals are trying their damnedest to convince you to overcome reason in the name of emotion, to cease to examine the evidence for fear of hurting someone’s feelings, and to bow down to dogma lest you be banned from polite society.

Let’s allow Richard Lindzen to shed some light on the climate change hysteria. Via Instapundit.

MIT Professor Lindzen is a leading authority on atmospheric physics. The London Telegraph describes him as: “…one of the world's greatest atmospheric physicists: perhaps the greatest. What he doesn't know about the science behind climate change probably isn't worth knowing.”

Last week Lindzen gave a talk at the British House of Commons.

He opened by summarizing his argument:

Stated briefly, I will simply try to clarify what the debate over climate change is really about.  It most certainly is not about whether climate is changing: it always is.  It is not about whether CO2 is increasing: it clearly is.  It is not about whether the increase in CO2 , by itself, will lead to some warming: it should.  The debate is simply over the matter of how much warming the increase in CO2 can lead to, and the connection of such warming to the innumerable claimed catastrophes.  The evidence is that the increase in CO2 will lead to very little warming, and that the connection of this minimal warming (or even significant warming) to the purported catastrophes is also minimal.  The arguments on which the catastrophic claims are made are extremely weak – and commonly acknowledged as such. They are sometimes overtly dishonest.

But, what if you are not a climate scientist? How could you have known that the claims for global warming were hysterical and overwrought? How could you come to a judgment without relying on the authority of Al Gore?

Long time readers of this blog know that I and many others have debunked the so-called reasoning that has produced the global warming hysteria. For my part I have wanted to offer set of guidelines that would allow a more rational and objective appraisal of the evidence.

Lindzen was speaking to politicians so he offered the non-scientist his own guidelines:

Quite apart from the science itself, there are numerous reasons why an intelligent observer should be suspicious of the presentation of alarm.
1. The claim of ‘incontrovertibility.’  Science is never incontrovertible.
2. Arguing from ‘authority’ in lieu of scientific reasoning and data or even elementary logic.
3. Use of term ‘global warming’ without either definition or quantification.
4. Identification of complex phenomena with multiple causes with global warming and even as ‘proof’ of global warming.
5. Conflation of existence of climate change with anthropogenic climate change.

Lindzen then elaborated on the errors involved in the arguments for man-made climate change.

1. Virtually by definition, nothing in science is ‘incontrovertible’ – especially in a primitive and complex field as climate.  Incontrovertibility’ belongs to religion where it is referred to as dogma.
2. As noted, the value of ‘authority’ in a primitive and politicized field like climate is of dubious value – it is essential to deal with the science itself.  This may present less challenge to the layman than is commonly supposed. 

3. ‘Global Warming’ refers to an obscure statistical quantity, globally averaged temperature anomaly, the small residue of far larger and mostly uncorrelated local anomalies.  This quantity is highly uncertain, but may be on the order of 0.7C over the past 150 years.  This quantity is always varying at this level and there have been periods of both warming and cooling on virtually all time scales.  On the time scale of from 1 year to 100 years, there is no need for any externally specified forcing.  The climate system is never in equilibrium because, among other things, the ocean transports heat between the surface and the depths.  To be sure, however, there are other sources of internal variability as well.  Because the quantity we are speaking of is so small, and the error bars are so large, the quantity is easy to abuse in a variety of ways.

4. The claims that the earth has been warming, that there is a greenhouse effect, and that man’s activities have contributed to warming, are trivially true and essentially meaningless in terms of alarm. 

He concluded:

Given that this has become a quasi-religious issue, it is hard to tell.  However, my personal hope is that we will return to normative science, and try to understand how the climate actually behaves.   Our present approach of dealing with climate as completely specified by a single number, globally averaged surface temperature anomaly, that is forced by another single number, atmospheric CO2levels,  for example, clearly limits real understanding; so does the replacement of theory by model simulation.  In point of fact, there has been progress along these lines and none of it demonstrates a prominent role for CO2.  It has been possible to account for the cycle of ice ages simply with orbital variations (as was thought to be the case before global warming mania); tests of sensitivity independent of the assumption that warming is due to CO2 (a circular assumption) show sensitivities lower than models show; the resolution of the early faint sun paradox which could not be resolved by greenhouse gases, is readily resolved by clouds acting as negative feedbacks. 

