Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Closing of the Liberal Mind

Another day, another denunciation of campus radicalism. This time, liberal commentator Fareed Zakaria takes college students and the universities that bred them to task—for their gross illiberality.

Whereas liberalism used to refer to freedom, especially freedom of thought and expression, today’s radicals refuse to tolerate any ideas that do not fit their belief system.

Obviously, these students are not liberal, in any sense of the word. They are radicals who want to impose their view on the world… and who refuse to hear any dissent or disagreement. One often suggests that submit their ideas to the verdict of the marketplace of ideas, but one knows that they are incapable of discussion and debate. They protest, they rant and rave because that is all they know how to do.

They ought not, Zakaria suggests, preach the gospel of tolerance when they are grossly intolerant of opposing views. One should add that their antics bespeak some very bad manners. Dispensing with decorum to score a political point makes them look like true believing cult followers. Why would any want to hire them:

Here are Zakaria’s thoughts, via Maggie’s Farm:

Fareed Zakaria said Saturday that though many liberals think they are tolerant, often they aren't.

Zakaria noted that "at the height of commencement season," many new graduates across the country had made their political views apparent, from the Notre Dame students who walked out as Vice President Mike Pence gave his commencement address to the crowd members who booed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos during a speech at Bethune-Cookman University.

"American universities seem committed to every kind of diversity except intellectual diversity. Conservative voices and views are being silenced entirely," Zakaria said.

The CNN host said he found this attitude strange, especially given that these incidents occurred on college campuses that "promised to give their undergraduates a liberal education."

"The word liberal in this context has nothing to do with today's partisan language, but refers instead to the Latin root, pertaining to liberty. And at the heart of liberty in the Western world has been freedom of speech. From the beginning, people understood that this meant protecting and listening to speech with which you disagreed," Zakaria argued.

That means, he said, not drowning out "the ideas that we find offensive."

In addition, Zakaria noted what he called "an anti-intellectualism" on the left.

"It's an attitude of self-righteousness that says we are so pure, we're so morally superior, we cannot bear to hear an idea with which we disagree," he said.

"Liberals think they are tolerant but often they aren't," he added.

No one, he continued, "has a monopoly on right or virtue."

In fact, it is only by being open to hearing opposing views that people on both sides of the political spectrum can learn something, Zakaria said.

"By talking seriously and respectfully about agreements and disagreements, we can come together in a common conversation," he said.

"Recognizing that while we seem so far apart, we do actually have a common destiny."

The American Cult of Self-Esteem

What would we do without New York Magazine?

Through its two advice columns, “Ask Polly” and “What Your Therapist Really Thinks” the magazine shows us what really happens in therapy. The earnest advice of a happy therapy patient and the insights of a real, live therapist allow us to grasp how bad everyday therapy has become.

Then the magazine has a wonderful column about social psychology, a column called “Science of Us.” I have often praised this excellent compendium of the latest from social science research.

Today, I praise Jesse Singal for exposing the nonsense that passes for psycho wisdom in our contemporary culture. Now that God has passed away, no one turns to religion for moral teaching or for instruction on how best to conduct one’s life. Too often one turns to the pseudo-scientific nostrums that therapy offers to our gullible minds. Therapists have taken over the culture and have been peddling bottles of snake oil. Calling them placebos would be too generous.

Therapists claim that if you take this or that all of your problems will be solved. You will be happy, healthy, wholesome and successful. For decades now therapy has been saying that this will be solved by increasing one's self-esteem.

The concept was first conjured up by Nathanial Brandon and Carl Rogers, but now it has been merchandized to the mass market. People have bought it. Companies have embraced it. They accept that a good dose of self-esteem will solve all of our problems.

And now, following fast on the self-esteem movement, we have a new obsession: grit. If self-esteemists were selling confidence, the gritters are selling perseverance. It is fair to say that confidence is a good thing, as long as it does not become transformed into arrogance. And it is also true that grit, or perseverance is a good thing too, as long as we do not imagine that it alone will solve all of our problems.

Singal summarizes:

Maybe the biggest problem here, whether one is discussing the waning self-esteem craze or the possibly burgeoning grit one, is the basic idea that some behavioral-science eureka moment will, on its own, do all or much of the work of solving big problems in education or the justice system or any other area rife with inequities. No problem important enough to attract the attention of social scientists is simple enough to be solved by the latest idea to spring forth from their labs. Things are always more complicated than “If only we could get people to be more X, then surely we’d see improvements in social problem Y.” Social science, in short, should be seen as just one part of the very complicated process of solving big societal problems – not as a fountain of revolutionary One Simple Tricks.

In other words, they are selling snake-oil, a magical cure for everything that ails you. Strangely enough, Singal notes, the movement has flourished even though its claims have been widely debunked. Serious researchers like Roy Baumeister have noted that while achievement brings more confidence, puffing up your confidence without achieving anything leaves you deluded.

Impervious to scientific debunking self-esteem has helped found a new religion, or dare I say, a pseudo-religion, a cult that provides moral teaching for people who believe that modern science has all the answers. Doesn't it resemble scientology? We must mention that self-esteem, as currently presented by its proponents, offers nothing other than the deadliest of the seven deadly sins: pride.

Singal explains:

TED Talks aside, there’s more understanding of the ways in which the scientific method can lead us astray, can prop up misleading notions about human nature and behavior. So it would be nice to think that these days, something like the self-esteem craze couldn’t happen, that we wouldn’t fall for it.

What does it look like in practice? Singal quotes from a 1991 chidren’s book, The Lovables in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem. I had not known about the book before, and am happy to see the process in action. The book tells children to repeat a mantra, over and over again. They should tell themselves that they are lovable. Even if no one loves them. When they do it they will discover that everyone else is lovable.

The book jacket explains it all:




By using these magical words, the gates to the Kingdom of Self-Esteem swing open for readers of all ages. Inside the Kingdom live twenty-four animals — the Lovables — each one with a special gift to contribute. Mona Monkey is lovable. Owen Owl is capable. Buddy Beaver takes care of the world around him. Greta Goat trusts herself.

Children who were fed these nostrums might well end up believing in the dogma of multiculturalism.

