Sunday, June 17, 2018

Air Pollution in Democratic India

One tends, as a matter of course, to inveigh against pollution in China. The world has never seen a quicker leap into industrialization than what has happened in China over the past four decades. But, we also know that industrialization is the enemy of the pristine purity of nature. And we are well aware of the fact that China sports an authoritarian government, one that keeps its hold on power by poisoning its people.

We keep those facts and beliefs firmly in mind when we examine the state of today’s largest democracy. That would be India. How is democratic India doing with air pollution? We note the said pollution is not the same as the greenhouse gases that our environmentalists hate so much. Those latter include large quantities of carbon dioxide, aka, plant food. Pollution in India is of another order.

Anyway, India is not doing so well on the pollution scoreboard. If you think that toxic masculinity is a problem, wait until you get a whiff of toxic smog.

 The Guardian reports:

Smog more toxic than can be measured by monitoring devices has blanketed the Indian capital this week, months before the start of Delhi’s traditional “pollution season”.

A thick haze was visible across the city from Tuesday and some government pollution monitors have recorded concentrations of 999 – the highest they can measure – as dust storms kicked up in nearby Rajasthan state blanketed the region.

Though the billowing clouds of dust and sand were blamed for the immediate spike in pollution levels, the sight of dense smog engulfing Delhi months before winter has underscored a growing awareness that harmful air is a year-round problem for the city.

Democratic India is leading the world in pollution. With pollution comes respiratory disease:

India, home to 14 of the world’s top 20 most polluted cities, has the highest rate of respiratory diseases of any country. A leading lung specialist, Arvind Kumar, says the cancer patients he sees Delhi are younger, more often female and more likely to be non smokers than those outside the city.

Children are the most vulnerable: a 2015 study concluded about half Delhi’s 4.4m schoolchildren had stunted lung development and would never completely recover.

Viva democracy!

Should You Detox?

Among the joys of blogging is this: you give yourself permission to write authoritatively about things you know nothing about. It doesn’t happen all the time. It only happens some of the time. Today is one of those days.

The topic is: detoxing. By that I am referring to the now trendy effort to cleanse your body of noxious toxins… through diets and even colonics. As I said, I know nothing about this. It has never registered on my mental radar screen. So I am barely competent to know who is telling the truth.

Yet, I have a nose for scams and de-toxing seems to qualify. Thus, the opening of a recent Slate article—written by someone named Rebecca Onion-- rang true:

Scientifically speaking, “detoxing” isn’t a thing. Your body doesn’t retainso-called toxins ingested via food or drugs or plastic dishes, or breathed in through air. You don’t sweat them out at yoga, get rid of them via special massage, or purge them through colonics. As writer Dara Mohammadi put it in a scorching takedown of the dominant wellness watchword of the past decade: “If toxins did build up in a way that your body couldn’t excrete, you’d likely be dead or in need of serious medical intervention.”

Yes, I am aware of the obvious fact that Ms. Onion’s surname has a marked affinity with a certain satirical publication. Such is life. By all indications, the comparison goes no further.

Dara Mohammadi’s piece appeared in the Guardian.

According to Onion, the New York Times has its very own My Detox column. Thus, it has found a way to appeal to a segment of its readers, even if the medical world thinks that it’s all a scam.

Given that scientists, doctors, and nutritionists have united in rejecting the very idea of a “detox,” it’s a bit head-scratching to read the New York Times’ T Magazine’s My Detox column, featuring attractive “creative people” sharing “the homemade recipes they count on to detox, cleanse—and refresh.” In a recent installment, the model Alek Wek recommends a Sudanese okra stew; she “adds a glass of detoxifying lemon juice” to her recipe when her life is about to get especially busy. In the column before that one, the rapper Junglepussy (Shayna McHayle) describes how she makes a lemon-scented body oil at home. “McHayle is choosy,” the writer Coco Romack notes, “about where she sources her beauty products, which she prefers chemical free.” (“Chemical-free,” like “detoxing,” is not really a thing.)

If you find the topic boring beyond your imagination, console yourself with the knowledge that you just learned that there is a rapper who has named herself Junglepussy.

Does the Times know that its My Detox column is there for amusement, not to save your body and soul? Yes, it does:

“ ‘My Detox’ is a column that is not essentially about science,” Jordan Cohen, a Times spokesman, wrote in an email. “It’s a subjective column meant to introduce T readers to interesting people and the personal stories of their own routines. As the tagline reads, T is simply putting a spotlight on the homemade recipes they count on. ‘My Detox’ pieces are not meant to serve as instructional stories.” (Though, if these “personal stories” are “not intended as instructional stories,” why include recipes?) Cohen added: “The Times’ science and health editors regularly offer guidance on relevant subject matter for sections when necessary.”

Onion continues that it all feels like binging and purging, a decidedly modern habit classified under the rubric of bulimia:

As the Times’ Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote in her great 2017 piece on the shift between an old “diet” paradigm and our “clean eating” world, talk of “cleansing” hides old compulsions in new clothing. In other words, the “detoxing” concept implies that it’s normal to lead a life where your body is “dirty,” then clean; dirty, then clean; over and over again. Boringly, the actual best way to stay healthy is to maintain a Pollan-esque diet, drink enough water, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep—over and over again, forever and ever. “Detoxing” is much more narratively exciting, but it also smacks of bingeing and purging, which isn’t sustainable or healthy.

