Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Not only does rock music not cause suicide, but...

. . . "merely describing a song as ‘suicide-inducing’ or ‘life-affirming’ leads listeners to perceive it as such."

So, "by labelling music as suicide-inducing, campaigners and legislators may be helping to create the problem they aim to eradicate."

The devastating sentence Mitt Romney deleted from the paperback edition of his book

Romney, referring to the results of his health care reform in Massachusetts, wrote:

“We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country.”
Again, that sentence appeared in the hardcover edition (early 2010) but was absent from the paperback edition of his campaign book. The book's title: No Apology.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

An interview with a patient who claims he "faked his way" into a psychiatric hospital

The patient, "Tony," was convicted, at age 17, of causing grevious bodily harm. (This was in Britain.) He started creating a new persona for himself by plagiarizing from any sources he could find — movies like A Clockwork Orange, a biography of Ted Bundy — so that he'd be sent to a psychiatric hospital instead of prison.

It worked. But Tony instantly regretted it and tried to get out.

In a new book called The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson reports on his interview with Tony in the hospital:

It is an awful lot harder, Tony told me, to convince people you're sane than it is to convince them you're crazy.

"I know people are looking out for 'nonverbal clues' to my mental state," Tony continued. "Psychiatrists love 'nonverbal clues'. They love to analyse body movements. But that's really hard for the person who is trying to act sane. How do you sit in a sane way? How do you cross your legs in a sane way? . . ."

"[T]hey saw how well behaved I was and decided it meant I could behave well only in the environment of a psychiatric hospital and it proved I was mad."

I glanced suspiciously at Tony. I instinctively didn't believe him about this. It seemed too catch-22, too darkly-absurd-by-numbers. But later Tony sent me his files and, sure enough, it was right there. "Tony is cheerful and friendly," one report stated. "His detention in hospital is preventing deterioration of his condition."
I'm sure I'm not the only one who read this and thought of one of the greatest movies ever made:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"What is religion’s role in gender discrimination?"

"The truth is that the Abrahamic religions fear women and therefore go to extraordinary and sometimes brutal lengths to control them, constrain them, and repress them in every way. Show me a non-religious society that feels so threatened by the thought of female sexuality that it will slice off the clitoris of a young girl to ensure she can never experience sexual pleasure. Show me a non-religious society that feels the need to cloak women from head to toe and force them to experience the outside world through a slit of a few square inches. All three Abrahamic religions share the myth of Adam and Eve, the myth that it was through woman that evil was let loose in the world. They share the heritage of Leviticus, which declared a menstruating woman unclean, to be set aside, untouched, a revulsion that remains even today among some orthodox Jews, who will refuse to shake a woman’s hand for fear she may be menstruating. What kind of lunacy is this? It is the lunacy of a Bronze Age mindset fossilized by the reactionary forces of religion."

UPDATE: For some reason, people who try to post a comment on this post are getting their comments deleted. If you tried to post a comment here, I assure you I didn't delete your comment. My dad, Richard Lawrence Cohen, emails this comment since he wasn't able to post it (and I wasn't able to post it in the comments section either):

Female genital mutilation is a horrible crime, but it's an ancient cultural practice, not a modern religious one. A papyrus from 163 BC, as well as evidence on mummies, indicate that it was begun in pharaonic Egypt, not in "Abrahamic" society. Today, while it's mostly done in Islamic parts of Africa, it's been condemned by high religious authorities including the Supreme Council of Islamic Research and the Coptic (i.e. Egyptian Christian) Pope. It's practiced by many sub-Saharan African peoples, notably including the Dogon, who are animistic, and the Bambara, who though predominantly Muslim still strongly maintain aspects of their powerful pre-Christian-era Mandé culture. In the colonial era, the Kikuyu of Kenya reinvigorated their practice of clitoridectomy as a protest against Christian missionary indoctrination and in favor of their traditional beliefs; indeed the Mau Mau rallied around the practice during the independence movement of the 1950s.

