Thursday, May 31, 2012

"The Freud Files"

As many of you know, I learned about Freud the hard way. That is, I learned about Freud from true-believing Freudians.

Thus, I was taught the hagiography, the story that psychoanalysts, their enablers, and their fellow travelers wanted to be told.

Those of us who are or were part of the Freudian movement shamelessly sold this story to the public.

I have long since taken my leave of Freudian mind control. If you have read some of the reaction to some of my recent posts about psychoanalysis and autism you know that true-believing Freudians are sorely upset about it.

When I was learning about Freud, no Freudian thought to question the great story that was Freudian psychoanalysis. We absorbed the theory, that is, the story. Facts could wait for later.

At the same time a new industry had sprung up to debunk the specious and spurious claims that Freud and his followers had been making.

Most Freudians tried to ignore the naysayers and critics. From a psychoanalytic perspective only those who have been psychoanalyzed really understood. The unanalyzed masses were incapable of grasping the higher Freudian truth.

It was like saying that only true-believers, the indoctrinated and the brainwashed had a right to an opinion about Freud.

Among the best critics of the Freudian enterprise has been University of Washington professor Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen.

Over the years Borch-Jacobsen has written a number of acclaimed books in which he has extensively documented the extent of the Freudian intellectual fraud.

It feels harsh to see it in those terms, but no other terms do it justice. Freud lied about his patients and he lied about his treatment successes. His followers lied about his life.

Freud was creating a supreme fiction, a hagiography about himself. It had more in common with scientology than with science.

However well I am now apprised of the great Freudian fraud it still comes as a shock to read Borch-Jacobsen’s latest book, The Freud Files, which he co-authored with Sonu Shamdasani.

Borch-Jacobsen shows that, from the beginning, Freud was making grandiose claims that his medical colleagues knew to be nonsense.

They knew that psychoanalysis was not producing clinical results. They knew that Freud’s case studies were more literature than science.

Somehow or other, it did not matter. Borch-Jacobsen poses exactly the right question. How did it happen that such a manifest fraud become so powerful and influential?

Was it the force of Freud’s personality, the brilliance of his writing, the strength of his conviction or the will of his followers that made Freud a household name?

How did ideas masquerading as science come to be accepted as science when most scientists knew that they were anything but?

How did it happen that Freud alone, of all the psychiatrists and psychologists who have worked in the mental health field created an international cult dedicated to propagating and disseminating his ideas?

In his book Borch-Jacobsen addresses these crucial issues. He does so clearly and concisely, with extensive documentation, and writes so well that the book is a joy to read.

Naturally, the few remaining members of the Freudian cult are very upset about the book, but then again, it does not take too much to upset them.

If you are tempted to think that Borch-Jacobsen is exaggerating or that the Freud bashers have taken leave of reality, I recommend that you read a less detailed but more first-hand expose of the Freudian myth factory in Peter Drucker’s chapter about Freud in his book, Adventures of a Bystander.

Drucker was born in Vienna. He lived in Vienna when Freud was practicing. But, when it comes to psychoanalysis he has no skin in the game.

If you read Drucker's account you will see that he concludes that Freud’s greatest genius was in creating a set of myths and persuading the world to take them as historical and even scientific facts.

Secrets To a Long Marriage

What is the secret to a long marriage?

Note, I did not say a happy marriage. Some happy marriages do not last and some long-lasting marriages are not very happy.

Anyone who is enthralled to the conventional wisdom will offer the conventionally correct answers: empathy, understanding, open and honest communications, and shared kinks.

We all assume that marriage is an expression of mutual affection and affinity. We believe that strengthening that affection and affinity will improve our marriages.

We also accept, unthinkingly, that what goes on in the privacy of our bedroom when our private parts are actively engaged determines how happy we will be and for how long.

The conventional wisdom has it that soul mates that have great sex are going to be happily married for a long time. We have been taught that social institutions are nothing more than outward expressions of private feelings and private actions.

That is why, when a marriage is in trouble, counselors tend to advise more good feelings and more open communication. See my Tuesday post on whether or not couples should share their kinks.

If the conventional wisdom is wrong, as I believe it is, then I recommend that we look at the problem differently.

Perhaps the secrets to a long and happy marriage does not involve how two people feel about each other but how they look to other people. Appearances count, much more than you think.

Yesterday, I read the story of a Nebraska couple that has been happily married for 64 years. Their names are Mel and Joey Schwanke.

Surely, the Schwankes have a certain level of expertise when it comes to what makes a marriage endure.

Apparently they are unfamiliar with the conventional wisdom, because they declare that the secret to the success of their marriage is: matching outfits.

That’s right. The therapy world wants to plumb the depths of both of your souls. Living in Fremont, Nebraska the Schwankes missed the lesson. They put together their own technique for improving their marriage: matching outfits.

Where therapy takes an inside/out approach the Schwankes have taken an outside/in approach.