Apparently, it’s all about convincing yourself to believe in something that does not make sense. As its proponents and detractors have noted self-esteem is a belief. You are supposed to believe it no matter what. When the world does not affirm your high opinion of yourself, it is testing your faith and inviting you to become even more deluded.

The self-esteem movement invaded the nation’s public schools and produced the millennial generation. Singal writes:

If you grew up, or raised a child, during the 1980s or 1990s, you almost certainly remember this sort of material, as well as goofy classroom exercises focusing on how special each individual child was. A certain ethos took hold during this time: It was the job of schools to educate, yes, but also to instill in children a sense of their own specialness and potential.

If you were wondering why American millennials cannot compete against their peers in the rest of the world, the self-esteem movement explains it. Link here. It was not just the schools. Many corporations bought into the illusion.

Singal explains:

The self-esteem craze changed how countless organizations were run, how an entire generation — millenials — was educated, and how that generation went on to perceive itself (quite favorably). As it turned out, the central claim underlying the trend, that there’s a causal relationship between self-esteem and various positive outcomes, was almost certainly inaccurate. But that didn’t matter: For millions of people, this was just too good and satisfying a story to check, and that’s part of the reason the national focus on self-esteem never fully abated. Many people still believe that fostering a sense of self-esteem is just about the most important thing one can do, mental health–wise.

Psychologist Jean Twenge examined the effort to inculcate belief and declared that it was making people delusional. For the record, when you hold to a delusional belief you reject the notion that it can be disproved or discredited by reality. When a schizophrenic believes that the voice of God is whispering in his ear nothing you can say or do will shake his belief. Since the culture is currently having a national debate about facts, we should note that self-esteemist cult followers will never accept a fact that would disprove its dogmas.

In Singal’s words:

Take, for example, research Twenge and others have conducted on the frequency of certain feel-good sentences phrases in English-language literature — sentences like Believe in yourself and anything is possible, and You have to love yourself first before you can love someone else. “Those phrases are taken for granted as advice we give teens and adults,” explained Twenge, “but they’re very modern. At least in written language, they were very uncommon before about 1980, and then became much more popular. They’re all very individualistic, they’re all very self-focused, they’re also all delusional. 

Given the evidence demonstrating that it has been oversold, the self-eseteem movement requires that people take it all on faith. The more grandiose its claims the more people are enticed to believe in it, without question.

Strangely enough, it's not news. Writing in the New York Times in 1990, Lena Williams explained:

IT is being called a vaccine against drug abuse, teen-age pregnancy, welfare dependency and other social ills. But some experts are calling it little more than yet another ''feel good'' approach to life's travails.

At issue is the age-old concept of self-esteem, defined by the Second College Edition of Webster's New World Dictionary as ''belief or pride in oneself.'' But the California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility reported recently that there's a lot more to it than that.

She continued:

Hundreds of school districts have added self-esteem motivational materials to their curriculums. American employers have turned increasingly to consultants who say they can raise employees' morale and work performance through self-esteem techniques. New companies have formed, devoted to teaching on self-esteem themes, and hundreds of books on self-esteem and self-enhancement have been published.

And she added the following version of the “I am lovable” mantra:

In his self-esteem course at Apollo High School in Simi Valley, Calif., Geoff Schofield was taught such maxims as, ''It doesn't matter what you do, but who you are.''

''It helped me a great deal,'' said Mr. Schofield, who is 21 years old now and is an apprentice plumber. He is not upset that his friends are swapping campus-life stories while he is fixing sinks. ''I'm learning a skill and I'm earning money,'' he said.

Astonishingly, Schofield does not even understand that when you are a plumber... what you do matters. It must matter. If you cannot fix the leak you are a lousy plumber. You might not even be a plumber. But, dismissing the verdict offered by your performance and achievement, pretending that it does not matter… will lead you down the road to cultural perdition.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Glimmer of Hope

Prime Ministers of Nordic countries have been yucking it up over the picture of Donald Trump placing his hand on an orb in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Truth be told, said countries are American protectorates; they are perfectly incapable of defending themselves. Scandinavian nations that have embraced too many Muslim refugees cannot defend their wives and daughters against the sexual predators they have welcomed into their midst.  
For some perspective about Trump’s momentous trip to Saudi Arabia we turn to noted economic historian, Niall Ferguson. From his latest column for the Boston Globe:

Stop number one for Donald Trump was Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, home of Islam’s holy places, Mecca and Medina. Stop number two was Jerusalem. The liberal media’s response was, as usual, ridicule. How the press corps all laughed at the sight of Trump and the Saudi king laying hands on a glowing white orb.

But what was that orb? The answer: a globe that served as the official launch button for a new Global Centre for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh. Not a single commentator considered for one second that this might be rather an important departure for the Saudi regime, and potentially a real contribution to the campaign of “ideological warfare” that Trump proposed last year.

Unlike his predecessor, Trump is not afraid to call this problem by its real name. Departing from his script, he called for “honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds.” Tut-tut, grumbled The New York Times, he wasn’t supposed to say “Islamic” but “Islamist.” Oh yes he was.

“A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists,” Trump told his audience of leaders from Muslim-majority countries. “Drive. Them. Out.” For all his flaws, he has this right. For decades, Saudi Arabia has been the principal source of funding for the export of Sunni fundamentalism. Leaning on the Saudis is therefore an essential first step. Obviously, there has to be some quid pro quo if the House of Saud really is going to turn off the cash. But that, as Trump’s speech made clear, is going to be US-led action to check Iran’s regional and nuclear ambitions. For hostility to Iran is the one thing that unites the Sunni states represented in Riyadh with Trump’s Jewish hosts in Jerusalem.

This strategy will not be easy to execute. It will not bring back the 22 people Salman Abedi killed last Monday. But at least it is a strategy. And the fact that the president of the United States no longer spouts politically correct newspeak about “countering violent extremism” gives me a glimmer of hope.

