Friday, September 30, 2016

Sheryl Sandberg's Lament

It is a truth rarely acknowledged, but a woman who knows how to manage people does not necessarily know how to teach others how to manage people The same applies to negotiation. Knowing how to negotiate does not mean that you know how to teach people how to negotiate. The required skill sets are different. No one can be all things to all people.

Yet, we again have Sheryl Sandberg telling women how to conduct themselves in complex business negotiations. We will stipulate that Sandberg herself is very good at running a business. She manages a very large and wildly successful company.

Apparently, she believes that her success has given her the right to tell other women what to do. And she believes that when her advice leads to undesirable results, the fault lies with male sexism. In other words, she thinks like zealot, one who has very little sense of reality.

One recalls that Sandberg’s friend, former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson decided one day to lean in. She strode confidently into her boss’s office and told him that he was underpaying her because she was a woman. Her boss, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. fired her on the spot.

One would have imagined that Abramson was a competent manager and negotiator. Apparently, she grossly overestimated her value to the company and did not know that her news room was in open rebellion against her, largely because of her incompetent management skills.

Her more capital mistake was driven by ideology: she decided that she should lay a guilt trip on her boss, thereby to extort a raise. By implication, she was saying that if he did not give her more money she would expose him as a sexist. He called the bluff and she was out of a job.

Proponents of leaning in do not use this case to show why leaning in is very bad advice. Instead, in recent Wall Street Journal column, Sandberg explains that leaning in works perfectly.

She writes:

A freelance film director recently described walking into a negotiation. She was ready: She had armed herself with stats and evidence and had practiced her pitch. But instead of diving into why she deserved the project—and the money that came along with it—she began with the following: “I just want to say up front that I’m going to negotiate, and the research shows that you’re going to like me less when I do.”

She could see the wheels turning in the minds of her colleagues. But she was right. When women ask for what they deserve, they often face social pushback—and are viewed as “bossy” or “aggressive” simply for asking. So she came up with a solution: Call out the bias before it could surface. It worked.

As I said, Sandberg should stick to her day job and stop trying to help women.

Limiting ourselves to the evidence she gives, this story is riddled with problems.

First, the good news. The director had armed herself with evidence of her competence and her merit. In the best cases, when you are applying for a job you should allow your track record to speak for itself. When you are selling a product you should let the product sell itself. If you are too aggressive most people will understand that your track record is deficient or that the product cannot sell itself.

Second, the not-so-good news. No one “deserves” to direct a movie. It is not a question of getting what one deserves. The woman was competing against other directors, who may or may not have been right for the job. She might have had the right sensibility. The other directors might have been incompetent. Why would you say that any of the other candidates were less deserving?

Third, the bad news. Anyone who walks into a meeting and announces that she is going to negotiate does not know how to negotiate. The woman sounds like a child playing with a new toy. Even if she gets the job, she will almost certainly not get as good a deal as she would have if she knew what she was doing.

I am sure that Sandberg knows how to do it herself, but the example she offers is simply bad negotiation tactics. The woman was abrupt and confrontational, aggressive to the point of being hostile. Apparently, she had learned a new trick from the behavioral economists—saying that they are not going to like it. This might work on some occasions. Almost anything works sometimes. But, it certainly does not work on all occasions. It is a bluff. It is posturing. As soon as the world learns to recognize it for what it is, it will fail.

We do not know whether the woman got the job because she was the best director available, because she obnoxious and assertive or whether she got the job despite her evident character flaws. One emphasizes that getting the job is not the same as doing the job. One wonders how these character traits will help or hurt her ability to do the job.

Fourth, Sandberg believes that when women ask what they deserve, they often face pushback. Again, the concept of what women deserve is a conceptual mistake. Since Sandberg has no control of her concept she does not understand that leaning in is, literally, posturing. It is macho posturing. It is bad enough when men do it but it is absurd when women do it. You do not bluff when your opponent can see your hand.

Asking for what you deserve is not the same as showing what you have done and what you can do. It seems like a demand. Sometimes it works; sometimes it does not work. If you are going to make demands, you do better to have some leverage. But even if your services are in high demand you do well to present your producers with an option and to allow them to feel that they are not being asked to bend over and to submit to your demands.

If you make someone feel that he has to submit to you, he will also feel that he needs to retaliate. It does not create a congenial work environment.

Sandberg does not understand the most elementary reason why women tend not to be confrontational, tend not to get in peoples’ faces, and prefer not to lean in. It has nothing to do with sexism but is instinctive behavior that has been hard wired into the female brain by evolution. It would not have taken too much intelligence to have figured out that over the millennia, certain behaviors lead to lower survival rates. Women who were more confrontational were less likely to survive.

This means that leaning is does not come naturally to women. It will always seem forced and fake. It is a bad negotiating tactic. It is just setting women up for failure. Of course, it produces pushback. Any time anyone gets in your face you are going to push pack. A woman will be lucky if that’s all it produces.

As a general rule, women, more than men, are likely to feel that they are not masters of the game of business. Often they simply need some guidance about how the game is played and how they can best function within the game. They need to learn how to gain the best advantage by using the talents and skills that they do have. Pretending to be a man simply does not cut it. It makes women look fake, like they are posturing.

