JOANNA ELM, Author, Journalist, Attorney

9 Best News Articles of 2017

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There is no way I could write this post without including an article (or two) about #MeToo and the sexual harassment scandal that erupted with Hollywood Fat Boy, Harvey Weinstein at its centre. You may be surprised, however, by the articles I’ve picked –one of which prompted me to think back 40 years to a cab ride I shared in New York City with actor Dustin Hoffman.

In the very best of the articles I’ve read on #MeToo, Claire Berlinski in The American Interest,  writes that the #MeToo movement has morphed into a moral panic that poses as much danger to women as it does to men.”

She quotes actress Natalie Portman : “When I heard everything coming out , I was like wow, I’m so lucky that I haven’t had this. And then […] on reflection, I was like , Oh wait, I have 100 stories […] of things that we just took for granted as like, this is part of the process.”

Replaying Flirtations

Berlinski posits that, like Portman, she could also “replay” in her mind “interchanges” which would meet “the highly elastic contemporary definition of ‘harassment,’ a category vague enough to encompass all  the typical flirtation that brings joy and amusement to so many of our lives.” The main point of her very readable, analytical article being that “we are fostering a climate [in which] it is rational for men to have as little to do with women as possible. What’s in this for us?” she asks.

Dustin & Me

I confess I’ve done the “replaying” thing too. But, looking back over three solid decades in the male-dominated newspaper and TV news business, I could not remember anything that I would have described as “harassment” (certainly, not the real, serious kind that warrants punishment.) Then, Dustin Hoffman joined the ranks of the accused alongside Weinstein and Matt Lauer.

“C’mon, think,” I told myself. “What about you and Dustin? You were in a cab together. Just the two of you.” True, we were. Back in 1979, I interviewed Hoffman for Woman’s Own, a British magazine – just before the opening of his movie Kramer vs. Kramer. After the interview which occurred at a Manhattan hotel (in a conference room) chosen by the movie publicist, Dustin and I shared a cab uptown. Don’t ask me to remember how that happened. Did the publicist suggest it? Did Dustin? I have no idea now.

So, what happened in the cab? He must have asked for my phone number at some point because I remember the next day there was a message on my answering machine from him, (and his voice is quite, quite unmistakeable) BUT he addressed me by another woman’s name!!!  Other than that? Nothing. He didn’t even accidentally brush my hand.

It’s All About Power

Interestingly, in one illuminating paragraph, Claire Berlinski writes that she has found much of the male attention showered upon her “amusing.” She reminisces about one of her experiences as a student at Oxford (where her tutor at a drunken Christmas party “danced with me, grabbed a handful of my bum, and slurred, ‘I’ve been dying to do this to Berlinski all term!'”)

Credit: Bloomberg View

“But here is the thing,” she continues. ” I was amused and flattered and thought little of it. I knew full well he’d been dying to do that. He was an Oxford don and so had power over me sensu stricto. I was a 20-year old undergraduate. But I also had power over him — power sufficient to cause a venerable don to make a perfect fool of himself at a Christmas party. Unsurprisingly, I loved having that power. But now I have too much power. I have the power to destroy someone whose tutorials were invaluable to me and shaped my entire intellectual life for the better.”

Bloomberg View columnist, Megan McArdle ( who wrote another of my 2017 favorite articles about Italian Food ) echoes Berlinski’s viewpoint in The Current Sex Panic Harks Back to the Era of Coddling Women. McArdle writes that a “neo-Victorian regime where an accusation is as good as a conviction” will lead men to protect themselves against an economic death penalty by adopting various iterations of the Pence Rule ( avoid being alone, whether at work or in a social situation, with a woman who isn’t your wife as Vice President Mike Pence claims he does) to the detriment of — women.

To be clear, neither Berlinski nor McArdle are in any way dismissive of the current #MeToo movement. Nor would I have enjoyed their articles had they been so. What they present instead are common-sense arguments for not destroying people based on “marginal misbehavior.” Or, as Berlinski puts it, the current airing of the abuse of women in workplaces should not become a “frenzied extrajudicial warlock hunt that does not pause to parse the difference between rape and stupidity.”

