Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Double Standardism

Everyone knows that politicians and pundits on the left operate according to a double standard.

A fault, even a trivial fault committed by a conservative or a Republican becomes a crime against humanity. The same or even more egregious fault committed by a liberal or a Democrat becomes trivial.

Prime examples: Clarence Thomas and Bill Clinton.

Also, think about what would have happened to a conservative media executive if he had ever spoken of President Obama with disparaging, racist language… as Amy Pascal, head of Sony pictures did.

Is there any doubt that if Pascal had been a Republican the hue and cry would have forced her out of her job by now? As of today, it looks as though she will survive.

Pascal has job security because media figures and politicians do not judge liberals and conservatives according to the same standards.

Pascal adheres to the correct ideology. She and her Hollywood friends give gobs of money to the Democratic Party. She is one of them. In her world, being one of them counts for a great deal.

When former San Diego Clippers owner Donald Sterling was exposed for having made racist remarks in private, Oprah denounced his “plantation mentality.”

When Amy Pascal’s emails were exposed, Oprah counseled against a “rush to judgment.”

Jonah Goldberg has explained the double standard succinctly:

If you work from the dogmatic assumption that liberalism is morally infallible and that liberals are, by definition, pitted against sinister and — more importantly — powerful forces, then it’s easy to explain away what seem like double standards. Any lapse, error, or transgression by conservatives is evidence of their real nature, while similar lapses, errors, and transgressions by liberals are trivial when balanced against the fact that their hearts are in the right place.

Despite controlling the commanding heights of the culture — journalism, Hollywood, the arts, academia, and vast swaths of the corporate America they denounce — liberals have convinced themselves they are pitted against deeply entrenched powerful forces and that being a liberal is somehow brave. Obama, the twice-elected president of the United States, to this day speaks as if he’s some kind of underdog.

I don’t want to take anything away from Goldberg’s excellent insight, but I would add that liberalism functions like a church that hands out indulgences… dare I say, liberally.

Those who belong to the church of modern liberalism can get away with things that a conservative, even a mere mortal never could. Surely, it's a persuasive recruiting tool.

The Looming Danger of Europe

As 2014 draws to a close, more and more people are looking at the bright side of life. Good news abounds. So much so that it has made its way on to this blog.

And yet, danger still lurks. It would be foolhardy to ignore it.

So, we turn to George Friedman, of Statfor and read his list of the five most significant events of 2014. I will emphasize the first one, because those of us who live on this side of the Atlantic have ignored it.

For decades now the Western world has seen a competition—or culture war-- between what Friedman calls the “Anglo-Saxon” economic model, with its emphasis on free enterprise, and the European model which tends to be socialist-statist.

Among economists the debate this year centered around French economist Thomas Piketty’s book on inequality.

As I remarked at the time, whatever you think of Piketty, his policy prescriptions were tried, in one form or another by French president Francois Hollande.

They failed miserably. The French populace has turned against Hollande’s socialist party. And Hollande’s new government has turned toward a more Anglo Saxon model.

Friedman does not mention Piketty or France, but his judgment might well have arisen from that experience:

The forecast that Europe would demonstrate that the "Anglo-Saxon" economic model is inferior to Europe's more statist and socially sensitive approach has been disproven.

As for the larger picture, Friedman provides an excellent, but not very encouraging analysis of the current state of Europe.

We take special note because he calls it the most important event of 2014:

The single most important event in 2014 was one that did not occur: Europe did not solve its longstanding economic, political and social problems. I place this as number one because regardless of its decline, Europe remains a central figure in the global system. The European Union's economy is the largest in the world, taken collectively, and the Continent remains a center of global commerce, science and culture. Europe's inability to solve its problems, or really to make any significant progress, may not involve armies and explosions, but it can disrupt the global system more than any other factor present in 2014.

The vast divergence of the European experience is as troubling as the general economic malaise. Experience is affected by many things, but certainly the inability to find gainful employment is a central feature of it. The huge unemployment rates in Spain, Greece and southern Europe in general profoundly affect large numbers of people. The relative prosperity of Germany and Austria diverges vastly from that of southern Europe, so much so that it calls into question the European Union's viability.

Indeed, we have seen a rise of anti-EU parties not only in southern Europe but also in the rest of Europe as well. None have crossed the threshold to power, but many are strengthening along with the idea that the benefits of membership in a united Europe, constituted as it is, are outweighed by the costs. Greece will have an election in the coming months, and it is possible that a party favoring withdrawal from the eurozone will become a leading power. The United Kingdom's UKIP favors withdrawal from the European Union altogether.

There is significant and growing risk that either the European Union will have to be revised dramatically to survive or it will simply fragment. The fragmentation of the European Union would shift authority formally back to myriad nation states. Europe's experience with nationalism has been troubling, to say the least — certainly in the first part of the 20th century. And when a region as important as Europe redefines itself, the entire world will be affected.

Friedman concludes:

With each year that passes, we must be open to the possibility that this is no longer a crisis that will pass, but a new, permanent European reality. This is something we have been pointing to for years, and we see the situation as increasingly ominous because it shows no signs of improving.

We are all happy that the world is becoming a nicer place, but we should keep Friedman’ analysis in mind.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Relationship Problems and How to Solve Them

Elizabeth Bernstein welcomes the New Year with a list of four common relationship problems. For each problem she consults with a so-called expert.

Being something of an expert ourselves, we are happy to offer some alternative solutions to three of them.

The first problem is very modern:

My loved one won’t put down his or her phone (or tablet or laptop) and it is ruining our relationship. What can I do?