However, as we know, Western civilization is responsible for all the world's problems. Especially "Abrahamic" civilization.
Well, that blog post is extremely critical of Islam and burqas, which aren't exactly "Western civilization."

I'm considering switching to a different blogging service over Blogger's countless commenting bugs, as well as other bugs and shortcomings with Blogger. What do you think?

ADDED: I asked for reader comments in that last paragraph, but I forgot that you might not be able to comment! So, feel free to email me with your opinion of whether I should switch to a different platform. One of my main concerns is whether creating a duplicate blog would hurt my Google pagerank.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why it matters that British students don't learn about British imperialism

"[S]adly, the fact that we as a nation do not have a collective narrative for our imperial adventures means we think that we cannot teach them. So students, like myself, are denied the truth about our past, left to learn it elsewhere, if at all, to the detriment of our own worldview."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The many problems with unpaid internships

Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy is a new book by Ross Perlin about, as the title suggests, what's wrong with unpaid internships. (Perlin also recently did a New York Times op-ed about this.)

From The New Republic's review of the book:

The economic and legal problems with this arrangement are glaring. Internships exclude those whose families cannot afford to support them; they displace paid workers; they allow companies to dodge liability and colleges to cash in on “internship for credit” tuition dollars.
As Matthew Yglesias has observed, the fact that employers use internships to skirt minimum wage laws blinds us to the negative consequences of those laws:
[Y]ou don’t see a decline in employment because people can just find loopholes.
The review also points out a deeper problem with internships:
“Once you’ve been told that your work isn’t worth anything,” Perlin rightly observes, “you stop taking pride in it, you stop giving it your best.”
But is that true? Many people are more passionate about and take more pride in their hobbies than their paid work. If Perlin is right, however, this would be a strong argument for paying kids (in the form of money or gifts) for getting good grades in school.

Molly Fischer, the author of the New Republic book review, notes the irony that she once interned for Benjamin Kunkel, who wrote one of the blurbs on the back of the book. Fischer says:
Benjamin Kunkel, I recall once having to deliver something to your apartment. Benjamin Kunkel, if you are reading this, I did not feel exploited. But my pleasant summer at a literary magazine puts me in the minority of my peer group.
I wonder: do The New Republic's unpaid internships somehow not lead to all the problems that Perlin and Fischer point out?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Donald Trump quits.

"What am I supposed to do with all these toupe jokes I've collected!?" -- Duncan Jones

Friday, May 13, 2011

Newt Gingrich on an individual mandate to buy health insurance, and subsidies for those who can't afford it

He's in favor of these policies.

He might not say so now. But Gingrich has made it pretty clear, over several years, what his real position is.

As that blog post points out, Mitt Romney is far from the only major Republican presidential candidate with a problem on this issue.

And let's hope the media keeps pointing this out. Surely they wouldn't just target Romney to the exclusion of other candidates with similar records, right? Why, that would suggest that the media harbors a largely superficial and irrational animosity against Romney, and it's hard to imagine that!

Torture didn't help us find and kill Osama bin Laden; it led us astray, says John McCain.

Senator McCain talked to Leon Panetta, head of the CIA, to get the facts, which turned out to be quite different from what former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey suggested in an op-ed.

This article quotes the revelations from a long anti-torture speech McCain gave on the Senate floor:

The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. We did not first learn from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the real name of bin Laden’s courier, or his alias, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the man who ultimately enabled us to find bin Laden. The first mention of the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, as well as a description of him as an important member of Al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country. The United States did not conduct this detainee’s interrogation, nor did we render him to that country for the purpose of interrogation. We did not learn Abu Ahmed’s real name or alias as a result of waterboarding or any ‘enhanced interrogation technique’ used on a detainee in U.S. custody. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts, or an accurate description of his role in Al-Qaeda.

In fact, not only did the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed; it actually produced false and misleading information. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married, and ceased his role as an Al-Qaeda facilitator — which was not true, as we now know. All we learned about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti through the use of waterboarding and other ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ against Khalid Sheik Mohammed was the confirmation of the already known fact that the courier existed and used an alias.