Angela Merkel's Obama Nostalgia

European political leaders seem to be suffering from a severe case of Obama Nostalgia. The miss the weak president who would do anything to be part of their club-- even abrogate American leadership. They pine for the days when they could count on Barack Obama to do their bidding. They yearn for the days when America was not providing leadership in the Middle East, and when Vladimir Putin was doing as he pleased. They are positively appalled by a strong and somewhat uncouth American president stepping forward to lead from the front… not from behind.

It is fair to say that Angela Merkel is the most appalled. After all, Donald Trump accused her of opening her country’s floodgates to Muslim refugees and laying the groundwork for her country’s destruction. As it happened, the British exit from the European Union, the first blow to German power, occurred well before Donald Trump won his first electoral vote. Surely, the British people wanted out of the EU because it did not want to have a mass migration of Muslim immigrants flooding its shores. As you know, the Brits have more than they can handle with their current Muslim population. Think Manchester and Westminster and Rotherham.

Merkel is running an election campaign and is happy to use Trump as a punching bag… the better to show how important she is. Fair enough. Yet, Merkel has led the way in accepting Muslim refugees into her country and her message of open arms has made its way to the Middle East and North Africa. A recently leaked report from the German government estimates that around 6 million refugees are readying themselves to cross the Mediterranean in search of welfare.

One remarks that Trump, with his bluster and bravado about immigration, has managed to persuade large numbers of people that America is not going to welcome them with open arms. Walls matter, but so does perceived attitude.

As for the situation in Europe, the Daily Mail reports:

More than six million asylum seekers are waiting to cross into Europe, a leaked intelligence report warns.

There has been a huge increase in the number of migrants hoping to reach EU countries, it says – contradicting claims from Brussels that the situation is under control.

The confidential report, leaked to German newspaper Bild, claims 6.6million migrants are waiting in countries around the Mediterranean sea to cross into Europe, including 2.5million in war-torn North Africa.

Does anyone need to be reminded that this surge was provoked by Merkel's open arms policy and by Barack Obama’s pusillanimous leadership in Syria and his leading from behind in Libya? Rather than take responsibility for the mess that their own policies have created over many years now, European leaders are happy to blame Trump.

But, if you think that the migrant invasion is bad, Merkel will tell you that the threat to the planet is far, far worse. Don't you know that the sky is falling and that the earth is about to be destroyed? Merkel is especially torqued that Trump has not signed on to the Paris climate change agreement, an agreement that was not ratified by the United States Senate and that does very little for America… beyond covering Merkel’s you-know-what. While Europe succumbs to a wave of invading refugees and does nothing to stop ISIS from proliferating, its brave leaders are going to go to the mat to fight... the weather.

The Wall Street Journal editorializes this morning:

Mrs. Merkel’s embrace of green-energy dogmas has done enormous harm to the German economy. She reacted to the Fukushima meltdown by phasing out nuclear power, and her government has force-fed hundreds of billions of dollars into solar and wind power that have raised energy costs. As Der Spiegel once put it, electricity is now a “luxury good” in Germany.

It’s not surprising that Mrs. Merkel and the Europeans should want to shackle the U.S. with similarly high energy costs, and Mr. Obama was happy to oblige. But Mr. Trump was elected on a promise to raise middle-class incomes, and domestic energy production is essential to that effort. Mrs. Merkel doesn’t care if Mr. Obama committed the U.S. to Paris without any Congressional approval, but Mr. Trump has to take that into account.

The U.S. natural-gas fracking revolution also has the benefit of reducing fossil-fuel emissions by reducing reliance on coal. To the extent that U.S. energy production can supplant Russian natural-gas supplies to Europe and keep the price of oil low, it also undermines Vladimir Putin’s influence at home and abroad.

As though that is not bad enough, Merkel has not exactly been standing up to Russian perfidy. When Putin was doing as he pleased, neither she nor her good pal Barack Obama were anywhere to be found.

The Journal explains:

As for fading U.S. leadership in Europe, we wish the German Chancellor had prodded Mr. Obama to do more after Russia snatched Crimea from Ukraine. We’re still waiting for the Germans to support arming Ukraine to impose higher costs on Russia’s military incursions. Then there’s the failure of the U.S. and Europe to stop the Syrian civil war, which contributed to Brexit by sending millions of refugees into Europe without border controls.

One understands that the German Chancellor would want to make political points at the expense of the American president. And yet, she also tried to upstage Trump’s Middle East trip by inviting Barack Obama to an open meeting in Germany… might one not imagine that Trump would push back at her bald attempt to undermine American diplomacy in the Middle East? And besides, are the Europeans really upset that Trump managed to bring together dozens of Sunni nations in a coalition to fight ISIS and Iran? The only reason they would be unhappy was that they were not there, that they were not needed, that their views did not matter. 

I have remarked that Trump’s assertion of American power and influence in the Middle East caused Vladimir Putin to lose status and prestige. But, apparently, it also cause Angela Merkel to lose face. Now, she is doing her best to reassert herself. One can only wonder why so many Americans, in the media, both on the left and the right, and in the Democratic and Republican Parties are buying a narrative that diminishes their president in favor of European leaders like Merkel and Putin?

Monday, May 29, 2017

What Is Stealthing?

As if by magic we have overcome the antiquated practices of dating and courtship. Having sex with someone you know is hopelessly retrograde, a sign that people are living in a bygone age… when men and women respected each other and themselves.

In this brave new cultural universe the chances for sexual abuse have multiplied. Calls to regulate sexual behavior by criminalizing more and more of it have also multiplied. We are discovering that controlling human sexuality by passing a series of laws is a losing effort. The more laws there are the more people try to see what they can get away with.

Today’s new practice is called “stealthing.” It’s a brand new form of abuse, practiced by men who are suffering from condomphobia. Here’s how it goes. When two consenting adults have consented to make the beast with two backs—protected by a condom, of course—the consenting male chooses, of his free volition, to remove his condom without telling his consenting female partner. Said consenting female partner has not consented to go bare-back—as the practice is called in other venues—and has effectively been violated. Had she known what her partner had been doing she would not have consented. Thus, she retroactively withdraws her consent and her male paramour—or is it, hookup—has become a rapist.

