Friday, January 31, 2014

The Good That Comes From Gossip

The conventional wisdom has it that gossip is bad. After all, we are seriously enlightened deep thinkers. We want to talk about ideas and principles. Gossip is beneath our great intellectual capacity.

The conventional wisdom also has it that ostracism, as in shunning and shaming people, is bad. Since shame feels bad, it must be bad.

Of course, you know better than to trust the conventional wisdom. Now, a psychologist and a sociologist from Stanford bring us a more accurate and intelligent assessment.

In contrast to the conventional belief that gossip and social exclusion are malicious and should be avoided, researchers found sharing “reputational information” could have a positive effect on society.

Gossip can help social groups to reform bullies, encourages co-operation and stops “nice people” being exploited, according to the study, published in the journal Psychological Science.

Dr Matthew Feinberg, a researcher at Stanford University in the United State who co-wrote the study, said: “Groups that allow their members to gossip sustain co-operation and deter selfishness better than those that don’t.

“And groups do even better if they can gossip and ostracise untrustworthy members.

“While both of these behaviours can be misused, our findings suggest that they also serve very important functions for groups and society.”

No one gossips about ideas. We gossip about other people. In so doing, we exchange what the authors call “reputational information.”

We offer each other information about the character of other people. When we gossip we are telling each other who is more likely to work well with others and to respect others. Perhaps more pertinently, we are telling each other who is self-involved, self-absorbed and selfish.

When people discover that someone is in it for himself and that he shows no group loyalty or concern for other people, we conclude that he is more likely to exploit others and we exclude him from our group. Like it or not, it's the rational thing to do. 

There is nothing wrong with judging someone by the "content of his character."

The Telegraph continues:

The researchers found that when people learn about the behaviour of others through gossip, they use the information to ally themselves with those deemed co-operative.

People who have behaved selfishly can then be excluded from group activities based on the gossip.

This benefits the whole group as the more selfish types are no longer able to exploit more co-operative people for their own gains.

The researchers suggest that the threat or the reality of social exclusion motivates people to overcome what we may call their narcissism. It’s worth emphasizing the point, as I have done on many other occasions, that ostracism or the threat of same can be therapeutic.

The Stanford researchers discovered this:

When people deemed selfish suffer social exclusion they often learn from the experience and reform their behaviour by co-operating more in future group settings, the team found.

As is well known to those who participate in chat boards or who leave comments on blogs, when people can hide behind the mask of anonymity, they tend to indulge in anti-social behaviors:

In contrast anonymous groups, such as many internet message boards, lack accountability allowing anti-social behaviour to thrive.

When people have names, they are putting their own reputations at risk, and thus are less likely to use gossip to lie and slander. Anonymity is not a normal or natural condition; it is an artificial contrivance that produces bad behavior.

Socialism Is Failing in France

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, overall foreign investment in Europe increased last year. It increased in Germany by 392% to £19.6 billion. In Spain it rose by 37% to £22.4 billion. Great Britain led all nations in the Eurozone, attracting foreign investment of £32 billion.

The one exception to this rule was France. Under the leadership of Social president Francois Hollande, foreign investment in France fell by 77% to £3.5 billion.

Not what you would call a vote of confidence in Hollande’s leadership.

And that’s not all, folks.

The Daily Mail reports more bad news:

The increasingly dire performance by France, which is the Eurozone’s second largest economy, is a cause of huge concern for neighbours including Britain.

Other new figures released this week show France’s unemployment and poverty rates soaring to new highs.

Despite the Mr Hollande’s highly publicised ‘promise’ that he would get the jobless figures down in 2013, the number rose by 10,200 in December.

It now stands at 11.1 per cent, or  well over 3.3 million  – a figure which rises to almost 5 million if those in part-time temporary jobs are taken into consideration.

Meanwhile, a damning new survey shows that the poverty rate in France is at 14 per cent – the highest for 17 years.

Researchers from social policy consultants COMPAS found that 8.7 million French people live below the poverty line.

For the record, the population of France is 65.8 million.

Of course, Socialist president Hollande declared war on the rich. He has done everything in his power to raise taxes on the rich. He has stood tall as a champion of the poor and the oppressed.

A lot of good that has done the poor.

The Daily Mail says that it’s an embarrassment. That’s the least you can say. Perhaps this explains the real reason why President Hollande was sneaking out of the Elysee Palace in the dead of night. He was not trying to escape the woman who is now his former paramour. He was trying to put more distance between himself and a job he doesn’t know how to do.

Dershowitz on D'Souza

Like you, I have strong suspicions about the Justice Department's felony indictment of Dinesh D’Souza. I have not commented on it because I do not know the law well enough to offer an informed opinion.

Like you, I have not been surprised to see the great media champions of the first amendment falling silent at the judicial persecution of an opponent of the Obama administration. Theirs is truly the silence of the lambs.

