Monday, January 26, 2015

Changing Habits: Who You Are and What You Do

Why is it so difficult to change habits?

Gretchen Rubin explains that changing a habit changes our identity. We are loath to become someone else, even if it means having better habits. It’s one thing to change what you are doing; quite another to change who you are.

If virtue, as Aristotle suggested, involves practicing good habits, the more you practice such habits, the more others will accustom themselves to the new virtuous You.

It is not, Rubin suggests, an automatic transformation. Becoming someone else does not happen overnight.

Rubin explains her thought:

Our idea of “this is the kind of person I am” is so bound up in our habits and actions that it can be hard to see. But our sense of identity can make it easier or harder to change a habit.

Often, habits can’t change until identity changes. For instance, a person identifies as the fun one, the one who says “yes” to everything — but also wants to cut back on drinking. A person identifies as a workaholic, but then wants to work reasonable hours. The identity is incompatible with the change in habits.

James Agee liked to drink and smoke, certainly — but he also considered himself that kind of person. So to change his habits, he had both to stop drinking and smoking, and also “learn to be the kind of person he was not.” But, he wrote, he detests that kind of person! No wonder it was hard for him to change. Change meant fundamentally altering himself to become the kind of person he’d always detested.

Continuing, Rubin suggests that one must change one’s identity before one can change a habit. Agee, however, in the passage she quotes, says that changing the habit came before he learned to be someone else.

She also suggests that we can only change our identity by rewriting our story. Some researchers have recommended the exercise in order to transform ourselves, as Augustine did, from sinner into saint, but most people, I believe, use the exercise to buck up their courage and to continue developing new habits before the benefits become manifest.

Rubin raises several important questions.

I would address them by noting, after Aristotle, that you can only overcome bad habits by replacing them with good habits. Considering that you identify yourself with your habits, you can only develop a new habit by working at it, by struggling against a tendency to retain the familiar bad habits.

Yet, if you try to change your identity before you change your habits, you will fail. Many psychotherapists have proposed that changing a habit requires some kind of prior mental change. The results have invariably been that you change your mind but keep your habits.

It should go without saying, but no one has changed a bad habit by discovering its meaning.

The reason is clear. You are not merely who you think you are. You are not merely who you feel you are. Your identity is based on what you do and on how other people see you.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, you are the only one who can never see your face directly.

If you change a bad habit, other people will for a time still identify you as the person who presented himself with the bad habit. You might decide to clean up your life, but other people will treat you as the person who, for example, drinks and smokes to excess… the life of the party.

If you are the life of the party you will probably receive more than your share of invitations to fun parties. But you will not be hired to do a job and your friends will not want to fix you up with their sisters.

When you abandon a bad habit, those who have known you by your bad habit will resist, even distrust the new You. Only consistently good behavior will persuade people to treat you as someone they can trust and rely on.

The more time this takes, the more you might feel discouraged when people do not catch on. The more you feel discouraged the less you will feel that it is all worth the effort.

It has less to do with self-perception than with the way other people see you and the way they treat you.

In time, your good behavior will become so automatic, so second nature that you will feel that it really is You. Eventually, other people will recalibrate their expectations about you, act differently toward you, introduce you to their sisters and solicit your views on weighty matters.

Put it all together and you will become a new You. If this involves a radical change of identity I think it fair to say that you will have become someone else.

I suspect that you eventually reach what Malcolm Gladwell called a tipping point, where the new habit feels natural and where other people accept it as You.

If I had to venture a guess, I would imagine that the influence of other people is more important than your self-awareness.

One should also to recognize that, among your friends, family and colleagues, some people will more quickly accept the new You while others will remain skeptical.

Evidently, you should put greater stock in the actions of those who trust you than in the derision of those who do not. Thereby, you will build confidence and identify with your new virtuous You.

I close with a few lines from Aristotle. Therein the philosopher argued that you are what you do. You cannot be a builder unless you build something. And you cannot be courageous unless you act courageously.

