Therapeutic Counseling

NBC News reports that conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza has been sentenced to a $30,000 fine, community service and ‘therapeutic counseling’ for illegally routing campaign contributions through other people in an attempt to circumvent donation limits. I’m not a fan of D’Souza at all, but I find the notion of ‘therapeutic counseling’ a little perplexing, if not disturbing. Isn’t the implication that D’Souza’s offending was a result of some kind of mental illness, or at least a defective thought process, that can be cured by therapy?

If this is true, what would prevent us reaching the same conclusion for any other criminal action, and requiring every criminal to undergo such ‘treatment’?

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What Justifies Divorce?

From the Sydney Morning Herald, interviewing Orlando Bloom on his divorce from Miranda Kerr –

The 37-year-old actor told the magazine that his split from Kerr was “amicable”. He says his ex is “a very supportive and understanding woman”, but their relationship ended because they want different things “from our lives, our work”.

Whatever else one might infer from this, and assuming that there is some truth in the way he describes their decision, it appears that the things they wanted from their lives and work were more important to them than remaining faithful to their marriage vows. They made a choice, based on what they felt they preferred.

No doubt this is consistent with the way many, perhaps most, people today think about marriage. It is a way to be happy. If another way to be happy should appear that seems better, then the first may be discarded for the second.

I think this is much more than an opinion about marriage. It is a way of defining what marriage is. And it is not a concept of marriage that I have any interest in.

It’s also interesting in the context of the ‘gay marriage’ debate. So many people are so determined that gays should be able to ‘marry’. Yet this is a debate that largely ignores any more fundamental examination of what marriage really is. As important as the question of ‘gay marriage’ is to one’s view about what marriage is, I would suggest that there are other fault lines in contemporary thinking on marriage that are far less obvious, yet perhaps even more important.

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The Will of an Ox

Charlotte Dawson was a media personality in Australia and New Zealand who died last week in Sydney at the age of 47. Though no one seems willing to say so explicitly, all the media reports seem to imply that her death was by suicide following a long battle with depression.

Not having lived in Australasia for a long time (and not being particularly a consumer of the kind of media she was involved in) I don’t know a great deal about her, but anyone’s death at such a young age is certainly incredibly sad. Of course there are probably lessons that might be drawn from her death about the inability of beauty and fame to satisfy the real needs of the human heart, but that’s not what I want to comment on here. Rather I was struck by this snippet from the Sydney Morning Herald’s latest item on this subject –

Another [friend] said Dawson was on her own trajectory and she had the will of an ox: ”You could try to steer her in one direction but she operated on her own agenda and she was such a strong-willed woman.”

According to one friend, Dawson was fixated on an anti-anxiety drug that she thought would help her quit drinking.

I just find it interesting and ironic that people thought she was such a strong-willed person, and yet her strength of will was simply not enough to stop her from drinking, even though she clearly felt she needed to and deeply wanted to. Was she an alcoholic? I have no idea. But I do think it gives us some insight into the human condition to see how inadequate the human will is to address the real challenges of our lives.

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Crimes Against Journalism

Nothing makes me madder than stupid, incompetent journalism. The Sydney Morning Herald’s latest entry in this category is here. if you read nearly half way into the article you find this:

This week the Independent Commission Against Corruption named Mr Hartcher, the member for Terrigal, and his fellow Central Coast Liberal MPs Chris Spence and Darren Webber in an inquiry codenamed Operation Spicer due to hold public hearings from April 28.

ICAC is examining allegations that the MPs, along with former Hartcher staff member Tim Koelma and electorate officer Ray Carter, ”corruptly solicited, received and concealed payments from various sources in return for certain members of Parliament favouring the interests of those responsible for the payments”.

Solid, important news. But is that what the article leads with? Sadly no. Instead this –

ICAC: Former Liberal minister Chris Hartcher had ‘secret computer network’

Former Liberal minister Chris Hartcher is alleged to have run an ”off the grid” computer network in his electorate office before the 2011 state election – a period being investigated as part of a major corruption inquiry.

A source familiar with Mr Hartcher’s office has said the then shadow cabinet minister bought computers that were installed in his electorate office at Erina on the Central Coast.

The source said there was one computer connected to the official parliamentary network but that ”every other computer in the office was a computer that was bought by Chris Hartcher and worked on a separate network”.

Mr Hartcher’s explanation was that he feared his email and other data could be monitored by ”Labor cronies” due to the party being in government at the time, the source said.