Just in case you are tempted to think that I am peddling folk wisdom, I will mention in passing that their approach is more consonant with the views of the greatest twentieth century philosopher of psychology, Ludwig Wittgenstein. 

But, what do they mean by matching outfits? Mostly, they mean that his tie matches her dress. Sometimes, they mean wearing the same Hawaiianfloral print shirts.

Obviously this takes some effort. It even takes some work. Let’s say that it gives new meaning to the idea of working on your relationship.

We would never think of it in those terms, but still… it has worked well for them.

Admittedly, the Schwankes run the risk of looking like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, but they are making an important point, one that deserves respect. 

We all believe that we dress to express ourselves. We believe that our clothing choices, especially women’s fashion, must express something unique and individual and personal.

When we dress ourselves we think that we are making a statement, especially a statement about ourselves.

Some people even believe that they have a constitutional right to dress exactly as they please, and that no one has a constitutional right to judge them for it.

Anyway, we believe that we are all individuals trying to self-actualize. And we see marriage as a connection between two well actualized individuals. .

The Schwankes seem to have missed this lesson. If their outfits say anything they tell the world that they do not want to be seen as two unique, independent, autonomous individuals who just happen to have signed a contract with each other.

When they go out into the world, they define themselves as part to a couple, as belonging to a marital unit.

Even if you only consider it a thought experiment, don’t ask how two married people feel about each other—in truth, it’s none of your business—but ask how they present themselves in public.

When they are out together do they look like they are together or do they look like they are separated?

Ask the question about couples you know. Ask the question about your own marriage.

I am not saying that a couple needs to look like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I am not saying that his tie needs to match his dress.

Nevertheless, their outfits do need to harmonize and coordinate.

Grunge and preppy usually do not harmonize. They are disjointed and disconnected. If a woman looks elegantly cosmopolitan and her husband looks like he just jumped off the tractor they will look like they are unrelated.

If people perceive you as disconnected, they will treat you as though you are disconnected. If they perceive you as having nothing in common with each other, they will act as though you don’t.

There’s an important lesson here. If you feel one way and everyone sees you another way, eventually their way will win out.

We are so accustomed to thinking that how we feel defines who we are that we do not recognize that if we are married and we go out in public dressing as though we have nothing to do with each other this will affect the way people treat us, talk to us, and flirt with us.

If you feel that you are together and look like you are not, the behavior of other people will eventually undermine your feelings of togetherness.

If you want to know how likely it is that a marriage will endure ask yourself whether the two people conduct their lives in synchrony and in harmony or as two independent, autonomous individuals who go bump in the night.

Another way to improve your marriage is to create routines.

If you coordinate your outfits, why not coordinate your schedules. Why not develop routines.

By that I mean activities that you perform together on a daily, or near daily basis, together.

I do not mean weekly or monthly date nights. I do not mean an occasional family dinner. I do not mean quality time together.

All of the above are nice. But they are not the glue that holds a marriage together.

I am thinking of having a breakfast ritual or family dinner or an after-dinner walk that you both do together every day, without fail.

The conventional wisdom tells us that love is all we need and that love requires spontaneity and surprise.

It does not tell you that that kind of love usually lasts no more than six months.

If you want your marriage to endure I recommend that you practice the small rituals that constitute everyday routines. These affirm your commitment to each other, produce a sense of trust and security, and show that both of you can sacrifice a small part of your unique individuality in the interest of a higher truth… your marriage.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Polish Death Camps"

Yesterday, President Obama grievously offended our Polish allies by calling the Nazi death camps in occupied Poland… “Polish death camps.”

While some Poles did collaborate, the record of Polish resistance to the Nazis, coupled with Polish efforts to help its Jewish population was far, far better than that of one of our other allies.

Matthew Kaminski explains why the Poles are so offended by Obama’s gaffe. In the process he offers a comparison between Poland and France during Nazi occupation.

In his words:

Poles are, to say the least, prickly on this score. When their nation was stuck behind the Iron Curtain for four decades, they were in no position to defend themselves against charges of complicity in the mass murder of Jews. Yet unlike Vichy France, the Poles didn't collaborate with the Nazis in running the country, much less in the Holocaust. The Polish underground was the only organized group that tried to help Jews during the war, smuggling arms into the Warsaw Ghetto during the 1943 uprising. Christian Poles sheltered thousands of Jewish children and faced certain death if found by the Nazis.

Getting On the Road To Marriage

Last year Tracy McMillan wrote a column about why women can’t find husbands.

Feminists hated it. I loved it.

McMillan wanted women to take control of their love lives, to empower themselves and to find a pathway to the altar.

Naturally, feminists hated it. Naturally, I loved it.

Not only was McMillan right in all particulars, but her counsel offered a path to better character. Even women who just want to keep the husband they have would do well to take heed of McMillan’s precepts. So would women who have no interest in marriage at all.

This year, McMillan is back, with another column about why women cannot find husbands. In addition, she has written a new book on the topic: Why You Aren’t Married… Yet.