The extensive literature of the subject—I have seen two articles (here and here)—does not tell us what is motivating said perfidious males. Are they seeking that extra measure of gratification that comes from condom-free sexual congress? Or are they trying to impregnate their hookups, against their will? In truth, there is no good reason for the practice and no valid justification. It's more like seeing what they can get away with.

One sympathizes with those who want to criminalize the practice, and one would be more sympathetic if one were convinced that new laws would bring a little order to sexual behavior. Of course, one can already see a canny defense attorney explaining that the condom broke or fell off or… use your imagination.

In the realm of higher truth, one suspects that men who are “stealthing” have not developed a real relationship with their sexual partners and thus imagine that their behavior falls within the bounds of the permissible—when having sex with someone one does not know. Would it not be better if these people actually developed bonds of trust before getting it on? Just a thought.

Those who decided that it was a great idea to rid the world of courtship have a great deal to answer for. Those who imagined that the absence of courtship and dating protocols would liberate women did not know what they were doing. Or else, they did not have women’s best interests at heart.

At the same time, impregnating a woman against her will seems like a violation of trust. Knowingly passing on an STD would count as a criminal act. If we ever get over the notion that condoms are a foolproof barrier against STDs we would be taking a step in the right direction.

Again, we have a story of male treachery exploiting female sexual weakness.

But, just in time for this post, the New York Post has a story about perfidious females exploiting male sexual weakness. It is another form of stealthing, and it is apparently common practice in summer fun locales, like the Hamptoms.

Everyone knows that the Hamptoms are a place where everyone parties like there is no tomorrow. It’s sea and surf and fun and sand. Hopefully, not all at the same time.

Obviously, men who find themselves seduced by comely lasses in the Hamptoms are more than happy to forgo the indignity of wearing condoms. They tell themselves that they have just hit a home run—barebacked sex with someone who is not going to require any commitment. In the old days it used to be called free love.

Apparently, free love is not so free anymore. It turns out that some of these free spirited liberated women, living their liberated sexuality, have a less noble motive in mind. They are happy to forego birth control because they want to get pregnant. They want to get pregnant because they want their one-shot paramours to put them on the payroll. They choose men whose bank accounts are bursting. In time they will try to extort child support payments.

Shouldn’t we call this stealthing, too? Considering that pregnancy is the new “curse,” why do these retrograde women persist in associating sex with procreation?

What do these women want? Money. The New York Post has the story:

The goal? At the very least: 18 to 21 years of child support and, in some instances, a green card for the mother, since their child would be born in the US. At best: Scott said, “Women want that Cinderella story [of happily ever after], but I’m noncommittal at this point in my life.”

Happily ever after? Whatever does that mean in this context?

Sometimes women are not even deterred by a condom. Who would have imagined a scene like the following:

[John] a real-estate developer and Upper West Side resident — who said he can have a different sex partner in the Hamptons every weekend — doesn’t want a repeat of last summer, when a woman he met at a party tried to pull a fast one after sex.

She offered to dispose of the used condom, but when she was in the bathroom for a while, John got suspicious. He found the woman seated on the toilet and inserting his semen inside of her.

“She denied it, but she tried to get herself pregnant,” said John, who grabbed a towel and made her clean herself and then shower. “After that, I have to be a lot more careful.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures. The new normal for such studly men with fat wallets is: a vasectomy. But, if said men do not tell their hookups that they have voluntarily rendered themselves sterile, are they stealthily stealthing? Hmm. After all, if a woman knows that a man is shooting blanks that might cause her to reject his amorous advances.

In any case, a physician whose practice is blooming with men asking for the procedure, explains the trade-off:

“There’s a spike in single guys” who get the procedure in spring and early summer, said Dr. David Shusterman, a urologist in Midtown.

“They don’t want to be in the situation of being accused of fathering an unwanted baby,” said Dr. Joseph Alukal, a urologist at NYU. “That’s their fear — being told you’re paying for this kid until it’s [an adult].”

“This extortion happens all the time. Women come after them. [They get pregnant and] want a ransom payment,” said Shusterman. “Some guys do an analysis of the cost — for three days of discomfort [after a vasectomy], it’s worth millions of dollars to them.

“I never see a poor guy [asking] for a vasectomy,” he added. “Rich guys are a population that’s abused a lot.”

One notes that some of these lotharios have not had children. And they know that the odds of reversing a vasectomy are around 50%. So, naturally they make some deposits in the local sperm bank before they have the procedure done. This entails a different kind of risk. A blackout that shuts down the refrigeration units will deprive them forever of progeny.

What kind of girls engage in this kind of stealthing? Apparently, not the all-American variety. For Alex, who is married with children, but in an open marriage, even a condom was not a sufficient barrier to his hookup’s lust to have his offspring:

Alex, 37, already has two kids with his wife, but the health care administrator got a vasectomy late last year specifically so he could fool around — no strings attached — in the Hamptons. The Downtown Brooklyn man and his spouse of 10 years are in an open relationship, but he almost screwed things up last summer when he got stealthed by a comely Russian model he’d met at dinner in Southampton.

During sex, the woman pulled off his condom.

“I asked, ‘WTF?’ recalled Alex. But he didn’t stop the sex. Two weeks later, he got a call from the woman claiming she was pregnant.

“Could her motive have been to shake me down for child support? I don’t know. But it didn’t work, thank God,” said Alex, who never heard from the model again. “It was a wake-up call. It’s not like an STD you can treat. It’s a kid.”

Now, if we pass laws prohibiting men from tricking women into thinking that they are wearing condoms should we also pass laws prohibiting women from removing a man’s condom without the man’s consent?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Learning the Art of Conversation

Whatever the reason, people no longer know how to communicate. They might have mastered the art of texting but they do not know how to engage in conversation via the spoken word.

As it happens, behavioral economists are at the ready to teach them how to do it. Sue Shellenbarger does not mention that the techniques espoused by the experts she quotes come down to us from those master manipulators, but they do.

Shellenbarger reports in the Wall Street Journal on coaches who try to show people how best to engage in conversations. She opens with this example:

If someone says, “I just got back from vacation,” three in four people give a dead-end reply like, “Boy, do I need one of those.” A more inviting question, such as, “What was your favorite day like?” can keep the conversation from dying on the vine, according to research by Contacts Count,a Newtown, Pa., consulting and training firm that advises employers on networking.

