Friday, August 31, 2018

His Girlfriend Dumped Him. What Now?

Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax is on vacation. To celebrate she has chosen to regale us with some of her oldies but goodies, her old but good columns.

Here is a letter from a young man who just got dumped by his sometime girlfriend:

My girlfriend of a year and a half just broke up with me, saying she needed space. We both just moved to a new city (her for school, me for job/her). I don't know many people here, and we spent virtually all our time together, partly by design, partly by necessity. She indicated that it was too much pressure to deal with school, a social life with her new friends and a serious relationship. We talked pretty openly about marriage, and the breakup came as a shock. How do I respect her wish for more space while letting her know that I very much want to continue our relationship?

Ship without a Rudder

Hax understands that the young man is too clingy and too dependent. She also understands that his former girlfriend knows this. So she suggests that the girlfriend does not need to hear that he wants her back. Thus, that further expostulation would not only be futile, but would persuade her that she has made the right choice.

Here is the Hax reply:

I very much suspect she knows very much that you want to continue your relationship. Very much.

But if you need to reassure yourself, tell her in your exact words — at the same time you explain that you’re going to respect her wish by stepping out of the picture, unless and until she welcomes you back into it.

It’s a bummer, but not as big a bummer as your relationship was becoming. By your own admission, you were totally dependent on her. Unhealthy, with a capital unfair. How long before you donated your entire sense of self to the relationship cause? Assuming you hadn’t already.

Even in a situation where no one would expect you to have a rudder independent of hers, you needed to have one anyway — even if it was a hobby or your job or a complete and unforced (and therefore not at all guilt-inducing) comfort with spending long stretches alone. Anything that takes the burden of your happiness off someone else’s back.

So. Release girl, find rudder. When pain becomes ache becomes void becomes action becomes a life, you’ll look back on this giant leap and see it as merely an opening step. One I doubt you’ll regret.

Sensibly, Hax does not offer the obvious observation. The girlfriend did not bail on him because she needed space. She bailed because she had found someone else. Admittedly, such news would not have brought joy to the rudderless young man, so we accept that she was being tactful and considerate.

As for what he should do about it. The laws of contrary opinion suggest that he should do exactly what he does not want to do. Remove all traces of her presence from his space. And then, unfriend her on Facebook and stop following her on Instagram. Next, he should block her number. It’s the only way that he will ever learn to stand up for himself.

Is Transgenderism a Fad?

I have long believed that the current public embrace of transgenderism has been actively producing more transgendered children. Since transgenderism is a belief with no basis in biology, you can produce transgender children by using mind control or other brainwashing techniques.

Now, a Brown University professor, Lisa Littman, has offered a preliminary study tending to prove these points. Steven Hayward reports on the Powerline blog (via Maggie’s Farm):

... evidence suggests that the recent sharp rise in the number of young adolescents declaring themselves to be transgender appears to be correlated with peer group enthusiasm along with intense social media activity. To be blunt, it is a fad, like eating Tide pods.

Littman examined what is called rapid-onset gender dysphoria and traced it to the influence of peer group discussions and of internet access. Here is the abstract of her study:

In on-line forums, parents have been reporting that their children are experiencing what is described here as “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” appearing for the first time during puberty or even after its completion. The onset of gender dysphoria seemed to occur in the context of belonging to a peer group where one, multiple, or even all of the friends have become gender dysphoric and transgender-identified during the same timeframe. Parents also report that their children exhibited an increase in social media/internet use prior to disclosure of a transgender identity. The purpose of this study was to document and explore these observations and describe the resulting presentation of gender dysphoria, which is inconsistent with existing research literature.

She concludes:

Rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) describes a phenomenon where the development of gender dysphoria is observed to begin suddenly during or after puberty in an adolescent or young adult who would not have met criteria for gender dysphoria in childhood. ROGD appears to represent an entity that is distinct from the gender dysphoria observed in individuals who have previously been described as transgender. The worsening of mental well-being and parent-child relationships and behaviors that isolate AYAs from their parents, families, non-transgender friends and mainstream sources of information are particularly concerning. More research is needed to better understand this phenomenon, its implications and scope.