I haven’t read it … yet… because it was published yesterday, but I recommend it wholeheartedly.

If you read through some of the hundreds of comments that follow her article, you will discover that while many women are grateful for her advice, many others find that McMillan offends their ideological commitment to feminism.

It’s yet another reason to read the book.

McMillan’s first new precept tells you that you can’t find a husband because you have a major character flaw. She means that you do something in excess and hide it from everyone, even your mother.

In her words:

You overdrink. You overeat. You overspend. You under-earn. Whatever it is, there's (at least) one big thing in your life -- an attitude, a behavior, a vice -- that you absolutely, for sure, under-no-circumstances want to let go of. And the bad news is, that is the ONE THING you absolutely, for-sure, under-no-circumstances WILL NOT be able to keep. 

Aristotle could not have said it better. Self-indulgence is a vice. Self-discipline is a virtue. 

You might think that your self-indulgence is a sign of passion and that passion will attract men. It will not. 

If you develop more self-discipline and less incontinence you will quickly become more attractive and engaging.

Even if no one knows about your vice, it is still yours.

If you lack self-discipline in one area you will likely lack it in other, more obvious ways. You will never be able to keep it a secret so why not dispense with it now.

McMillan continues to her next point: You’re crazy. She means that one of the reasons you are not on the road to marriage is that you are living your life for the dramatic intensity.

In her words:

Crazy is where you LOVE INTENSITY. You want life to bring the exclamation points!!!!!!! Normal people, and relationships? Big, noisy YAWN. You think of yourself more like Angelina Jolie when she was with Billy Bob. Crazy is where you use your cell phone like an automatic weapon. You meet, have sex, fight and break up -- all by text message. Another sign you've got the crazies is if you are constantly telling long, involved stories in the break room about what happened this past weekend.

If you think that INTENSITY is a sign of authenticity, now is a good time to get over the idea.

Marriage is routinized, organized, and controlled. If you want to be marriageable you should learn how to get along, not how to dramatize. You should seek harmony, not drama, getting along, not fireworks.

McMillan’s next point is directed at women who have been suckered by the mania about gender-bending and have decided that they have a constitutionally protected right to play what has traditionally been considered the male role in a relationship.

Yes, I know, this principle was the basis for that much reviled book, The Rules. Still Rules girls are right and so is McMillan.

She describes the anti-Rules girl well:

…when it comes to relationships, you want to hunt them down and kill them. You call guys, you text guys, you ask guys out. You have sex like it's a temp job, hoping that if you rock a guy's world, you'll get hired full-time. And it's not working for you, because right now, you are in a long-term, committed relationship with EXACTLY NONE of those dudes.

It almost seems too obvious, but considering how much everyone hates the Rules, McMillan correctly feels a need to explain the point.

If a man is interested he will find a way to get in touch and he will find a way to spend time with you. If he doesn’t, he isn’t.

If you throw yourself at him he might take advantage of the opportunity to receive some free love. That does not mean that he likes you, wants you, or loves you.

McMillan explains:

But you might want to see what it's like to let the game come to you. Because there's one requirement above all others a guy needs to possess to be your man: he has to REALLY WANT to be in a relationship with you. (Duh!) Fortunately, there's a foolproof way to find out just how much of a crap a guy gives: he will 1) ask for your contact information, and 2) HE WILL USE IT RIGHT AWAY. (Do not try to tell yourself he waited two weeks to call text you because he probably had to visit his grandmother in Milwaukee! Guys bring their phones to Milwaukee.) Prequalifying a man like this will prevent the mortgage meltdown that is your love life. Because at the end of the day, you don't need to know if a guy wants to donate his sperm to you. (The answer will probably be Oh, hell yes.) You want to know if he's willing to send your egg to college. And if a guy doesn't feel like taking you on a date, THE ANSWER IS NO.

To me that’s pretty clear.

In her final point McMillan says that you are not married because you are godless, thus, becauset your life lacks a spiritual dimension.

Believing in something higher than yourself is an excellent antidote to narcissism and self-absorption.

Believing in a higher power will prevent you from being led around by your personal needs.

Believing in a higher power will allow you to put another person’s interests ahead of yours, and to accept it when that other person puts your needs ahead of his.

Believing in a higher power will make you more humble and more modest, less full of yourself.

Tracy McMillan has set out a series of moral principles and precepts that will serve you well even if you are not in the market for your fourth husband.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What's Wrong With Spain?

For some time now I have thought that the first question we should always ask ourselves is:  What am I good at?

That in place of questions like: What do I want out of life? What do I really, really want? What is my passion? What do I love to do? What is most meaningful?

Get great at what you are good at and you will have a better life than if you choose to follow your bliss.

This morning David Goldman posted a great article about what is wrong with Spain. In it he asks why Germany is thriving while Spain is sinking into penury.

Thankfully, he presented the comparison in terms that we can all understand.