So, you will wondering, what’s really going on here? Could it be that detoxing is a pseudo-religious ritual, a way to purify your psyche while supposedly purifying your body? In that case it seems to have more to do with mental health and enhanced spirituality than with anything else.

But, why do we feel that we are so corrupt. Why do we feel that we are walking cultures for contaminants? Why are we terrified that these toxic substances are about to kill us all? Is this just environmentalism gone amuck?

And besides, what is the gender breakdown of detoxing? Are men or women more likely to undertake these cleansing rituals?

If we are talking about bulimia, we are dealing mostly with females. There are precious few male bulimics, and precious few males who suffer from eating disorders like anorexia.

So, what are women gaining by detoxifying their bodies? Are they trying to rid their corporeal substance of the consequences of their encounters, casual or not, with toxic masculinity? Perhaps all of that sexual liberation is not quite as salutary as it seems? Perhaps women feel dirty—as well as ashamed-- for having engaged in liberating hookups?

As I said, I am not an expert on detoxing? But I am happy to ask a few questions that might provide a framework for addressing the prevalence of this bizarre quasi-religious ritual.

If you think that this is all crazy speculation, recall that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception involves a retroactive cleansing of a female body. Perhaps the Church-- via Duns Scotus-- was on to something.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Nation Makes the Case Against Mueller

As the old saying goes… consider the source. In this case the source for an extensive debunking of the Mueller investigation into Trump campaign Russian collusion is… The Nation. Yes, indeed, a pillar of the progressive left, The Nation has never bought into the Russian collusion narrative. Among its contributors, noted Russia expert Stephen Cohen has never believed that there was any there there.

Thus, we are not surprised to read an extensive analysis of the Mueller investigation in the Nation. And we are not surprised to read its opening paragraph:

In just over one year, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign and Russia has generated five guilty pleas, 20 indictments, and more than 100 charges. None of these have anything to do with Mueller’s chief focus: the Russian government’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s suspected involvement. While it’s certainly possible that Mueller will make new indictments that go to the core of his case, what’s been revealed so far does not make a compelling brief for collusion.

And we are not totally surprised to read its conclusion:

The January 2017 intelligence report begat an endless cycle of innuendo and unverified claims, inculcating the public with fears of a massive Russian interference operation and suspicions of the Trump campaign’s complicity. The evidence to date casts doubt on the merits of this national preoccupation, and with it, the judgment of the intelligence, political, and media figures who have elevated it to such prominence.

Credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, too few media outlets are following The Nation on this score. But, in some quarters integrity has not gone completely out of fashion. In others, on the left and on the right, it is still alive and well.

I heartily recommend that you read the whole thing.

Seymour Hersh on the Trump Phenomenon

Last Wednesday CNN’s Don Lemon interviewed famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Given that Hersh has most often been associated with the American left we might have expected him to show his fealty to the Resistance and to shower Donald Trump with high-minded invective.

To Lemon's surprise Hersh chose another tack. He began by noting that Trump has done wonders for the bottom line of media companies. He has increased circulation and subscribers at the New York Times exponentially. In Hersh’s words, many media outlets consider Trump to be “catnip” for their readers.

But, this has some unfortunate side effects. First, it means that the Times and other media outlets feel obliged to offer their audience a steady diet of Trump bashing. Second, it means that the media landscape has become increasingly polarized. If you want the leftist spin, you watch the leftist media. If you want the rightest spin, you watch the rightest media. There seems, Hirsh says, to be no middle ground, journalism that is dedicated to reporting the facts.

He might have noted that the business press is, as it has always been, most likely to report fact as fact.

But, he does have a point when he says that the media are no longer trusted by most Americans. He is suggesting that they have brought it on themselves, what with their pursuit of filthy lucre. Strangely, at a time when the newspaper business was about to go down the drain, Trump has saved them. But, at a price.

Hersh explains:

… there was a time when the media was trusted. You go back to the old days of networks and those days are long gone. I always felt like when I worked at the 'New York Times' what we wrote was trusted. We now have a situation where a lot of people tune in to what they like and don't listen to what they don't like. It's good for cable television on both sides. For FOX News and for MSNBC and CNN, you guys. You've got great ratings. You're making money.

This does not make them all look like noble idealists.

So, Hersh, being a generally contrary soul, has started asking himself why Trump appeals to people. And he noted that the #GetTrump left still has no message, no policies, nothing to offer the people. Consumed by hatred they have lost the ability to think.

He said:

I don't see the Democratic party doing anything but basically running sort of as Hillary did, running against him for the last two months against him in the last two months of the campaign. And I'm not sure if I'm not in the major city in America, I'm not sure -- this guy is different. And I think people are tired of politicians and he appeals for a lot of reasons that maybe we don't all understand, I certainly don't understand him. He's got 48%, 47% of the people. He appeals to them. There's something about him. This is a guy that took down 13 Republicans with a history of more than 200 years of political life.

Of course, the standard leftist explanation for Trump is… bigotry. The left believes that Trump is a sign that much of America is mired in bigotry. And yet, Hersh avers, there must be more to it. After all, Trump beat more than a dozen Republicans for the nomination. And he single-handedly put an end to the Bush and the Clinton political dynasties. Ignore him at your peril, Hersh is saying.