The experts recommend a conversation. For some reason, experts always recommend a conversation. They think that conversation will solve everything.

How should you conduct said conversation? The experts say that if your significant other is suffering from this addiction, you should address him or her sympathetically and with understanding.

You should never point out that the behavior is rude, disrespectful, inconsiderate or offensive.

For those who do not know the code, this means that you should not shame your partner into turning off the iPad.

And yet, when you show sympathy and understanding toward someone who is being rude to you, you are giving him license to abuse you. You are allowing him to ignore you in favor of an electronic gadget. After all, what does it cost him... beyond having to submit to a warm shower of understanding.

In this case the experts got it ass-backwards.

How should you react to such rude behavior? You should state, politely, that the behavior is rude. When someone us shunning you, you should not be sympathetic and understanding.

Depending on the circumstances and the venue, if someone consistently ignores you in favor of a gadget, you should get up and leave. Expert therapists notwithstanding, showing is better than telling.

In the most extreme case you should start thinking about walking out of the relationship altogether.

Next time, choose your relationship partners better.

Now, for the second relationship question:

How can I get my wife to have more sex with me?

Naturally, the experts recommend that you have a conversation about sex. Not in the bedroom, not before going to sleep… but at a more appropriate moment.

The experts are suggesting that you should, for example, have a chat about anal sex over brunch. Surely, that will spice things up!

Or perhaps, you can discuss your partner’s sexual inadequacies over cocktails. Think of how stimulating that will be!

For reasons that escape me, these experts seem to believe that, when it comes to sex, American couples are suffering from a conversational deficiency.

More likely, the opposite is closer to the truth. If anything we talk about sex too much. We think about it too much. We watch it too much.

If you did not think that this would dampen everyone’s libido you don’t know very much about sex.

Even those of you who are not experts know well that women do not like to talk about sex. And you probably also know that women are turned off by explicit and graphic references to sex.

If you think that women are turned on by discussions of fellatio, fetishes and lube… you do not know very many women.

That might be the reason why she no longer wants to give it up for you.

As for a more sensible solution to the problem, try this: be more considerate, caring, respectful, trustworthy, kind and considerate. Stop measuring your relationship in terms of how much pegging you received last month and try being a decent, honorable and loving spouse… outside of the boudoir.

If she does not trust you, she is not going to want to have sex with you.

Doesn’t everyone know by now that for a woman sex is never just sex and that foreplay involves a myriad of activities that appear to have little to do with sex?

The third relationship problem is:

How can I get my husband to go to therapy?

Why do women believe that their marital problems derive from the fact that their husbands lack self-awareness? Why do they still believe that therapy will solve these problems?

By now most men understand that if they go to therapy they will invariably encounter a female therapist who will ally herself with the wife, find fault with them and will try to make them into something that he is not.

Here, expert Howard Markman understands the problem well.

Most men, he says, believe that when they go to therapy they are going to be blamed. They are going to be induced to feel guilty about their bad behavior. A therapist might pay lip service to a wife's responsibility, but she will invariably blame the husband. It's the feministically correct position.

Markman is too tactful to say it, but most therapists see human relationships and especially marriages from a feminist perspective. They are practicing according to their ideology, not according to science.

A man who finds himself in couples therapy will learn that he is failing to be the kind of man that feminists want him to be.

Why would any man tolerate such an insult?

If they do not know it consciously, most men understand that if they managed to be the caring loving househusbands that their wives say they want them to be, they will be treated with contempt by their wives and disdain by their male friends.

So, three cheers for men who refuse to go to couples’ counseling. The real problem is wives who have unrealistic expectations about marriages and who believe that therapists can trick their husbands into playing a role in their feminist psychodrama.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Radical Left at Brandeis

People used to respect Brandeis University. No more.

When two New York City police officers were executed last week a Brandeis student named Khadijah Lynch threw a tantrum.

Taking a page out of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright playbook she spouted her hatred for America and the police on Twitter.

Unsurprisingly, Lynch’s fellow students rushed to defend her mindless invective.

The Daily Caller reports on the situation:

Students at Brandeis University spent Monday effusively supporting Khadijah Lynch, their fellow student who took to Twitter to celebrate the brutal, execution-style murder of two New York Police Department officers this weekend.

“i have no sympathy for the nypd officers who were murdered today,” Lynch had spouted on Saturday afternoon.

“lmao, all i just really dont have sympathy for the cops who were shot. i hate this racist fucking country,” the junior also tweeted.

It’s not the first time that Lynch offered her views of America’s race problem.  She had previous displayed her hostility to America in the student newspaper. There, she also showed that she cannot write coherent English sentences:

The very essence of the United States relies on the social implications of race in which black bodies are deemed as sub-human with little to no access of the rights that are so called applicable to every American citizen. The American police forces of today descend from a legacy of slave captives and overseers whose job was to protect the property (enslaved black bodies) of rich, slave owning capitalists. We must understand that we are not that far removed from this country’s legacy of slavery and that most of our laws are shaped to uphold a system of white supremacy. The Mike Brown case is only a reflection, a repeat and a reminder that this nation rests on the brutality and criminalization of black people and other non-whites. Once we as a nation acknowledge and understand these parallels, only then can we heal collectively from the past. 

This is what passes for serious thinking in America’s top universities today.

The story does not end with Lynch’s tweets.

After Lynch posted them, Brandeis student Daniel Mael put them up on a website called Truth Revolt.