Current intellectual practice tells us that anyone who does not accept the environmentalist dogma should be denounces as a "skeptic.” Lindzen offered a sharp rejoinder and a prediction:

Perhaps we should stop accepting the term, ‘skeptic.’  Skepticism implies doubts about a plausible proposition.  Current global warming alarm hardly represents a plausible proposition.  Twenty years of repetition and escalation of claims does not make it more plausible.  Quite the contrary, the failure to improve the case over 20 years makes the case even less plausible as does the evidence from climategate and other instances of overt cheating.

In the meantime, while I avoid making forecasts for tenths of a degree change in globally averaged temperature anomaly, I am quite willing to state that unprecedented climate catastrophes are not on the horizon though in several thousand years we may return to an ice age.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Case of the Forty-Year-Old Teenager

Desire or desperation… what’s the difference and how can you tell?

When someone says that he cannot live without you, he is not showing how much he wants you. He is desperate.

Our culture has taught us that good things come to the people who want them the most. Yet, it fails to distinguish between those who desire and those who are desperate.

After all, the man who desires a woman desires the woman. A man who is desperate to have a woman believes that she will cure his desperation.

It’s a fascinating psychological puzzle, made slightly less puzzling by a letter sent by a 52 year-old man to Emily Yoffe, aka Prudence.

The letter dates to 2007 but Yoffe reposted it on her Facebook page yesterday.

Here it is:

I'm 52 years old and divorced. My girlfriend is 40 years old and divorced. We are in love, and our relationship of nine months is serious. My issue is that when she dresses casually it is often too provocative: midriff exposed, low-cut top, bra-less. I find her clothes embarrassing at times; I wouldn't feel comfortable with my college-age daughter wearing these outfits. My girlfriend is very pretty, has not had children, and is thin, which she is clearly flaunting. She is a wonderful, loving person, and I don't know how to have the conversation without hurting her feelings. How do I start this conversation?

If the letter did not show you that this man is “whipped,” you will know it when you learn that he signed his letter: “Feeling prudish.”

Clearly, this man has a problem.

Allow me to say what everyone is thinking: if your significant other—masculine, feminine, or neutered— makes a habit of publicly embarrassing you, it is time to disembarrass yourself of said significant other.

If he, she or it does it once, the problem is correctable. If he, she or it keeps doing it, conversation is a waste of time.

A woman who willingly and willfully embarrasses you in public should not be part of your life. She is not a “wonderful, loving person.” She is abusive. You are desperate.

Involving yourself in an abusive relationship will undermine the respect you receive from others and will ultimately make you feel like you are lacking in human dignity.

At that point, you will be very easily manipulated.

If we want to be honest here, we must note that the woman is going out of her way to look available, but not to be someone’s girlfriend or wife.

She is dressing up like she is for sale. She is putting herself on the market. Maybe this “prudish” man has an unconscious wish to be a procurer but when you go out in public with a woman who looks like a hooker you look like her pimp.

More nicely, if you look like her "john" she is telling the world that the only thing you are really good for is money and that she would not be with if you didn’t have lots of it.

Worse yet, this man has a college aged daughter. He whines about how he would not want his daughter to dress as his girlfriend does, but still, what example is his girlfriend setting for his daughter and what message is he communicating to his daughter when he continues to be involved with a woman who dresses like a hooker?

I find it sad—make that, pathetic—that this man believes that the two of them are “in love.”

I assume that this man overdosed on therapy. He is feeling badly about her behavior so he believes that he needs to have a “conversation” with his girlfriend. But, he does not know how to broach the topic without hurting her feelings?

This letter goes from sad to sadder… it’s embarrassing to witness it.

A “conversation” about what, exactly? Would he want to chat about her disrespect for him, her overt hostility to him, or her appalling behavior?

If he had, at the beginning of the relationship,  stated that such behavior was unacceptable, she would have been given a choice: to dress as she wished or to have a relationship with him.

As is, he has allowed it to go on for so long that he has lost so much face that he can barely function. He thinks the relationship is "serious."

It is good, however, that he wrote to Emily Yoffe. Speaking for women Yoffe is having none of it.

