Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Case of the Bad Friend

As often happens in Ask Polly columns we do not know enough about the letter writer to offer an intelligent, well-reasoned response. This never deters Polly herself, because she prefers running off at length about herself… about which she thinks she knows a great deal.

Today’s letter writer, Bad Friend, is wondering whether she is an asshole. She has many friends and seems to be likeable and outgoing. Yet, she does not to make plans to see her friends. She wants to be alone. Apparently, she has a Greta Garbo complex and wants to be left alone.

As it happens, she is married to a woman, with whom she presumably lives. Whether her spouse, who plays the extrovert to her introvert, leaves her alone… we do not know. Extroverts are not known for leaving you alone.

The writer merely wants to do her work, but we do not know what her work is. All we know is that she does not like to make plans.

We would love to know whether she has always avoided making plans or whether she used to make plans, only to have people cancel on her. Obviously, the point is relevant. We do not know anything about it. Bad Friend seems to think that she possesses a character flaw. She ends her letter by saying that maybe she is just an asshole.

Here are some excerpts from the letter:

I love my friends. I know I’m fortunate to have people in my life whom I care about. Most of the time when we hang out, it’s fun. My secret is: I never want to see them.

Here’s how it goes: A friend texts me “Dinner Tuesday?” but Tuesday doesn’t work for me, so it turns into a spiral of scheduling that slowly sucks my lifeblood away, takes me to a dark and twisty GCal hell, and makes me wish I never met this person in the first place. I wish there were a way to say “I like you, but I do not want to make a plan with you. I don’t want to do it Tuesday, I don’t want to do it a week from Tuesday or a month from Tuesday. I want to continue to be friends and not make plans with you.”

When I get a text or an email from a friend asking me to get together my stomach drops. Not because I hate them, but because I don’t want to make a plan. Once someone suggests a Plan, you’re hooked: I can’t say “No” without suggesting another date, I can’t suggest another date without triggering a scheduling vortex, then I look ahead at my calendar and it’s all booked up with Plans with people I don’t even really want to see, and I can’t do my favorite thing, which is to be alone….

I don’t want to lose friendships. I just don’t want to have to be watering them, constantly making plans, in a state of constant social activity. I just want to exist without disappointing anybody. I want to love people but not contort myself to satisfy their arbitrary and inflated expectations of what a “social life” is.

Am I an awful person? How do I manage others’ expectations of me? Most important: How do I say no to drinks without offering an alternate date for drinks? How do I say “Can we not make this plan?” without sounding like an asshole? Or am I an asshole? Should I just accept that I’m an asshole?

Actually, she is an awful person. Or, at least, she is acting like one. We will consider her an awful person until we know more about how reliable her friends are. Conducting friendships and having a social life inevitably involves making plans and coordinating schedules. So does doing a job. Living with another human involves developing couples routines, a division of household labor, and extensive cooperation. If you are living with another person and are marching to  your own drum, you have a problem. And your relationship is in trouble.

Naturally, Polly feels oodles of empathy for Bad Friend. It beats analyzing the issue and groping toward a solution. Polly’s non solution is to be open and honest with her friends, to tell them that she hates to make plans, because they are far less important than her personal solipsistic Self. As Bad Friend knows, and as Polly does not seem to know, if she follows this course of action she will quickly find herself with fewer friends.

I have no real sympathy with someone who is likeable, who is friendly with other people, and who consistently disappoints them by refusing to make plans. 

Yet, you might have noticed that she is living in a one-directional world, where people reach out to her and she refuses to reach back. That is, she rejects their advances. One imagines that some kind of trauma is involved, because refusing to make plans is not normal.

How can she solve this problem, which is an extreme form of social anxiety? How about reaching out to some of these people, becoming the person who is initiating contact rather than the person who feels put upon by people who want to spend some time with her. It beats her current solution: serendipity and a throw of the dice. Someone who does not  want to make places to see friends is, properly speaking, a bad friend.

Today's Gender Neutral Navy

One is not sure what to make of this, so I will report it as written. An anonymous individual wrote to Robert Stacy McCain, author of a blog called The Other McCain to explain what happened when the U.S.S. Fitzgerald was hit by a Philippine container ship in June, 2017. (Via Instapundit) Seven sailors lost their lives in the accident.

