Monday, April 30, 2012

"Student Debt Slaves"

It has become a highly efficient racket.

Let's say that you want to provide a substandard product to people who cannot afford it.

Using the power of the media you convince them that they must have this product. Most especially, you convince them that they must provide this product for their children, lest they be considered bad parents.

Since they cannot afford to buy the product, you offer to lend them the money. They need not worry about paying the money back because the product they are buying will bring them so many monetary advantages that it will pay for itself.

When the time comes to pay back the loan they discover that the product is substandard and largely overvalued. It has roughly the same intrinsic value as a tulip bulb had in Holland in the seventeenth century.

At that time otherwise sober Dutchmen mortgaged their homes and their futures in order to buy single tulip bulbs.

When purchasers of the substandard product discover that they cannot use it to pay back their loans, the politicians get more involved.

Desirous of buying the votes of the purchasers they offer to reduce the interest rates on the loans, or else, to socialize the losses. That means that they want to have taxpayers pick up the cost.

Of course, the product in question is not tulip bulbs or Las Vegas condos or tech stocks. It is higher education.

Glenn Reynolds has been calling it the higher education bubble. He will soon publish a book on the topic. You can pre-order it here.

In a recent New York Post column, Reynolds describes how we as a nation have turned young adults into “student debt slaves.”

Student-loan debt is treated like child support, meaning that it’s almost impossible to get out of. People who paid six-figure sums to universities that happily pocketed the money in exchange for gender-studies degrees that would never produce a job are now debt slaves, like the coal miners in Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.”

Although 37 million adults owe student loans, only 39 percent are actually paying down balances. Some 5.4 million have at least one loan past due; loans totaling $270 billion are at least 30 days delinquent.

Obviously, this is a complex problem requiring more than a silver bullet. Yet, Reynolds is correct to suggest that we must begin by allowing the free market to work on it. That is, we should allow lending institutions to offer loans only to students whose studies are likely to have real value.

In his words:

Right now, student loans are sold on the basis that “college” promotes higher earnings. But “college” isn’t an undifferentiated product. Some degrees — say in Electrical Engineering — increase earnings dramatically. Others — in, say, gender studies — not so much. A rational lender would be much more willing to finance the former than the latter.

Clearly, the hucksters who are selling the value of “college” have been treating it as an “undifferentiated product.” In a real market, Reynolds suggests, lenders would be able to differentiate between the potential value of different degrees.

Frank Bruni echoes the point:

I’d go even further than he does and call for government and university incentives to steer students into the fields of studies that will serve them and society best. We use taxes to influence behavior. Why not student aid?

Everyone knows that if lending institutions were allowed to differentiate they would cease funding Humanities majors, and, most especially gender studies and other politically correct majors.

Teachers of the Humanities bear the greatest responsibility for this debacle. By now college students have figured out that majoring in the Humanities is likely to make them unemployable. They know this because employers tell them so.

Humanists have tried to overcome the problem by inflating grades, reducing work requirements, and offering students a good time.

Many students have caught on to the scam and are fleeing these courses. Thus, humanists lust after government control over education and despise the workings of a free market that would effectively punish their failures.  

Students are migrating toward science, math, technology and engineering. Unfortunately, too many of them have not been adequately prepared for the rigors of college math.

Many people recognize the problem. One doubts that they have discovered the solution.

Bruni explains:

“That’s why there are all these kinds of initiatives to make math and science fun,” Stephen J. Rose, a senior economist at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, reminded me last week. He was referring to elementary and high school attempts to prime more American students for college majors in those areas and for sectors of the job market where positions are more plentiful and lucrative. The center issued a report last year that noted that “not all bachelor’s degrees are the same” and that “while going to college is undoubtedly a wise decision, what you take while you’re there matters a lot, too.”

Reread the opening sentence. It tells you why American cultural values are going to make it increasingly difficult for American students to overcome their math deficit. What could be more discouraging than that opening sentence: American educators are trying “to make math and science fun?”

Have we decided that “fun” is the meaning of life? Is “fun” the ultimate motivator? Do America’s little darlings have to think that something is fun before they will apply themselves to it? What happens when they move from fun math and science to real math and science? What will happen when they discover that real math and science involve hard work and perseverance?

A school system that teaches fuzzy math and that devotes itself to raising student self-esteem will never prepare its charges to compete in fields where there are right and wrong answers, where you have to work in the real world, and where it matters whether your product works.

Of course, there must be a place for the Humanities. Where else would you learn about freedom and study the basic principles of ethics?

Unfortunately, our politically correct universities rarely teach philosophy and literature. Far too many of them prefer to teach that the classics are part of the patriarchal capitalistic conspiracy to oppress the downtrodden.

