Tuesday, March 30, 2004


Some excerpts from an article by Richard Eckersley that appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on March 31, 2004 but which does not appear to be otherwise online

Suicides are personal and deeply existential acts. But suicide rates tell us something about ourselves as a society.

It is worth reflecting on the significance of recent studies in the Annals of Plastic Surgery and the British Medical Journal that have found women who have cosmetic breast implants commit suicide at up to three times the rate of women who don't.

Researchers are not sure why. One has suggested it could be due to the chronic pain, implant breakages and deformities following implant surgery. Another says there may not be any direct cause-effect relationship between implants and suicide, but rather that the relationship reflects the type of women who get breast implants. There is a well-documented link between psychological illness and the desire for cosmetic surgery.

But there are other, more subtle and complex aspects of the research that should make us concerned. The findings fit those of other studies that have shown people for whom "extrinsic goals" such as fame. fortune and glarnour are a priority tend to experience more anxiety and depression and lower overall well-being than people oriented towards "intrinsic goals" of close relationships, self-understanding, acceptance, and contributing to the community.

These results are, in turn, consistent with other research that shows materialism - the pursuit of money and possessions - breeds not happiness but dissatisfaction, depression, anxiety, anger, isolation and alienation. In short, the more materialistic we are, the poorer our quality of life.

As consumerism reaches increasingly beyond the acquisition of things to the enhancement of the person, the goa1 of marketing becomes not only to make us dissatisfied with what we have but also with who we are.

These concerns amount to what I call "cultural fraud" -- the projection and promotion of cultural images and idels that do not meet human psychological needs or reflect social realities.

One way to expose and respond to this traud is to begin regarding flaunted wealth and extravagant consumption as poor taste and antisocial behaviour.

(Richard Eckersley is a fellow at the National Centre for Epidemioiogy and Population Health at the Australian National University, Canberra, and author of Well & Good: How we feel and why it matters. For a comment on the above article, see here.)

Sunday, March 28, 2004


A personal story by Frank G.Zavisca, M.D., Ph.D., Director, Obstetric Anesthesiology, LSUHSC Shreveport, LA 71130

My father, Dr. Ernest G. Zavisca (now deceased), graduated from Medical School at the University of Buffalo. There were no scholarships or state schools - he played a saxaphone in a professional band at night, going to school by day, and graduated Alpha Omega Alpha (2nd in his class).

Dad went to war, did some chloroform anesthesia in France, and when the war ended he turned down an offer for a prestigious neurosurgery residency with Dr Hambi in Chicago. He was simply worn out and wanted to set up an office and make a living.

He had an office in our home on Tonawanda St in Buffalo after a similar arrangement on Richmond Avenue [the new location was in a thriving post-war Irish Italian Hungarian blue collar neighborhood - long since gone to the trash heap of urban decay].

Born in 1911, Dad was getting tired and worked part time in the 80s. He often was approached by people seeking drugs - in past years, doctors kept supplys of drugs in their offices, and many were robbed because of this. Aside from a few samples, he had none, and at times he had to convince intruders that he didn't have any. He worked alone, and was often afraid.

One evening, a patient asked Dad to write a prescription for Valium for his girlfriend. Being afraid, and a poor businessman and trusting of people, he wrote it. The "patient" was a "wired" drug agent.

This event was broadcast - his name included - on the evening news as a "drug bust" - along with a story about another doctor who really was selling controlled drugs out of his office. Overnight, Dad was transformed from a kind and geltle and somewhat naive "healer" into a "drug criminal".

Dad's medical license was suspended, and, despite having it reinstated with the help of my aunt, he was so overcome by this event that he never practiced again. He died in 1994, a broken man.

Shortly after this "drug bust", I visited Dad and the old neighborhood. Tibor and his Wife Marge (both now deceased) were my parent's best friends as long as I (age 60) can remember. They had four lovely daughters who all went to college and two are now attorneys - just first class Americans. Tibor and Marge owned a Flower Shop, where I and my two brothers spent countless hours. Susanne (my age) played "Cowboys and Indians" and "Tarzan and Jane" with us for many years as children.

Tibor had chronic pain from an early colostomy and badly-treated varicose veins. Dad had written prescriptions for Demerol for Tibor ever since I remember - Tibor got along just fine with this medication.

During this visit, Tibor looked distressed. He took me down to the basement of the Flower Shop, where, as the Head of the Riverside Businessmen's association, and as a member, he stored the liquor he had received as presents at Christmas for over 30 years. This was like a liquor store - he had never been a drinker - until now.

There was such hysteria among doctors in the Buffalo area following this "drug bust" that Tibor just couldn't find a doctor that would write a prescription for Tibor. So,now,the only way he could sleep is to drink liquor.

This is the reason most doctors are simply afraid of treating pain adequately, as well as fear of litigation if something goes wrong.

