Saturday, November 30, 2013

Is Prayer Therapeutic?

Atheism is all the rage these days. In the name of science and reason atheists insist that there is no God. Many of them reject God on the grounds that His existence cannot be proven empirically. Of course, His existence cannot be disproved empirically either.

One is tempted to say that atheists really believe in Ungod. Or, should I say, Antigod.

But, that would not be entirely fair. Many atheists believe in Reason. Others believe in Nature. But, these are familiar figures. In the Greek pantheon the god of Reason is Apollo and the goddess of Nature is Demeter.

Atheists have overcome Judeo-Christianity in order to embrace something that suspiciously resembles a new pagan idolatry.

Will the progress never cease!

One suspects that many therapists share the atheistic faith in reason and nature. For the most part, they are men and women of science. In principle, if not in fact, they have produced dangerous methods and therapeutic techniques using empirical observation and testing.

And yet, many of their theories reduce to dramatic conflict, the kind that would be most at home on the stage. 

In a Platonic moment Freud declared that the ego and the id are engaged in a permanent struggle.  The ego tries to control instinct, but ultimately the instinct wins.

For Freudians life is a tragedy. Perhaps this means that if you live a Freudian life it will end badly.

If so, you can’t blame him when psychoanalysis does not cure you.

Freud was not entirely wrong. If you rely on what everyday people call willpower to control your appetites and to discipline your impulses, you are going to lose. Recent research has shown that, when faced with what the ancients wisely called temptation, your willpower is, strangely enough, powerless to resist for very long.

Powerless willpower… now that’s a new concept for your quiver.

What then? What’s a modern person to do?

The latest scientific research tells us, shockingly, that when willpower fails, and fails spectacularly, prayer can succeed.

TheDaily Mail reports on the findings:

People turn to prayer 'as a coping response to the high demands in life' and are rewarded with increased strength and ability to resist temptation, researchers said.

Previous findings have shown that when people try hard to control their emotions and thoughts, the risk of aggressive outbursts and binge drinking or eating rises.

But the latest study, by German psychologists at Saarland University and the University of Mannheim, found that praying helps people maintain self-control.

'A brief period of personal prayer buffered the self-control depletion effect', wrote the team, whose findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology online.

There’s a staggering irony here. Presumably, self-control involves your ability to control yourself. Yet, you gain more self-control by giving control to God than you do when you try to exercise it in your mind.  If you have faith that God can handle the problem, apparently this makes it much more likely that He will.

None of this should be news. It is the basis of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Everyone knows that this program is one of the very few that did not spring forth from the bowels of a university laboratory or from the sanctum sanctorum of a neurologist’s consulting room.

The 12 Steps were cobbled together by two uncredentialed drunks in Ohio.

Examine the steps, and you will see that they are saturated with references of God and faith. AA calls for a return to God, not a return to Freud.

1.      We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives have become unmanageable.
2.    Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3.    Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4.    Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5.     Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6.    Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7.     Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8.    Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9.    Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10.  Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
11.  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12.Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

As you see in Step 11, the purpose of prayer is to bring the alcoholic into closer contact with God.

Conscientious therapists have happily embraced many of these techniques, beginning with meditation—the scientifically correct version of prayer.

They often counsel meditation as a way to attain serenity and spiritual tranquility. Meditation, one might say, calms the nerves.

Yet, the 12 Steps are clearly about God, and that means, among other things that they are about humility. They teach that if you believe that your own willpower is sufficient to control your lust for alcohol, you will lose. They also teach that if you let your addiction take over your life, you will also lose.

And yet, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith declared that if you give yourself over to a higher power, it will sustain your discipline and self-control.

It’s not so easy to understand why. Perhaps when you stop trying to force yourself— to drink or not to drink—your body tends to find a more natural and normal condition.

If you ask what God has done for you lately, apparently He helps you to improve your capacity for self-control. It is fair to ask whether belief in the Ungod or the Antigod can do the same?

Scientific studies suggest that it cannot. For believers in the Ungod or the Antigod, the news is not good. The Daily Mail reports on a study that was done in Massachusetts on depressed patients. It found that those who believed in God responded better to treatment than did those who did not:

Belief in God may improve treatment for those suffering with depression, a study published earlier year found.

Faith in a higher being was found to significantly improve treatment for people suffering with a psychiatric illness, according to research carried out by McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Researchers followed 159 patients over the course of a year at the Behavioral Health Partial Hospital program to investigate the relationship between a patient's level of belief in God, expectations for treatment and actual treatment outcomes.

Each participant was asked to gauge their belief in God as well as their expectations for treatment outcome on a five-point scale.

Researchers found that patients with 'no' or only 'slight' belief in God were twice as likely not to respond to treatment than patients with higher levels of belief.

And more than 30 per cent of patients claiming no specific religious affiliation still saw the same benefits in treatment if their belief in God was rated as moderately or very high.

To be fair, these results do not prove that there is a God. They certainly do not prove that there is no God.

They do demonstrate that those who defy conventional dogma and cling to their belief in God are neither dupes nor dopes… as atheists would have it.

The results only measure the state of mind and mental resiliency of people who believe in God. One would like to know whether those who believe in God also belong to congregations and whether they attend religious services. One would also like to know what it means for them to believe in God… does it mean that they follow the moral teachings contained in the Bible or another religious text.

At the least, the tests tell us that refusing to believe in God is bad for your mental health. Do with that what you will.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Feminist War on Science

On its face the conclusion seems intuitively obvious and unobjectionable.

Things being what they are, today’s researchers needed to interview a group of college students to establish the facts of the matter.

