Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Holidays 

I don't want to be all Scrooge-like, but find "Happy Holidays" kind of annoying. That's true of "Season's Greetings," too. I believe that people say these things sincerely, but they're euphemisms, designed not to "offend" people who don't believe in the religion whose origin is celebrated at Christmas. I say "Bah, humbug!" to that.

This rant was inspired by a note from a friend in another city. He and I met a few years ago; we exchange emails and send each other links to things of mutual interest, mostly political. The other day he sent me this link . It's a video of a flash mob at some mall surprising the shoppers with Christmas carols. It's nice, well-done as far as my tin ear can appreciate, and all the listeners seem happy with it. I wrote and thanked him, as happy events are in pretty short supply lately. He wrote back that he almost hadn't sent it, since knowing I'm Jewish he was afraid that it might offend me. It didn't, of course, nor did the idea that he was thoughtful about my possible sensitivity. I told him not to worry, that others expressing their beliefs doesn't offend me.

On reflection, though, I find that's not exactly true. The beliefs that aren't offensive are those of people who sincerely hold theirs and respect other peoples' rights to do the same. Sometimes those people offer to share their beliefs but, if you decline, they wish you well and go on their way. They may be devout members of some denomination or other, confirmed atheists, or anything in between, but they have in common a decent respect for other people and their rights. The beliefs that offend me are those of the self-righteous and the bigot; I'd list a few but you can supply your own as easily.  Besides, I'd like to be as cheerful as possible right now.

In that vein, what makes me smile is people sincerely wishing me and each other a "Merry Christmas." Why on Earth would  anyone take offense at a wish for their happiness? Why would someone not want to be merry and have others be likewise? The only explanation I can find for such politically correct Grinchiness (at least now that the Puritans have mercifully disappeared) has nothing to do with either religion or its denial. It's about power, petty one-upmanship, making people uncomfortable and unhappy just to show you can. 

I say screw that. It's nasty. Let's not let them bother us.

So to all of you reading this, a very hearty and outspoken "Merry Christmas!" from your friendly neighborhood Hebrew, agnostic, secular Provocateur.

And just in case....God bless us, every one!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Newtown CT

I hate to add to the clamor over the Newtown killings, but I must say this. 

Predictably, the vulturous media is circling the corpses of twenty murdered children and their teachers. The news personalities assume solemn expressions while competing for scraps of flesh "news" to fatten their ratings. They trot out "mental health experts" whose equally solemn pronouncements amount to nothing more than your grandparents knew, and frequently less. 

Bureaucrats rush to "protect the children" with actions like closing their school, which will make them more vulnerable to fear and depression. The mental health experts will then prescribe drugs, further reducing the children's ability to cope with real emotion. In other cities and towns, heavy police presence is prescribed to increase the appearance of security, notwithstanding that heavily armed police in elementary classrooms sends a clear message of danger. Children are young, not stupid.

Meanwhile, the liberal political and media establishment, ever alert for an opportunity to trash the Constitution, calls for banning the evil guns, despite libraries' worth of evidence that such policies are not only ineffective but harmful. These are the people who believe, in effect, that a helpless woman who is raped and murdered is somehow morally superior to one who kills her attacker; that a community destroyed in a genocide is preferable to one that defends itself; that innocents shot down by the sinfully (and I use that word deliberately) untrained NYPD are preferable to citizens defending themselves.

None of the academics spotlighted by the media seem to realize that endless rumination on this horror serves only to amplify grief, fear and anger. Neither do the media personalities realize, nor would they care if they did, that the "debate" they foster serves only to polarize positions based on emotion, not reason. They likewise care nothing that their constant calls for government action to provide a feeling of safety have created a cowardly, dependent society, one in which self-reliance and individual initiative are viewed with fearful disdain. A society in which hand-wringing replaces effective action, and tears, independent thought. A society in which helplessness is a virtue.

To use the infinitely sad deaths in Newtown to promote their vile totalitarian ideology is more despicable than I have words to describe. I wish on these opportunistic grief-mongers, these despoilers of our country, the worst curse I can imagine: That they experience personally all of the consequences of the policies they would force on others. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


"If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun."
The Dalai Lama

If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first.”
Talmud Sanhedrin 72a

"And he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one."
Luke 22:36

I am a student of violence. I study its practicalities: how to inflict it effectively, decisively, and most important, how to govern my life to minimize its necessity. That last is probably the hardest part, due in no small measure to the ambiguity of the word "necessary." 

Let's think about that. For some people, call them "caponized pacifists," violence is never necessary. I once heard a man say that he would not raise his hand against another even if his wife and daughters were being raped and murdered in front of him. He was perfectly sincere, and if someday it turned out that he was wrong it wouldn't do his family any good because his efforts would be pathetically ineffectual.

Besides rationalizing cowardice, his statements were hypocritical. If you're threatened, he'd say, call the police to protect you. And how do the police do that? With violence, sadly too often executed with gross incompetence. Consider this: If violence is morally wrong, is it less wrong  to employ surrogates to carry it out? And this: If one is prepared to do violence, isn't it a moral imperative to be as skillful at it as you can possibly be?