Patients receiving opiates not infrequently store them up, take too much to commit suicide, then their family sues the doctor for "inadequate" supervision.

I am unsure who are the worse creeps - the Federal Drug predators who harass doctors for every prescription, or the legal predators like John Edwards who chase ambulances.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

No difference in terrorist groups

By Ted Lapkin

As if on cue, the world again has united in criticism of Israel, this time for killing a key figure in the command structure of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

The helicopter attack against Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin came less than two weeks after the horrific railway bombings in Madrid. The Israeli air strike also took place within days of an attempt by Hamas to inflict casualties by blowing up a chemical storage facility at Israel's port of Ashdod. The planners of both the Madrid and Ashdod attacks clearly selected their targets with care in order to slaughter as many civilians as possible.

The ranks of Al-Qaeda and Hamas are filled with zealots who are so motivated by malice that they don't care about dying as long as they can keep the hated Western infidels from living. Neither group has any real program beyond the annihilation of an enemy they deem to be irredeemably evil.

Yet, many in the international community refuse to recognise the obvious similarities that unite the perpetrators of these attacks, or to accept the irrefutable equivalence that binds together Spanish and Israeli victims of terrorism. As Spain buried its dead, the world reverberated with voices proclaiming the need to pursue and destroy the perpetrators of the Madrid bombing. In the immediate wake of the attack in Spain, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that declared a "reinforced determination to combat all forms of terrorism". Well, all forms except those committed against Israel, that is.

On that very same day, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement that urged Israel to ignore Yasser Arafat's history of consistent support for Palestinian terrorist violence. Rather than the implacable pursuit that the UN was vowing towards the Islamist zealots who carried out the Madrid attacks, Annan averred that Palestinian radicals must be appeased and accommodated.

Of course, this ever-so-typical UN pronouncement turned a conveniently blind eye to the fact that a majority of Palestinians obdurately refuse to accept Israel's basic right to exist. Thus Israel was castigated and condemned when it killed one of the prime global culprits of radical Islamist violence, Yassin.

Only in Israel's case are the tormented victims of terror urged to empathise with the motivations of their terrorist tormenters and to attempt negotiation with those who seek their annihilation.

The above article appeared in "The Courier Mail" newspaper of Brisbane, Australia on March 25, 2004 but does not appear to be otherwise online

Monday, March 15, 2004

F. A. Hayek and The Road to Serfdom: A Sixtieth- Anniversary Appreciation

by Richard M. Ebeling

Sixty years ago this month, in March 1944, The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek was first published in Great Britain. For six decades it has continued to challenge and influence the political- economic landscape of the world. Hayek delivered an ominous warning that political trends in the Western democracies were all in the direction of a new form of servitude that threatened the personal and economic liberty of the citizens of these countries.

At the time the book was released Great Britain and the United States were engulfed in a global war, with Nazi Germany as the primary enemy and Soviet Russia as the primary ally. In 1944 the British had a wartime coalition government of both Conservative and Labor Party members, with Winston Churchill as its head. During these war years plans were being designed within the government for a postwar socialist Britain, including nationalized health care, nationalized industries, and detailed economic planning of industry and agriculture.

For the 12 years before America’s entry into the war Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal had transformed the United States through a degree of government spending, taxing, regulation, and redistribution the likes of which had never before been experienced in the nation’s history. Many of the early New Deal programs had even imposed a network of fascist-style economic controls on private industry and agriculture; fortunately, the Supreme Court had declared most of these controls unconstitutional in 1935.

At the same time, the Soviet Union was frequently portrayed as a model—however rough around the edges—of an ideal socialist society, freeing “the masses” from poverty and exploitation. The Nazi regime, on the other hand, was usually depicted as a brutal dictatorship designed to maintain the power and control of aristocratic and capitalist elites that surrounded Hitler.

Hayek’s challenge was to argue that German Nazism was not an aberrant “right-wing” perversion growing out of the “contradictions” of capitalism. Instead, the Nazi movement had developed out of the “enlightened” and “progressive” socialist and collectivist ideas of the pre-World War I era, which many intellectuals in England and the United States had praised and propagandized for in their own countries.

It was in Bismarck’s Germany, after all, that there had been born the modern welfare state—national health insurance, government pension plans, regulations of industry and the workplace—and a philosophy that the national good took precedence over the interests of the “mere” individual.

In this political environment Germans came to take it for granted that the paternalistic state was meant to care for them from “cradle to grave,” a phrase that was coined in Imperial Germany. Two generations of Germans accepted that they needed to be disciplined by and obedient to the enlightened political “leadership” that guided the affairs of state for their presumed benefit. Beliefs in the right to private property and freedom of exchange were undermined as the regulatory and redistributive state increasingly managed the economic activities of the society for the greater “national interest” of the German fatherland. By 1933, when Hitler came to power, the German people not only accepted the idea of the “f├╝hrer principle,” Hayek argued, but many now wanted it and believed they needed it. Notions about individual freedom and responsibility had been destroyed by the philosophy of collectivism and the ideologies of nationalism and socialism.