The matter in question is not the sexual behavior of college students, but, more specifically their sexual regrets.

Lo and behold, they discovered that young women are more likely to regret having indulged in too many or the wrong kind of sexual experiences while young men are more likely to regret having missed out on sexual opportunities, for not having been sufficient assertive.

Amanda Hess, no fan of the study, summarizes its conclusions:

… female students were more likely to express regret over sexual actions they’d taken—like “losing their virginity” to the “wrong partner”—while male students were more likely to feel remorse over actions they did not take—like being “too shy to indicate sexual attraction to someone.”

That male and female sexual behaviors differ significantly is central to Darwinian psychology. One might even say that it is settled science.

The science says that men and women have significantly different reproductive potential—men can in their lifetime produce far more offspring than can women—that the direct consequences of conception are vastly different for the two sexes and that it's far easier for a man to walk away from a pregnancy, men and women are psychologically predisposed to live their sexuality differently.

In so doing they are acting rationally and making decisions based on the reality of their experience. As a rule, women are more selective and more cautious in choosing sexual partners while men are more reckless.

You probably did not need Darwin to tell you this and you probably do not need a degree in biology to understand it. As I say, it feels unobjectionable.

Human psychology and human behavior are, to some extent, hard wired into the organism. And it is likely that they have been part of the human makeup for quite some time now.

Evidently, feminists find this all to be offensive. They prefer ideology to science and rush out to attack any scientific study that contradicts their deeply held convictions. 

Many feminists also believe that their ideology and the concomitant indoctrination that so many people have undergone has radically altered human nature, to the point where the experience of their grandparents is not relevant to the way they live their life.

If this isn’t out-of-control narcissism, I don’t know what is.

Or better, in this ideologically driven view of humanity, people become silly putty, to be molded by their new masters into a form that corresponds to their ideas. 

Whatever the merits or demerits of specific policy prescriptions, the feminist enterprise is geared toward reducing, even obliterating the difference between the sexes.

For example, if women are allowed to have abortion on demand then it would be "almost" as easy for a woman to walk away from conception as it is for a man. And obviously, complete access to contraception would strike another blow against the patriarchy. All we need now is the invention of gestation devices to replace wombs. Then we can all pretend that men and women are the same.

Note well that the logic of evolutionary psychology has nothing to do with the way people lived during the Stone Age. It takes the realities of human biology as a constant. Stone Age behaviors might be relevant, if we knew very much about them, but so would the way human beings functioned in Biblical times, in ancient Rome, in primitive cultures and during the last century.

For her part, Hess is deeply offended that anyone would care compare today’s college students with hunter-gatherer, Stone Age cultures. And yet, without having to quiz a bunch of college students, a minimal amount of ratiocination tells us that where Stone Age women were expert at gathering, today’s woman is equally expert in a correlative activity: shopping.

Still and all, nothing about the argument thus far requires that we understand the psyche of the Cave Man or Woman. I underscore the point, and I present the case for evolutionary biology in terms of biological constants. this grounds the theory in reality, not in speculation about the way we all lived way back then.

These facts have not impressed the feministocracy. Hess reduces science to mythmaking and dismisses it:

So evo-psychologists look to “modern-day hunter-gatherers as proxies” for Stone Age psyches, then rely on a lot of guesswork to crudely construct the gender dynamics of our ancestral homes. Scientists in the field make projections about our deep ancestors that are colored by their understanding of contemporary human beings; then, they use those projections to “explain” why differences between modern men and women have been set in stone for millennia, and are unlikely to budge any time soon.

So what's the point in "proving" that among a tiny sample of college students, a handful of men and women feel a different sort of deep regret about sexual scenarios that we can vaguely compare to our fantasies about the gender roles of our prehistoric ancestors? A study of the sex lives of 200 college students can’t actually tell us anything about how our early ancestors shacked up, and vice versa. It could, however, speak to the masturbatory tendencies of some scientists.

But, since when did feminists believe that masturbation is a bad thing? When did masturbation become an insult? In the old days, feminists promoted masturbation as a way for women to liberate themselves from the tyranny of male sexuality. Besides, it’s foolproof contraception.

As for the notion that evolutionary psychology rests on a mythic reconstruction of the Stone Age psyche or even the Stone Age social organization, it is a nonsensical caricature, one that is specifically designed to erase the biology of gender difference.

One has slightly more sympathy for the complaint about the mind of the average American college student, but if the responses of those students are not as clearly defined as an evolutionary psychologist would expect, the reason might be that they have been indoctrinated by feminist ideology and conduct their lives accordingly.

When placed in an academic setting where they are answering question they are certainly cognizant of what the politically correct answers are.

The only real myth here is the myth of gender sameness, a myth for which there is no evidence whatever.

To be fair, many feminists believe that their ideology has transformed women and men so radically that they do not even resemble their grandparents. By this logic, we are a brand new species and we can make it up as we please.

Effectively, this anti-science intends to write human beings out of the natural world, to say nothing of the animal kingdom.

If human beings do not have fundamental and essential qualities in common with their ancestors, they will become silly putty in the hands of ideologues.

Now, Hess and other anti-scientists point out that the studies performed by evolutionary psychologists on college students are not as definitive as one would wish. The differences are not marginal, but they are not as radical as the Darwinian hypothesis would suggest.

But, what exactly does this prove? Does it show that human being is more plastic than the scientists imagined? Or does it show that young American college students, products of their culture as well as of their nature, have learned what is and is not the correct way to think about sexual regret.

