January 04, 2019

My anti-self-help help for you

Tis the season ....

For a crapload of self-help books to start the new year. (Including self-help books that claim not to be. More below.)

Ignore most of them.

First, check blurbs.

If somebody like Tony Robbins touts them, put them down. And run away.

Second, look at titles or excerpts online, on authors' pages or Twitter accounts.

If the author talks about "winning" life? Run away. That's late-stage capitalist bullshit. Beyond that, it's a sociologically and philosophically shallow. It's also an invitation to psychological problems if one is not resilient, and therefore anti-helpful.

If the author talks about "hacking" life? Run away. It's like the above put through a Silicon Valley blender.

If the title talks about "laws," and gives the impression their are certain immutable laws of human nature, obedience to which will improve your life? Run away. If this were true, one such book would have been written 5,000 years ago and we would all be much better off. It's like a religious claim run through the self-help world filter. (Think of AA's 12 steps, OK?) And, I'm far from alone on that pick-up; I've seen it more than once in one-star reviews by others of self-help books.

If the title has a number in it, anywhere, like how many of these immutable laws there are? Run away. Numbers and listicles are an old marketing hack which the Internet has only made worse.

In addition, most of these books are written for people who are comfortably over the "Kahneman line" on income — in other words, they make more than enough for money itself to be a major factor in happiness or contentment, and probably do so in pretty secure jobs. If you're working in the dying newspaper industry, or a corner of the SEO world that will soon prove to be semi-fraudulent, these books aren't for you. Unfortunately, those are often the people suckered by hopes of a quick fix.

Let's take an example by James Clear, whose new "Atomic Habits" says one key to self-help is replacing "I have to" with "I get to."

That may well be true. But, does it solve problems?

Let's take a couple, of him making $33K and her $23K with three kids.

"I get to worry about trying to save 3 percent of my income and I get to ignore saving 10 percent."

"I get to worry about my kids getting sick because, with the amount of deductible on my insurance, we can't afford a trip to the hospital unless it really needs the ER."

"I get to worry about finding a new job over the age of 50."

"I get to thank James Clear for his brilliant, privileged insights."

Etc., etc.

Shit, James Clear's Habits Academy is ONLY $299. Of course, it's not individual ... it's podcasts or videos for that price. But, it IS the "premier training platform." It has attestations from people with first names! It IS based on "proven scientific research" (primarily from social psych experiments that have failed at least one replication attempt, no doubt).


A lot of this has been amplified by the growth of the positive psychology movement, which has its own issues, including Marty Seligman's ties to SERE reverse engineering, plus being, arguably, more crassly capitalistic than the general self-help movement.

The American self-help movement, going back to people like Fulton J. Sheen, Norman Vincent Peale and Og Mandino, has had a bit of Social Darwinist background to it. Or, "economic barbarism," to riff on a Twitter discussion yesterday. Often, this is unstated, but, nevertheless, it's there. The focus is on individual betterment, with societal betterment ignored. (Some more liberal self-helpers may give lip service to this, but they're the exception.) Comments like "winning" life are a reflection and embodiment of that, as I see it, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

And, this is America, so such books have to have pseudo-statistics. Clear says that if saying "get" instead of "have" makes you 1 percent better per day, just compound that over a full year.

First, he doesn't prove it will make you 1 percent better a day, he just uses that as a starting assumption. If that actually were true, per the "immutable laws" paragraph, we would have just one book about this.

Second, better than what? That's never stated.

Third, it assumes that such betterment is readily quantified.

Fourth, it assumes that people like me won't ask those rhetorical questions I just asked.

Even among places that sound better, like Cal-Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, there's a lot of touting of pretty cheap versions of positive psychology and such. Its staff's recommendations for top books of 2018 have Steve Pinker's cluelessness about the Enlightenment, Positive Psych books, and the latest by "we're all in sales now" Daniel Pink. Weirdly, in 2016, at least, different staff members picked books that directly contradicted each other, the last on the list being one I actually might read. And, a 2012 book on oxytocin was arguably scientifically out of date at the time and certainly is now. It's more a "possessiveness molecule" than a love molecule.

(Also sad: One of the top "practical Stoicism" philosophers is a disciple of one of the top "immutable laws" self-help authors. Sad, but ... not really a surprise, when you think about Stoicism, its Logos, and other related ideas.)


Note: The person from whose Medium site I kyped the picture says "just say no to self-help," then goes on to talk about "hacking your life" and the "one thing you need." It turns out she's written 11 books, or rather, "books," (see below) offers "coaching" and other things, but will tell you to say no to self-help.

Of course!

You should instead pay for "other-help." That's where the Tony Robbins types make their money. Videos and podcasts. Personalized emails, or pseudo-personalized. All things web so they can help you (remove money from your wallet). And, no, I don't believe that you can have PTSD symptoms for 30 years, possibly 40, and magically have them disappear in six weeks, ether. Sorry, Mary Schiller. (And, reading a bit more of that comment on your breathless blurb of another person's self-help book [or is it other-help] no. Especially not with that guy babbling about "Divine Mind" and the other New Age BS,. and charging $3,000 to listen to you. (And writing three books, even though he claims to have the one true thing.) Even sadder is, if per her autobiography and my reading between the lines, she thinks that having a New Agey "it happened for a reason" revelation about why she was sexually abused, run like hell from her. Karma is more offensive than Christian original sin. Run like hell from these people, beyond the issue of them wanting to rip you off. They will fuck up your life.