Worse of all, the media has been running a caricature of Trump for so long that it no longer sees what is true or false. It risks underestimating him and consigning itself to oblivion:

Yes, Trump went to the summit not knowing much about it and, yes, he doesn't read anything and he's famous for just running on instinct. There's just an outside chance with all these tweets and all that other stuff, he just may have some idea what he's doing. He's keeping it focused on him, whether good, bad or otherwise, it works for him.

Of course, we must consider that Trump was far better informed than he let on, and that he was playing the media by telling them that he was not going to prepare for the summit. Why is it that the media is so quick to take everything Trump says literally?

Hersh is sounding a warning to the liberal media and the Democratic Party. One suspects that Don Lemon did not get it.

By the by, we should also consider the words of Caroline Glick, someone who is far more favorable to Trump. She praises Trump’s negotiating efforts in Singapore and notes sagely that those who are criticizing him, members of previous negotiating teams, were complete incompetents.

She describes the expert commentary:

We didn’t learn this week whether North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons. Only time will tell.

But we did learn that US President Donald Trump knows how to negotiate.

All of the negotiations experts insist the opposite is true. “How could they agree to a presidential summit without first guaranteeing its end product?” they sigh, knowingly.

“Trump’s showmanship is dangerous and counterproductive,” they sneer.

“At the end of the day, for this to work, Trump will have to copy Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran,” they insist.

Dennis Ross, who mediated the negotiations between Israel and the PLO that led directly to the largest Palestinian terrorism campaign against Israel in history, and Wendy Sherman, who negotiated Bill Clinton’s horrible nuclear deal with North Korea in 1994 and Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, as well as all their esteemed colleagues have taken up their pens and stood before the cameras and clucked about how Trump’s Singapore Show is amateur hour.

Evidently, Dennis Ross and Wendy Sherman are not household names. But they symbolize the incompetence of people who have gained stature as negotiation experts. Perhaps it is not necessary to point it out, but neither of them seemed to put American interests first.

Is the Merkel Era Ending in Germany?

Perhaps it has nothing to do with President Trump, but Germany seems poised to turn away from the Merkel open-arms immigration policy and toward the Eastern European closed borders policy.

While learned commentators on this side of the Atlantic have been bewailing Trump’s difficulty in getting along with Merkel, it seems that Merkel’s governing coalition is disintegrating. The cause, her very own Interior Ministry, Horst Seehofer, has declared that, Merkel or no Merkel, he will start closing Germany’s borders.

The story has been widely reported. I will give you the New York Times account. It is comprehensive and well-written, but it shows that a beacon of the American left gets it. Gets what, you may ask. Gets the fact that the Merkel policy, a policy promoted by our own citizen of the world, President Obama, is about to enter the dustbin of history. The only question is whether the policy or Germany will fall apart first.

The Times reports:

The populist surge that has left Hungary, Austria and Italy threatening to close their borders to migrants has now spread to Germany, where it could even bring down Chancellor Angela Merkel and further unhinge Europe Union’s cohesion and stability.

In recent days, Ms. Merkel has faced an increasingly virulent mutiny over the issue, which threatens to fracture her governing coalition as early as next week.

The mutiny is led by her own interior minister, Horst Seehofer, a former Bavarian premier with a towering stature and plenty of beer-tent charisma, who sounds more in line with the nativist forces shaping politics in neighboring countries than with his own boss.

His region found itself on the front line of the refugee crisis in 2015, when Ms. Merkel opened the borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants who poured into Bavaria. He has long been an outspoken critic of her decision, and in recent days the two leaders have been locked in a standoff.

Merkel has been blocking Seehofer’s plan:

Like Europe’s more hard-line politicians on the right, Mr. Seehofer wants Germany to turn back at the border migrants who have no papers or who are already registered in another European country.

Ms. Merkel has blocked the proposal because it would defy Europe’s open-border agreement; place an even greater burden on southern European countries, often the first ones to register migrants; and risk widening the already gaping divisions in the European Union.

From whence cometh the reaction:

The Bavarian revolt, coming as the region is preparing for state elections in October, has now provided a powerful glimpse of the groundswell of nativist anger that is building even in the richest parts of Europe’s richest country.

“The Bavarian conservatives are closing ranks with Europe’s populists,” said Andrea Römmele, a professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. “This is serious. It’s pure populism.”

The decision to open Germany’s borders to more than 1.4 million migrants has politically haunted the chancellor. Opposition to the decision buoyed the far-right in elections last year, leaving a weakened Ms. Merkel to struggle for six months to form a governing coalition.

Part of the price for the support of the conservative, Bavaria-based Christian Social Union was having Mr. Seehofer in the powerful position he now holds.

Tension between the two leaders have steadily built. In March, Mr. Seehofer stirred controversy when he declared that “Islam does not belong to Germany,” only to be contradicted by Ms. Merkel.

Ms. Merkel wants to find a European solution to the migration issue at a summit meeting of the 28-country bloc in two weeks. “It is an issue that we must resolve at a European level,” Ms. Merkel said this week. “That is very important to me.”

But Mr. Seehofer is not budging.

Seehofer’s Christian Social Union, a center right party, has been losing support to the far right Alternative for Germany, the AfD. He has his back against the wall, and has acted accordingly:

In a spectacular gesture of defiance, Mr. Seehofer has given Ms. Merkel an ultimatum: If she does not agree to the measure, he will carry it out against her will.

The implication is that the border police in Bavaria, the main gateway into Germany for migrants, could start turning them back at the border as early as next week.