The captain and two admirals were held responsible, but press reports failed to remark on the officers in charge at the time of the accident. Why do you suppose that that is?

Well, here are some excerpts from the letter:

… it was noteworthy that the captain and a couple of admirals were publically named, but not the actual officer in charge, the officer of the deck. (OOD) The other person who should have kept the Fitz out of trouble is the person in charge of the combat information center, the Tactical Action Officer. That individual is supposed to be monitoring the combat radar, which can detect a swimmer at a distance of two miles. 

Why were the OOD and the TAO not named?

The OOD was named Sarah, and the Tactical Action Officer was named Natalie, and they weren’t speaking to each other!!! The Tactical Action Officer would normally be in near constant communication with the OOD, but there is no record of any communication between them that entire shift! 

Another fun fact: In the Navy that won WWII, the damage control officers were usually some of the biggest and strongest men aboard, able to close hatches, shore up damaged areas with timbers, etc. The Fitz’s damage control officer was also a woman, and she never left the bridge. She handled the aftermath of the accident remotely, without lifting a finger herself! 

Look it up: The OOD was Sarah Coppock, Tactical Action Officer was Natalie Combs.

What did the Navy investigation conclude?

In an 11-hour hearing, prosecutors painted a picture of Lt. Irian Woodley, the ship’s surface warfare coordinator, and Lt. Natalie Combs, the tactical action officer, as failing at their jobs, not using the tools at their disposal properly and not communicating adequately. They became complacent with faulty equipment and did not seek to get it fixed, and they failed to communicate with the bridge, the prosecution argued. Had they done those things, the government contended, they would have been able to avert the collision.

Is there a deeper meaning? Does it have anything to do with diversity quotas?

That three of the officers — Coppock, Combs and Woodley — involved in this incident were all female suggests that discipline and training standards have been lowered for the sake of “gender integration,” which was a major policy push at the Pentagon during the Obama administration. It may be that senior officers, knowing their promotions may hinge on tenthusiastic support for “gender integration,” are reluctant to enforce standards for the women under their command.

Now that we know what happened and why it happened, we would also like to know whether the Navy has changed policy. Don’t count on it.

We note that the story has been carefully covered up by all media outlets.

A Blow for Human Rights

The big secret about the United Nations Human Rights Council is that it does not care about human rights. Those who are bemoaning America’s exit from the council are so simple minded that they believe America is no longer interested in promoting human rights.

What is the UN Human Rights Council? It’s a cabal containing some of the world’s worst human rights abusers. It is mostly concerned with attacking Israel and, by proxy, the United States. If you believe that American should continue to be part of the council, you are countenancing an organization that promotes worldwide anti-Semitism.

Imagining that the UN HRC promotes or advances human rights is absurd to the point of being risible.

Yesterday, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced America’s withdrawal at the State Department, in the company of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. For those who care about symbolism and the like, the structure of the announcement showed that Haley was not a lone ranger: she was acting in accord with State Department policy.

Pompeo had a few choice words of his own:

Mr. Pompeo said the Council had a poor record of defending human rights and criticized it for allowing some of the world’s worst offenders, including Iran and Venezuela, to remain as members.

“The Council has failed in its stated objective,” Mr. Pompeo said, calling it an “exercise in shameless hypocrisy.”

And also:

On Tuesday, Mr. Pompeo used the same terms to criticize the U.N. body. “The Council’s continued and well documented bias against Israel is unconscionable,” he said.

As for Nikki Haley, she said:

Ms. Haley called it a “hypocritical and self-serving” organization that protects rights abusers, and a “cesspool of political bias.”

She continued:

Ms. Haley has spoken out frequently against the U.N. Human Rights Council and on Tuesday denounced what she called its “chronic bias against Israel.” Ms. Haley complained that the Council has issued more resolutions condemning Israel than North Korea, Iran and Syria combined.

The New York Times offered this in a news story:

It was the first time a member has voluntarily left the United Nations Human Rights Council. The United States now joins Iran, North Korea and Eritrea as the only countries that refuse to participate in the council’s meetings and deliberations.

