Monday, October 23, 2017

Scott Adams and Peggy Noonan on the Tweeter in Chief

Scott Adams counts as one of the most relentless and successful self-promoters working today. By trade he’s a cartoonist. He calls himself a hypnotist. And now he insists that he has developed a theory about persuasion—which used to be called rhetoric, though he does not seem to know it.

As I have written previously on this blog, being a cartoonist does not make you a competent theorist. Adams’s theories are really disguised self-promotion. We cannot fault him for making a living, but the rest is silliness.

Adams did predict the ascendance of Donald Trump and continues to give himself credit for his prescience. He thrilled to the way Trump seemed to be confirming the Adams genius, though one suspects that he will take credit for whatever happens.

If you agree with Adams that Trump is the master of the art of tweeting, you ought also pay a little lip service to the fact that Trump’s approval ratings are wallowing at around 38%. Given the nature of the Democratic opposition, it might be enough to get him re-elected, but it does not suggest a master communicator or even a master persuader. An even more significant majority has told pollsters that it would be happy if Trump stopped tweeting altogether.

Adams does not seem to know it, but the word “tweet” is an onomatopoeia that is most often associated with little birds. Little birds go tweet, tweet, tweet. Big birds do not. Lions roar; they do not tweet. Bears growl; they do not tweet.

Every time Trump tweets, all newscasters are obliged to say that Trump tweeted. The phrase, containing the word itself, makes him seem small and weak. Adams misses the point entirely. I suspect that he is not alone.

In an article from today’s Wall Street Journal Adams suggests that Trump is involved in the art of smack-tweeting. Does he have no sense of humor at all?

He writes, concerning one of Trump’s tweets:

Consider this one: “With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have ‘tanked,’ in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!”

When Mr. Trump smack-tweets a notable public critic—Ms. Hill has called the president a “white supremacist”—it violates our expectations of his office. That’s what makes it both entertaining and memorable. He often injects into his tweets what memory expert Carmen Simon calls a “little bit of wrongness” to make it hard to look away. If the wrongness alarms you, consider that for years he has adroitly operated within a narrow range of useful wrongness on Twitter without going too far. That suggests technique. In the Twitter environment, strategic wrongness is jet fuel.

It is not just about violating the expectations of the office. Trump has taken on someone who is so far below him on the great socio-political pecking order that he has diminished himself. And he has diminished the presidency. A president should stand tall and proud. He should not stoop t the level of Jamele Hill. When he does so he gives people the impression that he does not know who he is or what his job is.

The great majority of American people consider this to be seriously disconcerting. Tweet, tweet, tweet.

As for Trump’s put-downs of his Republican opponents during the presidential primary campaign, Adams loved them because they seemed to prove that Adams was right. And yet, when it comes to passing legislation in Congress some Republican senators who were trashed by Trump have found it very easy to defy him.

Some do it out of personal pique. Some do it for the wrong reasons. But, when you are exercising leadership you need to develop relationships with the people you want to lead. As of now, Trump has had difficulty doing so.

Trump has been one of the most open and communicative presidents in recent history. He speaks to the press far more often than did many of his predecessors. And yet, he often misspeaks or distorts the facts… and this to a press that lives to attack him.

We might want to rationalize Trump’s failure to communicate well or clearly. We might want to understand that his grasp of facts and even of his job is weak, on a good day. If so, he does not need to have Dilbert’s puppetmaster telling him that he is a master persuader or a brilliant communicator. He would do best to stop tweeting and to find someone who can speak effectively for him. A constant pattern of miscommunication does not a great communicator make. Using your tweets to undercut your cabinet secretaries does not help either.

Don’t believe me? Ask someone who actually knows something about presidential communication, Peggy Noonan. Last Friday she wrote this:

He proceeds each day with the confidence of one who thinks his foundation firm when it’s not—it’s shaky. His job is to build support, win people over through persuasion, and score some legislative victories that will encourage a public sense that he is competent, even talented.

Many of Trump’s unforced errors involve tweeting. Some involve press conferences. Noonan continued:

He thwarts himself daily with his dramas. In the thwarting he does something unusual: He gives his own supporters no cover. They back him at some personal cost, in workplace conversations and at family gatherings. They are in a hard position. He leaves them exposed by indulging whatever desire seizes him—to lash out, to insult, to say bizarre things. If he acted in a peaceful and constructive way, he would give his people cover.

She continued:

This week Sen. John McCain famously gave a speech in Philadelphia slamming the administration’s foreign-policy philosophy as a “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.” Fair enough—the famous internationalist opposes Trumpian foreign-policy notions. There are many ways presidents can respond to such criticism—thoughtfully, with wit or an incisive rejoinder.