I have sought further information from the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and they confirm for me that, in fact, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in Al-Qaeda and his true relationship to Osama bin Laden — was obtained through standard, non-coercive means, not through any ‘enhanced interrogation technique.’

In short, it was not torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden. I hope former Attorney General Mukasey will correct his misstatement.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mickey Kaus calls out Nicholas Kristof's "faux mot" about Republicans supporting contraception for horses but not for humans.

Kristof posted this to Twitter:

You can’t make this up: Republicans back contraception for wild horses, cut it for humans.
He explained the point at the end of his most recent New York Times column.

Kaus points out that Kristof's refusal to appreciate the views of people who disagree with him is actually unhelpful in advancing Kristof's own position:
The conservative Republican response is presumably that life begins at conception and human life is sacred, while horse life is not. Duh! Also that we worry considerably less about the moral and social effects of promiscuity and eugenics on equine society. . . .

The chances that it will actually win over anyone are nil–but it will get him applause from a large audience (at least 1,079,881 [the number of people who follow Kristof on Twitter]) of the already convinced. It’s as much entertainment as argument. Not that there’s anything wrong with it! Unless you want Kristof’s side to win.
This is not just an issue about contraception for humans and horses. There's a much broader problem with people failing to understand their political/ideological opponents' actual views (particularly the left failing to understand the right). When people do this, it's a giveaway that what they care about most is not whether their position actually prevails; they're more interested in demonizing their opponents and, by contrast, putting halos over themselves.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mitt Romney's Republican opponents charge that under his health care reform, there are long wait times to see doctors.

They also say primary care physicians are less likely to see new patients than they were before.

And they're right — according to Jonathan Cohn, a left-of-center supporter of President Obama's health care reform.

There just doesn't seem to be any evidence that Romneycare caused those problems. Cohn explains why at the link.

But I suspect that Cohn's approach — rigorously scrutinizing the relevant data — is not exactly going to dominate the discussion in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.

A commenter on Cohn's post adds that even if Romney's state health insurance law does lead to negative consequences, we shouldn't assume that a national version of Romneycare (which is more or less what Obamacare is) will lead to similar consequences:

I know a (poor) woman who had moved from MA to Florida a few years ago. When universal health care was introduced in MA - and she subsequently got pregnant - she moved back. Though I haven't seen any studies it seems likely that such "market forces" are drawing a number of indigent people in which would tend to increase the load on the system. . . .

[This] problem is solved immediately by a national plan.
The theory of federalism says that states act as "laboratories of democracy," allowing us to see the consequences of policies on a relatively small scale before deciding whether to enact them nationwide. But individual states are so different from the entire United States that the results of a state-level policy experiment might be meaningless or even worse.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What's so great about primitive societies?

Not as much as some would have you believe, according to that article about the Jarawa people of the Andaman Islands (to the east of India) (via):

A recent full-page advertisement in a glossy magazine showed a picture of a smiling woman from the Jarawa tribe in the Andaman Islands off the coast of India. The accompanying text read, "No war, no poverty, no drug abuse, no corruption, no pollution, no overpopulation, no prisons -- and we call them primitive?" Their 55,000-year, isolated, self-sufficient and sustainable existence is at threat, the ad suggested. Luckily, Survival International "is helping the Jarawa protect their land and defend their lives." . . .

The glorification of the Jarawa and in general of tribal life, with its supposed freedom from violence, poverty, drugs, crime, and overpopulation, is part of a dangerous denial of the huge benefits that modernity has brought to the vast mass of humanity. It is easy to get emotional about a supposedly idyllic Stone Age existence when we're staring at elegant photographs on a computer screen while sipping our Starbucks chai latte. But if we decided to actually return to the lifestyle of uncontacted peoples, the vast majority of the planet would die off from starvation, and those who remained would face nasty, brutish, and short lives. Romanticizing that lifestyle provides no insights into how we can better run a planet of 7 billion people on a sustainable basis -- and does little to illuminate the challenges and needs of tribal people themselves. . . .