One might see in this text the foundation of cognitive therapy:

This, then, is the case with the virtues also; by doing the acts that we do in our transactions with other men we become just or unjust, and by doing the acts that we do in the presence of danger, and being habituated to feel fear or confidence, we become brave or cowardly. The same is true of appetites and feelings of anger; some men become temperate and good-tempered, others self-indulgent and irascible, by behaving in one way or the other in the appropriate circumstances. Thus, in one word, states of character arise out of like activities. This is why the activities we exhibit must be of a certain kind; it is because the states of character correspond to the differences between these. It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Women at Work

According to the Economist, Americans believe that women are just as competent as men and that they are equally effective leaders.

The magazine reports:

IN 2015 the promise of gender equality seems closer than ever. A new report by the Pew Research Centre shows that the majority of Americans think women are just as capable of being good political and business leaders as men. They are perceived as indistinguishable from their male peers when it comes to leadership qualities such as intelligence and capacity for innovation. On other qualities—honesty, fairness, compassion and willingness to compromise—many Americans actually judge women as superior.

At first glance, it seems that more and more people have learned the politically correct way to answer survey questions.

None of this considers what choices women would make in living their lives. It does not consider the price that a woman will pay in her personal life if she ascends the corporate hierarchy.

The Economist continues to say that it is thrilled to see “the success of Hillary Clinton.” In truth, no one has been able to explain what precisely she has achieved. It makes more sense to say that her stewardship of American foreign policy was catastrophic. Unless you think that the Arab Spring, the Russian reset, leading from behind in Libya and Benghazi were great successes, the Economist is trafficking in propaganda, not objective evaluation.

Let’s not forget that Mrs. Clinton owes nearly all of her titles to her last name. Besides, how many young women would want her political influence if it meant also having her marriage?

The propagandists will never be satisfied until there are equal numbers of women throughout corporate America, but they do not ask what this would do to women’s lives or to corporate profits.

Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg are convinced that women-run enterprises are better than man-run enterprises, but apparently there are very, very few of them, so we do not know what would happen if all enterprises had an equal number of men and women. And we do not know what would happen to America’s children if they received less maternal attention? If both men and women divided their time between home and work then neither group would really excel in either place.

In a competitive marketplace the man who goes home to do the dishes will most likely lose out to the man whose wife takes charge of the home front. And, the woman who refuses to take responsibility for her home might very well find her marriage threatened by another woman who whispers in her husband's ear one day: If you were my husband, I would never let you change a diaper.

These points seem self-evident. And yet, the Economist blissfully ignores them.

It prefers to live in a world of appearances and prejudices:

According to Pew, the problem is that women still have to do more than men to prove themselves. This finding suggests a troubling assumption—that we still don’t expect women to be able to do what men can do. We allow that it’s possible, but our baseline expectations are that men are more capable. This puts women in the position of having to go above and beyond the standards to which men are held in order to demonstrate their competence.

A pollster might suggest that if survey participants offer two contradictory answers on similar questions, they are hiding their true feelings. While everyone knows to tell pollsters that men and women are equally competent in the workplace, they know from experience that such is not exactly the case.

For example, the polls and the magazine do not explain why most women would rather have male bosses. Is it because they have not seen enough sit-coms with women in charge?

However much everyone thinks men and women are the same, the Economist opines, poll results suggests underlying prejudices:

Research has found that pregnant women are perceived as “less authoritative and more irrational, regardless of their actual performance”. Mothers are often seen as less committed to work than non-mothers. Fathers, meanwhile, are not only viewed as equally competent as men without children, but also significantly more committed to work. As a result, while mothers are often penalised for their family commitments, fathers tend to be “recommended for management training more than men without children.” Researchers describe this phenomenon as a “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus”. And this is without considering some of the complications of parental leave and child care, which disproportionately affect female workers.

Do you believe that a pregnant woman is more or less authoritative?

As it happens, the Economist is contradicting itself. If a pregnant leader is perceived to be less authoritative, then her ability to lead will surely suffer.

You may have noticed, as the Economist hasn’t, that most men and even most women are instinctively driven to protect pregnant women. There are good biological reasons why people do so. They consider pregnancy to be an incapacitating condition and believe that a pregnant woman is more vulnerable. They behave accordingly.

Is the author of this column suggesting that we should cease to provide special consideration and special protection for pregnant women, thus, to let them fend for themselves?

