Thursday, February 28, 2019

Should She Stay or Should She Go?

Given that baseball season is coming up and given that we all love sports metaphors, today a letter writer throws Carolyn Hax a fastball, straight down the middle. Hax swings and misses. A big whiff.

The issue is clear, or about as clear as these issues get. Boyfriend tells girlfriend that they should start looking for engagement rings. She is thrilled and starts doing as he suggested. When she tries to share some of her research he replies that he is not ready to get engaged of married… that he wants to try her out by moving into her place for a month.

She is confused, rightly so. Here is her letter.

My boyfriend suggested weeks ago that we should start looking for engagement rings. I was overjoyed and started doing research, and we talked again this weekend about checking out rings.

Today, he tells me he isn't ready to propose or get married yet. He wants us to live together for at least a month (mostly at my place). I was floored.

Who would suggest looking for a ring if he was not yet ready to get married? His response was that I misunderstood him, that he wants to get married but doesn't think we are quite there yet.

Am I overreacting? I never dreamed anyone would suggest ring-buying if they weren't actually ready to get married. Any advice? I don't know whether I should continue this for another month and hope he's more clear with his feelings and ready to commit, or bail.

— Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I know what you are all thinking. She should dump the asshole already. What did he think it meant to say that they should look for engagement rings? If he was being completely legalistic and believed that looking for such a ring held no implications, he is a fool. If he could not understand that SISSIG would not understand it as a prelude to a proposal, then clearly she is best to be rid of him. An individual who engages in that level of emotional manipulation is a bad prospect for marriage. And an individual who wants instead to move in with her… is he homeless?... is not husband material.

Regrettably, Hax has been reading too many bad advice columns. So, she thinks that it’s all in the feelings. Eeks. She writes:

More important, though: What about the feelings? The life plans, and the emotional honesty behind them?

What do you actually think of each other, feel for each other, need from each other, see in your future with each other, believe of each other?

Why is it up to him to propose? He decides, you merely consent? What’s with letting someone else run your life like that? Seriously — it withstands roughly zero scrutiny, that tradition.

Rings, like any symbol, can be lovely. But it’ll come to be a symbol of how mindlessly you two walked into marriage (or walked away from it) if you don’t start talking honestly and intimately, stat.

This is sanctimonious cant. If he cannot keep his word and if he does not understand the implications of his verbal gestures she should cut her losses. As for the notion that she should propose, this is obviously a desperation move. Those who are gender bent out of shape think that this is just peachy… but if he cannot muster up the courage to propose, why does anything think that he will be an acceptable husband.

If SISSIG does not want to dump him on the spot—for all I know he has some redeeming qualities—though, to be fair, she does not mention any of them in her letter—she should politely decline to open her house to him. She should tell him that she cannot bring herself to share her home unless she is formally engaged.

Simple. Direct. It puts the ball back in his court. She does not even have to lean in.

The Case of the Left-Out Woman

Call it the perils of #MeToo. The sole woman working in a financial services firm office is being excluded from hanging out with the men in the office. She is being treated as toxic, as radioactive. The men do not invite her to lunch and presumably not to their get togethers. If they were to have lunch with her, this would change the dynamic appreciably. They would have to watch what they say. They would not be bonding. They would be walking on egg shells. 

What should she do? Aside from writing a thank-you note to the proponents of #MeToo.

She has written to behavioral economist Dan Ariely, someone whose august scientific credentials do not seem to give him any special wisdom about these circumstances. It goes to show you that you should not take advice from behavioral economists.

The letter goes thusly:

I work in investment banking in a firm where 90% of the employees are men. I’m the only woman on my team, and ever since I joined, my teammates have treated me like the office plant. They make lunch plans without including me, they say hello and goodbye to everyone except me; generally, they pretend I don’t exist. I don’t think they are doing it to be hurtful—I just think they’re not sure how to befriend women. What can I do to change this? —Jamie

As is to be expected, Ariely does not understand the situation. So he cheerfully invites her to try to break up group solidarity by picking off the men, one at a time.

He writes:

Social isolation is difficult and painful, and I’m very sorry about your experience. Sadly, it is difficult to change the social norms of an entire group at once. An easier path would be to change the behavior of one colleague at a time; direct interactions will help them to see you as a whole person. Why don’t you try to invite one of your co-workers for coffee or lunch every week? In time, this will change the overall atmosphere in the office.

Note the effusion of empathy. He feels her pain. Probably, he doesn’t, but in the current cultural climate, you must say that you do. As noted above he has no understanding of the issues in play.

Of course, he has no clue about the social dynamics, but he does understand that she is a “whole person.” This is arrant stupidity. She is being treated as a woman because she is a woman. There is no such thing as a whole person—how many people do you know who are half a person?

And Ariely does not understand that he is recommending that she appear to break up the group dynamic. This is not going to make her any friends. Besides, you do not need to be a world renowned behavioral economist to understand that if she asks one of the men to go out to lunch or dinner… he might very well see it as an invitation to go on a date. And that he will be spending long hours with the guys at the bar laughing at her presumption. If you do not understand this, you have no insight into the situation.

The obvious solution is to seek a new job. The less obvious solution is for her to do a great job. We know nothing about her position, her responsibilities or her capabilities. Could it be that she was a diversity hire... and that she does not know what she is doing?

She should not worry about lunch. She should look as though she is too busy to do anything but to eat at her desk. She should also try to contribute to the work that her colleagues are doing. This might involve sharing some information about a company someone is researching. This might include asking for assistance on a project she does not quite grasp. If she shares an office with one or two people she might bring some extra breakfast donuts to share with her office mates. If she is working on an open floor with a dozen people, such a gesture would be excessive and would bespeak desperation.

