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The Real #WarOnWomen in One Easy Tweet

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

This is what happens when you lump in pregnancy with chlamydia and refuse to include any real discussions on family planning and career in sex education classes. Is it any wonder women believe the best way to self-advocate is to demand free access to drugs and surgical procedures so they can contain, control and abort?

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NYT Buries Research Revealing That Kids Need More Time With Mom, Less Dependence on Government

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
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The Old Gray Lady has decided there is “mounting evidence of advantages for children of working mothers.” It’s a politically correct headline that follows the newspaper’s classically liberal slant. But, like one of those extensive designer-drug warning labels, to find out what constitutes “advantages” you have to read the small print.

The “silver bullet” factoids boil down to daughters of working mothers who are 3% more likely to work than the daughters of stay-at-home mothers. The daughters of working moms are earning an average of 23% more and are 4% more likely to hold supervisory positions. And if those whopping statistics aren’t silvery enough, “sons of working mothers in those countries spent an additional hour a week caring for family members and 17 minutes more per week on housework.”

That’s it, myths about working mothers be damned. We’ve got a 4% increase in supervisory positions among their daughters and their sons are spending an extra 17 minutes a week cleaning house. Talk about numbers that change the culture. At this rate, if “working moms” were a TV show they’d be cancelled before their pilot even aired.

The Times brushes by a 2010 meta-analysis of 5 decades’ worth of data on the impact of working mothers on children, mumbling something about how working moms were defended by those statistics as well. However, the numbers beg to differ. According to that meta-analysis:

The positive effects were particularly strong for children from low-income or single-parent families; some studies showed negative effects in middle-class or two-income families.

Bottom line: If you’re a single parent, it’s better to work independently than to rely on or continuously demand more government subsidies. But if you’re part of a two-parent household, one of you should plan to be at home for the sake of your child’s long term well being, especially during those baby and toddler years.

In other words, the data still defends the limited government, pro-family position the Times is unwilling to take.

Nice try, New York Times. But once again you’ve only managed to prove that the hot air you blow is all “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

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Why We’re Addicted to Nihilism: The Psychology Behind Mad Men’s Empty, Pointless Ending

Monday, May 18th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
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Sonia Saraiya, writing for Salon, observes the frustration of many fans in the wake of Mad Men‘s rather un-poignant series finale:

I left this finale believing myself to be disappointed in Don Draper, but I’m really disappointed with myself. Disappointed for this narrative of settling for the modern world—which, along with its many perks, like lower infant mortality and longer life expectancy, comes with a horrifying feeling of emptiness from time to time, as we all seem to strive to live an existence that is not great or searing but just okay, just fine, just good enough to get by. Most of us in the first world don’t go bed hungry anymore—but as Peggy observed to the Burger Chef executives, “you’re starving, and not just for dinner.” Don and Peggy and Joan and Sally can’t really flame out beautifully in “Mad Men” because they are modeled to be people just like we are people, and yes, it is disappointing. Some kind of conflagration, of either the body or the soul, would have been so much more cathartic, so much more satisfying. It would have given voice to the roiling emptiness within. But instead we just get scenes from one more day in the lives of these people. One more day is all any of us ever get, until the day we don’t.

It’s a powerful statement coming from a mainstream media source. Not too many are willing to confront the rampant nihilism in today’s media landscape, let alone admit how personally depressed they are by it. Further case in point: Fox’s Backstrom ends with the lead going into rehab because he knows there’s more to life than misery: the show gets cancelled. CBS’s Elementary, facing a similar ratings struggle, has the lead succumb to his heroin addiction: the show is renewed. “Some kind of conflagration” seems to be the ethos of the day, the way to save a dying show. Give the viewers one more train wreck and they’ll keep staring. Depressing doesn’t begin to describe it.

The root of Saraiya’s complaint is that paradise, perfection, nirvana — whatever you want to call it — has been crafted into a commodity that we buy, sell and trade based on personal need. It’s a lame complaint at best, one that accepts the Marxist demand that world perfection is a human struggle instead of a Divine gift. In pursuing the Divine at a hippie retreat, Don retreats into his advertising ethos. Saraiya turns this into an argument against capitalism and, in doing so, caves to the inevitable reality that fed hippie-turned-yuppie disillusionment: You can’t force everyone to drink the Kool Aid (or, in this case, Coke).

