October 27th, 2019


George Packer speaks at Literary Arts Opening

On Tuesday this week I attended the opening lecture of a lecture series hosted by the nonprofit organization Portland Literary Arts.  I had little idea what to expect.  The speaker was someone I hadn't heard of, or at least didn't remember, but I will remember him now.  The name is George Packer.  He was a staff writer for the New Yorker for a long time, and now is on staff writing for The Atlantic.  He also has written some books and essays, largely about culture and politics.

I was impressed.  He was there to promote his latest book, Our Man, which is about the controversial diplomate Richard Holbrook and the old America that he symbolizes.  The new America is something different.  Packer understands the changes in our culture better than most and I fully intend to seek out his writing in the future.  I have probably read him in the past but the name did not stick in my head.

Our Man is written in an unusual style for a biography.  Rather than being overfull of dates and details, it is told in narrative style by a fictional narrator who is older than the author.  The narrator was "there" for the whole story, and tells it in a style that the author repeated calls "a yarn".  I'm sure it will be a good read, and I will read it as soon as the demand for it at the library goes down a bit.

The book that he wrote in 2013 is called The Unwinding and it is about the cultural shifts that led to the election of Trump--except that at the time nobody knew it would lead there.  It is on my reading list.  The NY Times says it explains why Trump was elected.  For many of us that bears some thought.

When Packer first took the stage he looked up at the audience in the Schnitzer auditorium and he said that Portland is not the biggest city, but it was the biggest crowd.  The auditorium is huge and a beauty.  It holds 2,500 people, and it was full.  After his talk he took out his phone and photographed the crowd from his view on the stage.

Portland, Oregon is an interesting place, full of many highly educated individuals who dearly want to save the world.  They share Packer's sadness and fear about the changes that have come to our country and our politics in the last 20 years.  The patterns of applause during the Q&A period at the end reveal the overall agreement of this crowd with Packer's assessment of what is happening because of Trump.  His answer to the question about Syria (after the Trump-licensed Turkish bombing of the Kurds) made the situation more clear to me than months of reading in the Times.

Packer recommended three books to read (not his own) at the end of the talk.  I put them all on my library list but the one that really excites me is more current.  It is called Intellectuals and Race, by Thomas Sowell.  Amazon says it is an inclusive critique of the intellectual's destructive role in shaping ideas about race in America.  Other sources talk about how much ruckus this book has raised.  Intellectuals don't like to be criticised but in this day and age, they need to respond to criticism rather than dismissing it.

I would say that the ivory tower has made some missteps in shaping ideas about sexuality and gender, too.  I have been subject to some pretty strong progressive brainwashing in this town and witnessed it being misused to shame and alienate.  We would do well to pay attention to George Packer and other thoughtful people in the future as we try to find a way out of the stalemate we are in culturally and politically.  Our democracy is on its way toward failure and if we care about this experiment enough to continue it, we need to find a way that we can talk across the rather deep divisions.


Boiron Attempts Hypnosis to Save Homeopathy Market

On Monday October 14 I attended what was advertised as a movie about homeopathy.  It was listed in the email that goes out to all staff, faculty and students at NUNM, the National University of Natural Medicine.  I was one of two staff present, the other one being there because she was required to for her job.

I attended this event because I am writing a book about homeopathy, or rather about the culture and psychology that surrounds it.  I am not a believer.  The people who at the event made the assumption that I was, and I made no effort to dissuade them.  I presume that NUNM hosts these events because Boiron donates money, but I could be wrong.

The man who greeted me at the event was the same man I had called to RSVP.  He was nice enough but he had terrible breath and I had to steel myself not to take several steps back whenever he spoke.  He also had a huge pot belly.  When I walked in the door he was telling his own conversion story, about how 30 years ago he'd been sick and had exhausted all the options given by conventional medicine.  Then he'd tried homeopathy and gotten better, and he had never looked back.  It is this kind of uncritical conversion story that gets repeated ad nauseum by homeopathy believers.  I believe they need to repeat it, to hear themselves repeating it, to maintain their belief.  His breath turned my stomach and his story gave me no reason to respect his critical thinking prowess, so I escaped as quickly as possible, but not before I learned that he is a rep for Boiron, one of apparently just two for the entire west coast.  The other rep was also present and made no better representation of the health that can be attained by way of homeopathy.  She engaged me in conversation for a little while, marketing her ND practice in PDX and eating M&M's one by one.  If this is the best Boiron can do for reps they are definitely going down.