But Hayek’s main point was that this tragic history was not unique or special to the German people. The institutional changes that accompanied the implementation of socialist and interventionist welfare-state policies potentially carried within them the seeds of political tyranny and economic servitude in any country that might follow a similar path.

The Ultimate Monopoly

The more government takes over responsibility for and control over the economic activities of a society, the more it diminishes the autonomy and independence of the individual. Government planning, by necessity, makes the political authority the ultimate monopoly, with the power to determine what is produced and how the resulting output shall be distributed among all the members of the society.

What freedom is left to people, Hayek asked, when the government has the ability to decide what books will be printed or movies will be shown or plays will be performed? What escape does the individual have from the power of the state when the government controls everyone’s education, employment, and consumption? He also warned that the more that government plans production and consumption, the more the diverse values and preferences of the citizenry must be homogenized and made to conform to an overarching “social” scale of values that mirrors that hierarchy of ends captured in the central plan.

Even dissent, Hayek warned, becomes a threat to the achievement of the plan and its related redistributive policies. How can the plan be achieved if critics attempt to undermine people’s dedication to its triumph? Politically incorrect thoughts and actions must be repressed and supplanted with propaganda and “progressive” education for all. Thus unrestricted freedom of speech and the press, or opposition politicking, or even observed lack of enthusiasm for the purposes of the state became viewed as unpatriotic and potentially subversive.

In addition, the classical-liberal conception of an impartial rule of law, under which individuals possess equal rights to life, liberty, and the peaceful acquisition and use of private property, would have to be replaced by unequal treatment of individuals by the political authorities to assure an ideologically preferred redistributive outcome. But, asked Hayek, by what benchmark, other than prejudice, caprice, or the influence of interest groups, would the planners make their decisions?
Finally, in one of the most insightful chapters in the book, Hayek explained why, in the politicized society, there is a tendency for “the worst to get on top.” Fulfillment of the government’s plans and policies requires the leaders to have the power to use any means necessary to get the job done. Thus those with the least conscience or fewest moral scruples are likely to rise highest in the hierarchy of control. The bureaucracies of the planned and regulated society attract those who are most likely to enjoy the use and abuse of power over others.

Hayek died on March 23, 1992, at the age of 92. In the 12 years since his passing, The Road to Serfdom has come to be seen as one of the greatest political contributions of the twentieth century. Indeed, it played a very crucial role in stemming the tide toward totalitarian collectivism in the decades that followed World War II.


Sunday, March 14, 2004


By Michael Duffy

Following the atrocities in New York on September 11, 2001, more than 9000 grief counsellors descended on the city to help its inhabitants cope - for a fee. The experts thought that many New Yorkers would be suffering from one of the great inventions of our age, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). and that 2.5 million would need psychological debriefing. Centres for this purpose were set up around the city and the Government committed $US23 million to start with; another $US131 million was requested by the organisers of the campaign, named Project Liberty. But something weird happened: almost no one turned up to be counselled....

Last November the American Psychological Society released a lengthy report on the benefits of counselling after traumatic events such as bank robberies, fires and terrorist attacks. One of the authors was Professor Richard Bryant of the University of NSW, a world expert in the field.

It came to a conclusion that will surprise many readers: counselling after such incidents is pointless for a majority of people and can actually impede their recovery. Those New Yorkers had done the right thing in ignoring the offers of help from the caring industry.....

Amazingly enough, by November 2001, 28 percent of all American workers had been offered counselling by their employers to cope with September 11, even though it had nothing to do with their jobs.

The paper from the psychologists ("Does early psychological intervention promote recovery from post-traumatic stress?") suggests this largely was unnecessary. Surveys of New Yorkers after September 11 showed most of them were stressed by the event but recovered without professional help.

This fits in with a lot of evidence suggesting psychological debriefings don't work, or are harmful.

Typically, such counselling occurs two to 10 days after the incident and takes about three hours. The person recalls the event for the counsellor, who then asks them how they feel about it. All this is then discussed. Why should this be a good idea if, as many scientists now believe, people tend to cope with trauma by forgetting it?

Looking around the world at different sorts of situations, the report concluded that counselling often meets the social and political needs of the counsellors and those who hire them rather than the needs of the victims.....

As for all the companies -- more than 80 from the World Trade Centre alone -- which provided their employees with counselling due to fear of legal action if they didn't, where will they stand now that counselling is being debunked?

Ironically, concludes the report, executives may have had the liability risk backwards. Given the absence of data showing that debriefing works, and given some studies suggesting debriefing may impede natural recovery from trauma, companies may be at heightened risk if they do debrief their employees.

The above is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Brisbane "Courier Mail" on Saturday, March 13, 2004. p. 30.