Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Climate Change Mania

It never looks like hysteria when you are in the middle of it. It never feels like a mania when you are being consumed by righteous zealotry. It never looks or  feels like a cult when you believe it to the depths of your soul.

True believers are never swayed by the evidence. They believe the absence of empirical data is a test of their faith. They might skew the data in order to lure in those who still hold to an outmoded view of empirical science, but they themselves have given their lives to the narrative, not to the facts.

If you can still be a true believer when the facts tell another story, your status within the cult will be enhanced. If you really want to take it a step further into delirium, you should propose punishing and persecuting those who do not believe.

Up with climate change! Down with the marketplace of ideas!

Those who worship at the altar of the goddess of nature will severely punish anyone who denies their beliefs.

Eminent scientists like Richard Lindzen of MIT and Nobel Prize winner Ivar Giaever have stated forcefully that the climate change hysteria is based on bad science-- if it is based on science at all.

Now a group of French mathematicians has weighed in on the side of those who, while accepting that the climate does change, find no real evidence to suggest that human activity is causing the change. They suspect a more nefarious purpose: climate change fanatics want to shut down Western economies. That would get us back to the state of nature, n’est-ce pas?

The CNS news service reports the story (via Maggie's Farm):

As the United Nations gears up for its next international conference on climate change in Paris next month (COP 21), a scathing white paper released by a society of French mathematicians calls its fight against global warming “absurd” and “a costly and pointless crusade”.

“You would probably have to go quite a long way back in human…history to find [such a] mad obsession,” according to a translated summary of the document released in September by the Paris-based Société de Calcul Mathématique SA.

The mathematicians harshly criticized a “crusade [that] has invaded every area of activity and everyone’s thinking," noting that "the battle [against] CO2 has become a national priority.

"How have we reached this point in a country that claims to be rational?” they ask, adding that mathematicians “do not believe in crusades. They look at facts, figures, comments and arguments.”

“There is not a single fact, figure…[or] observation that leads us to conclude the world’s climate is in any way ‘disturbed,” the paper states. “It is variable, as it has always been. … Modern methods are far from being able to accurately measure the planet’s overall temperature even today, so measurements made 50 or 100 years ago are even less reliable.”

Noting that concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) have “always” varied, the French mathematicians also said that after processing the raw data on hurricanes themselves, they verified that “they are no more frequent now than they have been in the past.”

“We are being told that a temperature increase of more than 2 degrees C[elsius] by comparison with the beginning of the industrial age would have dramatic consequences and absolutely has to be prevented.

"When they hear this, people worry. Has there not already been an increase of 1.9 degrees C?

“Actually, no. The figures for the period 1995-2015 show an upward trend of about 1 degree C every hundred years! Of course, these figures, [which] contradict public policies, are never brought to public attention,” the white paper stated.

Obviously, many things can cause climate change. Human activity and cow farts are not at the top of the list… if they even make the list:

The French mathematicians also said that the UN’s climate models have failed to take into account natural phenomena that affects climate far more than human activity.

Human impact on the climate is “tiny, quite negligible in comparison with natural causes,” they point out. “Human beings can do nothing about solar activity, the state of the oceans, the temperature of the Earth’s magna, or the composition of the atmosphere.”

Furthermore, the work done by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does not meet the basic standards set by reputable scientific journals because its “conclusions go [contrary] to observed facts; the figures used are deliberately chosen to support its conclusions (with no regard for the most basic scientific honesty); and the variability of natural phenomena is passed over without comment.”

As we know, true believers neglect to measure what happens to real human beings when the climate change mania is allowed to define government policy. The French mathematicians are especially concerned with the effect on France:

“French policy [on] CO2 is particularly stupid, since we are one of the countries with the cleanest industrial sector,” the white paper pointed out, slamming “virtuous” policies that have resulted in a significant loss of industrial activity and the resultant loss of jobs that has left three million French unemployed even as global CO2 emissions continue to rise.

“If we were in France to stop all industrial activity (let’s not talk about our intellectual activity, [which] ceased long ago), if we were to eradicate all traces of animal life, the composition of the atmosphere would not alter in any measurable, noticeable way,” they said.

These policies should never be judged by the outcomes they produce. They succeed when they allow their adherents to feel virtuous.

One empathizes with those who are in the throes of an apocalyptic visions, those who are standing on the street corner with signs reading “The End Is Near.” One also understands that when you base policy on apocalyptic visions you will never allow the data to shake your conviction.

True believers believe that the threat is so grave and that they are so right about it that no dissent should be allowed. Remember when leftist politicians and intellectuals said that dissent was the highest form of patriotism? No longer.

CNS News continues to quote the French mathematicians:

“People who do not believe in global warming have been told to shut up. No public debate, no contradictory discourse. No articles in scientific journals. They simply have been told that the case is proven and it is time to take action… We are simply required to keep quiet and do what we are told. No second opinion is permitted.”

At considerable risk to life and limb I would suggest that you might for a mere moment look at the way climate change is being used politically. Consider the possibility that it is being presented as an irrefutable fact, used to persuade people to vote one way or the other.

