Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Can Trump Save the Press?

Those of us who prefer to find a rational interpretation for even the most seemingly irrational actions are happy to read George Friedman’s analysis of the war between President Trump and the press.

According to Friedman, both sides in this war are serving their constituents. Trump is solidifying his base, most of whom despise the intellectual elites. And the press is garnering more and more subscribers, a vital necessity for a business that is barely viable. By his analysis Donald Trump, the Antichrist himself, is the Savior the press has been praying for.

For the record Friedman distinguishes the press from the media. While newspapers are barely profitable, television news—e.g. Fox News—is thriving.

In Friedman’s words:

 The president needs the press to attack him to maintain his political center. The press needs the president to attack it to convince its politically skewed readership that it is defending their interests. The president’s attacks solidify the press’ customer base. The founders’ vision of the tension between the privately owned press and the elected president has turned into a magnificently complex rage that actually serves the political and business interests of both.

The press wants to survive as a viable media source. Its increasingly opinionated readers are avid for any scraps of information that can make them feel that they are right and that they are winning the struggle they are waging against evil. Of course, if the press is increasingly driven by opinion, it cannot at the same time be driven by facts. It might select the facts that sustain the opinions its readers hold, but it cannot inform its readers at the same time.

Today the press has organized itself to fight against the evil of bigotry. American elites thought that the battle had been won with the Obama presidency. They are horrified to discover that it has not. On the other side, the American people, in large part, got tired of the culture wars and the social justice crusaders. It wanted the nation to get back to business. Not the majority of voters in the presidential election but the majority of voters in all other elections.

Friedman describes the press attitude:

Journalists are taking every opportunity to find ways to criticize Trump. The Washington Post recently reported that a passenger asked a Pakistani couple on a United Airlines flight if they had a bomb in their bag and continued to harass them. Normally, a man acting like a jackass on a United flight would not be news. The Washington Post made it news, with the obvious intent to demonstrate how the president’s positions had triggered such rage. The president views the press as his enemy. The press views itself as the unbiased defender of the republic.

The press sees itself as what Friedman calls a guardian class. In Plato’s Republic the guardians were the philosopher kings who knew what was best for the populace. The best and the brightest, the most serious intellectuals would run the republic for everyone’s benefit. Being in love with Ideas they had no self-interest to muck up their reasoning. Such is the mindset of the press—and also the bureaucracy and many members of the judiciary.

By Friedman’s analysis, they are more self-interested than they believe. Trump has thrown them a lifeline and they are hold on for dear life.

He explains:

Since this was a republic in which ordinary citizens were supposed to control the state, the role of the press was to be the guardian of the republic.

The real question is: who do the guardians answer to? What are the checks and balances that control them? Is it their supreme virtue? Or is it Jon Stewart telling them to go back to doing journalism?

In Friedman’s words:

The problem is the one posed by the Roman poet Juvenal: Who will guard the guardians?

And also:

The founders knew that government officials needed to be monitored by the press. They assumed that the press would be monitored by internal accountability. It has not always worked, particularly for what used to be called the prestige press. 

The prestige press includes the Washington Post and the New York Times. They have now discovered that attacking Trump is good business. Funnily enough, every time Trump denounces the Times as a failing enterprise the Times management comes out to explain that Trump has done wonders for its online subscription business:

The press does this because they see Trump as a threat to the republic and because it is good business. The readers, listeners and viewers of the prestige press tend to be a minority of the market. Many draw news from other sources seen by the prestige press as beneath them. The press must hold on to readership, because if that readership falls even moderately, news organizations’ ability to stay in business would be in doubt. The readership consists overwhelmingly of people who despise the president. Every time the president attacks the press, their readers become more loyal to these publications. When Trump attacks these publications by name, their readers, like Trump’s followers, enter that interesting place where rage at your enemy turns into pure pleasure.

Friedman believes that the press is happy to write negative articles because it sustains reader hatred of Trump. Still, one finds it difficult to believe that the Times and the Washington Post are fomenting hatred. Don’t they know that hatred does not limit itself to a single object?

In Friedman’s words:

… reporters are happy to write constant negative articles on Trump that dominate their publications. In doing this, they mobilize their own base, not so much to vote – they will vote against Trump anyway – but to remain faithful to a publication now focused on reinforcing readers’ hatred of Trump.

Friedman explains that this war also serves Trump’s interests:

When you look up articles about Trump in The New York Times and The Washington Post, they appear as an unending barrage of attacks, some reasonable and some preposterous. But they all serve Trump’s interests. The prestige press’ unmodulated hostility helps Trump make the claim that he is under attack by elites hostile to his supporters. It allows him to make the reasonable claim that the press wants to destroy his presidency. Having as your opponent an institution distrusted by the public is very good politics.

According to Friedman press hatred allows Trump to consolidate his political base:

Trump must hold on to his base at all costs if he hopes to govern. The strategy he used to win the presidency was built on the assertion that Trump was engaged in a struggle against those who are indifferent to his supporters’ needs. At the center of this group was the press. Demonizing the press was not difficult. The low regard in which the press is held is extraordinary. According to a Pew Research Center poll, only 18 percent of respondents said they trust news organizations “a lot.” According to a Gallup poll, 32 percent of the public find the press reliable. One number is catastrophic and the other is merely disastrous. The press admires itself far more than the public it serves does.

