Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Who Won? Who Lost? Who Cares?

Who won? Who lost? Who cares?

By the admission of nearly all pundits and commentators, Hillary Clinton won last night’s presidential debate. She was prepared, perhaps overprepared. She knew her brief and had smart comebacks to everything that Trump was offering.

Most importantly, she showed stamina. Heaven knows what kind of juice she was on, but she seemed alert throughout. She did not have a coughing fit. Trump began strong, but he eventually seemed to fade, running out of ideas and replies. When you are accusing your opponent of lacking stamina, you should show some yourself.

Of course, Hillary also came across as smug and perhaps overly confident. She was the tough guy in the room and seemed to get the better of the pretender. But, she also hectored Trump and the nation, which made him look more sincere and, dare I say, authentic. 

As I saw it, Hillary looked like she had been propped up behind her lectern. The split television screen made her look at tall as Trump, and since she is nearly foot shorter, it looked like her appearance had been doctored to make her look like something that she is not.

While Trump strikes many people as a repugnant human being, the truth of the matter is that Hillary is not a very attractive human being.  Trump does not come across as sensitive and empathetic. But, Hillary does not either. You might well be willing to have a few beers with Trump. You would dread having a drink with Hillary. Anything to avoid the cackle.

For his part Trump sniffed his way through the encounter. Many people noticed it and asked about it. It’s going to become repeated over and over again on late night television, but one does not know how much that is going to affect too many people.

Of course, we will not know who really won or lost for the next couple of days. The financial markets seemed to believe that Hillary won, but they have been wrong on so many things that one hesitates to trust them. While some have suggested that Trump the bully was beaten up by a mere woman, the truth might be more subtle. Given that Hillary is putatively a woman, Trump could not attack her as aggressively as he attacked his male counterparts in the Republican nomination debates. And many people might have come away feeling that they would like to do what he could not do--to lay a figurative beating on Hillary. It’s the downside of empathy.

Besides, as numerous people have noted, Lester Holt, after beginning as a more impartial debate, started attacking Trump far more than he was attacking Clinton.  

How do you, a white male, respond to a black moderator who implies that you are a racist? Thanks to Holt, the question lay there, a trap for Trump to fall into. Apparently, Holt is a Republican. Yet, he was carrying water for the Democrats in his attacks on Trump. He offered no such attacks on Clinton.

How do you, a white male, respond to a woman who calls you a racist liar and then declares that you are an inveterate sexist. Trump was probably wise to point out that even though he said some bad things about women, but Hillary's husband has done some very bad things to women. When he did, Hillary stood by him. Not only stood by him but set her mind to destroying the women that Bubba had abused and molested.

The larger question is: how fed up are the American people with political correctness? Does the charge of racism still put you beyond the political pale? Does the charge of sexism still make you look subhuman? It is not so obvious to me that these charges still work political magic.

After eight years of Barack Obama, after a rising tide of racial animosity in the country, after seeing cities burn, blacks murdered by other blacks… laying it all at the feet of white police officers and Donald Trump might not work in this election. I suspect that people are too smart to take the bait.

Trump’s reply, his effort to shift the focus to the living conditions in America’s inner cities, struck me as correct. Making it all about racism and white police officers misses the point entirely. It is a smokescreen designed to distract.

One notes that Hillary was talking down to Trump, calling him by his first name. And that Trump was addressing her—for the most part-- as Secretary Clinton. It was probably a good tactic. Given the evident double standard, if he had consistently called her by her first name he would have been excoriated in the press for sexism. By my count Trump called Lester Holt by his first name far more often than Hillary did. It's a sign of respect and cordiality.

As some have noted, Trump missed some excellent opportunities. When asked about cybersecurity he should have slammed Clinton for putting American security at serious risk by using a private email server. When asked about whether he was for or against the Iraq war, he should not have gotten so defensive but should have pointed out that he was a private citizen while Clinton was a senator who voted for the war. And he might have mentioned that she strongly opposed Bush’s surge. He should also have trashed her for suggesting that the Obama administration’s failure to negotiate a status of forces agreement before pulling out of Iraq was the fault of the Bush administration. He should have mentioned that Obama himself declared Iraq a great success when he surrendered. And he could certainly have mentioned Benghazi and Clinton’s lies to the parents of the young men she failed to protect there.