And you might also consider the fact that the world’s greatest polluters, China and India will never sign on to a treaty limiting their ability to feed their people. Keep in mind, nations and cultures are engaged economic, social, political and even military competition. When China and India are building power plants as fast as they can, America is shutting its own down.

You might say that we are occupying the moral high ground and that our people will breathe cleaner air a few centuries from now. But you might also say that our civilization is committing cultural suicide.

When it comes to how their policies might harm human beings, the climate change zealots don't really care. They believe that human beings are at fault and deserve to be punished. The natural world is being destroyed by their sinful consumerist ways, their love of nourishment and luxury. They deserve to be punished, to be reduced to subsistence living. If a few or a few million of them starve to death it’s that much less carbon dioxide emissions.

Didn’t Max Weber famously argue that capitalism arose when Protestant Europeans decided that subsistence was not enough?

In truth, following a dictum of Ludwig Wittgenstein there is no such thing as a scientific fact about tomorrow. There are hypotheses and prophecies, but there are no facts about what is going to happen tomorrow or next year or a century from now.

In a strange way the climate change hysteria is like what others have called the madness of crowds. It is like selling your house and your business in order to buy a tulip bulb. How did that one work out?

[Addendum: From the comments, David Foster provides us with this link to the remarks of physicist Freeman Dyson on this topic. Link here.]

Friday, October 30, 2015

GOP and Fox News Best CNBC

According to the New York Times, in particular to its television critic James Poniewozik, the winners in Wednesday night’s CNBC candidate debate were the GOP candidates and Fox News.

One recalls that Frank Bruni praised the Fox moderators for doing an excellent job at the first Republican presidential debate. To me this seemed like a fair assessment. Some questioned whether Times writers would be as fair about their natural allies, especially when their natural allies messed up. Keep in mind, the lead questioner on Wednesday was Times contributor John Harwood.

Poniewozik opens by comparing CNBC unfavorably with Fox News. That in itself is worth noting:

Back in August, in the first Republican debate of the cycle, Fox News’s moderators asked tough questions — much too tough, notably, for Donald J. Trump’s liking — and held firm on the debate rules. CNBC seemed to be trying this approach, but without the quickness and discipline to pull it off.

The moderators seemed to want to provoke a food fight among the candidates. Instead, they set themselves up and lost. They should have known that some of the candidates were former federal prosecutors. Ted Cruz was a champion debater and a prosecutor. Chris Christie was a federal prosecutor. You know that such people are very good in arguing on their feet. They were far brighter than their journalist adversaries. Yet, liberal journalists believe that they belong to an intellectual elite and believe that all Republicans are, by definition, dumb. For them the experience, coupled with the bad reviews, must have been very galling indeed.

Poniewozik continues:

The debate quickly became candidates vs. CNBC. The network lost in a rout.

The moderators often seemed simultaneously aggressive and underprepared: a fatal combination. Becky Quick asked Mr. Trump about having once called Marco Rubio “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator” — referring to the founder of Facebook. But when Mr. Trump denied it, Ms. Quick failed to recall that the quotation came from his own website. Instead, she said “My apologies,” despite having gotten the words right.

Ms. Quick mentioned the source later, but the moment had passed and the impression that Mr. Trump had won the exchange had been made. When you leave your homework in your locker like that, the audience will not be offering makeup credit later.

As for John Harwood’s professionalism, Poniewozik derides it:

And co-moderator John Harwood (who also contributes to The New York Times) often delivered his questions as if he were a candidate whose handlers had prepped him with zingers. (To Mr. Trump: “Is this a comic-book version of a presidential campaign?”)

You might believe that the Times was upset because the CNBC debate made the Republicans look better than liberal journalists. But then again, it has been known to defend the impossible before, so we are inclined to give it, through its television critic, praise for a fair and balanced appraisal.

The Times was hardly alone in comparing CNBC unfavorably with Fox News. Lloyd Grove reports the views of former CNN Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno:

“I think the first Fox debate was excellent,” former CNN Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno, director of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, told The Daily Beast. “But when Fox did the first debate, it was a getting-to-know-you debate” for which every question—even the ones from Megyn Kelly about which Donald Trump bitterly complained—was a fresh subject to the candidates and the audience.

By contrast, Sesno said, the CNBC debate was touted in advance as focusing on the candidates’ competing ideas for strengthening the economy, creating jobs, fixing federal entitlement programs, and other pocketbook issues.

Instead, Sesno argued, the debate tended to focus on the moderators’ provocative, personal, and, by some lights, insulting questions—and the candidates’ reprisals.

“I think it was a great wasted opportunity,” Sesno said. “CNBC had an opportunity to own a space that was unique, and they advertised it as such. They’re the economy and markets channel, and they had an opportunity really to drive a focus around a genuine debate over economic policy … And it didn’t happen.”

Sesno continued: “The questions were utterly predictable. There were very few follow-ups. There was little effort to generate an actual debate… Instead, there was this rehash of totally legitimate questions about rack record, the viability of candidacy—but all questions that have been asked before. The opening question—‘What are your personal weaknesses?’—was a very clever effort…but it had a thoroughly predictable result, and some candidates ignored it completely. In a sense, it was wasted time…and a grownup debate about the economic direction of our country didn’t happen.”