Of course, if her colleagues do not say hello and goodbye to her, nothing in the world prevents her from saying hello and goodbye to them... cordially, courteously, regardless of their response. And to call them by their first names. She should make it a daily habit, no matter what. 

One thing she should not do is to ask a behavioral economist how to solve her problem.

She Told...

Advice columns present these situations often enough. A woman discovers that her father had an affair. At the least, she is persuaded that he had an affair. Should she tell her mother? That is the question.

Sadly, here is a real life version of the dilemma. Socialite and Vogue model Laura Krupinski told her mother Bonnie that her father Ben had had an affair with Martha Stewart. Yes, with that Martha Stewart.

What happened next was beyond tragic.

First, both her mother and her father took the revelation badly. They cut her off completely. The New York Post reports:

Krupinski, was estranged from her parents, Hamptons builder-to-the-stars Ben Krupinski and Bonnie, since 2013, when Laura told her mother that Ben had had an affair with Martha Stewart, one of his famous clients.

“Dad denied it and said I was crazy. My mother got angry and wouldn’t return my calls,” Laura told Page Six at the time.

Ben, who was worth $150 million, cut off Laura’s $26,000 monthly allowance and evicted her from her home in Bedford, NY.

“They took away everything I own — all my clothes, even my wedding china,” Laura said. “Dad told me he hated me and never wanted to see me again. We haven’t talked since.”

Then, for reasons that had nothing to do with the disclosure, the Krupinski parents, Ben and Bonnie, died in an airplane crash. Also aboard was their grandson, Laura’s son, William Maerov.

Finally, Laura herself, aged 52 died this past Monday. No cause of death has been published. She is survived by a daughter, Charlotte.

Perhaps there is more to the story. We do not know. We only know what has been reported. At the least, the next time an advice columnist tells a letter writer to expose family secrets, we should pause.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Deep State Tries to Undermine Trump's North Korea Diplomacy

For three decades William Arkin was a military analyst at NBC. Recently, he resigned from the network because he believed that their coverage of foreign policy and military matters was only serving the interests of a coterie of so-called experts. For now, he is a columnist at The Guardian. It think it fair to say that he does not belong to the vast right wing conspiracy.

As always, we on this blog seek out sane, sensible rational voices on political issues. In the time of Trump this has become increasingly rare. The race to the intellectual bottom, accompanied by boundless bias against Trump has seriously muted such voices.

We also note that more than a few members of Congress are doing their best to undermine American foreign policy. Today, as Trump negotiates with Kim, Congressional Democrats are putting on a committee circus, bringing convicted perjurer Michael Cohen before the public in order to trash talk Trump and to undermine his authority. We have already explained how Congressional whining, from the left and the right, is damaging Trump administration Middle East policy.

Now, as President Trump is meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, we offer William Arkin’s analysis of the current state of play in the American-North Korean negotiations. It appeared in The Guardian (via Maggie’s Farm). Strangely, Arkin finds much to praise in the Trump approach. He reserves his greatest contempt for the foreign policy and military experts who have been disparaging every move Trump has made.

Arkin begins by calling out those who have been reflexively attacking Trump, for no reason other than their own bias.

And yet, ever since the president announced last year that he would pursue “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”, jeering has been the near universal response. It’s come from almost every imaginable American quarter: Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, expert and amateur.

The national security establishment—a deep state group if ever there was one-- is selling a caricature of Trump policy, and not just in North Korea. Arkin continues:

… the picture painted is of an unmanageable patriarch who desires to give away the family fortune. That family fortune of course is in the possession of the national security establishment. On North Korea, but not only with regard to Korea – look also at Syria and Afghanistan – expert Washington is the master at adhering to their own preferred solutions. Their passive-aggressive ways – whether applied to Trump on Korea or Obama on issues like Guantánamo and general nuclear disarmament – perpetuate stagnancy, any real change stymied through the imposition of conditions that are never quite achievable.

Trump is not doing things as these deep state actors would want. Thus, he is actively discrediting their approach and diminishing their authority. Among the worst, Arkin notes, is former CIA director John Brennan:

Former president Barack Obama’s CIA director John Brennan has been the most vociferous, saying that a president “prone to flattery” and oblivious to North Korea’s “agile feint” has taken Kim’s “bait”, canceling exercises and contemplating reductions of forces. Meanwhile, the news media is filled with leaks and speculation that North Korea clandestinely continues to manufacture nuclear materials and work on long-range missiles. Ahead of the meeting, US officials promise that troop withdrawals from the Korean peninsula won’t happen, more of a hope as to the actual agenda, given the portrayal of Trump as a dangerous wildcard.

What is the Trump record on North Korea:

North Korea conducted one nuclear test during the Trump administration in September 2017 and has backed off even since then. Five underground tests were held in the two previous administrations. After a flurry of longer and longer range missile activity in the first months of Trump’s rule, the North also hasn’t conducted a long-range missile test since November 2017. Provocations and incidents of other types have also noticeably declined.

No one quite knows why Pyongyang slowed its public and overt testing, nor why Trump’s bluntness and boasting that his nuclear button was bigger seems to have worked. But consider this: Trump largely inherited practices initiated in the Obama years, military moves that were meant to threaten and coerce North Korea in light of its diplomatic failures.

As for why North Korea reacted as it did, we ought to consider the important influence of the man who is pulling the strings, Chinese president Xi Jinping. Not to be overly repetitious but I suspect that Pres. Xi promised Kim security guarantees, while telling him that he had the chance to do for Korea what Deng Xiaoping had done for China. Today, free enterprise is beginning to break out in the Hermit Kingdom.