The more the media touts the truth of transgenderism, the more children decided to become transgender. You can call it a fad or an epidemic, which makes it correspond to other forms of psychological contagion, as in the late Victorian outbreak of hysteria. See also Ethan Watters' book, Crazy Like Us.

Hayward explains:

Indeed, the sharp rise in the reported number of young people identifying as transgender has a logistic growth curve that in any other phenomenon would be described as an “epidemic.”

After Brown University sent out a press release recommending Littman’s research, it was forced by transgender activists to change its mind.

Hayward explains:

Brown University’s public relations department sent out a press release promoting the article for the sensible reason that a PLoS One is a serious journal. They obviously didn’t recognize that Prof. Littman had stepped on the academic equivalent of a third rail: touch this subject and you die, because it threatens to undermine the “authenticity” of gender identity politics, though there is considerable incoherence about this whole matter, since “gender” is said to be arbitrary and up to you to determine for yourself.

Then, Brown caved to pressure and corrected itself:

As you may be aware, Brown late last week posted a news announcement regarding research on gender dysphoria published by a faculty member in the School of Public Health. In light of questions raised about research design and data collection related to the study on “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” the University determined that removing the article from news distribution is the most responsible course of action.

Of course, Brown did not have the power to suppress the article, though activists will surely want that to happen. Now, many distressed parents are now circulating a petition arguing in favor of Littman’s research. Among the horrifying stories we read this from a parent whose child discovered transgenderism on the internet and decided that she had to be it:

I have a 14yo. Daughter, who never showed symptoms of any gender dysphoria until finding the internet, tumblr and YouTube told her she was trans., bc she hated her breast & periods. Now, she’s denamed her female self and thinks testosterone-mastectomy-hysterectomy-phallaplasty is her only solution. As a family we have seen, depression-anxiety-possibly autism behavior. Though now brainwashed into this ideology she won’t cooperate to look for underlying issues. SILENCE IS CHILD ABUSE, PLEASE RESEARCH, FOR OUR DEVASTATED FAMILY!

Hayward draws the only reasonable conclusion. Transgenderism is not merely a harmless adolescent fad. It causes children, with the assist of physicians, to mutilate their bodies. Statistics explain that most children who declare themselves to be transgender change their minds when they reach puberty. As the condition is normalized, this will become less likely. We also know that a quarter of those who undergo reassignment surgery will commit suicide.

Hayward concludes:

It’s one thing to eat a Tide Pod and throw up for a few hours. It’s another thing to decide to mutilate your body permanently because of an enthusiasm you picked up on social media and from an ecstatic peer group. My second prediction (after Prof. Littman being denied tenure and leaving Brown in short order) is that 20 or 25 years from now there is going to be a lot of data coming out about the number of suicides among people who regretted their chemical/surgical alterations of their “identity.” It will make the enthusiasm for eugenics a century ago look like a benign picnic by comparison.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Palestinians for Impeaching Trump

Clearly, the Trump presidency has been bad news for Palestinian terrorists. An unabashedly pro-Israeli American president has cracked down on Palestinian terrorism and has fostered good relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Now, Palestinians have a new hope: impeachment. They are hoping for a Democratic takeover of Congress and an eventual impeachment. Thus, they want to return to the halcyon days of Barack Obama, when they had a friend in the White House.

The Washington Free Beacon reports the story:

Palestinian government leaders, under pressure from the Trump administration as it slashes U.S. taxpayer aid to the embattled government, say they are betting on a Democratic takeover in Congress that will stall the administration's agenda and put the still languishing peace process on the back burner.

Muhammad Shtaya, a member of the Fatah government's Central Committee, said regional officials are counting on Democrats winning the midterms and seizing control of Congress, a scenario the Palestinians believe would work in their favor as the Trump administration pursues efforts to isolate regional governments for their support of terrorism.