Capitalists didn’t turn perfection into a commodity. Marxists simply took it upon themselves to manifest perfection on earth. Like every other revolution before them, the hippies got stuck in the “struggle” bit and have been caught in the muck ever since. Taking a cue from Burning Man, Saraiya’s wish for conflagration echoes the belief that complete destruction is the only way to start over. Think wacko environmentalists who believe humans are a disease on earth and you get the picture. The Kardashians may not be as extreme, but they’re just as pointless.

The sick truth is, no Mad Men fan was hoping for Don to enter some kind of therapy and exit a repaired human being. That was never the way the show was going to go. Right now they’re standing around their office water coolers relishing in their post-series misery the way one would reminisce about a good one-night stand. It was naughty, and now it’s all over, oh woe is me …I can’t wait to do it all again.

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Posting Selfies Does Not Make You a Narcissist

Thursday, May 14th, 2015 - by Robert Wargas

What do you think of selfies? Wholly negative? Wholly positive? A mix of good and bad? A recent article tell us:

Earlier this year, a pair of researchers at The Ohio State University published their investigation into the relationship between taking selfies and the undesirable psychological traits of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism, or a penchant for manipulation. The study analyzed the social media habits and personalities of 1,000 men between the ages of 18 and 40.
The results were what you might have expected: the study demonstrated a relationship between posting lots of selfies and psychopathic and narcissistic traits. Not all selfie-posters are narcissists, but the latter are prone to using selfies as a tool of their self-obsessed personalities. Yawn. I suppose, for the sake of thoroughness, some things just have to be formalized in studies, even though we can already figure out the answers a priori.
Selfie supporters don’t deny that the practice can be self-indulgent, but they highlight how the photographs increase the likelihood for personal connection in an age where social interactions predominantly occur online, as reporter Jenna Wortham did in a piece for The New York Times.

“It’s far too simplistic to write off the selfie phenomenon,” she wrote. “Receiving a photo of the face of the person you’re talking to brings back the human element of the interaction, which is easily misplaced if the interaction is primarily text-based.”

Selfies did not cause the phenomenon of the purely Internet-based relationship. Those were around before selfies became common. (I believe such relationships started during the age of AOL Instant Messenger and got worse from there.) In my experience, most selfies are not sent to an interlocutor directly, but posted passively on social media profiles. When the recipient is a specific somebody, selfies can enhance the humanness and intimacy of an online encounter. When the recipient is “everyone,” however, I think this is where the narcissism comes into play.

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Sure, the Black Widow Action Figures Are Sexy, But Little Girls Still Want the Princess Fantasy

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

As if Joss Whedon weren’t in enough hot water along with the rest of the Marvel folks for not producing a Black Widow movie series, Disney adds the icing onto the sexist cake by rewriting Avengers: Age of Ultron to promote a new Captain America toy. That heroic motorcycle ride Black Widow took to save the day in the film? Captain America is the spokesman of choice to sell the Cycle Blast Quinjet. So much for the Widow’s most heroic on-screen moment yet.

At least I’m not the only one wondering where the Black Widow action figure is amidst all the Ultron marketing. Thanks to Disney/Marvel’s woeful lack of attention to a major on-screen character, entire websites have been created to “follow the symbolic annihilation of women through merchandise.” The main assertion is that Disney has “never” been good at marketing “non-Princess” or warrior-Princess (think: Leia) female characters through the toy market.

Which begs the question, why doesn’t Disney think female action figures will sell? Let’s not fool ourselves (like the ideologues do) into thinking this is about being anti-feminist. This is about money. If a toy company thinks a product will earn money, they’ll sell it. According to a 2005 MIT study on toys and gender, children prefer stereotyped masculine or feminine toys, a trait that extends to “young nonhuman primates.” An examination of the packaging and marketing of these toys determined that boys preferred aggressive, competitive toys like action figures, while girls aimed towards attractive, nurturing toys like Barbie or baby dolls. In other words, the historical biological roles of hunter/gatherer and birthing/nesting, by and large, still manifest as the preferred respective fantasies of children of both genders.