Yoffe is a nicer person than I, so she would want the man to engage this conversation. She tells us what the girlfriend would reply: “She will probably huffily point out to you that she is a grown woman and free to dress however she likes…. Open with ‘I love you, you're gorgeous, and you're sexy,’ then tell her that sometimes you're uncomfortable with how revealing her casual outfits are. If she accuses you of being jealous of how other men look at her, explain that you think she'd be even sexier if she revealed less.”

As I say, Yoffe is a much nicer person than I am. Placating someone who has made a habit of embarrassing you in public is generally a bad idea.

Yoffe is correct when she says that the girlfriend will surely defend herself by saying that she is free to do as she pleases. She is a liberated woman, after all.

In truth, she is free to do exactly as she pleases. Those who come in contact with her are also free to think what they want of her.

Trust me, no adult woman will be impressed by such a performance.

The girlfriend will surely also say that she is expressing herself through her appearance and that if people find it enticing and alluring that is their problem. She feels good about herself. She feels good about the way she looks. She refuses to allow anyone to judge her.

Of course, this is blather.

The correct response is for him to say that while she may do exactly as she pleases, he may also do as he pleases, and it pleases him to allow her the full measure of her freedom… without him.

If he cannot bring himself to think this, that can only mean that the therapy culture has taught him that he must be man enough to allow his girlfriend to walk all over him. 

If he has not had an experience of therapy, perhaps he learned these values by watching Sex and the City. Where else do you find forty-year-old teenagers doing as they please, when they please, with whom they please… regardless of what anyone else thinks?

Women who behave this way are not showing how sensual they are or how desirable they are.  They might believe that they need to show everyone that they still have “it” or that they are modern-day Aphrodites. They are really showing the world that they are desperate.

Yoffe explains it more nicely than I would: “And surely, at age 40, she's already begun to wonder how long she can get away with dressing like this before she looks more desperate than desirable.”

Does this woman have anything to be desperate about? Is she trying to say something through her dress?

Let’s indulge a bit of speculation.

We have a forty-year-old childless woman who is dating a man who has a grown daughter. If they are going to have a conversation they should discuss whether or not she wishes to have a child and whether or not he wishes to be a father again.

If they have already had this conversation he might have said that he is done running after toddlers. And she, feeling desperate, might very well have stated that she does not want to have a child herself.

And yet… she is dressing so provocatively that she is clearly putting herself on the market. It may be the case that she has not really given up on the idea of having a child.

She may be pressuring her boyfriend, trying to make him jealous, so that he will change his mind without her having to impose her will on him.

If that is true then she is not out looking for hot sex. She is advertising her fertility, and is looking for procreative or generative sex.

Somehow or other, contemporary culture considers the connection between sex and reproduction to be a relic of a bygone era.

As a result some couples cannot even think about the issue. They act it out.

The Hydra Called Dodd-Frank

I don’t follow the financial services industry very closely here. I do not know enough to offer anything resembling an informed opinion.

This morning I was reading an extended analysis of the Hydra-headed horror that is the Dodd-Frank bill. It’s from The Economist. It was written by one of the very few people who have actually read the monstrosity. I link it for those who would like to be better informed.

It’s the kind of analysis that American newsmagazines have long since ceased to provide.

I am most amused by the author’s contention that the law has nothing to do with people, but is directed at bureaucrats. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The law that set up America’s banking system in 1864 ran to 29 pages; the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 went to 32 pages; the Banking Act that transformed American finance after the Wall Street Crash, commonly known as the Glass-Steagall act, spread out to 37 pages. Dodd-Frank is 848 pages long. Voracious Chinese officials, who pay close attention to regulatory developments elsewhere, have remarked that the mammoth law, let alone its appended rules, seems to have been fully read by no one outside Beijing (your correspondent is a tired-eyed exception to this rule). And the size is only the beginning. The scope and structure of Dodd-Frank are fundamentally different to those of its precursor laws, notes Jonathan Macey of Yale Law School: “Laws classically provide people with rules. Dodd-Frank is not directed at people. It is an outline directed at bureaucrats and it instructs them to make still more regulations and to create more bureaucracies.” Like the Hydra of Greek myth, Dodd-Frank can grow new heads as needed.

"A One-Sided Traffic in Outrage"

While the one of the leading Republican presidential candidates has cheerfully declared that his is a two-Cadillac family and while the other has helped embroil the nation in a debate about contraception, Newt Gingrich stepped up last night and addressed what is going on in Afghanistan.