It is the most direct challenge to Ms. Merkel’s authority yet — and to the values her chancellorship has embodied.

For Mr. Seehofer, turning migrants back at the border has become a symbol of re-establishing control. For Ms. Merkel, keeping the border open is the last remaining symbol of her liberal migration policy.

“Asylum tourism must end,” said Markus Söder, the Bavarian premier, using language frequently used by populists to describe the influx of refugees. His government has recently passed a hard-line police reform measure that restricts civil liberties, and has floated the idea of a Bavarian border force — although Bavaria borders only fellow European Union member states.

The question for Germany is whether Merkel’s governing coalition can survive. The larger question is whether Germany can survive. At the least, it appears that the Obama/Merkel cosmopolitanism is dead and awaiting burial.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Having Sex at Work

You may or may not want to grant very much credence to a survey about sex in the workplace when it was conducted by a company that makes sex toys. After all, it has skin in the game. It wants to sell more sex toys and uses the survey to recommend that, instead of having sex with a co-worker or a boss, you whip out your sex toy and take care of business that way.

And, we do not know, from the New York Post story, whether the survey respondents were self-selecting or chosen at random.

Dare we mention, even in this gender neutered age, that the market for these toys is female? Or so I assume. So, even if women fell in love with a sex toy, what are men to do? I will leave it to your imagination.

I will not refrain from pointing out that, what with the American workplace having been transformed into a boudoir, the incidence of workplace sexual harassment, whether through the activities of predatory males or through honest misinterpretations, must increase. 

When women decided to postpone marriage in favor of career, they flooded the workplace. The new women employees were young, attractive, looking for romance, even looking for husbands. They were unattached. If they had been older, married mothers, would things have been different? I leave that to your imagination also.

Thus, it adds a level of complexity to the #MeToo narrative whereby men are the predators and women are the prey. Sometimes, women want it too. And sometimes they are more than happy to spice up a dreary workday with a tryst in the broom closet. Speaking of romance….

Of course, even when they were not having sex in the workplace did not prevent large numbers of Americans—44%-- from getting romantically involved with their co-workers. This number stretches credulity... even mine.

Anyway, we now know that over 10% of employees have had sex on the job. Nearly twenty percent of those have been caught in the act. Apparently, discretion has gone out of style, along with caution.

The survey also strains credulity when it suggests that workplace sex improves productivity and morale. We might accept that people who are going to have sex at work might feel more motivated to go to work. And yet, if they are planning their next hookup, they are perhaps less focused on work. True, they say that the sex has made them more productive, but that is self-reported, not necessarily objective fact.

We are more interested to see that 34% of the 14% who have had sex with their bosses did it in order to climb the corporate ladder, thus to advance their career prospects. Does the name of Ali Watkins resonate in this context? It’s so hard to believe that today’s modern liberated women would want to screw their way to the top… but, stranger things have happened.

Among the other fascinating statistics. One in five of those who have engaged in sex on the job lost their jobs. 60% of office romances ended within twelve months. This made the work environment awkward. And yet, a quarter of office romances ended in marriage… so, there’s still hope.

And yet, 34% percent of office lovers were already married or engaged to someone else. How did that work out?

The moral of the story is that #MeToo was not happening in a vacuum. It was happening in an overly sexualized office environment. This does not mean that sexual predators have not taken advantage of the situation and have even committed criminal assault. And yet, information about the context allows us to temper our judgment.

When Medication Makes You Depressed

Fair enough. The results are not definitive. To some people they are controversial. And yet, while we are having a conversation about suicidal depression we ought to place some emphasis on the role that medication plays in the process. Today’s article from the Washington Post does not directly address whether or not SSRIs produce suicidal ideation, but looks at what is called polypharmacy.

It means that more and more Americans are prescribed drug cocktails, multiple medications, many of which carry a depression risk. The question researchers are trying to answer is: how do these drugs interact? What happens to people who are taking several medicines, many of which increase the chances of becoming depressed.

More than a third of American adults are taking prescription drugs, including hormones for contraception, blood pressure medications and medicines for heartburn, that carry a potential risk of depression, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study found that people who took multiple drugs associated with a possible increased risk of depression were also more likely to be depressed, but researchers couldn’t distinguish whether the medications were the cause. It's possible people already had a medical history of depression prior to taking the drugs, or the medical conditions they were being treated for could have contributed to their depression….

The work is part of a provocative and growing body of research that documents how polypharmacy — the use of multiple prescription drugs at the same time — has risen in the United States. The number of Americans taking at least five prescription drugs at the same time rose sharply between 1999 and 2012, and the elderly are particularly at risk for dangerous interactions between drugs.

The study examined drugs that list possible adverse side effects including depression and suicide, but that does not mean the link was always well-characterized — or that people should stop taking a drug that could be helping them. Painkillers and antidepressants were listed, which could be related to underlying reasons for the depression.

Pharmacy Professor Dima Qato of the University of Illinois has led the research:

Over the decade, Qato and colleagues found that 37 percent of U.S. adults, on average, took medications associated with a side effect of depression.

The team also found that the number of people taking at least three medications that carried a potential side effect of depression increased over the survey time period, from 6.9 percent in the 2005-2006 survey to 9.5 percent in 2013-2014. The rate of depression tripled in people taking at least three medications with a possible side effect, compared to people taking no drugs with that side effect.