True enough, the second question was more inviting than the first. But it was also more intrusive. If you do not know someone you do better not to be overly intrusive. It's rude.

The consultants ignore the larger issues: the gender of the conversationalists, the circumstances that are drawing them together, their relative marital statuses and their positions on the corporate hierarchy. Without knowing these salient data points, we do not really know what is going on in the conversation. A man accosting a woman at a bar with an intrusive question is not the same as a man meeting another man at a corporate function and asking an intrusive question.

We want to know whether the two people are getting to know each other in order to do business or are trying to seduce each other. Dare I say, that it is best not to play off the ambiguity that might pertain when a single man starts a conversation with an attractive single woman, who is also his colleague, his subordinate or his boss. Each different situation changes the dynamics.

If you open a conversation with a jarring, intrusive question you are in the world of seduction. Or, the world of the pick-up artist. You might not think so, but you are. If you are doing this at a business function, you are acting inappropriately.

Much is wrong with the example Shellenbarger offers.

First, when you meet someone you should not announce that you just got back from vacation. If I do not know you why would I care whether or not you have just gotten back from vacation?

A better open gambit raises a topic that is common to the two of you—the weather, the event, the markets, the ball game, the company you both work for. Anyone who opens a conversation with a stranger by announcing that he has just gotten back from vacation is not interested in connecting. He is interested in seducing and manipulating.

Second, if someone does as the consultants suggest and opens the conversation by announcing that he has just gotten back from vacation, the correct response is: where did you go? How did you like it? I've always wanted to go there? Ask about the vacation and draw the person out.

In order to maintain reciprocity you should then share some information about your last vacation or about your forthcoming vacation. In conversations, reciprocity should be the order of the day.

I do not believe that three out of four people are so brain dead that they would respond: “Boy, do I need one of those.” Yet, if you are dealing with someone who is so gauche that he announces that he has just returned from vacation, a throw away remark about how much you need a vacation is dismissive.

Third, no one really asks, upon meeting someone for the first time, what his favorite vacation day was? It’s intrusive and prying. It fails to respect social boundaries and assumes that the person is an intimate friend. Even if you are close friends what would happen if his favorite day was he and his wife spent the day in bed with someone they picked up at the bar?

Since her example sounds like a caricature Shellenbarger offers us another example from another corporate trainer:

Vanessa Van Edwards had been attending networking events for several years during and after college when she realized she was having the same conversation again and again. “It went like this: So what do you do? Yeah. Where are you from. Yeah, yeah, been there. Do you live around here? Well, I’d better go get another glass of wine,” says Ms. Van Edwards, a Portland, Ore., corporate trainer and author of “Captivate,” a new book on social skills.

She started trying conversation-openers that jarred people a bit, in a pleasant way: “Have you been working on anything exciting recently?” Or, “Any exciting plans this summer?”

“If I’m feeling very brave, I ask, ‘What personal passion projects are you working on?’ ” Ms. Van Edwards says. She began making contacts who followed up more often.

Again, we do not know whether Van Edwards is addressing men or women or neutered beings. Perhaps people respond to her new opening gambits because it feels like a seduction. And because she is good looking.

Why did it take Van Edwards several years to figure out that she was not connecting with people at corporate functions? Perhaps, her new contacts followed up more often, but we do not know whether the contacts were male or female, and we do not know what the stakes of the conversation were, so we cannot draw any proper conclusions. Connecting with people and charming them are two different things. Being captivating is often being seductive.

At a time, when women complain about sexual harassment in the workplace it might be a good idea to avoid conversational gambits that feel like seduction. Just saying.

And, of course, asking probing questions might make you a busybody:

Such openers also risk falling flat. Ms. Van Edwards recently asked a stranger she met on a business trip what he was working on that was exciting. The man replied that he hated his job and was going through a divorce. She salvaged the exchange by thanking him for being honest, empathizing and drawing him into brainstorming about what’s it’s like being stuck in a rut and how to escape it.

Was she salvaging something or was she retreating into seduction mode? She seems more to be offering therapy than engaging with another person. One does not know what she means about meeting a stranger on a business trip. Did she meet him at a bar or was she in a meeting with him? If she met him at a bar, her approach seems more to be in the realm of the pick-up artist than the corporate networker. A man who is getting over a divorce who gets hit on by an attractive woman at a bar or in a meeting will probably not be thinking of making a business deal.

Most people know better than to accost strangers with intrusive and invasive questions—unless they are trying to seduce them. And if they are not really trying to seduce them, adopting a seducer’s approach is misleading and dishonest.

Shellenbarger continues:

Only one in four people sees value in asking probing questions of strangers, based on a Contacts Count survey of 1,000 people. Doing so can be risky, says Lynne Waymon, the firm’s CEO and co-author of a book on networking. “I’m demanding more of you when I ask thought-provoking questions. I’m making an assumption that you’re in this conversation to make something of it—that you’re not going to see somebody across the room and say, ‘Oh, I need to go talk to Susan or Bob,’” she says. “But the connections you make are going to be much more dramatic and long-lasting.”

Thought-provoking questions are rude and intrusive. They show a failure to respect boundaries. If a woman adopts this posture and is not trying to seduce the stranger, then she has been lying to him and to herself.

In a last example Shellenbarger quotes a woman who is more introverted, but who has learned a question to ask a stranger—which sounds like a pick-up line.

Learning to start deep conversations can be a relief to the people who dread networking the most. Pamela J. Bradley says she’s an introvert. Meeting strangers used to touch off an anxious voice in her head. The voice would scream, “I have a terrible time networking, or I have a terrible time remembering names,” says Ms. Bradley, human-resources manager for Keiter, a Glen Allen, Va., accounting and consulting firm. Asking probing questions turns down that voice and puts the spotlight on the other person, she says. Among her favorites is, “What’s keeping you awake at night?” because it encourages clients to explain their most worrisome issues.

If a female stranger asks a male what is keeping him up at night, she is playing a seduction game.  If she is talking to a client who is not a stranger and is offering to help him she would do better to ask how she can help his business.