And Frank Rich offered a similar assessment in New York Magazine. He called it a “disorganized amateur night.” He implies, to his chagrin, that the CNBC moderators seemed to be setting up Fox Business to host an enlightening debate a week from Tuesday:

The lustiest cheers of the evening, some of them generated by Cruz, were for the candidates’ attacks on “the media” in general and the debate moderators in particular. CNBC surely did everything it could to prove the candidates’ case. Without explanation, the debate was preceded by nearly 15 minutes of banter by ill-informed and bombastic commentators, including the Trump ally (and aspiring Senatorial candidate) Larry Kudlow. Among the questioners at the debate itself were Jim Cramer, a poster boy for the reckless excess and conflicts of interest that found their apotheosis in the Wall Street crash of 2008, and Rick Santelli, whose 2009 on-air rant about American “losers” inspired the tea-party movement. The whole event felt like a disorganized amateur night, and one can only imagine Roger Ailes howling with delight at every wrong turn. 

Being a Lady

Every once in a while men are told that they should act more like gentlemen. Point well taken. And yet, it is very difficult to act like a gentleman if women refuse to act like ladies.

Being a lady has clearly gone out of fashion. Today’s woman would be roundly mocked if she ever said she wished to be a lady. She is more likely to want to be a good feminist and to emulate the example of Lena Dunham. Or to be a boorish and vulgar celebrity. It is almost too obvious to say, but the Kardashian girls do not even pretend to be ladies. Nor does famed train wreck Amy Schumer.

How you treat a man or a woman depends on how said man or woman defines him or herself. If a man acts and dresses like a gentleman he will be treated one way. If he acts and dresses like an aspiring rapper or an overgrown teenager he will be treated differently. If a woman acts like a lady she will be treated one way. If she acts like a vamp, like a celebrity or like an ersatz man she will be treated differently.

In our current age these issues are confused. We no longer respect traditional codes of behavior. We like to think that we have overcome them. We have gotten to the point where people seem constantly to be defining new rules of conduct and punishing people for not respecting rules they have not even heard of.

We have dispensed with the traditional rituals of courtship and wondered why young men and young women are having so much trouble forming durable relationships.

Apparently, our neighbors from across the pond, the British have not totally given up on the idea of being a lady. Be thankful for small things.

Libby Purves has written the 39 rules for being a lady. They have been published in the Daily Mail. Purves is responding to a magazine called Country Life that recently published rules for being a gentleman. One notes that these rules have changed somewhat from what would have pertained a century ago. Two cheers for progress. And yet, they do maintain a link to the past, to the tried and true standards for public decorum and for public self-presentation.

As the old rule goes, if you want people to respect you start by acting like you respect yourself.

Without further ado, here is the list.

A lady:

1. Can carry her own luggage, but accepts offers with a smile.
2. Says ‘thank you’ when a seat is offered or a door opened.
3. Doesn’t take offence easily.
4. Fends off unwanted passes with ease.
5. Accepts a compliment, even from an inappropriate, old fool.
6. Makes her point firmly, but unaggressively.
7. Knows that a single, explosive swear word beats a torrent of obscenity.
8. Walks like a functional human, without tittupping, hip-swinging or hair-flicking.
9. Can perfectly well change a wheel, but will express gratitude if a man offers.
10. Tactfully covers up others’ social gaffes.
11. Accepts that not everyone wants her cat jumping on them.
12. Laughs at the ridiculous hero of Fifty Shades Of Grey.
13. Drapes an elegant shawl when breast-feeding in public.
14. Like Grace Kelly, thinks clothes should be ‘tight enough to show you’re a woman but loose enough to show you’re a lady’.
15. Dresses to fit in unobtrusively with other people’s events. Especially funerals.
16. Can hold her drink without falling over.
17. Shares a cafe table or train seat with a smile.
18. Doesn’t boast about exotic holidays on social media.
19. Tries not to talk about house prices. 
20. Doesn’t attempt to apply full make-up on a packed train. 
21. Knows calorie and GI counts, but never speaks of them. 
22. Doesn’t shout down her phone in the street or on the train.
23. Knows when to stop talking.
24. Accepts some chaps are embarrassed by remarks about vaginas, etc. 
25. Can pay the tab in a restaurant without making it obvious.
26. Gives a 1,000-watt smile to nervous teenage boys, making them feel like kings.
27. Has enough natural authority to make teenagers take their feet off train seats.
28. Does not comment on other women’s weight.
29. On an awful internet date, kindly sticks it out until 10pm . . .
30. . . . but knows how to make it clear, gracefully, that it’s not a goer.
31. Teaches her children manners.
32. Always tells adult godchildren that they are ‘doing absolutely wonderfully’, even when said godchildren are clearly total trainwrecks.
33. Calls policemen ‘Officer’. Even PCSOs.
34. Removes her screaming toddler from a busy cafe with an apologetic smile.
35. Won’t kiss and tell, or compare men’s prowess.
36. Has a flair for wearing hats, but keeps her belly button to herself in public.
37. Deals gracefully with spiders, mice, etc, without screaming.
38. Takes off her stilettos on other people’s parquet floors.
39. Is kind to nervous, inadequate chaps who read lists about how to be a gentleman.