Clearly, cogently, directly Gingrich showed Piers Morgan how to analyze a complex issue and articulate a policy. Compared with what has been going on in the Republican debates, and compared with the constant harping negativity of the Romney campaign, it is very refreshing indeed. As a devastating critique of the Obama administration it shines forth.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Obama's Latest Apology

You don’t have to believe Sarah Palin. You don’t have to believe Newt Gingrich. You don’t even have to believe me.

If you want to know whether President Obama was right or wrong to apologize for an inadvertent burning of some Qurans, you need but read the news from Afghanistan.

Then ask yourself, what does the Times mean by “despite?” And what does it mean by “protests?”

The Taliban is using the incident to foment holy war and insurrection; the Times sees “protests.” In place of "despite" how about "because." The Afghans see the American apology as a sign of weakness and thus use it as an occasion to assert their own special kind of false pride.

Under normal circumstances if you are angry with someone and he apologizes, your anger will dissipate.

Under abnormal circumstances, that is, when nations are at war, an apology is a sign of weakness, an intimation of defeat.

As we watch Muslim fury over the incident, we should be reminded that anyone who brings a Bible into Saudi Arabia will have it confiscated at the airport and destroyed.

No one finds anything defamatory and insulting about that. No one expects the Saudi authorities to apologize for their blatant disrespect for the religion of others.

If Afghans (and Saudis) wish to earn the respect of other people in the world they would do well to heed some advice in a book they universally abhor: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

If you cannot show respect for the beliefs and customs of other people don’t expect to receive any in return.

If you fail to respect others but demand respect by committing acts of terror, you will have lost the respect of others and your own dignity.

Should You Settle?

If you are living in a great cosmopolitan metropolis and you are looking to marry you will almost always feel that you will have to settle.

The question inspires a pun: does settling down always involve settling? One thing we know: it’s not “settled” science.

People who live in smaller communities have to choose among a small number of potential spouses. They will be more practical and more rational in their decision-making. They will seek out one who will make them the best spouse.

People who live in very large cities are necessarily surrounded by an excess of potential mates. Thus, they abandon the idea of choosing who would make the best spouse and refer primarily to their own feelings.

Instead of setting out to find a mate they set out to find true love.

It’s a bad way to choose a spouse.

You might recall that Lori Gottlieb famously raised the question of settling, first in a magazine article, then in a book called: Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

Gottlieb argued that women should not wait around for Mr. Perfect. Since social and biological imperatives make the search for true love with Mr. Perfect a losing game, she recommended that women settle for Mr. Good Enough.

It’s actually an old argument. It says that something is better than nothing. It also says that if you wait until you have everything you will most likely end up with nothing.

Gottlieb addressed young women. She was trying to help them to steel their souls against the feminist siren song that has been telling them to postpone marriage and childbearing in favor of career advancement. She was trying to clue them in on marital reality.

Feminism has promised women that once they develop a fully independent life, to the point that they no longer need a man, then they will find the truest love. When they are no longer dependent on a man a man will love them for who they really are.

It was a clever marketing ploy. Feminists were not going to recruit young women to their cause if they told them that being a feminist would make them less marriageable. So, they told young women that if they became a feminist they would find the truest of true of love; they would be loved for themselves alone.

To the adolescent mind it’s a powerfully alluring message.

Gottlieb was encouraging young women to resist the feminist message and to make thoughtful and more intelligent decisions about mating.

Unfortunately, the question has gotten confused. Allow me to clarify the issues.

At its core the question of settling assumes that marriage is the natural and normal expression of romantic love.

If that is true, then the absence of a mad passionate romantic love means that you are settling.

This distorts reality. Most women draw a clear distinction between loving and being in love. And sometimes they distinguish between loving, being in love, and lusting after someone.

All these feelings should be distinguished from desperation.

If a woman loves a man but is not in love with him does that mean that she is settling or that she is making a reasoned decision. If she loves him and he loves her, if each would make an excellent spouse, and neither is madly in love with the other, does that mean that they are settling? Or does that mean that there is more to their marriage than sentiment?