Asking what is keeping someone up at night draws a picture of the person, alone in bed, tossing around, unable to get to sleep. It’s not a flattering picture, unless she wants to become part of it.

No man would ever ask another man what is keeping him up at night. If he did he would be told that it’s none of his business.   

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Step-mother-in-law Is a Witch

You might be surprised, but Ask Polly, the New York Magazine advice columnist, has been showing more good sense lately. Hats off to Polly. Now, the magazine has offered the views of a credentialed therapist, the better to allow us to examine the thinking of a real therapist. Polly, of course, is a satisfied patient.

The therapist is Lori Gottlieb, and, sorry to say it, but she makes Polly look like a fountain of wisdom.

Yesterday, a man wrote to Gottlieb to ask how to handle his out-of-control and highly intrusive stepmother-in-law. The man feels a need to protect his four children from his wife’s stepmother. One wonders why said wife did not write the letter, but the man’s concern for his children and for the appalling behavior his stepmother-in-law is exhibiting toward them is perfectly normal.

For your edification, here’s the situation, described by a man who calls himself Exhausted:

About six years ago, my wife’s father remarried a significantly younger woman, a childless-by-choice professional. This woman is a very cool and aloof person. Apart from my wife’s father, she seems to have no close relationships at all, even with her own family. Yet from the moment she entered our lives, she developed an obsessive attachment to our four children. Actually, she often seems to have trouble remembering that they are our children. She forcefully offers my wife unsolicited opinions on everything from toilet training to discipline to where they should go to school. The other day she referred to herself as “a member of the parenting team.”

And also:

Meanwhile, she refuses to heed any of our rules, from bedtimes to pocket money. She buys the children extravagant presents that we could not afford — and if she hears of any special family plan we have, she’ll make a point of preempting our plan in a more expensive way when the children visit their grandfather. What escalates the situation to the truly disturbing is her habit of playing favorites among the children. She’ll invite the children to draw pictures and give a prize to the child who does the “best” job. At Christmas, she’ll give one child a lavish new toy; another child will be given a used piece of luggage she no longer wants. She’ll heap praise on one and only one child in front of the other three. Family visits typically end with at least one child in tears.

Of course, they tried to speak with her and with her husband, to no avail:

It’s impossible to talk to my father-in-law’s wife about any of this. She erupts in rage against anything she takes as criticism. She’s always telling us how much people admire her.

And, finally:

She’s already assigned my wife and me to her enemies list. At the start, we tried to talk to my father-in-law. That’s becoming more difficult too. He just shrugs and says, “Yes, but deep down she’s a wonderful person.” We want to preserve the relationship with my father-in-law if we can. But we have to protect our kids. Any ideas?

Before launching into Gottlieb’s appalling advice, I would mention one point. The couple in question seems to be less wealthy than the wife’s parents. Thus, they have a financial incentive not to cross the wife’s father or his new wife. Gottlieb does not mention this, because therapists have no sense of reality.

Gottlieb does not know what the couple should do, so she says that they, whose primary moral duty is to protect their children from a toxic step-grandparent, should show Dad’s new wife… COMPASSION. After all, if a grandparent reduced your children to tears, systematically disrespected you, pretended to know more about parenting than you do… you would naturally think that she is mentally ill—or as Gottlieb says—suffering from a personality disorder. And you would naturally want to feel compassion for her—regardless of the effect it has on the children. Huh?

Gottlieb suggests that the woman is suffering from a borderline personality disorder—dubious diagnosis in itself—but she seems to believe that people suffering from BPD need for you to be compassionate. Does she really believe that compassion can do anything more than to feed the illness? Is she willing to sacrifice four children’s lives to placate someone who is mentally ill?

For the record, BPD is a serious disorder. It used to be called a borderline psychosis. The National Institutes of Mental Health take it very seriously, indeed:

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental disorder marked by a pattern of ongoing instability in moods, behavior, self-image, and functioning. These experiences often result in impulsive actions and unstable relationships. A person with BPD may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that may last from only a few hours to days.

Some people with BPD also have high rates of co-occurring mental disorders, such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders, along with substance abuse, self-harm, suicidal thinking and behaviors, and suicide.

Just the kind of woman you want to have babysit your children. Gottlieb has clearly lost it here. One suspects that she feels compassion for the woman because the woman is childless.

For the record, a quick search reveals that Gottlieb herself is a single mother, having been impregnated by a sperm donor. For all of her training she feels some considerable sympathy for the stepmother-in-law’s childlessness. What good are all of those so-called professional studies if you are still thinking only with your emotions and if you are incapable of offering anything but empathy… even for an unsavory character who is deranged.

Anyway, to allow Gottlieb her say, here it is:

That said, I can help you understand why your wife’s stepmother may act this way, why I have so much compassion for her, and why it will help you to feel better if you have some compassion, too.

Trust me, if this woman’s behavior is harming your children, you ought not to feel any compassion. Your primary responsibility is to your children, not to your rich relations.

For her part, Gottlieb does not think that exposing a woman to the erratic behavior of someone who is borderline psychotic is not dangerous. Considering that BPD is a serious illness and considering that the woman’s behavior has already hurt them, Gottlieb is clearly off the wall here.

She writes:

As for protecting your children, I’m not sure that they need it, given that their step-grandmother is erratic but not dangerous. They can survive a sucky gift or losing a contest or not being the favorite of the day. (And if they choose careers in Hollywood or politics, spending a limited amount of time around a person with borderline traits is excellent job training.) Let the kid stuff go, love your father-in-law in his own right, and when you want to strangle his wife, bear in mind that she’s suffering far more than you are. I promise you that’s true. Remember, you get to go home. She doesn’t.

Whatever does that mean? If the woman is harming your children you must do better than to imagine that she doesn’t get to go home. the notion is meaningless and absurd.

It is obvious that father-in-law is being manipulated. And that he does not know any better than to allow himself to be manipulated. He has been completely cowed and fears the wrath of his new wife. Again, that is no reason to sacrifice your children. Gottlieb thinks that the new wife loves him, but clearly the woman lacks a moral character, so I do not believe that she loves anyone but herself. Gottlieb thinks that finding him has been the father-in-law’s good fortune—but clearly she is an appalling human being, a poisoned gift. Clearly, Gottlieb is imposing her own fictional fairy tale on this marriage... about which she knows nearly nothing. What she does know is that the man is being completely manipulated by his new wife.