As we emphasize, the results are preliminary. Yet, they suggest a clear correlation between the drugs and depression.

The Post concludes:

But even if doctors don't have definitive proof that a particular drug is causing a depression, the study is a reminder that physicians should consider the role of medications  — particularly for patients on multiple medications associated with increased risk of an adverse side effect, which the study shows are commonly used.

We are all interested, perhaps too interested, in how medication can treat depression. We have overlooked the question of how medication can produce depression.

Diversity for Thee, But Not for Me

Meanwhile, over at Google, it’s diversity for thee, but not for me.

The company has been propagandizing about diversity for years now. So have other Silicon Valley tech giants. Of course, talk is cheap. When you have all the money in the world, talk is even cheaper. What we really want to know is: how’s that diversity thing working out in practice?

Apparently, not so well. Uh, oh. Fair enough, the workforce became less white. But guess who picked up the slack: Asian males. There was a negligible increase in the percentage of female employees and in minority staff.

A group of shareholders had proposed that the company link executive compensation to diversity quotas. For reasons that do not make sense to me, the totally woke shareholders voted it down.

The Wall Street Journal has the numbers:

Google bumped the percentage of its female employees up by one-tenth of a percentage point to 30.9%. 

Despite falling more than 2 percentage points, white workers remained the majority at 53.1%, while Asians grew more than a percentage point to 36.3%. Black and Latino workers grew a tenth of a percent to 2.5% and 3.6%.

Google said it needs to do more on diversity, and added new data on hiring, attrition and gender by ethnicity. The new data showed black workers left the company at far higher rates than other groups. The report said its efforts at improving diversity must include “creating an inclusive culture” and not just boosted hiring.

There you have it. James Damore was fired for political incorrect thinking. The company declared itself to be a champion of diversity. It made for a good story. In practice, things are as they were.

Postscript to the Singapore Summit

I won’t say that it happens all the time, but most of the time real life is so complicated that it easily escapes the bounds of narrative.

While Trump’s detractors are talking down the Trump summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, we do well not to lose perspective. Detractors are horrified that Trump lauded Kim, but they fail to note that, Eastern culture being what it is, if he had not given the North Korean leader face, there would have been no summit and there would have been no denuclearization process.

Detractors are appalled that Trump agreed to suspend war games with the South Korean military, as though this is a terribly high price to pay to show amity and cooperation. Of course, they would have found something to appall them, no matter what. It's what they do.

For Kim to proceed with any plan to denuclearize, he would have had to come home with something that looked like a victory. Without it, he would have lost face and would have lost authority. It would have emboldened those hard line factions that did not want to make any deal at all. He could not have appeared to have been slapped down by an American president. Such are the ways of diplomacy.

The summit meeting, lasting approximately a half hour, was ceremonial. The real negotiations were happening elsewhere and were led by the eminently capable Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. After the summit ended, Pompeo flew to South Korea and then to Beijing to continue the real work.

And besides, as a pre-summit story in The Hill noted (via Maggie's Farm) a few days before the summit, the rapprochement between North and South Korea is already happening.

The Hill reported:

Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are starting a rapprochement process that, if successful, would fundamentally transform the geopolitics of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia at large….

 He [Moon] sees inter-Korean trade and investment links as the best guarantee for a peaceful and stable Korean Peninsula. His rationale is that this would necessarily change Pyongyang’s strategic calculus as the economies of South and North become intertwined.

One cannot underestimate the importance of these economic interactions. Surely, they were facilitated by the summit. While the Hill believes that they would have continued regardless of what had happened at the summit, I do not think that that is the case. In any event, the summit was carefully scripted and ceremonial. This means that there was little room for improvisation. Whoever was responsible did well.

As for the sanctions on North Korea, they are being loosened:

Economic exchanges can take place even if the current sanctions on North Korea remain in place. Sectors such as tourism, which North Korea is trying to promote, are not covered by the sanctions regime. Aid can be used to transfer medical or agricultural equipment. Waivers can be applied in areas such as infrastructure building. The South Korean government already is drawing plans to improve inter-Korean trade and investment under different sanctions scenarios.

According to The Hill, China is starting to ease its own sanctions, this being, as I see it, a small reward to Kim for doing what Beijing wants him to do. Keep in mind that the rapprochement is happening because Beijing respected the United Nations sanctions this time and that the result was that North Korea was brought to its knees.

Yet, on his trip to Beijing yesterday, Pompeo announced that the China had agreed to keep sanctions in place until denuclearization was complete. To what extent it will do so remains to be seen. And yet, the effective cooperation between the United States and China, accompanied with the activation of economic exchanges between North and South Korea bodes well for the future.

For Trump's detractors, this is the nightmare scenario. They do not care if the world blows up, as long as they can defeat Trump.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Notes on Suicide

I still think that we are talking too much about suicide, but… several informative articles have recently appeared. Thus, I feel obliged to report on them.This comes to us from the New York Times.

A physician from Tulane explains that social isolation, to which famous people are especially prone, can be a contributing factor. This implies, she continues, that social connections are an excellent treatment.

Catherine Burnette, an assistant professor at Tulane University School of Social Work in New Orleans, says if people have lived with untreated depression over time, it can implode in their 40s, 50s or 60s….

For accomplished or well-known people, isolation can be a risk factor, she says. “Social connection is one of the biggest antidotes to suicide,” she says. “I think it can be pretty isolating to be a celebrity, where outside people may seek social opportunities rather than social connection.”