Finally, women often have complex lives. They have more to do than to sabotage their careers by living out feminist psychodramas in the workplace. They have homes and families and want to continue to have homes and families. If they adopt a more assertive pose in the workplace they are more likely to use it in their personal relationships. And, as far as most men are concerned, a woman who leans in is not a woman they want to marry. A woman who leans in is not going to receive pushback. She will be ignored.

As a tactic, leaning in is bad for women. It is bad on the job and is bad in their private lives. Tell me why so many women think it’s such a good idea.

As for Sandberg’s constant complaint about how women do not have as many executive positions as men, has it ever crossed her brain that many women do not want to have such positions. They do not want to become like men or to pretend to be men. They might not want to do what is necessary to climb the corporate ladder. They know that career success is not good for their marriages. They might want to spend more time with their children. If Sandberg does not, that’s her choice. But, she has no right to play Pied Piper and to lead women toward a life that will not be anything like what they want.

With any luck women will assert their own good judgment by pushing back at Sheryl Sandberg.

Obama's Pusillanimous Fecklessness

President Obama is using his last months in office to take a few victory laps. He is confident that he has won the war he wanted to fight: the war against Republicans. And he has martialed his troops to fight the good fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, white privilege and white police officers.

As for defending America’s interests in the world, Obama has been AWOL. He seems to believe that surrender is more noble than victory or engagement. As for standing up to an increasingly emboldened and aggressive Vladimir Putin, Obama has never had the stomach for the fight.

The Daily Beast reports on the administration policy: pusillanimous fecklessness:

There is an unspoken understanding within the administration that despite the many provocations Russia has carried out in Syria, there will be no major American response, a position that increasingly is drawing the ire of top national security officials, three U.S. officials told The Daily Beast.

And also:

Adding to these officials’ frustration is that Russia’s aggression isn’t just contained to Syria. There is mounting evidence that Russia has been behind aseries of computer hacks that intelligence officials believe are designed to meddle with U.S. elections in November.

Officials said they feared that the White House’s inaction could devolve into acquiescence in Syria, in Ukraine, and in cyberspace. On Wednesday, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations reportedly laughed when asked about the hospital attack.

Obama has systematically diminished America’s standing in the world. He has weakened the nation and empowered its opponents and its enemies:

“Of course we are concerned about how far Russia will go,” one U.S. official explained to The Daily Beast. “And just as worrisome is what this is doing to U.S. credibility.”

Obviously, no one believed that John Kerry had negotiated a real ceasefire in Syria. The Russians were playing with him. Putin has been treating him and the president he works for as wind-up dolls:

In the last 10 days, since the collapse of the latest ceasefire in Syria, Russia and Syria have mounted what residents call their most aggressive air campaign to date to reclaim Aleppo from opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Should the regime, with Russian help, take the city, it would be a major psychological and tactical victory for the Assad regime.

Members of the U.S. intelligence community are concerned about the implications of seemingly abandoning the opposition forces it backed in Syria, these officials said.

Call it the Obama legacy. We have not yet begun to pay the real price for this failure

Apocalypse Pending

In a new and brilliant essay “After the Republic” Angelo Codevilla (via Maggie's Farm) offers up some signs of what Camille Paglia called cultural collapse. Or, are they omens foretelling the pending Apocalypse?

For all I know it might just be the Age of Obama.

We have gone beyond what Allan Bloom called “the closing of the American mind.” Today, the American mind is completely shut down.

Codevilla writes:

Who, a generation ago, could have guessed that careers and social standing could be ruined by stating the fact that the paramount influence on the earth’s climate is the sun, that its output of energy varies and with it the climate? Who, a decade ago, could have predicted that stating that marriage is the union of a man and a woman would be treated as a culpable sociopathy, or just yesterday that refusing to let certifiably biological men into women’s bathrooms would disqualify you from mainstream society? Or that saying that the lives of white people “matter” as much as those of blacks is evidence of racism? These strictures came about quite simply because some sectors of the ruling class felt like inflicting them on the rest of America. Insulting presumed inferiors proved to be even more important to the ruling class than the inflictions’ substance.

As I have often argued, the fault lies at the top, with the man in charge. Codevilla explains that a nation’s character can be transformed if you grant power to the wrong leader:

All ruling classes are what Shakespeare called the “makers of manners.” Plato, in The Republic, and Aristotle, in his Politics, teach that polities reflect the persons who rise to prominence within them, whose habits the people imitate, and who set the tone of life in them. Thus a polity can change as thoroughly as a chorus changes from comedy to tragedy depending on the lyrics and music. Obviously, the standards and tone of life that came from Abraham Lincoln’s Oval Office is quite opposite from what came from the same place when Bill Clinton used it. Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm was arguably the world’s most polite society. Under Hitler, it became the most murderous.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Trying to Repeal Human Nature

Speaking of obscenely wealthy executives, Sheryl Sandberg is continuing her crusade to abolish the difference between the sexes. Like her boss Mark Zuckerberg, Sandberg is an extraordinary executive. She has accomplished great things in business. Now she is using her wealth and her influence to try to repeal human nature.

Good luck with that.

And she is enormously influential. She is even advising the Department of Defense on how to make the military more gender inclusive. That the military would do better to address the question of how to win wars does not seem to have penetrated her mind. One could see her influence in a recent speech by Vice President Biden at West Point. Biden suggested that our gender diverse military had become a more fearsome fighting force… for being gender diverse.