It is, Friedman concludes, not a time for nuance:

From a political and business point of view, this is not a time for nuance. Each side must demonize the other, and each side feels aggrieved at having been demonized. Trump must hold his support, and the press is working hard every day to make sure that this happens. The press must hold on to its readership, and Trump is doing his part to help make sure the press survives, and even flourishes. The humor of the situation is that both are trying to hold on to their base and keep it from evaporating. Each is doing that by demonizing the other.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Soothsayer Award

In some quarters it’s become something of a parlor game. Who predicted the advent of Trump? Who wins the soothsayer award this year?

Master salesman, showman and famed cartoonist Scott Adams proudly touted his prognosticatory powers on his blog.  He even suggested that, for having called the election correctly, he had demonstrated that his pseudo-theorizing was absolutely correct. One happily grants credit to the Adams Ouija Board. As a theorist, he leaves much to be desired.

More serious intellectuals and a few pseudo-intellectuals nominated the Frankfurt School of anti-fascist Marxist philosophers who rose to prominence after World War II. Having lived through the Nazi era they wanted, reasonably enough, to ensure that it would not happen again. So they theorized that it would come back and give everyone a chance to get it right this time. They wanted to fight it… with words.

In truth, the Third Reich was not defeated by words. And the Marxist fairy tales they were selling, once they were put into practice, produced some of the greatest political catastrophes the world has known.

The Frankfurt School’s love of Marxism, coupled with a strenuous critique of capitalism meant only one thing. They could not bring themselves to credit the capitalistic Anglosphere with winning the war. They did not want to emulate life in stuffy, proper Great Britain. They were afraid that the Anglosphere would take their mistresses away from them.

In truth, Nazism was another effort to win a culture war against Anglo-American hegemony. So, grant the Frankfurt School some consistency.

Now, we have Eric Hoffer. At least, he was not a pointy-headed intellectual elitist.  In a Wall Street Journal op-ed today Prof. Reuven Brenner recalls some thoughts of the great longshoreman philosopher, a man whose book, The True Believer was a best seller in the 1950s. According to Brenner Heller predicted the rise of Trump in a 1970 New York Times op-ed: “Whose Country Is America?”

As it happens, one admires Heller for his clear thinking and robust prose. Did he predict the advent of Trump? Not exactly.  On the other hand, Heller’s analysis of American culture circa 1970 resonates well.

Writing in the midst of the Vietnam counterculture, Hoffer took out after the intellectual elites and student radicals.

About the intellectuals, he wrote:

Scratch an intellectual, and you find a would-be aristocrat who loathes the sight, the sound and the smell of common folk.

Does this explain the Democratic and Clintonian contempt for the common people. Perhaps it does. Hoffer argued that “the alienated intellectual” wants to assert his own importance:

He wants to influence affairs, have a hand in making history, and feel important.

True enough, intellectuals want to assert their own importance. They abhor a world where military and industrial prowess determines status and prestige. Apparently, they were willing to place their self-importance ahead of the national interest. Today, they are promoting factional interests, multiple cults over national interest.

Intellectuals look at the world and see only problems. And they declare that they have solutions to the problems. Hoffer suggested that they do not. Intellectuals believe that problems “like race relations, violence, drugs” can be solved by government programs.”

Common people like Eric Hoffer, however:

… know that at present money cannot cure etc., whereas the social doctors go on prescribing an injection of so many billions for every social ailment.

Even John F. Kennedy understood this. Brenner writes:

Even John F. Kennedy had been skeptical of intellectuals. Arthur Schlesinger noted that JFK had “considerable respect for the experience of businessmen,” which “gave them clues to the operations of the American economy which his intellectuals, for all their facile theories, did not possess.”

This is a noble theory. It is belied by the facts. Didn’t John F. Kennedy hand the reins of government over to a band of intellectuals, aka the best and the brightest? And didn’t these people give us Vietnam. One understands that Robert McNamara was not a Harvard intellectual, but he had no military experience. The Vietnam War was escalated by McNamara, a man in love with his brilliance, by McGeorge Bundy, a Harvard dean and by Lyndon Johnson.

Now the best and the brightest are at war again… this time against Donald Trump… a man who was, until recently, a New York Democrat. In truth, they are defending their social position against someone who is promoting national identity.

As for what was wrong with the counterculture, Hoffer posited that the young were too rich for their own good. They could indulge themselves and avoid meaningful work. They could especially avoid fighting in Vietnam.

The point is worth considering:

They have become more flamboyant, more demanding, more violent, more knowledgeable and more experienced….The general impression is that nowadays the young act like the spoiled children of the rich.

Hoffer called the problem, the “ordeal of affluence.” As he suggested, it is a quality that recalls aristocracy. Nowadays we have trust fund children. Brenner explains Hoffer’s analysis:

Wealth without work “creates a climate of disintegrating values with its fallout of anarchy.” Among the poor this takes the form of street crime; among the affluent, of “insolence on the campus”—both “sick forms of adolescent self-assertion.” As a result, “‘men of words’ and charismatic leaders—people who deal with magic—come into their own,” while “the middle class, lacking magic, is bungling the job” of maintaining social order.

Arrogance, decadence and insolence… it’s a wondrous trifecta. Were I to be slightly churlish I would point out that counterculture was a cult to a charismatic and martyred president, one JFK. And, I would also note that Bill Clinton owed his appeal to his charisma. The same applies to Barack Obama. These presidents did not work their way up the ranks. Most of them never did anything but work for the government.

As for what was wrong with the Boomer generation, some thinkers at the time suggested that the fault lay with the pervasive influence of the child rearing techniques of Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Hoffer was correct to see that the intellectual elites, a group that was empowered by JFK—and by FDR before him—would want to assert their own importance by shaping: “a new generation in their own image.”