Thereby it is suggesting that the United States is joining tyrants and despots in rejecting the noble cause of human rights. In truth, as the Times also noticed, the Trump administration is refusing to collude with and to legitimate an organization that systematically persecutes Israel, that holds it up to opprobrium for no reason other than pure bigotry.

One might say that the United States just struck a blow against the oldest of bigotries. Naturally, those who pretend to support human rights are appalled.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The End of the ACLU

In a recent article Alan Dershowitz, former board member of the American Civil Liberties Union decries the radicalization of that organization. No longer willing to promote civil liberties, it has transformed itself into a political advocacy group, promoting leftist policies and candidates.

Dershowitz writes:

The director of the American Civil Liberties Union has now acknowledged what should have been obvious to everybody over the past several years: that the ACLU is no longer a neutral defender of everyone’s civil liberties; it has morphed into a hyper-partisan, hard-left political advocacy group. The final nail in its coffin was the announcement that for the first time in its history the ACLU would become involved in partisan electoral politics, supporting candidates, referenda and other agenda-driven political goals.

Why has it happened?

If you want to know the reason for this shift, just follow the money. ACLU contributors, including some of its most generous contributors, are strong anti-Trump zealots who believe that the end (getting rid of Trump) justifies any means (including denying Trump and his associates core civil liberties and due process).

When the Trump administration seems to deny civil liberties the ACLU ought rightly to criticize it Yet, the ACLU has become an extremist organization whose purpose is to end the Trump presidency.

Trump himself has denied fundamental civil liberties by his immigration policies, his attitude and actions regarding the press, and his calls for criminal investigations of his political enemies. The ACLU will criticize those actions as it should. But the Trump presidency has also pushed the ACLU further to the left and into partisan politics. President Trump is so despised by contributors to the ACLU that they have increased their contributions, but also demanded that the ACLU be on the forefront of ending the Trump presidency, either through impeachment, criminal prosecution or electoral defeat.

One cannot help but be amused and horrified by the notion that the ACLU wants to overturn the results of a fair election… in the name of liberty and democracy.

Who Runs American Foreign Policy?

You have read it here before, on several occasions. The Trump-Kim negotiation for North Korean denuclearization was orchestrated by Chinese president Xi Jinping. The reason was simple. Trump and Xi made a deal. In exchange for Xi’s help—which Trump praised lavishly—Trump would do Xi a favor in return. 

When Xi asked Trump to help save Chinese telecom giant, ZTE, Trump graciously acceded to the request.  It was a simple quid pro quo, the kind the forges relationships between governments and between people.

Writing in the Asia Times, Spengler explained it:

American diplomacy achieved a landmark result in Trump’s Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un, offering the repugnant North Korean leader legitimacy and the prospect of regime continuity in return for his nuclear weapons program.

The president’s “Art of the Deal” negotiating style had less to do with the constructive outcome than old-fashioned diplomacy under the skillful guidance of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: Consultation with allies, back-channel exchanges with the other side, and a proposal that both sides could live with. Asia Times published on June 10 former South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-Kwan’s guide to getting a “yes” from Pyongyang, and a Pompeo adviser told me that South Korean insights were incorporated into the American initiative.

The Korean deal also entailed some quiet trade-offs with China. Importantly, President Trump intervened personally to rescind the Commerce Department’s late-April ban on American chip sales to China’s second-largest telecom equipment company ZTE, in retaliation for ZTE’s violation of sanctions against Iran and North Korea. ZTE’s mobile handsets use Qualcomm chips, and a ban on chip sales would shut the company down.

What was the ZTE deal?

On the president’s initiative, the Commerce Department instead negotiated a $1.9-billion fine, changes in ZTE management, and the imposition of American compliance controls on the company’s operations. That was a severe penalty and an unprecedented assertion of American control over the operations of a Chinese company, but a deal that both sides could live with.

It sounded reasonable. Administration figures, like Peter Navarro, have explained the deal explicitly. Yet, key senators, led by Marco Rubio have been trying to sabotage it:

Now the US Senate has sought to sabotage Trump’s ZTE deal, by embedding a ban on US chip sales to ZTE in the national defense authorization act – despite intensive lobbying by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other administration officials.

