Saturday, October 31, 2020

China and Democracy

If I may, in all humility I recommend that you read this post in conjunction with my post of last Sunday, entitled, Is China the New Evil Empire?

The following report comes to us from the Times of London. It offers a snapshot of today’s Chinese millennials. I will not, in the interest of advancing good feeling, offer up a picture of America’s millennial generation. (via Maggie’s Farm)

“These millennials represent a radical change from previous generations,” said Keyu Jin, a professor at the London School of Economics and consultant to Richemont, the world’s second-biggest luxury goods company. “They are confident. They’re prosperous. They’re privileged. And, most importantly, they’re incredibly proud of their nation and its economic prospects.” 

Imagine that-- they are proud of their nation and are proud of what they have accomplished. If you imagine that these people are going to accept our attacks on their pride passively, you have gotten it seriously wrong.

More sobering is their assessment of democracy. For some reason, while watching America’s political scene they have concluded that, whatever we are selling, they are not buying it:

Despite the caveats about measuring public opinion, Jin said: “There has been a radical shift, even in the last few years. The new generation does not believe that democracy is suitable for China. It does not even believe that a multiparty system might be better for China than what it currently has.” 

The fractious US election campaign is a source of fascination but also of reassurance in a country where there are no democratic complications. “Many Chinese watch the US presidential election with a sense of astonishment and relief,” said Andy Mok, a Beijing-based American business analyst. “Astonishment that so much money and political energy is spent. And relief that they do not live under a system of such political dysfunction that erupts in this sad and wasteful spectacle every four years.”...

We can all console ourselves with the thought that China does not have free media, and thus, that all of these young people, prosperous and confident for having achieved great things, have been duped.

Nevertheless, while we thrill to our own freedoms, the American media has long since abandoned the pretense of being free. While not quite a state media, it has certainly been turned into the propaganda arm of the Democratic Party:

And Yun Sun, director of the China programme at the Stimson Centre think tank in Washington, said: “I think the Chinese are often confused about how chaotic and ‘indecent’ American election politics could be. To a large extent, it signifies the undesirability of the western democratic system to the Chinese and the genuine conviction in China that the US system is flawed.... In a country where there is no free media or free flow of information, independent public opinion is a myth, if not an illusion. Since the information about US elections and US-China relations is processed and provided by the state and the Chinese public, including the youth, do not have an alternative source of information, their views have indeed become more pro-Beijing, patriotic and hawkish.”...

New York, Up or Down

I would like to take it as a point of pride, but New York City has just been named the second best city in the world. It reminds us of the old Avis ads, to the effect that: We’re No. 2. As of now, the No. 1 car company, Hertz, is in bankruptcy. 

Take that for what it’s worth.

Today’s ratings were produced by something called Resonance Consulting which rates cities as culture capitals. At a time when New York’s creative culture, its theatres, its cinemas, its concert halls and all the rest are shut down… not knowing when and if they will return... it’s somewhat rich for Resonance to put New York on the list, second only to London.

And yet, Resonance is the Jerry Seinfeld of consulting firms. Located but a few blocks from yours truly, the group advises companies about tourism and real estate. Considering that New York’s tourism has dried up and that the real estate market, both commercial and residential, is in free fall, you have to give them credit for imagination.

Anyway, Time Out New York reports the glad tidings:

Resonance Consultancy, the organization behind the annual list ranking cultural capitals, says it sees enough promising developments here to keep us in the (almost) top spot.

“Today New Yorkers stand at the ready, together and alone, on their stoops and balconies ready to defend their city,” the report states. “From vague federal threats of defunding. From shadowy armies to keep calls for justice and reform loom over the city along with an invisible virus. However the world emerges, evolves or pivots out of our collective force majeure, it will happen here first.”

That is quite the image-- New Yorkers standing on their stoops and balconies ready to defend their cities. The problem is, they are not in their offices. More and more of them are leaving town. And thus doing serious damage to residential real estate.

You will be happy to know that San Francisco, where people are leaving town even faster than they are in New York is also on the list. San Francisco is at No. 14, two slots behind Chicago, notable for its absurdly high crime rate.

And yet, hope gleams eternal, and Time Out New York sees only the bright side:

While we agree that New York is on the path to spring into a post-COVID world stronger and better than ever, the city’s also responding to the immediate challenges of today in plenty of new and innovative ways.

To throw a little light, or perhaps a little sanitizer on this optimistic picture, The Daily Mail offers a more sober assessment of the current state of New York City commercial real estate.

As once the global epicenter of the pandemic, New Yorkers have been among the slowest in the country to return to offices. 

The Times reports that only San Francisco, where many large tech companies have committed to long-term remote work, has seen a lower office occupancy than the Big Apple.  

Other large cities such as Dallas and Los Angles have been much quicker to return to their office buildings.  

It comes amid fears of a further spike in cases in NYC over the cold winter months, especially given recent localized shutdowns in Queens and Brooklyn. 

Apparently, New Yorkers are not rushing back to their offices. So, companies are offering new perks to their employees. That even includes-- free lunch. What better inducement can you find.

Several companies with New York City offices are offering employees perks such as free lunch and a subsidized commute as they attempt to lure staff back to abandoned workspaces.

