Goop is a Public-Health Hazard

On February 3rd, the New York Times ran an ill-advised op-ed titled “Who’s Afraid of Gwinnett Paltrow and Goop?” By Elisa Albert and Jennifer Block. The article argued, in essence, that criticism of Goop is misogynistic because it stinks of historical trends in which science (read: men stuff) was deployed to destroy the legitimacy of midwifery and holistic treatments (read: women stuff). While that trend did indeed exist, and it still does, the attacks on Goop and its matriarch are not part of this pattern; to suggest that these situations are analogous legitimizes the hokum of Goop and puts more women in danger.

Here’s how Albert and Block make their argument. They start out by stating that “Yes, the rich, willowy blonde at Goop’s helm is an easy target.” This statement suggests that Paltrow is a target because she is a successful woman. That’s an absurd statement, because Paltrow and Goop are assailed based on the fact that the products peddled are outrageously expensive, make absurd claims about the results they deliver, and can be dangerous.

These products are not the same as their example of “kissing a boo-boo” because that simple act, which comforts a child without bringing any medical treatment to a cut or a scrape, is an act that is both free and harmless, assuming the parent kissing the boo-boo doesn’t have any open sores on his or her or their face.

The authors write: “criticism of Goop is founded, at least in part, upon deeply ingrained reserves of fear, loathing, and ignorance about things we cannot see, touch, authenticate, prove, or quantify.” Really? I’m not afraid of “G.Tox” that has “detoxifying superpower.” (Well, I am mildly afraid of the $60 price tag for 30 .05-ounce packets.)

It’s not fear that leads me to think this is ridiculous bullshit. It’s the fact that I, like the rest of humans who are alive, was born with a liver. The human body can detoxify itself. That is literally what the liver does. Bilking vulnerable people, who may or may not have the disposable income to afford these products, is borderline criminal behavior.

What crime, you ask? Fraud.

This same product, “G.Tox,” claims that milk thistle is “essential” for detoxifying your body of things such as alcohol. Yeah, but not really, because we have alcohol dehydrogenase for that.

The authors then compare the infamous “yoni egg” bullshit—you remember, when Goop urged women to put jade eggs up their vaginas—with the vaginal mesh and Essure tragedies. Both of those medical products had painful and sometimes fatal results for women. And, they note, that the jade eggs resulted in zero reports of “causing anybody harm.” But they could have, because jade is porous and therefore shoving a jade egg up your vagina for any length of time could have caused potentially fatal toxic shock syndrome.

All this is okay, though, because Goop offers people “heightened states of awareness and emotion,” at least according to the authors of this article.

The problem with this last view is that the products sold on Goop, especially the exorbitantly priced supplements, don’t offer “heightened awareness and emotion.” Rather, they offer tangible results.

Alex Jones, the fucknut who runs InfoWars, peddles similar snake oil on his website. He sells a small vial of liquid B12 for $50. And, like Gwyneth’s G.Tox, Alex Jones sells a product that “neutralizes the bad stuff in your body”….which sounds an awful lot like detoxing, right?

Is Goop good and InfoWars bad because Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t a right-wing, misogynistic wack job? Or, would the authors endorse Jones’s products? If not, Elisa Albert and Jennifer Block should reconsider their endorsement of the corrupt ways in which Goop encourages women to part with large quantities of their money.

Science—real science, that uses double-blind trials and insists upon replicating studies in order to confirm results—isn’t perfect. Someday people will look at chemotherapy and think it’s barbaric. Still, it’s the best treatment for cancer that we have right now. Science isn’t perfect and it isn’t as objective as some people would like to believe. But science relies on methodology and empirical evidence.

And by the way, there is nothing inherently “masculine” about the need for evidence. To suggest otherwise is to reify disgusting misogynistic stereotypes that associate female with emotion and male with rationality.

Comparing the Holocaust with Abortion

When I taught a course on the Holocaust at the University of Wisconsin, I had a student who sent me an email that read something akin to: “Hi Prof. Weinstein, In class tomorrow I’m going to compare the Holocaust with abortion, because there are so many babies being murdered every year and I think it’s worth talking about. I just wanted to let you know.”