He began with the simple observation that the Spaniards are simply not very good at anything. They lack the competitive spirit; they do not seek to be the best.

To put it a bit tendentiously, they are more interested in luxuriating than in working hard to excel.

In Goldman's words:

Why should Germany thrive while Spain implodes? That’s like asking why Facebook is worth a lot and Myspace is worth nothing. It’s a winner-take-all world. Countries that do well have to do a few things extremely well. Germany makes the world’s best machine tools, some of the best heavy engineering equipment, not to mention autos. German manufacturing dominates innumerable key niches. The Spanish don’t do anything well. They haven’t done anything well since the Spanish Empire outsourced its manufacturing to Flanders in the 16th century. Germany has a score of marquee manufacturing brands, as well as hundreds of lesser-known quality manufacturers, of which my favorite is Howaldtswerke, a ThyssenKrupp subsidiary that makes the Dolphin class submarines for Israel. Name one world-class Spanish manufacturing brand. There aren’t any.

It’s not only in manufacturing. With its 82 million people, Germany has a cumulative total of 1,618 Olympic medals. Spain has 50 million people, but only 115 medals. On a per capita basis, that’s one eighth as many. Spaniards don’t wake up in the morning with the desire to go out and be the best in the world at something. There are hundreds of first-rate Italian firms, most of them small (intentionally so, to keep under the tax radar), and there are plenty of world-class French products. Spain is a bust, which is why it almost certainly will go bankrupt. It lived off the world’s most egregious real estate bubble for the past ten years, and now that the bubble’s popped, there isn’t that much else to the Spanish economy. There are plenty of smart Spaniards, to be sure. They are the ones who will end up working for Germans. There are also plenty of smart Turks, and as Turkey lurches further into Islamism, many of the best Turkish engineers will bail out and work in Germany as well.

The entire article is well worth a read.

Talking Sex: Will It Fix a Sexless Marriage

The sexual revolution has come and stayed. We know more about sex, are more aware of sex, talk more about sex and are more exposed to sex than any group in the history of the human race.

Roughly speaking.

We affirm the joy of sex. We pick up sex tips by the handful every day. We are encouraged to think about sex obsessively. We openly discuss sexual activities that our grandparents never even imagined.

And yet, Elizabeth Bernstein reports, more and more of us are dissatisfied with our sex lives. Married couples, in particular, seem unhappy because the conjugal bed has become a sex-free zone. 

Observing this strange disjunction from the outside a rational person might suggest that there is some connection between the two.

We do not respect sex, so sex has returned the favor. It has left us, so to speak, high and dry.

We all want to be sexually liberated; we are terrified of looking like prudes; so we have brought sex out of the shadows, the better to let it frolic in the light of day.

We are proud of being open-minded. We are proud that we have so many mind-blowing orgasms. We all agree that nothing sexual should be forbidden or tabooed.

We might consider ourselves sophisticated to a fault, but we have ignored one of the basic lessons of psychology: more exposure means less sensitivity.

The more you see it; the more you think about it; the more you talk about it, the less you will want to have it.

Americans, especially married Americans, seem to have lost interest in sex.

It makes sense that Bernstein would ask sex therapists how to solve this problem. Then again, maybe we should rethink that one: sex therapists believe that solving sex problems begins with talking about sex. After all, they are in the business of talking about sex.

So they say, and Bernstein dutifully reports, that you can solve your sex problems by talking with your spouse about what really turns you on… given that he or she no longer does.

And you can also, these experts say, solve your sex problems by explaining to your spouse that your sex life has, for the past years, or maybe forever, been inadequate, unsatisfying, and boring.

What else would you expect them to recommend?

If, as I suspect, all this openness and honesty about sex is the problem more than the solution, then sex therapy is probably the wrong way to go.

After all, both of these messages are fundamentally demoralizing. And we ought to know, if we know anything, that a demoralized lover is not a lusty lover.

Demoralize your partner and you will quickly see his or her desire going the way of all flesh.

People who do not talk about these matters might have a good reason. If they do have a good reason, then the sex therapists are disrespecting their decision, even to the point of pathologizing it.

The sexual revolution made sex into a banality. It made it less sexy. Women’s liberation deprived women of their feminine mystique. The therapy culture declared war on shame and counseled full and open exposure.

The result: less sex. 

Sex was never intended to be discussed openly and honestly on the public square. There is a reason why all human beings, from the dawn of the species, have covered their genitalia.

Why do we not know this? Because we, as a culture, are so narcissistic that we refuse to respect tradition. We believe that we are going to blaze new trails of sexual glory. We end up re-inventing the wheel.

If the sex therapists are the problem, not the solution, what is the solution?

More than a decade ago Wendy Shalit wrote a book called: A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. Naturally, Shalit was widely excoriated for recommending that young women rediscover their feeling of modesty. And this was before young women proudly marched around town calling themselves sluts.

The thought police attacked Shalit. They accused her of being a Puritanical prude who was trying to kill everyone’s sex life and make everyone neurotic.