If contemporary feminists want to market a Black Widow action figure to girls, they’d better quit grumbling and follow Marvel’s suit in characterizing her as the nurturer and “mother” of the Avengers. They’d also be wise to take a cue from Time Warner’s DC Entertainment and Warner Brother’s Studio, who have paired up with toy makers Mattel and Lego to create a colorful line of attractive teen female superheroes to market to today’s young female toy buyers. Let’s face it: Black Widow’s black jumpsuit is sexy, but hardly appealing to a five year-old girl.

Forget about textbook ideologies. When it comes to sales, the customer is the only one who is always right.

 

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Is Motherhood a Blessing, or a Curse?

Sunday, May 10th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Women have innate superpowers. Thanks to a century-old patriarchal system of doctors, politicians and insurance companies, women have been fooled into believing they have no power. What’s worse, thanks to a cadre of covert female agents, women today willingly hand over their unique powers to the hands of government agents who control the “threat,” either through a strict drug regimen, surgical procedure or both.

Women who refuse to relinquish their power face fear and intimidation tactics: You will be in pain; you will lose your figure; your partners will leave you; no one will employ you; you will be alone. Who ever thought the power to bring forth new life would be so damned scary?

Despite our overwhelming biological urge to reproduce, young women today are told to push off pregnancy or avoid it entirely. The women who don’t fall for this charade, the ones who take the leap into pregnancy and motherhood, are punished with promises of horrific labor pain and traumatic birthing experiences. Think about it: When is the last time you saw a peaceful birth recounted on television? Walk into a new-parents-to-be class at your local hospital and you’ll find out the number one reason young women are attending: “I want to know how not to be afraid of the pain.”

Mother of modern American midwifery Ina May Gaskin has made natural birth a feminist crusade, and rightly so. The myth that women need to be strapped to a table and drugged in order to give birth (a common practice from the 1920s through the 1960s) has led to generations of women entering birthing classes out of sheer fear that their bodies will fail at exactly what they are designed to do best. Pregnancy fear is the culmination of a cultural obsession with obtaining the perfect female body. Gaskin explains:

Remember this, for it is as true as true gets:  Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine.  The Creator is not a careless mechanic.  Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo.  Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.

And yet, we live in a culture that correlates birth to illness, babies to growths that must be removed, and childbearing to disease. When is the last time a sex-ed curriculum didn’t lump in pregnancy with chlamydia as an unwanted, avoidable side effect? Is it any wonder, then, that the reproductive power of women is treated as a threat to the State to be feared and controlled?

This Mother’s Day it’s time to rethink the way we view mothers and motherhood in America. Fostering healthy pregnancies should be one of the top priorities of the feminist movement, as should supporting all mothers, whether they have given birth or given their hearts to an adoptive or foster child. Mothers are the providers and caretakers of life, the sustainers of a great nation. As Gaskin observes, “When we as a society begin to value mothers as the givers and supporters of life, then we will see social change in ways that matter.”

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What If I Told You That Expensive Bottle of Burgundy…

Friday, May 8th, 2015 - by Robert Wargas
Photo via: Flickr

Photo via: Flickr

Here’s another dent in the “wine expert” status game, from Money:

A new study in the Journal of Marketing Research confirms what prior research (and, in some cases, gut feeling) has told us for years: Most people can’t really taste the difference between cheap and expensive wine.

These new findings, by INSEAD marketing professor Hilke Plassmann and University of Bonn neuroscience professor Bernd Weber, go a step further than previous studies in explaining why people get more enjoyment from a wine they’re told is expensive and less pleasure from one they’re told is cheap—even if they are actually drinking the same wine.

“Expectations truly influence neurobiological responses,” write the authors.

But how much we’re swayed by that influence ranges from person to person. One key factor, the researchers found, is the structure of your brain. Everyone is somewhat suggestible to the placebo effect from being told wine is cheap or expensive, but some brains are more suggestible than others.

As critical as I am of “wine experts,” I do think certain wines are obviously cheap. The low-end stuff usually tastes like kids’ grape juice with some ethanol added to it: simple, cloying, flat, and, well, cheap. That’s at the really far end of the scale, however. In my experience, any wine $10 a bottle and over is not likely to have that grape-juice swill flavor.

Nevertheless, as this article notes and as everyone knew already, the power of suggestion is considerable. I’m sure that, given the right circumstances and the right words, we all could be fooled into thinking that Welch’s with rubbing alcohol mixed into it was an expensive Syrah.