Despite New York state rules permitting that offices can be used to 50 percent capacity since the summer, the return to in-person work has been slow, with only around 15 percent of workers heading back to company buildings so far. 

In an effort to tempt staff into leaving remote work behind, the likes of Bloomberg, Hearst, L'Oreal, JP Morgan Chase and several real estate companies have bulked up the reasons why office work is beneficial. 

One reason that the offices are empty is that the city government, with the teachers unions, have kept the schools closed. Thus, parents are obliged to stay at home with their children. It’s bad for the economy and this is a good thing during an election season. Yet, some companies are trying to overcome this obstacle:

Expanded childcare services is a common extra perk now being made available, with real estate firm SL Green even offering a specialized pod in which employees' children can carry out remote  learning. 

So, SL Green has lured most of its people back:

At SL Green, where almost the entire office has returned, cubicles are set up with plexiglass and are separated six feet apart, while masks must be worn. 

It offers in-home child care for families and helps pay for employees to park near the office, subsidizing half of the monthly garage rate, as an extra benefit. 

They have also hired tutors to offer remote schooling for employees' children from the office, which has proved a massive factor for parents' decision in returning. 

'They each have their own offices,' Francisca Lopez, a property accountant, told the Times of the teaching pods. 'It's the best incentive for me to come to work every day.'  

The company is taking precautions, however, still celebrating office birthdays but doing so via Zoom with snacks made available for workers to bring back to their desks.  

'People, I believe, do want to come into work, but they have to know that they get their basics covered,' said Marc Holliday an executive with the firm.

Two cheers for SL Green. And yet, is it reasonable to expect all companies to go to such lengths?

The company has discovered the value of having staff working in the same place. We recall all of the consultants who claimed that telecommuting is the wave of the future, and that people will no longer need to go to offices any more. Apparently, physical presence matters. An SL Green executive explained:

'When you really peel it away, work from home, this concept of everyone, of everybody isolating at home, and all the inefficiency it brings, is in my mind a very slow cancer that is very silent but growing on this economy.' 

In other large companies, executives are said to be frustrated with the lack of in-person interaction and are anxious to have busy offices again. 

So, there you have the different sides of the issue. For my part I am not optimistic about New York City’s imminent recovery. Considering who is running the city, the odds are against the Big Apple.

Joe Biden Speaks Gibberish

Nothing is quite as entertaining as listening to Joe Biden speak off the cuff. The minute Biden takes his leave of his teleprompter, strange things come out of his mouth. If we didn't know better, we would think he was illiterate.

From Matt Margolis, Biden said this yesterday:

I’ll lead an effective strategy to mobilize trunalimunumaprzure.

Aside from the obvious fact that, in good English, you do not lead a strategy, Biden is speaking gibberish. For the record this is not a slip of the tongue. It’s a sign of cognitive impairment, and most likely, brain malfunction.

Back in August Biden offered another example of splendid incoherence:

The way Trump—the way China will respond is when we gather the rest of the world that in fact [unintelligible] in… in… fr- in in in in open trade and making sure that we’re in a position that the world uh that, that we deal with WHO the right way that, in fact, that’s when things begin to change, that when China’s behavior is going to change.

Apparently, he thinks that China is going to change its behavior once we rejoin the World Health Organization.

Think of it, the polls are telling us that a man who fails the most basic test of English grammar is likely to be elected to the presidency this coming Tuesday.

Perhaps Barack Obama was right to tell Biden not to run for the presidency. Apparently, Obama thought that Biden would embarrass himself if he ran. Hmmm.

If Joe Biden is the best the Democratic Party can do, perhaps America is not such a great country.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Now Let Us Praise Glenn Greenwald

Irony does not do it justice. The idiotocracy of the American left is proclaiming, from the editorial pages of nearly all our major newspapers, that good old Joe Biden, the mastermind behind what appears to be an organized criminal enterprise, is going to bring decency back to America. At the same time American media outlets and American academics are enforcing systematic censorship of any piece of news, any fact that might make Joe look bad.

After all, Biden has made it safe to walk up  to unsuspecting women and girls, to grab them from behind by the shoulders and to stick your nose in their hair. Could there be a more public display of gross indecency and disrespect? Considering that America’s feminists have nothing to say about it-- or about Tara Reade-- you have to conclude that these sanctimonious hypocrites choose election success over their visceral opposition to rape.

We would make a great leap into intellectual integrity if we stopped calling leftist publications liberal, or even progressive. They belong to the radical left and aspire to a despotic takeover of the American mind.

While everyone keeps saying that Joe Biden is a decent human being, the media has engaged in a massive cover-up of his appalling behavior, of his son’s appalling behavior and of his family’s grotesque corruption.

Whether the gods of Silicon Valley or the editorial staffs of the mainstream media, a veil of silence has fallen over all stories about Biden’s corruption. The FBI has been investigating Hunter Biden for money laundering. The media does not report the story. The head of Biden enterprises goes public with a series of damning allegations against Joe himself. Not a peep from the media.

You can call it censorship or self-censorship, but if any reporter were to walk into an MSNBC editorial meeting and suggest reporting on the Biden scandals, he or she would immediately be dismissed, if not canceled. 

