Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Feminist Butt Shaming

Why is it that every time our national conversation, such as it is, turns to women’s issues… it’s always about se?. That is, it’s always about the female body, in all its curves and declivities. Those of us who make a habit of respecting women for their minds keep having our attention drawn to pussy hats and other parts of the female anatomy. Now, We are being invited to fix our gaze female butts covered and controlled by yoga pants.

You ask yourself why feminists feel a need to butt shame other women, but the question answers itself.

The topic was raised by New York Times editor, Honor Jones. As you might imagine her op-ed call for women to trade it their yoga pants for sweat pants, the better to avoid the dread male gaze, has attracted loads of feminist attention. The ladies at Jezebel, as feminist as anyone else, find it all to be ridiculous.  Other comments can be found at Pajamas Media. (via Maggie’s Farm)

This is what now passes as serious thinking on the Times op-ed page:

No one looks good in sweatpants. But that’s not the point. They’re basically just towels with waistbands. They exist for two activities: lounging and exercising — two activities that you used to be able to do without looking like a model in a P90X infomercial.

It’s not good manners for women to tell other women how to dress; that’s the job of male fashion photographers. Women who criticize other women for dressing hot are seen as criticizing women themselves — a sad conflation if you think about it, rooted in the idea that who we are is how we look. It’s impossible to have once been a teenage girl and not, at some very deep level, feel that.

In truth, it’s bad manners for anyone to tell women how to dress. Of course, it’s not the job of fashion photographers to do so. It’s the job of male fashion designers (most of whom are not straight) and fashion magazine editors (most of whom are not male.) And let’s not forget the fashion stylists… most of whom are also not straight men. Take that, male gaze.

And yet, Jones comes away with a blinding insight. Women can control the way men look at them, or better, whether men look at them. In her words:

I got on the elliptical. A few women gave me funny looks. Maybe they felt sorry for me, or maybe they were concerned that my loose pants were going to get tangled in the machine’s gears. Men didn’t look at me at all.

A woman has a choice. She is free to choose. She can dress exactly as she pleases. She can dress to be noticed by men or she can dress not to be noticed by men. Doesn’t this tell us that women exercise more power than they think when it comes to attracting the male gaze?

Happily, Jezebel includes an appropriately modest visual image that will allow us all to make up our own minds on the topic:
 Aimee Lutkin offers an astute commentary:

At least once a year, the Internet erupts into a wild argument about whether or not it’s okay for women to wear leggings. Heads roll, teeth gnash, and Twitter runs blue with mentions. The first leggings skirmish of 2018 began with an opinion piece from the only paper that rolls itself up to be used as a shit-stirrer: the New York Times.

Honor Jones titled her piece “Why Yoga Pants Are Bad For Women,” but it should probably be called “Why Yoga Pants Are Bad For Honor Jones But This Article is Good For Traffic.” On a cold day, Jones chose to wear sweatpants to the gym instead of one of the pairs of yoga pants she admits to owning. Jones claims that after getting on the elliptical in this cursed drawstring leg sack, women gave her “funny looks.” While I was not there, I am almost entirely certain this is not true.

Lutkin concludes:

First of all, if Jones wants to see a firm ass that has survived its 30-year shelf life, she can DM me. Secondly, don’t write a a half-baked take on leggings, throw on some body-shaming icing and an ageist cherry, then serve it to me like dessert. It’s trash bait, and you know it!

I imagine that this is what a cat fight looks like… but, truth be told, I am only imagining.

The Facts About Russia

The dominant media narrative keeps telling us that Vladimir Putin installed his puppet Donald Trump in the White House. Now, it continues, Trump is just doing the bidding of the Kremlin. He's a marionette whose strings are being pulled by Putin.

The rhetorical hyperbole is deafeningly stupid. Katrina vanden Heuvel, who owns the left leaning The Nation, calls the media out in the Washington Post this morning.

Robert S. Mueller III’s indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian organizations for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election set off a classic Beltway frenzy. Democrats, on the hunt against President Trump, led the way, echoed by neoconservatives, always eager to pump up the next crisis. This was an “act of war,” the “equivalent” of Pearl Harbor, liberal Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) charged.

A “9/11 scale event, a “Pearl Harbor scale event” intoned New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “similar in terms of impact.” If Russia’s efforts were as successful as the indictment says, wrote the normally sensible Robert Kuttner, “it means Trump literally became president in a Russia-sponsored coup d’état.”

Knowing the Democrats are not going to retake power by trafficking in such absurdities, vanden Heuvel continues:

Please. Bots are not bombs. Facebook ads are not the equivalent of planes flying into the World Trade Center. The casualties of Russian interference in our election are a far remove from the thousands lost during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, or at Pearl Harbor. The efforts detailed in the indictment — $100,000 in Facebook ads, more than one-half of which was spent after the election plus some scantly attended rallies — do not constitute a coup d’état. With Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania vital to Trump’s electoral college victory, a Senate hearing reported the total amount spent on Facebook targeting Wisconsin was “a mere $1,979; all but $54 was spent prior to the completion of the primary. ... The spending in Michigan and Pennsylvania was even smaller.” According to the indictment, the supposedly sophisticated operation only learned in June 2016 that it should focus its activities “on purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.”

She continues to regale us with other political exaggeration, and adds that she is most concerned that ginning up conflict between Trump and Putin makes it impossible for them to engage in diplomatic cooperation.

In the meantime, Trump and his supporters have declared themselves to have been tougher on Russia than the Obama administration. Victor Davis Hanson set down the facts, and they read like an indictment of Obama administration ineptitude. Could it be that the attacks on Trump are merely a way to distract us from the Obama record on Russia?

Hanson begins by giving us his conclusions:

From 2009 to 2015, in one of the most remarkable and Machiavellian efforts in recent strategic history, Putin almost single-handedly parlayed a deserved losing hand into a winning one. He pulled this off by flattering, manipulating, threatening, and outsmarting an inept and politically obsessed Obama administration.