 Screenings (Not the Movie Kind)

Three articles in the New York Times Health section confirmed what I have been grousing about for years to any friends who will listen: American doctors perform too many screenings, and too many unnecessary procedures.

I avoid doctors. Haven’t had an annual physical in three years. Have never had a mammogram or colonoscopy. Have never been to a dermatologist. Don’t plan on any of those in the near future, either.  Last year, I reviewed a book which confirmed I was right in my bias against mammograms. This year, Liz Szabo in Too Many Older Patients Get Cancer Screenings confirms that screenings for breast or prostate cancers in patients over a certain age are a waste of time and money — and can lead to unnecessary painful treatment.

Likewise, screenings for skin cancer are dicey procedures. In Skin Cancer Rises Along with Questionable Treatments, Katie Hafner writes that while melanoma, the worst of skin cancers is on the rise, it is still relatively uncommon. On the other hand, the article confirms what many patients experience on a daily basis : Skin cancers that will  never become fatal are being found, and treated as in the case of minuscule skin blemishes which are zapped by physician assistants claiming –without biopsies– that they are pre-cancerous growths.

Pills Please, No Exercise

Finally, some high falutin’ entity, somewhere, decided (probably based on medical studies funded by pharmaceutical companies) to move the goal posts on blood pressure readings.  New guidelines appear to favor medication in order to reduce systolic pressure to 120 (where previously a 130-140 level was considered manageable.) As this New York Times article concluded, most patients will opt to take pills (statins) to control their blood pressure rather than modifying behavior (more exercise) and diet. Another huge win for Big Pharma. Selling more blood pressure medications might make up for the dip in revenue now that opioids are becoming more difficult to sell!

The Other America

Three articles on the poor in America shocked me to the core:  In A Journey Through A Land of Extreme Poverty, a United Nations reporter documents the hardships suffered by American citizens which he saw on a 10-day tour of the U.S. He concluded that upon passage of the tax reform bill, America would become the most unequal society in the entire world.  The second article was the result of an 18-month long investigation into how certain American cities deal with their homeless by simply bussing them out of town. The article looks specifically at what happens when they arrive at their destinations. The third article was the story of a homeless man who died after going to sleep in a dumpster while seeking shelter.

The equally shocking fact about all three articles is that they were published in The Guardian, a British newspaper. I have not seen anything to equal this kind of reporting in any of our newspapers here.

Why? Because it’s fake news? Don’t think so. Go, look at the photos and interviews. Or rather, don’t — unless you have a very, very strong stomach.

Trump, The “Moron” ?

What 2017 roundup would be complete without picking an article, or two, or a 100 about the “moron” (or actually “fucking moron” as Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson allegedly described him) who currently occupies the Oval Office? However, that’s an almost impossible task without excluding the hundreds of articles that I read which were so spot on. What I’ll do instead is quote directly from two articles to show why it’s virtually impossible to focus on any one event/incident/outrage/horror perpetrated by him this year.

In one of her Wall Street Journal columns, Peggy Noonan, observed: “You always want to say [Trump] has reached peak crazy, but you know there’s a higher peak on the horizon.”

And, Guardian columnist, Jonathan Freedland wrote; “2017 saw congeal into a hard fact a two-word phrase that had been part joke, part threat in 2016: President Trump.

“People of the world would start their day by checking to see what new outrage the man in the White House had committed, usually via Twitter […] With Trump, atrocities came too thick and too fast to be processed properly. One thing we learned in 2017 was that politics has a metabolism, and it simply could not digest the level of outrage Trump was generating.”

 

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Happy New Year to all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Another insightful article Joanna! Regarding the #metoo movement, while I’m sure most (if not all) accusations are factual what scares me is how we’ve allowed careers to be ruined by accusation alone. There no longer seems a requirement for proof. The scariest dystopian visions include an absence of the rule of law. Something we should think about in our collective rush to judgment.

  2. Definitely, agree with that, Eldon. Although, so far some of the biggest names who’ve been accused have stepped down/resigned from their positions without making too many protestations of innocence. We’ll see how it unfolds from here?

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