Far too many humanists no longer teach students how to conceptualize and solve a problem. They do not teach basic ethical principles or the philosophy of freedom. They indoctrinate students in the ills of America, capitalism, free enterprise, and even free expression.

The problem does not lie in literature or philosophy; it lies in the people who are teaching these subjects. Many professors have so corrupted their disciplines that they are producing students who cannot think clearly, who cannot conceptualize a problem, who cannot show up on time, and who refuse to allow themselves to be judged. Today’s Humanities grad is mostly qualified to join the Occupy movement and protest the unjust world that has not been willing to fulfill his sense of entitlement.

It’s not just that students are borrowing too much. They are borrowing money to purchase a substandard product that has little or no value in the marketplace. They are trying to buy off students by offering them a good time.

Jonah Lehrer reports on a new study:

What's worse, there's disturbing evidence that many colleges are failing to effectively educate their students. According to a controversial recent study, led by the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa and summarized in their book "Academically Adrift," nearly half of all undergraduates fail to demonstrate significant improvements in critical thinking or writing skills during their first two years in college. Even more dismal, particular kinds of knowledge are largely forgotten shortly after the final exam.

Drs. Arum and Roksa say that college has become a leisure activity, with the typical undergraduate spending 40 hours a week socializing and 13 hours studying. In many large lecture halls, attendance rarely exceeds 55%.

Colleges are no longer in the education business. They are, Arum and Roksa claim, in the credentialing business.

But, what are these credentials worth if employers in the marketplace discover that having a degree from Brown makes you an undesirable employee.

Today’s students are not being taught the character skills required for success in the business world. They are taught to have a good time, to party hard, and to enjoy themselves. Too many of them are majoring in fun. They are not taught the virtue of showing up, of persevering in the face of difficult assignments, and in working hard to improve their skills.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

As California Goes...

Justice Louis Brandeis is usually credited with the idea that America’s states are the laboratories of democracy.

In his words:

"It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."

Of course, Brandeis was assuming that no American president would be so foolish that he would try to federalize policies that had failed on the state level.

He had not met Barack Obama.

At least, that is the point that demographer Joel Kotkin wants us to understand.

For some time now I’ve been following Joel Kotkin’s scathing critique of failed blue state policies in California. My last post linked here.

Kotkin is a self-labeled Democrat. If he sees a need to offer a stern critique of policies conducted, for the most part, by Democratic governors and legislators has special interest,  he must be seriously alarmed.

Kotkin is not spinning the facts to promote a political party or cause.

Yesterday, Kotkin upped the ante. Writing in The Daily Beast, he warned America, that, if it re-elects Barack Obama, he will use his second term to try to make America look more like California.

According to Kotkin, Obama is not just a Chicago Democrat. He is following policies that have failed in California.

Kotkin writes:

From his first days in office, the president has held up California as a model state. In 2009, he praised itsgreen-tinged energy policies as a blueprint for the nation. He staffed his administration with Californians like Energy Secretary Steve Chu—an open advocate of high energy prices who’s lavished government funding on “green” dodos like solar-panel maker Solyndra, and luxury electric carmaker Fisker—and Commerce Secretary John Bryson, who thrived as CEO of a regulated utility which raised energy costs for millions of consumers, sometimes to finance “green” ideals. 

Obama regularly asserts that green jobs will play a crucial role in the future of the American economy, but California, a trend-setter in the field, has yet to reap such benefits. Green jobs, broadly defined, make up only about 2 percent of jobs in the state—about the same proportion as in Texas. In Silicon Valley, the number of green jobs actually declined between 2003 and 2010. Meanwhile, California’s unemployment rate of 10.9 percent is the nation’s third highest, behind only Nevada and Rhode Island.

Right thinking people do not need to hear the warnings. They have been sounding them for years. Hopefully, Americans on the left or in the political center will heed Kotkin’s stark prediction:

Yet given the power of Californian ideas over Obama, one can expect more such policies from him in an electorally unencumbered second term. California’s slow-motion tragedy could end up as a national one.

The War on Turkish Women

Since taking office Barack Obama has had a difficult and contentious relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

At the same time, he has forged a warm and loving relationship with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Ayyip Erdogan.

Last month Barry Rubin described it:

President Barack Obama is continuing his love affair with Turkish Islamist leader Recep Erdogan. As Erdogan continues to undermine Turkish democracy, throw hundreds of moderates into jail, destroy the nation’s institutions, help Iran, throw hysterical tantrums about how much he hates Israel, promote Islamism in the region, and is fresh from still another meeting with Hamas leaders, Obama continues to use Erdogan as his guru.