Under the Obama presidency and the tenures of Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, Russia made astounding strategic gains — given its intrinsic economic, social, and military weaknesses. The Obama reaction was usually incoherent (Putin was caricatured as a “bored kid in the back of the classroom” or as captive of a macho shtick). After each aggressive Russian act, the administration lectured that “it is not in Russia’s interest to . . . ” — as if Obama knew better than a thuggish Putin what was best for autocratic Russia.

The Obama administration reset involved relieving Russia from Bush administration sanctions:

Under the Obama-Clinton reset protocols, Russia was freed from even the mild sanctions installed by the Bush administration, imposed for its 2008 Ossetian aggressions. As thanks, in early 2014, Russia outright annexed Crimea. It used its newfound American partnership as an excuse to bully Europe on matters of energy and policy, confident that under American reset, it would face little NATO pushback.

As for Eastern Europe, from Crimea to Poland and the Czech Republic, Obama did what Putin wanted him to do:

Russia assumed de facto control over large sections of eastern Ukraine. Its aggression sent nations of Eastern Europe and the Baltic States into a panic and raised fears of another Ukrainian-like intervention — thereby wresting pro-Russians concessions on the premise that it was nearby and unpredictably dangerous while the U.S. was distant and predictably inert. Russia succeeded in helping to dismantle previously negotiated U.S. missile-defense arrangements with the Czech Republic and Poland.

And, of course, Obama walked away from the Middle East, leaving it to the tender mercies of ISIS and Vladimir Putin:

After a near 40-year hiatus, Russia was invited into the Middle East by the Obama administration. It soon became the power broker in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq and to some extent offered passive-aggressive support for Israel and Turkey — a position of influence that it retains to this day and that would now be hard to undo. It posed as a “helper” to the Obama administration with Iran and helped broker the disastrous Iran deal — and then used U.S. acquiescence to Iran to fuel the ascendance of the Iran-Hezbollah-Assad crescent.

As a gesture to his friend Vlad, Obama also cut back on our nuclear weapons:

Despite America’s nuclear responsibilities, Russia convinced the Obama administration to cut back radically on our stockpile of deployable nuclear weapons. Such promised reductions in deliverable weapons came at a time of massive U.S. defense cuts and cancellations, and delays in missile defense.

As for the global energy market, there too Obama did what was necessary to empower Russian interests:

Russia was relieved by Obama’s efforts to stall fracking and make huge swathes of American territory off-limits for U.S. oil and gas exploration — as this would tighten global oil markets and enhance Russian petroleum export profits. The Obama administration inexplicably approved sale of a sizable portion of scarce U.S. uranium holdings to a Russian company, despite the fact that it was known that investors connected with the Kremlin and uranium interests had paid Bill Clinton $500,000 to give a speech in Moscow. In additions, the chairman of the so-called Uranium One consortium gave $2.5 million to the Clinton Foundation, a fact that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not disclose, even though she had promised (during her confirmation process) to reveal all such possible conflicts of interest.

And then there was the picture of the American president telling the then-Russian president, Medvedev that he would be more conciliatory towards Russia after the 2012 election. Why didn't anyone consider that to be an impeachable offense?

Barack Obama revealed himself with an open-mic promise to outgoing Russian puppet president Dmitri Medvedev, which, by any reasonable logic, could only be explained as a promise by Obama to retard U.S. missile-defense efforts in Europe in exchange for good Russian behavior during Obama’s reelection bid. (“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space. . . . This is my last election. . . . After my election, I have more flexibility.”) Had Donald Trump been caught in such a private conversation offering a Russian president a quid pro quo — massaging future U.S. national defense policy in a pro-Russia direction in exchange for Russian behavior that would help Trump’s electoral chances — he would probably be facing impeachment on grounds of real Russian collusion.

Contrast this, Hanson says, with the Trump record:

In just its first year, the Trump administration has armed Ukrainians, reentered the Middle East to bomb ISIS, squared off against Russia, and decimated Russian mercenaries in Syria. Trump also has ensured that the U.S. is well placed to usurp Russia as the world’s largest oil producer within about twelve months. He upped the defense budget, ordered the updating of the nuclear arsenal, bantered NATO members to increase their defense contributions, and traveled to Eastern Europe to bolster Western solidarity,

Facts speak louder than narratives. If your task in life is to defend the Obama administration policy toward Russia you too would want the nation to be talking about Trump’s Russia collusion.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

California's Disgrace

As you know, California’s major cities have been turned into shitholes…literally. Now, one group of local officials, the Orange County Board of Supervisors is fighting back. They are cleaning out an encampment in their county. Speaking for the board is member Todd Spitzer.

Tori Richards has the story for Fox News:

The specter of homeless encampments steadily expanding across the downtown streets of San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco – bringing with them a public health crisis – has one southern California community taking tough action to dismantle a two-mile-long camp just a short drive from Disneyland.

In a departure from the approach taken by other local governments in the state, officials in Orange County, Calif., have started to clear out the camp – by moving occupants and hauling away literally tons of trash and hazardous waste.

“It’s becoming part of the permanent landscape in those communities and there is no way we are going to allow Orange County land that is supposed to be used by residents to be occupied by the homeless,” said Todd Spitzer, who sits on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Given the nature of the beast, clean-up crews have had to wear hazmat suits:

Trash trucks and contractors in hazmat gear have descended on the camp and so far removed 250 tons of trash, 1,100 pounds of human waste and 5,000 hypodermic needles.

Naturally, homeless advocates and the ACLU are sorely offended that the homeless will not be able to exercise their civil liberties in Orange County any more.

But the effort hasn’t been without controversy as homeless advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union and a federal judge have all weighed in on the fate of some-700 people evicted from their home along the Santa Ana River -- next to Angel Stadium of Anaheim and a few miles from Disneyland, outside Los Angeles.