While Hamas has been engaging in suicidal attacks on Israel, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress are reducing aid to the Palestinian government. They have tired of financing terrorism:

The comments come amid a new push in Congress and the Trump administration to slash U.S. taxpayer aid to the Palestinian government as a result of it spending this money to pay the salaries of terrorists and their families. Parallel efforts in the United States also seek to redefine how Palestinian refugees are classified, a move that would change the calculus on peace talks.

Shtaya said in Arabic language comments that many are waiting with anticipation for Democrats to win the midterm elections.

November "is the midterm elections for Congress and the Senate," Shtaya said, according to an independent translation of his remarks provided to the Washington Free Beacon. "If the Democrats seize the majority in Congress and the Senate, I believe we will arrive at two results: First, the first result, a total paralysis of the Trump administration, as he will not be able to pass any bills in Congress. And second, and he spoke about this the other day, and he is the first American president to say, if I'm impeached, the world markets will collapse and everyone will pay a price for it."

The ongoing Mueller investigation also has provided a lifeline to Palestinian leaders who are hopeful it will erode Trump's presidency.

The great Palestinian hope is Robert Mueller. It’s always good to see who benefits from your idealistic crusades.

An Impossible Dilemma

In this week’s episode of Ask Polly, our least favorite advice columnist outdoes herself. Her response is so pathetic, so off base, that we will happily ignore it.

There’s nothing happy or good about the circumstances the letter writer finds herself in. Her life has become a nightmare. She is struggling, against long odds, against circumstances that have befallen her, and she does not know what to do. Facing an insoluble moral dilemma, she complains about how her friends are treating her. In truth, it’s the least of her problems, but it does hide a far more significant issue.

She calls herself No More Girl Friday, and she writes:

Five years ago, I was on top of the world. I was 33, happily married to a lovely man, and had recently had a series of huge career wins in a challenging field that I loved. Then things started to unravel: my company went bankrupt, evaporating most of my personal net worth with it. I started a new company, but it’s been a miserable trench warfare experience that I’m hating every minute of, and — much more significantly than any of the money/career stuff — my wonderful husband was suddenly diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that involves a particularly long and grueling treatment path and some very high mortality rates….

I thought my husband was the man I’d grow old with, perhaps start a family with, and now, even if he survives this disease, the reality is that he is permanently physically and psychologically damaged and nothing about how I envisioned our lives together is ever going to be the same. And to add to that, my career has gone from being something I was passionate about to feeling like a poorly paid prison with no escape plan.

Let’s be harsh here. She’s 38 years old, childless, nursing a husband who is permanently damaged. We do not know what kind of cancer her husband has. We do not know the prognosis… except that it’s bleak. She needs to keep working because she needs to support the two of them. And she seems to be the only caregiver in the equation.

Later in the letter, we will learn that her husband had “an ominous relapse” and no one else is helping her out.

This leads us to several reflections. We want to know whether she or her husband has family members who can help out with his care. We want to know who cares for him during the day while she is at work. We want to know whether they can hire a caregiver, a visiting nurse to stay with him. We would want her to get out on her own from time to time.

About this, we know nothing. The woman has presented herself and her husband as alone against the world, fighting a losing battle against cancer… without very much sympathetic understanding from friends.

Since NMGF will explain that she does not know what she wants, and since Polly will latch onto this phrase as though it’s a sign that the woman needs therapy, the truth of the matter is, that she might very well know what she wants. Only she cannot admit it, to herself or to others.

The man she is caring for is not really the man she married. She might want to exit the situation and to move on with her life. She might want to have a child, but now understands that, for all her business success, she postponed it too long… unless she gets pregnant by another man. She loves her husband but she also knows that she bears a moral responsibility to care for him, in sickness and in health. Her friends know this too. And they do not know how to say anything constructive about it.

The issue of her moral responsibility involves how she would look to her friends… and perhaps family, if she exited the marriage. It is unthinkable, morally, but I trust that the thought has crossed her mind.