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What Has Made Adulthood So Damned Scary?

Monday, May 4th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

First it was adult preschool. Now it’s adult summer camp:

Now you’re an adult and your life is all work and emails and commuting. And booze, which is a good addition. But Camp No Counselors wants to get that summer camp feeling back in your life. You and your friends can take a long weekend to the woods of Albany to travel back in time, with water sports, color wars, a talent show and other favorite parts of your childhood camp memories—but with the added benefits of dance parties with live DJs, co-ed cabins and alcohol at every turn. It’s gonna get weird.

Millennials may be poor overall, but the ones who can afford a vacation are mocking the accusation of immaturity by embracing the rejuvenile ethos to the hilt. Camp No Counselors isn’t the only business capitalizing on the summer camp for millennials trend. Time Out New York lists six camps in the region specializing in everything from glamping to zombie survival preparation. Could summer camp be for millennials what Caribbean beach resorts were for Gen-X? Granted, Sandals was all about growing up and getting laid. Summer camp, on the other hand, could easily be seen as a twenty-something’s attempt to grab onto the last vestiges of youth, which leads to the question: What has made adulthood so damned scary?

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What Kind of Person Pretends To Be a Military Veteran?

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 - by Robert Wargas

If, on any day of the week, you type “stolen valor” into a search engine, the Internet will reward you handsomely with the newest tranche of American losers pretending to be military veterans. When I first became interested in this topic, sometime last year, I was utterly amazed at how common this fakery is. It seems to happen all the time, all over, every day.

One of the latest stolen valor cases comes out of Florida and involves a panhandler—trying to get money from people is a common theme among loser-fakes—trying to pass himself off as a soldier. In most stolen valor videos, the phony is confronted and outed by a real veteran, who can always spot fakes by, among other things, how incorrectly they wear their uniforms. Here we go:

Consider what kind of person would pretend to be a military veteran. The loser-fakes know that military service affords real veterans a certain amount of respect and social status. The loser-fakes wish to replicate that status in their own, necessarily empty lives, so they pretend to be veterans. Now, the average functioning human being would not be able to do this, since the guilt of knowing you’re a fake would negate any pleasure derived from being thanked for your service. The loser-fakes are rather untroubled by this.

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VIDEO: Would You Enroll in Preschool for Adults?

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

The Wall Street Journal is covering the latest trend in rejuveniling among the Millennial set: preschool for adults, where “play is serious business.” Six adults pay anywhere from $300 to $1000 to crowd into a Brooklyn duplex on Tuesday nights from 7 – 10 p.m. and participate in everything from nap time to envisioning themselves as superheroes.

Student Amanda Devereux detailed her reasons for enrolling in the Pre-K at Cosmo:

The self-help and goal-setting aspects were new, but welcome. I can use all the help I can get in making it to the gym, even if it means creating a superhero to get me there. I’m looking forward to seeing whether the preschool experience changes me over the next month, and I’m excited to see where Miss Joni and Miss CanCan take us on our class field trip. Mostly though, I’m excited about the snacks.

Is this latest trend in seeking eternal youth another glorified self-help program, or a sign that our traditional cultural institutions aren’t filled with hope and change? Is there a solution to be found in regressive creativity, or is this just another attempt at blissful ignorance? If you enrolled in preschool today, what would you learn?

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Are Boys the Target of a Feminist Gendercide Campaign?

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Last week social media jumped on the story of a woman who supposedly decided to have a late-term abortion specifically because she found out she was having a boy. Based on a near-anonymous comment posted on an Internet forum, the story is highly questionable at best. Nevertheless, both pro- and anti-abortion advocates pounced on the missive. The dialogue generated took on a life of its own, inspiring the following comment from feminist site Jezebel:

“The virality of this story is sort of a nice reminder about confirmation bias: when something fits our preferred narrative just a little too snugly, it’s probably time for skepticism,” wrote Jezebel’s Anna Merlan.

How, exactly, does gendercide “fit our narrative” in the West, especially in relation to boys?

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How Men Commit Suicide in England

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 - by Helen Smith

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I am on an email list and received a link to an article in Newsweek called “The Trouble with Men: Why Men Kill Themselves.” Naturally the title has to have a troubling or negative title, it’s about men. The article is about the high suicide rate in the UK and states: “Suicides of men aged 45-59 have risen by 40% in a decade, and account for a quarter of all suicides in the UK.”