I was quite fond of the student who sent the email, and I was shocked to receive it. I replied, “Thanks for the heads up on this. I obviously can’t stop you from doing this if you feel you must, but I want to caution you of a couple of things: First, you are in a class with many young women, some of whom may have had abortions, and you’re essentially comparing them with Hitler. Second, we are in a very liberal city and you are likely to be on the receiving end of a lot of anger, and so the discussion is likely to be unproductive. Third, I find this comparison to be both without historical merit and morally distasteful.”

The student decided not to bring up the comparison in class. But she did tell me that she was praying for me and my moral stance on the issue.

***

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. And, on Twitter, some foul people are using this occasion to make this same comparison, such as the woman who responded to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s statement against antisemitism by saying:

“I listened to a survivor on the bbc this morning speaking about babies being ripped from their mothers arms and killed [during the Holocaust]. Horrific. It had shades of today’s world, where 42,000,000 babies were killedand [sic] ripped from their mother’s [sic] wombs last year. Evil still walks the earth.” —@RosaleenMaguir1

This phrasing is particularly foul because the comparison is an “apples-to-apples” equation of the (mostly, but not exclusively) Jewish women who had their babies and children taken from them and/or murdered in front of their eyes; and women who choose to have an abortion because they cannot have a baby or do not want one, for whatever reason they choose.

Abortion is not genocide. The Nazis orchestrated a state-sponsored attempt to “exterminate” Jews from the earth. They deployed the vast machinery of the state in order to accomplish this goal—established as an official goal, in all probability, at the Wannsee Conference in the summer of 1942. There were gas chambers; Einsatzgruppen, or mobile killing squads that operated primarily in the Soviet Union; gas vans; indiscriminate murders on the streets; mass starvations in places like the ghettos in Warsaw and Łódź; “medical” torture by people like Josef Mengele; and countless other horrific killing methods.

Abortion is an individual’s choice, not a state-sponsored mass killing. In some cases, forced abortion (I.e., the woman is compelled to have an abortion when she wants to have the baby) can be used as a tool of genocide or ethnic cleansing. But an individual woman’s choice to have an abortion does not make her as “evil” as Adolf Hitler.

Abortion is not murder. Abortion is a legal medical procedure that often saves a woman’s life. Take the X Case in Ireland, for example. Or, the many abortions that are performed when women have ectopic pregnancies. Or abortions that are performed when a woman already has 4 children and cannot emotionally or financially afford to have any more. Or a woman who chooses to have an abortion so that she can finish high school, or make partner at her law firm.

All of those are legitimate medical choices, and they don’t make a woman “Hitler.” Shaming women who want an abortion by equating them with Hitler is overt misogyny and an attempt to control women’s choices by controlling their fertility.

And no, the doctors who perform abortions aren’t “Hitler,” either.

Private Schools are F*cked

The New York Times ran a story on 1/11 that Fieldston had fired a Jewish, transgender history teacher for remarks made online and at school that were critical of Israel. The teacher, Dr. Brager, referred to Israel as a “colonial” “ethnostate.” They were fired for being antisemitic. This incident brings into sharp focus the difficulty of being a history teacher at private schools in the United States in the age of Trump and the climate of intense identity politics. As a former private-school history teacher, I can tell you that firing these teachers does not help students. Firing teachers for their politics demeans the intellectual abilities of young people, when we should be empowering kids by teaching them to question authority.

History is an inherently political discipline. Even if a teacher never overtly expresses an opinion in class, students and colleagues can still ascertain her political viewpoint. What events does the teacher include in her curriculum? Does she spend a full month teaching about the rich history of indigenous peoples in the Americas to start off a United States history course? Maybe she makes sure to include the role of women in every event, rather than saying “And also there were women but they just stayed at home.” Does the teacher explain that the Civil War was caused by slavery (yes) or “state’s rights” (no)? Does a World History course focus on Europe? Does the teacher use a Peters projection map in class, or keep to the Euro-centric Mercator map? All of these choices indicate a political point of view, without ever saying anything. 

But teachers of history are expected to address current events. On an almost-daily basis when I was teaching history at three different elite, expensive prep schools, kids asked me questions about American and/or world politics. When Scotland held it’s referendum to leave the United Kingdom, I replied to a student’s question about the issue by giving an answer about British imperialism and nationalism that directly showed my views on the subject, and moreover on British presence in the north of Ireland (which I oppose; I am by trade an Ireland expert). 