Since the administration has obviously gotten away with using the IRS to hamper on the free speech rights of its political opponents, why not keep on doing it?

Yesterday, famed Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz called the Justice Department to account. His is only one voice, but an important one. Beyond being an expert on the law, Dershowitz is a notable Democrat. This makes his critique of the Holder Justice Department that much more trenchant.

Speaking to Newsmax, Dershowitz said:

This is clearly a case of selective prosecution for one of the most common things done during elections, which is to get people to raise money for you…. If they went after everyone who did this, there would be no room in jails for murderers.

Newsmax continues:

The Justice Department's tactics remind Dershowitz of the words of Stalin's secret police chief, Lavrentiy Beria, who said, "Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime."

"This is an outrageous prosecution and is certainly a misuse of resources," charged Dershowitz. "It raises the question of why he is being selected for prosecution among the many, many people who commit similar crimes.

"This sounds to me like it is coming from higher places. It is hard for me to believe this did not come out of Washington or at least get the approval of those in Washington."

Will these words make any difference? Probably not.

Without the support of the mainstream media, these stories will go unnoticed.

Democrats have used prosecutorial power to destroy the political careers of Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Tom DeLay… why not continue to do what works.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

To Fight or Not to Fight Depression

The more we think about depression, the more we devote resources to curing depression, the more depression there is.

When Prozac arrived on the scene it was touted as a cure for depression. For many people it still serves to help, but it has certainly not put an end to depression. In fact, there seems to be more depression now than there was in the pre-Prozac era.

Psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg says that we seem to be losing the fight against depression:

Perhaps the most troubling and ironic thing about the toll of depression is that it has risen while more research and treatment resources have been poured into combating it. In fact, depression represents an $83-billion annual burden to the United States economy in lost productivity and increased medical expenses. Why aren’t we winning this fight?

What’s wrong with our approach to depression? Rottenberg suggests that we are failing to cure depression because we see it as a defect. He recommends that we understand depression as way an organism adapts to adversity. He sees it as a function of low mood.

He explains:

People in a low mood blame and criticize themselves, turn situations that went wrong over and over in their heads, and are pessimistic about the future. These characteristics, although uncomfortable, are also potentially useful. A keen awareness of what has gone wrong and what can go wrong again can help a person avoid similar stressors in the future….

If we had to find a unifying function for low mood across these diverse situations, it would be that it functions like a cocoon, a place to pause and analyze what has gone wrong. In this mode, we will stop what we are doing, assess the situation, draw in others, and, if necessary, change course.

A variety of experimental data have shown that low mood confers benefits to thinking and decision making. That lends credence to the idea that mood is part of a conservative behavioral guidance system that impels us toward actions that have been successful in the past—meaning, actions that helped our ancestors to reproduce and spread their genes. One way to appreciate why these states have enduring value is to ponder what might happen if we had no capacity for them. Just as animals with no capacity for anxiety were long ago gobbled up by predators, without a capacity for sadness, we and other animals would likely commit rash acts and repeat costly mistakes. Physical pain teaches a child to avoid hot burners; psychic pain teaches us to navigate life’s rocky shoals with due caution.

Of course, low mood is not the same as depression. We do well to keep in mind Martin Seligman’s definition of depression: it's the moment when you convince yourself that you are in a lose/lost situation and give up.

People who are depressed are not conserving their energy while planning their next move. They are demoralized to the point where they do not believe that they can do anything to improve their condition. There do not think that there will ever be a next move.

Rottenberg suggests that it’s a question of degree, but it does feel like a difference of kind.

I agree that there is value in learning from failure, in ruminating about what went wrong, but knowing why something went wrong tells you nothing about how to make things go right. The more you ruminate about what went wrong, the lower your morale will be. The lower your morale, the more difficult it will be to take decisive action.

If Prof. Rottenberg tells you that ruminating about what went wrong is a normal mental function, he might be making it more difficult to overcome depression.

Reflection can help you to plan for the future and to figure out how you are going to implement the plan. But, this type of reflection involves the use of imagination. It does not involve belaboring the future. It buttresses your confidence in order to give you the wherewithal to perform future tasks.

Depressed individuals are often assailed with self-deprecating thoughts that tell them that they never get anything right.  Thus, they believe that nothing is worth trying.

Rottenberg is suggesting that people should stop feeling bad about feeling bad. He wants them to stop punishing themselves for feeling depressed. I presume that he wants people to accept low moods as a normal part of life.

But, this assumes that depression results from a failure to embrace depression.

If that is his argument—his essay does not make it very clear—then he has simply redefined the defect. If you are depressed you have not dealt with your bad moods correctly.

That is not all. Rottenberg also suggests that the cultural environment contributes to the prevalence of depression.