If Shalit was trying to encourage women to rediscover modesty, then apparently her success has been very limited.

There has been no return to modesty and therefore, if Bernstein’s correspondents are right, everyone’s sex life has gone down the drink.

If we ask why couples living in the most sexually liberated culture in the history of the world cannot talk openly about their sexual needs and desires and kinks, then perhaps they are trying to recover their sense of modesty. Perhaps they are trying to resensitize themselves to sexual stimuli by limiting their exposure to such stimuli. Maybe they are trying to bring some mystery back into the bedroom.

This is not the way most therapists see it. They believe, as an article of faith, that open and honest discussion solves all problems. And they see a failure to talk about your kinks and to tell your spouse that he/she is lousy in bed are signs of an underlying pathology.

Amazingly enough, Bernstein chooses to buttress the sex therapist’s arguments by offering up the case of Kai and Pamela Madsen.

Bernstein mentions, discreetly, that Pamela Madsen runs a blog on which she sometimes comments on female sexuality.

Already I was suspicious, so I looked up the blog: it’s called Being Shameless. 

I haven’t read through it, but you get the drift. Madsen is doubling down on vulgarity. She is arguing that the best way to improve your sex life is to dispense with your sense of shame.

Why not become a porn star? Do you think that that will make you more or less desirable?

It isn’t just that shamelessness desensitizes. An individual who exposes his sexuality in public will discover, in time, that his spouse finds him less attractive.

If you don’t believe me, ask your friendly neighborhood porn star.

Exposing your sex is a betrayal of intimacy. When you betray intimacy, it will depart for more welcoming regions.

To be fair, Madsen recommends various fetishes. She herself seems to like bondage fantasies. For some people getting a kink on will spice things up, up to a point.

When it comes to human sexuality, fetishes are what I would call a default mode. They are designed to compensate for waning sexual desire. Try them if you like, but they tend to be a stop-gap solution.

I would offer one more reason why sex has left American couples high and dry.

As a culture, we no longer believe in sex. Therefore sex no longer believes in us.

When I say that we no longer believe in sex I mean that we no longer respect the differences between the sexes. We no longer believe in sexually defined social roles.

We have become chronic gender benders. Anything a man can do a woman can do. So we think. We do not ask whether a woman doing what a man can do is thereby making herself attractive to a man. Could it be that she is making herself unattractive?

Far too many people blindly accept that men are superfluous excrescences obstructing a woman’s quest to attain complete personhood.

Better yet, women are being advised to have sex like men, because if there is no difference between men and women and if men like to fool around, then women should naturally be able to fool around too. If they do you do not have a right to judge them.

All that talk about modesty is really a conspiracy to prevent women from having orgasms.

The result is that young women do not respect themselves or their sexuality. If a young woman is first initiated into sexuality via socially sanctioned traumas: sexting, hooking up, and a series of meaningless impersonal relationships... this will likely color her attitude toward sex and her sense of herself as a sexual being.

And young men who are initiated into sex through an overexposure to pornography and to young women who have porn-star level sexual skills are not likely to respect women or to respect sexuality.

I don’t want to sound too much like a scold here. As a free individual you may do as you please. I am saying that there will very likely be a price to pay. 

Moreover, our gender bending culture has decided to try to deprive men of their traditional male roles of protector and provider.

Why would you expect that men who are disparaged and disrespected as providers are going to feel sufficiently manly to desire their wives?

Every other day, it seems, someone in the media is celebrating about how we Americans have succeeded in overcoming traditional male and female roles.

We are all gender-neutral beings. Better yet, we are gender-neutered beings.

The mystery is how a married couple, gender bent out of shape, feels any desire all.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Obama's "Fair Shot"

Last time it was hope and change. This time President Obama is offering America a “Fair Shot.”

I would agree that Obama’s presidency has not been giving America a Fair Shot. What I don't get is why anyone would think that he would do better in a second term.

To Niall Ferguson the message recalls Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, though, as he notes, New Deal is a more felicitous phrase than Fair Shot.

To Ferguson Obama’s criticism of private equity recalled Roosevelt’s attacks on Wall Street in 1932. Both presidents were trying to stigmatize those who work for profit, that is, those who work in the free enterprise private economy.

Both attacks are demagogic; both bespeak a Messiah complex.

Ferguson describes FDR’s first inaugural address:

Nearly 80 years have elapsed since Franklin Roosevelt savaged the “stubbornness” and “incompetence” of “the rulers of the [stock] exchange” and the “unscrupulous money changers” in his first inaugural address: “Stripped of the lure of profit ... they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers ... The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.”

For extra credit, which religious group seems to be targeted by the reference to the money changers in the temple?

For extra, extra credit, how well did members of this religious group around the world fare while Franklin Roosevelt was conducting American foreign policy, from 1932 to 1945?