Absolute spurious nonsense.

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The Wealthy Get No Love From Hillary. At Any Cost.

The AP are reporting today that Facebook Mark Zuckerburg gave nearly $1 billion in stock to a California charity last year. Of course he is no stranger to philanthropy, having given, for example, $100 million to Newark public schools in 2010.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, from which the AP got their information, report further that the 50 largest donors in the US gave a total of $7.7 billion last year, up 4% from 2012. This includes $500 million given by Nike founder Phil Knight for cancer research at the Oregon Health & Science University Foundation.

All of this reminded me of the comments that Hillary Clinton made at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative (video)…

And one of the issues that I have been preaching about around the world is collecting taxes in an equitable manner, especially from the elites in every country. (Laughter.) You know I’m out of American politics, but – (applause) – it is a fact that around the world, the elites of every country are making money. There are rich people everywhere. And yet they do not contribute to the growth of their own countries. They don’t invest in public schools, in public hospitals, in other kinds of development internally.

Even leaving aside the stunning, but revealing, falsehood that those who gain wealth through entrepreneurship don’t contribute to a country’s growth (when in fact it is precisely their contributions that produce economic growth), the enormous amount of philanthropic giving by wealthy people is a great reminder of how misleading Clinton’s comments were and how committed she is to the coercive redistribution of wealth by the state.

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John Key and David Cunliffe: Opponents of the Free Market

There has been a furious beat-up in the NZ press lately about Australia’s Coles and Woolworths supermarkets dropping NZ-sourced product lines as part of energetic ‘Buy Australia’ marketing campaigns by both companies. These companies evidently believe their customers have a latent preference for Australian-made goods and have decided to adjust their product mix accordingly – which is a good illustration of what smart companies do.

Unfortunately the leaders of NZ’s two largest political parties (and I suspect most others as well) don’t believe it’s ok for people to make their own decisions about what they buy and from whom.

3News reports the Prime Minister’s view:

Yesterday, Prime Minister John Key said the issue was against the spirit of trade relations with New Zealand.

“Even if it’s legally not [a breach of CER], it’s arguably a breach of the spirit of CER, and we’re going to be raising that with Tony Abbott,” he said.

“The whole spirit of CER is an integrated Australasian market, and we feel that the big companies in Australia should actually observe that.

No, it’s not in any way a breach of the spirit of CER (Closer Economic Relations). CER is about the way government’s treat products from each country, not consumers or companies. If anything, the spirit of CER is to encourage free markets, not to denigrate them. Key wants an ‘integrated market’ but seems confused (especially for a former currency trader) about what a ‘market’ actually is – the collective action of multiple people and organizations pursuing their own interests through the free exchange of goods, services and money – it has nothing to do with uniformity.

But if Key is confused, Opposition leader David Cunliffe is positively deluded. The NZ Herald reports:

Labour leader David Cunliffe said Mr Key had not negotiated hard enough and that the campaign was a contravention of CER because each country was required to treat the other’s products the same as their own.

No, it is plainly not a contravention of CER, because CER places no requirement on the behavior of private individuals or organizations. CER’s requirements on ‘each country’ are requirements on their governments. There is simply no negotiation to be had. New Zealand companies would not expect the New Zealand government to be interfering with their own commercial decisions. It’s unreasonable to think that the Australian government should interfere with the decisions Australian companies make.

One might have hoped that New Zealand had leaders who could take a more principled, or at least reality-based, view on such matters.

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Food Regulation? No Thanks.

An NBC News article today reports on a study headed by Dr. Roberto De Vogli of the department of Public Health Sciences at the University of California, Davis that found a correlation between increases in fast food purchases and average Body Mass Indices (BMI) in 25 countries between 1999 and 2008.

Ok, leaving aside the fact that correlation is not the same as causation (which the article kinda, sorta gives a nod to), I can accept that this is useful information. But then De Vogli gets all food nazi on us…

“The take-home message is that, although free-market policies are not to be demonized, it appears quite clear that in order to fight the obesity epidemic, a stronger role of government intervention is necessary,” says Dr. Roberto De Vogli of the department of Public Health Sciences at the University of California, Davis, who headed up the study…..

“Unless governments take steps to regulate their economies, the invisible hand of the market will continue to promote obesity worldwide with disastrous consequences for future public health and economic productivity,” De Vogli said.