Amazingly, the same is true at a leftist publication called The Intercept. Co-founded by a gay British socialist named Glenn Greenwald, the site will not allow Greenwald to address the Biden corruption charges in its pages. A publication that prides itself on journalistic courage is working hard to censor any story that might damage the electoral prospects of one Joe Biden. In Biden’s name, American journalism has gone completely Soviet.

As you know, Greenwald possesses a quality so often missing from our pusillanimous journalists. That would be-- integrity. He is not alone. Among those who offered the best writing about the Russia hoax and the impeachment fiasco were liberal writers, like Stephen Cohen, Aaron Mate, Matt Taibbi, Alan Dershowitz and Jonathan Turley. 

It may only be a glimmer of hope, but some American liberals still value liberality.

Anyway, Greenwald explained himself from his new home on Substack:

Today I sent my intention to resign from The Intercept, the news outlet I co-founded in 2013 with Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras, as well as from its parent company First Look Media.

The final, precipitating cause is that The Intercept’s editors, in violation of my contractual right of editorial freedom, censored an article I wrote this week, refusing to publish it unless I remove all sections critical of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the candidate vehemently supported by all New-York-based Intercept editors involved in this effort at suppression.

The censored article, based on recently revealed emails and witness testimony, raised critical questions about Biden’s conduct. Not content to simply prevent publication of this article at the media outlet I co-founded, these Intercept editors also demanded that I refrain from exercising a separate contractual right to publish this article with any other publication.

I had no objection to their disagreement with my views of what this Biden evidence shows: as a last-ditch attempt to avoid being censored, I encouraged them to air their disagreements with me by writing their own articles that critique my perspectives and letting readers decide who is right, the way any confident and healthy media outlet would. But modern media outlets do not air dissent; they quash it. So censorship of my article, rather than engagement with it, was the path these Biden-supporting editors chose.

It was not about debating opposing points of view. It was about silencing a journalist who wanted to raise them, to allow others to debate them.

So, the Biden candidacy, in the guise of bringing civility back to America has provoked a rash of censorship-- and not just from small outlets like The Intercept. After all, Twitter and Facebook, behemoths in the business, are leading the charge and are policing thought at a level we have frankly never seen.

Greenwald describes the current cultural climate:

But the pathologies, illiberalism, and repressive mentality that led to the bizarre spectacle of my being censored by my own media outlet are ones that are by no means unique to The Intercept. These are the viruses that have contaminated virtually every mainstream center-left political organization, academic institution, and newsroom. I began writing about politics fifteen years ago with the goal of combatting media propaganda and repression, and — regardless of the risks involved — simply cannot accept any situation, no matter how secure or lucrative, that forces me to submit my journalism and right of free expression to its suffocating constraints and dogmatic dictates.

The American left is effecting a hostile takeover of the American mind. It is shutting down inconvenient speech. And it is manning the ramparts to defend one of the most mentally defective and corrupt candidates in American political history. America is being sacrificed on a bonfire of inanities.

Greenwald continues:

The current iteration of The Intercept is completely unrecognizable when compared to that original vision. Rather than offering a venue for airing dissent, marginalized voices and unheard perspectives, it is rapidly becoming just another media outlet with mandated ideological and partisan loyalties, a rigid and narrow range of permitted viewpoints (ranging from establishment liberalism to soft leftism, but always anchored in ultimate support for the Democratic Party), a deep fear of offending hegemonic cultural liberalism and center-left Twitter luminaries, and an overarching need to secure the approval and admiration of the very mainstream media outlets we created The Intercept to oppose, critique and subvert.

Good for him, and godspeed.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Articles of Liberal Faith

Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf is seriously concerned. His great liberal dream is being threatened, by none other than Donald Trump. It’s not just the liberal dream that is on the ballot this time, but it’s the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt himself.

Importantly, Wolf articulates one of the basic articles of liberal faith. Namely, that Franklin Roosevelt saved democracy, in America and around the world.

This US election is the most important since 1932, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president in the depths of the Depression. With much trial and error, FDR saved democracy, at home and abroad. The reelection of Donald Trump would undo much, if not all, of that legacy. Yet his defeat would not end the danger. If that is to happen, American politics has to be transformed.

Of course these are tenets of a secular religion. Economic historians have long since debated whether the New Deal saved free enterprise. Of course, capitalism was on the line in the 1930s, not democracy per se. Many historians believe that World War II, not FDR, saved the American economy.

As for saving democracy abroad, one can gain some rational perspective on the absurd idolatry directed toward FDR, by asking how well or poorly he managed foreign policy. Winston Churchill once asked the salient question, in regards to World War I and World War II. Who, he asked, could have stopped these catastrophes before they started? Who could have used diplomacy and even small military force to prevent the defining bloodbaths of the twentieth century?

Keep in mind, World War II cost tens of millions of lives around the world. How would you like that on your resume?

In the case of World War I, that great hero of liberalism, Woodrow Wilson was surely the man who could have stopped the carnage before it metastasized into the defining calamity of the twentieth. In truth, contemporaneous commentaries by one Theodore Roosevelt outlined how the Wilson administration should have acted to take charge of the situation, which might well have prevented the fallout from WW I—Bolshevism, Fascism, Nazism, and World War II.

When it came to World War II, obviously, the ineffectual and feckless FDR could have and should have intervened much earlier to stop what Churchill saw unfolding. As for FDR’s saving democracy, explain that to the European Jews he worked long and hard to keep out of America during the Nazi persecution and the Holocaust.