The result: Brandeis students did not merely defend Lynch; they declared that Mael had slandered her. They called on the university administration to discipline him.

The Daily Caller explains:

Brandeis senior Michael Piccione, a member of the 2014-15 student conduct board, sent an urgent email to the president of Brandeis, senior administrators, radical leftist professors and students.

The email — entitled “VERY IMPORTANT: Holding Daniel Mael accountable, and other threats to student safety!” — claimed that “Mael has exposed Khadijah to the largely white supremacist following of the website.” (The website to which Piccione refers is Truth Revolt.)

For reporting about Khadijah’s vile tweets, Piccione declared, Mael “has potentially violated multiple parts” of a Brandeis code of student conduct including “stalking.”

“Khadijah specifically requested that her personal comments be removed from the website and the article in question taken down, but her wishes were ignored,” the student conduct board member also whined.

Piccione’s lament refers to Lynch telling Truth Revolt that her public tweets are her “own personal opinion.” Lynch had threatened that she does not want her tweets “publicized in any form and if you do not abide my wishes i constitute your disregard as slander.”

And also:

On the Brandeis Class of 2017 OFFICIAL page, a closed Facebook group, sophomore William Amara has written: “I am sorry that Khadijah has to put up with these fucking assholes publishing (and likely distorting) her private opinions to further incite racial hatred and oppression. I hope the university will stand with you if these cocksuckers cause things to escalate further.”

Amara calls the quoting of Khadijah’s tweets “slander.”

Clifton Joseph Masdea also calls the publication of Khadijah’s tweets “slanderous.” In addition, after asserting that Truth Revolt is home to “racist a-holes,” Masdea calls Mael’s publication of Lynch’s tweets “a classic case of cyberbullying.”

As one might imagine, this episode is grist for the conservative thought mill. Therefore, it is heartening to see liberal law professor Alan Dershowitz weigh in on the side of reason. Since Lynch and her supporters have threatened to sue Mael for slander, it is useful to read the views of someone who actually knows what slander is.

Dershowitz explained:

Republishing someone's own published words could not possibly constitute slander, libel or any other form of defamation, because you can't be slandered, by your own words. You can, of course, be embarrassed, condemned, ostracized or "unfriended" by your own words, as Donald Sterling, the former owner of the L.A. Clippers, was. But Sterling's bigoted words were never intended to be public, whereas Lynch's tweets were publically circulated.

People, even students, are responsible for the words they write, speak or tweet in public. They should not be able to hide behind absurd claims of slander. Mael had the right – and was right - to expose Lynch’s words for public assessment and criticism. Now hard left students at Brandeis are calling for Mael’s head – or at least his expulsion – for exercising his freedom of expression. He has been accused of "stalking," and "cyberbullying" and "inciting racial hatred and oppression" for merely republishing what Lynch published.

He adds:

So welcome to the topsy-turvy world of the academic hard left, where bigoted speech by fellow hard leftist is protected, but counter expression is labeled as "embarrassment" and "incitement" and "bullying."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Faustian Bargain?

To keep up to date on the optimism/pessimism debate, we turn this morning to Roger Cohen’s rebuttal of Steven Pinker’s rebuttal of RogerCohen’s original assertion that, to his mind, something is wrong with our world.

Two days ago, without naming Pinker, Cohen wrote:

I know that by almost every measure of prosperity and well-being we are better off than back in the fast-fading 20th century, with its conflagrations and long shadow of nuclear Armageddon. I know curmudgeons are a bore. I remind myself that for my children this hectic era will constitute “the good old days,” a thought that makes one wonder what precisely it is that will consign the technological wonders of today to that quaint Jurassic Park where voice-mail and the fax already reside in the excellent company of the three-martini lunch.

Still, progress cannot hide the fact that something is amiss in this more perfect world, something fundamental. Nobody emerging from 2014 can escape that feeling. People are angry and worried, with cause. Their pressured lives are not getting better. A million apps do not a happy camper make. Injustices grow more acute. Tax systems, grossly skewed toward the wealthy, are warped. Global affairs can look like a scam put in place by the privileged, the trimmers of corporate fat who have no idea what is happening down on Desolation Row.

One can understand that things are very good while still entertaining the possibility that the good days might not last forever. As most stock market participants know well, euphoria goeth before a fall… or a crash.

Nowadays, we have an abiding faith in the divine powers of the Federal Reserve and are persuaded that we have wrung such possibilities out of the system.

In the meantime, Cohen emphasizes a point that I have often remarked: people today have notably bad manners. They feel no need to keep their word. Thus, they make appointments without really intending to keep them.

Cohen is correct to assert that nothing very good can come of character flaws. Material well being is a good thing. Yet, it should not be gained at the expense of moral well being.

In his words:

Anxiety is a growing scourge. Humanity is twitchy. It has become harder to make a firm appointment because people wait to see if something better may emerge. “Are we still on for today?” is a frequent refrain, as if the absence of confirmation of something already confirmed a week ago must be a source of concern, even if there no reason for it.

Serendipitously, Joel Kotkin addresses the same topic from the perspective of the tech revolution. We have lost our religion but have put our faith in technology. We live through technology. We worship at the churches of Apple and Google.

The result is that our relationships with our fellow human beings are diminished.

Kotkin writes:

Despite the annual holiday pageantry, in the West religion is on the decline, along with our society’s emphasis on human relationships. Atheism seems to be getting stronger, estimated at around 13 percent worldwide but much higher in such countries as Japan, Germany and China. “The world is going secular,” claims author Nigel Barber. “Nothing short of an ice age can stop it.”