Spitzer, whose district includes the encampment, has battled the advocates since last fall when the decision was first made to close the camp. The ACLU and others filed a federal civil rights lawsuit to stop this and several stays have ensued until last week, when the final go-ahead was granted.

For those being evicted, a mediation with U.S. District Court Judge David Carter offered the choice of a bed in a shelter or a month-long motel voucher; medical aid; drug treatment; job training; storage for their belongings and housing for pets at the county animal shelter.

So far, 544 people have been moved to shelters and motel rooms and approximately 100 remain at the riverbed. Crews counted 207 tents, but it is unclear if they are occupied.

But one option is not negotiable – the homeless cannot move back to the Santa Ana River channel, which has paved shoulders where residents used to walk and bike. The river, which runs from the mountains to the sea, is home to much of Orange County’s groundwater and empties between pricey Newport and Huntington beaches. The beach has been closed often over the years due to high bacteria levels.

Polluted ground water, high bacteria levels on the beach… this is obviously a public health problem.

Spitzer points out what is happening in other California cities:

Los Angeles’ homeless problem has now spread past Skid Row to much of downtown. The amount of feces littering the streets in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco has led to a hepatitis outbreak that spread throughout the state’s homeless communities, infecting 694 people. It skipped Orange County.

Spitzer singled out for criticism Los Angeles and San Francisco. San Francisco’s feces problem is so bad that a website now exists to warn residents of which streets to avoid. Los Angeles raised taxes last year in order to build housing for the homeless and has started a roving toilet program.

“That isn’t going to happen in our county. It’s not going to be our skid row,” Spitzer vowed. “We need to be compassionate and empathetic. I’m writing checks all over the place. But I’m not going to intermingle this population with property owners, are you kidding?”

Good old California… roving toilet programs… that will surely solve the problem.

California is leading the nation in homelessness:

Approximately a half-million people in the United States are homeless, with California accounting for 25 percent -- the largest number of any state, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Orange County has 4,792 homeless.

Spitzer affixes the blame:

Spitzer blames the problem on two issues: legislation signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown over the past several years that has eroded the penalties for drug use, possession and petty crimes to where police often don’t bother making arrests; and the change in a law so that treatment is no longer forced for drug abuse or mental health issues.

This week he wrote a letter to Brown, urging him to declare a state of emergency over the homeless issue and reverse previous forced-treatment laws.

“When I was a prosecutor, the law behind possession was a felony,” said Spitzer, a former deputy district attorney. “We would use the hammer under the law of a felony. We would force someone into treatment and upon successful treatment, the felony would be dismissed. Now look what we have as a result of ridiculous short-sighted liberalization of drug use.”

Remember the issue of involuntary commitment for people like Nikolas Cruz who have severe mental health problems. Well, apparently, Governor Moonbeam and his band of state legislators managed to repeal the forced-treatment of drug addicts laws… the result is the disgrace on the streets of the Not-So-Golden State.

For Third World Migrants: Next Stop America

Writing in The New Republic Lauren Markham looks into the future and shows us the next phase in the international refugee crisis. As Europe closes its doors and declares refugees to be unwelcome, many of them are traveling to South and Central America in order to enter a nation that believe will be more welcoming. 

They are coming to the United States of America. They know that the Trump administration has been cracking down on such migrants, putting them in detention or deporting them. And yet, they are willing to gamble that American progressives, drunk on their righteous feelings of cosmopolitanism, will eventually prevail.

How big is the crisis? Markham begins:

Today, more than 65 million people around the world have been forced from their homes—a higher number than ever recorded, as people flee war, political upheaval, extreme poverty, natural disasters, and the impacts of climate change. Since 2014, nearly 2 million migrants have crossed into Europe by sea, typically landing in Italy or Greece. They hail from dozens of countries, but most are from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Nigeria—countries struggling with war, political repression, climate change, and endemic poverty.

One might mention that third world misery is not all that new. What is new are Western political leaders, from Angela Merkel to Barack Obama, who sent the message that Europe and even the United States would welcome them. Open your borders and people take notice. They see another option and they make their move.

America is looking better now that Europe is cracking down on refugees:

In response to the migrant crisis, European countries have sent strong messages that newcomers are no longer welcome; they’ve built fences to stop refugees from crossing their borders and elected far-right politicians with staunchly anti-immigrant messages. Meanwhile, most asylum cases are stalled in overburdened court systems, with slim prospects for any near-term resolution, which leaves many migrants stuck in the wicked limbo of a squalid, under-resourced refugee camp or austere detention facility. Today, European authorities have stiffened their resistance not only to new arrivals, but to the hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers who arrived years before and remain in an eerie liminal zone: forbidden to live or work freely in Europe and unwilling, or often unable, to go home.

One door closes, another opens. The migrants are now moving toward South America, the better to make their way to the United States:

Each year, thousands of migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia make their way to South America and then move northward, bound for the United States—and their numbers have been increasing steadily. It’s impossible to know how many migrants from outside the Americas begin the journey and do not make it to the United States, or how many make it to the country and slip through undetected. But the number of “irregular migrants”—they’re called extra-continentales in Tapachula—apprehended on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico has tripled since 2010.

Right now the numbers are small. Surely, the Trump policies have discouraged some of them. And yet, they are awaiting the defeat of Trump and the return to Obama era policies, those championed by Democrats:

They remain a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans crossing into the United States. But it is a hastening trickle that may well become a flood. “These ‘extra-continental’ migrants will probably increase,” said Roeland De Wilde, chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration in Costa Rica, “given the increased difficulties in entering Europe, relative ease of entry in some South American countries, and smugglers’ increased organization across continents.”

Markham believes that it’s inevitable. Vulnerable human beings, she says, will always find a way. I prefer to think of the problem in terms of bad policy, of Merkel’s open arms policies and Obama’s DACA directive. 