For his part, Wolf then proclaims the brilliance of Democratic American presidents, ignoring any contributions that Republicans might have made.

Just a few days after his commitment to make the US democracy’s “arsenal”, FDR made a still more remarkable promise to posterity. In his State of the Union address of January 6 1941, he committed the US to promoting four freedoms: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear.

These were not idle vows. Over the ensuing half century, the world experienced a great spread of democracy and reduction in poverty. Neither would have happened without the institutions the US created, the habit of co-operation it promoted and the prosperity it spread.

Perhaps Wolf does not think very clearly, but the massive reduction in world poverty was produced by the introduction of free enterprise into China in 1978. And, to the best of my knowledge, it did not happen because China had free elections. While drooling over liberal democracy, Wolf should pay a little more attention to reality.

Wolf imagines that a Biden presidency would return America to such wondrous international agreements as the Paris Climate Accord and perhaps even the Iran Nuclear Deal. Both of which are self-defeating sellouts to America haters around the world.

He happily lauds America for having a functioning liberal democracy, but that can only mean that he has not been paying very close attention to American politics today. The American system seems to be more dysfunctional than functional. And by nominating a corrupt washed-up shell of a man, suffering from senile dementia, the Democratic Party does not look like it is ready to affirm its leadership role in the world. Besides, a country that takes one AOC to be a serious political leader is simply not a serious country. Do you think that the advent of the Squad is enticing nations around the world to embrace liberal democracy?

Wolf then starts whining about Trump’s inability to resolve any big global challenge. Perhaps he does not read the Financial Times, but Trump has recently been succeeding in resolving the Middle Eastern conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It's a major accomplishment. He might recall that the Obama approach was to fund Iranian terror and to give the ayatollahs legitimate access to nuclear weapons.

This election is so important, because the US plays a unique role in the world. It has long been the paramount model of a functioning liberal democracy, leader of the countries that share these values and an essential player in resolving any big global challenge. The re-election of Mr Trump would signify a rejection of all three roles by the American people. No other country or groups of countries is able to take its place. The world would be transformed — and not at all for the better.

But then, in order to describe Trump Wolf offers the insights of a journalistic crank named Masha Gessen and a NeverTrumpian crank named David Frum. Surely, neither has any authority beyond personal opinion. Wolf takes their words as gospel, to his discredit: 

The US of Mr Trump rejects all of this. He is a man with appetites, not ideals. As journalist Masha Gessen tells us in Surviving Autocracy, Mr Trump’s goal is to do whatever he likes, unconstrained by law, Congress or anything else. He wants to be an autocrat. If he wins again, he may largely achieve this aim, as commentator David Frum warns. Mr Trump also runs a corrupt, malevolent and incompetent government, lies more easily than breathes and is even campaigning against the notion that he could lose in a free and fair election. In all these ways, he ransacks every norm of a decent democracy, on a daily basis.

Speculations about what Trump wants or does not want to be—are fictions. Since Trump has been functioning as president for nearly four years, one would need to show where he has acted unconstrained by law.

As for all this whining about democracy, we all recall, as noted by IAC in the comments section of this blog, that James Madison saw the country as a republic, a place where citizens would have a voice, but not the only voice. A system of checks and balances is not the same as government by referendum. Those who want to try out the latter should propose that we have a binding national referendum on certain social issues—you know what they are. 

Of course, Wolf does not once mention the name of Joe Biden. If he believes that Biden will return America to decency he has been smoking the wrong kind of cigarettes. Just like Hunter. If he believes in Joe Biden, he would have saids it. The prospect is too absurd even for someone who has taken up residence in the idealistic clouds. 

Western Leaders Losing to the Virus

As we speak, the coronavirus is wreaking havoc in Western Europe. It is also wreaking havoc across vast swaths of America. It is good politics for Democrats to blame it on President Trump, but political leaders who have been lauded for their totally scientific approach to the virus are not faring very much better, for now.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized this morning:

Keep in mind that continental Europe was supposed to have done everything right to prevent another infection surge. The first lockdowns were extensive and prolonged. Governments mandated masks and social distancing. The new surges are due to the insidious nature of the virus, not to policy mistakes. That’s a lesson for Democrats who blame every new American infection on Donald Trump.

The reality became clear months ago that the virus can’t be banished on government orders, especially as citizens suffer and chafe under the pain of lockdowns. Targeted closures that protect the vulnerable are better policy responses until better treatments and a vaccine arrive or some broader immunity is reached. U.S. policy makers should do their best to avoid following Europe into another tragic shutdown.

To be more specific, everyone has insisted that German Chancellor Angela Merkel got it right. Apparently, not so much:

Germany, which was supposed to be Europe’s anti-Covid model, ordered a one-month shutdown of restaurants, bars, fitness studies and theaters. Hotels won’t be able to host tourists, and public gatherings can’t be larger than 10 people from two households.

As for super-enlightened France:

France will begin another national lockdown on Friday requiring people to remain in their homes. At least factories will be able to continue operating, but restaurants, bars and supposedly nonessential shops will have to close by government edict.