If pregnancy and childbirth were merely ginned up by the patriarchy to keep women out of the boardroom, this assumes that women want to spend less time with their children, even to abandon them to others, in order to occupy a precious seat in the boardroom.

If we are not going to abolish the special consideration that defines maternity leave should we now force men to take paternity leave? Do you think that women would be happy to abandon a helpless infant in order to put in some extra time on that marketing plan? If paternity leave is not mandatory then most men will quickly understand that spending more time on the job and giving more attention to it will give them a competitive advantage over women employees.

And this without even mentioning the point of my previous post: that women have been shown to be more emotionally sensitive than men. This might mean that women are more suited to care for young children.

Unfortunately, and to my surprise, the Economist has no interest in reality. It does not care whether the way people see men and women might have something to do with reality.

More than anything, it believes in appearances. One should note that the belief in appearances and the failure to get in touch with reality is characteristic of Platonic thought.

The magazine is puzzled because so many of those who have been indoctrinated in feminist thinking still refuse to act accordingly. Apparently, reality is more recalcitrant than it imagines.

For all we know, gender disparity is not really a problem. It is only a problem when judged against someone’s ideology.

The Economist thinks it’s a problem and doesn’t want to abandon the ideology. So it explains away the failure to live the ideology by noting that we are not living the idea because we do not see enough women leaders. It sees the problem lying in appearances.

On might note that when Congress investigated the botched Obamacare rollout a couple of years ago nearly all of those in leadership positions were women.

You can say that sexism prevented them from doing a better job, but this draws you dangerously close to saying that women are never responsible for doing a bad job.

Strangely, the magazine suggests that it’s a uniquely American problem. Actually, it’s human history with a few conspicuous exceptions that has failed to live up to its ideology:

Viscerally, Americans resist letting femininity and power go hand-in-hand; a female leader still strikes us as unnatural on an emotional level. At the end of the day, we simply lack enough compelling models for what female power should look like. This should change as more women manage to break into leadership roles. Soon, perhaps, a powerful woman won’t appear threatening or aspirational, but simply normal.

Compelling models of female power—like Hillary Clinton.

But, how many of the women who emulate Hillary Clinton or who want to rise up the corporate hierarchy are interested in enhancing their “femininity.” Didn’t Betty Friedan teach women that femininity is the road to victimhood?

One must note that the magazine does not mention the name of the greatest female political leader in British history: Margaret Thatcher.

Could it be because Thatcher understood herself to be an anomaly? A happy anomaly, of course, but one who found that her ability to lead was enhanced by her surrounding herself entirely with men.

Are Women More Sensitive?

Are women more emotional than men?

Throughout human history most people have reflexively answered in the affirmative.

More recently, certain members of the species have insisted that labeling women as more emotional was part of a cultural conspiracy to keep them in the home and out of the workplace.

When you say that women are more sensitive emotionally you are disrespecting their cognitive capacities and telling them to spend their time dealing with children, thus with people who have a more limited ability to express themselves through language.

Besides, certain human beings will tell you this stereotype of female emotional sensitivity has been concocted by the patriarchy to keep women from their rightful place on the battlefield. If there's anything men dread, it's the woman warrior!

Be all of that as it may, we no longer need to rely on opinion. Brain science has offered a more accurate assessment.

It has concluded that women are more sensitive emotionally, especially to negative images.

The Washington Post reports the story:

Researchers from University of Basel, whose study will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, found that women rated positive and negative images as more emotionally stimulating than men did, and that their brains were more active than men's when viewing negative pictures.

Such findings seem to support a common perception that women are more emotionally sensitive than men "and provides evidence for gender differences on the neural level," said lead author Annette Milnik of the University of Basel.

Some of you will immediately declare that the research has merely shown that the female brain is a social construct, but Milnik prefers to leave the question open.

She does note, however, that women suffer from emotional disorders more frequently than do men:

Women are more likely to develop major depression, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which are related to emotional dysregulation.

This report is hiding another more insidious prejudice. The study declares women to be more sensitive emotionally, but it could just as well have noted that men are more insensitive emotionally.

Most of us did not need a scientific study to know this, but still….

This means that women are more sensitive to the unspoken needs and wants and feelings of other people. But it also tells us that men have a superior capacity to deal with adversity and to watch disgusting images.