And, no, I'm not saying that because I take PTSD lightly. I'm saying it, from what I know, for exactly the opposite reason. I simply do not believe that a child sexual abuse "survivor" who was then further traumatized in a first marriage could magically heal in six weeks. Period. Rather, that PTSD is stuffed down some New Agey rabbit hole. If it doesn't bite you again before you die, consider yourself lucky.

Most of her alleged "books" are 30 page pamphlets. Even in modern e-book publishing, calling them books is a stretch. Whether it's a lie or not? YMMV. And multiple ones from them are about making money. And, that money-making doesn't heal PTSD either.

But, that's why self-help / other-help (flip sides of the same coin) are so uniquely American. They're highly predicated on capitalism. Capitalism plus a quick fix.

That's America's cultural DNA, or at least its majoritarian cultural DNA, in a nutshell. Why are lotteries so popular here? Quick-fix capitalism.

(Way back when, Og, Fulton and Norman, as far as I know, weren't peddling tschotschkes along with their books. Maybe that's because, pre-Internet, they didn't know better. Imagine an Og Mandino set of pamphlet-length e-"books." Fulton J. Sheen self-help T-shirts with inspirational messages. [Or cassocks like that for hipster priests.] Norman Vincent Peale doing TED talks. [Remember, the E in TED stands for "entertainment." No, really. It's not "education."])

January 03, 2019

Attempts to normalize Sartre's bromance with Marx fail

Retired Wayne State professor of the history of ideas Ronald Aronson, an expert philosophical commenter on Jean-Paul Sartre, including on his friendship with Albert Camus, attempts to rehabilitate both Marxism and Sartre's attempt to rehabilitate it in a new Boston  Review essay.

And fails.

In a nutshell, here's why.

First, Sartre did find a weak point — rather, the weakest point — of Marxism 101, with all of its permutations through Lenin, Stalin, Mao and even revisers like the Frankfurt School.

It’s Hegelian dialectic.

Congrats to Sartre for seeing the main issue that makes Marxism even more a pseudoscience than most theories of economics, since Hegelian dialectic and its thesis-synthesis-antithesis is purely a philosophical idea, and totally unscientific.

BUT! Marxism is not Marxism without Hegelian dialectic. Pull that out, and you're engaging with non-Marxist Socialist theorizing of some sort.

Second, while comparing and contrasting Sartre to Camus, and intertwining them, and saying that Sartre tried to find a third way, Aronson ignores how late Sartre was to the table on criticizing both Stalin in particular and Soviet Communism in general.

Third, Marx ignored, or never thought through, larger economic consumptive problems of capitalism — resource exploitation problems that aren’t part of Marxism.

Peak Oil — temporarily offset by fracking — is one.

Climate change is a much bigger one, as this Boston Review essay notes in passing.

As far as Aronson's book on Sartre and Camus? Without staking absolutist positions on either side, Camus was in general right to reject the use of violence in social movements. And, per some critical reviews of his book (at that second link in the first paragraph), Aronson reportedly butters his bread clearly for Sartre, and for postmodernism that follows to some degree from him. You lost me there.

January 02, 2019

More just say no to Bryce Harper, or call Scott Boras' bluff

So, the Bryce Harper free agency derby carries on, presuming agent Scott Boras is still hunting something like 10/$350 and either one or two opt-outs.

(See the poll at upper right or click the link to vote on when you think he signs a deal.)

Do you look at the guy with the 10-WAR year and say, yeah, we hope we get even close to that?

Or do you look at the guy with the THREE sub-2 WAR years (and only one of those due primarily to injury) and say "Too much risk factor"?

Per the third slide in this round-up by Derrick Goold, I presume the Cardinals, John Mozeliak and Mike Girsch do the latter.

Let's compare Harper to a big contract the Cards were willing to take on in trade just 12 months ago, namely, Giancarlo Stanton, as I've already done this on Twitter in exchange with Bill James.

The 10 years left on his contract, at $285 million, are actually "just" $28.5 million AAV. (Take away his option year, and 9/$260 is approximately $29M AAV.) But, you'd pay him 10/$350 if Bryce is getting that, right? Even if Bryce is 3 years younger?

So, let's look at WAR.

Harper, seven years, 27.4 WAR is 3.9 per year. Stanton, nine years at 39.2, is 4.35 per year.

Let's throw out best and worst years of both and check that.

Harper? 16.3/5=3.26. Stanton? 27/7=3.85.  You've still got that one-half WAR per year difference. Another way of putting this is, if you throw out the best year of both, Stanton still has four 4-WAR seasons and Harper two. (If you want to round up Harper's 3.7 year, we get to do that with Stanton's 3.8.)

In addition, other than when he got hit in the face by a pitch, Stanton was a much better health risk.