By Biden’s cockeyed reasoning, when countries and communities throughout the history of the world sent all-male armies onto the battlefield, they were sending out inferior forces… because were afraid of the power of women. If diversity makes an army stronger, then all of those armies that resisted diversity were purposefully sending weaker forces into battle.

If you believe that, you need to be examined. That Biden and Sandberg have allowed ideology to blind them to the implications of their arguments gives us pause.

Apparently, this week is “lean in” week. The Wall Street Journal has run a number of stories about women at work. They are all trying to show how to make the workplace more gender inclusive and how to have more women in more executive positions… whether these women want to or not. I emphasize the point that not one of these studies very much cares about what women want. The gender diversity crowd wants to force women to live their lives in a way that will please feminists.

For example, the CEO of GM, Mary Barra, wants to ban after-work dinners because women with families find it difficult to attend. One notes that the people who want to impose diversity are always trying to figure out ways to run people’s businesses and lives. That these dinners might have an important work function escapes people. That the purpose of a company is to make a profit seems not to be very high on their radar. And there is no real way to prevent men from working longer and harder or from banning them from having business dinners.When do you know that a dinner is a business dinner? And how much of a tyranny to you have to impose in order to implement this absurd idea?

Of course, the leaders, and especially Sandberg, all say that a more diverse company is a more profitable company. And they have the studies to prove it. If that is true, then clearly the marketplace will solve the problem. Companies that discriminate against women and minorities will fall by the wayside when they compete against companies that are more diverse. One needs no government intervention when the marketplace will take care of the problem. Assuming, of course, that there is a problem.

John Tamny explained the issue in more cogent terms:

… if in fact women are underpaid relative to their skills just because they're women, smart owners will snap them up only to reveal through success in the marketplace why women are underpaid.

He continues:

In the real world, no truly talented person would seek coerced higher pay; instead, the skilled would reveal in the marketplace just why their pay isn't high enough through performance proving just that. In short, if women really feel they're underpaid relative to their male peers, they should express this truth in the free market.

Of course, no one pays any attention to differences between the sexes. In particular, differences in mathematical aptitude. Which might have some influence on who gets hired at Facebook.

Mark Perry reports on the aptitude gap, as manifested in SAT scores:

1. Continuing an uninterrupted trend that dates back to at least 1972, high school boys outperformed girls on the 2016 SAT math test with an average score of 524 points compared to the average score of 494 for females, see chart above. The statistically significant 30-point male advantage this year on the SAT math test is slightly below the 31-point difference last year. Compared to the average math test score of 508 for all test-takers, high school boys scored 16 points above average while girls scored 14 points below average.

2. For the 117,067 students with SAT math scores in the highest 700-800 point range, high school boys represented 61.5% of those students (71,999) and the 45,068 girls in that group were 38.5% of the total. Stated differently, there were nearly 160 boys with SAT math scores between 700-800 points for every 100 girls with scores in that range. For the next highest 100-point range between 600-700 points for the 2016 SAT math test, there were about 120.4 boys with scores in that range for every 100 high school girls (54.6% boys vs. 45.4% girls).

And this before we even consider that many women simply do not want to become the CEO or the COO. Do any of these studies even consider what women want, the way they want to conduct their lives and their understanding of the price of great career success? In the first place, all women know that the more powerful a woman is in the business world the less attractive she is to men. With men the opposite pertains: the more powerful a man is in business the more attractive he is to women.

None of the seminars on diversity considers the possibility that the habits a woman develops to rise up the corporate ladder will be a detriment in the world of relationships. And let’s not forget that working long hours will often make it more difficult for young women to have children. Ask some of the hard-charging women in Silicon Valley if you don't believe me.

Moreover, being a good mother requires a considerable amount of time and effort and energy. Some women choose to be less than good mothers because they want to work all the time. Many women choose to fulfill their responsibilities to their children, even if that means a less stellar career.

Besides, you certainly know by now that the high tech firms in Silicon Valley are anything but models for diversity. They are largely run by white and Asian males.  Recently, Facebook decided it was going to do something about this gross injustice. Led by Sandberg the company offered its recruiters bonuses for finding more diverse new hires.

The initiative failed. The overlooked talent did not exist. The notion that they had been discriminating against women and minorities was a mirage.

The spate of new studies, led by McKinsey, seems to be reinventing the wheel. It has discovered that men and women are different, that they have different experiences of the workplace. Fancy that.

Men and women work side by side, tackling the same business problems, sitting through the same meetings and walking the same hallways.

But a new study on working women suggests that the common ground ends there. Men and women experience very different workplaces, ones in which the odds for advancement vary widely and corporate careers come in two flavors: his and hers.

Data show that men win more promotions, more challenging assignments and more access to top leaders than women do. Men are more likely than women to feel confident they are en route to an executive role, and feel more strongly that their employer rewards merit.

Women, meanwhile, perceive a steeper trek to the top. Less than half feel that promotions are awarded fairly or that the best opportunities go to the most-deserving employees. A significant share of women say that gender has been a factor in missed raises and promotions. Even more believe that their gender will make it harder for them to advance in the future—a sentiment most strongly felt by women at senior levels.