Anyway, Markham says:

All Europe has done is redirect the flow of vulnerable humanity, fostering the development of a global superhighway to move people over this great distance. The doors will not hold, and neither will the fences. You can build a wall, but it will not work. Desperate people find a way.

She continues that the Trump administration poses a problem for these migrants:

Irregular migrants have risked everything to try to make it to the United States, believing that their chances of finding shelter are better there than in Europe. But, given the increasingly draconian immigration policies of the Trump administration, have they made a bad bet? Most extra-continentales know that immigration is complicated in the United States, but they see it as a set of bureaucratic obstacles that are easier to surmount than those in Europe and far easier than what they have endured to get there. Having struggled so mightily to reach Tapachula and the final leg of their journey, they should be forgiven for believing that the worst hardships are behind them. Focused, as they are, on simply surviving, it is hard for them to know the extent of the challenges that await them in the United States.

So, as America fights over immigration legislation, it is worthwhile to understand that a Trump defeat will send a signal to people around the world: America is open to migrants.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Jennifer Lawrence's Boobs

I noticed that many readers of this blog are fans of Jennifer Lawrence. As the Romans used to say: De gustibus non est disputandum.

I am sure that J. Law fans want to keep up to date on her latest doings and undoings. So I will report on a note from New York Magazine.

As you doubtlessly know, Lawrence was the victim of a hacker who accessed her nude photos and disseminated them across cyberspace. There is no question that it was a crime. We have no sympathy for the hacker, who, if I recall correctly, is now receiving his just reward in prison.

Of course, we all know that she should never have taken such photos. Period. End of story. That does not mitigate the guilt of the hacker, but seriously folks, you do not take pictures of your naked glory and assume that no one will ever share them with the hockey team.

The story at the time claimed that Lawrence had done it because her boyfriend had requested them. You see, he was going to be away from her for a period of time and was facing a dire choice, the kind that is only intelligible to members of the millennial generation. He told his inamorata that he was either going to masturbate while gazing on pictures of her naked loveliness or else he was going to perform the same action while gazing on pictures of porn stars. Speaking of commitment. Speaking of respect. Speaking of true love.

Apparently, J. Law found this argument persuasive. Perhaps you have to be very young to believe it, but such is the love life of our younger generation. And then they wonder why their relationships don’t last.

Anyway, Lawrence felt violated by the exposure. She suffered enormous anguish. It seems perfectly normal. We might not feel her pain, but we certainly sympathize.

How do you overcome the shame you feel when your nakedness is flashed around the world, when your dignity has been compromised, unintentionally. How do you show that you did not consent?

Well, let’s allow the star to speak for herself on Sixty Minutes:

In a new interview, Jennifer Lawrence says that, up until recently, being the victim of a 2014 nude-photo hack had a lingering effect on her career. She tells 60 Minutes that the invasion of privacy made her reluctant to do nudity in films, but that she couldn’t pass up the script for Red Sparrowbecause of that fear and decided to reclaim authority over her body in the film. “I realized there’s a difference between consent and not. I showed up for the first day and I did it and I felt empowered,” she says. “I feel like something that was taken from me, I got back.” In the Russian spy film, one scene required J.Law to go topless, and if anyone has a problem with it she has some words for you: “It’s my body, it’s my art, and it’s my choice. And if you don’t like boobs, you should not go see Red Sparrow.”

Now, another generation of girls is going to believe that they can feel empowered by flashing their boobs to the world. And then they wonder why no one respects them.

True enough, it’s about consent. When your pictures are hacked, you have not consented to the exposure. And yet, people’s minds are filled with these pictures. How do you rid their minds of the image. And also, how do you show that you did not consent? Which means: did you want the world to see you naked? Which implies: do you have good character?

If you choose to flash the world in a movie, you are saying that you consent, that you lack a functioning sense of shame. Someone is giving the actress some very bad advice, indeed. If such should happen to you, the first rule is to establish that you do not consent and that displaying your private parts in the public square says nothing about your character.

How do you do it?

Simple: you keep your clothes on. You keep your shirt on. You keep your pants on. You emphasize modesty in your personal behavior and in your artistic expressions. At a time when male directors and producers seem to think that great art can only happen when they harass young women, or better, talk them out of their clothes, a world famous movie star, one who makes an enormous amount of money, could have set a good example by saying No to nudity.

Mental Illness and Mass Shootings

We all want to know whether mass shooters suffer from more mental illness than the average citizen.  And we have been told that they do not. This factoid has been pounded into everyone’s mind so often that most people now accept it uncritically. It reminds us of the Big Lie… keep repeating it over and over again until everyone believes it. Naturally, the Big Lie is garnished with a few skewed facts, to make it appear to be an empirical fact.

And then, those who insist that mass shooters are not necessarily more mentally ill tell us that they want to protect psychotics from being stigmatized… as though that is their biggest problem.

Psychosis is an illness. It requires medical treatment. Among the problems that bedevil psychotics is that they often refuse treatment. Wanting to treat someone who suffers from an illness, probably a brain disease, is not the same as stigmatizing him.

Researchers Grant Duwe and Michael Rocque have crunched the numbers, analyzed the statistics. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed they explain that there is indeed a direct correlation between mass shooters and mental illness. (via Instapundit) To ignore it is to ignore the obvious.

At the broadest level, peer-reviewed research has shown that individuals with major mental disorders (those that substantially interfere with life activities) are more likely to commit violent acts, especially if they abuse drugs. When we focus more narrowly on mass public shootings — an extreme and, fortunately, rare form of violence — we see a relatively high rate of mental illness.