I am guessing that you knew all that already.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Friendship as Therapy

Most people know this already, but it’s worth repeating.

Among the things that can bring you good health and happiness… are friends.

Diet and exercise should also be high on the list, and we are well aware of the importance they play in preventing heart disease. Unfortunately, for many people awareness is as far as they get. Far fewer of us actually do what we need to do.

We are less aware of the therapeutic benefit of having and cultivating friendships. If not friendships, then a circle of acquaintances will do.

One notes that romantic love, the grand passionate kind, does not appear on these lists. Perhaps, it is too stressful.

Whether we are talking about exercise or diet or friendship, they all require sustained effort. They do not happen all by themselves.

Whether it is the effort required to keep in touch with people who are less than bosom buddies or the effort required to put in time on the treadmill, good health depends on work.

That means that it does not depend on insight or awareness, on some kind of knowledge into why you are not doing what you need to be doing.

This also tells us why the most effective forms of psychotherapy involve a relationship that feels more like friendship than like romantic love. The form of therapy where the patient/therapist relationship is supposed to resemble romantic live—psychoanalysis—is notably the least effective.

So, anomie is bad for both your mental and physical health. Feeling disconnected from other people, feeling lonely damages you.

Julie Beck reports the latest research findings in The Atlantic:

Generally, friends are good for you. Decades of research link loneliness not just to depression, but to physical health problems as well. A seminal1979 study reported that risk of death over nine years was more than doubled for adults with the fewest social ties, compared to those with the most. Since then, scientists have continued to connect social isolation with mortality, as well as specific conditions like cancer. And a recent study published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine underscores one thing in particular: how relationships help protect the heart. Physically. But I suppose if you want, you can see it as a metaphor, too.

Later, she adds:

Plenty of other studies have linked a lack of social interaction to heart problems. The Swedish Survey of Living Conditions, which surveyedmore than 17,000 people, found that those with the fewest social contacts were at a 50 percent higher risk for dying of cardiovascular disease. And once someone has a heart problem, friends improve her chances of survival. In one study, women with suspected coronary artery disease were more than twice as likely to be alive after two years if they had a wider social circle, and also had lower rates of hypertension and diabetes. And in an American Heart Association study, after a heart attack, patients with low social support were more likely to have depressive symptoms and report low quality of life.

One study suggests that being with friends during a difficult time diminishes the stress, thus the production of the stress hormone, cortisol:

Another possibility is stress—stress is linked to heart disease, as well as many other conditions. Social support might help mitigate stress, and protect the body somewhat from its negative effects. In one small study, when children hung out with their best friends during a stressful situation, they had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol (which, in high levels over time, increases the risk for heart disease). The participants in Gouin’s study didn’t have their best friends in their city, but they still saw results with the presumably more casual connections they were able to make in five months.

Note the last sentence: even those who did not have their best friends present derived a benefit from hanging out with acquaintances. Being with other people, belonging to a group, feeling that you are not alone… all of these improve your physical and mental health.

The Climate Change Cult

We have heard it so often that we believe it’s true.

We happily accept that global warming, or better, anthropogenic climate change is real because all scientists believe that it’s real.

Given the state of today’s marketplace of ideas, anyone who disagrees publicly with this statement will receive threats to life and limb.

Liberalism uber alles!

No one mentions that scientific fact is determined by experiments, not by taking a poll of scientists.

But, what do the true believers do with the fact that the former head of the climate science lab at MIT, Richard Lindzen, thinks it’s all a bunch of crap. (Via Maggie’s Farm) Of course, they send him threatening voice mails:

“I think people like you should actually be in jail,” the male caller told him, “because you must know where this is all leading now… the people you support and take your money from to make these outrageously anti-human comments (also ‘know’)… In other words, you’re a sociopath!”

One would be hard-pressed to declare so distinguished a scientist a crank. But, in a world where the belief in global warming has become dogma, true believers are doing just that.

According to Lindzen, global warming alarmism has become a cult. He explained it to Howie Carr on the latter’s radio program:

“As with any cult, once the mythology of the cult begins falling apart, instead of saying, oh, we were wrong, they get more and more fanatical. I think that’s what’s happening here. Think about it,” he said. “You’ve led an unpleasant life, you haven’t led a very virtuous life, but now you’re told, you get absolution if you watch your carbon footprint. It’s salvation!”