You might call this sexism. You might call this discrimination. Or you might call it human nature and consider all of the other factors that enter the equation.

One thing is certain. If you think that the difference between the sexes is caused by sexism you are going to create a hostile work environment and a hostile cultural environment. You will be declaring war against human nature. That is one war you are not going to win.

[Addendum: Yesterday at a Town Hall meeting in Virginia a woman officer posed this question of her Commander in Chief:

CAPTAIN LAUREN SERRANO:   Good afternoon, Mr. President.  A study by the Marine Corps revealed that mixed gender combat units performed notably worse and that women suffered staggeringly higher rates of injury.  Just one of those statistics showed that mixed gender units took up to 159 percent longer to evacuate a casualty than all-male units. As the wife of a Marine who deploys to combat often, that added time can mean the difference between my husband living or dying. Why were these tangible negative consequences disregarded and how does the integration of women positively enhance the infantry mission and make me and my husband safer?]

Zuckerberg's God Delusion

Limitless wealth is not very good for your mind. Especially, if you earned that wealth at Facebook.

Precisely why people who have achieved such great success should want to look like fools defies reason.

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg, fresh off of his maternity leave, has announced that he and his wife will now use his wealth to rid the world of disease. As the poet said: “Death, thou shalt die.”

Katie Hopkins had the story at the Daily Mail:

Looking like two humanoids from a snazzy Artificial Intelligence launch, Zuckerberg and Chan announced their plan to 'cure, prevent or manage all human disease by the end of the century'.

She continues:

All these tech geeks, from whatever their starting point on the autistic spectrum, are competing to see who is the greatest of them all. Who will defeat their ultimate adversary, death, by being remembered for all time.

Getting down to earth Hopkins notes that the Zuckerberg-Chan contribution of $3,000,000,000 (over ten years) is merely one tenth of what the National Institutes of Health spends in ONE year.

Vanity anyone?

Call it the wages of guilt, but, however admirable the sentiment, it’s a minor contribution to a major effort, one that is being undertaken throughout the world by physicians, pharmaceutical companies and foundations. The money expended on this effort positively dwarfs the Zuckerberg contribution.

Hopkins says that Zuckerberg and several tech oligarchs have a God delusion. Having conquered cyberspace they are looking for new worlds to conquer. Or else they are trying to do penance for their outsized fortunes. Better to give it away before someone decides to take it away. We are assured that they are voting for the people who would be most apt to try to take it away.

They might consider that pride goeth before a fall. A little bit of humility would do them all very well.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Case Against Hillary

In Monday’s presidential debate Hillary Clinton touted her record as Secretary of State. Apparently, she accumulated large numbers of frequent flier miles.

If Donald Trump had prepared for the debate or even for the election campaign he would have known enough to attack the Clinton foreign policy record. To the evident dismay of his supporters, he did not. Clinton got a pass from tough guy Donald. In effect, he made her look competent and in charge. It was not his finest hour.

You cannot attack the Clinton record without having a command of the details. And you cannot have a command of the details by simply doing what the Donald recommended in The Art of the Deal: going with your gut.

Today, Betsy McCaughey lays out the case against Hillary in a newspaper column. For all her bravado and posturing on the international stage, Hillary has nothing to show but worldwide calamity. Is the world better off now than it was when Hillary assumed power in the state department. As for her ability to manage the department, all reports suggest that she was incompetent. And let's note that Hillary was not the only woman in charge. She tends to surround herself with women. Some will say that this does not matter. Others will note that it probably does.

McCaughey opens with some of the Obama-Clinton team’s more salient failures:

Her failures go beyond leaving four Americans to die in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, the ridiculous Russian “reset” and the carnage in Syria that she and President Obama idly watched unfold — and that gets more horrific daily.

She might have added the invasion of Libya, the inability to do anything about China’s advances in the South China Sea, the handling of the Arab Spring, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. And naturally, the refugee crisis that has engulfed Europe and that will eventually arrive on our shores.

For bringing more death, destruction, destitution and chaos to the world, Hillary Clinton ranks among the most incompetent American Secretaries of State.

Benghazi was obviously not an isolated case. Hillary was responsible for the security of her ambassadors. Either did not know what to do or did not care, but she outsourced security around the world. Those who were providing security were not qualified to do the job. And we did not know who they were anyway. In Benghazi, when the attack began, they simply ran away.

McCaughey writes:

Clinton’s State Department repeatedly rebuffed requests for additional security for the vulnerable compound at Benghazi, Libya. The result? Heavily armed terrorists were able to storm the compound and kill Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

But Benghazi wasn’t an isolated case. Clinton failed to secure diplomatic posts in Pakistan, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and other global hot spots. Internal State Department reports show the posts lacked emergency plans in case of attack. Guards assigned to them had no training in chemical or biological threats and, amazingly, some hadn’t undergone background checks.

When it came to cybersecurity, Hillary ignored the problem. No one should be surprised, but her gross carelessness undoubtedly compromised American security and must have cost the lives of American intelligence resources.

In McCaughey’s words:

Investigators also point to Clinton’s total neglect of cybersecurity. The Bush administration — reeling from the attack on the World Trade Center — had made it a top priority to protect information flow among embassies, the CIA and the FBI.

But Clinton dropped the ball, creating what the department’s inspector general called “undue risk in the management of information.”