Noting that Obama’s rhetoric is very weak when placed next to FDR’s. Ferguson quotes out current president:

My view of private equity is that it is set up to maximize profits…. And that’s not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers ... When you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private-equity firm, your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot. Your job is to think about those workers who got laid off ... to take into account everybody, not just some ... This is what this campaign is going to be about.

Actually, Obama made the same point in his State of the Union address this year:

We can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot and everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules.

One may ask who is going to decide what is fair and what is not. How do you determine when someone has been offered a fair shot? Do the outcomes decide it, or is there another standard?

One may also ask if it is fair that half the working population does not pay Federal taxes.

Obama is correct to say that private equity is not always good for communities or businesses or workers. But it is also true to say that it is not always bad. In fact, it is mostly good. Surely it is better than having government come in to run business.

These questions aside, Obama is contrasting his Fair Shot with the profit motive. He, like FDR, is saying that there is something wrong with the profit motive. He finds that the profit motive is morally inferior to some higher virtue, like fairness or justice.

It is almost too obvious to say it, but increased profits do not necessarily preclude fairness. 

When it comes to giving everyone a Fair Shot, increased profits provide increased revenues to the government. Increased revenues mean less government borrowing, and thus less money sucked out of potentially profitable investment. Increased profits also provide higher wages for workers. 

Now, explain why these liberal demagogues are opposed to the profit motive? And why do they insist on presenting themselves as Messiahs. Don’t they understand the separation of church and state? Don’t they understand that, besides throwing the money changers out of the temple, Jesus said: render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and render unto God that which is God’s.

Wasn’t he trying to say that a secular leader should not mistake himself for a religious leader and should not believe that an earthly economy runs according to the same principles as pertain in the Heavenly City?

Capitalism runs on the profit motive. People who do not worry about profit and loss work for the government. Lacking a profit motive they are, as a rule, less efficient than private sector workers. At the least, they do not have a monopoly on fairness or any other moral virtue.

Doubtless, Obama is modeling himself on FDR. Yet, Ferguson notes, FDR tried to throw the money changers in the temple in 1933, at the onset of his administration. Obama is doing it at the end of his first term.

During that term, Ferguson notes, Congress passed and the president signed an important piece of financial reform legislation, the Dodd-Frank bill.

Ferguson writes:

He and his party have already passed a massive piece of financial regulation, the 2,319-page Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank, for short). And guess what? It’s garbage. Despite requiring regulators to create 243 new rules, conduct 67 studies (to see if the rules are actually necessary), and issue 22 periodic reports, it somehow manages to miss the real causes of the crisis. A mass of ambiguous, contradictory complexity, its sole result will be to generate jobs for lawyers advising compliance departments.

We should mention that regulatory burdens, the kinds that the Obama administration loves and cherishes, choke business and diminish profits. Reducing the profits of banks means that there is less money to loan out to business, and thus less of a Fair Shot for aspiring businessmen and job seekers.

Ferguson adds that this is not the only way that Washington is leading the nation toward an economic contraction.

In his words:

… far from putting the nation on track for recovery, the president’s Fair Shot is sending us over a fiscal cliff. Last week the Congressional Budget Office issued a stark warning that if Washington allows the Bush tax cuts to expire and the preprogrammed spending cuts (code-named sequestration) to go ahead, the economy will contract by 1.3 percent in the first half of 2013.

At that point, no one will be getting a Fair Shot.

Since Obama took out after Mitt Romney’s experience in private equity, Ferguson suggests that we compare it with Barack Obama’s experience as a community organizer and lawyer.

Before Mitt Romney entered politics, he started up and successfully ran a private-equity shop. He turned money-losing companies around, partly by firing surplus employees. Before Barack Obama entered politics, he was a community organizer, then a lawyer. The firm where he worked in the 1990s specialized in civil-rights litigation and neighborhood economic development. Visit Chicago to see how well that went.

Obama has been running a government that provides opportunities for bureaucrats and labor union members and lawyers. Is anyone else getting a Fair Shot?

Ferguson answers:

The only jobs lawyers ever create are for other lawyers. And if you don’t believe me, you clearly haven’t read Dodd-Frank.

Amazingly, Niall Ferguson is one of the few people who has read all of the Dodd-Frank bill, which is more than can be said about most of the Congressmen who voted for it or the president who signed it.

The Declining Fortunes of Porn Stars

Somehow I missed this story when it was first reported a few years ago.

Among the media casualties of the internet revolution has been the pornography industry.

At a time when porn is ubiquitous, women who take it off and do the dirty on film have been finding it increasingly difficult to make a living.

It’s not even a paradox. The Los Angeles Times explained that porn stars cannot compete with the legions of women who are willing to do the same thing for free.

The free market is killing the porn business.

Yes, indeed.

The stigma about porn has been overcome. The girl next door, the woman down the block, is taking it off, letting herself be filmed in flagrante delicto, Women are taking it off, letting themselves be filmed, and posting it online... for the thrill of it all.