When the two men met at the Seoul, South Korea, Nuclear Security Summit on March 25, Obama practically slobbered over the anti-American ruler, calling Erdogan his “friend and colleague….We find ourselves in frequent agreement upon a wide range of issues.”

When Erdogan goes to elections or is criticized by the opposition he uses statements like this to “prove” that his policies aren’t radical or anti-Western at all. Here’s a man whose regime can help terrorist groups organize a violent confrontation with Israel, preside over a virulently anti-American media, insist Iran isn’t seeking nuclear weapons and has a wonderful government, and then be lionized by the president of the United States.

In Obama’s words:

“I think it’s fair to say that over the last several years, the relationship between Turkey and the United States has continued to grow across every dimension.  And I find Prime Minister Erdogan to be an outstanding partner and an outstanding friend on a wide range of issues.”

Obama added:

“And I also appreciate the advice he gives me, because he has two daughters that are a little older than mine — they’ve turned out very well, so I’m always interested in his perspective on raising girls.”

Rubin adds that it is strange to hear an American president taking advice from an Islamist leader about how to raise girls.

But, then again, Barack Obama is the first American president to feel a strong affinity for radical Islam.

Let’s stipulate that Barack Obama is not a Muslim himself. Yet, his warm effusions about of an Islamist Prime Minister, pronounced in his presence, go well beyond diplomacy.

They demonstrate Obama’s love of radical Islam and his radical refusal to see what is happening in Turkey. Beyond that, they show his unwillingness to acknowledge the current Islamist war on Turkish women.

Let’s look at the record, from the mainstream and liberal media.

Last year the ChristianScience Monitor reported a massive increase in honor killings in Turkey.

Government figures released in February suggest murders of women increased 14-fold in seven years, from 66 in 2002, to 953 in the first seven months of 2009. In the past seven months, one rights organization has compiled more than 264 cases – nearly one per day – reported in the press in which a woman was killed by a family member, husband, ex-husband, or partner.

It is fair to say that the government is concerned. It is fair to say that the Erdogan government has paid lip service to the need to address the problem. Yet, the spike in honor killings has occurred on its watch.

The New York Times has also taken notice. Today, it reports:

The culture wars over women’s role in Turkish society also reflect tensions in a majority Muslim country where the state’s official secularism is clashing with an ascendant class of religious conservatives. With their rise, rights groups say, men appear to be increasingly acting with impunity against women.

Last year there were 207,253 cases of deliberate injuries to women across the country, compared with 189,377 in 2010, according to official data collected by the National Police Headquarters in the capital, Ankara, and provided to Vildan Yirmibesoglu, the general secretary of Kader, a leading rights group.

Since these statistics were gathered by government officials, one may fairly assume that there is more, not less, violence against women in Turkey.

Now, what was it that Barack Obama felt that he could learn about bringing up girls from the Islamist Prime Minister of Turkey?

War on women, anyone?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Obama Foreign Policy Record

Election season is silly season. We are already being bombarded with disinformation, distortion and exaggeration.

Since Obama does not have many domestic policy successes to run on, he is trying to play up his foreign policy bona fides. That is one reason why Hillary Clinton is now being lionized as a foreign policy titan.

To keep things in perspective, Prof. William Jacobson explains today that the Obama-Clinton team has managed to bungle the Middle East at a level that it difficult to grasp. Via Instapundit.

Yes, they killed Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, but they lost the Middle East.

Jacobson writes:

Our one true ally in the region, Israel, is in its most precarious position in decades, surrounded by massive Iranian-backed missile bases in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.

There is almost nowhere in the Middle East that the United State is better off than it was four years ago.

Obama’s foreign policy has been a profound disaster, subjugating generations of women throughout the region to fundamentalist tyranny as Obama concocts a false “war on women” campaign theme against Republicans.

As he sums it up: “One lucky three-point shot doesn’t make you a star.

In addition, Fausta Wertz outlines the Obama administration’s foreign policy failures in South America.

It’s always good to counter media and political spin with information. It helps to keep it all in perspective. 

Living in the Future

Conventional wisdom tells us to live in the present. Carpe diem, as the Romans put it: Seize the day.

Unfortunately, living fully in the present means ignoring the lessons of the past and failing to plan for the future.

Over the past week several commenters have asked relevant and pertinent questions about some posts on therapy, especially about whether or not therapy should hlp people to plan for the future or learn from the past. Links here and here.

NYNM quoted the famous dictum of George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Many people believe that you cannot live fully in the present unless you escape the past.

I have been trying to say, with Jonathan Alpert, that spending too much time belaboring the past will make it more difficult, if not impossible, to plan for the future. If you don't plan for the future you will surely get trapped in the past.

Allow me to continue the conversation here.