If the reality of evolutionary psychology rested on a quiz given to some American college students, Hess might have a point. In truth, the quiz shows that human nature remains in tact, even after having been indoctrinated.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

For your edification, George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation, via Maggie's Farm.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Technorati Invade San Francisco

As Erica Goode and Claire Cain Miller tell the story in the New York Times it reads like a parable. Since it isn't the kind of parable that teaches a moral lesson, I will call it an  anti-parable, the kind that offers an amoral lesson.

Native San Franciscans are more than a little discommoded by the recent invasion by the technorati, the techno-elites. It may not be a plague of locusts but it does feel, to many San Franciscans, like the invasion of the apartment-snatchers.

In San Francisco, the new and wealthy technorati are pricing many people out of their homes.

It is fair to mention that the technorati are not the wealthiest of the wealthy tech billionaires. Most of those live in places like Atherton, in Silicon Valley. See Charlotte Allen’s article about that group.

No, the new techno-elites are generally younger. They do not have the resources of Sergei Brin or Sheryl Sandberg, but they have enough money to jack up apartment prices in San Francisco. To jack them up so high that many native San Franciscans find themselves priced out of their homes.

Once upon a time people on Wall Street accumulated vast fortunes. Obeying the basic principles of WASPdom, they did not flaunt their wealth. They hid it. Not wanting to make other people feel inferior they lived modestly and humbly.

Following the principle of noblesse oblige they felt it their duty to set a good moral example by practicing thrift, decorum, propriety, politeness and civility.  Brandishing one’s wealth before those who have less was considered to be in poor taste.

Apparently, the technorati missed the lesson. Now, their arrogant presumption has produced something of a backlash among San Franciscans. (See former Mayor Willie Brown’s exhortation that they outsource less and hire more locals.)

Witness the case of one Peter Shih, the central character in the Times story. Young Shih recently got himself in trouble. Allow the Times to recount what happened:

If there was a tipping point, a moment that crystallized the anger building here toward the so-called technorati for driving up housing prices and threatening the city’s bohemian identity, it came in response to a diatribe posted online in August by a young Internet entrepreneur.

The author, a start-up founder named Peter Shih, listed 10 things he hated about San Francisco. Homeless people, for example. And the “constantly PMSing” weather. And “girls who are obviously 4s and behave like they’re 9s.”

The word “sophomoric” comes to mind, but at a time when the tech elites are lording it over their neighbors, the remark struck an exposed nerve:

But a nerve had been struck. As the center of the technology industry has moved north from Silicon Valley to San Francisco and the largess from tech companies has flowed into the city — Twitter’s stock offering unleashed an estimated 1,600 new millionaires — income disparities have widened sharply, housing prices have soared and orange construction cranes dot the skyline. The tech workers have, rightly or wrongly, received the blame.

Resentment simmers, at the fleets of Google buses that ferry workers to the company’s headquarters in Mountain View and back; the code jockeys who crowd elite coffeehouses, heads buried in their laptops; and the sleek black Uber cars that whisk hipsters from bar to bar. Late last month, two tech millionaires opened the Battery, an invitation-only, $2,400-a-year club in an old factory in the financial district, cars lining up for valet parking.

Of course, this new elite does not possess sterling character. San Franciscans have noticed:

And they grumble about less tangible things: an insensitivity in interactions in stores and on the street, or a seeming disregard for neighborhood traditions. The annual Day of the Dead procession, meant to be solemn, has turned into a rowdy affair that many newcomers seem to view as a kind of Mexican Halloween.

Political leaders are divided. With the influx of new wealth comes added tax revenue. San Francisco and California are now flush with extra cash. They will need it to fund the programs that will care for the people who have been displaced.

Dare we mention but the modern technocrati are true blue Democrats. They feel for the less fortunate. They do not feel enough enough to hire them, but they do have the right feelings.

Now, led by Mark Zuckerberg they want comprehensive immigration reform. It isn’t about social justice and it isn’t really about putting millions of undocumented aliens on a path to citizenship.

They are willing to trade that minor inconvenience for a slew of new workers from South Asia. Truth be told, San Francisco's homeless and jobless are never going to be hired by Facebook or Google. Why else would all the billionaires be so willing to support those who offer new programs to help them out?

What happened to Peter Shih? He found religion, or a close facsimile:

For his part, Mr. Shih said the response to his post was a lesson he will not soon forget. He has augmented his work on Airbrite, the company he and a colleague started, with volunteering at homeless shelters.

“What I did was wrong,” he said. “I feel like the changes the tech scene has made to San Francisco have made people very angry, and I was caught in the cross-fire.”

There you have it: first, you take their homes. Next, you volunteer to do penance by spending time in a homeless shelter.

Is that what blue state politics is really all about?

I call it an anti-parable.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Is This the End of Illiberalism?

Franklin Foer, editor of the sensibly liberal The New Republic is not happy to see his world, or better his world view, crash and burn around him.

While President Obama’s flacks claim that all is well with Obamacare, Foer joins those of us who believe that its failure will undermine the basic premise of modern liberalism.

In Foer’s words:

Liberalism has spent the better part of the past century attempting to prove that it could competently and responsibly extend the state into new reaches of American life. With the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, the administration has badly injured that cause, confirming the worst slurs against the federal government. It has stifled bad news and fudged promises; it has failed to translate complex mechanisms of policy into plain English; it can’t even launch a damn website. What’s more, nobody responsible for the debacle has lost a job or suffered a demotion. Over time, the Affordable Care Act’s technical difficulties can be repaired. Reversing the initial impressions of government ineptitude won’t be so easy.

But, if liberalism wants to extend the power and the influence of the state, and not the freedom of individuals, why call it liberalism? Why believe that it has anything to do with liberty? Wouldn’t illiberalism be a better term?