[The Jarawa's] current limbo of semi-engagement may be the worst possible place to be. It exposes them to disease and violence without proximity to vaccines, hospitals, or real security. Yes, the record of paternalist integration is grim, but it is difficult to make the case that the record of paternalist exclusion and glorification is better.
I'm reminded of this old column by Jonah Goldberg:
The simple truth is that everyone thinks that much of the Third World is a write-off. Many conservatives just don’t care. And, many Leftists — especially when it comes to South America — think that saying we should “preserve unique cultures” is somehow different than saying “keep these people in poverty.” . . .

Now, I’m a conservative. I like the past. I love tradition. In fact I want to conserve these things, hence the word conservatism. Conservatives are opposed to the bleaching of culture or the erasure of history. Conservatism, the saying goes, is dedicated to the wisdom of the ancients. But that wisdom believes in progress, determined by reason and tempered by tradition. That’s why none of us believes white people would be better off living like Vikings, Goths, or Huns. Why should we think that Africans or Indians should?

I was just in Italy. Now, anybody who has spent five minutes in Italy knows that it is a very — oh gosh what’s that word? — right: Italian country. The food, the language, the traditions, the very air itself is Italian. If you can be an Italian with a cell phone, a full set of teeth and an apartment, why can’t the same hold true for Zulus? Is there something about being a Zulu that’s antithetical to being modern? (I know there are plenty of Zulus with cellphones and the like already, but the point is that I think many liberals find this disappointing).
By the way, if you read that whole Jonah Goldberg column, you'll see how bizarrely incoherent some columns were in the days before blogging gave everyone an outlet for their random thoughts.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The killing of bin Laden will have major political consequences.

So argues Peter Beinart.

The whole article is worth reading (like most of what Beinart writes on foreign policy), but here's a sample:

[T]he view that Democrats won’t use force . . . was never true. Bill Clinton, after all, sent troops to Haiti, and bombed Bosnia and Kosovo. But barely anyone remembers those missions and because their rationale was humanitarian, they made the Democrats seem like armed social workers. The bin Laden operation, by contrast, was pure testosterone. Once U.S. intelligence tracked bin Laden to his compound, Obama chose the most aggressive option—a commando attack—rather than missile strikes, even though it risked U.S. deaths or hostages. In the mountains of Tora Bora, it’s worth remembering, George W. Bush made the opposite choice: deploying Afghan rather than American forces because he feared American casualties. And bin Laden got away. . . .

Second, the view that Democrats pray at the altar of international institutions and international law. Nonsense. . . . Obama has dramatically increased drone attacks, in Afpak and beyond, which shred international law. And this attack was so unilateral that we didn’t even consult with the “ally” on whose territory we carried it out. When Obama said he would strike in Pakistan without its permission during the campaign, few believed him; it didn’t play to type. Now it’s more likely they will.

With the death of Osama bin Laden, a fake Martin Luther King quote is born.

In the past 24 hours, I've seen this "quote" posted by many different people in my Facebook feed, apparently as a counterreaction to the celebration of the death of bin Laden:

‎"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Megan McArdle points out that the first sentence of that "quote" was probably never said by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
[I]t's a bit too a propos. What "thousands" would King have been talking about? In which enemy's death was he supposed to be rejoicing? . . .
In fairness, the rest of the quote was really said by King (repeatedly, as documented by Wikiquote). But that's no excuse for opportunistically fabricating the one sentence.

McArdle goes on:
What's fascinating is the speed of it. Someone made up a quote, attributed it to MLK jr, and disseminated it widely, all within 24 hours. Why? What do you get out of saying something pithy, and getting no credit for it?

Perhaps they only wanted to say this thing, and knew that no one would pay attention unless it came from someone else. Or, perhaps they are getting a gargantuan kick out of seeing people repeat their lie ad infinitum.
You know what I hate? Genocidal terrorists.