Nevertheless, Trump was simply not prepared. He did not know enough and certainly did not know as much as she did. And yet, he was correct to point out that her extensive knowledge is accompanied by a singular lack of achievements, even of some conspicuous failures.

He would be better able to make this case if he could show off some of his great successes in political offices. He has none, so he was reduced to defending his business record. Since it has very little to do with governing a nation, it will always be off the point.

When pressed by Holt and Clinton—who were teaming up against him—on his taxes, he had an excellent comeback: I’ll release my taxes when Hillary releases the 30,000 deleted emails. And yet, he should not just have mentioned it in passing. He should have pressed the point, and asked her more directly why she bleached her server to destroy incriminating evidence. While she was accusing him of having a nefarious reason for not releasing his taxes he should have been less defensive and should have pointed out the gross disparity between whatever lies hidden on his tax returns and the fact that she compromised national security.

There is, in effect, no comparison between the two.

One understood that he believed that he could get through it on vanity. He did not understand that talking for 45 minutes is not the same as talking for 8 minutes—which is the amount of time he spoke during the Republican candidate debates.

Of course, debating a woman changes the dynamic significantly. No one believes in double standards, but they still exist and if you come across as too strong when dealing with a woman, you will have a problem. Still, Trump could have prevailed and looked more presidential to the chattering class if he had showed a command of fact and information and policy. He did not. It was a missed opportunity.

Still and all, Trump has more than bluster going for him. He sounds like he actually wants to do things for America. Hillary sounds like she has a raft of detailed plans. Having plans and implementing them are not the same thing. One suspects that Hillary will have a great deal of difficulty making deals internationally and even with Congress.

Writing on Powerline John Hinderaker tries to separate the question of who won the debate from the question of how it will change voters’ minds. He writes:

This is why I don’t think the evening was a bad one for Trump: most undecided voters will have seen Hillary as the embodiment of the political class. Smug, smirking, always ready with a torrent of words that can’t quite obscure the fact that to the extent she herself has wielded power, she has been a failure. Hillary Clinton is a walking exemplar of the political class that got us where we are now. A viewer who thinks America is doing great, our politicians are terrific, things have been going well in recent years and we need more of the same will be motivated to vote for Hillary.

Trump had a bad night. Clearly, he came in second. Anyone who supported Trump because they believed he would be great in a debate against Hillary should start asking how they got it so wrong.

And yet, the polls might tell a different story. Trump still has one trump card: he is running against someone that no one really likes, someone who is not likable enough. It may be that, in doing well in the debate, in being smug and cutesy, Hilary might have turned a lot of voters off.

In any other election Trump would have been counted out by now. In this election, he seems still to have a good chance.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Power of Rational Thinking

Long have I railed about the dangers of following your gut. Better to work through a problem, especially a difficult and intractable one, before making a decision. Call it the power of rational thinking.

One understands, only too well, the appeal of emotion. One understands that certain people, who barely know how to think rationally, tell us that we are all slaves to our irrational emotions. Then again, why do they think that the call of emotion is irrational?

Obviously, these champions of irrational emotion want to undo the Enlightenment. Their fellow travelers want to repeal the Industrial Revolution because they want to save the planet. How better to save the planet than producing mass starvation.

If they are behavioral economists they also believe that we do not have free will and that our decisions are never arrived at freely.

Here’s a warning: beware of people who try to convince you that you are not a rational being and do not have free will. It’s easier to take away your freedom—the better to allow the behavioral economists to run your life—when they convince you that you do not have any.

Now, Olga Khazan reports on research conducted by Harvard professor, Jennifer Lerner. Khazan begins by presenting the conventional wisdom about following your gut. She adds a dash of irony, for effect:

Let’s say you’re making a hard choice, one that could impact your life significantly. Every time you think you've settled on something, the other option tugs you back to its side. You end up where you started: It's a draw.

Should you make ever-more-detailed lists of pros and cons and seek advice from even more trusted sources? Or should you go with your gut?

Many people would suggest the latter: Listen to your gut, or your heart, or some other part of your body that couldn’t possibly know what those stock options will be worth in five years. For the advice-giver, “Just do what feels right!” is safe guidance to offer, since if you nudged the decision-maker toward a huge mistake, at least they’d feel good making it.