According to our research, at least 59% of the 185 public mass shootings that took place in the United States from 1900 through 2017 were carried out by people who had either been diagnosed with a mental disorder or demonstrated signs of serious mental illness prior to the attack. (We define a mass public shooting as any incident in which four or more victims are killed with a gun within a 24-hour period at a public location in the absence of military conflict, collective violence or other criminal activity, such as robberies, drug deals or gang turf wars.)

At times, it helps to read between the lines:

In a story that largely suggested mass murderers are not "insane," the New York Times cited research showing that, in fact, mass murderers are nearly 20 times more likely to have a "severe" mental illness than the general population.

According to our research, only one-third of the people who have committed mass shootings in the U.S. since 1900 had sought or received mental health care prior to their attacks, which suggests that most shooters did not seek or receive care they may have needed.

Thanks to the civil liberties lobby and the anti-psychiatry movement, America does not offer treatment to those who are suffering from severe mental illness. In that we are an outlier:

… the U.S. has higher rates of untreated serious mental illness than most other Western countries. Additional research shows that the gap is even larger for males, who have committed 99% of the country's mass public shootings.

But, at least they are not being stigmatized. When push comes to shove, we can blame it all on guns. We do not want to place any blame on the FBI or the Broward County sheriff. And we certainly do not want to hold the ACLU to account for the consequences of policies it has championed.

Community Cures

George Monbiot calls it one of the most dramatic medical advances in decades. It will save countless lives. It will improve treatment outcomes radically. It will reduce hospital stays. And yet, it is not a new drug. It is not a new surgical procedure. The dramatic advance is a community effort to provide the sick with stronger social connections.

In a town called Frome in the British county of Somerset, local citizens decided to provide community support to the ill. The results were dramatic:

While across the whole of Somerset emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% during the three years of the study, in Frome they fell by 17%. Julian Abel, a consultant physician in palliative care and lead author of the draft paper, remarks: “No other interventions on record have reduced emergency admissions across a population.”

Who discovered and implemented this program? And, what does it look like in practice?

Monbiot has the story:

The Compassionate Frome project was launched in 2013 by Helen Kingston, a GP there. She kept encountering patients who seemed defeated by the medicalisation of their lives: treated as if they were a cluster of symptoms rather than a human being who happened to have health problems. Staff at her practice were stressed and dejected by what she calls “silo working”.

So, with the help of the NHS group Health Connections Mendip and the town council, her practice set up a directory of agencies and community groups. This let them see where the gaps were, which they then filled with new groups for people with particular conditions. They employed “health connectors” to help people plan their care, and most interestingly trained voluntary “community connectors” to help their patients find the support they needed.

Sometimes this meant handling debt or housing problems, sometimes joining choirs or lunch clubs or exercise groups or writing workshops or men’s sheds (where men make and mend things together). The point was to break a familiar cycle of misery: illness reduces people’s ability to socialise, which leads in turn to isolation and loneliness, which then exacerbates illness.

Why does it work?

Social stress causes inflammation and inflammation is not your friend when you are ill:

… people without strong social connections, or who suffer from social stress (such as rejection and broken relationships), are more prone to inflammation. In the evolutionary past, social isolation exposed us to a higher risk of predation and sickness. So the immune system appears to have evolved to listen to the social environment, ramping up inflammation when we become isolated, in the hope of protecting us against wounding and disease. In other words, isolation causes inflammation, and inflammation can cause further isolation and depression.

It’s not exactly news:

A famous paper published in PLOS Medicine in 2010reviewed 148 studies, involving 300,000 people, and discovered that those with strong social relationships had a 50% lower chance of death across the average study period (7.5 years) than those with weak connections. “The magnitude of this effect,” the paper reports, “is comparable with quitting smoking.” A celebrated study in 1945 showed that children in orphanages died through lack of human contact. Now we know that the same thing can apply to all of us.

Dozens of subsequent papers reinforce these conclusions. For example, HIV patients with strong social support have lower levels of the virus than those without. Women have better chances of surviving colorectal cancer if they have strong connections. Young children who are socially isolated appear more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes in adulthood. Most remarkably, older patients with either one or two chronic diseases do not have higher death rates than those who are not suffering from chronic disease – as long as they have high levels of social support.

We assume that Frome, in the county of Somerset, is a relatively homogeneous British town. It does not suffer from cultural diversity. We recall, because Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam researched the issue, that more diversity lowers social capital. More diversity causes people to hunker down, to stay within themselves and their families, to avoid social contacts where they do not know the rules and thus run a constant risk of offending. Diversity isolates people.

So, we are forced to conclude that diversity, per se, is not only confusing. It will damage community ties, draw down your social capital and will make you sick… or, if you are already sick, it will make you sicker.

Portrait of a Postmodern Relationship

A woman writes to Carolyn Hax about her daughter’s distressing life situation. Hax does not have an answer to this. She does not know what the mother should do. Neither do I.

Yet, we should ask ourselves how prevalent this modern relationship is. A successful young woman is living with her boyfriend. She is bright and personable; he is withdrawn and generally inert. She owns her home and he plays video games. She has a good job and he works occasionally. They do not communicate and obviously do not get along.

Sound familiar? Sound like the product of a culture that favors girls over boys, that encourages girls to be independent and autonomous and that tells boys to get in touch with their feminine sides. And also, a culture that tells girls that they should be so completely independent that they should never take advice.

Here’s the letter:

My daughter is in a relationship with her high school boyfriend. They are now living together in a different state with no relatives nearby. My daughter, 25, is a people person with a bubbly personality and makes friends easily. Her boyfriend does not. He prefers to stay home, work every now and then, and stay up all night playing video games online with other gamers.

She is a hard worker with a very well-paying job and owns her own home. However, she comes home to this situation.

In fact, when they are home together, there is no communication because he is doing his “own” thing while she just sits and becomes depressed. He tells her to go out with friends but she feels guilty and refuses.

This is the only boy she has ever dated and he is smothering her. I am going for a visit soon and want to talk to her about everything. Please advise me how to start the conversation without her thinking I want to control her life.