In November 2013, the IG issued an alert to the State Department’s top executives about the urgent “recurring weaknesses” in cybersecurity that had been red-flagged in six previous reports between 2011 and 2013, almost all on Clinton’s watch. The “recurring weaknesses” had still not been addressed, including vulnerabilities to hackers.

One of those previous reports — from July 2013 (shortly after Clinton’s departure) — described how much of the cybersecurity work was actually being done by contractors rather than department staff, contrary to government policy.

She continues:

Rudy Giuliani said on Saturday Clinton’s use of a private e-mail service for official business was like taking “all our top-secret material and throwing it out on Fifth Avenue.”

Outrageous, but still a lesser offense than Clinton’s neglect of the entire department’s digital security — exposing communications between thousands of agents and diplomats across the globe. Even after WikiLeaks released 250,000 confidential State Department documents in 2010, Clinton didn’t plug the obvious holes in State’s cyber set-up.

When it came to managing department finances, Hillary and her team were anything but competent.

McCaughey writes:

Hillary’s management of finances at State was also slipshod, according to inspector-general reports that point to a whopping $6 billion unaccounted for during her tenure. Clinton’s chaotic mismanagement created “conditions conducive to fraud,” the IG warned, and made it harder “to punish and deter criminal behavior.” She must have felt right at home.

And, of course, Hillary remained true to form in failing to investigate sexual misconduct:

True to Clinton’s instinct to cover up problems rather than fix them, she thwarted several investigations of sexual misconduct and prostitution at State. Investigators complained of “an appearance of undue influence and favoritism.”

Surely, McCaughey is right. Clinton’s manifest incompetence at State disqualifies her for the presidency. But, someone has to make the case against her, and Donald Trump does not seem to know enough to do so.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Who Won? Who Lost? Who Cares?

Who won? Who lost? Who cares?

By the admission of nearly all pundits and commentators, Hillary Clinton won last night’s presidential debate. She was prepared, perhaps overprepared. She knew her brief and had smart comebacks to everything that Trump was offering.

Most importantly, she showed stamina. Heaven knows what kind of juice she was on, but she seemed alert throughout. She did not have a coughing fit. Trump began strong, but he eventually seemed to fade, running out of ideas and replies. When you are accusing your opponent of lacking stamina, you should show some yourself.

Of course, Hillary also came across as smug and perhaps overly confident. She was the tough guy in the room and seemed to get the better of the pretender. But, she also hectored Trump and the nation, which made him look more sincere and, dare I say, authentic. 

As I saw it, Hillary looked like she had been propped up behind her lectern. The split television screen made her look at tall as Trump, and since she is nearly foot shorter, it looked like her appearance had been doctored to make her look like something that she is not.

While Trump strikes many people as a repugnant human being, the truth of the matter is that Hillary is not a very attractive human being.  Trump does not come across as sensitive and empathetic. But, Hillary does not either. You might well be willing to have a few beers with Trump. You would dread having a drink with Hillary. Anything to avoid the cackle.

For his part Trump sniffed his way through the encounter. Many people noticed it and asked about it. It’s going to become repeated over and over again on late night television, but one does not know how much that is going to affect too many people.

Of course, we will not know who really won or lost for the next couple of days. The financial markets seemed to believe that Hillary won, but they have been wrong on so many things that one hesitates to trust them. While some have suggested that Trump the bully was beaten up by a mere woman, the truth might be more subtle. Given that Hillary is putatively a woman, Trump could not attack her as aggressively as he attacked his male counterparts in the Republican nomination debates. And many people might have come away feeling that they would like to do what he could not do--to lay a figurative beating on Hillary. It’s the downside of empathy.

Besides, as numerous people have noted, Lester Holt, after beginning as a more impartial debate, started attacking Trump far more than he was attacking Clinton.  

How do you, a white male, respond to a black moderator who implies that you are a racist? Thanks to Holt, the question lay there, a trap for Trump to fall into. Apparently, Holt is a Republican. Yet, he was carrying water for the Democrats in his attacks on Trump. He offered no such attacks on Clinton.

How do you, a white male, respond to a woman who calls you a racist liar and then declares that you are an inveterate sexist. Trump was probably wise to point out that even though he said some bad things about women, but Hillary's husband has done some very bad things to women. When he did, Hillary stood by him. Not only stood by him but set her mind to destroying the women that Bubba had abused and molested.

The larger question is: how fed up are the American people with political correctness? Does the charge of racism still put you beyond the political pale? Does the charge of sexism still make you look subhuman? It is not so obvious to me that these charges still work political magic.

After eight years of Barack Obama, after a rising tide of racial animosity in the country, after seeing cities burn, blacks murdered by other blacks… laying it all at the feet of white police officers and Donald Trump might not work in this election. I suspect that people are too smart to take the bait.

Trump’s reply, his effort to shift the focus to the living conditions in America’s inner cities, struck me as correct. Making it all about racism and white police officers misses the point entirely. It is a smokescreen designed to distract.

One notes that Hillary was talking down to Trump, calling him by his first name. And that Trump was addressing her—for the most part-- as Secretary Clinton. It was probably a good tactic. Given the evident double standard, if he had consistently called her by her first name he would have been excoriated in the press for sexism. By my count Trump called Lester Holt by his first name far more often than Hillary did. It's a sign of respect and cordiality.