Today, bureaucrats, celebrities and the media elite are fighting for their influence. They are trying to rally the nation against Trump by conjuring up nostalgia for Barack Obama. Since Obama projected weakness on the world stage and since he significantly diminished American pride and influence, those who are marching in his name are projecting strength… but not national pride. They are marching for multiculturalism.

Hoffer was having none of their pretensions:

We must deflate the pretensions of self-appointed elites. These elites will hate us no matter what we do, and it is legitimate for us to help dump them into the dustbin of history.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Attacked for Being Jewish in France

After Donald Trump had the temerity to suggest that France has a problem with Islamic terrorism, the president of France took umbrage. Having put his country in a continuing state of emergency because of the threat of Islamic terrorism, Francois Hollande is not well placed to make such denials.

We all recall Charlie Hebdo. We recall the Bataclan massacre. We recall the Bastille Day carnage in Nice. We recall the priest who was butchered in Bretagne. We know that Jews are leaving France because their children are being persecuted in classrooms by Muslim children. We know that Chinese children are being persecuted in classrooms by Muslim children. We know about the riots that recently took place in the Northern Paris suburbs. We know it all and we know that street life in Paris is so bad that Chinese tourism has dropped significantly.

We know it all, and we have seen Francois Hollande demonstrate the courage to call it Islamist terrorism—more courage than Barack Obama and more courage, incidentally, than President Trump’s new national security advisor.

And yet, the president of France is seriously upset because friends do not say such things about friends. The question is not so much that it does not happen, but that allies do not say so.

Anyway, just in case you missed it, here’s another story about the way Jews are treated in the Paris suburbs:

Two Jewish brothers said they were abducted briefly and beaten by several men in suburban Paris in an incident that ended with one brother having his finger sawed off by an assailant.

The brothers were hospitalized in what was described as a state of shock following the incident Tuesday night in Bondy. A case report published Thursday by the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, based on a police complaint by the alleged victims did not specify their medical condition.

The kippah-wearing brothers, whose father is a Jewish leader in Bondy, were forced off the main road by another vehicle on to a side street, according to the BNVCA report. While the vehicle was in motion, the driver and a passenger shouted anti-Semitic slogans at the brothers that included “Dirty Jews, You’re going to die!” the father told BNVCA based on the complaint filed by his sons.

The vehicle forced the brothers to stop their car, and they were surrounded by several men whom they described as having a Middle Eastern appearance. The men came out of a hookah café on to the side street, according to the case report published by the news website JSSNews.

The alleged attackers surrounded the brothers, then kicked and punched them repeatedly while threatening that they would be murdered if they moved. One of the alleged attackers then sawed off the finger of one of the brothers.

But, don’t say anything about it. That would not be polite. Kidnapping, beating, sawing off a finger… just a day’s work for France’s Muslim population. 

Juiced Up on Steroids

God only knows how it happened that the transgendered became the latest front in the cultural wars, but, happen it did. How did a psychiatric anomaly become a civil rights issue? It was bad enough that people were running around crying out that gender was a social construct—right after they accused their opponents of not respecting science—but how did America get to the point where people could claim the right to be whatever they believed they were. When and how did belief trump fact? 

It's the reductio ad absurdum of a dumb idea.

Camille Paglia said it was a sign of cultural collapse. Surely she was correct.

How correct was she? The latest news from Texas, via the Wall Street Journal tells us that a girl who is transitioning to a boy just won the girls state wrestling title:

Mack Beggs, a star wrestler at Trinity High School near Fort Worth, has a new victory under his belt. On Saturday, he became the first transgender boy to win the girls state title in Texas.

Mack, who was born a female and is transitioning to a male through hormone therapy, is at the center of a controversy here over a Texas rule that requires high-school students to compete as the gender listed on their birth certificate.

It’s stupidity on parade. The thing is, Mack Beggs, anatomically and chromosomally a female has been taking testosterone injections in order to transition.

A father of one of his/her female opponents pointed out the relevant fact:

Pratik Khandelwal, whose daughter has wrestled Mack, said he is concerned about future wrestling matches between the two. “It’s not a matter of being transgender, it’s more of a fact that he’s taking testosterone…that could have an influence on the girls that he’s wrestling,” he said.

Duh. Remember when science mattered? So, Mack is taking testosterone injections. As you know, steroids are synthetic testosterone. Since everyone knows that testosterone enhances physical strength and is a main reason why boys are constitutionally stronger than girls, don’t you think that Mack gains an unfair chemical advantage from using steroids? How is that fair?

It’s illegal for athletes to be juiced up on steroids. Now it’s a civil rights issue… As Paglia said, it’s a sign of cultural collapse.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Case Against Keith Ellison

As left thinking people agonize over Trumpian anti-Semitism, embodied by the alt-right and Steve Bannon, Democrats are choosing their next national chairman. One of the two leading candidates, Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota is notably anti-Semitic. He fits the mold of Obama’s mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Obama’s good friend Rashid Khalidi. The latter recently said that the Trump administration was infested with Jews.

Ellison has garnered support from important Jewish Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer. And yet, lifelong liberal Democrat Alan Dershowitz has declared that if Ellison is elected he will quit the Democratic Party, party he has belonged to for nearly sixty years.

Attorney Dershowitz lays out a persuasive case against Ellison.

Here are the highlights:

Ellison has a long history of sordid association with anti-Semitism. He worked closely and supported one of a handful of the most notorious and public anti-Semites in our country: The Reverend Louis Farrakhan. And he worked with Farrakhan at the very time this anti-Semite was publicly describing Judaism as a "gutter religion" and insisting that the Jews were a primary force in the African slave trade.