Since the stepmother-in-law has never been a mother, she has no business telling parents how to bring up their children:

If you choose to tell a man who loves his wife that something’s wrong with his wife, a rift might indeed develop. But if you choose to embrace this man’s good fortune after a tremendous loss — after all, he found somebody to love who loves him back — your relationship with him will likely remain quite close. And the more you choose to look very hard for the ways in which this woman really is — deep down — if not wonderful, then at least full of human longing, the less upset you’ll feel when she behaves in ways that bother you. The more compassion you can have for her internal world, the more you’ll appreciate whatever joy she brings your father-in-law, and the more you’ll be able to take in the love, however imperfect, that she tries to show for you and your kids.

No one knows that she is bringing joy to the wife’s father. Considering how the man describes her, it feels more likely than not that she has taken over his mind and his heart and is using him to enact a scenario that she voluntarily chose to forego. One suspects, incidentally that she did not choose voluntarily to be childless.

As for the solution: the couple should cut back on seeing Dad and his new wife. Be less available. Invite them less. They should tell her that if she does not treat the children equally she will not be welcomed for holidays. If it comes to that, cut back entirely. Perhaps then Dad will come to his senses. You ought never to sacrifice your children to an old man’s willful blindness or to his wife’s mental illness.

The No-Class Party

What’s wrong with the Democratic Party? I am sure that you have been wondering how a once proud political party could have lost as many elections as it did over the past eight years. Even today, once proud Democrats are tearing out their hair and gnashing their teeth over their failure to defeat Donald J. Trump. If Trump is as bad as they say he was and if his badness was so obvious that even a ferret could see it, how did it happen that the marvelously qualified Hillary Clinton could not beat him?

Clearly, the question has been wracking the brain of the superbly qualified and totally competent Hillary. Of course, saying that Hillary was competent and qualified is like saying that women are just as strong as men. Unless you believe in magical thinking you are fostering an illusion.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton showed why she lost and why so many women hate her. In her commencement address to the new graduates of her alma mater, Wellesley College, the Duchess of Chappaqua demonstrated, yet again, that she has no class. She also has no grace, no dignity and no decency. You see, her Hillaryness used the occasion of what is normally a pep talk filled with harmless bromides to act like an embittered crone. One suspects that the women who hated her knew this already. 

She did not lose, she implied. She was cheated out of what was rightfully hers. The Russians and James Comey destroyed her well-oiled campaign machine, machine that did not even understand the workings of the electoral college. Duh?

Better yet, as at least eight hundred commentators have pointed out, Hillary made a full throated defense of facts and reason, just before she declared that Richard Nixon had been impeached. In truth, Nixon was never impeached, but Hillary’s husband was. That someone who was peddling paranoid thinking about the vast right wing conspiracy could proclaim herself a champion of facts and reason beggars belief. That someone whose husband announced to the world that he never had sexual relations with “that woman” could stand up as a champion of facts causes your brain cells to short circuit. And let’s not forget the lies about Benghazi and so on and so on and so on.

Worse yet, what if the newly minted Wellesley graduates step forth into the world and follow the advice of an embittered crone. (It gives new meaning to the term: croney capitalism.) Will the bad attitudes that Hillary is promoting help their careers? Will the vitriol she was handing out help them to have more satisfactory personal relations? Do they want to grow up to have her marriage, or even her career? 

After all, whose life has been more of a lie than Hillary's? This champion of women’s rights rode her husband’s coattails to every important job she ever had. And she failed at all of them, of course. In the end she did not feel that she had to work to win the presidency because she believed that the nation owed her the office, considering all that she had put up with to give the nation Bill Clinton. The North Koreans owe her a debt of gratitude.

If you want to leave facts and reason aside try pondering the thought that Hillary was the most qualified person ever to run for the presidency. And then ask yourself how competent she showed herself to be while Secretary of State? And let’s not forget the private email server and the pass she got from James Comey in July. Note that the scrupulous Hillary rails against Comey's October surprise but has nothing to say about Comey's efforts to shut down the investigation in July.

At the very least, Hillary’s message to the Wellesley graduates was an offer to drink from the same poisoned cup that had made her so embittered. It showed no class. It showed no respect. Any woman who takes her message to heart will pay a price.

Anyway, our famous former president Barack Obama has a far better sense of public decorum than Hillary. It is not a very high hurdle to clear, but still. And yet, just in case you thought that Obama was all class, last week, in the midst of President Trump’s trip to the Middle East, he showed up in Germany to meet with Angela Merkel. Why did he do it? Surely, he wanted to upstage his successor and to pretend that he had not been repudiated as roundly as he had been repudiated. Obama behaves far better than most, yet his effort to undermine and cast some shade on Donald Trump counts as the ultimate cheap shot.

At a time when Trump was working to undo the damage that Obama had visited on the Middle East—and with some measure of success—Obama brought back his “citizen of the world” shtick and regaled an audience in Germany with it, yet again. That the American people preferred Donald Trump to the Obama shtick and had rejected as many Democratic politicians as they had over the Obama years did not seem to register.

Obama could not resist yet another star turn. Like Hillary he could not accept that he lost, that his legacy was being repudiated. If anything, Trump’s Middle Eastern trip was a blanket repudiation of Obama’s handling of the region. Perhaps he was not as much of a sore loser as Hillary. He did not display the revolting lack of sportsmanship that Hillary showed at Wellesley. But clearly, Obama cannot accept that center stage is no longer his.

One should also note that Obama was invited by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two were palling around in Germany while Trump was on his trip. Perhaps they were laughing about the terrorist attack in Manchester. Perhaps they were joyfully chatting about the rising rates of immigrant crime in Germany. After all, no European leader—exception given for the Swedes—had so openly embraced the Obama policy of opening borders to Muslim refugees. The horror of what had transpired in Manchester, like the horror that had happened in Berlin over Christmas, allowed the two leaders to pat each other on the back and to yuck it up. Speaking of indecency, the blood was not yet dry in Manchester when they put on their pro-refugee lovefest.