Changes in the cultural environment magnify these problems. Triggers include mood-punishing routines—too much work, too much stimulation, and too little sleep—and even changes in our attitudes toward sadness. Ironically, our stratospherically high expectations about happiness have made low moods harder to bear.

I am not sure we have such stratospherically high expectations about happiness, but we have certainly been told that depression is easily curable by taking a pill. The medical profession has created the expectation. In and of itself, this expectation is likely to cause people to become more depressed when their illness does not respond to medication.

The medication-based model of treatment tells people that there is little they can do on their own, through their own efforts to treat their depression. Surely, this makes it more likely that people will give up on their efforts to treat their condition.

Obviously, too little sleep does contribute to depression, as might too much work. But the lack of career success, caused by not-enough-work, also contributes. We might say the same for social dislocation and disaffection.

In closing his article Rottenberg described his own experience with depression. He explained that none of the treatments he tried worked. The depression, he said, simply exhausted itself.

Is he suggesting that we do better to offer less treatment for depression? Is he saying that all efforts to treat it are futile?

If so, he is coming perilously close to saying that we should simply give up. Unfortunately, this is the mindset that causes depression in the first place.

Perhaps Rottenberg has lit on a paradoxical treatment for depression. Then again, he might have found one of the ways in which the culture sustains depression.

Writing It Down... on Paper

Here’s some good advice for the students among you. If you want to improve your academic performance, you do better to take handwritten notes than to take notes on your computer.

Moreover, you will learn more if you add an occasional thought of your own than you will if you merely transcribe the reading verbatim.

By writing it out with pen and ink you will retain more of what you learned. It’s not just that you will better remember the facts. Writing it out will help your conceptual learning, too.

Wray Herbert reports on the most recent studies:

Those who took notes in longhand, and were able to study, did significantly better than any of the other students in the experiment -- better even than the fleet typists who had basically transcribed the lectures. That is, they took fewer notes overall with less verbatim recording, but they nevertheless did better on both factual learning and higher-order conceptual learning. Taken together, these results suggest that longhand notes not only lead to higher quality learning in the first place; they are also a superior strategy for storing new learning for later study. Or, quite possibly, these two effects interact for greater academic performance overall.

Of course, studying and writing reports does not stop when you graduate. Surely, the same rule applies when you are doing research for a presentation.

Many first-rate writers insist that they do better when they write out early drafts in longhand, only later to retype them into a computer.

Taking a Break From Feminism

When The Onion starts mocking you, you have a problem.

Last week, The Onion offered a sardonic view of the difficulty in being a full-time feminist.

It chose the case of feminist, Natalie Jenkins and showed what happened when Jenkins stopped thinking like a feminist for thirty minutes.

To be perfectly fair, Jenkins sounds less like an everyday feminist and more like a member of the feminist thought police.

Undoubtedly, some will find The Onion version of an everyday feminist to be a caricature. If they take offense they should write directly to the editors of The Onion.

The Onion reports:

PORTLAND, OR—Saying that she just wanted a little time to relax and “not even think about” confining gender stereotypes, local health care industry consultant Natalie Jenkins reportedly took a 30-minute break from being a feminist last night to kick back and enjoy a television program.

Jenkins, 29, told reporters that after a long and tiring day at her office, all she wanted to do was return home, sit down on her couch, turn on an episode of the TLC reality show Say Yes To The Dress, and treat herself to a brief half hour in which she could look past all the various and near constant ways popular culture undermines the progress of women.

“Every once in a while, it’s nice to watch a little television without worrying about how frequently the mainstream media perpetuates traditional gender roles,” Jenkins said before putting her feet up on her coffee table and tuning in to the popular program that follows women as they shop for wedding gowns. “No mentally cataloging all the times women are subtly mocked or shamed for not living up to an unrealistic body image, no examining how women are depicted as superficial and irrationally emotional, and no thinking about how these shows reinforce the belief that women should simply aspire to find a man and get married—none of that. Not tonight. I’m just watching an episode of Say Yes To The Dress and enjoying it for what it is.”

And then:

Jenkins confirmed that she watched contentedly for the entirety of the television program, telling reporters that she never once allowed herself to grow indignant as the adult, employed, and presumably self-respecting women on screen repeatedly demanded to be made into “princesses.”

Additionally, Jenkins acknowledged that she witnessed dozens of moments in which the brides-to-be abandoned the notion that they should be valued for their personalities and intellects and instead seemed to derive their sole sense of worth from embellishing their appearance. However, she said she was able to consistently remind herself that this was “Natalie time” and that the feminist movement “could do without [her] for 30 minutes.”

Happily for the feminist cause, Jenkins remains committed:

While affirming that she had fully recommitted herself to the cause of gender equality as soon as the show’s credits ended, Jenkins admitted she was already looking forward to the next time she could let herself disregard the many ways women are reduced to stale caricatures on national television.