Jewish religious philosophy does not merely permit self defense. It is commanded, because if evil is not resisted it flourishes. That is, not defending oneself to the limits of one's ability is sinful. Note that surviving such resistance is not guaranteed; that's your responsibility. Many liberal Jews, conditioned to respond to evil with passivity, appeals to authority or endless discussion will be dismayed or offended by these statements. Tough.

As bad as the cowering capon is the gun-range vigilante, the one who carries his identity in his holster. No, he's not a sociopathic gang-banger or murderous bigot, he's just a wannabe soldier or cop who lives in a heroic fantasyland. He knows Red Dawn is a bloody fairytale but wishes it were real. He buys into the sheepdog fallacy, maybe even trains seriously, but neglects that last, vital element. Given the opportunity, he looks for trouble and too often finds it. For him, "necessary" violence means "whenever I can rationalize it." He's a stereotype the anti-gunners play up to the public in their efforts to caponize the world.

Serious men and women are quiet, competent, low-key. They know how to avoid trouble or defuse it, perhaps with a quiet word or a hard look. If trouble is inevitable they end it quickly and economically, without excess drama or unnecessary injury. I can't claim to be one of these people, but that's my goal.

Which brings us to the point. One can't claim to be nonviolent unless one can be violent in the first place. If you, by reason of temperament or inability, are incapable of violence, you have no choice. You are therefore incapable of moral action. Nonviolence means you are capable of violence but in a given situation have decided not to use that capability. The preening pseudo-pacifist unable to resist evil has no more moral virtue than the eager vigilante who has no idea what he's getting himself into when he sees a threat in every group of loudmouthed kids. The truly dangerous person who quietly settles a dispute is the one who's made the moral choice. And if, in some extreme, that person has to confront evil and do violence to end it, well, that's a moral choice too.




Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Liars Figure

"Figures don't lie, but liars figure."
Attributed to Mark Twain

I retired at the right time. After spending my adult life as a social psychologist, mostly working on problems with organizational and social relevance, I read that  the field is rife with both outright fabrication of data and highly questionable research practices, which amount to the same thing. You can read summaries and commentaries here, in a special issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, which the Association for Psychological Science (APS) has made freely available. It is to the great credit of APS that they have been at the forefront of this discussion.

Why should anyone outside of the ivory tower care about any of this? Unlike biomedical research, in which fraud is also rampant, faking the results of psychological research only affects other pointy-headed academic geeks, right? Nobody dies, as they have through, say, lack of vaccination or the use of ineffective, possibly toxic, cancer treatments.

Not quite. Even if we discount the waste of grant money and other taxpayer's dollars (see "The New Plantation"), which frankly pale in comparison to other government boondoggles like Solyndra, there are reasons for concern. For one thing, social policies are built on or justified by this research. In social psychology quite a bit of effort is devoted to finding "biases" of various sorts. It is vastly easier to publish an article claiming to document some racial, ethic or sex-based bias than one showing even-handed judgement. This makes the case for all sorts of interventions, from affirmative action to "diversity" programs. Besides the direct waste of time and resources these involve, they are toxic to both organizations and the people they purport to help. Who benefits? Race-baiting politicians, "minority spokesmen," and bureaucratic drones. And, naturally, the academics, who reap grants, tenure, promotion and so forth. I'm willing to bet that a close examination of these studies would reveal many cases of highly selective reporting, questionable statistical treatments, discarding of "incorrect" data and other methodological sins sufficient to keep a battalion of imps busy punishing the authors in some deep circle of the Inferno.

Then there's the new cottage industry of finding fault with conservatives. Like bias, it's fashionable to discover various unfortunate tendencies among the right-wing. They're "not open to experience," overly concerned with "purity," "rigid," and so forth. This in contrast with liberals and progressives, who are, well, progressive. One wonders how much data-massaging, cherry-picking, and other fraudulent manipulations are involved. Nobody knows because nobody asks about the validity of popular results. Conservative-bashing is very popular in social psychology. 

I don't know the situation in organizational psychology because nobody's looked at the literature that closely. I'm willing to bet that it isn't much different---a few cases of outright fraud and a great deal of data manipulation to the same ends. Here, though, the implications may be worse, because the use of questionable selection methods and ineffective or toxic interventions have immediate effects on people's lives. Foolish management policies may be laughable in Dilbert but they're very different when one has to live under them or, worse, be unemployed because of them. It's even more dire when police and the military are affected by the same nonsense. Then, people do die.

All of this affects me personally because I'm not sure how much of my theoretical work, based on a lot of others' published research, has been tarnished by fraud. Then there's the advice I've given to people who train military, police and armed citizens (and that I've told my own students of self-defense), likewise based on published research. Most of it is fundamentals, phenomena and principles that seem well-validated over many years and volumes of research. The operative word here is "seem." Suddenly, I don't know. When people go into harm's way they need the very best we can give. I'm not sure I'm doing that any more.

I have no solutions. The authors in the Perspectives issue offer some, but I'm dubious. Incentives for fraud are built into the structure of academia; they can't be removed while it stands. The great edifice of knowledge to which I thought I had contributed a brick or two turns out to be a shaky lashup at best, a scrapyard outhouse at worst. 

The hell with it. I'm going to the range, where at least the holes I shoot in my targets mean something.