Freud invented modern therapy when he declared, without very much evidence that hysterics were suffering from forgotten traumas.

He believed that if his patients could remember their forgotten traumas, they would be freed from the past. Thereby, he continued, their symptoms would disappear and they would lead normal lives in the future.

Historians like Mikkel Borch-Jacobson have studied the available information about Freud’s hysterics and have discovered that Freud fabricated evidence and claimed treatments successes that did not happen.

To this day, there is no reason to believe that remembering a forgotten trauma will prevent you from repeating it or even preventing you from doing something worse.

When I or Jonathan Alpert question the value of rehashing the past we are thinking within this context.

You are not going to solve your present problems by figuring out why you did not solve them in the past or why you got into the mess in the first place.

Knowing why you got it wrong tells you nothing about how to get it right.

Of course, Freud revised his initial theories about repressed memories and replaced them with a new theory that emphasized repressed infantile wishes and fantasies.

Replacing presumed fact for fantasy and fiction, Freud introduced a level of uncertainty into his practice.

How could you really know what your infantile wishes and fantasies were? And how could you accept them as yours when your analyst was basically fabricating them as he went along?

In any event the Freudian plan forced patients to explore their past in the hope that once they were liberated from its influence they would, naturally, know how to conduct their lives in the future.

At its inception psychoanalytic treatment lasted for a matter of months. In time its duration would be extended for years.

If a patient believes that he must uncover the repressed past before he can effectively deal with the future, he will be watching his problems get worse for lack of active management.

This is the treatment paradigm that Alpert and I have been trying to counter.

Theoretically, this approach assumes that today’s errors are repetitions of yesterday’s traumas. It also assumes that we suffer anguish and make mistakes because we have not gained a full understanding of the forgotten past.

Cognitive and behavioral therapists offered the most substantive challenge to this theory.

Aaron Beck saw depression as a bad mental habit. Behavioral psychologists saw phobias as bad habits.

Aristotle first articulated the theory of habits. It has recently been revived in the media by Charles Duhigg’s book: The Power of Habit.

When we define something as a habit we are saying that it has no deeper meaning. This explains why none of the psychodynamic explanations for habits have ever cured anyone of a bad habit.

Behavioral therapists do not dispute that a phobia might have been triggered by a traumatic event. They observe, correctly, that no one has ever gotten over a phobia or any other bad habit by discovering how it started.

I hope that my brief sketch will show what I meant when I said that I agreed with Alpert about the importance of directing one’s attention away from the past and toward the future.

Yet, as several people have mentioned, if you are managing a crisis or making a game plan, you will naturally need to know something about the past.

You cannot make a game plan without knowing your players and those of the opposing team. You need to know their past history and you need to know how your own team has performed under different circumstances. 

Knowledge of the past does not, however, liberate you from oppression. It allows you to move forward and to plan for the future.

If, as often happens with therapists, you are called in to help manage the game after it has begun, you need of all the relevant information. And that will include past history.

This does not prevent the best laid plans from going astray. Understanding the way things worked out in the past will help you to plan for the future but you should never expect that the future is going to repeat the past.

You cannot play the same game twice. You should never suspect that your new relationship is going to follow your old one.

To live in the future you need to draw on information about the past.  But, if you get mired in the past and expect that you will thereby be avoiding a repetition, you are very likely to be disappointed. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

What Hath Feminism Wrought?

Apparently, human nature is not very different in Australia.

The Sydney Morning Herald makes the point clearly in a long and detailed article on the plight of single women down under.

Entitled, “Why Women Lose the Dating Game” the article explains what happens when twenty-something women put career ahead of marriage and then, high-powered career in tow, they reach their thirties and decide that it's time to find a suitable mate.

As the article makes clear, this is not news. It is the modern woman’s dilemma. Or better, it is the insoluble dilemma faced by women who have followed the feminist life plan.

Since the article does not answer the question its title asks, allow me. Women are losing the dating game because they are acting like feminists.

They have bought the feminist illusion that a successful thirty-something career woman will naturally be more attractive to a man because she is less dependent on his support. As a fully actualized feminist she will, she has been led to believe, be loved for herself alone and not for some less important reason.

Unfortunately, more than a few women have discovered that this argument is snake oil.

As long as they allow themselves to be manipulated by feminists they will find themselves in this kind of predicament.

The reason is simple. Feminism ignores human biology. It has no use for Darwin and does not understand the biological realities that grant a woman more power in the marriage market when she is younger.

Think of it: feminism disempowers women. Who knew?

When successful, accomplished, attractive women in their mid-thirties go out looking for high-achieving men they discover that these men are not interested in marrying high-achieving older women. They are certainly not interested in women who are, functionally, ideological zealots.