Modern liberalism is a misnomer and a sleight-of-hand… kind of like Obamacare.

One might argue that liberals defend First Amendment freedoms, but, too often, they believe that its purpose is to relieve us of all social constraints. They want to control the economy, but they see the free market in ideas as a free-for-all.

Modern illiberalism was founded on this incoherent proposition.

And yet, where old school liberals defend everyone’s free speech, modern illiberalism cannot resist the temptation to take control over the free market in ideas. They are for freedom of expression but draw a line at what they call “hate speech.” Often that means, any opinion they disagree with.

Increasingly, today’s illiberalism is more about freedom from the market than about freedom to participate in the market.

It’s not just about the state. It’s really about allowing our betters, that is, government officials to make our decisions.

Today, academic experts in behavioral economics are leading the charge to enhance state power. Since they know what’s good for you and know what is good for the collective, they certainly know better than the unwashed masses who participate in the free market. They will protect you from the evils that are necessarily going to be released when too much freedom is given to the wrong people.

It’s not a new idea. It refers basically to what Plato called the guardian class of philosopher-kings. Foer credits Woodrow Wilson with the modern version of the idea.

Wilson believed that society should hand regulatory power to university professors because they were smarter than everyone else. But he also believed that since they did not obey the law of profit they were also more virtuous than everyone else. Thus, they were eminently qualified to bring justice to the world and save people from the excesses of capitalism.

Illiberal liberalism believes that the state is morally obligated to control the free market and free enterprise… because free people making free decisions in the marketplace can only become vulnerable to predatory capitalists.

Obviously, Foer is seriously unhappy to see that a Democratic administration, unhindered by Republican interference, resting on the greatness of liberal politicians and enlightened functionaries cannot even get a website to work.

Foer describes Wilson’s theory:

Wilson imagined technical experts, the new breed of social scientists emerging from the universities, who could help steer the economy. He would come to see these experts as a bulwark against the predations of corporations and protectors of the “man on the make.”

Wilson wanted to protect the people from freedom. He wanted to protect them from the consequences of their own decisions and to release them  from responsibility for their own actions.

Woodrow Wilson notwithstanding, the American president is not charged with steering the economy. He is charged with steering the ship of state.

Take the example of President Wilson. During his tenure in office Wilson was the only world leader who might have stopped the senseless slaughter of World War I before it got completely out of control. True enough, Wilson did manage to enter the war in 1918. Within a matter of months the fighting was over.

Had he intervened in early 1915, when he famously declared himself “too proud to fight” the course of history would have been changed radically, for the better.

As George Kennan pointed out, World War I was the defining catastrophe of the twentieth century.

Of course, we are not indulging in hindsight here. When war broke out in 1914, retired president Theodore Roosevelt—who apparently did not get the memo about retired presidents not speaking ill of their successors—wrote newspaper columns, week after week, until the end of the war, in which he pointed out the catastrophic incompetence of the Wilson foreign policy.

Faced with a major international crisis, the man who is now touted as the father of modern liberalism stood by and did nothing. As an academic thinker, Wilson had no experience with the marketplace or the battlefield or even with diplomacy.

So much for the superior wisdom of academic thinkers, especially when compared to that of what Theodore Roosevelt called “the man in the arena.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mao Zedong's Great Chinese Famine

It was surely one of the great crimes of the last century. It was also one of the greatest crimes in human history.

No one knows about it. No one much cares.

In part, because it doesn’t look like a crime. It wasn’t the kind of genocide where people are lined up and shot. It wasn’t the kind of genocide where people were thrown into gas chambers. In many ways it was more a failed policy than a criminal act.

China’s Great Famine was a deadly mistake. In the end it killed far more people than even the Holocaust.

When a leader sees that his policy is failing, he ought rightly to change the policy. If he continues on a deadly road, blaming others for his failure, his dereliction becomes criminal.

Mao Zedong did not wake up one morning and decide that he wanted to produce a famine that ended up starving some 45,000,000 people. Not at all. To his mind, he had the best of intentions. He wanted the best for his people. And yet, he brought them a horror that was so unspeakable that we rarely discuss it, even today.

He was just trying to bring Communism and industry to China, especially to China’s enormous peasant class. He was trying to impose his ideology on a recalcitrant population, to drag them into a modern Worker’s Paradise.

In 1958 Mao instituted a policy called the Great Leap Forward. In part he wanted to industrialize the nation rapidly. And he also wanted to collectivize agriculture. By force, of course. Mao’s policy abolished private farms and reorganized it all into agricultural collectives.

Wikipedia explained the policy clearly:

The central idea behind the Great Leap was that rapid development of China's agricultural and industrial sectors should take place in parallel. The hope was to industrialize by making use of the massive supply of cheap labour and avoid having to import heavy machinery. The government also sought to avoid both social stratification and technical bottlenecks involved in the Soviet model of development, but sought political rather than technical solutions to do so. Distrusting technical experts,[21] Mao and the party sought to replicate the strategies used in its 1930s regrouping in Yan'an following the Long March: "mass mobilization, social leveling, attacks on bureaucratism, [and] disdain for material obstacles."[22] Mao advocated that a further round of collectivization modeled on the USSR's "Third Period" was necessary in the countryside where the existing collectives would be merged into huge People's Communes.

And Mao also commanded peasants to neglect their land in order to produce backyard steel furnaces. It looks like a grim caricature of the Industrial Revolution:

Huge efforts on the part of peasants and other workers were made to produce steel out of scrap metal. To fuel the furnaces the local environment was denuded of trees and wood taken from the doors and furniture of peasants' houses. Pots, pans, and other metal artifacts were requisitioned to supply the "scrap" for the furnaces so that the wildly optimistic production targets could be met. Many of the male agricultural workers were diverted from the harvest to help the iron production as were the workers at many factories, schools and even hospitals. 