French and German leaders say they have no choice lest the country’s hospitals be overrun. Chancellor Angela Merkel said German hospitalizations have doubled in 10 days. “Within weeks, we will reach the limits of our health system,” she said. “It is completely clear that we must act, and act now, to prevent a national health crisis.”

Stamping out the virus without destroying the economy has always been the greatest challenge. Apparently, it has not been a rousing success in the Western world:

All of this will cause enormous economic damage after historic losses in the spring. Europe’s nascent recovery will go into reverse, and growth in the fourth quarter could be negative. The impact will ripple throughout the global economy, which accounts for the rout in equities. Investors have been betting on recovery, and at worst targeted lockdowns amid the inevitable fall and winter Covid spikes.

I would add that the Journal also believes that the current stock market rout is a function of the virus. It might also be a reflection that the market was seriously overvalued. It might be showing the hand of the Federal Reserve, working its magic to support the Biden campaign. (And no, that is not paranoid thinking. Banker William Dudley said that the Fed is perfectly capable of doing so.) Or else, the markets might just be preparing for the oncoming Kamala Harris presidency.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Politics of Therapy

Obviously, this story is too good to miss. At least, for this blog, it is. One Katie Heaney has quit therapy. Nothing strange or bizarre about that. Her reasoning draws our attention: she is quitting therapy because therapy has failed her. OK, she doesn’t quite put it in those terms-- because she is a good person-- but she finds that therapy is tedious, monotonous and incapable of dealing with the real problems-- which are political and social and biomedical.

She writing this in New York Magazine, and if, perchance, her therapist practices according to the principles adumbrated by that magazine’s highly challenged advice columnist, Dear Polly, she has taught Heaney to feel her feelings, to learn why she feels or does not feel her feelings and to express her feelings.

Without indulging too many theoretical contortions, you will notice that the approach involves introspection, looking within, blocking out the external world and wallowing in self-pity. 

Why anyone would ever imagine that that might be therapeutic is beyond me.

It also means that her therapist, to her discredit, has no ability to discuss anything that is going on in the real world, in the world outside the muck and mire of personal feelings. It is one thing not to know how to solve the world’s problems. It is quite another to be incapable of discussing them-- as an objective reality. 

Haven’t cognitive therapists explained in intricate detail that depression comes about from feelings of helplessness-- as though we cannot do anything to influence the state of the world or even our current condition.

Strange to say, in a culture where women are empowered to make their marks in the workplace and the marketplace, where they are more than ever involved in business and the professions, therapy does not help them to make their way in the world. It distracts them from reality and invites them to withdraw into the snug cocoons of their feelings.

I would also mention the work of an Israeli social worker, by name of Moshe Farchi. Working with the Israeli Defense Forces Farchi developed a new way to treat trauma. When a traumatized individual feels totally hopeless when dealing with the pain of a trauma, the solution is-- ruffles and flourishes-- to do something. It does not need to be large. It does not need to be grandiose. But a trauma victim who learns to function in the world, to undertake real world responsibilities, to perform real world actions is more likely to be able to exit the traumatic haze than someone who hunkers down with the thought that there is nothing he can do.

And if your therapist says that you should get in touch with your feelings, she-- in this case-- is feeding your depression because she is telling you that there is nothing you can do.

Feeling and doing are not the same thing.

And yet, Heaney’s therapist seems not to have known anything about these ways to treat depression. But, you will notice that Heaney does not blame her therapist. She defends her therapist by blaming the world. I emphasize the fact that she does not have the minimal gumption to hold her therapist accountable. After all, there are good and bad therapists. Some therapists fail. To ignore the fact is a moral failing-- one that would lead a patient to blame herself or the world or the stars.

Heaney opens thusly:

Last month, I quit therapy. I had been seeing my therapist for a year: in person for the first six months and then remotely. I found it harder to connect over Skype (I was always too aware of the clock), and the longer I kept it up, the more futile my weekly sessions seemed. In my normal life, I had enough to say to a therapist to fill an hour a week, no problem. Now, it’s just the same thing over and over: The world is falling apart, and I am depressed.

As it happens, Heaney is still employed. She is writing for New York Magazine. Nothing about her description of her current destitute state says that she cannot function as a contributing member of society. Besides, as she says, she is now living with family and saving money. Isn't thrift a sign of good character?

Two months into the pandemic, my wife lost her job, and two months after that, we moved cross-country to live temporarily with family to save money and try to figure out what the hell to do next. I don’t know how to articulate the way I’ve felt virtually every day since mid-March, but I assume you understand because you’ve felt it too. It’s bad. It sucks. I am acutely anxious and depressed all the time, and to me it seems there is very little I can do about it. I know what you’re thinking: I sound like I need therapy.

She goes on to describe her therapy. Frankly-- and we always want to be frank-- we ought to ask ourselves why her therapist-- presumably a credentialed professional-- could not steer the conversation in more productive directions. And could not help her to situate herself in the real world.

As you will see, she does not blame her therapist-- though she should-- and she doesn’t blame herself-- though she might. She blames the world. Nothing is quite so useless as railing against the world:

Therapy has helped me when I have felt ambiently bad without totally understanding why, or when I have known there’s something I need to do but can’t bring myself to do it. Throughout the months I kept seeing my therapist — because it was, I thought, the smart, self-protective thing to do — I heard myself as a broken record: I’m bored, I’m lonely, I’m cynical. But because I know the reasons (respectively: I’m doing the same thing every day, I’m seeing only two people, the government keeps proving it doesn’t care about us), my therapist couldn’t offer me much in the way of insight. I don’t think this is her fault, and I don’t think it’s mine. Our problems are just too big, and too external.