When women are in their twenties, the Sydney Morning Herald explains, they can pick and choose among the best men.

Yet, there are only so many of these to go around. And besides, younger women are not looking to settle down anyway. They place more value on career than on relationship and expect to be treated as equals. This means that they are competing to be the number one concubine, not the number one wife. 

Thus, these women tend to share the same relatively small number of alpha males, leaving the beta and gamma males alone and embittered.

When they arrive in their thirties these same women discover that the alphas have turned their attention to the more current crop of twenty-somethings. They become bitter and resentful about having to settle for a beta, gamma, or even a delta.

Unfortunately for them, men have figured out the game. They can sniff out the desperation of women whose biological clock is ticking away, and who have suddenly discovered that these lesser men might be suitable.

These men recall the years when the same women would not give them a second look. The men feel bitter for having been ignored during their younger years and they decide that it’s time for payback.

Not only do thirty-something women have less control over the mating dance, but they are likely to find themselves being punished by men who had been previously rejected.

The SMH article explains that this has produced a new misogyny:

Greg, a 38-year-old writer from Melbourne, started adult life shy and lonely. ''In my 20s, the women had the total upper hand. They could make or break you with one look in a club or bar. They had the choice of men, sex was on tap and guys like me went home alone, red-faced, defeated and embarrassed. The girls only wanted to go for the cool guys, good looks, outgoing personalities, money, sporty types, the kind of guys who owned the room, while us quiet ones got ignored.''

He barely had a date through much of his 20s and gave up on women. But then he spent time overseas, gained more confidence, learnt how to dress well and hit his early 30s. ''I suddenly started to get asked out by women, aged 19 through to 40. The floodgates burst open for me. I actually dated five women at once, amazing my flatmates by often bedding three to four of my casual dates each week. It is a great time as a male in your 30s, when you start getting more female attention and sex than you could ever have dreamt of in your 20s.''

That's when some men start behaving very badly - as the manosphere clearly shows. These internet sites are not for the faint-hearted. The voices are often crude and misogynist. But they tell it as they see it. There is Greenlander, an apparently successful engineer in his late 30s. In his early adult life, he was unable to ''get the time of day from women''. Now he's interested only in women under 27.

Nothing about this should surprise anyone.

My only quarrel with the article is that it fails to give credit where credit is due: to contemporary feminism.

Trouble in Obamaville

According to Intrade Barack Obama is the odds-on favorite to be re-elected to the presidency.

The conventional wisdom agrees.

Still, I am inclined to join William Kristol in casting doubt on the conventional wisdom.

Stock market prognosticators often trade against the conventional wisdom. They believe, based on very good evidence, that if a strong consensus believes that the market will go up it increases the likelihood that it will go down. And vice versa.

As you know, it’s called contrarian investing.

Kristol applies this thinking in a recent post:

Here’s how Reuters recently summed up the race for the White House: “The 2012 presidential election is more than six months away, but here is what we know so far: It is going to be close, it is going to be nasty, and the outcome could turn on a series of unpredictable events.” The argument that followed was balanced and intelligent, and nicely captured today’s conventional wisdom.

But the conventional wisdom may well be wrong. We don’t in fact “know” that the election will be close. Nor do we know that it will be nasty, or that it will turn on unpredictable events. To the contrary, if I had to put money down now, I’d bet that Mitt Romney will win an easy victory after a relatively predictable, issue-focused, and not-too-nasty campaign. Indeed, I’d bet Romney will win precisely if he runs such a campaign. But if he allows the race to degenerate into name-calling and gotcha gimmicks, he could lose. Democrats are better than Republicans at the small and nasty stuff.

For my part I have suspected that the Obama camp is more worried than it lets on. 

In 2008, the Democratic Party and the mainstream media guilt-tripped America into voting for a man with no qualifications. To obscure the question of Obama’s qualifications they launched a brutally effective attack against the qualifications of  Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.

It was a magic trick then. It’s a magic trick still. Only now, everyone knows how it’s done.

After reading Peggy Noonan’s column this morning, I am even more inclined to believe that Kristol is right.

Noonan paints a portrait of an Obama campaign in general disarray, a candidate who has nothing to say, talking to audiences that have heard it all so many times that they no longer grant it any credence.

It’s a campaign that is running on fumes. In Noonan’s words:

And this president is always out there, talking. But—and forgive me, because what I'm about to say is rude—has anyone noticed how boring he is? Plonking platitude after plonking platitude. To see Mr. Obama on the stump is to see a man at the podium who's constantly dribbling away the punch line. He looks pleasant but lacks joy; he's cool but lacks vigor. A lot of what he says could have been said by a president 12 or 20 years ago, little is anchored to the moment. As he makes his points he often seems distracted, as if he's holding a private conversation in his head, noticing crowd size, for instance, and wishing the front row would start fainting again, like they used to.