If you call it settling you are casting a spell on marriage. You will have distorted the meaning of the ritual, while at the same time teaching people an unproductive way to make life-altering decisions. You will also have inflated everyone’s expectation of what marriage should or should not do.

Somehow or other people have lost track of the fact that marriage is a social arrangement where compatibility and character ought to be crucial factors.

Social institutions have NOT been created to fulfill your spiritual longings or to provide a therapeutic benefit. They exist to allow you to feel like a contributing member of the community.

As it happens some women have the good sense to fall in love with men who would be appropriate mates. Others seem to believe that they can only feel true romantic love if they are attracted to someone who is unacceptable on multiple levels.

Now the waters have been muddied even more by Jessica Bennett’s suggestion that when men are ready to settle down they too settle. Moreover they settle more often than women do.

To me this feels like yet another afternoon at the gender-bender’s. It sounds like Bennett wants us to believe that men and women place equal importance on romantic love.

Reporting on research performed by Prof. Helen Fisher Bennett writes:

Rather than living up to the stereotype of commitment-phobic bachelors, modern men reported that they fell in love just as often as women, were just as likely to believe that marriage is “forever,” and scarcely bit when asked whether they'd prefer to “just date a lot of people.” But most shocking was how many of the single men wanted to settle down—and how willing they were to lower their standards to make that happen. A whopping 31 percent of adult men said they’d commit to a person they were not in love with—as long as as she had all the other attributes they were looking for in a mate—and 21 percent said they'd commit under those same circumstances to somebody they weren't sexually attracted to. The equivalent numbers for women were far lower.

Are these men settling?

Not at all. They are simply making decisions befitting the male mind.

True enough, our culture has conditioned them to believe in true love and to think that they fall in love all the time.

But, back in the old days, when marriages were arranged by men, love was NOT an important or deciding factor.

When women were allowed to choose their husbands freely true love became a major component the decision to marry.

In most civilizations women have little say in the marital arrangement. Western civilization, especially the Anglo-American branch, righted that wrong. But, now we have gone from a situation where love had no say in marriage to a situation where we want love to have all the say.

Unfortunately, when love has all the say reason has very little. When you silence reason you are going to make a bad decision.

Now Let Us Praise Bridge

You may or may not know it, but I like to play bridge. If you didn’t know it before it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Anyway, I have just learned that when Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was recently robbed at machete point in his Nevis vacation home he was playing bridge.

The effrontery….

This detail has now inspired a short article in Newsweek about all of the rich and famous people who play bridge.

The article is so intent on making bridge sound like a game for celebrities that it fails to point out that it’s great mental exercise. Research has also shown that it’s good for your immune system. Don’t ask me how or why.

In truth, the game seems to be have more appeal to those who are older—and, dare I say, wiser—but still it’s nice to see a formerly mainstream publication marketing bridge.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sarah Palin's Concept

Today President Obama apologized to the Afghan people because some American soldiers burned copies of the Quran.  Afghan president Karzai upped him one by demanding that the "guilty" parties be indicted and tried in Afghanistan. 

Everyone knows that there's something radically wrong with this picture. It feels like Obama is trying to appease mass hysteria.

It took Sarah Palin to find the right concept for the incident. Writing on her Facebook page Palin stated: "Obama apologizes for the inadvertent Koran burning this week; now the U. S. trained and protected Afghan Army can apologize for killing two of our soldiers yesterday."

A Woman's Profession

When does a profession become a woman’s profession? Does it matter?

Recently Christopher Orlet  was attending a conference at a medical school in the American Midwest. He could not help but notice the predominance of female medical students.

Everywhere one looked there were smartly dressed female students. Many were of Asian descent, naturally, but not all. Every so often I came across a young man skulking across campus, but the males were made all the more conspicuous by their scarcity. I made a point of peeking into a few of the auditorium-sized classrooms. Again, a sea of young women.

Orlet continues that his impression is at odds with the statistics. The statistics say that medical schools are divided in half: half of the students are male, half are female.

The ratio is not determined by merit. Admissions directors are making a special effort to give preferences to men, lest their classes become all female.  

This seems to imply that the men who want to go to medical school are less qualified.

Orlet writes: This particular school, like so many others, goes out of its way to attract male students in order to avoid the tipping point after which a college becomes known as a "girls" school, at which point even fewer males apply.