Khazan is entirely correct. Unless some corner of your soul always tells you the right thing to do with those stock options.

One feels constrained to add that many of those-- like Warren Buffett-- who tell you to follow your gut are making a conceptual mistake. Since they have been studying and reading about the stock market for decades, they can see an opportunity or a danger more quickly than the rest of us. They must think that they are being cool when they say that their accumulated wisdom resides in their guts. It does not.

Enter Jennifer Lerner. Khazan explains Lerner’s research:

In a series of studies she recently published with Christine Ma-Kellams at the University of La Verne in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, she found that, in a task where managers were trying to detect an interviewee’s emotions, they assessed the situation more accurately when they  thought systematically, than when they just relied on intuition.

In fact, much of Lerner’s research focuses on how emotions can influence decision-making—and not always for the better. Your gut, to the extent that it reflects your feelings, might be steering you wrong.

People like to be told to go with their gut. It’s easier than having to think something through, to seek advice, to evaluate the evidence and to draw a conclusion. Going with your gut makes you lazy. It relieves you of the dire necessity of doing some work.

As Lerner puts it:

Anger gets you in the game, but once you’re in the game, you need to think.

With any luck you will have thought through your game plan before you get in the game, but that’s a quibble.

But, what about happiness? You may recall that I posted about the happiness industry two days ago. I was highly skeptical of the current psycho and corporate tendency to try to improve worker performance by engineering happiness… by whatever means.

Lerner has also debunked the happiness mongers:

Surprisingly, though, happiness isn’t much better at inspiring good decisions. Several studies have shown that people who were in a positive mood put more faith in the length of a message, rather than its quality, or in the attractiveness or likability of the source. Given that it’s typically the amicable job interview that results in an offer, this might explain some of the economic advantages that flow to tall men or attractive people.

Allow me to explain. If you are interviewing a job candidate and are in a good mood, if your mind is awash in positive thinking, if you are following your bliss, you are more likely to choose a candidate who is more attractive, even if the person is less qualified or less capable of doing the job.

Happiness can deceive. It can cloud judgment.

But, what about sadness? Lerner suggests that some degree of sadness can make you more thoughtful, but that too much sadness can shut down your mind:

Under certain circumstances, sadness can be good, since it fosters systematic thought. The slightly melancholy, to whom no option appeals very much, will dutifully think, “on the one hand, x, but on the other hand y,” Lerner said. And that’s good! But too much sadness can set off rumination— “you keep thinking x, x, x, x,” she said—which is not going to get you any closer to signing on the dotted line (or not!) with satisfaction and relief.

What’s more, sadness might make you more impatient. A 2013 study by Lerner and others found that people who felt sad accepted up to 34 percent less money in order to get paid now, rather than three months from now. But at least it might make you more generous toward others: She’s also found that sad people allocate more to welfare recipients than angry people would, since the angry would likely blame poor people for their own misfortune.

Lerner concludes that we should not think that the right emotional state will naturally or automatically cause you to make a good decision. The point deserves emphasis.

You should not act precipitously when you are overcome by emotion. Especially when sending out emails. Deliberation, even systematic deliberation, will often yield a better decision. Of course, you will not even think to engage the process if you do not believe that you are a rational being and that you can exercise free will.

An Amazing Therapist

You may have seen the work of actor Laurence Fox. He played the role of Hathaway on the Masterpiece Mystery production of “Lewis.” That’s Detective Lewis, to you. Formerly he was the sidekick of Endeavour Morse in an earlier Masterpiece Mystery show.

Fox was married to a British actress, by name of Billie Piper. You may also have seen her work. She starred in a television show called “The Secret Diary of a Call Girl.” Fox and Piper are now divorced and the divorce seems to have hit Fox especially badly.

Since this blog is about therapy, I report on Fox’s efforts to overcome his trauma.

In a recent newspaper story, he explains that aerobic exercise helps with his panic attacks. As it happened, his brother offered to pay for his trainer, as a post-divorce gift.

Fox explained:

The physical symptoms of trauma and suffering are profound panic attacks for an extended period of time, and I'd never had a panic attack in my life before last year.

It's like being plugged into an electric socket where you go mental.

I've learnt to put on my running shoes and sprint as fast as I can until I can't move any more, then there's something else distracting me and the endorphins kick in and you start to feel better.

Fair enough, and thoroughly to be expected.