Later she adds:

If you have nothing to say, does it matter that you have endless venues in which to say it?

If a candidate cannot run on a record of accomplishment, Noonan continues, he can argue that he is a more familiar face. When given a choice between familiar and strange most people tend to choose the familiar.

Familiar feels like a friend. Strange feels like a potential foe.

Thus, Obama will suggest that people should not take a risk with an unknown quantity when they have someone they know about.

That would be a normal way to think of things. Unfortunately, Noonan continues, the more people get to know Obama the less they like him. Increasingly he and his administration are being defined by their incompetence.

In her words:

There is a growing air of incompetence around Mr. Obama's White House. It was seen again this week in Supreme Court arguments over the administration's challenge to Arizona's attempted crackdown on illegal immigration. As Greg Stohr of Bloomberg News wrote, the court seemed to be disagreeing with the administration's understanding of federal power: "Solicitor General Donald Verrilli . . . met resistance across ideological lines. . . . Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court's only Hispanic and an Obama appointee, told Verrilli his argument is 'not selling very well.' " This follows last month's embarrassing showing over the constitutionality of parts of ObamaCare.

All of this looks so bush league, so scattered. Add it to the General Services Administration, to Solyndra, to the other scandals, and you get a growing sense that no one's in charge, that the administration is paying attention to politics but not day-to-day governance. The two most public cabinet members are Eric Holder at Justice and Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security. He is overseeing the administration's Supreme Court cases. She is in charge of being unmoved by the daily stories of Transportation Security Administration incompetence and even cruelty at our airports. Those incidents and stories continue, but if you go to the Homeland Security website, there is no mention of them. It's as if they don't even exist.

In 2008 many Americans overlooked the competence issue and Obama’s achievement deficit because they thought that he was the smartest guy in the room.

There was no real evidence to prove the point, but a substantial number of people browbeat themselves into believing it.

Now, it is more and more difficult to hold fast to the belief that the executive branch is in the hands of the best and the brightest.

One need but look to the administration’s two most recent debacles at Supreme Court oral arguments.

To the general dismay of those who inhabit liberal precincts the administration’s lawyer, Donald Verrilli seemed not up to the task. On two issues that are vitally important for the administration, Obamacare and immigration reform, two issues where, if you read the mainstream media, the truth lies wholly with the Obama administration, Verrilli seemed to be dazed and confused.

Unable to answer the questions posed by the justices, Verrilli was outclassed by former Bush administration Solicitor General, Paul Clement.

If you are more bush league than the Bush administration, you have a problem.

Whatever the court decides, the oral arguments showed, to those who follow such matters closely, that the Obama administration is  being run by second-rate minds who got their jobs for reasons that have little to do with their abilities.

Everyday citizens do not pay very close attention to these things, but the media elites who threw their wholehearted support behind Obama certainly do.

Four years ago they cheered a man who was just like them. If he starts giving people the impression that he is intellectually challenged they will be threatened by a loss of face and a loss of credibility as great thinkers.

At the least, they will curb their enthusiasm for Obama.

The conventional wisdom has it that the media will be Obama’s most fervent cheerleader. Whether you agree with Peggy Noonan or rely on contrarian thinking, it seems fairly clear that Obama is losing, if he has not already lost, the media support that catapulted him into the White House last time.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why No One Likes You

It’s always good to be positive and upbeat, to accentuate what you are doing right and to build on your successes.

But you cannot improve your character, and make yourself more likeable without identifying your bad habits and replacing them with good ones.

You recall Rodney King’s justly famous line: Why can’t we all just get along?

Being likeable is about getting along. It is not about being loveable; it is not about having a deep, intense, passionate relationship. It’s about living in harmony with other people.

If you need an added incentive, being more likeable and having more friends will do wonders for your mood. It might even make you more loveable.

This week I ran across two lists that listed the qualities that make you unlikeable.

One, from Ruth Mantell in the Wall Street Journal identified the bad habits that will make your co-workers dislike or ignore you.

The other, by John Hawkins on PJ Media lists the bad conversational habits that undermine our efforts to connect with others.

A few days ago I posted about how the smart phone/texting culture has deprived young people of the chance to develop their conversational skills. Hawkins’ column is a welcome contribution to the topic.

The therapy culture tells us that we will be more likeable and have better relationships when we become more sensitive, empathetic, caring and nonjudgmental.

This advice is wrong and misleading. Trust me, if you are the most sensitive and caring boor in the office no one is going to like you. If you don’t believe me, you can always try it. It isn’t very difficult. Just don’t hold me responsible for the results.