“Honestly, it’s pretty exhausting to call out every sexist stereotype or instance of misogyny in popular culture, so sometimes I have to just throw my hands up and grant myself a little time off,” Jenkins said. “And given the state of modern media, momentarily suspending my feminist ideals is the only way to get through a night of TV without becoming totally livid or discouraged.”

The moral of the story: it’s not easy being a feminist. Imagine what it's like living with one.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The World According to Spengler

David Goldman, aka Spengler surveys the world and is not happy at what he sees.

Just as they have for decades now, pundits and commentators are predicting that China will implode. China has not imploded and is not imploding. And yet, while these sages have been predicting doom for China, many other countries are in serious trouble.

In Spengler’s words:

I wish I had a nickel for every prediction of social unrest in China that I’ve read in the past year. Apart from the risk of stampedes at shopping malls before the Lunar New Year, China is tranquil. Meanwhile there are several dozen dead in Cairo overnight, central Bangkok remains under lockdown, street protests are out of control in Ukraine, Argentines are looting stores during power outages, and the stink of tear gas still overhangs the public squares of Istanbul from last year’s demonstrations.

There is social unrest in a lot of places other than China, and it goes together with the collapse of local currencies. The Chinese aren’t rioting because they are gainfully occupied and their wages are rising 15% to 20% a year. Other so-called emerging markets are in trouble because they are teeming with people who have nothing remunerative to do.

How to explain the disparity? Spengler argues that the Chinese are so busy working and earning a living that they don’t have the time, the energy or the inclination to riot.

In other parts of the world, places where people do not have a strong a work ethic, the armies of the unemployed have nothing to do but protest.

In many of these other countries, work has been devalued. The nations tried to vote themselves rich and have tried to manipulate the financial markets to fulfill their wishes.

Take Turkey:

Turkey was supposed to be the poster-boy for prosperity through Muslim democracy. Instead, it has become an object lesson in emerging market mediocrity, and its currency is collapsing because it pretended to be something better than that.

The Turks can spin polyester into sweaters for the Russian market, build washing machines for Southern Europe, and assemble cars for the Koreans. They can’t build a smart phone, let alone a modern aircraft, although their military has put some down-market drones in the air. There are a handful of fine universities that produce good engineers and financial types, but not enough to make a dent in the country’s overall economic backwardness.

He continues:

Turkey is in trouble because the Turks aren’t very good at anything in particular, but acted as if they were the next China. They borrowed vast sums from the international market against a glorious future that was never to be. Among all of the world’s big economies Turkey has the worst current account deficit, at nearly 8% of economic output, roughly where Greece was before its national bankruptcy. Investors reckoned that with high economic growth, Turkey would have no problem carrying its debt; what they did not take into account is that the growth itself was largely an illusion, a carnival of consumption and construction that depended on increasing debt in the first place.

As for the Ukraine:

Unrest, to be sure, has different proximate causes in different places. The Ukrainians want to join the European Community so that they can leave Ukraine and go to places where they can earn money. The Turks object to the ruling party’s stealth construction of an Islamic dictatorship with its attendant cronyism and corruption. But the common thread in all the financial and social crises which broke out during the past several months is this: the world economy has left behind large parts of the world’s people.

And Egypt:

The Egyptians, with 40% illiteracy and a more than 90% rate of female genital mutilation, dependent on imports for half their food while 70% of the population languishes in rural poverty, are the worst off. The Turks have a future, but it is a humbler and poorer one than their leaders have promised them. The adjustment of expectations will be wrenching, perhaps violent.

And then there is Argentina:

Argentina, whose currency collapsed last week, is another case in point. Blessed with great natural wealth, the Argentines have resented the oligopolies who control their resources, and try to vote themselves rich with depressing regularity. One government after another offers handouts to the querulous voters, who have learned that this practice breeds inflation and currency devaluation. The Argentine game is to be first in line at the public trough, and first in line at the foreign exchange counter to get out of local currency before it collapses yet again.

Such policies are failing around the world. For some strange reason, they are now coming to America. Spengler believes that the problem is an inequality of knowledge and even technical skills. How many American jobs are going unfilled because too few of those who were educated in American schools know enough to perform them?

Spengler fears that nations promoting “a merciless meritocracy,” will out-compete democracies. Or better, that democratic nations no longer know how to make democracy work.

In Spengler’s words:

The risk is that the unproductive, unskilled and unemployable portions of the industrial world’s people will decide to vote themselves rich. Their leaders encourage this by focusing on income inequality. That is President Obama’s message as well as the consensus at the World Economic Forum last week at Davos, and it is nonsense.