In contrast, the religion of technology is gaining adherents. In a poll in the U.K., about as many said they believe Google to have their best interests at heart as God. Religious disbelief has been rising particularly among U.S. millennials, a group that, according to Pew, largely eschews traditional religion and embraces technology as a primary value. Some 26 percent profess no religious affiliation, twice the level of their boomer parents; they are twice as irreligious at their age as any previous generation.

People do not just buy Apple products. They believe in Apple. They are loyal to Apple. They belong to the Apple community. They line up for days to buy the latest Apple products. Apple stores are today’s new churches.

In Kotkin’s words:

Not surprisingly, religious organizations are in a digital panic. In recent months, some have bemoaned how companies like Google or Apple have replaced churches as creators of the ultimate values. Apple, in particular, notes Brett Robinson, author of “Appletopia,” has adherents who back their products with “fanatical fervor.” Tech products feed into “a celebration of the self” that contradicts most religious teachings, he argues. Even the protocols for using our phones or computers emulate those found in religious services, writes Robinson.

Apparently, fewer people have real friends. More people have Facebook friends. One does not understand, as David Goldman noted, how Facebook adds value to the economy, but one suspects that its true function is to create an alternative way of socializing… one that does not require anything as messy as keeping an appointment, sharing an experience or showing up.

Kotkin writes:

As a people, we are becoming digitally detached, argues De Paul professor Paul Booth. Many particularly millennials, increasingly prefer “mediated communication” over face-to-face interaction, also preferring to text than talk on the phone. “Friends,” as defined by Facebook, has little to do with friendship as understood down the centuries: people to talk to and spend time with in a social setting.

Perhaps most disturbing, reliance on social media tends to work against forming intimate ties, which rest on such real-world factors as proximity and shared experiences, says Rachna Jain, a psychologist who specializes in marriage and divorce. Many millennials have delayed marriage and family formation, in part due to the economy, but it’s possible that technology-enabled distancing is also playing a role.

The more we rely on technology, the more we function like machines. We do it because we believe that technology can help us to perfect ourselves. Thus, we are willing to sacrifice our humanity, our privacy and even our freedom to our technomasters.

Kotkin says that:

… the insistence on seeing information technology as the solution to basic human problems rests on a new vision that we are machines that can be infinitely improved. 

Pinker is right to say that, in material terms, life is vastly better than what it was. And, no one wants to go back to the old days before industrial sanitation, modern medicine, communication, transportation and manufacturing.

Both Kotkin and Cohen are hinting at the possibility that we have paid a very high price for this progress, that we have made something of a Faustian bargain… one that feels great now, but that might not feel quite so great later.

Kotkin recommends solutions that I have been advocating on this blog… ethical conduct and improved personal relationships:

Whatever the advantages that we can derive from technology, this vision of the future violates the basic moral principles of both civil society and religious faith. Before we plug ourselves in for eternity, we might consider, this holiday season, to take a non-digital path to reviving our soils, whether by reading your bible, enjoying Shakespeare, tossing a football with your kids, or simply taking a walk in the woods. Technology might help shape what humanity can do, but it cannot make us any more human. That’s up to us.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Cop Killings in New York: Who's Responsible?

Who bears responsibility for the actions of Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley? Who bears responsibility for Brinsley’s murder of two New York City police officers?

Is Brinsley alone guilty of murder or do those who incited him bear some of the responsibility?

Are there different degrees responsibility or are there different kinds?

When Jared Loughner opened fire at a Gabby Giffords campaign event, leftist commentators rushed into print to blame it all on Sarah Palin. Why? Because she had “targeted” Giffords for defeat in an election.

Some conservatives believe that they should not blame anyone but Brinsley for his actions. Under the banner of individual responsibility they choose to exculpate those who might have influenced or incited him. 

They do not want to find themselves in bed with the leftist attack squad that has always rushed to blame violence on the Tea Party.

On this issue conservative opinion is divided. In National Review Charles Cooke argued that the full burden of responsibility lies with the disaffected maniac who pulled the trigger. Others believe that those who incited mobs to murder police officers bear some measure of responsibility.

But, what if Brinsley was criminally insane? Ought he to be placed in the same category as James Holmes, Jared Loughner and Adam Lanza?

Clearly, he believed that his was a righteous action. He was killing the policemen to advance a political cause.

Effectively, he knew the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately, he believed that he was doing the right thing.

If we assume that Brinsley was merely a nobody who wanted to become a somebody, who believed that fame or even infamy was preferable to anonymity, he would have needed to know which actions would receive the greatest attention and would most fully advance his ideology.

Holmes, Loughner and Lanza did not know right from wrong. They were not incited to mass murder by a chanting mob.

The average schizophrenic is not seeking out infamy. Often he is merely doing what his voices are telling him to do. At times, he believes that by following the voices’ commands he will free himself from an unbearable anguish.

Many of these tissues have been central to jurisprudence for centuries, if not millennia. With Andrew McCarthy to guide us, we will attempt to sort through the complexity of the issues. Having worked as a federal prosecutor, and having prosecuted terrorism cases, McCarthy is well qualified to examine the way the law addresses these issues.

Of course, the criminal guilt for Brinsley’s actions belongs only to Brinsley himself.

But, McCarthy continues, that is only the beginning:

Only Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley is guilty of murder, but that is not the end of the culpability inquiry.