I very much liked Ruth Mantell’s open paragraphs because they made a clear and useful point about judgmentalism:

Your co-workers are judging you. Beneath a veneer of professional collegiality, they're taking note of the mess on your desk, how loudly you chew, even your word choices.

Obviously, serious misconduct such as discrimination and harassment can lead to a job loss. But small irritants can hurt productivity and build walls between co-workers.

If you had ever been tempted to believe that the world is not judgmental, get over it. If you think that you can do as you please and that people are obliged to like you for who you really are, get over that too.

Laws against discrimination and harassment do not mean that anyone has to like you. The kinds of behavior that make you unlikeable are not covered by the laws.

Mantell mentions a slovenly appearance, bad table manners, poor cubicle etiquette, all of which add up to general all-around messiness.

Hawkins begins his list of the seven deadly bad conversational habits with a slightly different take on bad manners. Rude and inconsiderate behavior, coupled with vulgar displays will cause others to flee you.

Mantell also says that your office colleagues will not like you if you are a fawning sycophantic suck-up. If you are trying to get ahead with flattery you will be seen as someone who does not want to compete fairly and who is not a team player.

Of course, if you make a point of not fitting in, of not being part of the office culture, people will find you to be stuck up, as though you are saying that you are too good for them.

Again, it’s not going to make them like you very much.

Mantell emphasizes a point that Hawkins also brings up: negativity. This ranges from bad-mouthing people, criticizing them to their faces, or, Hawkins adds, constantly bearing bad tidings.

You might think that sharing your misery makes you open and honest. In truth, it makes you a potential burden and an attention hog.

If you are constantly complaining about everything that is wrong people will quickly tire of your bad attitude. They are not having a conversation to have their mood brought down or to tend to your personal problems.

Aristotle once said that friends see the best in their friends. You cannot credibly be thought to see the best in your friends when you see the worst in everyone else.

Hawkins adds that it is bad conversational form to bring up contentious topics and to make tendentious statements. This implies, naturally, that being argumentative is not going to make you very likeable.

This is so because conversation is about finding harmony; finding a middle ground; meeting in the middle. It is not about expressing yourself openly and honestly; it’s not about getting it all off your chest. It’s not about producing conflict, confrontation and drama.

Conversation is not about you or me. It’s about us.

Both Mantell and Hawkins understand this point. Everyone should keep it clearly in mind.

If you want to be likeable think about how to get along, not how to be passionate or to make a point or to win an argument.

Hawkins astutely adds the unfortunate habit of talking without listening. He is saying that if you think that you are going to make a lot of friends by becoming a skilled raconteur you are wrong.

Talking without listening makes you a performer. It puts you on the stage, it shows you hogging the air space and making yourself the center of attention. It makes other people feel as though their contributions do not count. As you are taking your bow, they will be bowing out.

Conversation is an exchange, like an exchange of gifts. It is not a dramatic performance.

Paul Krugman's Bubbleheaded Economics

Roman Catholics believe that the pope is infallible on matters of faith and morals.

Paul Krugman believes that Paul Krugman is infallible on all matters except faith and morals.

The Princeton professor, Nobel prize winner, New York Times columnist, and favorite of Barack Obama, is about to publish a new book explaining how the Federal Reserve can erase our economic misery by promoting more and better inflation.

To spare us the pain of having to read it the Times has published an excerpt.

In it Krugman concludes:

Consider, if you will, the current state of our nation. Despite hints of economic progress, we’re still in the midst of an immense disaster, in which unemployment and underemployment are devastating millions of American lives. And none of this need be happening! There has been no plague of locusts; we have not lost our technological know-how. Americans should be richer, not poorer, than they were five years ago. Yet economic policy across the board has become almost passive, has essentially accepted this disaster instead of trying to end it.

If you sense that these words are hiding something, you would be correct.

In this passage and in the excerpts published in the Times, Krugman is obfuscating how much the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress of 2009-2010 are responsible for producing these conditions.

While granting absolute power to the Federal Reserve Krugman slips and uses the term “economic policy,” the province of the president and Congress instead of “fiscal policy,” the province of Krugman’s former Princeton colleague.

But Krugman has another reason for wanting us all to believe that the current crisis is unnecessary. It happens that Krugman himself was one of the leading architects of the financial crisis.

In 2002, after the tech bubble popped, Krugman went on the record to plead with then-Fed Chairman Greenspan to solve the nation’s economic problems by engineering a “housing bubble.”

In Krugman’s words:

The basic point is that the recession of 2001 wasn't a typical postwar slump, brought on when an inflation-fighting Fed raises interest rates and easily ended by a snapback in housing and consumer spending when the Fed brings rates back down again. This was a prewar-style recession, a morning after brought on by irrational exuberance. To fight this recession the Fed needs more than a snapback; it needs soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. And to do that, as Paul McCulley of Pimco put it, Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.