Fox continues, explaining that he has been suffering from chronic insomnia:

I haven't slept for six months, even with sleeping pills. I go to bed the same time, same bed as the kids and just lie awake, sleeping two or three hours. My mind's whirring round.

Now, you will be thinking that perhaps he should be seeing a therapist. In truth, he has a therapist.

As he says:

I'm seeing an amazing therapist, I love her.

Let’s see. He hasn’t slept in six months, even while he is taking sleeping medication. And yet, he finds his therapist to be “amazing.” How do you think he would be feeling and how well do you think he would be sleeping if his therapist were not quite so amazing? And besides, the only instance of clear benefit comes by way of his trainer, not his therapist.

In principle you judge a therapist’s work on how well or how poorly her patient is doing. In Fox’s case, the treatment failure doesn’t really matter, because he loves his therapist. He has a good transference relationship, as the analysts would put it, but it is not enough to get him, after six months, a good night’s sleep. It almost makes you think that the transference is simply a way to keep people in treatment when its results are unsatisfactory.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

What is the TTC Community?

Now that the DSM 5 is out and selling like crazy, it’s time to think up some new diagnoses for the upcoming DSM 6.

As you know, mental health professionals use the diagnostic manual to look up codes for their patients’ mental illnesses. They write the codes on insurance forms so that the companies will pay for treatment.

Anyway, the DSM crew is always looking for new forms of mental illness, and I would like to recommend one. It comes from a letter that was sent to Ask Polly, New York Magazine’s seriously challenged advice columnist.

Today, for reasons of benevolence, I will not pass along any of Polly’s commentary. If you are Polly responds that she does not have the problem the letter writer presents. As you might know, Polly loves to write about herself... about something she thinks she knows.

Anyway, the letter writer brings our attention to what is called the TTC community. TTC means: trying to conceive. Conception is a blessing, Shakespeare told us, but for women who have waited to conceive, the process can be riddled with anxiety. It’s a modern condition, derived largely from the fact that modern well-educated women, for various reasons, have chosen to defer and delay childbearing.

A woman who, for reasons I do not quite understand, calls herself  TTC Lurker describes the syndrome well:

I have a question about pregnancy jealousy. I work for a company in the fertility field. In the interest of getting to know our customer base, I’ve become very involved in what they call the TTC (trying to conceive) community online. And as a recently married early-30-something who is almost-but-not-quite-yet about to start trying for a baby of my own, talking to women who are struggling to conceive all day really freaks me out. All the cycle tracking, temperature taking, peeing on sticks, anxious waiting, jealousy when you see someone else’s pregnancy announcement on Facebook …

For these women, it seems like time spent trying to get pregnant becomes its own phase of life. They form a community of support, have all kinds of inside jokes and acronyms. But even though it’s part of my job to help these women, in the place where there should be empathy, part of me recoils.

For your edification, here is a link to the Bump website. It seems illustrative and, if I may say so, soothing.

Both the letter writer and Polly ignore one salient aspect of this problem.. Women who are suffering from this anxiety are living out the consequence of a life choice.

They were told and they accepted the feminist life plan: namely, that childbearing had to be postponed into a woman’s thirties because career had to come first. Feminists routinely disparage women who marry young and who have children young. The worst thing that can happen to a woman is to sacrifice her career to become a housewife and mother, a useless drudge, tied down to home and babies.

From the feminist perspective, conception is a curse. What used to be called “the curse” is now presumably a blessing. Unless she is trying to conceive. No wonder women are anxious and confused. Women’s health, from a feminist perspective, requires endless conversations about contraception and abortion.

Of course twenty-somethings have far fewer problems with conception. Every woman who is thinking clearly—and women do think about this very, very often—knows that postponing conception entails risk. Every woman has a free choice about whether or not she wants to assume that risk.

She should not however allow herself to be seduced into thinking that if she does as the feminists have told her to do, if she chooses to postpone marriage and conception in the interest of pursuing career opportunities, her chances to have children will not diminish. Life is about trade-offs. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you.

Now, to keep this all fair and balanced, we note that some women postpone marriage and childbearing because there are fewer and fewer good men, men who are husband material, out there. I need not tell you about the war against men and the disparagement of any man who dares to suggest that he wants to become a breadwinner. One consequence is the TTC community.