Perhaps it made sense to call him little Marco.

Spengler explains that the Rubio foreign policy theory holds that America should promote democracy and overthrow authoritarian leaders. It is positively Wilsonian in its thrust. It was promoted by George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Rubio remains a utopian who thinks that the object of US foreign policy is to bring down authoritarian regimes and to replace them with democracies.

Worse yet, some Trump advisers, Spengler explains, believed that shutting down ZTE would destabilize the Xi Jinping regime. They are making a large mistake:

Some of Trump’s advisers believe that shutting down ZTE would destabilize the Zi Xinping regime. “I want to shut ZTE down so that 75,000 unemployed engineers demonstrate against the government in Bejing,” a former administration official told me. The usual suspects among the neo-conservative punditeska, for example the perennial predictor of China’s collapse Gordon Chang, accuse Trump of crumbling before Chinese demands.

Yes indeed, Gordon Chang has been predicting the collapse of China for at least two decades now. The fact that he has been consistently wrong has not prevented him from becoming a great authority on China and Asia.

Do we really believe, Spengler suggests, that American democracy will cure all of the world’s ills:

The complaint among the foreign policy elite that Trump is crude and unsophisticated has a perverse element of truth: It takes enormous intellectual sophistication to convince one’s self that American democracy is a universal panacea for the world’s political problems and the inevitable goal of human progress. The foreign policy establishment is not stupid, but only psychotic.

As of now, the Senate has passed the appropriation bill with the attack on ZTE. The House appropriation bill does not contain it. If it goes through, the reaction will not necessarily be in our best interest:

If the Senate passes the defense appropriation bill with the ZTE bomb, and Trump is unable to excise it by presidential veto or other means, Beijing will draw the conclusion that the president no longer is in control of US foreign policy. Instead, it will confront an adversary that does not want to achieve this or that particular policy objective, but rather wants to undermine the regime. Its first response will be to mobilize national resources to achieve independence in semiconductor production as quickly as possible, replacing its $220 billion a year in chip imports with domestic substitutes.

And also:

Rather than a tariff war, the world will face a disruption of the global supply chain, major dislocations in high-technology trade, shocks to pricing, and a return to national autarky in a number of economic policies. The result will be ugly in economic terms, and it will raise strategic tensions everywhere in the world. Hard to imagine an American policy initiative stupider than its attempt to export democracy to Iraq, this will go down as the dumbest thing America ever did.

One cannot help but agree that the Rubio rider is among the dumbest things America ever did. Its attempt to undermine the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy and to undermine his successful summit with North Korea speaks ill of little Marco.

Trump vs. the Old World Order

Among the articles of faith in the Church of the Liberal Pieties is this: Donald Trump is destroying the liberal world order by downgrading his relationship with the European Union and especially with its Western leaders: Germany, France and Great Britain. The horror if it all!

Now, Jochen Bittner, an editor of the German newspaper Die Zeit explains that Trump has a point. He argues in a New York Times op-ed that European countries have been free-riding on America for decades now. It makes sense that Trump would want to halt to the exploitation.

You have not heard this point of view very often, so it is worth noting:

Mr. Trump’s anger at America’s allies embodies, however unpleasantly, a not unreasonable point of view, and one that the rest of the world ignores at its peril: The global world order is unbalanced and inequitable. And unless something is done to correct it soon, it will collapse, with or without the president’s tweets.

While the West happily built the liberal order over the past 70 years, with Europe at its center, the Americans had the continent’s back. In turn, as it unravels, America feels this loss of balance the hardest — it has always spent the most money and manpower to keep the system working.

The Europeans have basically been free riders on the voyage, spending almost nothing on defense, and instead building vast social welfare systems at home and robust, well-protected export industries abroad. Rather than lash back at Mr. Trump, they would do better to ask how we got to this place, and how to get out.

These nations are being protected militarily by America. They have used the freed-up cash to build lavish social welfare states.

Bittner explains:

All those German politicians who oppose raising military spending from a meager 1.3 percent of gross domestic product should try to explain to American students why their European peers enjoy free universities and health care, while they leave it up to others to cover for the West’s military infrastructure.