Did the Fed create a housing bubble because Krugman told it to do so?

We cannot say for certain, but Krugman does exercise outsized influence in such matters.

Now that the Krugman-encouraged housing bubble has nearly destroyed the world financial system the shameless and bubbleheaded Krugman is back telling the new Chairman of the Federal Reserve to solve the problem by creating yet another bubble—a monetary bubble.

By definition, inflating the currency must produce a bubble, don’t you think?.

Would you buy a used fiscal policy from this man?

Being Paul Krugman means never having to say you’re sorry.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Eclectic Therapists

It sounds good on paper.

Commenter NYNM wrote this in response to my post about getting over therapy:

Not only are there different kinds of therapy, there are different goals, and different preferences from the client.

It is a cliche to say that therapy is "rehasing the past" or to retreat to Freudian charactures that died with him in 1939. Well trained therapists know many techniques and use them appropriately. I find it is the non-therapist who continue to discuss "therapy" as a foil to promote why "their" approach is better. We don't need a "mine is better than yours", we need a realistic sense of which approach (coaching, CBT, eclectic, psychodyanamic) would be best for a particular client at a particular time. 

I have copied it as is. Obviously, NYNM was writing in haste.

I assume that when he aims at non-therapists he is talking about your humble blogger, who is, truth be told, a recovering therapist and recovering psychoanalyst.

One point of information: Freudian treatment most certainly did not die with Freud in 1939. It is currently moribund, but it had an impressive run for decades after the war.

Be that as it may, NYNM brings out an important point. Many therapists today declare themselves to be “eclectic.” They provide insight-oriented therapy for those who want or need it, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT when useful, coaching when necessary… the list can easily be extended.

Those who call themselves eclectic have a simple rationale: one size does not fit all, so therapists offer different services to different patients.

We all know that there are dozens of different kinds of psychotherapy.

This, in itself, is relevant. When a field is mired in that level of diversity one suspects that therapists have not found a technique that is so effective that it has driven the others out of the market.

One exception is psychoanalysis, which no one really considers to be an effective therapy any more.

Another exception is phobias, which specifically require behavioral treatments.

In most cases, research suggests that the most important part of therapy is the ability of patient and therapist to make a human connection. This would suggest that, with the exception of psychoanalysis, which forbids such a connection, the therapist’s approach is not as important as his interpersonal skills.

If we want to call things by their names we can say that therapists who say that they are eclectic, who they promise to offer different therapies for different problems, or who even promote their offices as places where you can go for one-stop-shopping are employing a marketing strategy. 

On their websites or web pages more and more therapists will offer a laundry list of the kinds of treatment they declare themselves qualified to offer.

In fairness we need to voice some objections to the eclectic approach to therapy.

What if an eclectic therapist is really "a jack of all trades, master of none."

In other words, a therapist who can offer a multitude of different therapies might be a professional dilettante.

Which would you prefer, a specialist or a dilettante?

If you needed medication you naturally prefer to be treated by someone who specialized in the field, instead of someone who wrote an occasional prescription and who had not taken the time to inform himself fully about the latest scientific information about medication.

But, NYNM might be suggesting that therapists are mostly specialists who evaluate the best treatment option for each patient and then refer their patients out for different forms of therapy.

In truth, it does happen some of the time, but more often, I fear, therapists call themselves eclectic and offer treatment in which they have very limited experience.

For example, many therapists want to lead their patients on an exploration of their minds and hearts. They have very little experience giving advice.

So, when they do give it, they tend to be very bad at it. Not because they are bad people but because they have no experience with it.

I would also add that psychodynamic approaches are so radically different from cognitive-behavioral approaches that one can legitimately ask how a single individual can switch mindsets so completely.

You cannot induce a person to explore his past while at the same time you are helping him to plan for the future.

Even when patients want to talk about the past, the purpose of therapy is to allow them to put the past behind them and to look toward the future.

Alpert and I are really addressing a slightly different issue. What happens when a patient comes to your office expecting to explore his past and you know that he would do better to learn how to manage his current crisis and make an action plan for the future?

If you like, let’s stipulate that many therapists, regardless of what they call themselves, and regardless of the kind of training they have done, really prefer to do what Alpert and I suggest.

In most cases, patients come to therapy because they are having problems dealing with complex moral dilemmas. Effective therapists treat them by doing something akin to coaching. 

Clearly, they have very little interest in saying so. Their professional training and their referral networks involve adherence to one or another form of therapy, so they continue to say that that is what they are offering.