There is a graph pointing out that a majority of men (and a number of women) in the UK die by suffocation or hanging: 58% of male suicides and 36% of female suicides use this method. We always hear that it is the proliferation of guns that causes much of the male suicide in the U.S. — but if the guns are the problem, why is there also a high incidence of male suicide in the UK but the method is just different?

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Cross-posted from Dr. Helen, image illustration via shutterstock / 

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Fifty Shades of America’s New Dark Ages

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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This year you could spend your Valentine’s Day in a theater full of middle-aged women oozing over a hot-bodied twenty-something whipping his blindfolded secretary to the point of striking blood in the name of “love.” Daytime television loves to play up to the Soccer Mom demographic (a title first dubbed to describe Clinton fans, ironically) seeking fantasy fulfillment in the form of sexual fiction. It was corny enough when shirtless Fabios graced the covers. Now that the most popular sex trilogy focuses on a woman who willingly allows herself to be sexually abused, is pop culture humoring those bored housewives too much?

While the majority of Fifty Shades fans are typical middle-aged marrieds dissatisfied with their partners (or even themselves), anywhere from 5-25% of Americans “show affinity” for BDSM (Bondage/Domination-Discipline/Sadism/Masochism) in the bedroom. On an issue that poses a particular sexual threat to women, feminists are split 50-50 between being against sexual abuse and for a narcissistic “if it feels good, do it” sexual ethos. Hence, a pervert who trolls Fanfiction.net (the original home of Hobbit-inspired Elvish/Dwarf porn) can turn her twisted sexual fantasies into an overnight sensation. After all, it’s all about love in the end. Or is it?

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The Surprising Reason Why More Americans Are Committing Suicide…

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 - by Helen Smith

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Interesting article in The Economist (thanks Terry) on suicide:

BEING depressed is like having a terrible headache, says one Atlanta businessman. Except that a few days of rest do not stop the pain: “You’re just expected to keep going.” Trying to “man up”, he sought little help for his condition, choosing to hide it instead. “It all gets so debilitating that you don’t want to go on,” he explains.

He tried to kill himself more than once; fortunately, his attempts came to nothing. But the same cannot be said for a growing share of Americans. The suicide rate has risen from 11 per 100,000 people in 2005 to 13 seven years later. In the time it takes you to read this article, six Americans will try to kill themselves; in another ten minutes one will succeed.

Over 40,000 Americans took their own lives in 2012—more than died in car crashes—says the American Association of Suicidology. Mondays in May see the most incidents. The rates are highest in Wyoming and Montana, perhaps because guns—which are more effective than pills—are so common there (see chart). Nationally, guns are used in half of all successful suicides….

Activists say the government does too little to prevent suicide. Christine Moutier of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention complains that only $40m of federal funding will go to anti-suicide programmes this year. This does not include the billions the government spends on mental-health problems more broadly.

I think the following comment to the article is probably on target about the lack of focus on suicide:

“If suicide doesn’t get enough attention, it’s because it’s mostly men committing it.”

The article points out that women are more willing to ask for help. Could it be that the help available for men is not exactly the most welcoming kind? When the counseling programs focus their courses on “diversity” in grad schools, men’s issues should be a top priority. Not the kind of PC crap that these programs often focus on in men’s studies, such as how to relieve men of their masculinity and make them more like defective girls, but rather training real professionals to deal with, and address, the true discrimination and problems that men face today with regards to work (or lack thereof), marriage, relationships and other male topics. Maybe that would be a start.

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Cross-posted from Dr. Helen

image illustration via shutterstock /  

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You’ll Be Shocked At How Many Are on Government Disability for Mental Problems…

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - by Helen Smith

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1 in 3 on Disability Have Mental Disorder; 42.9% in D.C. From the article:

CNSNews.com) – One in three, or 35.2 percent, of people getting federal disability insurance benefits have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, according to the latest data from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Washington, D.C., the seat of the federal government, ranked in the top-ten list of states where disabled beneficiaries were diagnosed with mental problems.

In 2013, the latest data from SSA show there were 10,228,364 disabled beneficiaries, up 139,625 from 2012 when there were 10,088,739 disabled beneficiaries.