One might say that once predictions prove unfounded, once the hypotheses do not produce confirming evidence cult followers will insist that the facts have been skewed against them. They are so convinced of the rightness of their belief that they mistake intense conviction for truth. Thus, they call on their followers to ignore reality in favor of a higher truth. 

Sometimes they insist that eventually their prophecies will come to pass. In the meantime, they cherry-pick the data to find facts that seem to support their beliefs.

Speaking of skewed data, last week the government announced that 2014 was the hottest year in history. Howie Carr explains:

Last week, government agencies including NASA announced that 2014 was the “hottest year” in “recorded history,” as The New York Times put it in an early edition. Last year has since been demoted by the Times to the hottest “since record-keeping began in 1880.”

But that may not be true. Now the same agencies have acknowledged that there’s only a 38 percent chance that 2014 was the hottest year on record. And even if it was, it was only by two-100ths of a degree.

Lindzen explained the deception:

Lindzen scoffs at the public-sector-generated hysteria, which included one warmist blogger breathlessly writing that the heat record had been “shattered.”

“Seventy percent of the earth is oceans, we can’t measure those temperatures very well. They can be off a half a degree, a quarter of a degree. Even two-10ths of a degree of change would be tiny but two-100ths is ludicrous. Anyone who starts crowing about those numbers shows that they’re putting spin on nothing.”

What is happening here?

In effect, the environmental movement has been trying to reverse the Industrial Revolution, the better to impoverish and immiserate the world. Lindzen does not say that it is the intention, but it will happen if their policies are put into practice.

For good measure, he debunks the current hysteria about carbon dioxide levels.

Carr reports:

Lindzen said he was fortunate to have gained tenure just as the “climate change” movement was beginning, because now non-believers are often ostracized in academia. In his career he has watched the hysteria of the 1970’s over “global cooling” morph into “global warming.”

“They use climate to push an agenda. But what do you have left when global warming falls apart? Global normalcy? We have to do something about ‘normalcy?’”

As for CO2, Lindzen said that until recently, periods of greater warmth were referred to as “climate optimum.” Optimum is derived from a Latin word meaning “best.”

“Nobody ever questioned that those were the good periods. All of a sudden you were able to inculcate people with the notion that you have to be afraid of warmth.”

The warmists’ ultimate solution is to reduce the standard of living for most of mankind. That proposition is being resisted most vigorously by nations with developing economies such as China and India, both of which have refused to sign on to any restrictive, Obama-backed climate treaties. Lindzen understands their reluctance.

“Anything you do to impoverish people, and certainly all the planned policies will impoverish people, is actually costing lives. But the environmental movement has never cared about that.”

Starve the people; save the planet.

Now, that would be an interesting slogan.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Boehner Invites Netanyahu to Address Congress

President Barack Obama has always held Israel in contempt. At his first White House meeting with the Israeli prime minister, he excused himself for an hour and a half to have dinner. Before that he and his administration had consistently denounced Israeli housing policy. He has made Jeremiah Wright proud.

We might add Obama’s embrace of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and his lobbying against Israel when it was fighting back against Hamas, but, you get the picture.

Most observers believe that Obama is now focused like a laser on negotiating a nuclear arms deal with Iran. Under Obama the Iranians have solidified their hold on Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and now Yemen. The Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are terrified. Allowing the mullahs to have nuclear weapons seems, if anything, like a great leap into the abyss.

As always, the administration is willing to lie to get its way. In his State of the Union message Obama declared that his deft negotiating strategy had caused Iran to halt the expansion of its nuclear program.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez responded that Obama seemed to be using talking point written in Tehran. 

Stephen Hayes outlined some of the facts:

The United States hasn’t “halted” Iran’s nuclear program. A week before that claim, Iran announced it would build two more reactors. During this diplomacy, it has made progress on its plutonium program and continued enriching. It was supposed to freeze centrifuge activities at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz, but the IAEA reported last fall it was feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into the IR-5 centrifuge there.

When anyone disagrees with Obama, he showers them with contempt. He has not limited himself to Israel and its prime minister. 