Anyone who resisted or who disagreed was subjected to political re-education, and worse. The more the policy looked like a failure, the more the peasants were subjected to indoctrination and brainwashing.

The result was famine:

Despite the harmful agricultural innovations, the weather in 1958 was very favorable and the harvest promised to be good. Unfortunately, the amount of labour diverted to steel production and construction projects meant that much of the harvest was left to rot uncollected in some areas. This problem was exacerbated by a devastating locust swarm, which was caused when their natural predators were killed as part of the Great Sparrow Campaign. Although actual harvests were reduced, local officials, under tremendous pressure from central authorities to report record harvests in response to the innovations, competed with each other to announce increasingly exaggerated results. These were used as a basis for determining the amount of grain to be taken by the State to supply the towns and cities, and to export. This left barely enough for the peasants, and in some areas, starvation set in.

In a culture where everything is propaganda, real information about the situation on the ground was ignored by officials who feared for their careers.

Mao also felt a dire necessity to maintain the illusion that all was well in China. So, he  increased grain exports and refused offers of foreign aid. To send food out of the country when your people are starving certainly makes it genocidal:

During 1958–1960 China continued to be a substantial net exporter of grain, despite the widespread famine experienced in the countryside, as Mao sought to maintain face and convince the outside world of the success of his plans. Foreign aid was refused. When the Japanese foreign minister told his Chinese counterpart Chen Yi of an offer of 100,000 tonnes of wheat to be shipped out of public view, he was rebuffed. 

In the end Mao lost control of the government. Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping took over in the early 1960s and set to work reversing Mao’s collectivist policies.

Since they achieved some measure of success, Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966 in order to restore the purity of Communist thought. Liu and Deng were denounced as the number one and number two capitalist roaders. Liu was murdered and Deng, protected by powerful members of the military, barely escaped.

Mao continued to believe that his failed policy was not really a failed policy. He saw no fault in his thought or in Communist ideology. It lay in the way Chinese people had been acculturated. Just a little more reeducation and all would be well.

Mao’s Cultural Revolution was the most important effort to change a nation’s culture in human history. One ought to recognize that sophisticated Western student intellectuals at the time were enthralled by the vision of China in the grip of a Cultural Revolution.

The event was massively destructive in its own right.

Wikipedia described it well:

Millions of people were persecuted in the violent factional struggles that ensued across the country, and suffered a wide range of abuses including public humiliation, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, sustained harassment, and seizure of property. A large segment of the population was forcibly displaced, most notably the transfer of urban youth to rural regions during the Down to the Countryside Movement. Historical relics and artifacts were destroyed. Cultural and religious sites were ransacked.

The Cultural Revolution continued, though in less virulent form, until Mao’s death in 1976. In that year, Deng Xiaoping took charge and had the Gang of Four arrested. Led by Mao’s wife, these four were the last remnants of the leadership of the Cultural Revolution.

Deng picked up from where he left off in the 1960s, beginning by privatizing Chinese agriculture. We often grant Margaret Thatcher the credit for having introduced privatization into the British economy when she became prime minister in 1979. And yet, the first and perhaps the most important gesture in this direction was instituted by the man who Mao called, perhaps with reason, the number two capitalist roader.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Barack Obama needed a win. He needed something that resembled an accomplishment. His sinking presidency could not withstand very many more news reports about how he lied to the American people. The Democratic Party  could not have survived too many more stories about hospitals and physicians refusing to treat citizens who had signed up for their health insurance via the Obamacare exchange.

So, President Obama proudly stepped forth late last night to tout another signature accomplishment: a negotiated deal with Iran. Many people believe that our president has replaced Obamacare with Obamappeasement.

Was the event so momentous that it required a Saturday night presidential address? Surely, it was not.

The man who refused to commemorate the Gettysburg address with his presence decided that a half-baked deal with Iran’s mullahs had made so much history that he needed to step forth to claim credit.

In the world of Obama it doesn’t have to be a real accomplishment. It must merely look like one.

Obviously, those who are terrified at the possibility of confronting Iran are thrilled. Those whose anti-war faith will accept anything that resembles diplomacy feel vindicated. Everyone else has denounced the deal as a sell-out, another Munich, a public acceptance of a nuclear Iran. So much for the axis of evil.

One suspects that, from Obama’s perspective, what matters is that Iran not develop a nuclear weapon while Barack Obama is in office. If it happens in 2017 he will blame it on the Bush administration or another convenient scapegoat.

John Bolton explains the deal, while underscoring its deficiencies:

This interim agreement is badly skewed from America’s perspective.  Iran retains its full capacity to enrich uranium, thus abandoning a decade of Western insistence and Security Council resolutions that Iran stop all uranium-enrichment activities. Allowing Iran to continue enriching, and despite modest (indeed, utterly inadequate) measures to prevent it from increasing its enriched-uranium stockpiles and its overall nuclear infrastructure, lays the predicate for Iran fully enjoying its “right” to enrichment in any “final” agreement.  Indeed, the interim agreement itself acknowledges that a “comprehensive solution” will “involve a mutually defined enrichment program.”  

Bolton is not a friend of the Obama administration. He is also an expert in this field.

Among the flaw in the agreement, he sees these:

First, it [Iran] bought time to continue all aspects of its nuclear-weapons program the agreement does not cover (centrifuge manufacturing and testing; weaponization research and fabrication; and its entire ballistic missile program). Indeed, given that the interim agreement contemplates periodic renewals, Iran may have gained all of the time it needs to achieve weaponization not of simply a handful of nuclear weapons, but of dozens or more….