Questions about American politics are stickier. I have been asked about Trump’s “Muslim ban”; students have asked me to explain constitutional issues about Supreme Court cases such as Masterpiece Cakeshop (the “gay cake” case) and Roe v. Wade. I am a very vocal supporter (just look at my Twitter feed) of LGBTQ+ rights and of abortion rights, and while I explained the constitutional issues involved in those cases, I honestly made no effort to hide the morally correct stance. There are few issues in the United States, within and without education, that are more of a lightning rod than abortion—but one of those, especially in New York, is the state of Israel. 

Indeed, Riverdale Country School, down the road from Fieldston, lost two teachers who also took a stand on the human rights of Palestinians. I am a Jewish woman who supports the right of Israel to exist and of Israelis to live peacefully and freely. But, surely we can all agree that assertions that Palestinian civilians deserve the same rights is not an antisemitic statement? Apparently not at New York City’s private schools. 

To be sure, I have never worked at Fieldston, and I don’t know Dr. Brager. But I do know the ins and outs of New York City’s private schools. And it is abundantly clearly that Dr. Brager was fired because powerful parents didn’t like the way they were doing their job—not because they were a “bad” teacher. I have seen many teachers lose their jobs for similar reasons—including myself. And because there is no standardized process, with oversight from a state board of education, for dismissing teachers—and because all teaching contracts at private schools are “at will” contracts—schools can sack teachers for whatever reason they want. And, believe me, schools absolutely fire excellent teachers for personal and political reasons. They probably fire teachers for such reasons more often than they fire teachers for being bad teachers. 

Teaching history is an extremely important job, and it’s one that is frequently diminished in our STEM-obsessed society. Historians, after all, don’t usually found start-ups that make billions of dollars; you don’t choose history as your life’s work because you want to be a millionaire. But teaching history helps young people to understand the world they live in, figure out what their values are, and articulate those values in oral and written formats. History courses help shape active global citizens. 

So schools should not fire teachers because they don’t like a particular point of view expressed in class. Students can and should question their teachers—especially in the United States, where the right and, indeed the duty, to question authority is an important national value. There is a vast difference between saying something racist or antisemitic, and suggesting that Israel’s governmental policies mistreat Palestinians. Criticizing a government is not de facto a form of hatred of the Jewish people, though in some cases, yes, criticism of Israel can be antisemitism wrapped up in a more palatable package. Is criticizing Donald Trump code for hating America? Some people think so, but few of those people work at New York City’s private schools. 

Stop firing teachers for their political viewpoints, and start teaching our children to question authority. This kind of education will empower them in the present and the future

Reform the Senate like the House of Lords

All 100 senators have sworn an oath to be impartial jurors in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. Yet the chances that any senator will be genuinely impartial are so minuscule that they cannot be measured with any existing mathematical methods. As a result, despite overwhelming evidence—that continues to emerge, even as the trial begins—that the president committed high crimes and misdemeanors, the Senate will acquit Trump of the two articles of impeachment passed by the House of Representatives. 

This trial is an affront to democracy. But, because it takes place in the Senate, it couldn’t be any different; the Senate is an anti-democratic institution, and it was designed to be. As a result, the most tangible steps that our elected representatives can take to restore American democracy involve reforming the Senate. And we needn’t look far for a model. We need merely follow the example set by the reform of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords.

For centuries, the House of Lords, composed of the Lords Spiritual (clergy) and Temporal (nobility), was more powerful than the House of Commons. The latter was an elected body, although the franchise was quite limited until a series of acts in the nineteenth century gradually expanded the electorate, and then a dramatic expansion in the twentieth century when women were given the right to vote. 

The members of the House of Lords (called peers) enjoyed a large and permanent Conservative Party majority. Regardless of the wishes of the House of Commons, the Lords held veto power over bills passed by the “lower” house. As recently as the Marquess of Salisbury in 1902, prime ministers were chosen from the Lords. As more people gained the vote, the Commons gained power and prestige—but still, it remained subject to the reactionary will of the peers. Many dramatic historic battles resulted from the clashing desires of the Lords and the Commons. Perhaps this scenario sounds familiar to you, because we see it today between the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and the GOP-controlled Senate.