Think about this. After receiving Obama in Berlin, Angela Merkel went off to meet President Trump. Considering how classless her gesture was would you expect that the American president would be reward her? As it happened, Trump stuck to the message of his trip: the need to unite to fight against Islamist terrorism. Weak-kneed European leaders, led by Merkel, are more concerned with fighting climate change and Islamophobia. In that they echo the priorities of one Barack Obama.

Naturally, Trump was roundly criticized for not making nice with the all-too-nice European leaders, now led, not just by Merkel, but by boy wonder Emmanuel Macron. For two days Donald Trump forced them to face the truth. As it happened, this made them unhappy. Much of the American media declared that Trump had been rude. And yet, when he told them to honor their commitments to NATO and did not mention Article 5, he was telling them that they would do better to fight than to whine. He was telling them that they should not lie back and bask in the glow of their overly generous welfare states while counting on the United States military to defend them. For the record, the last time a nation sought to invoke Article 5, it was France after the massacre at Bataclan. You will recall that Barack Obama rejected the call.

The strength of a democracy, even a democratic republic like ours, lies in the ability of losers to accept defeat graciously, and to retire from the public stage… for a time, at least. The legitimacy of a new government depends on the old regime’s ability to recognize it. If Hillary is complaining that Trump is illegitimate and that she was cheated, she is undermining democracy. If Obama is meeting with foreign leaders and pretending that he is still president, he too is undermining democracy. He has more grace and decorum, but the message is the same.

Friday, May 26, 2017

From Poland: A Message about Terrorism

Many commentators are railing against President Trump for not being overly polite to other NATO leaders yesterday. Perish the thought. While they are all cheering the arrival of the weak-kneed former president Obama in Europe-- why not try to upstage your successor?-- it is perhaps not so bad that someone put them on notice. 

Following Obama's lead these countries have been caving in to terrorism, opening their arms to dangerous refugees, and failing to protect their citizens. The British police keep saying that they are tough and resolute. But, the Manchester bombing said otherwise. And we should also recall the appalling performance of the authorities in Rotherham. Sacrificing children to the forces of radical Islam has been British policy for quite some time.

If you think that Trump was tough on the European elites, listen to the words of Poland's Prime Minister, its Iron Lady, Beata Szydlo, yesterday:

Mattress Girl Bound

The part that takes your breath away is that the Vice website takes this seriously. The Vice reporter thinks that it’s art when a dazed and confused young woman declares herself a performance artist, then strips down to a thong bikini and allows herself to be whipped by a professional dominatrix. Better yet, the site accepts when the woman in question, Emma Sulkowicz, formerly known as “Mattress Girl,” declares that art is about making political statements.

Four years at Columbia University just went down the drain.

You might remember, Sulkowicz’s parents are both psychoanalysts. They must be proud of their errant offspring.  One wishes that they could have provided her with even the most elementary guidance. If you do not feel badly for them and for her you have no feelings at all.

Vice thinks it's high art and political propaganda when a young woman takes off most of her clothing in public. 

Vice tells Mattress Girl’s story:

Emma Sulkowicz is a performance artist living and working in New York City, though most recognize her as the Columbia University student who made headlines her senior year in 2014. Sulkowicz, then a visual arts undergraduate, focused her thesis Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) on hauling a dorm room twin-size mattress everywhere on campus to protest the university's mishandling of her sexual assault complaint against a fellow student. Sulkowicz and Mattress Performance sparked a national debate about sexual assault on campus. As coverage increased, Sulkowicz—wielding a 50-pound mattress and wearing blue hair, a somber expression, and absolute resolve—became the center of a larger culture war tearing through America.

One recalls, because Vice recalls it, that Mattress Girl topped off her first performance piece by doing a graphic pornographic video of what apparently happened during what she—but not the police—called her rape. What's wrong with being respect for your mind?

Vice has been keeping track of her career:

Sulkowicz has furiously continued her work as an artist. Soon after, she released Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol, a follow-up to Mattress Performance. Then, she had her first individual gallery show in Los Angeles. For the past year, Sulkowicz has been enrolled in the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program (ISP) and on May 20th, graduated with a performance at the program's studio exhibition in midtown Manhattan.

Perhaps you want to know why Mattress Girl chose to be bound and gagged by a professional dom. Vice has the answer:

As Sulkowicz explored that question in relation to performance art, she realized that by design, every sinking ship has a sinking woman on its masthead. "So, I told my classmates I was going to wear an American flag bikini and hang from the wall of the gallery in the shape of a figurehead of a ship, making a statement about the impotence of artwork during our given circumstances."

She is protesting. She is attacking white male hegemony. She is trying to save the world. She thinks that every sinking ship has a sinking woman on the masthead. Question for the day: can you distinguish a sculpture of a woman from a real woman?

Sulkowicz explained:

“[I chose] to have a white man tie me up while wearing a business suit with a Whitney necktie, while I wear a Whitney ISP thong bikini," Sulkowicz said.

As for the performance, here is what happened:

As the performance started, this man in a suit, named Master Avery, started to berate Sulkowicz. "Your boobs are too small," he spat. "You can't even stand up straight." He pulled a long, gnarled rope out of a black leather bag and started tying intricate knots around her upper thigh. Once the knots covered both of Sulkowicz's legs, Master Avery started around her waist, moving her body as he worked quickly.

Just in case you think that you took a wrong turn and found yourself in a BDSM dungeon, Sulkowicz explained:

"We're acting out this sadistic-masochistic relationship between the institution with all of its financial power, and this program that wants to be political but can't be really because it's being tied up by this institution," Sulkowicz explained.

And then:

Using a pulley system attached to the ceiling, he used his whole body to lift her from the ground, and after a few tries, Sulkowicz was suspended with her arms and legs wrapped around the beam, rendering her immobile. The rope visibly cut into her skin as Master Avery took off his belt and started hitting her with it.

Such is what passes for art among enlightened New York elites. Be sure to curb your enthusiasm.