Second, Iran has gained legitimacy. This central banker of international terrorism and flagrant nuclear proliferator is once again part of the international club.  Much as the Syria chemical-weapons agreement buttressed Bashar al-Assad, the mullahs have escaped the political deep freezer….

In return for freezing, not dismantling their program, the mullahs will receive billions of dollars in sanction relief. As might be expected, the administration will release the money by executive order. It will not seek Congressional approval.

American Congressional leaders, from both parties, are deeply skeptical. Bridget Johnson reported:

Analysts and lawmakers quickly jumped on the deal, noting that any pact that does not halt the construction of centrifuges is basically worthless.

“Unless the agreement requires dismantling of the Iranian centrifuges, we really haven’t gained anything,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Sen. Mark Kirk, who has led tough sanctions legislation in the upper chamber along with Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), said “this deal appears to provide the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with billions of dollars in exchange for cosmetic concessions that neither fully freeze nor significantly roll back its nuclear infrastructure.”

“Furthermore, the deal ignores Iran’s continued sponsorship of terrorism, its testing of long-range ballistic missiles and its abuse of human rights,” Kirk added.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said there is no “freeze” on Iran’s nuclear program and noted it doesn’t even require the Islamic Republic to abide by UN Security Council resolutions.

“This agreement shows other rogue states that wish to go nuclear that you can obfuscate, cheat, and lie for a decade, and eventually the United States will tire and drop key demands,” Rubio said. “Iran will likely use this agreement – and any that follows that does not require any real concessions – to obtain a nuclear weapons capability.”

Skilled diplomat that he is, John Kerry has also managed to alienate our Israeli allies. And not just the Israelis.

Tom Friedman reported that the Obama administration had damaged relationships with countries throughout the Middle East:

Now, just the thought of big brother, Iran, being reintegrated and having its own direct relationship with the United States has set all of America’s Sunni Arab allies — Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan — on edge, especially at a time when Iran is malignly meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain.

Under normal circumstances diplomacy is about managing relationships. For the Obama administration, it seems to be about theatrics.

As Friedman and bolton point out, Iran is a malignant influence on the region. Nothing about its sponsorship of terrorism was addressed in the agreement. Apparently, it was not sufficiently consequential.

The Times reported the sharp Israeli reaction:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel called the agreement “a historic mistake,” saying in remarks that were broadcast from the start of his weekly cabinet meeting, “Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world.”

Mr. Netanyahu excoriated the world’s leading powers for agreeing to Iranian uranium enrichment for the first time and for relenting on sanctions “in exchange for cosmetic Iranian concessions that can be canceled in weeks.”

“Israel is not bound by this agreement,” he said, “As prime minister of Israel, I would like to make it clear: Israel will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability.”

If you alienate your allies by doing the bidding of their (and your) enemies, your diplomacy has been a failure.

Friedman generally likes the deal, but he believes that the real endgame is regime change in Iran.

If so, how can lifting sanctions and welcoming the Islamic Republic of Iran back into the world of international diplomacy advance that goal? Keep in mind, the same Obama administration had an opportunity to stand up for democracy in Iran during the Green Revolution of 2009. It was not even moved to offer a gesture of verbal support for the young democracy protesters. Apparently, it did not want to offend the mullahs.

Evidently, Iran’s leaders are thrilled by this agreement. How do you think that young democracy activists are seeing it?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Roger Simon's Secret to Good Mental and Physical Health

Having reached the grand old age of 70, Roger Simon shares his secret to good health a good mental attitude.

By his testimony, it’s exercise. For our purposes and for our interest, he remarks that exercise works better than therapy. Apparently, he has had enough therapy to know:

Now I’m religious about staying in shape. I exercise six days a week, sometimes seven. Often I exercise more than once a day. In fact, the days I don’t exercise, I am frequently depressed. I’m probably addicted to exercise at this point. At least I hope I am because I want to be addicted. I just love those endorphins and the rest of the goodies that get released — serotonin, dopamine, etc. Exercise is a complete mood alterer for me. It beats therapy by a mile — trust me, I’ve done enough to know — and it’s a helluva lot cheaper. (No, you’re not going to see a selfie. I’m not running for mayor of New York — or Toronto.)

Not Playing By the Rules

You can’t play the game unless you follow the rules. You can’t play the game if you are following your whims or you bliss. You definitely can’t play it if you believe that you have the right to impose your will on others.

Some people get impatient with the game. Convinced that they possess a higher truth they arrogate to themselves the right to force it on other people.

In the past they would justify their exercise of a will-to-power by claiming that theirs was God’s truth. In today’s world of behavioral economics they rationalize their activities by saing that, once people see that the new order is for their best, they will happily accede to it and will forgive those who broke the rules to accomplish it.

Thus, President Obama lied about his health care plan, lied brazenly and without the least whimper of conscience about the fact that Obamacare will allow you to keep your plan and your doctor if you like it. Those who have been trying to defend it have adopting the patronizing notion that it’s really for your own good.

Where Obama said that you can keep your plan and your doctor if you like, those who have rushed to defend him are saying that even if you cannot keep your old plan, the new plan is really much better. It might be more expensive, it might have higher copays, it might make it impossible for you to see your doctor or go to the best hospital, but still… once you see what it offers you are going to like it so much that you will forgive the lie.

After all, you are a crass materialist who does not have enough self-respect to care about being lied to.