Ellison has publicly stated that he was unaware of Farrakhan's anti-Semitism. That is not a credible statement. Everyone was aware of Farrakhan's anti-Semitism. Farrakhan did not try to hide it. Indeed he proclaimed it on every occasion. Ellison is either lying or he willfully blinded himself to what was obvious to everyone else. Neither of these qualities makes him suitable to be the next Chairman of the DNC.
And also:

Moreover, Ellison himself has made anti-Semitic statements. A prominent lawyer, with significant credibility, told me that while he was a law student, Ellison approached her and said he could not respect her, because she was a Jew and because she was a woman who should not be at a law school.

Another point:

Ellison's anti-Semitism is confirmed by his support for another anti-Semite, Stokely Carmichael. When there were protests about Carmichael's speaking at the University of Minnesota, Ellison responded that "Political Zionism is off-limits no matter what dubious circumstances Israel was founded under; no matter what the Zionists do to the Palestinians; and no matter what wicked regimes Israel allies itself with — like South Africa. This position is untenable."

As for Ellison’s politics in regard to Israel, his voting record smacks of bias against the Jewish state:

With regard to Israel, Ellison was one of only a small number of Congress people who recently voted against funding the Iron Dome, a missile system used by Israel to protect its civilians against rocket attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah. His voting record with regard to the Nation State of the Jewish people is among the very worst in Congress.

When Therapy Fails

It’s been three and a half months already. You would think that people would have gotten over it. Gotten over the shock of the new. Apparently, such is not the case.

The Los Angeles Times reports that therapy patients are still filling up their therapy hours talking about Donald Trump. They are exposing their deepest feelings, their most irrational emotions to therapists who apparently have no idea about how to help them.

Some patients, the Times reports, are Trump supporters who fear exposing that hidden truth to the world. Given the virulence of the reaction against Trump, anyone who voted for Trump is immediately ostracized. It shows you that many of the anti-Trump voters do not respect dissent and will only accept the results of a democratic election when it affirms their own beliefs. If it does not they will want the courts and the bureaucracy to annul the election results.

One emphasizes this point, because one has rarely seen it discussed. Those who are complaining about the undemocratic electoral college should ask themselves whether they would respect the results of a national referendum, a democratic vote about: abortion rights, same-sex marriage or transgender locker rooms.

Today’s story of therapy failures comes to us from the LA Times:

In her 35 years as a therapist, Arlene Drake has never heard so many clients talking about the same issue. Week after week, they complain of panic attacks and insomnia because of President Trump. They’re too anxious to concentrate at work. One woman’s fear turned into intense, physical pain.

“It’s just a nightmare,” said Drake, who practices in West L.A.

I do not want to be the bearer of bad tidings, but if your patients are still suffering from the same issue after more than three months, you should ask yourself what you are doing wrong. Or better, why you are not helping them.

Drake believes that she has made a great leap forward because now she has reached the point of personal development where she can share her own anti-trumpian feelings with her patients. So what? Apparently, it is not doing anyone very much good. They keep going on and on about Trump.

Having induced their patients to live in a bubble, these therapists are powerless to deal with the real world. They taught their patients to wallow in their emotions and to make their lives into living theatre and now they discover that these skills are of little use when dealing with reality.

If it was just the patients, it would be one thing. But, these therapists find reality to be a dark and alien place, a place whose workings do not follow the narratives they have been peddling. If all they can ask themselves is whether they should feel their patients’ pain… it’s no wonder that the patients are not getting better.

To have a serious discussion about a political matter or a business matter or a professional matter a therapist should have at his command a certain number of facts, a certain quantity of information and perhaps even an opinion. And then he should be able to offer something of an analysis of the facts. As for the opinion, the third leg of this triad, it is the least relevant leg.

One suspects that these therapists do not have enough information to have formed anything but a superficial opinion. They are opinionated, no more and no less.

Since they are spending their time plumbing the depths of people’s souls they do not bother to examine reality. If they want to have good information at their command they should follow the advice of Noam Chomsky and read the business press—the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and the Economist. At least there, Chomsky said, you will find truthful information.

As for political analysis, most therapists probably do not have very much familiarity with it. Especially when it is not larded over with opinion. The business press, especially The Economist offers a great deal of it. If you want to know what analysis looks like, read Gerald Seib in the Wall Street Journal or George Friedman on the site Geopolitical Futures. Analysis should give you the state of the game, the possible moves by the different players and the possible outcomes. It does not tell a story. News analysis has nothing to do with psychoanalysis.

If it’s just about politics, it would be one thing. But most of the people who consult with therapists have lives. They exist in the real world. They have jobs, careers and businesses. They have children and families. And they often have trouble navigating the different currents in their lives.

For a therapist to be helpful, he will need to know something, often a great deal, about the real world, about the world his patients inhabit. If their work on patients’ Trump anxiety tells us anything, it says that today's therapists blissfully ignore the reality of their patients’ lives.  

They teach the art of storytelling. Read through any of the Ask Polly columns in New York Magazine and you will see a flood of emotion woven together in a mindless narrative. There is no way you can take what Polly offers and use it to get your bearings in the world of politics and economy.

Today’s therapy patients know how to feel and they know how to feel their feelings. They even know to feel the feelings of other people. And yet, they do not know how to conduct their lives, more rationally and more constructively and more productively.