A decorous president would have congratulated Republicans on their victories in the last election. All previous presidents, both Republicans and Democrats have done so.

Obama did not. He allows his emotions to dictate his behavior.

Given his sense of his own importance he does not feel bound by the rules that define governance. He violates protocol with impunity.

Obama despises Republicans and has done everything he can to circumvent their power. It is not limited to his negotiations with Iran. By issuing executive orders and memoranda, Obama has most recently redefined the relationship with Cuba and declared that he would no longer enforce certain immigration laws. He has said that he will do as he pleases and he has dared the Republican Congress to stop him.

So, Congress, in the person of House speaker Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in early March. And he did so without consulting with the White House, a breach of protocol.

The administration was furious. It declared that the president would not meet with Netanyahu during his trip. And then, to add insult to injury it offered up a lie.

It suggested that the head of the Mossad had told American senators that he was opposed to placing more sanctions on Iran.

The Israeli government reacted vigorously. An Israeli television station reported the story in detail:

A senior Israeli official delivered an uncommonly harsh attack on US PresidentBarack Obama's administration Thursday evening, following the American report that alleged that Mossad Head Tamir Pardo had warned US senators against further Iran sanctions, in contradiction of Israel's official stance.

"The fraudulent claims against the Mossad Head were raised by the Americans yesterday, despite a message that had been transmitted to them on Tuesday by Intelligence Minister [Yuval] Steintz,” the senior Israeli source told Channel 2news.

He added that Israel had gone over the minutes of the meeting between Pardo and the delegation of senators, and that Pardo had not said what was attributed to him.

"Leaking the Mossad Head's statements, even if they had not been falsified, is a serious breach of all the rules,” the senior source added. “Friends do not behave like this. Information from a secret meeting must not leak out.”

Pardo denied on Thursday the report – which was carried by Bloomberg news – claiming that the Mossad disagrees with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about the need to press new sanctions on Iran.

The report said that Mossad officials advised US senators who were visiting Israel recently to hold off on further Iran sanctions, saying that they would hamper, not help, efforts to persuade Iran to give up or allow full international supervision of its nuclear program.

"The Head of Mossad did not say that he opposes additional sanctions on Iran,” said the spy agency Thursday.

"Mossad Head Tamir Pardo met on January 19, 2015, with a delegation of US senators,” Mossad said in a statement. “The meeting was held at the request of the senators and with the prime minister's approval. At the meeting, the Head of Mossad stressed the extraordinary effectiveness of the sanctions that have been placed on Iran for several years in bringing Iran to the negotiating table.”

"The Head of Mossad noted that in negotiating with Iran, a policy of 'carrots and sticks' must be adopted, and there are not enough 'sticks' nowadays,” it added.

Furthermore, said the agency, he “said specifically that the agreement that is being formed with Iran is bad and could lead to a regional arms race.”

Obama has already threatened to veto any Congressional bill placing sanctions on Iran. He wants a free hand with Iran and believes that any deal is better than no deal. He will do whatever it takes to stop anyone from interfering.

Caroline Glick describes the situation:

OBAMA’S MESSAGE then is clear. Not only will the diplomatic policy he has adopted not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons (and its ability to attack the US with nuclear warheads attached to an ICBM), but in the event that Iran fails to agree to even cosmetic limitations on its nuclear progress, it will suffer no consequences for its recalcitrance.

For those who believe that Congressional Republicans have been far too accommodating to the Obama administration, Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu was a brilliant move. For once the Congress was not going to bend over and take it.

For most Republicans and many Democrats it was an important gesture, one that showed the world that Congress had started to fight back against Obama’s imperial overreach.

And, no one should fail to notice the fact that the Republicans were hitting the Democratic administration where it hurt: with Jewish voters.

Large numbers of Jewish voters voted for Barack Obama. Many Jews supported Obama’s campaign with cash contributions. God only knows what they were thinking, but it is important that they recognize, however belatedly, that the Obama administration is not and has never been a friend of Israel.

Speaking for the administration House minority leader Nancy Pelosi denounced Speaker Boehner for ignoring protocol. The White House explained that it will not meet with Netanyahu during his trip to Washington.