Then they add that you should console yourself with the thought that the extra expense is really your contribution to the common good. Your higher premium and higher deductible is allowing Sandra Fluke to have free birth control and will be paying for Bradley Manning’s sex change surgery.

Feel better?

Obviously, they do not justify their power grab by saying that they are attuned to God’s will. They rely on the new science of behavioral economics. If you think that this science is perfectly objective and anodyne, you should think again.

And then there’s the United States Senate. Last week Senate Democrats decided that they no longer needed to respect the rules of that august body. They decided that the rules can be changed at the whim of the majority.

Led by Harry Reid Democrats outlawed the filibuster over executive appointments. This is hardly trivial. An imperial presidency makes up the rules as it goes along. And it does so by bureaucratic regulation. So, it’s important that the Democrats be able to stack the courts and the federal bureaucracy.

When Franklin Roosevelt wanted to pack the Supreme Court he did not try to do it by executive fiat. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Mark Steyn explains it:

As a “continuing body” the Senate’s procedures are supposed to remain in force unless a two-thirds supermajority votes to change them. In this case, a 52–48 all-Democrat majority voted to change the rules, and so the rules have been changed. After all, who’s gonna stop Harry Reid? The Senate pageboys? Legislative majorities are here today and gone tomorrow, but legislative mechanisms are supposed to be here today and here tomorrow and here next year. If a transient party majority can change the rules on a single, sudden, party-line vote, then there are no rules. The rules are simply what today’s rulers say they are. After all, banana republics and dictatorships pass their own rules, too — to deny opposition politicians access to airtime, or extend their terms by another two or three years, or whatever takes their fancy.

For those who have been consoling themselves with the fact that this rule change will work to the advantage of Republicans and for those who have regaled themselves with evidence of the rank hypocrisy, not merely on the part of Democrats but on the part of their media enablers, I promise you that once the Republicans regain power in the White House and the Senate these same Democrats and these same media types boards will suddenly have a Come-to-Jesus moment and discover that mad Harry was wrong all along and that the filibuster must be reinstated in order to perverse American constitutional governance.

How much would you wager that John McCain and Lindsey Graham will be hopping on the bandwagon?

Obviously, President Obama does not play by the rules. He plays by his will-to-power, his will to impose his truth on America. When the game is not played by the rules, it becomes a raw struggle for power. It is no surprise that the nation has descended into rank partisanship.

Aside from Obama’s lawless suspension of immigration law before the last election, he has delayed the full implementation of his signature Obamacare in the interest of Democrats’ political fortunes. And of course, Obamacare itself was passed with a legislative sleight of hand in the Senate.

Steyn explained:

From unilaterally suspending the laws of others (such as immigration), he has advanced to unilaterally suspending his own. So, for passing political convenience, he issued his proclamation of temporary amnesty for the millions of health plans he himself rendered illegal. The law is applied according to whim, which means there is no law. Four years ago, polls showed no popular support for anything as transformative as Obamacare. But, through procedural flimflam, lameduck-session legerdemain, threats to “deem” it to have already passed, and votes for a law whose final version was not only unread by legislators but was literally unreadable (in the sense that it had not yet rolled off the photocopier), through all that and more, the Democrats rammed it down the throats of the American people anyway: Yes, we can! Brazen and unrestrained, Obama and Reid are also, in Lewis’s phrase, “men without chests.” Cleverness, unmoored from Lewis’s chestly virtue of honor, has reduced them to mere tricksters and deceivers. So the president lied about his law for four years, and now lies about his lies.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Who Killed Lee Harvey Oswald?

By now, it is acceptable to say that President Kennedy was assassinated by a lone gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald. Thinking otherwise will brand you as a semi-paranoid conspiracy nut, someone who cannot accept reality.

Of course, as the old saw goes, paranoiacs have enemies, too.

Whatever doubt anyone still entertains about Oswald’s being the lone assassin, we know, to a far greater degree of certainty that Jack Ruby murdered Lee Harvey Oswald in a Dallas police station. We know it because we watched it happen in real time on national television.

Nowadays, trendy psychological research suggests that human life is a narrative. Yet, when it comes to the Kennedy assassination we are told that we should not narratize the event.

As for the question of why the conspiracy theories still abound, Adam Gopnik explained several years ago that we cling to them because we cannot believe that a single individual could have perpetrated an act that had such outsized cultural and historical resonance.

Of course, when Leon Czolgosz shot William McKinley in 1901, everyone accepted without much difficulty that Czolgosz was a disgruntled anarchist who believed that, by killing the president he was striking a blow against oppression.

Of course, Czolgosz just walked up to McKinley and shot him. He was perfectly willing to be caught and punished. He did not shoot from a great distance and then try to escape.

The murder of William McKinley, like the murder of Jack Ruby was clearly visible to observers. There was no doubt about the identity of the killer.

Yet, right-thinking people notwithstanding, Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories continue to fascinate because, as John Cassidy argues cogently:

… the official version of events begs questions; in some aspects, it beggars belief.

Of course, the murder of a president is, ipso facto, a political act. Neither Cassidy nor Secretary of State John Kerry shrinks from the fact that Oswald was a left-wing extremist who used to pal around with Fidel Castro’s agents.

All the theorists, being incipient profilers, always add that Oswald was disaffected and disconnected, a born loser who was trying to make a name for himself.

Of course, it is also true that people who want to make a name for themselves are more likely to shoot from close enough range so that there can be no doubt about their responsibility. If you shoot from a great distance and try to escape, you might have something else in mind.

Cassidy describes the assassin:

 Oswald was a withdrawn misanthrope, whose troubled childhood included being diagnosed as a schizoid personality. A leftist activist and one of life’s unhappy searchers, he fits the popular perception of lone nuts, and his training as a marksman in the U.S. Marine Corps suggests he had the wherewithal to shoot accurately.