If she is concerned with her own biological clock and wants to have a more normal life, the easiest way to affect it would be for her husband to die… sooner rather than later. It’s cruel. It’s heartless. It’s unthinkable. One imagines that it’s always possible for her to have an affair, but since she has no time to do anything but to work and to care for her husband, an affair is out of the question. Then again, perhaps her way of scheduling her time is designed to ensure that she cannot have an affair. Her friends might want her to get out and to have some fun. They might be more sympathetic than she thinks. But they cannot reasonably encourage her to commit immoral actions.

Anyway, none of these issue arise in her letter. And none pop into Polly’s mind. Instead, NMGF performs some self-therapy about the state of her relationships. It is off point, but I will share it anyway. It shows a denizen of our therapy culture withdrawing from the moral dilemma that has come to define her existence.

My problem is that these misfortunes have been the catalyst for me to realize that I’m caught in a lifelong rut in my close friend and family relationships, one that is no longer working for me. I’m suddenly aware that (with the notable exception of my husband), most of the people I’m close to are best summed up as charming and fun and generally lovely, but also extremely self-absorbed and overly-sensitive to perceived slights. Most are only capable of getting along with someone who is willing to act as a supporting character in the drama of their lives.

And, what if they are capable of more than of using her as a supporting character in their life drama? What if they care more about her than she thinks? What if they are trying to draw her out of herself and her predicament? The alternative is that they are grossly inconsiderate.

I have become known as the friend you call when you need a wing woman, or someone to patiently listen to you vent for way too long about the petty but maddening problem you’re having with your boyfriend or your job or your landlord. And up till now I wouldn’t necessarily say it was all bad — the truth is that because I am shy, introspective, and inherently risk-averse, there’s some symbiosis in friendships with charismatic, impulsive extroverts who let me be part of their orbit but out of the spotlight, and until recently I was more or less content with that give and take.

The puzzling part is that they all behave as though to ignore her life crisis. Not one of them seems to show any concern for her husband. Do they dislike him? Do they sympathize with her more than she thinks:

We can see this in two ways: either all of her friends and family are boorish buffoons, with no sympathy for her condition… or she herself is so completely self-absorbed that she allows them nothing else. I am shocked to read that family members cannot muster up an ounce of compassion. Shouldn’t they be helping to care for her husband? Does she ask them to do so? Are they all out of town? Can they contribute to hiring a caregiver? Shouldn’t her friends be helping her, perhaps by preparing an occasional casserole?

NMGF has written an indictment of some of the most heartless people we have heard of. In truth, it is so one-sided that we would want to hear the other side of the story before drawing any conclusion. Have people offered to help her, only to be rebuffed?

This year my husband had a very ominous relapse that we’re still actively dealing with (making his prognosis more frightening than ever and adding a lot of additional burden for me as his main caretaker), work has continued to get more awful than I thought possible (and exiting right now would be prohibitively difficult and costly), and suddenly I’m finding I just don’t have it in me to play the role these people want me to play for them. I think that I’ll scream the next time Friend A calls me when I’m running on four hours of sleep, just worked a 16-hour day, and am now in the middle of trying cook dinner for my sick husband, because she “really needs to vent” about how the stereo in the new luxury car that she just purchased isn’t working and the dealership isn’t responding fast enough. Or the next time I tell Friend B that due to everything else I’m juggling, I can only squeeze in an hour for the catch-up coffee she’s insisting we need to have, and then she shows up 50 minutes late because she “just couldn’t decide what to wear!” I could give so many more examples, but you get the point. All three of my closest friends, as well as multiple members of my family, consistently behave with a total disregard for the life crisis I’m going through — seemingly believing that their behavior counts as thoughtful because they occasionally pause their self-involved monologues with an aside like “oh, of course, I’m sure this all sounds really petty to you, you’re dealing with so much, you poor thing!” — barely giving me an instant to interject before resuming The Sorrowful Tale of How My Hairdresser Made My Highlights Too Chunky Even Though I Specifically Said I Wanted More of a Subtle Ombré Look: A One-Woman Show in Three Parts.

Since Polly believes that the solution is to set boundaries, we note that NMGF has already tried to do so, to little avail:

But it seems like every time I try to withdraw a bit from providing my customary level of supportiveness and ask for a little more consideration of my needs, they respond by being extremely melodramatically wounded and it blows up into something that I’m somehow expected to apologize for, even though all I did was try to very gently set some boundaries because I’m completely tapped out right now….