They were giving away free pizza and the host had asked me on the telephone what my favorite kind of pizza was.  I answered jalapeno and anchovy, but when I got there my favorite was not.  Apparently the restaurant did not have anchovies and only jar jalapenos though fresh are easily available.  All but one of the huge stack of pizzas were gluten free, however.  I suppose they think that all naturopaths avoid gluten.

The talk that came before the movie was supposed to be a summary of the regulatory status of homeopathy in the US, but really it was an advertisement for Boiron.  The focus was on Boiron's efforts to influence the FDA's position, on a great personal connection that Boiron has in the FDA, and on how the FDA regs don't really stop the sale of homeopathy.  I was somewhat irritable because being in the supplement business I know a little bit about how the FDA has impacted OUR sales of homeopathics, and the Boiron rep was clearly ignorant of that situation.  We've discontinued all sales of LM's (compounded liquid homeopathics),  remedies made from DEA-regulated drugs (opium, etc), and nosodes (remedies made from diseased material, like medorrhinum).  These changes have been in response to shifts in the FDA's stance. 

There was also angry mention of the Australian analysis of everything known about homeopathy which resulted in them dropping it from their publicly funded healthcare program.  They decided it was not effective for treating any conditionFrance and other countries have dropped homeopathy from public funding due to lack of evidence, but the speaker at this event insisted that the Australian assessment was biased and wrong and would be reversed.  Yeah, right.

I learned little from this presentation but I did eat some pizza.  It was OK.

More interesting than the update about regulation was the bit that they said about the "grant" that Boiron had provided to the CEDH (Center for Education and Development of Clinical Homeopathy) to start a "Clinical Homeopathy" program, with the subtitle "Integrate Homeopathy Into Your Daily Practice".  It isn't really a grant, it is an expenditure on a marketing effort intended to brainwash more people into believing.  The CEDH exists to separate the name Boiron from the "educational" program. 

In the first "module" of the 4-part educational program they have 22 students enrolled, most of whom are NUNM students.  This makes sense as a lot of people enter naturopathic school already sure about homeopathy and intending to use it.  It also makes sense because shifts in the ND curriculum have removed all five of the homeopathy classes that I was required to take, and instruction in homeopathy is supposed to be blended in with the subject matter in "blocks" that address organ systems one at a time.  According to the students the majority of professors are not teaching much, if any homeopathy, and yet homeopathy is still on the ND clinical board exams.  The students are panicked about the exams and seeking training in homeopathy outside of the NUNM ND curriculum.  Boiron and the CEDH are taking advantage of this situation to secure their future market.

After the talking they finally started the movie, a good hour after the email had said it would begin.  Entitled Magic Pills, the movie is another brainwashing effort along the lines of Just One Drop.  This one attempts to directly address all the complaints that skeptics have about homeopathy, talking about confirmation bias as a reason that scientists won't even consider homeopathy, and repeating the usual homeopathy hypnotic anchor of "it works" (kind of like "build a wall" for Trump).  They also expressed quite a bit of anger at moles such as myself who do not believe but show up to their events and practices wanting to gain information to undermine their efforts.

From my perspective Magic Pills was a weaker piece of brainwashing than Just One Drop but the believers in the scant audience were nodding along.  The use of the title was an effort to take one of the phrases used by skeptics and turn it into a hypnotic anchor for the believers.  I was keeping a tally of all the mentions of "it works", all the testimonials by lay people, medical professionals and PhD's, and all the conversion stories.  These are the standard approaches of homeopaths in getting people to believe.  In the future it might be worth tracking "magic pills" references.  Skeptics should be aware that believers may have been brainwashed to specifically resist the terms that they are using.  Repetition is one of the essential tools of hypnosis/brainwashing.  I had to leave before the end which could be have been more powerful than the anti-skeptic lead-in, but I confess I did not regret leaving.  I had to take a shower when I got home.