As for the G-7, the European Union favors German manufacturers while making it impossible for American companies to compete:

At the Group of 7, for example, the constituent countries are described as all equals. But in reality, the union puts a thumb on the scales in its members’ favor: It is a highly integrated, well-protected free-trade area that gives a huge leg up to, say, German car manufacturers while essentially punishing American companies who want to trade in the region.

China too has been exploiting the good will of the West:

China’s unchecked abuse of the global free-trade regime makes a mockery of the very idea that the world can operate according to a rules-based order. Again, while many in the West have talked the talk about taking on China, only Mr. Trump has actually done something about it.

You may or may not like Trump’s approach, but he is addressing a real problem.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Case of the Amoral Neighbor

What have we become? So asks Carolyn Hax in the Washington Post when responding to a letter where a woman shows a shockingly amoral cruelty.

The letter writer, K., is facing something of a moral dilemma, one that is entirely of her own making. Her problem is: she has no moral compass. She has descended to the ranks of degenerate money grubbing souls who lack decency or dignity. It has cost her a friend. One suspects that this is not the first friend she has lost.

Hax berates her in the strongest terms. It's not about what is healthy and therapeutic; it's about what constitutes good behavior by a person with character.

K. writes this

Three of us ladies planned a trip to New York for two nights to see shows. We reserved a hotel room to share among us. Train and theater tickets were purchased ahead of time.

Several days before our planned departure, one person backed out because a relative was near death, and she needed to fly across country to be with him. When the remaining two of us asked her to pay her portion of the hotel bill, she refused. She played the "sympathy" card saying she was already out the train and theater tickets as well as the cost of flying to see her relative, and we should have empathy and not expect her to pay her part of the room. We told her we were sorry for her situation, but she had made a commitment and we expected her to honor it. Now she has severed our friendship. How do I handle this? She lives next door!

Of course, honoring your commitments counts among the most important ethical obligations. If you don’t do so, you are not long for polite society. But, treating your neighbor like trash does not make you a good person. Remember the advice: love they neighbor as thyself. Well, K. doesn’t know it or thinks that money is more important.

As Hax points out, circumstances exist where we would never consider requiring anyone to keep their word. If you are laid up in the ER, for having been hit by a truck, no sensible person will hold you to your commitment to attend the recital. No one.

When you need to go back on your word, because of circumstances beyond your control, the person to whom you made the promise, will normally and graciously relieve you of the obligation. It's a duty that correlates with the one that requires you to be good to your word.

K. did not do so. K. is a moral degenerate of the first order.

Hax goes after her:

Do you know how callous you sound?

Is this what we have become? Is it okay now to assume everyone’s working an angle and we all just grab what we can for ourselves?

Your friend was dealing with a relative’s death. Yes, she made a commitment, but a death in the family is widely considered a legitimate excuse. (Top 3! at least.)

Here is how you handle that: “I am so sorry. We’ll miss you. Don’t worry about the hotel, obviously — and let us know what else we can do.” Yes, you got stuck paying more, but you got more space, too. You also had “several days” to try to renegotiate or rebook your room.

Note the last phrase. The ladies do have the opportunity to book another room or to renegotiate the price. Duh. This makes K. an insensitive, uncaring moral basket case.

Hax continues:

You don’t feel bad for her; you feel bad only for you. In fact, feelings came up only because you were annoyed that she asked you to have them.

If you now grasp this and regret it on any level, then walk next door to apologize for letting the battery die on your humanity. I don’t see an apology working unless you mean it, and it might not even if you do, but it’s the right move regardless.

For the record, if I were this neighbor, I would have paid you your third and then severed the friendship just to tie off the ends. But that’s neither here nor there.

Is it not striking that K. feels nothing for the woman’s whose relative is dying? She pays lip service to the calamity the woman is dealing with, but only feels for herself. Perhaps she has done so much therapy that she has become completely self-absorbed and self-involved. 

Hax is correct to recommend a sincere apology, accompanied with something resembling a friendship gift.

But, if Hax were the other woman, she would have paid for the room and ended the friendship. Good advice, accompanied by moral clarity.