In truth, Orlet’s observation tells us that the tipping point has already been reached. He did not see an equal number of men and women students. He saw a group that was mostly women.

His experience tells us that medicine is becoming a woman’s profession. It is following a path laid down by education, psychotherapy and veterinary medicine.

But, what does it take for a profession to become a woman’s profession? I suspect that a profession that is half-and-half is effectively a woman's profession. I cannot recall the exact numbers, but I don't think that it has to do with whether or not a majority is female. The tipping point is probably closer to 25%.

At that point a profession ceases to become an appealing career prospect for men.

It takes time for the profession to be completely transformed, but medicine is fast becoming more like nursing.

What does it mean?

Of course, it means that the best and the brightest young men are no longer interested in becoming physicians. Perhaps the best and the brightest young women can make up the slack, but still, a profession that,by its composition, is pushing away young men is not going to maintain the same level of excellence.

It also means that gender is far more rigid than feminists think. Professions are typed by gender. A male dominant profession can remain male dominant if it contains some female practitioners. But, if there are too many women, it will lose its gender identity—if I may call it that—and men will start fleeing.

A profession where men predominate will have higher status and prestige than will one that is seen as a woman’s profession.

Also, a woman’s profession will likely have a lower wage scale or lower fees.

It appears that women are more willing to work for less.

Why should this be so? In the past, and perhaps still for some couples, a man wanted his salary to be sufficient to support a family. A woman was expected to use her salary to support herself alone. 

Thus, a woman would have been more contented to work for a salary that would have been adequate for a single person but would not have sufficed to raise children.

Today, of course, more women work because they want to or must help support their families. Nevertheless, many women see the greatest part of their salary going for child care.

Beyond that eventuality, men avoid women’s professions because women find men in such professions to be less desirable as mates.

Women tend to marry up. At the least, they want to marry up. They look for men with higher social status, higher prestige, and higher income.

Orlet tries to explain the scarcity of male medical students by saying that our feminist-laden culture has rendered today’s young women more ambitious than today’s young men.

And he seems to believe that the men who are not attending medical school are out joining gangs or becoming derelicts.

Surely, some of them are. They are more likely than women to do so.

And yet, all things considered, an ambitious young man with a keen sense of his own gender identity would be more likely to avoid a woman’s profession like medicine.

He would head to Wall Street or Silicon Valley or biotech or agriculture or mining or even the world of sports. He would avoid the caring and helping professions, first because they are female-identified, and second because they are more likely to be coming under government control.

A man who is looking to compete in an arena where he can show himself to his best advantage and be fairly rewarded for his efforts will naturally want to avoid government- controlled industries.

I do not want to pass over the fact that Orlet observes that many, though not all, of the medical students are, in his word, "naturally" Asian. Why, after all, is he not surprised to find that so many medical students are Asian women? And why am I not surprised either?

Medicine involves science, and science requires a sense of objective fact.

The culture warriors who have been militating for high self-esteem and lowered standards, who have insisted that there be no objective criteria to judge people, who have wanted children to learn soft, not hard, subjects… these feminists have had the most influence over what women study and what they learn.

Feminist culture does not promote reality testing or trial-and-error reasoning. It teaches high self-esteem that does not depend on objective accomplishment. To that it adds a large dollop of grievance mongering.

Feminists might sit around musing about how they want their daughters to grow up to be doctors, but their value system, being a-scientific, does not prepare them for the work.

Only Asian parents, the kinds of Tiger Moms that have been excoriated in the press, seem to be preparing their daughters to become physicians.

I suspect that the Asian community has suffered far less from feminism than have other American communities.

It seems also to be true that these Tiger Moms are not preparing their sons to go into medicine. 

Perhaps they understand the female tendency to marry up and realize that if their sons are involved in more male dominant professions they will have higher status, better pay, and a better chance of marrying well.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chris Christie Answers Warren Buffett

As one might have expected, Chris Christie has just the right answer for Warren Buffett.

The Bill Clinton Propaganda Machine

Were it not for her occasional factual inaccuracies Alessandra Stanley would be widely hailed as one of the best television critics around. 

Still, Stanley is a highly respected and intelligent critic. Given her perch at the New York Times she is also very influential. Like her or not she writes exceptionally well. Even if she gets an occasional fact wrong, she often has interesting things to say.