The last point is salient. Celebrities do not become celebrities by developing networks of friends. They do not advance by socializing. They gain status by making a public spectacle of themselves... and this does not make other people want to associate with them.

When they become wealthy celebrities they are often preyed upon by people who want something from them. When that happens, they lose trust in other people. Thus, their friendships disintegrate.

And then, there is the problem of diagnosis. Not all depression is the same. It takes a skilled diagnostician, preferably a psychiatrist to differentiate among the different categories. As it happens, in today’s America, family doctors, general practitioners and internists prescribe most of the anti-depressant medication. When you have received the wrong medication and it does not work, you might more easily give up hope.

Consider the remarks of Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman:

Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University, says 90% of people who die by suicide have pre-existing mental disorders, whether they have been diagnosed and treated or not. The top four conditions associated with an increased risk for suicide are depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Another major risk factor for suicide is substance abuse, he says. Heavy drug or alcohol abuse alters the connectivity of neural pathways involved in reward and the emotional and cognitive processing of normal experiences. “It produces chemical changes and ultimately structural changes in a way that becomes permanent,” Dr. Lieberman says.

In the world of biochemistry, we ought also to consider the influence of menopause on the female brain. One suspects that such changes have been veiled in silence:

For women, hormonal changes that come with menopause may play a role. Menopause results in a drop in estrogen, which can cause changes in brain function, which not everyone is able to adapt to, he [Dr. Lieberman] says.

Today's New York Post contains an article about menopause and depression. Link here.

Finally, we read a frightening observation from a therapist in California. She explains that inpatient treatment for severe depression is very difficult to obtain… because insurance companies are only willing to pay for it if they can make money off of it. 

If you have insurance through a P.P.O. you are far more likely to receive extended inpatient hospital treatment than you would if you were insured by an H. M. O. An H. M. O. will make such extravagantly onerous demands that hospitals do not have the time or the manpower to respond to all of them.

I have no suggestion for how to rectify this, but surely the therapist is correct to find the situation horrifying.

I’m a licensed therapist who worked for a major health insurance company for nine months in 2007, on their crisis hotline. I will never forget the way members with H.M.O.s were treated vs. members with P.P.O.s.

In the case of a P.P.O., where the insurance company was not going to make any money off the crisis, authorizations for psychiatric hospitalization were granted liberally, a week at a time, with no reviews necessary.

However, if a member had an H.M.O., the insurance company had to pay directly for all the services and for every night spent at the hospital. So the sooner the member got out of the hospital, the more money the insurance company retained/earned.

Therefore, severely ill patients were given stingy authorizations, 24 hours at a time, with an extensive, 30- to 60-minute review required every single day in order to extend the authorization another 24 hours.

These reviews were time consuming and inevitably humiliating to the hospital doctors and staff, who had to account for every tiny aspect of their treatment, and be told by insurance company bureaucrats what treatment approaches they could and could not take.

The hospital staff could not devote their entire day to reviews, therefore only the absolute sickest patients were prioritized.

A Tale of Two Relationships: Trump with Netanyahu and Trudeau

Does the Trump administration feel a special affinity for autocrats? Does it make a special effort to offend traditional American allies in Western Europe and Canada? Does Trump reject democratic nations in favor of dictatorships led by strong men? Or does he disdain the actions of weak men?

In a long and worthwhile article today Caroline Glick explains the policy:

Trump’s actual doctrine is that the U.S. will help its allies and foes when they pursue goals the U.S. shares. And the U.S. will spurn allies – and enemies — who expect America to do their bidding as they mistake posturing for policymaking, and attitude for work.

Rather than simple-mindedly compare the Trump attitude toward North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and Canadian prime minister Justin Bieber, Glick compares the Trump relationship with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to his relationship with Canadian prime minister Justin Bieber.

Glick could have compared the way the two prime ministers were treated on their last visits to India. Whereas Netanyahu was greeted as an honored guest, a leader of a strong ally, Canada’s Trudeau was basically ignored by the Indian government. Canada’s ever-so-politically correct leader pranced around in Indian costumes, dressing inappropriately, insulting the Indian people, and looking like a clown.

To explain the Trump relationship with Netanyahu Glick quotes from a recent and excellent New Yorker article by Adam Entous. It is well worth a read.

It begins with the Netanyahu relationship with Obama. At  best, it was contentious. At worst, it was hostile.

Skip to the summer of 2014. Then, after Hamas murdered three Israeli teenagers and then attacked Israel, Obama sided with Hamas and against Israel.

Glick describes the events:

Second, in the summer of 2014, Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers. In its follow-up to the massacre, Hamas launched a massive missile and rocket war against Israel.

Israel referred to the war that ensued as Operation Protective Edge. Qatar and Turkey served as Hamas’s diplomatic representatives and defenders.

Rather than side with Israel in its war against the Hamas terror regime, as all of his predecessors had done to varying degrees, Obama sided with Hamas and its state sponsors, Qatar and Turkey, against Israel.

Obama insisted that Netanyahu accept Hamas’s ceasefire conditions and walk away with no guarantee that Hamas would end its rocket and missile offensive against Israel.

Obama’s embrace of Iran and effective alliance with Hamas through Turkey and Qatar were the last straws for Israel.

As often noted on this blog, Netanyahu saw an opportunity to develop good relations with Sunni Arab states. He took it. Obama had already alienated these states because of his betrayal of Hosni Mubarak, his support for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and his efforts to appease Iran.