 21. Knows calorie and GI counts, but never speaks of them. 
22. Doesn’t shout down her phone in the street or on the train.
23. Knows when to stop talking.
24. Accepts some chaps are embarrassed by remarks about vaginas, etc. 
25. Can pay the tab in a restaurant without making it obvious.
26. Gives a 1,000-watt smile to nervous teenage boys, making them feel like kings.
27. Has enough natural authority to make teenagers take their feet off train seats.
28. Does not comment on other women’s weight.
29. On an awful internet date, kindly sticks it out until 10pm . . .
30. . . . but knows how to make it clear, gracefully, that it’s not a goer.
31. Teaches her children manners.
32. Always tells adult godchildren that they are ‘doing absolutely wonderfully’, even when said godchildren are clearly total trainwrecks.
33. Calls policemen ‘Officer’. Even PCSOs.
34. Removes her screaming toddler from a busy cafe with an apologetic smile.
35. Won’t kiss and tell, or compare men’s prowess.
36. Has a flair for wearing hats, but keeps her belly button to herself in public.
37. Deals gracefully with spiders, mice, etc, without screaming.
38. Takes off her stilettos on other people’s parquet floors.
39. Is kind to nervous, inadequate chaps who read lists about how to be a gentleman.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

American Schooling Is Getting Worse

The news from the education front is not good. We should not jump to stark conclusions from one year’s test results, but American schoolchildren in the fourth and eighth grades are not doing well. Their proficiency in reading and math has, on a year-over-year basis, declined.

At a time when mathematics is becoming increasingly important for future careers, American children are falling further behind. The question is not whether they can compete with the children in Singapore or Helsinki. They are doing worse than their own cohorts did two years ago… and worse than every other time since the tests were first given in 1990.

Surely, this is why President Obama offered up his own solution to the problem: don’t test the children so much. After all, if they don’t take tests they cannot fail at the tests. It's like saying that we can reduce the crime rate by not arresting so many people.

One must also note that many parents have opted out of the tests… because they do not agree with what Washington is trying to impose on them under the name of Common Core.

Brilliant… this is what seven years of Obama education policy has gotten us.

For the first time since 1990, the mathematical skills of American students have dropped, according to results of a nationwide test released by the Education Department on Wednesday.

The decline appeared in both Grades 4 and 8 in an exam administered every two years as the National Assessment of Educational Progressand sometimes called “the nation’s report card.”

The dip in scores comes as the country’s employers demand workers with ever-stronger skills in mathematics to compete in a global economy. It also comes as states grapple with the new Common Core academic standards and a rebellion against them.

As for language skills, the results are also discouraging:

Progress in reading, which has been generally more muted than in math for decades, also stalled this year as scores among fourth graders flat-lined and eighth-grade scores decreased. The exams assess a representative sampling of students on math and reading skills in public and private schools.

But, what does it all mean? Several interpretations offer themselves:

Education officials said that the first-time decline in math scores was unexpected, but that it could be related to changes ushered in by the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states. For example, some of the fourth-grade math questions on data analysis, statistics and geometry are not part of that grade’s guidelines under the Common Core and so might not have been covered in class. The largest score drops on the fourth-grade math exams were on questions related to those topics.

The stagnating performance could also reflect the demographic changes sweeping America’s schools and the persistent achievement gap between white students and minorities, as well as between students from poor families and their more affluent peers.

One hypothesis is that it is the fault of Common Core. The Times considers this possibility:

As states have adopted the Common Core — guidelines for what students should know and be able to do between kindergarten and high school — many teachers have adjusted their curriculum and instructional methods, particularly in math. Students are asked to use math to solve real-life problems and find different ways to come at the same answer rather than simply repeating formulas.

Some educators suggested that some of the changes have sowed confusion among teachers and students that could be reflected in the national test scores. “Right now, what’s going on in many states is a wholesale change in math instruction,” said Daniel Koretz, a professor of education at Harvard. “We don’t know what’s happening with that in classrooms.”

One has had occasion to comment on this before, but the point should be made again: children learn math better by memorizing and applying formulas by rote. By forcing them to think about all the different ways they can find the same answer and by casting the multiplication tables in terms of solving real life problems, teachers are slowing down the learning process.

The Times also notes that some of the topics on the eighth grade math test were not covered in the new Common Core curriculum. This suggests, if I read it correctly, that Common Core is less challenging that previous teaching methods.

And then there are demographics. America’s schools have very recently seen an influx of poor, uneducated children from Mexico and Central America. Surely, these children are dragging down the scores, but their presence might also be slowing down the pace of classroom instruction.

The Times does offer the following on demographics:

About a quarter of public school students are Hispanic, compared with fewer than 10 percent in 1990. As a group, the scores of Hispanic students trail those of white students; this year, for example, 21 percent of Hispanic fourth graders scored at a level deemed proficient or above on reading tests, compared with 46 percent of white students.

The proportion of African-American students in public schools has remained fairly stable, but an achievement gap with white students remains. On the fourth-grade reading tests this year, just 18 percent of black students were deemed proficient.