Carolyn Hax is not optimistic. Neither am I. The relationship in question is a product of a culture that is collapsing around us. We have played fast and loose with gender roles. We have brainwashed a generation or more of young people into thinking that women should be strong and empowered while men should not be breadwinners. And we told young women that they should never take advice from anyone. These young people are living the feminist dream.

How many similar relationships are out there? We know that more and more young men are spending more and more of their time playing video games. Most are in their parents' basement. Yet, a young man who is living off his girlfriend's work cannot feel good about himself. He cannot want to display his dereliction in public or even to face her. Unfortunately, he does not feel enough shame to change things. And she does not have enough sense to end things.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

"Woke" Hollywood Vice

Nearly nothing is quite as preposterous as the self-righteous moral preening of the Hollywood elites. As we anxiously await this year’s Oscar awards presentation, those of us who still have the poor sense to watch the spectacle gird our loins awaiting the non-stop barrage of jokes, insults and put-downs… all directed at the Republican president and his party. This year we also expect an outpouring of outrage ... directed against the NRA.

In other terms, you know what is going to happen. You know what will be said. You know who will be showered with ridicule. Certainly, you can find a better way to spend an evening.

Anyway, the moral paragons and dimwitted high school dropouts who inhabit Tinseltown are not up in arms against male sexual predators. They have become militants and activists, mobilized by the #MeToo movement. Even a wonderful actress like Jennifer Lawrence has said that she would give up acting for a year in order to “save democracy.” If that’s the best that democracy can do, it’s time to give up. Since Lawrence has gained well-deserved fame for pretending to be someone she is not, she would do better not to pop the bubble of illusion.

Anyway, USA Today surveyed Hollywood women and asked how many of them had been sexually assaulted or harassed while on the job. A reasonable question, don’t you think? They sent out the survey questionnaire, so the results were self-selected. That being said, USA Today was shocked and surprised to discover that 94% of actresses had suffered some form of sexual harassment.

I will note that the woke politically correct crowd in Hollywood no longer calls female actors… actresses. It calls them actors, the better to bring gender neuterdom to their world. Yet another absurd gesture toward equality, it had little effect on predatory Hollywood directors and producers. All of whom, I promise you, were using the politically correct word while insisting that young women could never work in Hollywood unless they were willing to audition in the nude. What a surprise!

USA Today reports:

The first number you see is 94% — and your eyes pop with incredulity.

But it's true: Almost every one of hundreds of women questioned in an exclusive survey by USA TODAY say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault during their careers in Hollywood….

Unwanted sexual comments and groping. Propositioning women. Exposing themselves. Coercing women into having sex or doing something sexual. And, especially pertinent to showbiz, forcing women to disrobe and appear naked at an audition without prior warning.

It's been deeply disturbing reading, but so far the powerful stories of accusers outnumber plain, hard facts about the extent of the problem in Tinseltown. Until now.

Did these women, who had had their consciousness raised by the constant public discussion of sexual harassment, fight back? No, they did not. When they did, nothing changed anyway.

Only one in four women reported these experiences to anyone because of fear of personal or professional backlash or retaliation. This reporting rate holds true for all forms of misconduct addressed in the survey, including being forced to do something sexual. 

Of those who did report their experiences, most say reporting did not help them; only 28% say their workplace situation improved after reporting. 

Of course, we have been having a national conversation about workplace sexual harassment for nearly three decades now. Apparently, all it has done is give men ideas and allow women to believe that it is the norm:

One surprising finding: Even though America has been arguing about workplace sexual harassment ever since the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings in 1991, more than one-third of women surveyed weren't even sure that what happened to them was sexual harassment. 

Without doing any further research, I can assure you that the men perpetrating these assaults were proud feminists. I promise you that they all voted for Hillary Clinton. After all, they were merely following the example set by Bubba himself. And they knew that if they had been caught, Hillary would defend them to the death against the “vast right wing conspiracy.”

The Calamity That Is Angela Merkel

Today in the Times of London noted economic historian Niall Ferguson assesses the tenure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He concludes that she has been an unremitting disaster.

You know that you can always count on the media and the cognoscenti to provide you with the highly varnished truth. With Merkel, doubtless for reasons that have something to do with sexual politics, the intellectual elites have been blind to her dereliction.

Ferguson seems to believe that his is  minority view:

The important truth about which very few people agree with me is that Angela Merkel has been a political disaster. The German chancellor has long been the darling of the pro-European media. In November 2015 The Economist called her “the indispensable European”. A month later the Financial Times named her its “person of the year”. Time magazine proclaimed her “chancellor of the free world”. I could go on.

Merkel’s problems stem in large part from making what Ferguson calls:

… the single biggest error in the history of the postwar German republic.

That would be, opening Germany to more than a million Muslim asylum seekers in 2015:

Since the start of 2015, Germany has received 1.38m “initial asylum applications”, about a third of them from Syrians. Three-quarters of the asylum seekers are aged 30 or younger; 60% are male. About half the applications have been approved, but only around 80,000 of those denied asylum have been deported. About 86% of accepted refugees are Muslims.

The full implications of this mass influx remain to be seen. According to the Pew Research Centre, the Muslim population of Germany (which was 6% in 2016) could be anything between 8.7% and 19.7% by 2050, depending on the future rate of immigration.

What have the consequences been? For one, crime has increased exponentially. For another, the political backlash has been, in Ferguson’s words, “seismic:”

The short-run consequences, however, are clear. There has been a marked increase in crime. And there has been a seismic political backlash. The crime issue is controversial, but last month a rigorous, government-commissioned study was published by the Zürich University of Applied Sciences, based on data from the state of Lower Saxony. By the end of 2016, around 750,000 of the state’s 8m residents were not German citizens, and about 170,000 of them had applied for asylum.