Since she seems to want to make herself feel bad, she conjures the single counselor who believes that therapy works. If therapy really works and if it does not work for her, the fault lies with-- the world. Seriously?

If he were talking about cognitive treatments, I would happily agree. Since he seems to be talking about all talk therapy, his is obviously an outlying view. No one really believes that any more:

Bruce Wampold, an emeritus professor of counseling psychology at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, has studied the impact and efficacy of psychotherapy throughout his career and wants to emphasize that, generally speaking, psychotherapy works. 

What impresses about those who defend therapy is their gross incapacity to accept that therapy can fail. They are masters at rationalization-- a skill that, frankly speaking, is positively useless when navigating real life situations.

Consider England, says Wampold. “England has put billions of pounds into making psychological treatments accessible, but the rates of depression in England are going up,” he says. “That doesn’t mean that the treatment isn’t effective, but psychotherapy isn’t meant to address ills of society.” Unemployment, poverty, discrimination, and social isolation all cause massive distress, and therapy can’t fix any of them. Stronger social services, better-paying jobs, and rigorous anti-racist policies would address these issues more directly, but these things are much more expensive, time consuming, and community oriented than individual therapy. These are also things a second stimulus relief package might address, but our elected representatives have dragged their heels for months, rushing instead to confirm a Supreme Court justice before the election.

It’s all the fault of our politicians, especially our Republican politicians. This becomes a screed against Republicans. It suggests that once we elect Democrats the world and everyone’s mental health will magically improve. Someone ought to explain that these people are so in touch with their inner children that they are acting like children who cannot accept not having got their way. 

In truth, those who live their lives for politics, who are incapable of taking any responsibility for their situations, who blame it all on a certain president, are suffering abject misery. Think about it. They would feel so much better if we had elected that incompetent fraud named Hillary Clinton. And we would feel so much better-- we have it on the authority of Tom Friedman-- if our current president could sing Amazing Grace, as our last president did. Doesn't this really mean that Tom Friedman should retire?

You remember our last president, someone who spent twenty years singing Amazing Grace in the church of a notable bigot named Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a bigot who hated white people, who hated America and who hated Jews. And who, by the way was a close friend and associate of Rev. Louis Farrakhan.

So, the armies of the left are raising havoc on America’s streets. They are burning and looting and pillaging and even murdering. And we are supposed to think that it is all the fault of the current president, but not of those who are committing the crime. Nor of those like Jeremiah Wright whose rhetoric incites to riot.

I suspect that more than a few people are so discombobulated by the Trump presidency, so detached from their rational faculties, that more than a few non-Democrats will vote for the Democrat-- in order to cure the mental distress of their fellow citizens-- the ones who could not accept the results of a fair election. 

In short, Heaney is making the case for Biden. She is exhorting her readers to heal her by voting for Democrats. Otherwise, she will stay depressed, and we do not want her to stay depressed. It’s an election tactic like another.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

A New York State of Anarchy

Has New York City descended into anarchy? The Justice Department thinks so, and this has allowed Seth Barron to address the question in City Journal. (via Maggie’s Farm)

Of course, the war against policing has given criminals a new lease on freedom-- freedom to commit crimes, that is. 

This cycle is now all too common in New York, where public order and safety have been buffeted by chaotic forces. Criminal-justice reform at the state level removed bail as an option for all but the most heinous charges. Locally, the NYPD has stopped enforcing many quality-of-life laws. The city council passed a law forbidding cops from applying pressure to the chest or back of an arrestee while trying to handcuff him, on the premise that this tactic is tantamount to asphyxiation; officers dealing with a resisting suspect would thus potentially face assault charges if they attempt to restrain him with vigor.

People who believe that the police target minority groups have used the pandemic to empty the prisons-- it’s almost like our own rolling Bastille Day:

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the release of inmates from jails and prisons across New York. “The number of New Yorkers held in NYC jails has plummeted, shrinking by 27% in ten weeks, a steeper population decline than in all of last year,” boasted the mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. “The jail population is at a number not seen since 1946.”

As everyone but the idiots running the city and state know, criminals are not looking to become responsible law-abiding citizens. They only really know how to commit crimes, so they commit crimes:

That would be good news if the incarcerated population were tracking the crime rate, but the exact opposite is true. Crime is up dramatically, as released inmates, now adjusted to a climate of permissiveness, resume criminal activity. Advocates for reform sneered at the suggestion that bail reform or pandemic-related releases were responsible for the lawless surge, but arrests have plummeted across the city. It goes against common sense to assume that the rise in crime has nothing to do with the release of thousands of career criminals into the community.

But, our fearful mayor, Comrade de Blasio believes in the revolution. And that has led him to allow, not merely crime, but generalized disruptions of everyday life:

In New York City, it feels as though things are getting out of control. When wildcat protests can take over the streets, blocking traffic at will while cops indicate they have been ordered to stand down, one observes a lack of order. Homeless drug addicts set up camp on lower Broadway and shoot up openly—a sight hard to imagine not long ago, but now common. Hotels on the Upper West Side have been converted into homeless shelters; when neighbors complain about random crime, public defecation, and harassment, local elected officials excoriate them as racists.