At first, Arkin continues, Trump seemed to be blundering his way into conflict. Threats and counterthreats filled the airways. The usual band of Chicken Littles in the media declared solemnly that the sky would soon be falling and that we were all going to be incinerated.

And yet, Arkin notes:

Into this near autonomous skid towards conflict blundered Trump. It did look grim for a few months, the two threatening strikes on each other, missiles flying, and speculation even emerging that the United States might move nuclear weapons back onto South Korean soil.

But then a different course emerged, the denuclearization dream vetoing the national security establishment’s “tried and true” practices. Much of the American activity stopped or slowed at the end of 2017. The navy pulled back and submarines were sent home. B-1 bombers flew elsewhere. After the first summit meeting, some war games in South Korea were canceled. There was even a gap between rotating army units coming from the United States.

But then, mirabile dictu, the situation calmed down and things started moving in a more constructive direction.

Meanwhile, a new leader in South Korea made significant overtures to the North and the two sides increased their talks and meetings, ratcheting down tensions and creating far better conditions for serious negotiations. And slowly, though this could change on the whims of the illustrators of doom, the ominous maps also pulled back. You know the ones I’m talking about. First Guam and then Hawaii in range of the North’s missiles, then Alaska and California, all culminating with the mushroom cloud and the dotted line moving closer to Washington DC itself.

Naturally, establishment figures are disparaging whatever is going on. They do not see the glass half-empty. They see it as empty. And if it isn’t empty they are doing their best to sabotage the ongoing diplomacy:

With this second summit, the same cast of characters wants you to know that North Korea is refusing to provide an inventory of its nuclear program, that it is secretly building missiles and preparing this and that new base, that it is modernizing its military, that it is trying to break sanctions, that it is a cyber and even terrorist threat. And most important, that it is fooling the president.

Most of the leaks come from active saboteurs but some also just believe they are protecting America. They want you to believe that doofus Trump will willy-nilly agree to withdraw the near 30,000 American troops from the peninsula, at the same time closing the nuclear umbrella over South Korea and Japan. And, if he is successful, they want you to know that he might divert attention from Robert Mueller and the border wall debacle and all of what else might be more important to Washington.

Arkin concludes on an optimistic note:

Say what you will about Trump, but after some very bad years of active nuclear testing and missile shooting, disarmament on the Korean peninsula has already occurred. Things are quieter and two leaders who previously weren’t talking – ever – now are. Sure the United States should remain vigilant, but much of the penis-wagging and button-pushing is over. To say no success has occurred is factually incorrect. Just getting rid of the war cry is enough to cheer over.

High Tech Patriotism

Just in case you didn’t believe that the nation was suffering a patriotism deficit, high tech companies have stepped forth to disabuse you of your naiveté.

First, it was Google. As the Wall Street Journal editorialized:

Last year Google employee-activists successfully bullied CEO Sundar Pichai into backing out of one Pentagon artificial-intelligence project and withdrawing a bid for another.

Unpatriotic activists have now set their sights on Microsoft:

Microsoft employees are circulating a petition demanding the company drop a Pentagon contract for an augmented-reality system they say will turn “warfare into a simulated ‘video game,’ further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed.” The employees also want Microsoft to “cease developing any and all weapons technologies.”

What will happen if this becomes more pervasive?

If they spread throughout the industry, they could end up eroding the U.S. military’s access to top-of-the line artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, authoritarian countries like China are mustering the full force of their technology in their militaries and for domestic political control.

Fortunately, Microsoft executives are made of sterner stuff than Google executives. The Journal continues:

CEO Satya Nadella told CNN that “we made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy.”

If our major tech firms refuse to support America, we are going to find ourselves at a serious competitive disadvantage:

No company can be forced to enter into a contract. But the integrity of U.S. defense has always depended on a basic sense of patriotism in private industry. Mr. Nadella should stick to his guns.

Ah, yes, patriotism. Apparently, today’s left has lost its sense of patriotism. It has decided to use its massive power to advance a political cause, a leftist cause, at that. Inevitably, the United States Congress will crack down on these companies, which have become far too powerful for their or anyone else’s good. Trust busting is coming at them.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Should He Divorce His Dying Wife?

Reginald has a problem. He wants to divorce his wife. He does not even understand why he ever married her. They have a daughter who is apparently a teenager. He and his wife do not get along. They had agreed to divorce. But now, his wife is seriously ill. She has a heart condition, a side-effect of her pregnancy. She has changed her mind about divorce. He has not changed his. He writes to therapist Lori Gottlieb to ask whether he can dump his dying wife… or some such.

He fears that his actions will make him look like a jerk. The chances are very good that such actions will make him look worse than that. We know little about how the child feels, about how family and friends feel, about how his community will see him. What about work colleagues and the wives of male friends.  If we are allowed to speculate about the minds of other people, we would suggest that his daughter, his family and his community will hold it seriously against him. His fishing buddies might not much care, but I am confident that their wives will. And his daughter will certainly care. She will be assailed on a daily basis by the plaints of a dying mother whose husband has abandoned her. 

In short, and without too much suspense, he should not divorce his sick and dying wife. Without knowing anything about his social network, we will err on the side of caution and declare that people should never abandon dying spouses… regardless. The damage to his reputation will not be repairable. His relationship with his daughter will not be repairable. Even if her parents do not get along very well, his daughter will almost certainly take her mother’s side.

For now, here are some salient excerpts from the letter:

We both could make a case for why we should have never gotten married. We broke up and got back together several times prior to marrying. I even married someone else (the marriage lasted approximately one year, and I could write a separate letter about that one!), and I was engaged to someone else before our paths crossed again and we married.