One assumes that they take some pride in showing off their skills, but the exercise gives new meaning to the idea of cheap thrills. It also gives new meaning to the idea of free love.

And you were wondering why these women have low self-esteem and why men have become  less willing to marry them.

The LA Times reported on the case of porn star Savannah Stern:

Savannah Stern is adjusting to that reality. She's shooting scenes for her own subscription website and planning a tour of exotic dance clubs to earn money from her name while she can. After that, she hopes to go to college for an interior design degree and work in her family's real estate development and contracting business.

"I wish I would have never gotten into it," Stern said of her career in porn. "When you get used to a certain lifestyle, it's really hard to cut back and realize this may not be forever."

Women of the world have severely damaged the porn business. They have done so at a price, to themselves. By baring it all and by learning to make love like porn stars they have also damaged themselves.

And they have diminished the reputation of women everywhere.

If doing your own porn video is part of a modern relationship, then a large number of women will have in their possession, or in the possession of former lovers, pornographic images of themselves. Naturally, this causes men to see women differently and to treat them differently. Breaking down the barrier between sex workers and other women harms all women.

Women have a constitutionally protected right to do what they are doing. But they should not fool themselves into thinking that destigmatizing porn has been cost free for them, and for women everywhere.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Facebook and the Revolution in Egypt

Everyone agrees that the Facebook IPO was a mess. Whether it was mismanaged by the underwriter or by the cool young executives who run the company, something went wrong.

At the least, Facebook has lost a lot of face.

To be fair, if Facebook stock is selling at $3000 two years from now no one will remember the selloff that followed the initial offering.

By now most pundits have been trying to explain what it all means. After they finish bemoaning, thinkers like to contextualize. They like to see events as harbingers, so they begin by putting the event in context.  

Many wise heads believe that the mania over the Facebook IPO is a distraction. Investors focused on Facebook because they did not want to look at the action of the rest of their stocks. This year, May was the cruelest month.

As the markets cascaded down everyone was pondering the deeper meaning of Facebook.

More savvy investors looked at the action and decided that the contagion would be limited to Europe. Others fell into a slothful complacency because they trusted that the Federal Reserve will, like the cavalry, soon ride to the rescue.

Given that Facebook has lost face, many pundits are speaking ill of it. Unjustly, in my view. Facebook is a new tool for marketers and advertisers. It’s almost like your own personalized newsmagazine, mixing national news with the latest from those nearest and dearest to you.

It seems to be drawing young people away from television, causing television ratings to crater.

If young people prefer Facebook to American Idol, then advertisers and marketers will follow them. If Facebook does not figure out how best to profit from its gargantuan membership base, then someone else will.

There is nothing wrong with this. It’s how business is done.

For all of the pundits who now disparage Facebook many others have naively believed that Facebook would change the world.

Facebook and Twitter do disseminate ideas around the world. They overcome government censors and allow dissidents to communicate and to organize. Because they contributed to the overthrow of governments, that does not mean that they instigated the change.

Those who believed it, our modern-day Candides, were camped out in Tahrir Square a year or so ago, proclaiming that the Revolution had arrived in Egypt on the backs of Facebook and Twitter.

How’s that all working out today?

Mark Steyn brings us up to date this morning. Flexing his rhetorical muscles, he writes:

Indeed, for a "social media revolution," the principal beneficiaries seem to be remarkably antisocial: liberated from the grip of Mubarak, the new Egypt is a land where the Israeli Embassy gets attacked and ransacked, Christians get killed and their churches burned to the ground, female reporters for the Western media are sexually assaulted in broad daylight, and for the rest of the gals a woman's place is in the clitoridectomy clinic. In the course of the election campaign, the Muslim Brotherhood has cast off the veil of modernity and moderation that so beguiled the U.S. State Department and the New York Times: Khairat el-Shater, the deputy leader, now says that "the Quran is our Constitution" and that Mubarak-era laws permitting, for example, women to seek divorce should be revised. As the TV cleric Safwat Hegazy told thousands of supporters at a Brotherhood rally in the Nile Delta, "We are seeing the dream of the Islamic Caliphate coming true."

The new ideas communicated by social media have not had quite as salutary effect as certain New York Times columnists had believed.

In Steyn’s words:

The question for the wider world is what do "social media" represent? If they supposedly embody the forces of progress and modernity, then they've just taken an electoral pounding from guys who haven't had a new idea since the seventh century.

I daresay, Steyn has a decidedly dismissive attitude toward Facebook. He sees it as yet another of a group of “amiable diversions for pampered Westerners….”

Perhaps I am less hip than Steyn, but didn’t people said the same thing about television sit-coms and docudramas? A free and open media will have both good and bad diversions. Some will be entertaining and some will be informative.

Of course, the mere existence of Facebook does not ensure the transition to modernity.Facebook and Twitter are not, Steyn correctly notes: “an irresistible force of modernity.”