America’s schoolchildren are also increasingly poor. Students from poor families often arrive at school with smaller vocabularies than students from middle-class or more affluent households, and are faced with challenges like hunger, homelessness and parents working several jobs, all of which can interfere with their learning in school and the academic support they receive at home — and ultimately their test scores.

Of course, the problem is not the difference between the percentage of Hispanic children in 1990 vs. the percentage today. The scores increased every year from 1990 until 2013. Thus, we should be looking for a more proximate cause.

In fact, the scores are compared to those from 2013. The Times has the statistics:

The average fourth-grade math score this year was 240 on a scale of 500, down from 242 in 2013, the last time the federal assessment results were released. The average eighth-grade math score was 282, down from 285 two years ago.

In reading, the average fourth-grade score of 223, compared with 222 in 2013, was not a statistically significant difference. The average eighth-grade score fell to 265 from 268.

Also, it is frightening to see that when it comes to reading proficiency among fourth graders, white children score 46%, Hispanic children score 21% and black children score 18%. The scores are appalling.

One is confident that poverty plays an important role in some cases, and one suspects that there is more poverty among black and Hispanic students than there is among white students. And, what happened to the Asian students? You know, the ones who are being brought up by the dread Tiger Moms. What are their proficiency rates?

If the poverty rate in minority communities has recently increased and if the schools have been forced to use Common Core teaching methods, one is obliged to say that much of the fault must lie with the presidency of Barack Obama.

To keep it all in balance, we also must note that many of these schools have adopted Michelle Obama’s signature healthy foods program. Since many children are refusing to eat these so-called healthy meals, one might also conclude that they are doing badly on their tests because they are malnourished.

"Have a Nice Life!"

Note well the title of Thomas Friedman’s latest column: “Telling Middle East Negotiators: ‘Have a nice life.’”

In his opening paragraph Friedman describes a scene that took place on the eve of the 1991 Madrid peace conference that Pres. George H. W. Bush convened after winning the first Gulf  War.

In Friedman’s words:

In the Times review of the American Mideast negotiator Dennis Ross’s important new history of Israeli-U.S. relations, “Doomed to Succeed,” a telling moment on the eve of the 1991 Madrid peace conference caught my attention. The Palestinian delegation had raised some last-minute reservations with the secretary of state, James A. Baker III. Baker was livid, and told the Palestinians before walking out on them: “With you people, the souk never closes, but it is closed with me. Have a nice life.”

Did you note the way the Times introduced its own special anti-Israeli bias in the headline? Though the headline says that James Baker was walking out on “Middle East negotiators,” in truth he was excoriating the Palestinian delegation for failing to act in good faith. He was dismissing them because, in his view, they were trying to walk back from an agreement they had negotiated.

These are not the kinds of people you can do business with. If they do not know how to be good to their word, there is no real point in negotiating with them. It's the first lesson you learn in your negotiation course.

By making it appear that Baker had dismissed both Palestinians and Israelis, Friedman or the Times headline writer was suggesting--in fact, Friedman argues it in the rest of his column-- that both sides are equally culpable, that today they must both make concessions in order to forge a durable peace agreement. And yet, if only one side is capable of keeping its word, what is the point of the concessions… except to advance the final Palestinian goal—the destruction of Israel.

And, think about this angle. When our current Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated his recent sell out to the Iranians, giving them everything they wanted and more, can you imagine him telling the Iranians to have a nice life.

It seems clear that Kerry was charged with getting a deal at any price. Surely, he was the right man for that job. the Iranians knew it and they played him skillfully.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Is the GOP Having a Nervous Breakdown?

Is the Republican Party having a nervous breakdown?

That’s what it looks like to many Americans. It makes for great entertainment, but it doesn't bode well electorally. 

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the candidates who are leading the field for the Republican presidential nomination are the least qualified. The candidates who are lagging and those who have dropped out are the most qualified.

If that sounds like rational thinking to you, you don’t know much about rational thinking.

Of course, we know what it all means. We have heard it from a television personality who goes by the name of Kennedy.

According to Kennedy, the Republican Party is angry and frustrated because the current president is acting more like a dictator than a leader. People vote for Republicans. They elect Republicans to just about every public office. The result: Barack Hussein acts as though nothing has happened.

Regardless of what the people think, regardless of what the Congress thinks, Barack Obama does what he pleases. Think about Obama’s immigration policy, which he justified doing by executive fiat because Congress did not act. What did Congress do to stop it? What could they have done to stop it? People do have a right to be furious, but why not be slightly more furious at Barack Hussein Obama and the Democratic Party. And why not do what is necessary to ensure that the next president is a Republican, and not just in name only?

Or, take the Iran nuclear deal. A large majority of Americans and a large majority of members of Congress do not approve of it. It does not matter. The deal is now in force.

Americans feel like they are being bullied. It is not a good feeling. So, they want to bring in a bigger bully, someone who will take the gloves off, a street fighter, someone with brass knuckles who will bully the bully. It makes a certain amount of sense. Or at least it would if there were any chance that Donald Trump would ever be elected.

But, a large majority of Republicans believe that Trump is their most electable candidate. They are saying this just as Trump begins to fade, as the aura seems to be dissipating into thin air.