While Obama was siding with Hamas, leading Sunni Arab states sided with Israel:

As Obama insisted Israel accept the Turkish-Qatari ceasefire offer – that is, Hamas’s ceasefire conditions — Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia all sided with Israel against Hamas – and Obama. They rejected Hamas’s ceasefire conditions and embraced Israel’s positions entirely. Their stunning public support for Israel compelled Obama to walk back his pressure on Israel.

And then, along came Trump. In their first meeting with then-candidate Trump both Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer presented him with a vision for a new relationship between America and Israel. They recommended that Trump take the lead in advancing the Israeli and American alliance with Sunni Arab states. As you know, this has come to pass.

Recognizing that American interests were better served by confronting Iran and Hamas than by strengthening them, Trump flew first to Saudi Arabia, and then continued on directly to Israel. Trump embraced and built upon the foundations Netanyahu had developed in order to advance Trump’s own vision of American needs in the Middle East. In particular, Trump charged U.S. allies with taking serious steps to advance the common goal of constraining and defeating Iran and Sunni jihadists.

And then Glick introducesda tale of two leaders, a comparison between the Netanyahu constructive approach to foreign policy with the feckless and mindless Trudeau approach:

Whereas Netanyahu — out of concern for both developing strategic ties with the incoming Trump administration and for mitigating the damage Obama’s policies had wrought on Israel’s national security — presented Trump with clearly articulated plans for achieving Trump’s own goals, Trudeau chose to ignore trade, despite a certain looming showdown over the issue with the Trump administration.

In other words: rather than accept that once Trump was elected, the Canadians would need to accept a new trade relationship with the Americans, Trudeau adopted positions on NAFTA that made it impossible to reach a deal.

For the past six months, Trudeau has managed to alienate U.S. trade representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer. Canadian representatives have refused to consider, let alone respect, reasonable U.S. concerns about trade tariffs, automobile manufacturing, and other key aspects of NAFTA and bilateral trade.

Instead of seeking compromises that could advance the interests of both countries, or at a minimum limit the damage that new U.S. trade policies would cause the Canadian economy, Trudeau pretended away the issue — hoping, apparently, that Trump would disappear if Trudeau just ignored him.

Trudeau never wanted or never knew how to negotiate in good faith with America on trade. And then, he larded it all over with politically correct claptrap:

Consequently, rather than engaging seriously with American negotiators — as the Mexicans are — Trudeau has added insult to injury by slapping progressive social engineering provisions regarding indigenous, gender, and worker rights onto Canada’s trade policies. Trudeau is apparently attempting to use bilateral trade to dictate the Trump administration’s social policy.

In other words, Trudeau has embraced posturing over substantive policymaking. Rather than presenting Trump with a deal that could make sense for the U.S. and Canada, Trudeau has presented himself as a progressive hero, standing up to the Left’s greatest enemy.

Glick makes a salient point. Trudeau is posturing, making himself a progressive hero. He takes himself for a leader of the Resistance. And then, when Trump calls him out, the armies of the American progressive left wail about how Trump is not treating him with respect.

Clearly, Trump is trying to realign American relations. People have misunderstood this:

… when Trump criticizes American allies for expecting the United States to defend them and pay for the privilege, he isn’t doing it to blow off steam. Trump believes that for alliances to be meaningful, they have to be alliances between independent states that come together to pursue common interests.

True, the U.S. is the strongest party. But it cannot be expected to do what its allies could do themselves yet refuse to do. When Trump discusses NATO reform, there can be little doubt that he envisions an alliance of states that actually defend themselves.

Obviously, the Western European nations that have been enjoying a free ride, especially when it comes to their defense, are now up in arms when they see the bill coming due. After all, they embody everyone’s most cherished ideals. How dare Trump call them out as wastrels whose grandiose social welfare experiments are underwritten by an American military that protects them and for which they do not pay a fair price?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Forever Complaining

We pride ourselves on our ability to criticize. We believe that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. We believe that we must communicate whatever is passing through our minds or our guts… openly, honestly and shamelessly.

On the other hand, we are not allowed to say many things about certain people. The era of open communication has run aground on the shoals of political correctness… what with the thought police and the bigotry patrols.

Thus, for having gone to one extreme we find ourselves facing the other extreme. For having gone too far in expressing exactly what is on our minds and for no longer moderating our utterances in the interest of sustaining a conversation, we are now facing a repressive regime of mind control which proscribes an increasing number of words and thoughts. The conflict does not produce balance. It produces drama. Most people are thoroughly tired of it. Yet, they continue to do it.

In the business world, we see a special manifestation of our libertarian speech codes. Business executives want to express themselves openly, honestly and shamelessly. They want to get it off their chest. They want to express themselves. They refuse to keep their feelings to themselves. They have high levels of emotional intelligence, and what good is your emotional intelligence if  you are not sharing your feelings?

Our psycho overlords have told us that it’s good for business. And that it’s good for your mental health. It’s a twofer… go for it.

In practice, the results are less than salutary. This postmodern therapy ethos has turned us into a nation of complainers. You might think that this is limited to interpersonal communication around the brunch table. You would be wrong. It rears its ugly head in the business world, where, as consultant Peter Bregman reports, executives have caught the whining bug. They complain all the time. Well, maybe not all the time, but for far too much of the time. It must damage productivity.