Two years later, after the birth of our only daughter together (I have an older child with another woman), my wife was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart), which doctors believe happened during her pregnancy. It caused some valve damage that she needed surgery to repair, and she later had additional surgery to implant a pacemaker.

Her health stabilized, but the issues we had prior to getting married worsened. I told myself going into 2019 that I would ask for a divorce for the sake of both our happiness. But toward the end of 2018, her heart issues started to get worse. So when I asked for a divorce, she accused me of leaving because she's sick. Fortunately, I had a bulleted list of all the things that were not getting better—and she didn’t disagree with the plethora of issues I laid out.

We mutually agreed that we should get a divorce, but a week or so later her health took a turn for the worse. Now her cardiologist says that she may have to have another heart surgery or even a transplant. As much as I’m concerned for her, I have been through thick and thin with her through prior surgeries and sometimes long bouts of her not being at 100 percent, and I know I can no longer stay. I will pick up the slack where I need to for my daughter, and my wife has a great support system with immediate family, but I don't want to come off as a jerk.

Am I wrong to leave her under the circumstances?


Since Gottlieb is a therapist, she sees this as a relationship problem. She cannot, from her therapist’s perspective tell him whether it’s right or wrong to leave his wife:

I can’t tell you whether you’re wrong to leave your wife, but I can help you understand your decision better by examining the story you’re telling yourself.

In truth, it’s far more wrong than right. Reginald would have done better to write to the New York Times Ethicist columnist.

Gottlieb meanders into some thought experiments. There she considers how other people might see his situation. Again, she has no real notion of the man’s social networks and things that all other people will either feel for him or not feel for him. She has no sense of community moral values. Hers is simply the wrong way to look at the problem:

Now, if you were hearing this story as an outsider, would you shake your head and say, “Oh, this poor, long-suffering man! Look at all the hardship he’s been through—all these women have wreaked havoc on his well-being, and I hope he can save himself and go find true love once and for all”? Or might you say, “Oh, this man sounds so confused. He’s clearly suffering, but he also seems to struggle with maintaining a stable, intimate relationship. I’m worried for his future well-being—no matter what he decides to do”?

And then, unfortunately, she decides that she must delve into his personal history. To be fair, he invited her to do so, but it’s still not relevant:

For starters, you say that you don’t want to come off as a jerk, but consider: This probably isn’t the first time a woman you were partnered with thought that you acted like a jerk. 

The problem is not whether or not he looks like a jerk. He is not dumping a girlfriend or even divorcing a woman… both of which are generally accepted forms of social behavior. He is talking about walking out on a sick and dying woman who also happens to be the mother of his child. The situation is unique, for him. We should not muddy the waters by confusing it with prior history.

Again, Gottlieb believes that it’s a relationship problem:

The part of your story that seems to stand out for its accuracy is that you aren’t leaving your wife because of her illness—at least, not completely. Given your history and the way you told your story, my guess is that you’ve found it hard to stay in any relationship, illness or not, and that you’ll continue to do so if you don’t figure out why relationships are so challenging for you.

So, Gottlieb falls into the trap that has caught so many therapists. She thinks that it’s about empathy. And, of course, about constructing a narrative, that is, turning your real life into fiction.

… shift from seeing the story solely within the confines of a first-person perspective (I’m not happy; I’ve put up with a lot) to being able to see it as a more balanced, third-person narrator (This mother is undergoing something life-altering, and has been for more than a decade, and probably hasn’t gotten much help for the trauma that resulted from her pregnancy. This daughter’s life has been affected by having a sick mother and parents who don’t get along. This husband and father has some personal issues to work out so that he can have healthier relationships). As you rework your story, you’ll develop more empathy for the other characters in the narrative, and be able to see the plot from their points of view as well.

Life is not a story. Telling it like a story will not help you to understand anything. The issue here is moral values, something that this man has an inkling of. Asking a therapist for advice about moral issues is obviously a big mistake, but not as big a mistake as abandoning a dying woman, the mother of your child.

Unequal Pay for Unequal Work

As the profoundly misleading slogan implies, people performing equal work should receive equal pay. In truth, there is no such thing as equal work, and besides, when you apply this formulation to men and women, you find out that in most cases they do not do anything resembling equal work.

As we read the usual round of whining about why there are not enough women at all levels of all corporate hierarchies we must remark that a considerable part of the problem is that many women simply do not want to do what it takes to become a lead corporate honcho. Ought we not to respect their free choices?

Of course, we are always looking for ways to quantify the difference, to demonstrate that the pay gap is merely a reflection of hours worked… and that what appears to be equal work is often not equal work. Two workers may have the same title and the same position, but that does not mean that they perform equal work.

Now, the Newswars site reports on a paper by Harvard economists, Valentin Bolotnyy and Natalia Emanuel. It is entitled “Why Do Women Earn Less Than Men? Evidence from Bus and Train Operators.”

Newswars quotes the authors view that the gender pay gap:

… can be explained entirely by the fact that, while having the same choice sets in the workplace, women and men make different choices. Women use the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to take more unpaid timeoff than men and they work fewer overtime hours at 1.5 times the wage rate. At the root of these different choices is the fact that women value time and flexibility more than men. Men and women choose to work similar hours of overtime when it is scheduled a quarter in advance,but men work nearly twice as many overtime hours than women when they are scheduled theday before. Using W-4 filings to ascertain marital status and the presence of dependents, we show that women with dependents – especially single women – value time away from work more than men with dependents.

Different choices suggests that women exercise their freedom to choose… and choose to spend more time with their children.