And the World Health Organization gets in on the act…

“This study shows how important public policies are for addressing the epidemic of obesity,” said Dr. Francesco Branca, director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at WHO.

“Policies targeting food and nutrition are needed across several sectors including agriculture, industry, health, social welfare and education,” Branca said.

And not only does De Vogli want to control what we eat, he wants to choose who we buy it from…

De Vogli recommends policies protecting small farmers and encouraging people to eat local produce.

I find it pretty sad that some people just assume it’s the government’s job to stop others making their own decisions about how they live their lives. It’s not. Freedom means making your own decisions. Yes, people who overeat are usually unhealthy. But that’s their choice. It shouldn’t be anyone else’s.

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Media Self-Censorship

Whoa, it’s 2014 – guess it’s time to have another crack at blogging!

So, the media seems to be abuzz this morning with a story about Madonna, who, it is said, has apologized for using a racial slur in an Instagram post. But the details are remarkably hard to find…

Most outlets, such as this one, have published an AP-sourced story that says,

On Friday night, the singer posted a picture of her 13-year-old son, Rocco, boxing and included the comment, “No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out!” She then added a variation of the N-word.

Which made me wonder exactly what this ‘variation’ was and how and why it was used. It seems to me to be worth understanding exactly what these unwritten standards are that have been breached, especially given that (in my opinion) context and nuance are important in the way people communicate. Yet almost none of the many, many news sites reporting this story seem willing to actually say.

Fortunately, the Guardian has come to my rescue:

On Friday night the singer posted a picture of her 13-year-old son Rocco boxing, and included the comment: “No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out!” She then added “#disnigga”.

Notice the almost verbatim similarity to the previous quote – that’s because this is also the AP’s story, apparently the uncensored version. Was this a racial slur? I really have no idea. I don’t even know what the reference to “Dirty Soap” is intended to mean – but presumably a reference that some will appreciate.

I get that calling someone who is black a ‘nigger’ is generally offensive. But she is quoted as saying “It was used as a term of endearment toward my son who is white”. It looks to me like this is perhaps also some more specific cultural reference beyond my experience. It would be interesting to understand what was really in her mind when she wrote it and what led her to select that particular expression as a term of endearment. Unfortunately we’re unlikely to ever find that out, because most news organizations aren’t even willing for us to know what it was that she wrote.

Oh, in other news, news organizations are moving toward charging readers for their content.

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What Happened In Cincinnati

I read a piece by Bob Frum in the Daily Beast this morning in which he stated boldly –

In the end, events and the evidence will lead to the overwhelming conclusion that IRS conduct in the Cincinnati field office is a quintessential incarnation of that portion of government that the science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein called “stupid fumbling.”

For the White House, there is no crime here, there is no scandal, no matter how feverishly, irresponsibly, or demagogically the GOP labors to concoct one.

It struck me as interesting that Frum should be so certain of something he acknowledges has yet to come to pass… that “the evidence will lead to the overwhelming conclusion…” (emphasis mine).

Yet, barely 12 hours later comes this from NBC,

Additional scrutiny of conservative organizations’ activities by the IRS did not solely originate in the agency’s Cincinnati office…

Cleta Mitchell, another attorney representing conservative groups that allege they were targeted, said an IRS agent in Cincinnati told her a “task force” IRS office in Washington, D.C., was making the decisions about the processing of applications, and that she subsequently dealt with IRS representatives there.

“(The IRS agent in Cincinnati) told me that in fact the case would be transferred to a special task force out of Washington, and that he was told – he was the originally assigned agent – that he wasn’t allowed to make decisions, the decisions were all going to be made in Washington,” Mitchell said.

So whatever else the evidence leads to, Bob Frum’s overwhelming conclusion seems unlikely to be concerned merely with what happened in Cincinnati.

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Lying in bed this morning, reading the Washington Post sideways on my computer next to the me – as you do – I thought this was an interesting comment by Ruth Marcus in the context of the President’s recent remarks about California Attorney General Kamala Harris –

A female politician is, inevitably, going to devote more attention to her appearance than is her male counterpart. Inevitably, because voters — female and male — are going to pay more attention to her clothes, or whether she’s gained (or lost) a few pounds

I’m sure this is true. But what I wonder about is why it is true. What does it tell us about women, about men and about society? Does it reflect something fundamental about differences between the sexes? And if it does, on what basis would someone who has a purely materialist worldview reasonably make ethical judgments about differences in the opportunities, experiences and challenges that men and women each face?

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