Bregman takes a cue from famed executive coach Marshall Goldsmith:

My friend, the legendary executive coach Marshall Goldsmith,   interviewed more than 200 of his clients and what he discovered matched previous research he read, but found hard to believe: “a majority of employees spend 10 or more hours per month complaining — or listening to others complain — about their bosses or upper management. Even more amazing, almost a third spend 20 hours or more per month doing so.”

And that doesn’t even include the complaining they do about their peers and employees. Which would be hard to believe if not for the fact that, if you pay attention to what you experience during your day, you’d find it’s pretty accurate.

Imagine the productivity gain of reducing all those complaining hours.

Imagine it, indeed. For the record Goldsmith recommends that we find a new rule, one that tells us that, just because you feel it, you do not have to say it. You do not have to share it. There is a special virtue in keeping your counsel. In keeping it to yourself. Or better, in choosing the right time and the right place and the right circumstances to share it. Evidently, this runs counter to the therapy culture directive, that prescribes oversharing as the royal road to business productivity. Thankfully the business coaches understand the utter folly of this proposal.

Bregman explains why it feels good to complain… which is an important point. People would not be venting as much as they do if it did not feel good. As it happens, lots of things feel good while not being good. A grand paradox, to say the least, but one that we ought to keep in mind. Momentary relief of tension feels good. The proof is in the outcome. Bregman explains very well why complaining is addictive.

Here’s what happens: Someone annoys us. We’re dissatisfied with how they’re behaving. Maybe we’re angry, frustrated, or threatened. Those feelings build up as energy in our bodies, literally creating physical discomfort (that’s why we call them feelings — because we actually, physically, feel them).

When we complain about someone else, the uncomfortable feelings begin to dissipate because complaining releases the pent up energy. That’s why we say things like “I’m venting” or “I’m blowing off steam” (But, as we’ll see in a moment, that dissipation doesn’t just release the energy, it spreads it, which actually makes it grow).

Additionally, when we complain to people who seem to agree with us — and we almost always complain to people who seem to agree with us — we solicit comfort, camaraderie, connection, support, and justification, which counteracts the bad feelings with some fresh, new good ones.

Complaining changes the balance of negative/positive energy and, for a brief moment at least, we feel better. It’s actually a pretty reliable process. Addictive even.

Which is the problem (beyond even the wasted time): Like just about all addictions, we’re feeding the spin of a destructive, never-ending cycle. The release of pressure — the good feeling — is ephemeral. In fact, the more we complain, the more likely the frustration, over time, will increase.

Why is this so? Bregman analyzes the problem by observing that we often complain about someone who is not there, who we don't want to address. Complaining is not about solving problems; it's about venting. In this, it seriously resembles therapy… especially the kind that encourages us to express our feelings but discourages us from doing anything to change the circumstances that have elicited the complaint. I would happily recommend that Bregman's analysis counts among the best explanations for why so much therapy fails.

Here’s why: when we release the pent up energy by complaining, we’re releasing it sideways. We almost never complain directly to the person who is catalyzing our complaints, we complain to our friends and families. We’re not having direct conversations to solve a problem, we’re seeking allies. We’re not identifying actions that could help, we’re, almost literally, blowing off steam.

Seeking allies while not addressing the problem. Well stated. We complain to sympathizers, even to empathizers. 

Bregman continues:

Complaining creates a number of dysfunctional side effects (again, beyond the time wasted): It creates factions, prevents or delays — because it replaces — productive engagement, reinforces and strengthens dissatisfaction, riles up others, breaks trust, and, potentially, makes the complainer appear negative. We become the cancer we’re complaining about; the negative influence that seeps into the culture.

Worse, our complaining amplifies the destructiveness and annoyance of the initial frustration about which we’re complaining.

Note the cogency of this analysis. In a nation of whiners we tend to factionalize. We avoid engagement, we increase dissatisfaction and amplify the original problem. When you do not solve a problem, it festers. The worse it gets the more you need affirmation that you are right in recognizing the problem. Unfortunately, you can easily recognize a problem without know how to solve it.

Think about it: someone yells in a meeting. Then you go to the next meeting (where no one is yelling) and you complain about the person who just yelled. Now other people, who weren’t at the initial meeting, feel the impact of the yelling and get upset about it too. Encouraged by their support, your brief, momentary release transforms into righteous indignation and, becoming even more incensed, you experience the initial uncomfortable feelings all over again.

He adds:

Complaining is a violent move to inaction. It replaces the need to act. If instead of complaining, we allowed ourselves to feel the energy without needing to dissipate it immediately — which requires what I call emotional courage — then we could put that energy to good use. We could channel it so it doesn’t leak out sideways.

In other words, let the uncomfortable feeling you have — the one that would otherwise lead you to complain — lead you to take a productive action.

If we apply this to feeling-based therapy, we note that venting feels good and makes people believe that they are making progress. And yet, given that complaining is a move toward inaction, the problem does not go away. It gets worse. And we continue to feel ashamed of ourselves for failing to act.

The solution, as Bregman states it, is to take a productive action and to address the problem. If the situation is that bad, stand up and show some courage… though do not do it in a way that threatens and demeans.

In effect, that is the problem. How many people today know how to address an issue without making it into a confrontation? How many know how to offer constructive advice without threatening the other person?

Given our experience with therapy and its culture, the answer must be: not very many of us.