As some have noted, Trump missed some excellent opportunities. When asked about cybersecurity he should have slammed Clinton for putting American security at serious risk by using a private email server. When asked about whether he was for or against the Iraq war, he should not have gotten so defensive but should have pointed out that he was a private citizen while Clinton was a senator who voted for the war. And he might have mentioned that she strongly opposed Bush’s surge. He should also have trashed her for suggesting that the Obama administration’s failure to negotiate a status of forces agreement before pulling out of Iraq was the fault of the Bush administration. He should have mentioned that Obama himself declared Iraq a great success when he surrendered. And he could certainly have mentioned Benghazi and Clinton’s lies to the parents of the young men she failed to protect there.

Nevertheless, Trump was simply not prepared. He did not know enough and certainly did not know as much as she did. And yet, he was correct to point out that her extensive knowledge is accompanied by a singular lack of achievements, even of some conspicuous failures.

He would be better able to make this case if he could show off some of his great successes in political offices. He has none, so he was reduced to defending his business record. Since it has very little to do with governing a nation, it will always be off the point.

When pressed by Holt and Clinton—who were teaming up against him—on his taxes, he had an excellent comeback: I’ll release my taxes when Hillary releases the 30,000 deleted emails. And yet, he should not just have mentioned it in passing. He should have pressed the point, and asked her more directly why she bleached her server to destroy incriminating evidence. While she was accusing him of having a nefarious reason for not releasing his taxes he should have been less defensive and should have pointed out the gross disparity between whatever lies hidden on his tax returns and the fact that she compromised national security.

There is, in effect, no comparison between the two.

One understood that he believed that he could get through it on vanity. He did not understand that talking for 45 minutes is not the same as talking for 8 minutes—which is the amount of time he spoke during the Republican candidate debates.

Of course, debating a woman changes the dynamic significantly. No one believes in double standards, but they still exist and if you come across as too strong when dealing with a woman, you will have a problem. Still, Trump could have prevailed and looked more presidential to the chattering class if he had showed a command of fact and information and policy. He did not. It was a missed opportunity.

Still and all, Trump has more than bluster going for him. He sounds like he actually wants to do things for America. Hillary sounds like she has a raft of detailed plans. Having plans and implementing them are not the same thing. One suspects that Hillary will have a great deal of difficulty making deals internationally and even with Congress.

Writing on Powerline John Hinderaker tries to separate the question of who won the debate from the question of how it will change voters’ minds. He writes:

This is why I don’t think the evening was a bad one for Trump: most undecided voters will have seen Hillary as the embodiment of the political class. Smug, smirking, always ready with a torrent of words that can’t quite obscure the fact that to the extent she herself has wielded power, she has been a failure. Hillary Clinton is a walking exemplar of the political class that got us where we are now. A viewer who thinks America is doing great, our politicians are terrific, things have been going well in recent years and we need more of the same will be motivated to vote for Hillary.

Trump had a bad night. Clearly, he came in second. Anyone who supported Trump because they believed he would be great in a debate against Hillary should start asking how they got it so wrong.

And yet, the polls might tell a different story. Trump still has one trump card: he is running against someone that no one really likes, someone who is not likable enough. It may be that, in doing well in the debate, in being smug and cutesy, Hilary might have turned a lot of voters off.

In any other election Trump would have been counted out by now. In this election, he seems still to have a good chance.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Power of Rational Thinking

Long have I railed about the dangers of following your gut. Better to work through a problem, especially a difficult and intractable one, before making a decision. Call it the power of rational thinking.

One understands, only too well, the appeal of emotion. One understands that certain people, who barely know how to think rationally, tell us that we are all slaves to our irrational emotions. Then again, why do they think that the call of emotion is irrational?

Obviously, these champions of irrational emotion want to undo the Enlightenment. Their fellow travelers want to repeal the Industrial Revolution because they want to save the planet. How better to save the planet than producing mass starvation.

If they are behavioral economists they also believe that we do not have free will and that our decisions are never arrived at freely.

Here’s a warning: beware of people who try to convince you that you are not a rational being and do not have free will. It’s easier to take away your freedom—the better to allow the behavioral economists to run your life—when they convince you that you do not have any.

Now, Olga Khazan reports on research conducted by Harvard professor, Jennifer Lerner. Khazan begins by presenting the conventional wisdom about following your gut. She adds a dash of irony, for effect:

Let’s say you’re making a hard choice, one that could impact your life significantly. Every time you think you've settled on something, the other option tugs you back to its side. You end up where you started: It's a draw.

Should you make ever-more-detailed lists of pros and cons and seek advice from even more trusted sources? Or should you go with your gut?

Many people would suggest the latter: Listen to your gut, or your heart, or some other part of your body that couldn’t possibly know what those stock options will be worth in five years. For the advice-giver, “Just do what feels right!” is safe guidance to offer, since if you nudged the decision-maker toward a huge mistake, at least they’d feel good making it.

Khazan is entirely correct. Unless some corner of your soul always tells you the right thing to do with those stock options.

One feels constrained to add that many of those-- like Warren Buffett-- who tell you to follow your gut are making a conceptual mistake. Since they have been studying and reading about the stock market for decades, they can see an opportunity or a danger more quickly than the rest of us. They must think that they are being cool when they say that their accumulated wisdom resides in their guts. It does not.