The numbers tell the story:

… the earnings gap can be explained in our setting by the fact that men take48% fewer unpaid hours off and work 83% more overtime hours per year than women. Thereason for these differences is not that men and women face different choice sets in this job.Rather, it is that women have greater demand for workplace flexibility and lower demand for overtime work hours than men. These gender differences are consistent with women taking on more of the household and childcare duties than men, limiting their work availability in the process. … When overtime hours are scheduled three months in advance, men sign up for about 7%more of them than women. When overtime is scheduled the day before or the day of the necessary shift, men work almost twice as many of those hours as women.

Women with dependents – single women in particular – are considerably less likely than men with dependents to accept an overtime opportunity. This is especially the case during weekends and after regular work hours, times when there are fewer childcare options available.

Besides, the authors continue, what we gingerly call equal work is not really equal work:

They also help to highlight the fact that even when men and women have the same job title and the same job description, the work they do is not homogenous. A worker who works at odd hours (and thus makes more overtime pay because of it) simply isn’t doing the same work as a person who requires extremely regular hours. Similarly, a worker who requires sizable chunks of time off every several years (for maternity leave or childcare needs) is also not doing the same work as a worker who rarely takes time off.

The conclusion: men and women are treated fairly in the workplace, according to their contributions.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Was the Constitution a Mistake?

You knew it was coming. Those who bow down to the goddess of democracy now take serious offense, not merely at the Electoral College, but at the United States Senate. Michael Tomasky has just sounded the alarm and we should pay attention to what he says. Because if today’s radicalized Democratic Party has its way, we will scrap the Constitution and the Senate and the Electoral College… in favor of a mass democracy, that would be, government by referenda.

Apparently, Tomasky, whose book If We Can Keep It was just reviewed by Jason Zengerle in the New York Times, confuses republican government with democracy. A republic is distinguished from monarchy because people, or at least some of the people, choose representatives. These representatives govern, but they are not forced to do exactly what their constituents want them to do. Naturally, if they stray too far from their campaign promises they can be recalled. Or they can be voted out of office at the first electoral opportunity. 

But this is not the same thing as a democratic system where the people decide. One remarks, with some chagrin, that in today's America, if the people vote in a referendum for a policy that certain people disapprove of, they will immediately have the referendum overturned by a federal judge. In many cases, the American rule of law has been replaced by the rule of lawyers, that is, the rule of judges.

When Tomasky suggests that the American republic is insufficiently democratic, he is making a couple of serious mistakes and trafficking in confusion. Confusion between a republic and a democracy. His book's title, If You Can Keep It, was part of a sentence uttered by Benjamin Franklin, who stated that the constitutional convention had given the nation: "a republic, if you can keep it." 

On the other hand, he is correct to point out that political parties, which he largely disapproves of, are far more polarized than ever before. By his faulty reasoning this explains why America elected Donald Trump to the presidency. Ergo, he concludes a Constitution that would allow us to elect Donald Trump is fundamentally flawed. We can ignore the fact that the Constitution has been amended and reinterpreted over the centuries, and that we may certainly do so in the future. Providing that we respect the genius of the document, not cavil about its mistakes.

Zengerle summarizes Tomasky’s arguments, thus sparing us the travail of having to read the book:

He contends that the founders, with the Connecticut Compromise, designed a fatally flawed system for our federal legislature. By mandating that the Senate be made up of two representatives from each state, they gave outsize influence to sparsely populated states. As for the House of Representatives, a blasé attitude about maintaining districts of equal size led to inequality, with rural areas of 10,000 constituents having the same representation as urban ones with 50,000 constituents. This situation only changed with a 1964 Supreme Court decision mandating “one person, one vote.” “The founders were visionaries,” Tomasky writes. “But they were human. They made some mistakes.”

Oversized influence… Heaven forfend. On the other side, the founders wanted to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. And from the possibility that large states take advantage of smaller states. A system that has worked more or less well for over two centuries should not be dismissed quite so glibly.

Tomasky has a top down view of politics. He argues, not unpersuasively, that our willingness to take on debt, both personal and national debt, derives from a court decision from 1978, one that I, for one, had ignored.

Marquette National Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corp. (1978) was “a pulverizingly dull case,” which ruled that banks should abide by the usury laws of the state in which they were chartered, not where their customers lived. By making this change, the court drove banks to move to states with the lowest, or even no, interest rate regulations, leading to an explosion in the credit card business and, as a result, an explosion in consumer debt. Where Americans had once cherished “thrift, discipline, doing without,” Tomasky writes, “in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Americans started to become a different people than they had been.” He adds: “Our consumer selves have overwhelmed our citizen selves.”

It’s interesting to identify something resembling a proximate cause of America’s love of debt, and especially of its unconcern about paying the debt. While America did recover from the massive debt it took on to fight World War II, it has not yet recovered from the debt taken on during the Vietnam War, when the nation decided that it could afford what was at the time called guns and butter. As for spending the nation into oblivion by massive indebtedness, Tomasky might have mentioned the national champion of debt creation, the Obama presidency. In the space of eight years Barack Obama roughly doubled the debt that the nation had accumulated from the time of George Washington.

We can blame it on a court decision or we can blame it on profligate politicians. We can also blame it on voters who do not understand the workings of debt… voters who the original constitution did not allow to vote.

As for the current state of polarization, the Democratic Party has been leading the way. It has refused to accept the legitimacy of a duly and fairly elected president. Thus, if we were to try to understand why the system is breaking down, we should point out that, today’s Democrats, led by Hillary Clinton and other incompetent frauds, do not respect the results of elections that they do not win. Rarely has the Republican Party shown such overwhelming contempt and disrespect for a duly elected Democratic president.

Tomasky blames it on social forces, on inchoate ideas that have infected and corrupted the system. One might say that the nation has been infected by ideology because ideology is easier to understand and easier to sell to the masses. We have gotten to the point where an imbecile like Alexandria Occasional-Cortex is a leader of one of America's great political parties.