I’m not even sure what I want; I don’t expect their entire personalities — or mine — to change overnight. I guess I just want them to understand that at least temporarily, I need permission to say — preferably without me having to do too much emotional labor to figure out the most perfectly diplomatic and uncritical way possible to word it — that I lack the emotional reserves to be deeply engaged and sympathetic when they want to vent at length about minor daily frustrations, or to force a smile and brush it off when someone who claims to care about what I’m going through is being incredibly inconsiderate of my time, or to generally be the grown-up who is supposed to help them sort out their lives when frankly I can’t even handle my own life.

It is hard to imagine a group of friends who are that self-involved and that impervious to the situation NMGF finds herself in. Surely, it’s possible, but if it’s true, these are people she selected as her friends. It’s puzzling. We do not know what she should do with these friends, but the unfolding picture of her future life is very grim indeed. There are no good solutions. The ones that come to mind are mostly unacceptable. NMGF is caught on the horns of an insoluble dilemma. It’s not about her friends, except to the extent that they all seem to prefer to pretend that nothing has changed. Or else, that they hate seeing her suffering under her burdens and are trying to pretend that life can be normal.

As for NMGF, she is no doubt waiting for God to solve her problem for her.

[It's positively uncanny, but New York Magazine today has a story about a woman whose husband contracted cancer and who decided to have his child, nonetheless. Her husband died very shortly after the baby was born... but she details the process and shows how she dealt with the situation.]

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The American Mind on Therapy

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt have a new book, The Coddling of the American Mind. Obviously, the title echoes Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind.

Both books focus on what is taught or not taught in American universities. However well Bloom’s book laid bare the problem some three decades ago, it seems perfectly clear that the situation has worsened.

Niall Ferguson reviews the Lukianoff/Haidt book for the Times of London. He describes the current destitution of American education thusly:

Trigger warnings. Safe spaces. Preferred pronouns. Checked privileges. If you work at an American university these days, you have to tread as if on eggshells, if not land mines. One ill-judged microaggression is all it takes to be accused of racism or sexism, transphobia or Islamophobia, harassment or full-blown rape. Often, such accusations lead to investigations that are the antithesis of due process, with the transgressor deemed guilty until proved innocent.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the impetus behind this “coddling” lies in therapy. Students are no longer required to learn anything. They are taught to have high self-esteem. They think the world of themselves. They are brimming with confidence, the kind you find in fanatics. They have high self-esteem and know nothing. It’s a toxic mix.

Thanks to the miracle of grade inflation they receive very high grades. And they watch politicians debate issues, they read the news, they see what is going on in the world… and they feel completely lost. They are incapable of understanding what is happening around them… but they feel perfectly confident in their own beliefs.

They denounce bigotry because it’s all they know how to do.

Today’s students feel the right feelings, but do not know how to think. They believe that their minds must be purified of all bigotries, so they spend their time policing the thought of their fellow students and especially their teachers.

They have been brought up to be basket cases, filled with inchoate emotions that they do not understand. They do not know what to do with their feelings except to vent and rant. Incapable of articulating a political agenda, incompetent at debating political issues, they seek to protect themselves against real discussion. In many ways their current heroine is the intellectually challenged Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a know nothing political candidate who was granted high grades at Boston University.

Ferguson sees today’s educational system as a religious cult. Since therapy, as practiced in most places, is nothing more than secularized religion-- a spiritual experience for unbelievers-- he is certainly correct.

What we see today is more like a religious cult than a political moment. Devotees insist on using the pronouns “they” or the made-up “zhe” for students who regard “he” or “she” as “cis-heteronormative”. They like to congregate in “safe spaces” where they can take refuge from ideas they find uncongenial. (The original safe space, at Brown University in 2015, “was equipped with cookies, colouring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets, and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members purportedly trained to deal with trauma”. Cult members glory in infantilising themselves.)