I do not know her politics, but I suspect that she was not an avid supporter of the Bush administration.

Three days ago, in a review of the two-part Clinton documentary that was just shown on PBS, Stanley outdid herself… in the good sense of the word. Link here.

For the record, I have not seen the documentary.

Stanley found the film to be “fun to watch,” but she took it to task for presenting a grossly distorted view of Bill Clinton and his place in American history. She did not say it in quite this way, but she was criticizing the film for being liberal propaganda.

By emphasizing the Lewinsky affair the film, Stanley said, failed to consider the role that Bill Clinton and his administration played in two great American crises: the 9/11 terrorist attack and the financial crisis of 2008.

In Stanley's opinion, the documentary whitewashed Clinton’s role in creating the conditions that led to those crises.

We all know, because we have been told ad nauseam, that the Bush administration bears fundamental responsibility for the 9/11 terror attacks and for the financial crisis of 2008.

Remember the 9/11 Commission. It was established to investigate the root causes of the attack on the World Trade Center. Democratic members seemed to understand how to make good use of the committee. Republican members did not.

Democrats were allowed to achieve their goal: to ensure that the public mind associated 9/11 with Bush and not with the Clinton administration.

Similarly, public discussion of the financial crisis tends to put the onus on the Bush administration. Most people believe that George Bush was responsible for the crisis. They see Bill Clinton as something of a national hero.

The real story of Bill Clinton, Stanley was suggesting, is how he managed so effectively to escape responsibility, not for Monica Lewinsky, but for his policy failures.

Apparently the PBS documentary presented Clinton’s story as one of sin and redemption. It pretended to expose Clinton’s faults, but by limiting them to sex, it missed the larger picture.

Stanley explained: “The film breathlessly chronicles every misstep and triumphant comeback of Mr. Clinton’s picaresque career in order to rue the damage his lifelong recklessness did to his reputation and his legacy. (Though actually, despite all that happened between 1992 and 2001, the former president is doing just fine.)”

Having gotten warmed up, Stanley moved on to raise the most salient issues about the Clinton presidency:

Yet two of the major cataclysms shadowing our times, the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2008 credit collapse, have roots that reach back to the Clinton administration.

The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which turned out to be a dress rehearsal for Sept. 11, isn’t included in the narrative. The rise of Osama Bin Laden and the failed missile strikes against Al Qaeda training camps in 1998 are noted in passing and presented almost as a pesky foreign policy crisis that briefly distracted Mr. Clinton from the more enduring Monica Lewinsky scandal.

And there is no mention whatsoever of the repeal of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, one of several fateful steps that the Clinton administration — in concert with Republicans — took in the name of deregulation. Some policies, like making home mortgages more accessible, helped fuel the economy, but they also heedlessly left Wall Street and other financial institutions free of adult supervision. With the help of the Bush administration that followed, those actions opened the way to derivatives trading that led to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and a domino line of multibillion-dollar bailouts to prevent the implosion of the world’s financial system.

Of course, Stanley saw that the Bush administration bears some responsibility, but still, she made clear that Bill Clinton set the stage and laid the foundation for those “cataclysms.”

Clinton is not the only one who escapes responsibility. Think about the role that Robert Rubin played in the financial crisis, as a leading figure in the Clinton administration and a top executive at Citigroup.

Stanley rightly took offense at the way Rubin was portrayed in the documentary.

Put it this way: Robert E. Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, is one of many Clinton administration alumni interviewed on camera, and while the PBS crew spoke to Mr. Rubin in 2010, he wasn’t asked about Glass-Steagall or any of the other decisions that he helped design and that after the 2008 credit debacle look so shortsighted. Mr. Rubin went on to become a top official at Citigroup and earned more than $100 million over 10 years — until Citigroup also teetered on the edge of self-destruction and had to be rescued with a $45 billion bailout.

Instead, Mr. Rubin is asked about the administration’s 1993 budget proposal to cut spending and raise taxes. “Twenty-two million new jobs were created,” Mr. Rubin says proudly. “Productivity went up. Incomes rose at all levels. And, for the first time in 30 years, we had a federal surplus.”

Just think, you read it in the New York Times. Of course, it didn’t make the op-ed page or the editorial page, but still….