Mr. Trump went on Chris Plante’s radio show to tell Sen. McCain he’d better watch it. “People have to be careful because at some point I fight back,” he said. “I’m being very nice. I’m being very, very nice. But at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.”

FDR, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were pretty tough hombres, but they always managed to sound like presidents and not, say, John Gotti. Mr. McCain, suffering from cancer, evoked in his reply his experience as a prisoner of war: “I’ve faced far greater challenges than this.”

That, actually, is how presidents talk.

In truth, when his time came, John McCain did not know how presidents talk. He did not know how to conduct a presidential campaign himself. He seems to be voting out of spite to bring down the Trump agenda. And yet, Trump showed himself to be petulant, as one might see in the schoolyard. It is not the sign of a great communicator.

Noonan rejects the idea that it’s just the Trump style:

But the problem is not style. A gruff, awkward, inelegant style wedded to maturity and seriousness of purpose would be powerful in America. Mr. Trump’s problem has to do with something deeper—showing forbearance, patience, sympathy; revealing the human qualities people appreciate seeing in a political leader because they suggest a reliable inner stature.

Here you have it. Scott Adams toots his own horn, proclaiming to the world how smart he is. The truth is: he doth protest too much. If you have to use that level of self-aggrandizement, you are an empty rhetorician.

On the other side, Peggy Noonan’s analysis accounts for Trump’s sagging approval ratings and for the fact that most people, supporters and detractors, think that he is bringing himself down to the level of a Jamele Hill by his incessant tweets.

Tweet, tweet, tweet.

Who Was Vladimir Lenin?

Apparently, American students no longer know anything about history. They know how to complain about their grievances. They even know how to protest. They know how to find safe spaces where they can suck their thumbs and hug their blankies.

They love socialism… so much so that if you take the Trump tax plan and tell students that it was proposed by superannuated socialist Bernie Sanders, they immediately support it.

They have been so thoroughly disembarrassed of their rational faculties that they cannot examine a policy position and formulate an opinion. They are like cult followers who will believe anything their cult leader proposed.

For reasons that escape me, the New York Times has run a few articles purporting to present a fair and balanced approach to Communism. You recall the most famous argument: while everyone was starving to death and living in abject misery, women were having more orgasms. Don’t think that Communism forgot about women.

For those who could not have forgotten history—because they never knew it in the first place—the Times offers a column by esteemed novelist Martin Amis about none other than Vladimir Lenin. Since the grossly overrated Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has happily embraced the worst of Lenin’s legacy, it is time to offer an analysis of the phenomenon of Leninism. If you want to find out which of your friends is an intellectual pretender, apply this formula: anyone who thinks that Zizek is a great thinker does not know how to think.

Amis begins with the most salient point, a point so salient that I made it myself in regard to Sigmund Freud, in my book The Last Psychoanalyst. Whether in the hands of Freud, Marx or Heidegger, great revolutionaries were dismayed to see that their theories did not work in practice. Rather than modify their theories, they decided that human nature was defective and needed to be changed. Keep this in mind before you start whining about who is or is not ignoring facts.

Amis writes:

The chief demerit of the Marxist program was its point-by-point defiance of human nature. Bolshevik leaders subliminally grasped the contradiction almost at once; and their rankly Procrustean answer was to leave the program untouched and change human nature. In practical terms this is what “totalitarianism” really means: On their citizens such regimes make “a total claim.”

The following is from “the secret archive,” published as “The Unknown Lenin” (1996), and the entry is dated March 1922: “It is precisely now and only now, when in the starving regions people are eating human flesh, and hundreds if not thousands of corpses are littering the roads, that we can (and therefore must) …” At this point the unversed reader might pause to wonder how the sentence will go forward. Something like “pursue all avenues of amelioration and relief,” perhaps?

But no. This is Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the leader of “a party of a new type,” who continues: “… carry out the confiscation of church valuables with the most savage and merciless energy. … Precisely at this moment we must give battle to [the clergy] in the most decisive and merciless manner and crush its resistance with such brutality that it will not forget it for decades to come. … The greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in executing for this reason, the better.” Church records show that 1,962 monks, 2,691 priests and 3,447 nuns were killed in that year alone. Religion, you see, was part of human nature, so the Bolsheviks were obliged to suppress it in all its forms (including Islam and Buddhism).

The fun part is that Communism was the most ambitious and radical attempt to create an atheist civilization. Nowadays, we still have legions of atheists who believe that rejecting religion makes them enlightened. Of course, none of our atheist contingent believes that when you create an atheist civilization you get Lenin and Mao and Communism. 

This is very strange indeed. People who hew to the value of empirical science and pragmatic thought reject real world results that tend to disprove their theories. We are obliged to conclude that they are not promoting rational thought but are proselytizing an ideology.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Male Feminists Who Sexually Abuse Women

Twas always thus. Harvey Weinstein should not feel so all alone. He is certainly not the first male feminist, beacon of leftist and gender woke thinking, to be exposed as an abusive misogynist, an accused rapist.