They are in touch with their inner children. They do not have the adult capacity to function within the adult world on the adult world’s terms. Or better, they are surrounded by fellow students who cannot do the work and who are lost. Rather than get an education themselves, they empathize with those who are less capable and rush off to safe spaces.

Interestingly, Ferguson explains that when he arrived on America’s shores sixteen years ago, it was not like this. How do you explain the rapid transformation? If I may offer my own analysis, I would say that it’s all about President Obama, about the transformation he affected.

In 2016 America repudiated the Obama agenda and the Democratic Party. The notion that the Messiah could have failed was unthinkable. Thus, those who believed in the great leader were obliged to go out to find someone to blame. If Obama failed, the reason had to be that he was too good for America. Or else, that America was too bigoted to appreciate his superhuman abilities. Or else, that America’s white supremacist mindset was too ingrained to allow him to succeed.

In happened in China during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. After Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward produced a famine in which some 35 million people starved to death, two members of the Politburo, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping tried to displace Mao and to undo Maoist policies. Mao could not allow that to happen. By his reasoning the policy had failed because of counterrevolutionary elements, because of incompetent bureaucrats and because of reactionary cultural tendencies. He launched the Cultural Revolution to purge the bureaucracy, to murder over a million functionaries and to teach the rest the virtue of cleaning out pig sties.

Intellectual discussion and debate were closed down. Everyone was forced to read only one book, the Little Red Book of the sayings of Chairman Mao-- a replacement for the Analects of Confucius. All other books were proscribed. No one debated policy. Having been rendered ignorant, no one knew how to debate policy. Students set out to punish bureaucrats and teachers, to destroy the mandarinate.

Ferguson explains the similarity to the Chinese Cultural Revolution:

The campus cult also owes a debt to China’s Cultural Revolution. Like their predecessors, today’s American Red Guards like to humiliate academics who stand up to them — professors such as Nick Christakis, the master of Silliman College at Yale, whose wife dared to defend Halloween costumes from the charge of cultural appropriation, and Bret Weinstein, the biology professor at Evergreen who opposed a “day of absence” that required white students and faculty to vacate the college’s premises for a day.

I highly recommend watching the videos of these struggle sessions. The students scream hysterically at their incredulous victim, refusing to let him speak, or sinisterly snapping their fingers to indicate their disapproval.

Lukianoff and Haidt analyze the problem cogently. Among other causes, they cite the therapy-induced cult to feeling. If I feel it, it’s true. Certainly, it’s true that I feel what I feel. It’s the basis for today’s therapy culture. In the world of identity politics, this says that being a member of one or another victim groups, I have feelings of being oppressed that you, if you do not belong to a victim group, will never understand. When I speak up or speak out my ideas express my feelings and must be judged only on the basis of who I am, of which group I belong to. You must not, under pain of public humiliation, suggest or even whisper that my ideas or yours or anyone else’s should be judged objectively, as a function of their logic or cogency. And they must certainly not be judged on the basis of the results of their policies. If Mao’s policies produced a massive famine and mass starvation, we must not hold him accountable. We must not judge his communist vision ill for the results produced. We must punish all of those who failed to implement the ideas correctly.

If the American mind were merely being coddled, there would be reason for some hope. As is, the situation seems more dire than even Lukianoff and Haidt imagine.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Migrant in Germany Cannot Be Deported

We all love our favorite cliches. Among them is the notion that: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We know that this is true. It’s also somewhat amusing.

Fortunately, the adage has a “probably” in it. Because, the news from Germany, emblematic of the absurdity of the German migrant policy, shows a situation where something that sounds too good to be true, really is true.

It’s about a migrant who has spent two decades gaming the German legal system… to stay in the country illegally. He has been investigated hundreds of times, but no one knows where he came from, so they cannot ship him back to where he belongs.

The Daily Mail has the story. What would we do without the Daily Mail?

An EU migrant facing 542 criminal investigations - including robbery and drugs offences - cannot be deported because authorities don't know where he came from.
The man, who arrived in Germany in 1998 without a passport, has allegedly been using legal loopholes to remain in the country.