Trump’s problem is that he is one-note. He lacks the relevant experience and does not know anything about the vast majority of the issues that would confront a president. Empty as he is, he wears out his welcome. Being all show and no substance, Trump is currently fading in the polls because people are getting bored with the shtick.

To look at the bright side,, Trump seems to have saved us from Jeb Bush and that might be a sufficient accomplishment. His charge that Bush is low energy resonated because Jeb always seems somewhat weak at the knees.

And yet, Trump could think of nothing very original to throw at Ben Carson than to accuse him of being low energy. Thereby, he opened himself up to the obvious retort, offered last night by Bill O’Reilly. The host of the O’Reilly Factor was laughing at the bloviating billionaire. He noted that someone who was capable of standing on his feet for fifteen hours performing brain surgery—a field where you cannot make mistakes, because if you cut the wrong brain cell it will not heal or grow back—is not low energy. Carson’s poise and self-control are positive character traits, especially when compared to a candidate who pretends to be out of control.

When it comes to Trump, there’s no there there, there’s no command of the facts or the issues. It is inevitable that Republicans, no matter how angry they are, or better, no matter how willing they are to be led around by their anger, will tire of the exercise.

To be scrupulously fair to the Donald, people have flocked to his candidacy because he represents the opposite of today’s beaten-down whimpering metrosexual hypersensitive American male. For his supporters Trump has been the antidote to the wussified American man.

The point is well taken. Yet, the antidote to today’s diminished American man is a man who can do the job, who can function effectively as the president, not someone who is dancing on a very thin resume. Some people thought that Dwight Eisenhower had low energy, too. But, he was an effective leader. One needs to understand the difference between posturing and achievement.

Many Republicans blame their Congressional leaders for having effectively bent over and submitted to Obama. Surely Republicans could make more of a show of having a spine. They should relish confrontation. And yet, doing so would mean attacking a man the American people put in the White House. You reap what you sow.

Apparently, the average Republican voter reasons like this: Republicans in Washington have been looking ineffectual, so why not nominate a candidate who will really be ineffectual, like Dr. Ben Carson. One admires Carson as much as anyone, but it is unthinkable that a plurality of Republican voters actually believe that he is qualified for the presidency, or that, when push comes to vote, he would win an election against Hillary Clinton.

In a normal year, in a year when people were thinking with their minds and not with their rage, they would find much to like in a candidate like John Kasich. Of course, they would have found much to like in Scott Walker and Rick Perry, too. A lot of good that did.

NPR explains:

In any other year, Kasich might be an ideal GOP candidate. He's the two-term governor of Ohio, a pivotal swing state that Republicans have never won the White House without. Kasich was reelected in a landslide last year and his approval ratings in Ohio remain very high.

Kasich has served in Congress. He knows the federal budget and has balanced it. He has worked on foreign policy. He has governed effectively. What’s not to like?

Apparently, he’s too low energy for all of the tough, manly GOP voters, people like Trump supporter Mike Tyson. So, yesterday Kasich said that the current Republican presidential primary campaign is downright “crazy.”

It makes a certain amount of sense. Beyond Trump and Carson, Republican voters are gaga over inexperienced first-term senators, because electing a first-term senator has worked out so well in the past. And, let’s not forget Carly Fiorina, an excellent debater who seems to believe that for having failed to run a major corporation she is qualified to run the country.

Anyway, Kasich is angry because Trump is taking credit for the Ford Motor Company’s decision-- taken last spring, by the way-- to continue manufacturing some of its trucks in Ohio. One must note that the negotiations that led to this decision began in 2011.

Three days ago Trump tweeted:

Word is that Ford Motor, because of my constant badgering at packed events, is going to cancel their deal to go to Mexico and stay in U.S.

Three minutes later Trump doubled down on the bogus claim:

Do you think I will get credit for keeping Ford in U.S. Who cares, my supporters know the truth. Think what can be done as president!

Now we know what Trump can do as president. Talk the talk but not walk the walk. Make false claims and yell at anyone who does not believe them.

What’s the real story? NPR reports it:

The real story appears to be this. Ford has decided to move some pickup truck production from Mexico to Ohio, but that deal was announced back in the Spring. And Ohio's governor is proud of it.

"I went to Detroit and had a lot of meetings with the auto companies," Kasich said, referring to the time shortly after he took office in 2011 when Ford received state tax incentives. That benefit has been traced to the decision to move the truck manufacturing back to Ohio. Ford executives have criticized Trump and praised Kasich in response to the flare up.

Without naming Trump, Kasich said, "Anybody else that's in here trying to say that something they did today affected something in 2011 must be living in a time machine or something."

On the one side you have a governor who accomplished something substantive, who kept manufacturing jobs in his state. On the other side you have a candidate who takes credit for something that he did not accomplish, thus, who burnishes his resume with a lie.

So, naturally the Republican Party is infatuated with the latter while ignoring the former. Let’s be clear here. When you are running against someone who lies all the time, someone whose initials are HRC, you cannot attack her when your leading candidate tells lies himself.