Zengerle explains:

His second point is that will is “the most overrated commodity in politics.” “It’s useless to hope that politicians can just go back to getting along the way they once did,” Tomasky writes. “They didn’t get along better in the old days because they were nicer people, or because they had the will to do so. They got along better because a particular set of historical forces and circumstances produced a degree of social cohesion that called on them to cooperate more. Today, a totally different set of historical forces and circumstances exist.”

Happily for all of us, Tomasky does not blame politicians. In a Hegelian flourish, he blames historical forces, forces beyond our control. Being a good liberal Democrat, he should have asked what his own party is contributing to the crisis. It’s called taking responsibility.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

A Loser's Lament

Donald Trump upended the political establishment by touting American greatness. He implied that America had lost its past greatness and needed to recover it.

Naturally, as long as Trump said it, something must be wrong with it. After all, as the Trump administration, led by gay ambassador to Germany, Ric Grenell, works to decriminalize homosexuality around the world, gay rights organizations take offense at the project, because they think that it reeks of homophobia. Or because it would make America seem to be great. And, we can't have that.
Anyway, philosophers have long postulated that we should aim at achieving greatness. From Aristotle to Kant, they have pushed and prodded people to achieve greatness. Management consultant Peter Drucker advised people to find out what they were good at, and then to work to turn good into great. Malcolm Gladwell proposed that it would take 10,000 of deliberate practice to turn good into great.

Anyway, now that Trump is working to achieve greatness, some non-serious thinkers are suggesting that greatness is overrated, that we should aim for self-contented mediocrity. At a time when American schoolchildren cannot compete against their peers around the world and where American millennials are doing so poorly that mediocrity would be an improvement, a teacher named Avram Alpert has penned a paean to mediocrity, to sufficiency, to being adequate.

As happens with any one of dumb ideas, this one comes to us from Romanticism and from psychoanalysis. Alpert notes:

Swimming against the tide of greatness is a counter-history of ethics embodied by schools of thought as diverse as Buddhism, Romanticism and psychoanalysis. It is by borrowing from D.W. Winnicott, an important figure in the development of psychoanalysis, that we get perhaps the best name for this other ethics: “the good-enough life.” In his book “Playing and Reality,” Winnicott wrote about what he called “the good-enough mother.” This mother is good enough not in the sense that she is adequate or average, but that she manages a difficult task: initiating the infant into a world in which he or she will feel both cared for and ready to deal with life’s endless frustrations. To fully become good enough is to grow up into a world that is itself good enough, that is as full of care and love as it is suffering and frustration.

Good-enough means what it means. It means adequate and average. Alpert and Winnicott might want it to mean something else, but they do not own the language. In truth, and without having interviewed large numbers of mothers, most mothers do not just want to be good enough. They want to be great. They want to be the best mothers they can be. What mother feels pride in being just good enough.

One appreciates Alpert’s retrograde tendencies, but no serious human being today would look to Winnicott for advice on how to bring up children. They are more likely to look to the Tiger Mom… a woman whose childrearing techniques happily ignored the accumulated opinions of the psycho profession. Amy Chua accepted nothing less than greatness from her daughter. She did not reward adequacy or mediocrity and did not define herself as good enough.

Of course, greatness comes to those who compete, who succeed, who work to excel. Such concepts, I daresay, are fundamentally absent from Alpert’s vision. He has no conception of competing in the world, competing to be more productive, competing to better ourselves, competing to provide and protect our families. About that, he has nothing to say. It’s a rather telling blind spot, don’t you think?

Being a less than coherent thinker Alpert tries to compare being good enough to being perfect. Since we know that it's bad to seek perfection, we are supposed to conclude that's enough to be good enough. It’s a nonsense comparison, a straw man or straw person, that ignores the fact that people want to improve themselves, and thus to move toward greatness. One thing you cannot do if you embrace adequacy and mediocrity is to strive to improve yourself. To state the obvious, the team that won the Super Bowl was not perfect. Far from it. But it was better than the opposition. It did not strive to be good enough.

In his words:

In this radical vision of the good enough life, our task is not to make the perfect human society, but rather a good enough world in which each of us has sufficient (but never too many) resources to handle our encounters with the inevitable sufferings of a world full of chance and complexity.

Smoke on that one, for a bit. Note the turn of phrase: “the inevitable sufferings of a world full of chance and complexity.” How whiny can you get? How much pseudo-profound drivel can you pack into eleven words? It’s sad and pathetic, a bath of warm pathos. One thing is sure, if you content yourself with your utter adequacy you will have the dubious joy of watching other people eat your lunch. People in China and in other parts of Asia are competing against us, for business, for power and for influence. I promise you that they are not looking to be just good enough.

Obviously, Alpert does not live in the real world. His is the world of grocery lines, not the world of the competitive marketplace. He does not see nations competing. He does not see civilizations clashing. He has withdrawn into the warm snuggly den of a decidedly maternal space… the better to learn how to lose.

Because that is what his defeatist vision aims for:

Being good enough is not easy. It takes a tremendous amount of work to smile purely while waiting, exhausted, in a grocery line. Or to be good enough to loved ones to both support them and allow them to experience frustration. And it remains to be seen if we as a society can establish a good-enough relation to one another, where individuals and nations do not strive for their unique greatness, but rather work together to create the conditions of decency necessary for all.

And naturally, when you are going to whine, why not offer a few thoughts about the wonders of nature and how badly we have been treating it. We should not compete for advantage or even for prosperity. We want to live in perfect harmony with the natural world, and with all the creatures, even the billions of bacteria, that share the planet with us. 