Add in that Harper has, in the past, been valued more highly on defense than Stanton and B-Ref putting him at -3.0 on dWAR in 2018 should be of some concern.

(And, on MLB Trade Rumors, you have Cards fans clearly undercutting the "Best Fans in Baseball" claim by saying they'd pay MORE for Harper per year over 10 years than per year over five years to resign Paul Goldschmidt, who has averaged more than 5 WAR a year, with throwing out best and worst years. Derp???)

Besides Stanton, the Cards have shown that they're not always cheapskates.

They offered Jason Heyward the highest AAV of any bidder, but lost in part (thanks for bailing us out, Cubs) due to no opt-out. They pursued David Price hard. They offered Phat Albert Pujols 8/$198 (thanks Arte for bailing us out). Just a friendly reminder on that: The Cards could still have him on the books for one more year had the Angels not stepped in. (Some people bash Mo for not offering opt-outs, but when the team is taking the risk of a contract of seven years or more, if a player is going to get an opt-out after, say, three years, why shouldn't the team get one after, say, five, by making the last two years "mutual option"?)

Now, the Cardinals could call Boras' bluff, as could other teams. Offer him a five-year contract, with an opt-out after two years, and front weighted at $37M per for each of the first two years, and $32M each of the next two, with the fifth year either $37M or a $17M buyout. If old Bryce really is a "generational talent" he's got two years to show his 10-WAR year wasn't a total fluke (and to show he can stay healthy). That's detailed in that "caveated" link above.

Harper passes Clayton Kershaw, Stanton and everybody else, at least for those first two years, on AAV. If he is that good, then he can opt out. If not, the Cards somewhat limit their damages.

Or, to twist this more, cut the base on an offer similar to the above, but possibly with a straight fifth year, by 20 percent or so. But then add in incentives that, if all met, would raise the possible max value by 30 percent. MLB doesn't allow performance incentives, but there are plenty of others — All-Star Game, ASG starter, MVP top 5, MVP winner, NLCS MVP, World Series MVP, Gold Glove and/or Fielding Bible, etc.

In either case, the Cards make a serious offer, and a serious challenge at the same time. They accept an opt-out contract while still giving themselves some protection.

Some may be laughing, but you shouldn't.

The player option plus a separate team option opt-outs is what Boras client Yusei Kikuchi got, with details at MLB Trade Rumors, including comment this could become more popular.

In reality? If the Dodgers really are serious about getting below the lux-tax line, then it's Phillies vs. White Sox and supposedly Harper really doesn't like Philly? And, while Philly has said it will spend, I don't see both Manny Machado and Harper going there.

December 31, 2018

This Texas Progressive's 2018 year in review

This outpost of the Texas Progressive Alliance hopes readers keep any New Year’s goals simple and measurable, and as goals not resolutions. This outpost also hopes readers consider or pursue life changes in the New Year that increase their contentment and are done at their own personal choice.

SocraticGadfly describes how DSA darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had another unforced error on Twitter — this one over Congressional pay in the shutdown.

Gadfly also offered a roundup of his top blogging for the year, going by views and other factors. Much of it was devoted to batting down conspiracy theories.

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas and national blogs and news sites.

At the Dallas Observer, Jim Schutze takes a look at the white year, black year and general year in review, while giving good decade-aged kicks in the nads to John Wiley Price and the Perot clan.

Texas Monthly looks at Steven Mark Chaney’s acquittal after serving 25 years on a murder sentence due to junk science..

Since this is a year-end wrap, Texas Monthly also looks at its top Texas books of 2018.

Along with your host, Michael Harris suggests reading actual print books, even as he, an author, struggles with that.

Ken Paxton’s prosecutors are challenging a pay ruling against them by the CCA, and he is trying to undercut them again, notes the Texas Tribune.

Grits for Breakfast posts his 2018 top 10 criminal justice reform stories.

The Texas Observer notes six Texan individuals or groups who lost power this past year. (Contra Kuff, I think the section about Bexar Dems is pretty clear.)

Fracking of gas as well as oil is great for the Texas economy, bad for climate change, the AP describes.

Dos Centavos posts his personal 2018 top 10.

David Bruce Collins takes a look at how many of the U.S. Democratic freshmen are actually New Democrats.

The Texas Trib notes that state Sen. Charles Schwertner remains in the MeToo spotlight after an ambiguous investigation.

The Texas Observer catches my own state Senatecritter liking him some white nationalists. Unfortunately, as it also notes, after being primaried by a sensible state Rep. and winning, Bob Hall coasted to victory.

The Observer also offers up a collation of six stories about rural Texas.

ProPublica reports Dallas schools aren’t helpful for minorities, in many ways.

Jim Schutze seems to have a bromance for Angela Hunt running for Dallas mayor; he’ll accept Scott Griggs.

Paradise in Hell remains our premier interpreter of Individual 1.

Juanita says "good riddance" to Paul Ryan.

Therese Odell suggests a New Year's resolution we should all adopt.

The Bloggess celebrates another successful community giving effort.

Many unions are still slouching toward Gomorrah. World Socialist notes a Wisconsin Aerospace local that scrubbed a strike and won’t tell the public why.