Kasich continued, saying that the Republican campaign had become “crazy, as in, nuts. NPR reports:

"Look, we're hearing all kinds of crazy things right now on the campaign trail," Kasich added. "One of the guys wants to abolish Medicare and Medicaid. Another guy wants to deport 10 million people out of America."

There, Kasich was referring to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who recently talked about replacing Medicare and medicaid with private health savings accounts, but later insisted he wasn't proposing the elimination of the programs. Kasich also sounded like he was calling out Trump, who has repeatedly talked about deporting millions of immigrants who are in the country illegally.

And keep in mind, Marco Rubio, splendid human being, does not believe in the life of the mother exception for abortion. How do you think that is going to go down once the country finds out about it?

True enough, Kasich is not the only candidate who could win the election and get the job done. The trouble is, neither Trump nor Carson nor Fiorina is in that group.

Autism: A Self Chosen State

Those of you who have been following the debate about the way autism is being treated in France will have noticed that the current French notion that autism is caused by “refrigerator” mothers dates to Bruno Bettleheim.

Bettleheim became an authority on autism in the 1960s through a clinic he ran in Chicago and through a book called The Empty Fortress. In later years Bettleheim was exposed as a fraud with merely a Ph. D. in art history. He committed suicide in 1990.

Naturally, French psychoanalysts who are mired in the fever swamps of the psychoanalytic past are drawn to his theories. Once a reactionary, always a reactionaray.

Now, a young filmmaker named Leo Fleming has crafted a film about a man who was, as a boy, treated by Bettleheim and his proxies. The film shows Fleming’s uncle Thomas today and is intercut with pictures from his childhood. Throughout the movie we hear the ghostly voice of Bettleheim himself fabulating a theory of autism.

Fleming introduces his movie, entitled, A Self Chosen State on Vimeo:

Bruno Bettelheim states in his 1967 book 'The Empty Fortress' that "...the precipitating factor in infantile autism is the parent's wish that his child should not exist." Bettelheim subscribed to the 'Refrigerator Mother' theory; a theory that proposed autism as a 'self-chosen state' prompted by a 'cold' mother, in which children are compelled to shut themselves off from an uncaring, unloving world.

Martha and Jim Fleming were among countless others who were told that their child's autism was due to their unloving nature. They were also among the many whose children were taken away under the care of Bruno Bettelheim to his facilities in Chicago, to be 'cured' of this malady. A Self Chosen State is a short film detailing a personal history of a widespread injustice, of the trauma it inflicted and of the selfless love it inspired into action.

My thanks to commenter KCFleming for bringing this to our attention. He informs us that the movie was chosen for the “AS Film Festival where it will play next month in the Maxxi National Museum of Art in Rome, Italy.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Your "Great Job Search"

For those who are searching for a new job or who might be doing so in the foreseeable future, the linked essay tells you most of what you need to know. It tells you what to do, what not to do and how to go about finding a great job.

It find it to be exceptionally good and so I offer the link without commentary. As a public service. 

[Addendum: in a new post the author has presented two sample resumes, so you have a reference point in drawing up your own. Link here.]

What's Wrong with this Text?

What’s wrong with this text?

The work of the text is to literalize the signifiers of the first encounter, dismantling the ideal as an idol. In this literalization, the idolatrous deception of the first moment becomes readable. The ideal will reveal itself to be an idol. Step by step, the ideal is pursued by a devouring doppelganger, tearing apart all transcendence. This de-idealization follows the path of reification, or, to invoke Augustine, the path of carnalization of the spiritual. Rhetorically, this is effected through literalization. A Sentimental Education does little more than elaborate the progressive literalization of the Annunciation.

It comes to us from a German professor named Barbara Vinken. Said professor has also professed at places like Yale University, New York University, the University of Chicago. The text is quoted from a book that was published by Stanford University Press.

If this represents the best and the brightest that the academic world is offering these days you understand why students at these institutions have, as Camille Paglia has said, minds like jello.

The text is a pathetic hodge podge of big words that do not end up meaning anything.  The author seems clearly to be suffering from polysyllabic-itis. I take it as an indication that she knows she is an impostor and is terrified that she will be found out.

Naturally, some people have been pondering the fact that this counts for serious scholarship at top universities. They have suggested, for example, that academics belong to a very high status club and write to keep out the hoi polloi.

It might also be that these people are ignorant fools, impostors who know nothing and can teach nothing. They might be flinging a mountain of gibberish to ensure that no one could ever judge them.  One would be hard put to say that this is just bad writing. It is not writing at all.

The real meaning is clear: Humanities teaching in today’s universities is hopelessly corrupt.

Anyway, the bad writers of academia do have their defenders. Among them Harvard professor Steven Pinker, who, one hastens to add, was not talking about the Vinken text quoted above. Pinker suggests that academic writers get so deeply into their fields that they get lost. They are so highly specialized that they cannot communicate with normal people or even with students.