It’s one thing to pull the trigger. It’s quite another to incite others to do so. Laws on incitement are subtle and complex, so McCarthy is at pains to explain them carefully:

Incitement is not as serious an offense as the murder and mayhem it can result in, but it is still a serious wrong. As a matter of law, incitement to violence is so serious that we criminalize it — meaning the violence called for need not even happen for the inciter to be prosecuted. Consequently, when murder and mayhem do follow from incitement, of course we should regard the inciters as partially responsible.

Incitement, McCarthy continues, is not protected by the First Amendment:

As the late Judge Robert Bork argued, bolstered by such precedents as the Supreme Court’s 1942 Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire ruling, there have always been well-known exclusions from it, including speech that is slanderous, obscene, or profane; or speech intended to instigate lawlessness, particularly “fighting words” meant to provoke violence.

And, as we all know, the First Amendment does not protect you from shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.

Obviously, it is not black-and-white. The law recognizes the complexity of human motives and actions, especially as they involve intent and likelihood:

Naturally, our law has developed principles for judging the intent of the speaker and the likelihood of violence: We ensure that the fan who vacantly yells, “Kill the umpire!” is not treated as if he really wants the umpire killed, and that someone who is merely teaching students about a violent doctrine is not treated as if he were advocating violence. But the bottom line is that speech calling for lawlessness is worthy of little, if any, protection. Speech calling for violent lawlessness can be legally actionable and should be deemed morally culpable.

Those who provoke mobs and incite to violence do bear a measure of responsibility:

People who organize mobs knowing full well that eruptions of violence are foreseeable are culpable when violence erupts. You want to say they are not guilty of murder? Fine, but that should not absolve their contributory responsibility for the loss of life that predictably occurs. The same goes for others who incite the mob: those who call for the killing of cops. They are not equally as culpable as the murderer. That’s why our law punishes murder more harshly than it does incitement. But those who incite are proportionately responsible — and when what they are inciting is atrocious, they should be regarded as atrocious, too.

As for the public officials, when the president and attorney general and mayor of New York signal that righteous anger might reasonably lead to violence or when they declare that those who riot need to have their grievances heard, they too bear some responsibility for the fallout:

When public officials signal to the mob that its anger is so justified that its criminal behavior, even if not exactly condoned, will be rationalized, minimized, or ignored, they are facilitating criminality. So of course they should be deemed contributorily culpable when the criminality happens.

McCarthy continues:

To say that the mayor, the attorney general, and the president are not guilty of last weekend’s murders of two police officers is not to say they are blameless. To distinguish them from the murderer is not to pronounce them suitable for the weighty public trusts they hold. There is guilt here to be apportioned. Apportioning it is not collectivizing it — it is not engaging in the same convoluted demagoguery that blamed Sarah Palin’s electioneering for a mass-murder in Tucson by a man with a history of mental illness, or that blamed bourgeois America for the killing of John F. Kennedy by a Communist.

There are degrees of responsibility and there are kinds of responsibility. Some are covered by the criminal law. Some require a reference to moral law.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Decline of the Muslim Brotherhood

In case you didn’t notice, 2014 was a bad year for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Economist has the story, and it is well worth passing along.

When the Arab Spring began in 2011 the Brothers were ascendant. They received warm embraces from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

The Economist reports:

Indeed, in the Arab Spring of 2011 Brothers and their fellow travellers won elections in Tunisia and Egypt, and took a lead in the bloodier uprisings of Syria, Libya and Yemen. The Palestinian branch, Hamas, had resorted to armed violence against Israel since the 1990s and took control of the Gaza Strip. Turkey, in the electoral grip of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK party, seemed to offer an economically successful model of democratic Islamist rule: a bigger, modern-looking Brother.

Now, as 2014 draws to a close, the Brotherhood is in serious trouble:

The Brothers’ dream has come apart with stunning swiftness. Beginning with the popularly backed military coup that ousted President Muhammad Morsi from power in Egypt in mid-2013, the Brotherhood’s brand of political Islam has suffered a stinging sequence of setbacks. In Tunisia voters have turned back to secularists. The apparent loss of Qatar as a patron leaves only Mr Erdogan as a bastion of support for them, but his increasingly autocratic government has few other friends left.

How did it happen?

But in places like Tunisia and Egypt, the Brotherhood misread election wins as endorsement for its Islamist project, when they equally reflected the weakness, after years of dictatorship, of other political actors. The Brothers overplayed their hand and alienated support. Elsewhere, the Brotherhood found its white-collar brand of Islamism outflanked by harder-line groups that demanded instant rather than gradual application of Islamic law, or rejected democracy as a deviation from God’s commands. Among poor, traumatised Sunnis in Iraq and Syria extreme jihadists with guns proved to have greater appeal. Seen as the strongest opposition group at the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011, the Brotherhood now wields little influence on the ground.

While naïve Westerners saw the Brothers as an acceptable form of Islam, people who were living under their rule saw something different:

Whereas many Western governments saw them as a potentially tolerable face for Islamism that might safely sponge up radicals inclined to terrorism, some Arab governments saw them as a mortal threat. This was the belief within Egypt’s “deep state”, which since the coup has killed hundreds of Brothers, arrested thousands and put the group’s entire leadership on trial. Egypt has squeezed Hamas, throttling Gaza’s licit and illicit border passages.

And then, the Brotherhood lost its patrons:

More quietly, wealthy Gulf states have moved to stamp out Brotherhood influence. “It is a fascist group,” flatly declares one senior Gulf official. “They have been a gateway, a recruiting device for every kind of extremism.” Propelled by such hostility, countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have joined Egypt in banning the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. Gulf monarchies have not just poured money into Egypt to prop up its post-coup government, and heaped pressure on Qatar by recalling ambassadors and threatening sanctions. In places such as Libya and Syria they have also backed factions opposed to the Brothers; in the case of the UAE they have even conducted undeclared long-range bombing raids to thwart Islamists in Libya.