The problem isn’t inequality of income, but inequality of knowledge. One pilot flying a modern military aircraft could destroy the whole of an ancient civilization. One farmer from Nebraska can replace a hundred in Egypt. A thousand years ago, everyone knew how a watermill worked; 200 years ago, most people knew how a steam engine works; how many people today know how a computer works?

East Asia is faring better than the rest of the world in this great transformation because its culture imposes a merciless meritocracy. The West should be able to do better than this. If we can’t, we can see our future in Argentina.

The Twelfth Commandment

In 2012 Republicans nominated a presidential candidate who had blatantly violated Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment.

You know it: Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.

As mentioned yesterday and many times previously, Mitt Romney found that he only people he could speak ill about were his fellow Republicans. No wonder so many of them did not show up to vote for him.

When Republicans noticed the falloff in votes from its base, it decided to alienate it even more by supporting immigration reform. Even after Nate Silver explained that Romney would have had to receive over 70% of the Hispanic vote to tie Barack Obama, Congressional Republicans seemed convinced that the solution to their electoral problems was to win more Hispanic voters.

Since Republicans have not quite grasped their Eleventh Commandment, it is risky to add a twelfth, but still.

The Twelfth Commandment: Thou shalt never, ever talk about sex.

Whenever a Republican ventures forth into that uncharted territory, it comes back to haunt him. Part of the problem is sounding anti-women. The larger part of the problem is sounding like an ignoramous.

Take Todd Akin, Senate candidate from Missouri, who lost a highly winnable election he because chose one day to offer his views about “legitimate rape.”

As I mentioned at the time, many candidates have been successful running on a pro-life platform, even a modified pro-life platform, but no one ever succeeds by running on stupid.

Seeing the damage that the remark did to Akin’s candidacy, Indiana senate candidate Richard Mourdock echoed it in the course of his own election campaign and lost a senate seat that had been his for the taking.

Mourdock doubled down on stupid. Is there a lesson there?

Today’s Republicans are more intelligent about their comments, but still, they should know by now that they should, never, ever talk about sex.

Witness presumptive presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. At a meeting of the Republican National Committee Huckabee threw down the gauntlet:

If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it. 

Strictly speaking, Huckabee was attributing thoughts to Democrats. He said that Democrats had promoted policies that were based on the supposition that women could not control their libido or their reproductive system without the government’s help.

Unfortunately, no one heard it that way. Huckabee’s effort to stand up for women’s freedom looked to just about everyone like Republican meddling in women’s reproductive choices. After all, if Huckabee wants government out of the reproduction business, one imagines that he would be opposed to most restrictions of abortion.

Quite frankly, politicians should not be opining about anyone’s libido. Period. End of story. It’s a losing game. Women do not want their libidinous urges to be part of the political dialogue.

And then there was Rand Paul.

Last week, looking for a wedge issue against Hillary Clinton, Paul declared that her husband, former president Bill “Horndog” Clinton was a sexual predator. You recall, Bill Clinton had a dangerous liaison with an intern named Monica Lewinsky.

For his pains Rand Paul was slapped down by Wall Street Journal editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz.

In her words:

A striking argument, that, considering the nature of the charges Mr. Paul was making. Namely, that Bill Clinton had "taken advantage of a young woman in the workplace," a charges he repeated three times with some variations: The victim was "a young girl" that was "20 years old" and an "intern." "Bosses," the senator summarized, "shouldn't prey on young interns."

When the matter of bosses taking advantage of young women—preying on them—comes up, most of rational society understands the action involved. The women are threatened, implicitly or explicitly, with loss of their jobs, or chased around the office, or pursued with offers of dinner, pleas for assignations, told suggestive jokes.

Mr. Paul, perhaps busily immersed in his Ayn Rand studies in the 90's, may not have noticed who was chasing whom during the Clinton intern scandal. He seems not to know today that his picture—that of a hapless young girl of 20, victimized, honor despoiled by her boss, the president, preying on her—bears no resemblance to reality.

The starry-eyed Monica Lewinsky had made no secret of her determination to get to the head of the rope line to make herself and her availability known to the president at every one of his public appearances she could get to. She worked hard getting to him. She lost no chance to make it clear that she was ready and willing to offer sexual service to him at any time.

Rabinowitz finds it all to be rather discouraging. She sees it as a bad omen for a potential Paul candidacy:

Mr. Paul's conversion of these facts into a story of innocence betrayed by Mr. Clinton doesn't bode well for a national candidate who is, we keep hearing, a savvy politician careful not to sound extreme—sound like his father, Ron Paul, that is—or make mistakes. Flailing away now at Mr. Clinton's disgraceful past, and in the way that he has, suggests a serious kind of tone deafness in this likely candidate for the Republican nomination—a kind that has always been there under the spiffed up surface, and one likely to emerge again.

Had Rand Paul been willing to mention Juanita Broadderick, it might have been another story, but, even then, the Clinton sexcapades are by now common knowledge. No one wants to revisit them. No one wants to have to think about them again. If you bring them up the public will blame you for forcing it to think about things it does not want to think about.