Therapists who have undergone years of advanced training in order to learn how to say: How does that make you feel? have nothing to offer to their patients. They have no sense of reality and no sense of how to discuss reality. Their patients are paying the price.

Witches Cast Spells on Trump

At least I am not late to the party. Last night witches across the world held a ceremony at the stroke of midnight. Apparently, they wanted to save the world by turning Donald Trump into a pumpkin.

Have you ever asked yourself why it’s always the stroke of midnight? I assume that it means that at midnight they are going to stroke themselves. Now, that explains it.

When I say that I am not late to the party I mean that several weeks before the past election I suggested (link here) that Hillary Clinton was a witch. To be fair and balanced I also noted that I believed Huma Abedin also to be a witch. Hillary did not lose because she was a woman. She lost because she was a witch.

As you would expect for a story of such moment, you can read all about it in the Daily Mail:

Men and women from around the world are planning to gather and cast a spell at midnight that will stop President Trump from doing harm while also possibly banishing him from office.

Mass rituals have also been planned in multiple covens, during which men and women will perform a spell to bind President Trump and all those who abet him by delivering a chant and holding a brief ceremony.

This is not an exclusive witches-only event wither, with Wiccans, shamans, Heremeticists, cunning folk, sorcerers and sorceresses, hoodooists, occultists, magicians, Ceremonialists and Ritualists also invited and urged to take part.

The mass binding could not be easier either, with only a handful of household objects needed for the ceremony and the newly composed chant available online for all to see.

President Trump, who has long been a strong and vocal proponent of 'witch hunts,' has yet to comment on the planned ritual. 

One awaits the Trump tweet on the witches. One assumes that they are craving recognition.

Now, much of the witch’s agenda has already been proposed by more respectable Democrats. Now the Democrats have revealed their Trump card. If all else fails, if they cannot get the votes, they can appeal to their base of witches and ask them to cast a spell.

I am sure that you want to know about the ceremony performed by the witches. Yet again, the Daily Mail does not disappoint:

Among the objects required to complete this spell are an unflattering photo of Trump, a tiny orange candle, a Tower tarot card and bowls of water and salt. 

There must also be a pin, which is used to carve Trump's name on the candle.

Once that first step is complete, the aforementioned items should be arranged around the individual in a pleasing position along with a feather, a white candle and an ashtray or dish filled with sand.

From there, a prayer for protection should be said by all participants before they launch into the chant.

You are then instructed, as follows:

When it is time to launch into the chant, which was allegedly created by a member of a private magical order.

In one refrain, the witches must chant: 'I call upon you / To bind / Donald J. Trump / So that he may fail utterly / That he may do no harm/To any human soul.'

The second verse tackles a different issues, with the lines: 'Bind him so that he shall not break our polity / Usurp our liberty / Or fill our minds with hate, confusion, fear, or despair.'

President Trump's supporters are also wrapped into the chant.

Be-witching: The event will take plave once a month until President Trump leaves office.

'Bind them in chains / Bind their tongues / Bind their works / Bind their wickedness,' sing the women and men, who at this point are told to take the orange candle and light President Trump's photo on fire.

To close things out the phrase 'So mote it be!' is repeated three times and the candle blown out. 

It is important that while blowing out the person is 'visualizing Trump blowing apart into dust or ash.'

Witches are then ordered to ground themselves after the ritual before disposing of the candle. 

If you missed out on last night’s ceremony, fear not. The witches will be performing the same ceremony once every month until the danger is diminished.

To be fair to the witches, the Daily Mail includes the salient fact that some of our nation’s witches have rejected the ceremony…  because it does not show enough love. They believe that their faith, such as it is, requires them to shower the world with love, not with hate. They do not believe that witches should cast spells wishing harm on anyone.

The assembled witches have replied by insisting that they are simply trying to diminish Trump’s capacity for doing harm. One notes, with the Daily Mail, that they are going to follow the ceremony with an effort to conjure up spirits from the underworld.

Friday, February 24, 2017

You're Fired!

Around New York City people care about what happens at the New York Times. If Mika Brzezinski was right and the media’s task is to control what people think, the leader in the field, for New Yorkers, is the Times. No. 2 is The New Yorker.

Among the more important positions at the paper is that of theatre critic. In olden days Frank Rich held the post and, because of his fine temperament, he was both admired and reviled by producers around town. 

You see, putting on a Broadway show costs mucho time and mucho money. If a producer invested all of that time and money, only to read in the Times the next morning that Frank Rich thought that the play sucked… all of that time and money just went down the toilet. This did not make Rich very popular among Broadway producers.

In the internet age the Times most likely has less influence on the arts than it once had, but still its opinion matters.

One notes also that theatre is an important element in New York’s economy, not just for locals but especially for tourists. And the producers have been notable advertisers in the paper. Between banks and department stores and the arts… along with the classifieds…you have much of the Times shrinking advertising base.

It’s not just about the art… but I am sure you knew that.

Anyway, the Times recently had a Trumpian moment when it called its No. 2 theatre critic, Charles Isherwood into an editor’s office where he was told: “You’re fired!” It was a little too close to “Celebrity Apprentice” for anyone’s comfort, so the story has made quite a lot of noise around the city. It inspired an extended story in New York Magazine.

For your information, the Times’s No. 1 theatre critic is Ben Brantley. The division of critical labor had it that Brantley covered Broadway and other important shows, while Isherwood covered the rest, especially out-of-town theatre. (By all indications Isherwood is not related to novelist Christopher Isherwood.)

Apparently, Isherwood was fired for failing to observe Times ethical guidelines. One does not know exactly which ones he violated, but we can at least make some observations.