Such pressure has worked. Qatar has quietly expelled senior Brothers and muted media coverage that was favourable to them. Jordan, whose branch of the Brotherhood has long been the strongest opposition party, has lately arrested several members, including a party leader charged with insulting friendly Arab states. In another, unrelated setback Shia rebels in Yemen, who in October seized the capital, Sana’a, have mounted a campaign of harassment against the Brotherhood-affiliated, and once powerful Islah Party.

Of course, this is desirable. Since the Muslim Brotherhood is the godfather of many Islamist terrorist organizations, suppressing it is a step in the right direction.

As it happens, the Obama administration has either been marginalized or had been backing the Brotherhood.

This might vindicate the Obama policy of selective disengagement. In the absence of American leadership others step up to take charge.

In some cases, this is for the best. In others it is not.

At the least, we know that the process will be long and arduous. It will certainly not happen without major and minor glitches.

Even though things appear to be moving in the right direction, the dispossessed members of the Brotherhood are now flocking to Turkey and to ISIS. And, let's not forget that Iran is on the verge of acquire nuclear weapons.

Surely, this does not mean that the Brotherhood should not have been deconstructed. Sometimes selective disengagement produces positive effects. And yet, these two need to be managed, lest they produce very bad outcomes.

When it comes to the Obama administration's selective engagement with countries like Turkey and Iran, the outcomes do not seem to be quite so constructive.

The Employment Gap

How has President Obama done for his core constituency? How have African-Americans fared in the Obama recovery?

Writing in the New York Times, Patricia Cohen has grim news:

Among recent [college] graduates ages 22 to 27, the jobless rate for blacks last year was 12.4 percent versus 4.9 percent for whites, said John Schmitt, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Strangely, the employment gap was far smaller in 2007, in the Bush years:

While there has always been a gap between black and white college grads, this 7.5 percentage point difference was far greater than before the recession burned through the economy. In 2007, for example, there was only a 1.4 percentage point difference, with 4.6 percent of recent black graduates out of work compared with 3.2 percent of similarly educated whites.

“This is very different from the past,” said Mr. Schmitt, a co-author of a study of employment among recent graduates published by the center. “You’d have to go back to the early 1980s recession to see that pattern.”

Historically, the periods during and immediately after downturns have been harder on blacks than on whites. But in this current cycle, the trend has been even more extreme.

If this has been caused, as Cohen suggests, by persistent racial discrimination, why is there so much more prejudice now? Why was there less prejudice during the Bush years?

Also, when you dig into the statistics and look at the black college grads who are employed, you discover that many of them have jobs that do not require a college degree:

So with his part-time low-wage job at Barnes & Noble, Mr. Zonicle can now count himself among the 56 percent of recent black college graduates who are considered to be “underemployed” or working in jobs that don’t require a degree. That figure was up from about 45 percent before the recession, according to the report by the economic and policy research center.

Even degrees in science, technology, engineering and math — so-called STEM fields where the demand is high — have not immunized recent black graduates against job search difficulty. From 2010 to 2012, the average unemployment rate among young black engineers was 10 percent, the center reported, while the underemployment rate was 32 percent.

Of course, we do not know anything about these students’ records.

Still, it seems strange that blacks should be suffering the most economically during the age of Obama. If you want to blame it on racism, you will need to explain why the gap was smaller during the Bush administration.

Wherever the truth lies, the Obama administration has mobilized to shift the blame? You don't think it's going to take responsibility for its own recovery, do you?

By now it is impossible to blame it on George W. Bush, so the administration has found another way to evade responsibility.

In the new narrative, the problem lies in the injustices that white police officers have been inflicting on American blacks.

Get it?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Being Offended by Christmas

Apparently, atheism does not foster good behavior.

Who knew?

Today’s militant atheists are not content to believe in their own unbelief.  They want to punish others who do not share their beliefs.
Consider the man at Laguardia Airport who was boarding a plane to Dallas yesterday.

The New York Post picks up the story:

The man was waiting to board American Airlines Flight 1140 to Dallas when a cheerful gate agent began welcoming everyone with the Yuletide greeting while checking boarding passes.

The grumpy passenger, who appeared to be traveling alone, barked at the woman, “You shouldn’t say that because not everyone celebrates Christmas.”

The agent replied, “Well, what should I say then?”

“Don’t say, ‘Merry Christmas!’ the man shouted before brushing past her.

Once on the plane, he was warmly greeted by a flight attendant who also wished him a “merry Christmas.” That was the last straw.

“Don’t say, ‘Merry Christmas!’ the man raged before lecturing the attendants and the pilot about their faux pas.

The crew tried to calm the unidentified man, but he refused to back down and continued hectoring them.

He was escorted off the plane as other fliers burst into cheers and applause.

To be fair, we do not know, from the story that the man was an atheist. Perhaps he was a follower of a non-Christian religion.

If so, his religion does not teach him to respect other people’s beliefs. It seems to teach that people who say “Merry Christmas” should be punished for offering good cheer on the holiday.

For my part, I suspect that the man was a militant atheist. If he had been a member of another religion, the Post would probably have said so.

No one can say how common this attitude is, but today’s militant atheists often take severe offense at any expression of religious belief.