Good Republicans should ask themselves how that one worked out the first time. They might have impeached Bill Clinton, but it was, at the least, a Pyrrhic victory.

Today, the nation lionizes the horndog president, to the point where it seems poised to put his enabling wife in the White House.

Does that look to you like a winning issue?

So, Republicans should start respecting the Twelfth Commandment:

Thou shalt never, ever talk about sex.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Milquetoast Mitt Romney

If you want to know what went wrong with the Romney campaign, you need look no further to the headline on Patrick Howley’s Daily Caller column:

Romney breaks silence on Candy Crowley’s debate interference

It took Mitt Romney fifteen months to respond to Candy Crowley’s egregiously irresponsible and highly partisan interference in the second presidential debate between him and President Obama. 

What was he waiting for? Romney should have responded in fifteen seconds.

Romney responded vigorously to his fellow Republicans in the primary debates. He attacked his fellow Republicans fearlessly in the same debates.

And yet, when it came time to attack President Obama and his enablers in the media, Romney became Casper Milquetoast. Apparently, he was afraid of the mainstream media and Barack Obama. The only people Romney and many other Republicans are not afraid to attack are ... their fellow Republicans. No other explanation makes any sense at all.

Howley describes Romney’s current decision to break his silence about Candy Crowley:

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney offered a harsh critique of CNN debate moderator Candy Crowley’s interference in his second debate with President Obama in 2012.
Crowley infamously butted in to an exchange between Romney and Obama regarding the Obama administration’s changing of the Benghazi talking points. Crowley’s assertion that Obama was right in the argument led to multiple rounds of applause in the studio audience — an agonizing moment that was featured prominently in the new behind-the-scenes Netflix documentary “MITT.”

Howley describes Romney’s current attitude:

“Well, I don’t think it’s the role of the moderator in a debate to insert themselves into the debate and to declare a winner or a loser on a particular point. And I must admit that at that stage, I was getting a little upset at Candy, because in a prior setting where I was to have had the last word, she decided that Barack Obama was to get the last word despite the rules that we had,” Romney said.

“So she obviously thought it was her job to play a more active role in the debate than was agreed upon by the two candidates, and I thought her jumping into the interaction I was having with the president was also a mistake on her part, and one I would have preferred to carry out between the two of us, because I was prepared to go after him for misrepresenting to the American people that the nature of the attack,” Romney said.

Even today, when Romney has broken his silence, his words bespeak cowardice. He says he “was getting a little upset” with her. He thought her jumping into the action was “a mistake on her part.”

How weak can you get?

As for Romney’s professed interest in going after the president over Benghazi, he could done it at any time and in any place. He did not.

The Romney campaign did not go out with a bang; it went out with a whimper.

Keeping Secrets

If one of your friends tends to be open and honest in all things with all people and another of your friends will take your secrets with him to the grave, which one would you confide in?

Is it even a contest?

Keep in mind, the closeness of your relationships depends in very good part on how much you are or are not comfortable confiding.

The therapy culture has given people the impression that it is bad to keep secrets. And yet, we do better to choose our friends based on their discretion.

How do we know that someone can keep our secrets? Simple, ask yourself how well this person keeps the secrets that other people have confided in him? If you meet someone who seems constantly to be saying whatever comes to mind, and who especially enjoys gossiping about other people, you can feel confident that whatever you confide in him will be repeated to his nearest and dearest.

In some cases this is an advantage. If you want to send a message to someone but would rather not risk the confrontation, you might confide in someone you know to be an incurable gossip.

If you want to attract friends who can keep secrets, demonstrate to them that you can keep your own.

Obviously, there are more than a few professions that expect, even demand an ability to keep secrets. Among them are: lawyer, doctor, therapist, priest and pastor.

What you should or should not confide in whom depends on situations and circumstances. There is no hard and fast, one-size-fits-all rule about sharing secrets.

In our culture, many people have come to believe that when they fall in love they can share everything with the “One.” This is a commonly-held illusion. It is better to understand that failing to keep secrets is a character flaw. And who wants to continue to love someone who has a character flaw, like verbal incontinence.

In some circumstances you should not keep a secret. If something has happened to you that will directly affect your spouse, you should share it. You should not hide an illness from your spouse or a significant change in your career. Since either event can markedly affect your mood, your spouse has right to know what is causing the change in attitude. Otherwise he or she will naturally think that something has gone wrong between the two of you.

Obviously, if your changed mood derives from the fact that you have been flirting up a storm with your secretary, you would do better to keep it to yourself.

Indiscretion has killed far more marriages than has cheating.

Unfortunately, the culture seems to suggest that it’s bad to keep secrets.