Enter Jennifer Lerner. Khazan explains Lerner’s research:

In a series of studies she recently published with Christine Ma-Kellams at the University of La Verne in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, she found that, in a task where managers were trying to detect an interviewee’s emotions, they assessed the situation more accurately when they  thought systematically, than when they just relied on intuition.

In fact, much of Lerner’s research focuses on how emotions can influence decision-making—and not always for the better. Your gut, to the extent that it reflects your feelings, might be steering you wrong.

People like to be told to go with their gut. It’s easier than having to think something through, to seek advice, to evaluate the evidence and to draw a conclusion. Going with your gut makes you lazy. It relieves you of the dire necessity of doing some work.

As Lerner puts it:

Anger gets you in the game, but once you’re in the game, you need to think.

With any luck you will have thought through your game plan before you get in the game, but that’s a quibble.

But, what about happiness? You may recall that I posted about the happiness industry two days ago. I was highly skeptical of the current psycho and corporate tendency to try to improve worker performance by engineering happiness… by whatever means.

Lerner has also debunked the happiness mongers:

Surprisingly, though, happiness isn’t much better at inspiring good decisions. Several studies have shown that people who were in a positive mood put more faith in the length of a message, rather than its quality, or in the attractiveness or likability of the source. Given that it’s typically the amicable job interview that results in an offer, this might explain some of the economic advantages that flow to tall men or attractive people.

Allow me to explain. If you are interviewing a job candidate and are in a good mood, if your mind is awash in positive thinking, if you are following your bliss, you are more likely to choose a candidate who is more attractive, even if the person is less qualified or less capable of doing the job.

Happiness can deceive. It can cloud judgment.

But, what about sadness? Lerner suggests that some degree of sadness can make you more thoughtful, but that too much sadness can shut down your mind:

Under certain circumstances, sadness can be good, since it fosters systematic thought. The slightly melancholy, to whom no option appeals very much, will dutifully think, “on the one hand, x, but on the other hand y,” Lerner said. And that’s good! But too much sadness can set off rumination— “you keep thinking x, x, x, x,” she said—which is not going to get you any closer to signing on the dotted line (or not!) with satisfaction and relief.

What’s more, sadness might make you more impatient. A 2013 study by Lerner and others found that people who felt sad accepted up to 34 percent less money in order to get paid now, rather than three months from now. But at least it might make you more generous toward others: She’s also found that sad people allocate more to welfare recipients than angry people would, since the angry would likely blame poor people for their own misfortune.

Lerner concludes that we should not think that the right emotional state will naturally or automatically cause you to make a good decision. The point deserves emphasis.

You should not act precipitously when you are overcome by emotion. Especially when sending out emails. Deliberation, even systematic deliberation, will often yield a better decision. Of course, you will not even think to engage the process if you do not believe that you are a rational being and that you can exercise free will.

An Amazing Therapist

You may have seen the work of actor Laurence Fox. He played the role of Hathaway on the Masterpiece Mystery production of “Lewis.” That’s Detective Lewis, to you. Formerly he was the sidekick of Endeavour Morse in an earlier Masterpiece Mystery show.

Fox was married to a British actress, by name of Billie Piper. You may also have seen her work. She starred in a television show called “The Secret Diary of a Call Girl.” Fox and Piper are now divorced and the divorce seems to have hit Fox especially badly.

Since this blog is about therapy, I report on Fox’s efforts to overcome his trauma.

In a recent newspaper story, he explains that aerobic exercise helps with his panic attacks. As it happened, his brother offered to pay for his trainer, as a post-divorce gift.

Fox explained:

The physical symptoms of trauma and suffering are profound panic attacks for an extended period of time, and I'd never had a panic attack in my life before last year.

It's like being plugged into an electric socket where you go mental.

I've learnt to put on my running shoes and sprint as fast as I can until I can't move any more, then there's something else distracting me and the endorphins kick in and you start to feel better.

Fair enough, and thoroughly to be expected.

Fox continues, explaining that he has been suffering from chronic insomnia:

I haven't slept for six months, even with sleeping pills. I go to bed the same time, same bed as the kids and just lie awake, sleeping two or three hours. My mind's whirring round.

Now, you will be thinking that perhaps he should be seeing a therapist. In truth, he has a therapist.

As he says:

I'm seeing an amazing therapist, I love her.

Let’s see. He hasn’t slept in six months, even while he is taking sleeping medication. And yet, he finds his therapist to be “amazing.” How do you think he would be feeling and how well do you think he would be sleeping if his therapist were not quite so amazing? And besides, the only instance of clear benefit comes by way of his trainer, not his therapist.

In principle you judge a therapist’s work on how well or how poorly her patient is doing. In Fox’s case, the treatment failure doesn’t really matter, because he loves his therapist. He has a good transference relationship, as the analysts would put it, but it is not enough to get him, after six months, a good night’s sleep. It almost makes you think that the transference is simply a way to keep people in treatment when its results are unsatisfactory.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

What is the TTC Community?

Now that the DSM 5 is out and selling like crazy, it’s time to think up some new diagnoses for the upcoming DSM 6.

As you know, mental health professionals use the diagnostic manual to look up codes for their patients’ mental illnesses. They write the codes on insurance forms so that the companies will pay for treatment.