Victoria Clayton summarizes Pinker’s argument in The Atlantic:

Pinker, a cognitive scientist, says it boils down to “brain training”: the years of deep study required of academics to become specialists in their chosen fields actually work against them being able to unpack their complicated ideas in a coherent, concrete manner suitable for average folks. Translation: Experts find it really hard to be simple and straightforward when writing about their expertise. He calls this the “curse of knowledge” and says academics aren’t aware they’re doing it or properly trained to identify their blindspots—when they know too much and struggle to ascertain what others don’t know. In other words, sometimes it’s simply more intellectually challenging to write clearly. “It’s easy to be complex, it’s harder to be simple,” Bosley said. “It would make academics better researchers and better writers, though, if they had to translate their thinking into plain language.” It would probably also mean more people, including colleagues, would read their work.

The curse of knowledge… what a clever phrase. Pinker must feel a special need to cover the shame of some of his colleagues. But, the problem, of course, is not that these writers know so much. They do not know much of anything at all. The academic world has been corrupted by political correctness and identity politics. In the Humanities, especially, it is infested with people who are completely unqualified for their positions. People who did not earn their way to their jobs often suffer from impostor syndrome.

A moment’s reflection answers the question of whether academics have always written so badly because they knew too much. In fact, the claim is nonsense. One might go back a century and examine a book like Oxford professor A. C. Bradley’s Shakespearean Tragedy or Harvard philosophy professor Josiah Royce’s Lectures on Modern Idealism. And William James taught psychology at Harvard.

More recently, in the field of literature, Lionel Trilling wrote well and clearly. As did Cleanth Brooks and William Wimsatt and Northrop Frye and Harold Bloom. I would add two distinguished academics I took graduate courses from: Erich Heller and Nathan Scott. Former academic Henry Kissinger writes well even today, and he is writing in his second language. So does Niall Ferguson.

Back in the day academics took pride in the quality of their writing. They considered it their job to write well and clearly. After all, how can you teach anyone anything if they do not understand what you are saying? Today, however, students do not study with people who can write intelligible prose and who know what they are talking about. They have the privilege of having their minds deformed by the likes of Vinken, Judith Butler, Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou.

It’s going to take more than a call for better writing to make the dimwits who currently occupy high positions in academic Humanities departments into writers of readable prose.

Not Becoming Van Gogh

Not too long ago I saw a psychiatrist on television explaining that young people should pursue their dreams and passions, even if and especially if they want to be artists. Since I have been arguing against such a folly for years now, I quickly took notice.

If they do not, the psychiatrist opined, the world might be missing out on another Van Gogh and we might miss out on a new Starry Night.

Said psychiatrist failed to remark that Van Gogh cut off his own ear, point that he ought to have seen as perhaps a reason not to make the man anyone’s role model. We do not expect that psychiatrists know anything about artistic creation. And it’s good that they do not. But they ought, as mental health professionals, know a lot about people who cut off their ears… or other offending organs.

You might think that it is far more wonderful to be Van Gogh than to sell insurance, but you should also ask yourself whether you can better survive the next few years without Starry Night or without insurance.

For my part I think that it is generally very bad advice to tell young people to pursue their dreams of becoming artists. I can assert with great confidence that the chances your child will grow up to become Van Gogh are nil. Setting up impossible goals consigns children to failure. One might say, and one has said, that people can learn from failure, but some people also become embittered by it.

If a young person believes that since he wants so badly to be an artist the world owes him the proper recognition, he might very well persist in his folly, becoming increasingly resentful and increasingly withdrawn from a world that refuses to recognize his passion.

When professors, and other people who should know better, encourage talentless students to pursue careers in the arts they are doing them a disservice. Millions of young people are living in squalor, pursuing an illusion… because their teachers and television psychiatrists told them to go for it.

No one has expressed this better than the satirical publication The Onion:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA—In an effort to help his students develop inaccurate perceptions of their talents, University of Virginia creative writing professor Alan Erickson told reporters Monday that he takes the time to provide each and every one of them with personalized false hope. “Every student is different, and even though there may be 30 of them per class, I feel it’s important that I make enough time to sit down with them individually to let them know they have a unique voice worth pursuing,” said Erickson, explaining that he frequently extends his office hours and often stays after class to meet with students one-on-one to ensure they hear individualized, unfounded optimism about their writing and their prospects within the publishing industry. “It certainly adds a bit to my workload, but providing specific feedback and encouragement really has a huge impact on their confidence. Going that extra mile for your students is what inspires them to follow their dreams.” The professor added that his efforts have yielded some notable results, asserting that a number of his most deluded former students have gone on to humiliating, short-lived attempts at writing careers.

The Wall: French Psychoanalysis and Autism

I have written about the problem extensively, both on this blog and in my book The Last Psychoanalyst. The medical health establishment in France, controlled in large part by psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic thinking has been derelict in its treatment of autistic children.

Filmmaker Sophie Robert brought the problem to public attention in her 2011 documentary film: The Wall. Three of the psychoanalysts represented therein sued Robert for defamation. They won the first trial in a district court and eventually lost on appeal.

For those who do not know French we now have the full story in English along with an English translation of the text of The Wall.

For those who want to know how French psychoanalysts—both Lacanian and not—see autism and to study the full story of this film and what happened to a filmmaker who ran afoul of psychoanalysts who belong to the major Lacanian organization in France, the Ecole de la Cause Freudienne (trans. The Wholly Freudian Church) the history and the transcript should be illuminating.