Apparently, “do unto others” does not belong to the atheist canon.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Trigger Warnings and Trauma

By now we all know about the law students who begged out of final exams because they were traumatized by events in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY.

Many sentient commentators wondered how these students will ever be able to practice criminal law. Won’t their delicate sensibilities prevent them from digging deeply into the minutiae of a crime? How can they offer the best defense if they refuse to examine the details of what happened?

Now, pretending that they will be traumatized by discussions of rape young law students at places like Harvard Law School have persuaded their teachers not to discuss the topic at all.

Apparently, the thought police have found a new way to suppress speech. These students will be severely traumatized by hearing the word—rape-- or, God forbid, the word-- violate.

But, how will these incipient lawyers ever be able to prosecute a rape case? If this movement gains more traction, we will end up with a group of lawyers that cannot prosecute rapists. Who profits from that piece of idiocy?

Harvard Law Professor Jeannie Suk describes the situation at her law school:

Students seem more anxious about classroom discussion, and about approaching the law of sexual violence in particular, than they have ever been in my eight years as a law professor. Student organizations representing women’s interests now routinely advise students that they should not feel pressured to attend or participate in class sessions that focus on the law of sexual violence, and which might therefore be traumatic. These organizations also ask criminal-law teachers to warn their classes that the rape-law unit might “trigger” traumatic memories. Individual students often ask teachers not to include the law of rape on exams for fear that the material would cause them to perform less well. One teacher I know was recently asked by a student not to use the word “violate” in class—as in “Does this conduct violate the law?”—because the word was triggering. Some students have even suggested that rape law should not be taught because of its potential to cause distress.

The result:

But asking students to challenge each other in discussions of rape law has become so difficult that teachers are starting to give up on the subject. About a dozen new teachers of criminal law at multiple institutions have told me that they are not including rape law in their courses, arguing that it’s not worth the risk of complaints of discomfort by students. Even seasoned teachers of criminal law, at law schools across the country, have confided that they are seriously considering dropping rape law and other topics related to sex and gender violence. Both men and women teachers seem frightened of discussion, because they are afraid of injuring others or being injured themselves. What has made everyone so newly nervous about discussing sexual-assault law in the classroom?

On what grounds are these radical students suppressing classroom instruction into criminal activity?

On the grounds that such discussions will traumatize them. It’s not about the law. It’s about a crackpot theory of mental health.

Suh writes:

For at least some students, the classroom has become a potentially traumatic environment, and they have begun to anticipate the emotional injuries they could suffer or inflict in classroom conversation. They are also more inclined to insist that teachers protect them from causing or experiencing discomfort—and teachers, in turn, are more willing to oblige, because it would be considered injurious for them not to acknowledge a student’s trauma or potential trauma.

Were we to follow the logic of the argument we would immediately run into difficulties. If the word “rape” triggers a traumatic reaction, the same would be true of any word associated with the event.

If a woman was raped on the beach, the word beach or the word ocean might trigger the memory. If her assailant was male the word man might do the same. Unless, of course, he called himself a dude. In that case, the word dude would have to be banned. If he had dark hair or blond hair or red hair, all of these words might be traumatizing. If he was wearing jeans… and so on.

Any teacher who wanted to follow the politically correct rule to the letter would then have to find out which students had suffered which traumas and which words they associated with their traumas.

You would end up with a list of prohibited words, a type of Index.

But that isn’t even the strangest part.

We live in a world where therapy is often conducted according to the principles of cognitive neuroscience. It is well known, or it should be well known that behavioral treatments, especially, try to cure by desensitizing people to traumas and psychic pain… through gradual exposure to the triggering image or word.

Someone who is phobic about spiders will gradually be exposed to spiders. It might begin with the word… it might move on to pictures… and it might arrive at real spiders.

Gradual exposure will desensitize the individual to an object or a threat.

By extension, an individual who religiously avoids all exposure to a threatening object, like a spider, will, upon confronting one, have no defenses, no way to process the information beyond sheer terror. Someone who does not know how to deal with the triggering images or words will be especially vulnerable to any image denoting the threat.

Of course, some people do not believe in the cognitive-behavioral approach to therapy. They prefer the more psychoanalytically inspired approach.

Even there, however, the key to overcoming trauma, pace Freud, is to remember it, to recall it, to recollect it… then to recount it within a coherent narrative.

Even in the Freudian exercise in mental gymnastics, a trauma can only be neutralized by being recalled. To be more precise, the purpose of psychoanalysis is to help the victim accept that he really wanted it to happen.

Thus, the cognitive-behavioral approach works to help people to put their traumas behind them. It claims that sensitivity or oversensitivity to a trauma is more like a bad habit than it is a meaningful statement about who you are or what you want.

Be that as it may, no therapy asserts that shielding people from recollecting trauma is beneficial.

When cognitive therapists developed the concept of triggers, they wanted people to learn how to deal with them, not to run away from them. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Now for the Good News

One might say that we are hard-wired to worry. Our survival instinct makes us alert to the darker side. We need to anticipate potential danger—the better to protect ourselves.

But, bad news is also compelling because it is more dramatic. We are drawn to dramatic events because they engage our imagination. If they do so, there is probably a reason beyond the entertainment value.

And yet, Steven Pinker (with his co-author Andrew Mack) notes, when we focus on the bad news we often miss the good news. Preparing for the worst might be useful. Ignoring the best is not necessarily helpful.

He observes that when we consume the news, we are more likely to be drawn to catastrophic and disastrous events. No one is going to watch the news when it merely explains how great the day has been.