Beyond the New York Magazine report, I am impressed by the commentary offered by organizational psychologist Liane Davey in Quartz. Davey offers a useful account of how it happens that people get themselves fired. Clearly, her analysis applies to other positions, executive or otherwise.

Davey begins by noting that Isherwood took the job as No. 2 theatre critic because he assumed, wrongly, that Brantley was about to retire. Thus, he took a job because he wanted another job.

She explains:

New York reports, “When Isherwood arrived in 2004, he was under the impression that [lead critic Ben] Brantley would soon retire.” When that didn’t happen, Isherwood reportedly grew “increasingly, vocally frustrated” with his second-string status.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen employees accept new positions with similar expectations about rapid promotion—only to have their hopes dashed. The lesson here is clear: If you feel you’re overqualified for or are uninterested in doing the job you are hired to do, don’t take it.

Evidently, once you discover that your dream is not coming true within the time frame you imagined, you are going to resent the individual who is standing in your way and you will start trying to push things along.

Isherwood could not control his frustrations or his bad attitude. Davey continues:

The powers that be seem to agree that Isherwood was very good at his job. But being good at your job doesn’t always make up for being costly to your organization in other ways. The story mentions that Isherwood had recently had tiffs with his editor, posted a sarcastic message about Times coverage of the arts to Facebook, and repeatedly (publicly) disparaged Brantley. This kind of attitude may get you turfed, no matter how good you are.

Being good at your job does not give you a pass to display a bad attitude, or,  one might say, not being a team player.

Evidently, Isherwood and Brantley did not develop a very good relationship. One does need to recall that one is working with other human beings and that, no matter how gifted you are, they will put up with only so much bad behavior.

Davey writes:

If there is one thing that is undisputed in this case, it’s that the relationship between Isherwood and Brantley was nasty, to the point that Isherwood was slagging Brantley publicly while participating in a panel discussion. That’s bad form. But some speculate that the Times liked the rivalry between the critics and the motivational effect it had on performance.

This is another good lesson. Beware when your boss pits you against a teammate, hoping that the competition will bring out the best in you both. Bosses are fickle. The same boss that stoked the fires may turn on you for having crossed some previously undisclosed line. You’re wise to resist the temptation to see your coworkers as rivals, and instead form alliances that will help you both succeed.

For the record, the word “slagging” does not exist in American English. It’s the Queen’s English… written by a Canadian. It has nothing to do with shagging, another word from the Queen’s but not American English. The dictionary explains that “slagging” means criticizing harshly. Personally, I find it to be a useful addition to our language.

Davey’s last remark deserves emphasis. Do not be tempted, she says, even if your boss suggests it, to enter into rivalries with your colleagues. You do better to form alliances. In that way you will succeed together and not appear to be dragging each other and the company down.

And also, do not take things personally. Isherwood was apparently unhappy that the Times had reduced the space allotted to the second-tier theatre critic. He took it personally and did not keep his bitterness to himself. He publicized it on Facebook:

Isherwood was reportedly frustrated that the space in the Times devoted to theater critique was dwindling. Recently, he took to Facebook to publish a review that didn’t make the paper. His post was accompanied by a sarcastic note reading, “This may never see print, welcome to the new world of the New York Times.”

Davey draws the correct conclusion:

The minute you chastise your boss for the difficult choices he or she is forced to make, you become a liability. If you want to make yourself indispensable, find ways to help your boss cope and adapt, rather than protesting the march of time.

It is better to be part of the solution than to make yourself into yet another problem.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Don't Lean In. Stand Tall.

One feels vindicated by recent articles about how to negotiate a raise or a promotion. One has often warned people against the lean in approach. One does not believe that men ought to be confrontational and direct in negotiations and one does not believe that women should imagine that when men earn more the reason must be that they engage in more macho posturing.

One understands that the promoter of leaning in did not really mean to say that women should be more confrontational, but, truth be told, the concept of leaning in means being more assertive, more confrontational, more direct… and getting in your boss’s face. Leaning in is posturing.

Sheryl Sandberg knows how to negotiate, but she evidently did not understand the effect of the wording of a concept. The alternative to leaning in is not leaning back. It is: standing tall.

To be fair and balanced, one remarks that a certain politician, a self-proclaimed master of the art of the deal also gives the impression that a good negotiator is confrontational and direct. He was probably misstating his position, but the example he set was just as wrong as the concept that Sandberg coined.

Anyway, the Mental Floss blog offers some tried and true negotiation techniques. It explains that, somehow or other, people have gotten the impression that negotiation should be confrontational. Obviously, this is wrong, and one needs to reread Roger Fisher and William Uhry’s text: Getting to Yes.

Negotiation is not a blood sport. It involves cooperation, even when it is competitive. If you are negotiating a raise you should be able to show what you have contributed to the enterprise. Sandberg herself has recommended this, but it has gotten lost in the din about leaning in. By showing what you have contributed you are showing yourself to be a team player, someone who has worked for the good of the company. Such a presentation makes it far easier for your boss to give you a raise.

One adds that when asking for a raise or a promotion, do not make a demand or make a threat. You should always leave your boss with the impression that he has the last word, not that he is caving in to pressure.

To negotiate effectively, you ought to engage in some small talk, some schmoozing… in order to make a human connection. Various authors recommend that you expose a small, trivial piece of personal information, thus making yourself appear more human and less robotic. It also shows that you are reaching out to the other person, offering an open hand of friendship. As long as you do not extend this to oversharing, this is good advice.