Disabled beneficiaries have increased 49.7 percent from a decade ago in 2003 when there were 6,830,714 beneficiaries; and the number is up 14.3 percent from the 8,945,376 beneficiaries in 2009, the year President Obama took office.

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Cross-posted from Dr. Helen, image illustration via shutterstock / 

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Learn These Secrets on How to Survive Aggressive People

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 - by Helen Smith

From the description:

Whether an aggressor is a seasoned predator or an irate individual, hostility is almost always preceded by warning signs–if we know what to look for. Surviving Aggressive People dissects the psychology of aggression. It exposes the subtle cues of impending violence and offers timeless methods for transforming a potential disaster into a peaceful victory. Using time-tested methods for conflict management and crisis intervention, this book offers persuasion and peacemaking skills that historically have been reserved for law enforcement, psychologists, and other professionals working the front lines of emotionally charged situations. In today’s world, these skills are a must for everyone. Newly updated, with a special appendix for healthcare workers, the enduring knowledge in Surviving Aggressive People can help deter hostility before it spins out of control. It might even save your life.

The book has some good advice that I have used myself on occasion. For example, the golden rule of violence prevention is “an adversary is less dangerous when he perceives you as similar to himself.” Smith gives some tips on how to reduce this “psychological distance”: Use humor, and employ politeness as a preemptive strike. When I used to see clients for disability claims, some would be angry and distrustful when they walked through the door. I stocked the fridge with Pepsi, Mountain Dew and other drinks that people seemed to like and when someone got upset, I would say, “Would you like a Pepsi or Mountain Dew? Then we can talk about your concerns.” It made people feel welcome and as if they were in a safe environment. I guess the caffeine wasn’t always the best idea but “would you like bottled water or caffeine-free herbal tea?” didn’t have the same ring to it and sounded haughty.

Anyway, you get the idea. The book is full of these helpful hints that may help you to reduce your chance of being a victim of violence and provides a framework for how to avoid it. I recommend the sections for healthcare workers on how to respond to neuro-behavioral aggression. It is surprising how few of them get training on how to respond when a patient gets aggressive. This book will help.

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Cross-posted from Dr. Helen

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Lying Pervert Alfred Kinsey Makes The New Republic‘s Top 100 List

Saturday, November 29th, 2014 - by Kathy Shaidle

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The New Republic magazine celebrates its 100th anniversary with a special section called “100 Years, 100 Thinkers.”

Unfortunately, the categories into which these “minds who’ve defined our century” are helpfully slotted are almost parodically First World, elite-uptown-liberal:

“Architecture.” “Environmentalism.” “Songwriting.” “Diplomacy.”

And of course, “American Civil Rights.” (Zzzzzzzz….)

Unless you count “Medicine,” no hard sciences were deemed worthy of consideration.

An alien browsing this section would be forgiven for assuming that man never set foot on the moon.

But who cares when someone named Alice Waters “made (local) lettuce sexy!”

(And besides, The New Republic assures us that “Martians need only watch one of [Richard Pryor's] concert films to best understand the human species in the shortest amount of time.”)

These “100 Thinkers” include an unsurprising number of charlatans whose sinister influence continues to toxify the body politic (Al Gore) and even kill people (Rachel Carson.)

Naturally, there’s a “Sex” section, and Alfred Kinsey comes out on top (as it were.)

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Please Stop Worshiping ‘Bad Boys’

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 - by Robert Wargas

In one of his most memorable roles, as the eponymous character of Tim Burton’s 1990 film Edward Scissorhands, Johnny Depp plays a semi-human manboy with shears for fingers, stuck in eternal youth as those around him wither. I thought of this film last week, as I watched a fifty-something Depp, drunk and clad in his usual get-up of randomly placed crosses and scarves, stumble to the microphone at a televised awards show and deliver a slurred “speech” in which he giggled, cursed, rocked, and swayed his way through a painful two minutes. Here was another manboy on display, albeit one lacking the charm and innocence of Burton’s creation.