But, the MPs resolved their problem by forcing the Lords to give up power in order to preserve the integrity of their auspicious body. In the early years of the twentieth century, the Liberal-controlled Commons battled the Conservative Lords. In a row over David Lloyd George’s “People’s Budget,” the Commons threatened to pack the House of Lords with Liberal peers unless the Lords relinquished power. In the Parliament Act of 1911, the Lords agreed that they could only delay legislation—they could no longer prevent its passage. In 1911, the Act allowed the peers to delay bills for three sessions and up to two years. The Act also revoked the authority of the Lords to reject money bills. After WWII, Clement Attlee’s Labour government reduced those periods to two sessions and one year, via the Parliament Act of 1949. The House of Lords lost its teeth. 

By making the House of Commons the dominant governing body in the United Kingdom, the government enhanced democracy in its territory (notwithstanding its colonies and, to this day, the undemocratic government in the north of Ireland). The 650 members of the Commons are responsive to the people in a way that the Lords could never be. In this parliamentary system, the majority party or majority coalition is almost always in power (minority governments can occur, but they are rare and happen only in special circumstances). This model of democracy should serve the United States when we undertake the inevitable task of reforming our own system.

To be sure, the analogy isn’t perfect. The Senate is an elected body, and the House of Lords never was. Plus, the British Constitution is not a written document, and it is thus easier to reform. But that is a key point in itself: the United States is subject to a dictatorship of the Framers, who set a high bar for amending the Constitution (though admittedly not as high as the bar for amending the Articles of Confederation, which is one key reason why our first governing document failed). 

The Framers designed the Senate to be anti-democratic. The body is the result of the so-called Great Compromise, that allowed less populous states and larger states to sign on to the same document. (A compromise for a similar purpose over a disagreement related to representation and taxation led to the compromise that resulted in the shameful “3/5 clause” that counted enslaved black people as 3/5 of a person, so we should be careful about lauding Constitutional compromises.) Until the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, voters did not directly elect senators; rather, state legislators chose the senators. The Framers did not trust common people to make intelligent, informed decisions when voting. Thus, they vested more power in the less democratic body. 

According to the Constitution Center, James Madison argued in Federalist #39 that the House of Representatives represents “the people of the nation at large and the Senate represent[s] the residual sovereignty of the states” thereby making the government “part national” and “part federal.” Yet the small country comprised primarily of Thomas Jefferson’s idyllic virtuous small farmers is not the nation we know in 2020, and indeed, the Senate does not function in the way that James Madison—an opponent of the Great Compromise before he argued in favor of it—envisioned it.

Today we are reaping the whirlwind. The population of the United States is not evenly distributed over all fifty states, yet each state still has two senators. In terms of pure numbers, there is a substantial liberal or center-left majority in the US as demonstrated by the elections in 2016 and 2018 and virtually every opinion poll on Donald Trump. Vast numbers of those left-leaning citizens live in the northeast and on the west coast, with large pockets in urban centers throughout the country. Thus, like the House of Lords of old, the United States Senate has a built-in and nearly permanent Republican/Conservative majority. And this majority exercises veto power over legislation passed by the House of Representatives. The representatives of the minority thwart the will of the majority in the United States—the very definition of anti-democratic. 

How can Americans reform our government in order to restore a semblance of democracy and regain our status as a shining “city upon a hill,” a model of democracy for countries around the world to emulate? Following the example of the UK, we must neuter the Senate, and give more power to the House of Representatives, the body that is closer and more responsive to the citizenry. 

We could split up populous states such as California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania and continue to give each state two senators. Doing so will go a long way toward evening out the number of people each senator represents, and balancing out the electoral college in the process, so that my vote in New York counts the same as someone’s vote in Wyoming. 

We could reform the Senate so that it only has the power to delay legislation from the House of Representatives, and cannot impede money bills, as the parliament of the UK did in 1911 and 1949. But without a simultaneous reform of the electoral college, a minority president could merely veto legislation passed by Congress. 

Or we could scrap our system—and our Constitution—altogether and call a new Constitutional convention in order to create a government that fits the modern world that we live in. Despite the many scholars and pundits who laud the eternal wisdom of the Framers to create a Constitution that can evolve over time, we are still subjected to the “wisdom” of the eighteenth century when the country was comparatively tiny in terms of territory and population; when women and people of color were not citizens; when advocates for unregulated speech and guns could not foresee the Internet or automatic weapons. 

We need a new Constitutional convention—and I challenge every candidate for president to stand up and declare that she or he will call for one if elected president of these United States. 

In that new system, perhaps President Trump could receive a trial from an impartial jury. He won’t receive one as the system exists today—and our democracy will continue to wither on the vine as a result.