But, as has been noted, in 2007 Pelosi flew to Damascus to negotiate with President Bashar Assad, even though the Bush administration had asked her not to do so.

As for the White House’s refined sense of protocol, Stephen Hayes explains:

This is the same White House that last week had British prime minister David Cameron making calls to Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers against more sanctions on Iran. It’s the same administration that had to apologize to Senator Marco Rubio and others for violating its pledge to “consult Congress” before making any unilateral changes to U.S. policy on Cuba. This is the same president who has boasted repeatedly of his ability and willingness to ignore the legislative branch and use his “pen and phone” to do what he wants. And this is the same administration that used the cover of anonymity to call Netanyahu “chickenshit” in a recent interview.

So far, so good. The lines of political division are clear.

Except that this morning Peggy Noonan, representing the pusillanimous wing of the Republican Party declared that Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu was a bad idea.

In so doing Noonan was siding with the Israeli left, represented by the newspaper Haaretz. She quotes the paper, without mentioning its political bias:

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports the idea was “cooked up” behind the back of the American president, that the White House, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Israel “were totally excluded from these contacts,” that they had been neither consulted nor informed before the invitation was issued by the Republican leadership. (Haaretz also noted that Mr. Netanyahu faces an election in two months.)

Noonan continued:

Mr. Netanyahu is welcome to visit and speak to Americans anytime he wants, but Congress’s invitation… is a violation of diplomatic form, tradition and expectation. The United States has an elected president who serves a four-year term, and in that time he gets to conduct the nation’s formal diplomatic efforts and policy and to oversee its foreign-affairs apparatus and agencies.

Does Mr. Obama deserve to be embarrassed in this way? Of course he does! In his long years in the presidency he has demonstrated no regard for the Republicans of Congress, and now they are showing no regard for him.

A violation of diplomatic form… Tsk. Tsk. When has Obama respected formality and respected the voice of the people as expressed by the American Congress?

Diplomatic form for me and not for thee … is a recipe for defeat.

It’s good to say that Republicans should turn the other cheek, but eventually you run out of cheeks.

Noonan called it “a damaging snub.” She is worried about divisions between Congress and the president… ignoring the fact that sowing division has been the Obama strategy from the beginning.

In her words:

But it is still a bad move, a damaging snub that makes divisions more dramatic, and not only between Congress and the president. Mr. Obama is forced to decide whether to invite Mr. Netanyahu to visit the White House while he is in Washington. The White House announced it will not, pointedly attributing the decision to “the proximity to the Israeli election.” This too is a snub, and it is hard to see how it does anything to fortify U.S.-Israeli relations.

Of course, if Iran gets the bomb and develops missiles that can easily reach Tel Aviv, wouldn’t that be worse than a damaging snub?

And, what did Noonan think of the repeated Congressional efforts, led by Democrats, to defund the Iraq war? Was it a breach of protocol or a damaging snub?When Republicans were in the White House Congressional Democrats had no compunction about undermining a war.

Noonan concluded:

Congress has the authority to do what it’s doing, but is it the responsible thing? Congress and the White House are supposed to work together on foreign affairs, as a matter not only of politesse but practicality. If this scenario becomes the norm—an angry Congress embarrassing or putting in a poor position a sitting American president—it would make America look to the world more torn and divided, more at the mercy of forces, more incapable and of course dysfunctional. Would that enhance America’s position or damage it?

Sad to say, Peggy Noonan has embarrassed herself here. She has shown that Obama was right in one thing: some Republicans insist on bringing a knife to a gun fight.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Where to Find a Horrible Boss

Here’s an intriguing comment by Slate’s Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence.

While responding to a question sent in by someone who works for a nonprofit, Yoffe remarked:

Horrible bosses show up everywhere, but my inbox shows a preponderance of them are do-gooders by profession. The work required to make the world better seems to attract people with a gift for making the lives of the people around them worse.

Ironically, those who tend to believe as an article of faith that the profit motive corrupts people by making them into oppressive exploiters tend to be more inconsiderate and exploitative than are those who work for profit-making enterprises.

We can extend the question: are do-gooders by nature horrible people? Or do horrible people try to mask their bad character by becoming do-gooders?

It’s not a scientific survey, but it is well worth some consideration.