After being was arrested by German police, he claimed to be from North African countries including Algeria and Morocco.

But authorities do not know the man's name or where he travelled from. A fingerprint search showed no matches.

The migrant, thought to be 59 years old, reportedly lives on the streets of Frankfurt and has 542 investigation proceedings against him.

High commissioner Ruedigar Buchta told German newspaper Bild: 'A third of the proceedings were for possession and purchase of narcotics.

'Some were for the fraudulent acquisition of services like fare dodging. Added to this is assault, theft and robbery, and many offences against the Residence Act.'

German police have since released the man.

It confirms your belief that Germany deserves whatever it is getting from the illegal migrants that it welcomed into the country.

The Jacksonville Shooter

A mentally ill child caught in a bitter parental divorce… produces the Jacksonville shooter, David Katz. As you know, the disgruntled loser opened fire at a video game competition, killing two gamers and injuring around eleven more.

As often happens with these cases, the shooter was mentally ill. Well-meaning leftists like to blame it on the NRA, but, truth be told, most of the perpetrators of mass shootings were suffering from severe and untreated psychiatric problems. In many cases, involuntary commitment to a psychiatric facility would have removed the threat to society. Unfortunately, the law makes it nearly impossible to commit a patient against his will.

The David Katz case is different. The young man had been hospitalized. He had been treated with anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medications. And yet, he got caught in the middle of a bitter parental divorce. His mother and the psychiatrists thought he was mentally ill. His father did not. Psychiatrists prescribed an anti-psychotic Risperidal. His father told him not to take it.

The AP reports:

The Howard County, Maryland, divorce filings say that David Katz played video games obsessively as a young adolescent, often refusing to go to school or to bathe. Elizabeth Katz, a toxicologist at the Department of Agriculture, said she confiscated some of her son’s gaming equipment after finding him playing in the wee hours.

“His hair would very often go unwashed for days. When I took his gaming equipment controllers away so he couldn’t play at 3 or 4 in the morning, I’d get up and find that he was just walking around the house in circles,” the mother said, according to a transcript in the court files.

At one point, she put his gaming controllers in her bedroom behind a locked door and he punched a hole in the door, she said.

Elizabeth Katz said her youngest son had increasing difficulty concentrating following his parents’ split. A judge awarded custody of the boy to his mother, with visitation rights to the father.

At times David “curled up into a ball,” refused to attend school and sobbed, she said. She asserted that her ex-husband instructed David not to take Risperidal — an anti-psychotic medication prescribed to him. The father claimed in court filings that David was not “diagnosed as psychotic.”

Katz’s father blamed it all on his ex-wife, and apparently ignored the psychiatrists. If the boy was prescribed an anti-psychotic, this suggests that someone believed him to be psychotic.

Richard Katz, a NASA engineer, said his ex-wife had “an obsession with using mental health professionals and in particular psychiatric drugs to perform the work that parents should naturally do.” He said she routinely gave false information to mental health care providers. He described one incident in which his son was handcuffed by police after locking himself in his mother’s car in an attempt to avoid going to a mental health appointment with her.

If you read the descriptions of Katz’s behavior you come away believing that his mother had a good grasp of the situation. And you come away thinking that his father was either consumed by hatred for his wife or drunk on anti-psychiatry.

The result was the shooting in Jacksonville.

Monday, August 27, 2018

"Sharp Objects" Goes Dull

HBO's Sharp Objects ended last night. Unfortunately, this beautifully acted, well written and well directed show fell apart at the end. If you have not seen the show and do not want to know how it ends, cease reading this post… right now.

Among the reviews I have seen, Emily Yahr’s in the Washington Post comes closest to my view.

In principle, the show is a detective story. Based on a Gillian Flynn novel, it shows cub reporter Camille Preaker returning to her hometown of Wind Gap in order to learn who killed two teenage girls, Ann Nash and Natalie Keene.

We meet Camille’s mother, Adora Crellin, her new husband, Alan Crellin and Camille’s half sister, Amma Crellin. For the record, I like the names that Flynn chose… and am happy to note that Amma is an anagram for Mama. In the end, Mama Crellin will be exposed as a murderer and will be blamed for killing the girls. She will also be exposed for having murdered her third daughter Marian.