In a competitive negotiation both parties will need to feel that they have gotten a good deal for their side. Recent research—don’t you just love research—tells us that sharing food helps create the right atmosphere.

Mental Floss explains:

"In more competitive negotiations, people want to have the best possible deal for themselves, and typically, they see their counterpart as having adversarial or opposing motives," doctoral student and study co-author Peter Belmi told the Stanford Business website Insights. "In cooperative negotiations, typically people are more concerned about reaching an agreement for all parties involved."

If you're in a competitive situation, say a negotiation to end a legal dispute, having food available can help ease the tension. "What we found is that when people were negotiating in a competitive situation, sharing the food—and by that we mean sharing, not just eating—they created significantly more value," Belmi said. The social ritual of eating offset the competitive tone of the negotiation, allowing subjects to pay more attention to each other and look for opportunities to create more value in the negotiation.

One might say that one should set out a bowl of chips and dip, but one would rather think of this in terms of communal eating rituals, of the sort that occur in some restaurants where people share dishes. 

As for the self-assertiveness, one emphasizes that when you are negotiating a raise or a promotion or when you are trying to be hired, you should be able to let your work, your production, your success even your resume speak for you. If you feel that you have to sell yourself—assertively and aggressively-- you are probably trying to compensate for weak performance.

What's Really Happening in Sweden?

The article, published this morning in the Wall Street Journal, was authored by leaders of the Sweden Democrat political party. They strongly oppose the wave of Muslim immigration that has flooded their nation.

Were it not for the fact that Donald Trump misspoke about Sweden and that certain media and political figures will attack anything Trump says, one would not feel any special need to present the information contained in the article.

And yet, people who had nothing to say when Susan Rice went on all the Sunday morning talk shows to lie about the murder of the American ambassador to Libya  go into paroxysms of self-righteous anger when Donald Trump misspeaks… or even when he gets an unimportant fact wrong.

So, here is the story from Sweden, told by Jimmie Akesson and Mattias Karlsson:

Riots and social unrest have become a part of everyday life. Police officers, firefighters and ambulance personnel are regularly attacked. Serious riots in 2013, involving many suburbs with large immigrant populations, lasted for almost a week. Gang violence is booming. Despite very strict firearm laws, gun violence is five times as common in Sweden, in total, as in the capital cities of our three Nordic neighbors combined.

Naturally, the local Muslim population, once it reaches a certain critical mass, sets out to persecute Jews:
Anti-Semitism has risen. Jews in Malmö are threatened, harassed and assaulted in the streets. Many have left the city, becoming internal refugees in their country of birth.

On the matter of rape culture and sex crimes:

The number of sex crimes nearly doubled from 2014-15, according to surveys by the Swedish government body for crime statistics. One-third of Swedish women report that they no longer feel secure in their own neighborhoods, and 12% say they don’t feel safe going out alone after dark. 

And of course, more Muslims means more suppression of free speech and artistic freedom. This puts the lie to the notion that Muslim immigrants want to assimilate. Anyone who does not understand that they want to impose their culture on that of the decadent West is willfully blind.

One recalls that the Obama administration “disappeared” a Seattle cartoonist, one Molly Norris, because she had offended Muslims and because our powerful FBI and Justice Department could not (or refused to) protect her. One notes that Great Britain could protect Salman Rushdie, but the Obama administration could not do as much for an unknown cartoonist.

The word from Sweden is:

Artists accused of insulting Islam live under death threats. Dance performances and art exhibitions have been called off for fear of angering Islamists. Schools have prohibited the singing of traditional Christian hymns because they don’t want to “insult” non-Christian immigrants. Yet reports made with hidden cameras by journalists from Swedish public media show mosques teaching fundamentalist interpretations of Islam.

As for the canard that these immigrants want nothing more than to work to improve their lot in life, that too is belied by the numbers:

The unemployment rate among immigrants is five times as high as that of native Swedes. Among some groups, such as Somalis, in places like Malmö unemployment reaches 80%.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Jacques van Rillaer Writes About Stuart Schneiderman

Modesty prevents me from telling you how great Jacques van Rillaer’s new article is. After all, the subject of the article is your humble blogger. Van Rillaer is an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Louvain, in Belgium.

In the linked post he reviews in considerable detail my professional peregrinations. Naturally, since it is coming from Belgium, it is written in French. This will be good news to some and not-so-good news for others. If your French is a bit rusty, this article is a good reason to brush up.

Obama, Trump and Anti-Semitism

During the Obama years no one much cared about anti-Semitism. As it happened, most of the anti-Semitism at that time was coming from the left. So Democratic politicians and liberal media outlets tended to downplay it.

For perspective, Jonathan Tobin reminds us:

If there is a “rising tide of anti-Semitism,” as the Obama State Department noted in recent years, sweeping across Europe and now seeking footholds in the United States, it is not driven by the alt-right but by Islamists and leftist anti-Zionists who seek to single out Jews and supporters of Israel for opprobrium and violence. The BDS (boycott, divest, sanctions) movement, which seeks to wage economic war on the state of Israel, has been directly responsible for an increase in anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses. Its support comes from the left and has a connection to the increasingly vocal and influential wing of the Democratic party that is deeply critical of Israel and willing at times to engage in speech that singles out Jews as part of an alleged cabal of Zionists seeking to manipulate American foreign policy against the best interests of the United States.

While the left is in agony over Steve Bannon—formerly the head of the strongly pro-Israel Breitbart News—it ignores the fact that a leading candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee, Keith Ellison, is a stone-cold bigot, a protégé of Louis Farrakhan. You recall that Farrakhan is a close friend and ally of Obama’s mentor Jeremiah Wright.