Often, as Polly herself did, women become attached to men who are overgrown children, who are incapable of assuming adult paternal responsibilities. Many young women find themselves in the TTC community because breadwinners have become increasingly scarce.


Left-thinking New Yorkers are having a nervous breakdown. They are rushing to their therapists to talk through their deep anguish and despair over the current election. Most especially, they are torqued over the candidacy of someone who is… dare I point it out… one of their own.

Read the headline on the Slate story:

Fear, Anxiety, and Depression in the Age of Trump

Therapists and their patients are struggling to cope amid the national nervous breakdown that is the 2016 election.

Fear, anxiety and depression… that’s a trifecta.

Struggling to cope… with what, exactly? With a possibility, with an eventuality. And, why are the therapists also struggling to cope? Do they too suffer from fear, anxiety and depression? If so, what good has therapy done for them?

Evidently, these patients do not know that we are not living in the Age of Trump. We are living in the Age of Obama. Perhaps they are displacing their anguish over the current state of the nation… away from the person responsible to the person they can denounce to their left-thinking therapists.

Trust me, a patient who goes to a therapist’s office to rail about Obama will be denounced as a racist and be told that he needs to spend five years on the couch.

Besides, isn’t Trump the embodiment of New York values? Isn’t Trump really a liberal Democrat disguised as a Republican? You cannot walk too many blocks in New York City without seeing the name Trump… in giant letters. How did it happen that all of these left-thinking New Yorkers gave it nary a thought when the Donald was among them, but now feel pangs of anguish… to the point of suffering from Trumpophobia… when they think of their man in the White House?

One suspects that they are worried that they will not see honest Hillary, strong and empowered, unable to walk up the steps on her, stumble her way into the White House. The Age of Obama now gives us a terrorist attack or a riot every week or so. Just think of how it will be with tough-talking mealy mouthed Hillary!

A bomb goes off in Chelsea. No problem. Donald Trump... oh, my God!!!

All therapy patients know in their hearts that Hillary is stronger than the man of steel. What do you want to bet that, if she is elected, she will quickly have the opportunity to show how tough she is? After all, the weak-kneed Obama, master of the art of surrender, has made us more vulnerable. Now, all we need, to rouse our enemies, is tough Hillary.

No wonder these patients are going to therapy. They don’t know what they are afraid of.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Picture of Success

I know that Kevin Williamson is a fan favorite around these parts, so I am happy to pass along his description of truly successful people. By his lights, such people are humble and modest. They let their work speak for itself.

Williamson's remarks come from a column this morning about William Buckley:

Truly accomplished people are, in the main, generous, gracious, and open; it is the mediocrities, those who have done a little bit of something or other but still feel the need to convince themselves that they deserve whatever reputation they have, who are hard to take. It is an ordinary and familiar human failing: They are selling you themselves, hard, because they themselves do not quite believe in the product. Baryshnikov never feels the need to say, “You know, I’m a really good dancer.” Bill Gates never feels the need to mention that he is immensely rich. George Clooney never talks about his romantic history.

A Propensity toward Criminality

A few words from Andrew McCarthy about the interactions between blacks and the police. McCarthy is trying to diminish the hold of today’s master narrative, the one that sees white policemen as being a hit squad that was sent out to murder black people. 

He writes:

The elephant in the room, the fundamental to which we must never refer, is propensity toward criminality. It is simply a fact that blacks, and particularly young black men, engage in lawless conduct, very much including violent conduct, at rates (by percentage of population) significantly higher than do other racial or ethnic groups.

This is not a matter of conjecture. Crime gets reported by victims; the police don’t invent it, they investigate it. Overwhelmingly, the victims of black crime are black people. Indeed, as Heather Mac Donald relates in her essential book, The War on Cops, only 4 percent of black homicide victims are killed in police interactions. If African-American parents were really having “the talk” that is pertinent to protecting their children, it would have to involve the reality that those children are overwhelmingly more likely to be shot by other black youths. The police are having “police involved” confrontations with young black men largely because black communities demand police protection — and understandably so.

One understands that no one much cares about the facts. We are being subjected to a steady diet of propaganda masquerading as truth. And we are not allowed to think otherwise. Worse yet, McCarthy notes, by feeding us propaganda and forcing us to believe it culture warriors are depriving us of our rational faculties.