The Zürich study reveals that asylum seekers were responsible for a surge in violent crime, which had fallen by 22% between 2007 and 2014, but rose by more than 10% from then until the end of 2016. More than 92% of that increase was attributable to the newcomers, with young men from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia overrepresented among the perpetrators.

And the victims? In nine out of 10 murders and three-quarters of cases of grievous bodily harm, they were other migrants. But in 70% of robberies and 58.6% of rape and sexual assault cases, the victims were German. Think about that.

While you are thinking about that, you will see that Merkel has performed poorly by many other standards:

I could add to the case against Merkel. I believe she has reduced Germany to a condition of parlous geopolitical and military weakness. I believe she contributed significantly to the European mishandling of the Arab revolutions, which in turn triggered mass migration across the Mediterranean. I believe she did much to make the global financial crisis worse than it need have been for southern Europe, agreeing to bailouts only at the last minute, thereby maximising uncertainty about the future of the euro.

And yet, the intelligentsia wants and needs a powerful woman to set forth as the leader of the Western world. It makes us more woke. It makes us more feminist friendly. Thus, regardless of the Merkel record, the propaganda machine will continue to defend her.

After all, she was very close to Barack Obama. When Obama was projecting weakness around the world, he handed the scepter of Western leadership to his good friend and close ally, Angela Merkel.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

John Gray Takes Steven Pinker to Task

I cannot imagine a better reviewer for Steven Pinker's latest treatise on the Enlightenment than cantankerous British philosopher John Gray. When it comes to reading Pinker’s 576 page tome, better him than me.

Gray is well suited to the task because he is not, to say the least, a wild-eyed optimist. We count on him to provide a counterweight to Pinker’s imitation of Dr. Pangloss. Where Pinker looks at glass that is half full and declares it to be full, Gray sees the emptiness within. He holds a tragic view of human existence, one that correlates reasonably well with Freud’s, but not with mine.

Such is life.

Yet, Gray is a philosopher. Pinker is a psychologist. And Gray has a far better grasp of intellectual history than Pinker. Thus, you expect that he will do more than throw shade at the naïve young Pinker. And, Gray is not intimidated because the world’s richest dupe, Bill Gates, said that Pinker’s book is the best book he has ever read.

Gray concludes his review thusly:

Judged as a contribution to thought, Enlightenment Now is embarrassingly feeble. With its primitive scientism and manga-style history of ideas, the book is a parody of Enlightenment thinking at its crudest. A more intellectually inquiring author would have conveyed something of the Enlightenment’s richness and diversity. Yet even if Pinker was capable of providing it, intellectual inquiry is not what his anxious flock demands. Only an anodyne, mythical Enlightenment can give them what they crave, which is relief from painful doubt.

Given this overriding emotional imperative, presenting them with the actual, conflict-ridden, often illiberal Enlightenment would be – by definition, one might say – unreasonable. Judged as a therapeutic manual for rattled rationalists, Enlightenment Now is a highly topical and much-needed book. In the end, after all, reason is only the slave of the passions.

Liberals are drooling over Pinker because his book provides them with much needed therapy. The liberal order, the hope for liberal democracy has been losing ground lately. Now, Pinker has come along to soothe those hurt feelings, to calm those dashed hopes, with an assurance that liberals are on the right side of history.

So says Gray in his opening paragraph:

To think of this book as any kind of scholarly exercise is a category mistake. The purpose of Pinker’s laborious work is to reassure liberals that they are on “the right side of history”.

This tells us that Pinker is trafficking in born-again Hegelianism… the kind of philosophy that sees history unfolding according to a predetermined plan, and reaching a predetermined goal, no matter what you or I do or say. If you think that history is going to bail out your theoretical errors, you are seriously mistaken.

Pinker might have noticed that true Hegelians, like Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, do not believe in freedom. They do not believe in free market capitalism. They hold it to be a monstrosity concocted to oppress the masses and to delay the arrival of the Worker’s Paradise. And yet, Gray points out that Pinker loves capitalism and free enterprise, grand accomplishments of what he sees as the Enlightenment.

One understands that Francis Fukuyama has already explained that the endpoint of the Hegelian World Spirit’s movement is a liberal democracy. And one understands that Hegel himself saw the apotheosis of the World Spirit in the conquering armies of Napoleon. Both Hegel and Fukuyama thought that Napoleon was bringing the liberal democracy promoted by the French Revolution. 

And yet, the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror were not promoting liberal democracy. They were certainly not promoting free enterprise. The latter was a product of the British, i.e. Scottish Enlightenment, through David Hume and Adam Smith. Hume, the most important British Enlightenment thinker is, Gray tells us, ignored by Pinker. Doubtless Hume’s empirical bent was inconsistent with Pinker’s Hegelian idealism.

The true logical outcome of the Hegelian dialectic is a police state, where the power of the state imposes correct thinking on the masses. Its not a marketplace of ideas, but One Mind, thinking the same thoughts and believing the same beliefs.

Worse yet, for a Pinker, who rejects religion and faith, without really understanding either, is that free enterprise bases its concept of freedom on the free will that has been central to Western religion since the book of Genesis. Pinker’s belief in free enterprise shows that he does not understand the difference between the Franco-German Enlightenment and its British cousin.

The difference should be clear to everyone, especially since I related it in my book The Last Psychoanalyst. In a world where people possess true freedom they are not trapped within a grand historical narrative.  They are not worrying their souls about whether they are onthe right side of history. They are involved in a game where the outcome is uncertain. They participate in the market as players making moves in a game. To imagine that it will all work itself out no matter what you do is naïve.

Gray taxes Pinker with simpleminded thinking, as in this explanation of the Pinker argument about reason and faith:

Early on in this monumental apologia for a currently fashionable version of Enlightenment thinking, he writes: “To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason.” Well, it’s good to have that settled once and for all. There is no need to trouble yourself with the arguments of historians, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists, who treat religion as a highly complex phenomenon, serving a variety of human needs. All you need do is consult a dictionary, and you will find that religion is – by definition – irrational.