In her Wall Street Journal column this morning Elizabeth Bernstein writes:

But keeping secrets from a loved one can put an emotional wedge in the relationship and change the way we communicate. Research shows that when we keep secrets from a mate, our relationship satisfaction goes down. And the more we ruminate about a secret, the more we want to reveal it.

"When we have a secret and mull it over, we develop stress and it makes our body sick," says Tamara Afifi, professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa, who studies secrets. "To get our body back to a sense of health, we need to reveal or cure our self of the secret." Researchers call this the Fever Model, she says.

Whether anyone should or not keep a secret is a matter for ethics. Later in her article Bernstein will suggest as much.

Making it a medical issue and allowing, as Prof. Afifi does, people to believe that revealing secrets is an elixir, is irresponsible. The way Afifi formulates her point might leave people thinking that it is always a good idea to reveal secrets to loved ones.

Because, if it is such a bad thing to keep secrets, how does the professor explain the fact that for many professionals keeping secrets is a positive achievement. Being unable to keep secrets is for some akin to malpractice.

Even though Afifi is only talking about secrets that one might choose to hide from loved ones, she knows well that the message needs to be qualified.

Bernstein attempts to clarify the point:

How do you decide whether to reveal a secret? Tread carefully here, experts say. If telling the secret will hurt someone and produce no benefit, then it shouldn't be told. Had an affair decades ago? If it's long over and your marriage is good, mum's the word.

Unless you have a good therapist, you're on your own on this decision. Dr. Afifi says examine your motivation. Is it selfish? The desire to get something off your chest or a feeling of moral obligation to tell aren't good enough reasons to cause someone else pain. Consider how telling the secret will affect the listener, the relationship and other people, as well. Weigh long-term benefits against short-term drawbacks.

In the end, Bernstein’s guidelines are precisely what is needed. You should not blurt out some bad news, especially news that hurts the other person or that causes the other person to think less of you because you have heard that keeping secrets is bad for your health.

Sometimes it's better not to get something off your chest. Always consider whether a secret revealed will cause more pain than the sensation of bottling up an emotion. 

Before divulging a secret consider how the information will change the nature of your relationship, how it will impact the other person and others, what it will or will not accomplish. Hopefully, a good therapist will know this and will help you to examine different situations before deciding on the best course of action.

Legislating Equality

I suspect that Bret Stephens’ column sits behind a paywall. It’s an interesting reductio ad absurdum of the current debate over inequality.

Obviously, income inequality exists. It has gotten worse during the Obama administration. In a competitive world outcomes cannot always correspond to your ideal version of the a diverse nation, but today, the disparities are so gross that something will have to be done about it. One suspects that the solution does not lie in making a fetish of equality and trying to produce it by legislation.

Since Stephens wants to demonstrate the absurdity of worshipping at the altar of Equality, he introduces his column with a prescient text from a 1961 story, “Harrison Bergeron” by master absurdist, Kurt Vonnegut.

Vonnegut wrote:

The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Stephens was inspired to push up the date and show how equality might be legislated:

The year was 2019 and Americans were finally on their way toward real equality. Not just equality in God's eyes, or before the law, or in opportunity.

They were going to be equal every which way.

All this equality was due to bold new government action. There was the Decent Wage Act of 2017, which pegged the minimum wage to the (inflation-adjusted) average hourly wage of 2016. There was the NEW-AMT, which set a 55% minimum federal tax rate on individual income over $150,000 (or 80% for incomes above $500,000). There was the Unemployment Insurance Is Forever Act of 2018. There was the 2018 De Blasio-Waxman CEO Pay Act, which mandated a 9-to-1 ratio between the highest and lowest paid person in any enterprise.

Stephens tries to be even-handed. In his dystopian vision, Republicans join the anti-inequality party:

Though most conservatives were resistant to the Equality Movement, some found the new political environment congenial to their anti-elitist aims.

There was the Grassley-Amash De-Tenure Act of 2016, which abolished the "monstrous inequality" of college-faculty tenure. That was soon followed by the Amash-Grassley Graduate Student Liberation Act of 2017, ending the "master-slave" relationship between professors and their teaching and research assistants.

More controversial was the Grassley-Gowdy De-Ivy Act of 2018, requiring all four-year colleges, public or private, to accept students by lottery. Besides its stated goal of "ending elitism and extending the promise of equality to tertiary education," many conservatives saw it as a backdoor method of eliminating affirmative action. Liberals countered that it had precisely the opposite effect.

It is a bad idea trying to make reality march to the rhythm of a grandiose ideal.

Monday, January 27, 2014

When They Come For Your Freedom

Here’s how they take away your freedom. Better yet, here's how the new science of behavioral economics persuades you to hand over your freedom.

First, they prove “scientifically” that free will does not exist.

Second, they say that they are just giving you a “nudge” in right direction.