Between anarchy and being accused of racism, the city has chosen the former. It reminds one of the grooming gangs in English cities, where Pakistani men preyed on high school girls, gang raped them and sex trafficked them. The local authorities spent years looking away from it, because they were afraid to be called racists.

Therapists Writing Tell-All Books

It’s as old as Freud-- therapists writing about their patients. More recently, Irvin Yalom told fictionalized stories about his own patients in several books, most famously in Love’s Executioner. Recently, Lori Gottlieb wrote a best seller about her own experiences in therapy, adding accounts of her patients’ work with her. And one Esther Perel has done podcasts of couples therapy sessions in her office.

As it happens, for better or for worse, telling stories about your patients is an effective marketing tool. 

And yet, as Ellen Gamerman recently asked in a Wall Street Journal article, what happens to therapy when the patient has agreed that the therapist can write up the case for public consumption. Does it influence what is said and what is not said? Does it enhance the possibility for effective treatment-- because the patient wants to shine forth as a hero-- or might it even induce the patient to enact more drama, the better to be more interesting, to be a better story? What happens when a supposedly private conversation becomes a potential public spectacle?

Surely, there is a fundamental difference between confiding in an intimate and playing for a potentially large audience. We cannot imagine that anyone would present himself in the same way, would present his problems in the same way in these different circumstances. Encouraging patients to become exhibitionists does not seem to be very therapeutic, even if they want to do so.

We need also to mention that, as John Donne once said, no man is an island. No patient can tell his story, can lay out the minutiae of his misery without implicating other people, without betraying confidences that others have placed in him. The patient who allows his stories and his problems to become public might consent in the one sense, but can he consent to share the intimate truths of other people?

Better yet, is the therapist involved in a breach of professional confidence? Shouldn’t the therapeutic setting involve total and complete discretion? After all, modern therapy arose as a secular version of the Catholic sacrament of confession. And, the secrets of the confessional always remain secret. If I understand correctly-- and I am sure you will correct me if I do not-- priests are not allowed to share even confessions of criminal activity. A therapist however is duty bound to report instances, for example, of criminal behavior, as in, child abuse. 

Freud broke with the confessional tradition when he wrote up his cases. For the record, we know that he fictionalized them, even lied about his successes, the better to establish his bona fides as a therapist. Given his example we cannot preclude that therapists might be using their case studies to pretend to cure people they have not cured. There is no real way for a reader to know. 

With someone as famous as Freud, researchers have gone through the records and have unearthed the truth. It showed Freud to have been a serial prevaricator, dishonest to the core.

As happens in other aspects of human experience, consent is a very tricky concept. Can you legitimately consent to be abused? Can you consent to allow someone else to betray your confidence? If a patient has signed a waiver allowing the therapist to betray his confidence, does sharing the information with the public still constitute a betrayal of confidence? If it does, what moral example is the therapist setting for the patient?

Is the therapist still being indiscreet if the patient has agreed to it? And what happens when a patient, someone who consents to have his dirty linen exposed to public view, decides, after seeing it in print and after suffering the personal repercussions, that he would rather not have done so? What happens if he feels that he has been tricked? It is devilishly difficult to put the toothpaste back in the tube. 

Since I believe that we ought to have a position on a question of such moment, I will tell you that I am opposed to all such sharing, to all such indiscretion and to all such breaches of confidence-- even when a patient fulsomely consents. We might ask why a patient might consent, what it says about him and what moral example it sets. If we do, we will end up thinking that it is generally a bad idea.

As one therapist suggested, if the therapist is obliged to change all personal details in order to protect the patient’s identity, then perhaps he should just write fiction. Admittedly, it will not be as effective a way of marketing his service, but still?

Gamerman opens her article thusly:

Catherine Gildiner’s new book about her life as a psychotherapist stars her former patients, some of whom experienced strong reactions after seeing their lives exposed on the page. Ms. Gildiner said one patient, a woman who had been abused as a child, told her that reading the book brought up repressed memories of her sadistic father and briefly sank her into a depression. Another patient, a wealthy antiques collector, was mortified by the thought of anyone ever knowing the patient was her and vowed not to tell a soul about her literary turn, the author said. A third, Ms. Gildiner added, was a musician who felt so vindicated by the book’s portrayal of him that he showed the hardcover to everyone in his family.

“All of them were happy to be in it,” said Ms. Gildiner....

One wonders about Ms. Gildner’s definition of happiness, but surely none of these people impress you as having experienced joy for reading about themselves.

I would add that these patients would be within their rights to conclude that their therapists are telling the truth about their own feelings about their patients. And yet, fiction has a logic all its own, and a therapist will almost certainly be led to skew the details for dramatic effect. The therapist might believe that he is telling the truth, but the genre’s requirements can easily overpower even the most serious effort to be truthful.

Gamerman continues, to the effect that the doctor-patient confidentiality is being sacrificed to marketplace demand. These books sell very well indeed. And they seem to drive more patients to do therapy-- whether because they want to star in a therapist’s fiction or because they have a repressed exhibitionist tendency, we do not know:

Doctor-patient confidentiality is a cardinal rule for therapists, a legal and professional obligation that is considered essential for treatment. But therapists are turning their case studies into page-turners. The widening acceptance of mental-health care and the lucrative cachet of self-care in all its forms is fueling demand. 