So says Alpert:

Achieving this will also require us to develop a good enough relation to our natural world, one in which we recognize both the abundance and the limitations of the planet we share with infinite other life forms, each seeking its own path toward good-enoughness. If we do manage any of these things, it will not be because we have achieved greatness, but because we have recognized that none of them are achievable until greatness itself is forgotten.

Alpert has not offered us a path to a better life. He has written a loser’s lament.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Germany Embraces Iranian Anti-Semitism

Of course, it’s unseemly. It’s obscene. By all appearances Germany is still conducting foreign policy under the aegis of Barack Obama. It has stood strong against Trump administration pressure to repudiate the Iran nuclear deal. It has worked long and hard to allow Iran to evade American sanctions.

The nation that committed history’s worst genocide against Jewish people has overtly aligned itself with the nation that wants to continue Hitler’s work.

In effect, no one should have been surprised to see that German President Steinmeyer sent the mullahs a telegram congratulating them on the fortieth anniversary of their regime. Might we not ask what the Islamic Revolution has accomplished over all these years? Might we not ask how many Americans were murdered by Iranian IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq? Might we not also ask them to dial down the anti-Semitism?

Apparently not. The Jerusalem Post has the story (via Maggie’s Farm):

The president of Germany Frank Walter-Steinmeier sent a congratulatory telegram to Iran's mullah regime in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in the name of federal republic's citizens. 

Germany's largest paper Bild reported on Wednesday "On the 40th anniversary of that day, friendly greetings from Berlin arrived in Tehran by telegram: the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (63), sends 'Congratulations' on the occasion of the national holiday, 'also in the name of my compatriots."'

Of course, one Jewish leader, at least, counterattacked:

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the center "condemns German President’s congratulations to the most dangerous regime in the world, who are religious bigots, who hang Gays, and threaten genocide against Israel--home to the largest Jewish community in the world. When will he condemn their Holocaust denial?"

The congratulatory note to a regime that seeks the destruction of the Jewish state and the United States of America has raised eyebrows and unleashed criticism on social media. The prominent German-Iranian dissident and public intellectual Nasrin Amirsedghi wrote on her Twitter feed that "Steinmeier congratulates the Terror-Mullahs." 

And, there’s more... that is, there's the record of crimes committed by the Iranian regime:

Bild wrote "Mass executions and torture; the brutal persecution of women, minorities, and the opposition; the installation of an Islamist terror state that threatens to annihilate Israel, that covers the Middle East with its militias, and that denies the Holocaust. All of this started in Iran on 11 February, 1979, the day of the 'Islamic Revolution,' when the mullahs seized power in Tehran."

Steinmeier, who as then-foreign minister previously allowed former Iranian deputy foreign minister Muhammad Javad Ardashir Larijani, in 2008, to call for Israel's destruction and deny the Holocaust at a German foreign ministry event near Berlin's Holocaust memorial, told Iran's president Hassan Rouhani that Germany is doing “everything in its power to guarantee the maintenance and continued implementation of the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal)."

It’s beyond obscene. It shows a decided and purposeful lack of shame:

The Bild article by Antje Schippmann noted "There is not a word of criticism concerning Tehran’s murderous attacks in Europe or its billions for financing terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah." The article said: "Instead, the telegram praises the bilateral relations and promises to 'intensely maintain' the dialogue. Only together, is it possible to 'overcome the crises and conflicts."' wrote the president, who is a member of Germany's social democratic party.

Schippmann wrote: To conclude, he [Steinmeier] encouraged the regime to also listen to the critical voices in your country. "A suggestion that seems absurd given the thousands of political detainees in torture prisons, including human rights lawyers, journalists, and environmental activists," she wrote.

Is that all?

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Asia

Relations between sanctimonious Western nations and Saudi Arabia are on the rocks. The death of Jamal Khashoggi offered just the excuse needed to undermine the alliance with Saudi Arabia. The American Congress has been up in arms over the murder and has issued numerous highly principled and sanctimonious threats against the kingdom. The weak sisters of Western Europe have thrown their lot in with Iran, have worked to prop up the mullahs and have turned away from the burgeoning alliance between Arab countries and Israel… alliance designed to combat Iranian influence in the region.

Anyway, not one of these weak sisters has stood firmly against the horrors the Iranians commit against their people on a daily basis. But, Jamal Khashoggi… that was one too many.

Anyway, the net effect of all this hollering is that Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman has been reaching out to Asia, and finding a warm, welcoming greeting. Apparently, the young prince is not entirely unschooled in the workings of Realpolitik.

So, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday of the prince’s incursion into Asia:

The crown prince arrived in Beijing after state visits to Pakistan and India. Prince Mohammed has appeared determined to reset the public narrative about his rule after months of diplomatic turmoil. The Khashoggi murder has dominated headlines and triggered a backlash from Congress, where lawmakers have called for cutting U.S. support for the war in Yemen, which has killed more than 10,000 people and pushed millions of Yemenis to the brink of famine.

As expected, the American Congress and its holier-than-thou chorus has not a peep to offer about how the Iranians instigated said conflict.

As for the business at hand, here are some of the results of the Saudi trip to China:

Saudi Arabia on Friday signed a wide-ranging set of agreements on energy and trade with China, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accelerated efforts to court an economic power that offers a potential counterweight to the U.S.

Among the deals, Prince Mohammed’s delegation committed to a pact to build a roughly $10 billion petrochemical refinery in northeast China, a joint-venture project first announced in 2017 that would be co-owned by Saudi state-oil company Aramco and two Chinese state-owned enterprises, including China North Industries Corp., according to Aramco.