Third, they force you to do what they want you to do, because they know best.

Fourth, they tell you that you should be grateful because your loss is really a gain.

David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy blog exposes the rhetorical ploy that defines behavioral economics:

You haven’t been divorced, you’ve been given the opportunity to change to a better spouse.

You haven’t been expelled, you’ve been given the opportunity to change to a better school.

You haven’t been evicted, you’ve been given the opportunity to change to a better apartment.

You haven’t received a cancellation notice for your pre-Obamacare insurance policy, you’ve been given the opportunity to “change to a better policy.”

That last one is from from a New York Times editorial. Seriously: “The 225,000 Michigan residents who the ad said received ‘cancellation notices’ were actually told that they could change to a better policy.”

Don’t worry about it. Once you discover the truth you will see that it’s all for your best.

How Psychiatry Failed Margaret Rohner

It happened in Connecticut on December 26. A young adult schizophrenic murdered his mother.

In the time leading up to the murder, Bobby Rankin’s mother, Margaret Rohner had been doing everything in her power to have her son committed to a psychiatric facility and medicated against his will.

She failed. The state of Connecticut has her blood on its hands.

The AP and the Daily Mail report the story:

Margaret Rohner worried about her troubled adult son not taking his psychiatric medications and had been trying to find him proper care in the years leading up to her horrifying murder at his hands.

The 45-year-old Rohner was viciously attacked Dec 26 with a fireplace poker and knife, her torso butchered and her intestines pulled out by son Robert O. Rankin, who was charged with murder after police said he confessed to the killing.

It was a tragic end for a woman who had spent years trying to find appropriate care for her son she called Bobby, a person she desperately wanted to help after doctors took him off medication prescribed to treat schizophrenia.

If a psychiatrist took Rankin off his medication, then that person bears some responsibility for what ensued.

Will the psychiatrist ever be held do account? It’s almost inconceivable.

It’s one thing to know, that, given their druthers, many schizophrenics do not take their medication. It's quite another for a psychiatrist to tell such a person that he does not need to take them. 

As reported:

State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, who has pushed for improved mental health services for children, said one challenge for young people with psychiatric problems is that once they become adults, treatment is generally voluntary and "medication compliance does become a problem."

As it happened, Margaret Rohner knew what was happening. She knew her son. She knew what he was capable of. She did everything in her power to persuade the mental health professionals to help her. Apparently, they trusted themselves more than they trusted a mother. Besides, as the case of Adam Lanza demonstrated, it is very difficult in Connecticut to commit a psychotic against his will.

The Daily Mail described what happened:

Patricia Unan, a close friend, said Rohner expressed frustration to her Dec. 19 about Bobby's deteriorating mental condition since he stopped taking his medications. Bobby for months had been receiving residential respite services offered at River Valley Services in Middletown, a program run by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, according to Bobby's father.

'She told me she'd pleaded with the person she spoke with (at River Valley Services) to hospitalize him and force meds because she recognized when he was headed for a break down from previous experiences,' Unan wrote in an email. 'She said they told her they wanted to wait until after the holiday to address the situation.'

The story shows what happens when misguided idealists fail to understand reality.

Feminist Misogyny

Just in case you ever imagined that feminists respected wives and mothers, along comes someone named Amy Glass to disabuse you of your illusions.

In an absurd post on a blog incorrectly dubbed a “thought catalogue” Glass lashes out contemptuously at women who choose to be wives and mothers.

Next to backpacking through the Himalayas making a home and bringing up children is, for Glass, doing nothing.

In her words:

Having kids and getting married are considered life milestones. We have baby showers and wedding parties as if it’s a huge accomplishment and cause for celebration to be able to get knocked up or find someone to walk down the aisle with. These aren’t accomplishments, they are actually super easy tasks, literally anyone can do them. They are the most common thing, ever, in the history of the world. They are, by definition, average. And here’s the thing, why on earth are we settling for average?

If women can do anything, why are we still content with applauding them for doing nothing?

Glass aspires to be exceptional. She feels that a husband and children can only prevent her from fulfilling her potential and becoming exceptional.

She writes:

You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.

As one pundit pointed, out Amy Glass should immediately stop worrying about doing something exceptional. On her best day her mind will never be more than mediocre.

For the women who have not drunk the feminist Kool-Aid, Glass has nothing but withering and mindless contempt:

I hear women talk about how “hard” it is to raise kids and manage a household all the time. I never hear men talk about this. It’s because women secretly like to talk about how hard managing a household is so they don’t have to explain their lack of real accomplishments. Men don’t care to “manage a household.” They aren’t conditioned to think stupid things like that are “important.”

We do need to be grateful to Amy Glass for one thing. She has shown us the true face of feminist misogyny. Don’t expect an army of feminists to take to rush out to defend wives and mothers.