On the other side, Pinker should have mentioned that the media often report good news. Whether it is a military victory, an economic expansion, the election results, celebrity gossip or weddings… the news does not limit itself to calamities.

Being a cognitive psychologist Pinker knows that cognitive therapists treat depression by teaching their patients to balance the bad with the good, to counterbalance pessimism with a dose of optimism.

Being a public intellectual Pinker wants us to overcome some of our depression by seeing the good in our lives and by not obsessing overly about the bad.

Writing with Andrew Mack, Pinker has entitled his latest article: “The World Is Not Falling Apart.” It is worth noting that he has been here before. He authored a book entitled: The Better Angels of Our Nature.

After listing the horrors that are happening in today’s world, Pinker offers a simple comparison:

It’s hard to believe we are in greater danger today than we were during the two world wars, or during other perils such as the periodic nuclear confrontations during the Cold War, the numerous conflicts in Africa and Asia that each claimed millions of lives, or the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq that threatened to choke the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf and cripple the world’s economy.

Of course, we are not living through the Hundred Years War or the Bubonic Plague or even World War II. Whether or not you want to take solace from the observation, it is true enough that in many ways things have gotten better. Life expectancy, for example, has improved dramatically over time.

In my views, much of the credit belongs to the Industrial Revolution and modern science.

As it happens, Pinker does not, in this article, give credit to either of those. He could surely have argued that while science and industry have enhanced our ability to destroy each other they have also improved our quality of life.

He argues that we are so enthralled by dramatic events that we fail to look at the facts:

Some categories of violence, like rampage shootings and terrorist attacks, are riveting dramas but (outside war zones) kill relatively small numbers of people. Every day ordinary homicides claim one and a half times as many Americans as the number who died in the Sandy Hook massacre. And as the political scientist John Mueller points out, in most years bee stings, deer collisions, ignition of nightwear, and other mundane accidents kill more Americans than terrorist attacks.

According to Pinker the truth lies in the numbers, not in the drama.

He asks us to consider the homicide numbers, especially in comparison to the tally of those who die in war:

Worldwide, about five to 10 times as many people die in police-blotter homicides as die in wars. And in most of the world, the rate of homicide has been sinking. The Great American Crime Decline of the 1990s, which flattened out at the start of the new century, resumed in 2006, and, defying the conventional wisdom that hard times lead to violence, proceeded right through the recession of 2008 and up to the present.

Next, it will come as a surprise to some, but violence against women has declined:

The intense media coverage of famous athletes who have assaulted their wives or girlfriends, and of episodes of rape on college campuses, have suggested to many pundits that we are undergoing a surge of violence against women. But the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics’ victimization surveys (which circumvent the problem of underreporting to the police) show the opposite: Rates of rape or sexual assault and of violence against intimate partners have been sinking for decades, and are now a quarter or less of their peaks in the past. Far too many of these horrendous crimes still take place, but we should be encouraged by the fact that a heightened concern about violence against women is not futile moralizing but has brought about measurable progress—and that continuing this concern can lead to greater progress still.

Some credit must go to new laws, but we should not underestimate the fact that the media allows us to expose bad behavior all over the world, and thus to shame people into good behavior:

Many countries have implemented laws and public awareness campaigns to reduce rape, forced marriage, genital mutilation, honor killings, domestic violence, and wartime atrocities. Though some of these measures are toothless, and the effectiveness of others has yet to be established, there are grounds for optimism over the long term. Global shaming campaigns, even when they start out as purely aspirational, have led in the past to dramatic reductions of practices such as slavery, dueling, whaling, foot binding, piracy, privateering, chemical warfare, apartheid, and atmospheric nuclear testing.

It is far more difficult to get away with depravity when the whole world is watching. For those who believe that we must rid the world of shame, we underscore that shaming offers an impetus to good behavior, one that does not exist when bad behavior is punished criminally.

Violence against children has also declined:

Kids are undoubtedly safer than they were in the past. In a review of the literature on violence against children in the United States published earlier this year, the sociologist David Finkelhor and his colleagues reported, “Of 50 trends in exposure examined, there were 27 significant declines and no significant increases between 2003 and 2011. Declines were particularly large for assault victimization, bullying, and sexual victimization.”

He continues to point out that the world contains more liberal democracy and less genocide. He should also have mentioned that the rise of capitalism has contributed mightily to human well-being. Most of those who were lured by the siren song of socialism have abandoned it.

Many of us will be imagining that Islamic cultures are working hard to increase world’s horrors. For now, Pinker suggests, these are relatively contained. One appreciates his optimism and his perspective, but the dangers will not remain contained without someone doing the containing.

Of course, if ISIS or some other group of Muslim terrorists gets hold of a nuclear weapon the statistics Pinker cites will change radically.

Strangely, Pinker does not mention the apocalyptic visions of global warmists. Surely, his argument applies to that piece of catastrophic thinking also.

It remains to explain why things might actually be getting better. In part, democracy deserves some credit. But, the media and the social media, with their power to shame cultures around the world have certainly contributed.

If we all recognize that the news tends to purvey violent and dramatic events, we are obliged to look at the brighter side and recognize the media’s power to shame deviant cultural practices.

Pinker could not have recognized everything in a short article, but he should have mentioned the fact that, along with the Industrial Revolution and science, capitalism has provided a better and more comfortable lifestyle for hundreds of millions of people over the last few decades.

Capitalism deserves much of the credit for the benefits that have accrued to the human species. The enhanced economic good fortune of so many people has surely influenced the crime and war statistics for the better.