Anyway, the DSM crew is always looking for new forms of mental illness, and I would like to recommend one. It comes from a letter that was sent to Ask Polly, New York Magazine’s seriously challenged advice columnist.

Today, for reasons of benevolence, I will not pass along any of Polly’s commentary. If you are Polly responds that she does not have the problem the letter writer presents. As you might know, Polly loves to write about herself... about something she thinks she knows.

Anyway, the letter writer brings our attention to what is called the TTC community. TTC means: trying to conceive. Conception is a blessing, Shakespeare told us, but for women who have waited to conceive, the process can be riddled with anxiety. It’s a modern condition, derived largely from the fact that modern well-educated women, for various reasons, have chosen to defer and delay childbearing.

A woman who, for reasons I do not quite understand, calls herself  TTC Lurker describes the syndrome well:

I have a question about pregnancy jealousy. I work for a company in the fertility field. In the interest of getting to know our customer base, I’ve become very involved in what they call the TTC (trying to conceive) community online. And as a recently married early-30-something who is almost-but-not-quite-yet about to start trying for a baby of my own, talking to women who are struggling to conceive all day really freaks me out. All the cycle tracking, temperature taking, peeing on sticks, anxious waiting, jealousy when you see someone else’s pregnancy announcement on Facebook …

For these women, it seems like time spent trying to get pregnant becomes its own phase of life. They form a community of support, have all kinds of inside jokes and acronyms. But even though it’s part of my job to help these women, in the place where there should be empathy, part of me recoils.

For your edification, here is a link to the Bump website. It seems illustrative and, if I may say so, soothing.

Both the letter writer and Polly ignore one salient aspect of this problem.. Women who are suffering from this anxiety are living out the consequence of a life choice.

They were told and they accepted the feminist life plan: namely, that childbearing had to be postponed into a woman’s thirties because career had to come first. Feminists routinely disparage women who marry young and who have children young. The worst thing that can happen to a woman is to sacrifice her career to become a housewife and mother, a useless drudge, tied down to home and babies.

From the feminist perspective, conception is a curse. What used to be called “the curse” is now presumably a blessing. Unless she is trying to conceive. No wonder women are anxious and confused. Women’s health, from a feminist perspective, requires endless conversations about contraception and abortion.

Of course twenty-somethings have far fewer problems with conception. Every woman who is thinking clearly—and women do think about this very, very often—knows that postponing conception entails risk. Every woman has a free choice about whether or not she wants to assume that risk.

She should not however allow herself to be seduced into thinking that if she does as the feminists have told her to do, if she chooses to postpone marriage and conception in the interest of pursuing career opportunities, her chances to have children will not diminish. Life is about trade-offs. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you.

Now, to keep this all fair and balanced, we note that some women postpone marriage and childbearing because there are fewer and fewer good men, men who are husband material, out there. I need not tell you about the war against men and the disparagement of any man who dares to suggest that he wants to become a breadwinner. One consequence is the TTC community.

Often, as Polly herself did, women become attached to men who are overgrown children, who are incapable of assuming adult paternal responsibilities. Many young women find themselves in the TTC community because breadwinners have become increasingly scarce.


Left-thinking New Yorkers are having a nervous breakdown. They are rushing to their therapists to talk through their deep anguish and despair over the current election. Most especially, they are torqued over the candidacy of someone who is… dare I point it out… one of their own.

Read the headline on the Slate story:

Fear, Anxiety, and Depression in the Age of Trump

Therapists and their patients are struggling to cope amid the national nervous breakdown that is the 2016 election.

Fear, anxiety and depression… that’s a trifecta.

Struggling to cope… with what, exactly? With a possibility, with an eventuality. And, why are the therapists also struggling to cope? Do they too suffer from fear, anxiety and depression? If so, what good has therapy done for them?

Evidently, these patients do not know that we are not living in the Age of Trump. We are living in the Age of Obama. Perhaps they are displacing their anguish over the current state of the nation… away from the person responsible to the person they can denounce to their left-thinking therapists.

Trust me, a patient who goes to a therapist’s office to rail about Obama will be denounced as a racist and be told that he needs to spend five years on the couch.

Besides, isn’t Trump the embodiment of New York values? Isn’t Trump really a liberal Democrat disguised as a Republican? You cannot walk too many blocks in New York City without seeing the name Trump… in giant letters. How did it happen that all of these left-thinking New Yorkers gave it nary a thought when the Donald was among them, but now feel pangs of anguish… to the point of suffering from Trumpophobia… when they think of their man in the White House?

One suspects that they are worried that they will not see honest Hillary, strong and empowered, unable to walk up the steps on her, stumble her way into the White House. The Age of Obama now gives us a terrorist attack or a riot every week or so. Just think of how it will be with tough-talking mealy mouthed Hillary!

A bomb goes off in Chelsea. No problem. Donald Trump... oh, my God!!!

All therapy patients know in their hearts that Hillary is stronger than the man of steel. What do you want to bet that, if she is elected, she will quickly have the opportunity to show how tough she is? After all, the weak-kneed Obama, master of the art of surrender, has made us more vulnerable. Now, all we need, to rouse our enemies, is tough Hillary.

No wonder these patients are going to therapy. They don’t know what they are afraid of.