Tobin continues, adding a few words about respected Democratic Senator, Robert Menendez:

Those concerned about anti-Semitism need to lose their Trump tunnel vision and look at comments in a speech Representative Keith Ellison — the leading candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee — made about Israel and Jews. They should also have been just as outraged about comments made by Senator Robert Menendez during the confirmation hearing of David Friedman, Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, on the day of the president’s epic presser attack on the press. In questioning Friedman, the New Jersey Democrat — who in the past has been a stalwart friend of Israel and a foe of Iran — raised the specter of dual loyalty for American Jews. That should have alarmed the ADL and others who worry about the way anti-Semitic stereotypes are gaining ground in the public square. But the ADL was more worried about what Trump didn’t say than about what Menendez did say, and it was silent about the outrageous question the senator posed. If even Menendez is speaking in language that shows the growing influence of the anti-Israel Left, that should alert the country to the fact that there are other things to worry about than Trump’s rants.

There is, of course, method to the systematic distortions. The liberal left is hard at work rationalizing the Obama administration’s failures to confront anti-Semitism, its failure to defend Israel, the contempt it showed to the prime minister of Israel. After all, the Obama administration was fighting the good fight against Islamophobia and white privilege, but not against Islamist terrorism. It sympathized with the notably anti-Semitic BDS movement and invited anti-Semite Al Sharpton to the White House dozens of times.

Calling out Donald Trump for not denouncing anti-Semitism is misdirection. It is better to attack Trump than to note the relationship he has quickly developed with the prime minister of Israel. And it is easier to blame Steve Bannon than to point out that Benjamin Netanyahu much prefers Donald Trump to Barack Obama.

Nevertheless, the director of the Anne Frank Center has just denounced the Trump administration for promoting anti-Semitism. One suspects that said Center had nothing to say when the Obama administration, in the words of Alan Dershowitz, stabbed Israel in the back at the United Nations. In most cases we do not know who is responsible for the threats against Jewish cemeteries and culture centers, but in the past such actions have been perpetrated by Muslim organizations. After all, Barack Obama’s close personal friend, Rashid Khalidi, a professor at Columbia University, recently said that the Trump administration was infested with Jews. It's a good reason to obsess about Steve Bannon.

If you think that the primary danger America or the world or even Jews face today is Nazis, you are living in the past and fighting the last war.

In the meantime, Trump’s U. N. Ambassador Nikki Haley dressed down the U. N. Security Council yesterday for its obsession with Israel. The contrast is stark. One recalls, again, that the Obama administration allowed the same august body to denounce Israel.

Here is the text of her remarks, via Legal Insurrection:

The first thing I want to do is talk about what we just saw in there. The Security Council just finished its regular monthly meeting on Middle East issues. It’s the first meeting like that that I’ve attended, and I have to say it was a bit strange. The Security Council is supposed to discuss how to maintain international peace and security. But at our meeting on the Middle East, the discussion was not about Hizballah’s illegal build-up of rockets in Lebanon. It was not about the money and weapons Iran provides to terrorists. It was not about how we defeat ISIS. It was not about how we hold Bashar al-Assad accountable for the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of civilians. No, instead, the meeting focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East. I am new around here, but I understand that’s how the Council has operated, month after month, for decades.

I’m here to say the United States will not turn a blind eye to this anymore. I am here to underscore the ironclad support of the United States for Israel. I’m here to emphasize the United States is determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias. We will never repeat the terrible mistake of Resolution 2334 and allow one-sided Security Council resolutions to condemn Israel. Instead, we will push for action on the real threats we face in the Middle East.

We stand for peace. We support a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is negotiated directly between the two parties, as President Trump reiterated in his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday. The outrageously biased resolutions from the Security Council and the General Assembly only make peace harder to attain by discouraging one of the parties from going to the negotiating table.

Incredibly, the UN Department of Political Affairs has an entire division devoted to Palestinian affairs. Imagine that. There is no division devoted to illegal missile launches from North Korea. There is no division devoted to the world’s number one state-sponsor of terror, Iran. The prejudiced approach to Israeli-Palestinian issues does the peace process no favors. And it bears no relationship to the reality of the world around us.

The double standards are breathtaking. Just a few days ago, the United States sought unsuccessfully to have the Security Council condemn a terrorist attack to Israel, where the terrorist opened fire on people waiting for a bus and then stabbed others. The Security Council would not hesitate to condemn an attack like that in any other country. But not for Israel. The statement was blocked. And that’s downright shameful.

Israel exists in a region where others call for its complete destruction and in a world where anti-Semitism is on the rise. These are threats that we should discuss at the United Nations as we continue working toward a comprehensive agreement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But outside of the UN, there is some good news. Israel’s place in the world is changing. Israel is building up new diplomatic relationships. More and more countries recognize how much Israel contributes to the world. They are recognizing that Israel is a beacon of stability in a troubled region, and that Israel is at the forefront of innovation, entrepreneurship, and technological discovery.

It is the UN’s anti-Israel bias that is long overdue for change. The United States will not hesitate to speak out against these biases in defense of our friend and ally, Israel.

I will say that I think we saw maybe a slightly different tone in the meeting, but we will have to see how it goes.

Thank you.

Again, the current hue and cry against the Trump administration has a purpose. It wants you to ignore the abysmal Obama record on anti-Semitism and Israel. It's all about letting people continue to believe that the Democratic Party still deserves the allegiance of American Jews.