In truth, we discover in the last frame, the real killer is Amma herself. The teenager did it.

Detective fiction is formula fiction. Whether Sherlock Holmes, C. Auguste Dupin, Miss Jane Marple, Hercule Poirot or Endeavour Morse, the characters are all the same. They are portrayed as disembodied minds, great machines for cerebration who lack anything resembling a normal life or normal appetites. Holmes numbs his body with cocaine. Camille Preaker disembodies herself by cutting herself up, by inscribing words in her flesh.

Aside from the fact that glamorizing cutters is very likely to encourage more of the same among young females, the literary trope only works up to a point. If Camille were a great thinker, if she manifested a clear ability to analyze the situation and to find the killer, it would all make some sense. If she were shut down and shut off from human relationships, and especially sexual contact, it would make some sense.

It doesn’t. In the story, Camille is a dunce. And she yearns for intimacy. She manages to make love with a detective and one of the suspects. And then, when she discovers that her mother most likely poisoned her late sister, Marian, Camille goes back to her mother’s house and puts herself in her mother’s care. Whatever potion Adora is offering, Camilly happily takes it. She asks for more. This does not make her a great thinker. It makes her look like an incompetent fool.

By the story’s terms, Camille is not really doing any serious detecting. She is blossoming forth as a great writer. In the third-to-last scene her editor exclaims that her writing is wondrously beautiful. The problem is, Holmes did not write his own stories. Dr. Watson did it for him. You can be a detective or you can be a writer. It is difficult, if not impossible and incoherent, to pretend to be doing both.

Not to put too find a point on it, but great storytellers are not necessarily great at writing great sentences. Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle were great storytellers. They did not write great sentences. Supposedly Camille Preaker writes great sentences. But, she cannot tell a great story... nor for that matter can Flynn.

Camille knows that her mother Adora poisons her children. And yet, she lets herself be poisoned. She is saved at the last minute by her newspaper editor boss, Curry, who happens to show up, police in hand. In literature, this is called a deus ex machina, a character who is introduced, seemingly at random, because the author cannot figure out how to save the heroine otherwise. Camille did tell her sister Amma to go find a detective, but Amma did not do it.

But, when it comes to the crime itself, the murder of the two girls, Amma did do it. And she did it with some help from her two best friends.

Unfortunately, we cannot buy it. One suspects that the author wanted to keep it all in the Crellin-Preaker family, but making a teenage girl into a serial killer is a step into incoherence. More so because we have been told that the killer extracted all of each victim’s teeth… a process that requires considerable upper body strength. Do you really believe that Amma could have done that? And do you really believe, as the story shows, that Amma would have left the blood stained pliers lying around the house? Huh. Moreover, do you think that three high school girls could have kept this secret to themselves?

In the last flash scene we see Amma strangling her friend Mae. Again, it takes considerable strength to strangle someone. Is Amma that much stronger than her peer Mae?

Emily Yahr notes:

How did Amma involve her friends in the murders? How did she pry out the teeth, when the show made sure to emphasize that it would take a very strong person to do so? Is the assumption that Amma killed Mae, as well? Most importantly: Why did she kill them?!

One might say that she is a sadist. One might say that she is Mama’s little girl. Or, one might say that Flynn did not know how to end her book. Some critics believe that she was making a point about female sadism or about family trauma. In truth, the story was structured like detective fiction…. On those terms, for all its excellence, it fell apart at the end.

[Also worthy of your attention is Sonia Saraiya's commentary in Vanity Fair:

But it’s hard to tell if Sharp Objects concludes, or simply just stops; its ending is interesting, but definitively unsatisfying. And considering all the subtext and trauma that this story has dredged up and dealt with, leaving this revelation unaddressed reads as if the show has given up on making sense of its own plot.

Sharp Objects led its audience straight into the dark maw of intimate violence and hurt disguised as love. But with its conclusion, the show does not offer a way out of the abyss.]