It was a shame to see Depp, a genuinely talented and by most accounts kind and gentle man, reduce himself to this display. He is well into middle age—not that any age is an appropriate time for public drunkenness. I suspect his career won’t be dented much, if at all, by the episode. This is not just because he is a celebrity. One can’t imagine, say, Morgan Freeman stumbling onto the stage, delivering a gin-soaked introduction, and walking away with his career totally intact. No, it is Depp’s enduring “bad boy” image that affords him the extra latitude. Those crosses and scarves go a long way. If you can set yourself up as some kind of outsider, those on the inside will start to think they’re caged animals and become desperate for your kind of freedom. The bad boy’s appeal comes from nonchalantly scuffing the social rulebook with his cowboy boots and daring us not to like him because of it.

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What Happened to East Germany’s Brutally Effective Secret Police After the Wall Fell?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 - by Robert Wargas
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On November 9, 2006, as the free world celebrated the seventeenth anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s demise, an 83-year-old man died in a peaceful slumber at his home in the German capital city. The man was Markus Wolf, who during the Cold War led the foreign-intelligence section of East Germany’s secret-police apparatus: the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit), known colloquially as “the Stasi.” The Stasi’s most renowned spymaster, he controlled thousands of agents, whose purpose was to infiltrate important Western institutions and government positions. Often mistaken as the inspiration for John le Carre’s shadowy Karla character, Wolf for years remained a mystery to Western intelligence services, who didn’t even have a picture of him until the late 1970s—several decades into his career. Historians have marveled at his success in leading the Stasi’s foreign wing, known as the HVA, or Hauptverwaltung Aufklaerung. Perhaps his most well known accomplishment is having one of his agents, Gunter Guillaume, become a trusted aide to Willy Brandt, the West German chancellor.

Seven years after Wolf’s death and twenty-five years after the Wall’s, the West still doesn’t appreciate the breadth and depth of the Stasi’s brutality. (The KGB still reigns in the popular imagination as the ultimate secret-police force.) Formed after the Second World War in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany, the Stasi grew to become the most potently effective Eastern bloc intelligence organization. They possessed a more impressive informant network than even the KGB. When East Germany crumbled, the Stasi employed upwards of 190,000 unofficial informants. By 1989, approximately one out of every 90 East German citizens was a Stasi informant. Referred to as inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (“unofficial collaborators”), most were simply ordinary German citizens, tasked with reporting everything they could about possible (real or imagined) anti-regime activity, as well as details about family and friends. Even children were involved in spying on their parents.

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Should Psychological Identity Trump Physical Identity for Transgender Persons?

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard
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Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, recently addressed the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on the subject of transgender.

Saying that the gay marriage battle is all but over, Burk believes “sexual revolutionaries are turning their attention to the ‘T’ in LGBT” which will lead to significant cultural changes.

Burk, author of What Is the Meaning of Sex?, said,

At the heart of the transgender revolution is the notion that psychological identity trumps bodily identity. In this way of thinking, a person is whatever they think themselves to be. If a girl perceives herself to be a boy, then she is one even if her biology says otherwise. If a boy perceives himself to be a girl, then he is one even if his biology says otherwise. Gender is self-determined, not determined by the sexual differences that the Creator has embedded into every cell in our bodies.

He doubts that most Americans have thought through the implications of accepting without question that psychological identity should trump biological identity when there is a conflict.

Burk gave the example of a man named John who was featured on Fox News a few years ago. He felt like he was a one-legged man trapped in the body of a man with two legs. “When I see an amputee — when I imagine the amputee — there is this inner pull that says ‘why can’t I be like that?’” the man asked. It wasn’t until after 42 years of marriage that he revealed this “secret” to his wife. He suffers from what psychiatrists call “body integrity identity disorder.” The only known cure is amputation of the offending body part.

“The primary ethical question is whether a man in John’s position would be right to amputate an otherwise healthy limb,” Burk said. “Would it be right for a doctor to remove his leg so that John can feel whole? If John feels himself to be a one-legged man inside a two-legged man’s body, why not encourage him to have his leg amputated? At a gut level, most people recoil at the suggestion. Nevertheless, this is the implication of the view that psychological identity trumps bodily identity,” he said.

Typically, individuals who suffer from such a disorder cannot find physicians to accommodate their requests for amputations, and they are not encouraged to amputate otherwise healthy limbs. Most people would say the individual’s thinking needs to be altered rather than taking drastic steps to alter the body.

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Would You Survive a Horror Movie?