If I may, as I have often remarked, the great Thomas Aquinas showed over the course of thousands of pages that faith can indeed be rational. As for the question of supernatural entities, I will  introduce a point once argued by Jacques Lacan, with an assist from Alexander Meiklejohn. Namely, how do you know that ideas exist? You have never seen, heard, tasted, touched or smelled an idea. You will accept that the orbit of the planets, as rendered in a formula by Kepler, obeys a law, thus an idea. If so, the idea certainly existed before Kepler wrote it down as a scientific law. If it existed, where was it? And, what mind was thinking it? 

You might happily dismiss religious faith, but if you undertake a project or implement a new policy, you do not know whether or not it will work. You will proceed on the basis of a faith that it will… even if there are no scientific facts about the outcome.

Gray is too kind to mention it, but Pinker has ignored a basic insight offered by David Hume—namely, that science is about what "is" while ethics is about “should.” This means that you cannot use science to articulate ethical principles. Those who do, Gray notes, are not practicing science, but are indulging in scientism.

For Pinker, the second law of thermodynamics doesn’t simply identify a universal regularity in the natural world, “it defines the fate of the universe and the ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and knowledge to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order”.

Leaving the physics to the side, this suggests that life is a zero-sum game, that one person’s economic progress must come at the expense of someone else… and thus, that we must redistribute wealth rather than to grow it. Again, without saying anything about Newton, making his laws of thermodynamics into moral principles causes problems.

As for Newton’s third law of thermodynamics—“for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”—if you should be tempted to make it into a moral principle, you will find yourself with something like the law of the talion: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. And you will note that this principle of retaliatory justice has largely been superseded by the Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Again, disregarding the physics, the law of the talion produces social disharmony, an unending cycle of violence.

As I have suggested, and as Gray argues, Pinker is presenting a polemic. This does not involve the scientific method where facts can prove or disprove a hypothesis. Pinker has produced a fictional world where the Enlightenment is responsible for all the good that has happened in the world, and where those who reject the Enlightenment have produced all the evil. It is both childishly naïve and Hegelian:

To be sure, for Pinker there are no bad Enlightenment ideas. One of the features of the comic-book history of the Enlightenment he presents is that it is innocent of all evil. Accordingly, when despots such as Lenin repeatedly asserted that they engaged in mass killing in order to realise an Enlightenment project – in Lenin’s case, a more far-reaching version of the Jacobin project of re-educating society by the methodical use of terror – they must have been deluded or lying. 

And also,

Pinker stipulates that the Enlightenment, by definition, is intrinsically liberal. Modern tyrannies must therefore be products of counter-Enlightenment ideologies – Romanticism, nationalism and the like. Enabling liberals to avoid asking difficult questions about why their values are in retreat, this is a popular view. Assessed in terms of historical evidence, it is also a myth.

For Pinker, all the horrors that have befallen the human species since the advent of the Enlightenment flow from the pen of one Friedrich Nietzsche. Better to blame it on Nietzsche than accepting that the German Enlightenment produced both Communism and Naziism.

In his words:

If one wanted to single out a thinker who represented the opposite of humanism (indeed of pretty much every argument in this book) one couldn’t do better than the German philologist Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche helped to inspire the romantic militarism that led to the First World War and the fascism that led to the Second. The connections between Nietzsche’s ideas and the megadeath movements of the 20th century are obvious enough; a glorification of violence and power, an eagerness to raze the institutions of liberal democracy, a contempt for most of humanity, and a stone-hearted indifference to human life.

Gray takes Pinker to school on his straw man version of Nietzsche:

A lifelong admirer of Voltaire, Nietzsche was a critic of the Enlightenment because he belonged in it. Far from being an enemy of humanism, he promoted humanism in the most radical form. In future, humankind would fashion its values and shape its destiny by its own unfettered will. True, he conferred this privilege only on a select few.

He recognised no principle of human equality. But where does concern with equality come from? Not from science, which can be used to promote many values. As Nietzsche never tired of pointing out, the ideal of equality is an inheritance from Judaism and Christianity. His hatred of equality is one reason he was such a vehement atheist.

Truth be told, Nietzsche was an Enlightenment thinker. He was also an enemy of Judaism and Christianity. And he was “a vehement atheist.” From Pinker’s perspective, he has everything that anyone would want. Except perhaps the proper quantity of empathy. But, to be fair, Paul Bloom has argued that empathy is not necessarily morally benevolent. It can make you into a sadistic sociopath.

Nietzsche rejected the civilizing values bestowed by religion and wanted human beings to reconstruct their value system based on a liberated will. An aspect of human being, welling up from within the organism, the will should set forth new rules that everyone will be obliged to live with. As happens with all forms of Platonist thinking, a select few will be the arbiters of these rules.

Gray sees the Pinker book as a pep talk for wavering liberals:

Enlightenment Now is a rationalist sermon delivered to a congregation of wavering souls. To think of the book as any kind of scholarly exercise is a category mistake. Much of its more than 500 pages consists of figures aiming to show the progress that has been made under the aegis of Enlightenment ideals. Of course, these figures settle nothing. Like Pinker’s celebrated assertion that the world is becoming ever more peaceful – the statistical basis of which has been demolished by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – everything depends on what is included in them and how they are interpreted.

Gray concludes on a sober note, one that echoes views presented on this blog:

If an Enlightenment project survives, what reason is there for thinking it will be embodied in liberal democracy? What if the Enlightenment’s future is not in the liberal West, now almost ungovernable as a result of the culture wars in which it is mired, but Xi Jinping’s China, where an altogether tougher breed of rationalist is in charge? It is a prospect that Voltaire, Jeremy Bentham and other exponents of enlightened despotism would have heartily welcomed.