“I think this major investment is just starting,” Saudi energy minister Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al-Falih told China’s official Xinhua News Agency. “Saudi Arabia has a lot of capital that needs to find profitable places to be deployed. China is a great place to invest with a huge market and an improving environment.”

During Prince Mohammed’s stay in China, members of his delegation also signed agreements on energy, investment and counterterrorism. At least 25 Saudi companies participated in an “Invest in Saudi Arabia” business forum in Beijing.

Now, you will be thinking, what about the Uighurs? American foreign policy elites are up in arms about the Chinese government’s persecution of its Muslim minority. Apparently, said minority carried out a couple of successful terrorist attacks and the Chinese government cracked down, rather hard on them. It sent them to detention camps and has forced Muslims to eat bacon and wine. 

So, what did the keeper of the most sacred sites in Islam have to say about the Chinese practice. The Wall Street Journal has the story:

President Xi Jinping told Prince Mohammed that Beijing opposes any effort to interfere in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs, while the crown prince said his government supports Beijing’s efforts to fight extremism—an apparent reference to China’s crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in its Xinjiang region.


And, in Pakistan and India, the prince offered to release a certain number of their countrymen from prisons:

In Pakistan, the crown prince promised up to $20 billion in investments, funds that could help Pakistan avoid an economic crisis. He also agreed to release more than 2,000 Pakistanis from Saudi jails in a nod to the millions of South Asians living and working in Saudi Arabia.


In India, Prince Mohammed was welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who broke protocol to greet the prince at the airport, where the two men hugged. Prince Mohammed reciprocated the warm reception in New Delhi by saying he would release 850 Indian prisoners from Saudi jails and touting the possibility of billions of dollars in new investments.

Let’s see. Prime Minister Modi also welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu warmly to Indian Independence Day celebrations. The “woke” prime minister of Canada, Justin Bieber was greeted at the airport by the junior sub-assistant of the agricultural ministry.

These examples show us, in real time, the difference between diplomacy run according to ideology and diplomacy run according to the principles of balance of powers.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Stop Climate Change Now!

Saving Bezos from Himself

Today Peggy Noonan has penned a requiem for Amazon in Long Island City. In effect, she shows that New York politicians did Jeff Bezos a very large favor by driving him and his company out of the city. Perhaps it will cure Bezos of his love of leftist politics. At least, we can hope.

The fallout of the uprising against corporate greed, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called it, will be, first, that other companies will not want to open a new headquarters in New York:

After Amazon’s withdrawal no major American company will open a new headquarters here for at least a generation. No CEO is going to do what Jeff Bezos did, invest all that time and money, do all the planning, negotiating and deciding, only to see it collapse in bitter headlines because the politicians you’re making the deal with can’t control their own troops, and because in the end it is summoning a humiliation to do big business in a town whose political life is dominated by a wild and rising progressive left.

I take a slight exception here. What people call the “progressive” left has nothing to do with progressivism. It’s a radical left, a socialist left, a left wing that does not care about progress.

Than much said, Amazon would have brought jobs and tax revenue to a city that sorely needs them:

 In this world politicians are desperate to expand the tax base and brag about creating jobs. Companies can and do press every advantage. New York City and state offered Amazon almost $3 billion in future tax breaks. (Newark and New Jersey offered $7 billion; everyone’s desperate.) New York state said that over the next 25 years Amazon’s presence would yield $186 billion in positive economic impact, including $14 billion in additional tax payments. The progressives who dominate New York’s City Council charged those numbers came from consultants hired to support the deal. Fine, assume they doubled the actual benefits: That would mean $93 billion in positive economic impact, $7 billion in tax payments. Still a huge benefit to the people of New York, and a lifeline for a state experiencing, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, more than $2 billion in tax shortfalls because the rich keep moving out.

Apparently, for all the work his team put into the headquarters decision, they never considered the power of New York labor unions. And they never considered that if they had been forced to unionize in New York, they would have been forced to unionize in other places:

If Amazon were unionized it would cost them, and, warm little humanitarians that they are, they would immediately pass the cost on to consumers. That cost increase might function as a little boost to neighborhood retailers. And we all want neighborhood stores to get a boost because they’re our neighbors. They talk to us; they are part of the community; they make life more human. But you can’t expect Amazon, which is a business, to walk in declaring: We’ll not only help you unionize, we’ll organize your first strike!

Now, Comrade de Blasio has taken to the media to charge Amazon with weakness. They were, by his calculation, not tough enough to deal with New York City. Of course, if Amazon is not strong enough to deal with the entrenched radical left, which corporation would be? Thus, by the de Blasio reckoning the real tough guys were New York politicians who deep- sixed the deal.

Noonan begs to differ. Most notably, she notes, New York politicians did not know how to play the game. They should have said nothing until Amazon had invested billions in the city. Then they should have sent the bill or threatened to strike:

New York’s progressives weren’t tough, they were weak. They don’t know how to play this game.

You want to be tough and mean, get what you want, and keep those jobs for your constituents? Here was the play:

You don’t unleash the furies and hold hearings where crowds jeer, hiss and chant “GTFO, Amazon has got to go.” You don’t put stickers on every lamp pole saying “Amazon crime.” You don’t insult and belittle their representatives. You don’t become Tweeting Trotsky.

You quietly vote yes, go to the groundbreaking, and welcome our new partner in prosperity. Then you wait. And as soon as the new headquarters is fully built and staffed, you shake them down like a boss.

And also:

What’s he going to do, leave? The place has been built, billions have been spent.

That’s real left-wing hardball: You catch it, then you skin it.

They let their prey go. What second-rate slobs run this town.

So, the radical left saved Jeff Bezos from himself. Great job, kids.