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 - by Robert Wargas

Those with long memories will recall that Wes Craven’s Scream, which came out way back in 1996, was praised for its hip “self-awareness,” coming as it did in a particularly “meta” era of ’90s postmodernism, full of overrated cult fare like Pulp Fiction and Clerks. The film’s edginess consisted in banging on the fourth wall without quite breaking it. In one scene, for instance, a horror-movie fanatic and video-store clerk (remember: 1996) played by Jamie Kennedy tells his fellow teenagers about the “rules” of surviving a slasher film.

One of these “rules,” which is now common knowledge, is that in order to survive one mustn’t practice the carnal arts. Those who do it always get it. What the less eloquent might call “c*ckblocking” is an established horror-movie tradition. In the first Halloween film, Michael Myers ruins one couple’s tryst by stabbing the guy and then assaulting his teenage girlfriend—which might sound like a standard Friday evening at Roman Polanski’s house, but for an audience of 1970s suburban teens it was genuinely frightening. Come to think of it, every horror movie has a boyfriend character, football letter jacket and all, who gets his head caved in while fetching a few beers from the fridge. Each series has its own tropes. The Friday the 13th movies rely on the obligatory sex-in-the-woods scene: two camp counselors set up a tent, and before long Jason shows up with his machete for an especially kinky threesome.

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Like a Serial Killer, Mao Zedong Manipulated Everyone

Sunday, October 26th, 2014 - by Robert Wargas
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Editor’s note: this is part 3 in an ongoing series exploring the history of dictators and their evil ideologies. See the previous installments: Part 1:”Why It’s OK to Be Intrigued by Evil Dictators“ and Part 2: “Does Everybody Want Freedom?” Have ideas for who you’d like to see Robert explore next? Get in touch on Twitter: @RobertWargas and @DaveSwindle

Celebrating its centennial, The New Republic recently mined its archive and republished an intriguing piece from its February 27, 1965, issue: an exclusive interview with Mao Zedong by the American journalist Edgar Snow. As TNR correctly notes, as far as interviews go this would be analogous to a Western journalist today being granted exclusive access to Kim Jong Un. The sit-down took place almost seven years before Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger arrived in Peking to re-establish relations with China.

Though the interview has value as a journalistic artifact, it isn’t the most satisfying piece of reportage when it comes to Mao the man. Snow, who was not exactly Red China’s greatest critic, wasn’t allowed to quote the Great Helmsman directly, and most of the discussion concerns issues of policy and military strategy. These are big subjects, and big subjects always make for big answers laden with propaganda.

Mao comes across as intensely theoretical; he seems genuinely infatuated with Marxist theory and its rigorous application to world affairs. When asked about the Vietnam War, for instance, Snow writes that Mao “repeatedly thanked foreign invaders for speeding up the Chinese revolution and for bestowing similar favors in Southeast Asia today.” He ”observed that the more American weapons and troops brought into Saigon, the faster the South Vietnamese liberation forces would become armed and educated to win victory.”

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Yelling at Each Other About Robin Williams, Ann Coulter, Death, and God

Monday, August 18th, 2014 - by Kathy Shaidle

Inevitably, Robin Williams’ suicide saw the “raising awareness about mental health issues” camp fighting it out online with the “he was a selfish git” crowd.

When the latter reject the “disease model” of addiction and mental illness — people like Theodore Dalrymple — they do so prompted by a laudable instinct:

They think depressed people or addicts use the “disease” model to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

This is a bit like the New Atheists’ concept of “God,” as “an old man in the sky.” They proudly and loudly reject that concept, seemingly unaware (despite their alleged sophistication and superior education) that so do most actual believers.

Likewise, few addicts who accept the disease model (and not all do) use it as a “get out of jail free” card.

It’s called “How It Works” not “How It Lounges on the Couch Eating Cheetos and Watching Judge Judy.”

“What an order! I can’t go through with it” is right.

“Some of us thought we could find an easier, softer way, but we could not…”

Making amends, taking inventory, doing service and even prayer and meditation are exercises in responsibility and action.

Robin Williams apparently did all those things and stayed clean and sober for 20 years.

Then he “went out” in 2006 and was never the same.

“Cunning, baffling, powerful.”

Or, as Catholics like to say when they can’t explain something: “It’s a mystery…”

(If you say it in a somber enough voice, and include the “…”, it sounds satisfyingly deep.)

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What Matters Most in Life?

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 - by Prager University

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