But, even if we accept that Oswald was the only shooter, the question remains: did he think it up, plan it, know where to be, set it up, act on it without ever having spoken about the plot with another human being?

As Cassidy says, it beggars belief.

John Kerry raised these questions. Cassidy reported on Kerry's doubts:

Oswald was the lone shooter. But why did he do it, and was he maybe put up to it? It is here that the Secretary of State departs from the Warren Commission’s version of events. In an interview with NBC’s Tom Brokaw, Kerry said, “To this day, I have serious doubts that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.” And, he went on, “I’m not sure if anybody else was involved—I don’t go down that road with respect to the grassy-knoll theory and all that—but I have serious questions about whether they got to the bottom of Lee Harvey Oswald’s time and influence from Cuba and Russia…I think he was inspired somewhere, by something.”

Cassidy continued:

 Almost certainly, we still don’t know all we might about his time in Russia, where he arrived as a defector in 1959; his interest in and support for the Cuban regime after his return to the United States; and his simultaneous links to people active in the anti-Castro movement, some of whom had connections to the mafia. 

Oswald was liked to pro-Castro Cubans and the anti-Castro Cubans. The waters become muddier.

Besides, if Oswald was a disaffected misanthrope yearning for fame, he might have been easily manipulated by others. He might have been instructed to make it appear that he was killing Kennedy to promote Cuban interests in order to throw investigators off the track.

Even if Oswald was a Communist and a Castro sympathizer, it’s difficult to say that either the Soviet Union or Cuba ordered the assassination of President Kennedy.

Either nation, Cuba especially, should have known that if the connection had been discovered it would have been subjected to severe retaliation.

For that reason many conspiracy theorists have blamed the CIA. By their less-than-plausible reasoning, the CIA set up Oswald in order to provoke a wave of anti-Cuban anger that would lead to an invasion and overthrow of the Castro regime.

Also, if the Soviet Union or Cuba had ordered Oswald to murder the president, wouldn’t they have chosen someone whose ties to them were less obvious?

And then there is one giant open question: who was Jack Ruby and why did he murder Oswald?

Cassidy raises the point:

Frankly, I very much doubt that the Soviets, the Cuban government, or the C.I.A. hired Oswald to kill Kennedy. Maybe nobody did. But here’s another question that has always refused to vacate my mind when I’ve been about to close the casebook. If Oswald acted alone, without any outside influence, how and why did Jack Ruby pump a .38 slug into his gut two days later in the basement of the Dallas police headquarters?

He continues:

 And while it’s perhaps not very hard to accept that the first was the work of a deranged individual who wanted to take out his frustrations on the world, register a deadly protest against U.S. foreign policy, or whatever, it’s a good deal tougher to countenance the notion that the shooting of Oswald followed the same script, except that the second lone nut, Ruby, was merely trying to make a name for himself, or was trying to save Jacqueline Kennedy the anguish of going through a trial of Oswald.

The notion that Ruby killed Oswald because he was just another disaffected lunatic or because he wanted to spare Mrs. Kennedy a trial does not pass the credibility test. It feels like nonsense.

Whatever you think of Oswald, Ruby had no real associations with Communism or the radical left. He had no ties to the radical right either. He did have ties to organized crime, however. And, as Cassidy notes, his murder of Oswald more closely resembled an effort to silence a witness, to prevent him from talking:

On the face of it, doesn’t it sound more likely that Ruby, a rakish gambler and strip-joint proprietor with longstanding ties to the criminal underworld, shot Oswald to keep him silent? That’s said to be what some members of the Kennedy family suspected in the immediate aftermath of Oswald’s death, and, fifty years later, it still has some plausibility. It’s hard to see Ruby as the self-sacrificing or altruistic type. A Chicago-born Jewish kid who was in trouble with the law from an early age, he certainly wasn’t a member of the Mafia.

Ruby may not have been a member of the Mafia, but he seems to have had connections. As Cassidy notes, he was neither politically involved, self-sacrificing nor altruistic.

Also, if organized crime had something to do with the assassinations of Kennedy and Oswald they would not have chosen someone who belonged directly to their organization.

The theory has been floating around for decades now. That does not make it wrong, or right.

Cassidy summarizes it:

But the author David E. Scheim demonstrated in his 1988 book, “Contract on America: The Mafia Murder of President John F. Kennedy,” that his contacts with mob figures were a good deal more extensive than had been known previously. For example, Ruby’s sister Eva described Joseph Campisi, a mobbed-up figure in Dallas who ran a steakhouse, as one of his close friends. At one point, Campisi claimed that Ruby visited his restaurant the night before he shot Oswald, but he later retracted this statement.


It’s an established fact that many senior mobsters were furious at the Kennedy brothers because of Robert Kennedy’s assault on their illicit activities, and that F.B.I. wiretaps captured some of them saying things like, “He ought to be whacked.” Of course, it’s a big leap from these tapes to suggest that Scheim is right, and that the mob used Oswald to rub out the President. No evidence of such a plot has ever been produced. 

And yet, do we believe that Jack Ruby conceived and planned the attack entirely on his own, that he never spoke to another human being about it and that neither he (nor members of his family) had anything to gain.

Imagining that Jack Ruby was so grief-stricken over the Kennedy assassination that he decided to take justice into his own hands does not make sense.

[Addendum: In this article Erin McClam outlines the case that New Orleans mob boss, Carlos Marcello ordered the assassination. She mentions Marcello's confession to an informant, also.]