She continues that when a therapist asks for permission to write about a patient, the gesture itself skews the process:

Professionals should not ask anything of patients beyond payment, some therapists say, adding that clients may not feel comfortable declining to be written about given how much power the therapist holds in the room. If patients don’t end up in the book, they may worry that the therapist finds them boring. If they do make the cut, they might regret it later.

It becomes a proverbial can of worms. Surely, some professionals feel compelled to write up case studies, because they are an excellent teaching tool. Such cases are often consigned to professional journals, to places where patients, their friends and family are unlikely ever to see them. Thus, they appear to respect the rules of professional confidentiality.

And yet, as long as these studies are written for a public audience, they will necessarily distort the relationship. As noted above, even if the patient consents to this form of public exposure, the act in itself is counterproductive. One does not quite see how the patient will gain any therapeutic benefit from having the intimate details of his life exposed on the public square or from being party to a betrayal of family secrets. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Joe Biden Brings Up Hitler

Yesterday, Joe Biden seemed not to know who he was running against. Before his wife corrected him, he declared that he was standing between America and four more years of George…. Apparently, he was stuck in a time warp and was reliving the presidential campaign of 2004.

Surely, this tells us that a Biden presidency will immediately cause nations around the world to respect American again. Huh?

But then, at the debate last Thursday, Biden claimed that America had had a good relationship with Hitler before he invaded some other countries.

He said:

We had a good relationship with Hitler before he, in fact, invaded Europe, the rest of Europe. Come on.

As for the relationship with Hitler, the Roosevelt administration was doing its best to stay out of the war. 

In September, 1938 Roosevelt sent Hitler this polite message:

The conscience and the impelling desire of the people of my country demand that the voice of their government be raised again and yet again to avert and to avoid war.

As you know, Hitler did not take FDR’s words seriously. The American president could expostulate, but he had shown himself weak when it came to doing something to stop Hitler. By that time Hitler had already annexed Austria and was threatening to invade Czechoslovakia. Under the circumstances Roosevelt's words were plaintive, no more or less.

As for the timing, FDR sent the telegram while the British, led by Neville Chamberlain, were negotiating with Hitler in Munich. The negotiation that would lead Britain to appease Germany. In effect, FDR was asking Hitler to be nice. His was a gesture of surrender to Hitler. And it may seriously have undercut Chamberlain’s negotiating position.

Let us also recall, there is no harm done in trying to have constructive relationships with foreign dictators and even tyrants. As William Ury, director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, once remarked, when asked whether it was good or bad for Trump to have try to cement a good relationship with foreign tyrants, said that it was a good thing to be soft in personal terms and hard on the terms of the negotiations. Being friendly costs you nothing, as long as you are strict about your goals. Being tough and then giving in is a bad strategy.

The issue with FDR and Germany was the failure to meet aggression and the threat of aggression with anything more than empty words. There is nothing wrong with being nice, until the situation requires strength. Even after Hitler had shown his colors, FDR remained inert.

As for who did have a good relationship with Hitler, who adored and lionized him, the answer is The New York Times. Yes, that New York Times.

It is not just that the Times covered up for Hitler and killed the news about the persecution of Jews, its intrepid reporter painted a glowing portrait of him.

Robert Spencer reports the story on Pajama Media. The Times author was Anne O’Hare McCormick. She wrote her puff piece on July 9, 1933, a few months after Hitler had taken over Germany.

It is an impressive document, which sounds like it was written by a love-smitten schoolgirl:

At first sight the dictator of Germany seems a rather shy and simple man, younger than one expects, more robust, taller. His sun-browned face is full and is the mobile face of an orator….

His eyes are almost the color of the blue larkspur in a vase behind him, curiously childlike and candid. He appears untired and unworried. His voice is as quiet as his black tie and his double-breasted black suit.

In the country he has plastered with banners and insignia he wears only a small gold eagle in his buttonhole. No flag or swastika is in sight.

He begins to speak slowly and solemnly but when he smiles — and he smiled frequently in the course of the interview — and especially when he loses himself and forgets his listener in a flood of speech, it is easy to see how he sways multitudes. Then he talks like a man possessed, indubitably sincere…. Herr Hitler has the sensitive hand of the artist.

Spencer continues to describe the McCormack story:

In the 29th paragraph of a 41-paragraph article, she recounts that she asked him: “How about the Jews? At this stage how do you measure the gains and losses of your anti-Semetic [sic] policies?” Hitler answered, she said, with “extraordinary fluency,” and she records his answer – a tissue of victim-blaming and excuse-making – at considerable length.

The Times was aware of Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Yet, it simply did not care.

Then, McCormick recounts, “seeing the second part of the question was not going to be answered, your correspondent referred to the position of women.” Ah, yes: when the interviewee doesn’t want to answer the tough question, go on to something easier. The Times and its allies today always keep this in mind when interviewing Democrats. This surrender mollified Hitler as well: “Herr Hitler’s tension relaxed. He smiled his disarming smile.”

As journalism goes, it deserves a place in the Hall of Shame.