Unless you still believe that the medium is the message, you will recognize that however much Facebook appears to be an “amiable diversion” it does make possible the communication of new ideas to a segment of the population that had never been exposed to them. It might not be a game changer, but it is surely a good thing.

There is no rule that says that great ideas have to be communicated through ponderous philosophical tomes or brilliant newspaper columns or even witty blog posts.

I do not see why Steyn feels that Facebook and Twitter cannot communicate great ideas.

Allow me to present his point of view:

Don't get me wrong; I like goofy pet photos. But can these gizmos do anything else? Yes, in theory. But, in practice, is a culture that "revolves on itself without repose" likely to be that effective at communicating real ideas to the wider world? Ideas on liberty, free speech, property rights, women's rights and all the other things conspicuous by their absence in the philosophies of Egypt's new political class. In the end, a revolution cannot be Tweeted. Whatever their defects, the unlovely forces running the new Egypt understand the difference between actually mutilating a young girl's genitals to deny her the possibility of sexual pleasure, and merely "following" your local clitoridectomist on his Twitter feed.

To enlarge the context, we need to mention that some 40% of the people of Egypt are illiterate. The limits of social media in Egypt are the limits of all print publications. If the general population does not know how to read, even the dead-tree media will be at a loss to promote change.

The illiterate citizenry of Egypt is frightened of modernity and threatened by modern ideas. The distance between where they are and where they should be seems too large to bridge. They cannot imagine themselves living differently. They see the grand successes of modernity and they want to run and hide.

It’s not a lack of knowledge that is holding back Egypt. It’s a visceral hatred of anything that would require them to change.

Next, Steyn criticizes the Bush administration’s “war on terror” for emphasizing symptoms and not values and ideas. He believes that America should be attacking Islamist ideology. Since we have not done so, it retains its dominance.

Steyn explains:

One of the basic defects of the Bush administration's designation of a "war on terror" was that it emphasized symptoms (bombs and bombers) over causes (the underlying ideology). In the war of ideas, the West has chosen not to compete, under the erroneous assumption that the ever more refined delivery systems for its sensual distractions are a Big Idea in and of themselves. They're not. If you know your Tocqueville, they sound awfully like his prediction of a world in which "an innumerable crowd of like and equal men ...revolve on themselves without repose," a phrase which nicely distills the unending busyness of our gaudy novelties.

These lines are slightly ambiguous. On the one hand Steyn is right; on the other, I am not sure what he means.

One might say that the Bush administration promoted a freedom agenda. It wanted to bring democracy and democratic institutions to Iraq and Afghanistan.

It doesn’t feel quite right to say that the Bush administration ignored the need to change local political cultures.

Naturally, we all want to win the war against bad ideas. We want to spread our superior ideas far and wide.

And yet, we also need to recognize that ideas are not like fairy dust. You cannot just spread them around and wait for them to magically modernize a reactionary culture.

It’s not sufficient for people to be exposed to new ideas. They need to practice those ideas in their everyday lives. Freedom is a great idea, but there is much more to practicing it than voting in an election.

Many people believe in freedom and democracy. Every few years they go out and spend a minute and a couple of minutes voting in  an election or two.

In and of itself, this activity does not produce modernity. We have seen this more times than we would care to remember.

Besides, some of the most modern economies do not have free elections and do not allow free expression.

Believing in freedom is not enough. People need to practice freedom on a daily basis. They need to develop the habit of making free choices and decisions. If they do, they will be less concerned about whether or not they have the right to vote.

How best to institute the practice of freedom? One might start with free market economic reforms.

The greatest free market reformer of the twentieth century was Deng Xiaoping. He instituted a free enterprise system without filling the airways with Western ideas.

In the Middle East free enterprise is more the exception than the rule.

If Arabs despise the single most prosperous and modern nation in the region, how can anyone expect that they will do anything but retain their reactionary mindset. 

Rather than compete against Israel, Arab peoples want to destroy Israel. They take Israeli success to be an offense against their faith.

Refusing to emulate the example set by Israel has put many of these nations on the road to economic ruin.

What can we Westerners do about this?

We can start by taking a step that Steyn would certainly want us to take. We should identify the nation that embodies our values in the region and we should support it unstintingly.

And we need to stop showing respect for nations and peoples that do not practice the values we hold dear.

Next, we need to overcome multiculturalism.

American and European leftists hold the Palestinian cause to be sacred. They insist that Israel, rather than being a beacon of modernity, is an oppressive colonial power.

They see Israel as the problem more than the solution.

If you were an Egyptian or a member of Hamas wouldn’t you conclude that you can gain the respect of the best and the brightest in America and Europe by retaining your reactionary ways. 

If the Arab Middle East feels that it is earning Western respect by being intransigent then it will continue on the same course. If it feels that it is losing respect, thus, losing face, it might be impelled to change.

By pretending that Egyptians are part of a worldwide Revolution against capitalism and free enterprise, left thinking people have filled Egyptians with false pride and encourage their bad habits.

If that is what Steyn is getting at, I am with him.