James Kirchick explains it all in The Daily Beast:

Ever since second-wave feminism became part of the political left, there have been men who, ostensibly enlightened in the realm of gender relations, are in fact deeply misogynist and believe that their progressive street cred somehow obviates their attitudes about women, attitudes as regressive as those held by the Mad Men-era males who ruled the earth just before the sexual revolution. 

Male feminists are often hypocrites who think that their adherence to the cause protects them from charges of sexual abuse. And, women, including feminists, have allowed them to get away with it... seemingly forever.

Harvey Weinstein got the memo. Right now one expects that, as he completes a week of rehab, he cannot understand why everyone is picking on him… what happened to his feminist get-out-of-jail-free card:

What unites 60’s-era revolutionaries with Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Julian Assange, earnest “male feminists” and vulgar Brooklyn podcasters is not political ideology per se (Assange and Clinton have little in common politically, never mind the former’s contempt for the latter’s wife), but rather the belief that commitment to particular progressive causes — whether economic redistribution, abortion rights, an “anti-imperialist” foreign policy, or exposing governmental surveillance — insulates then from being misogynist pigs. In this view, anything – beginning with basic propriety and respect for women and ending with fundamental individual rights like freedom of speech and private property — can be excused if one has the “right” politics. 

Kirchick also regales us with stories about Andreas Baader, Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton, Gerry Healey, George Galloway, Jamey Kilstein, Hugo Schwyzer, Mark Ames and Sam Kriss. 

Some of these people you have heard of. Some you have not. They are all sympathetic to the feminist cause. And they all treated women appallinglyKirchick’s indictment is informative and well-presented. It is well worth a read.

The Case of the Whining Millennial

More often than not the people who write to advice columnists are of the female persuasion. Occasionally one has the chance to read the heart felt and gut wrenching thoughts of a letter write of the male persuasion. One would happily have foregone the experience.

Whenever you find yourself feeling unsympathetic to a female letter writer, this letter will give you an idea of the millennial men they have to deal with. This man sounds like he attended the Pajama School of manly behavior.

It’s from Carolyn Hax in the Washington Post:

My girlfriend and I have been together for almost a year and are moving in together at the end of the month. She’s not perfect but neither am I, and she’s awesome at understanding and supporting me. She’s younger (27 to my 33), but because she’s A LOT more mature than I was at 27, I’ve overlooked it — until now.

We started the move-in process at the end of summer, after I was stressed because of repeated family visits. She understood, but instead of offering to wait a few weeks, kept pushing to look at apartments. I wonder if she did that because she’s really eager to move on to the next stage of her life — move out of the rowhouse she hates, get a dog, keep developing a social network beyond loser, alcoholic roommates. That’s all great! But I worry that she’s so eager that she’ll ignore my needs in doing so.

And now I’m still stressed and slated to move in with her. ARGH!!!! All I want is a few weeks of hikes on the weekend and eating right during the week, not scrambling to pack and find movers. I worry that once we move, we’ll have to unpack, decorate the new house, and then the holidays! She’s generally good at compromise, but if we got this far with me being stressed 24/7, can I trust future compromises? And if I can’t trust her and am so nervous about this move, should I be in this relationship at all?
To her credit or discredit, as you wish, Hax is sensitive to this man’s concerns. I find him to be a pathetic whiner, a modern version of the man who is fully in touch with his sensitive side. She recommends that he communicate better with his girlfriend. Apparently, those who worship at the altar of the god Hermes believe that communication will solve all problems.

And yet, you ask yourself, what are the problems here? The letter writer, who calls himself  “Butterflies or Warning Signs?” has agreed with his girlfriend to find a new apartment and to move in together. Fine and good. Apparently, said girlfriend has been moving the process forward. She has taken charge and shows no consideration for his whining ways. In truth, she is doing him a favor. Most women prefer to take charge of their homes. They prefer to choose the home that feels right to them and to decorate at according to their taste. One understands that most women are not supposed to want to be homemakers, but most women still have a nesting instinct. A man ignores it at his peril.

I hate to have to mention it, but this man thinks that his girlfriend should be more sensitive to his moodiness, to his weakness, to his decided lack of manliness. She should not. He should get over it. He should shut the fuck up and let her arrange things as she wishes. If he cannot live with a woman who is acting like a woman… and not like a therapist or his mother… then it is time for him to suck it up and let his wonderful girlfriend do as she wishes.

He understands that she might want to move out of a row house she hates, row house she shares with alcoholic roommates. But he seems not to think that that matters. In the kind of pathetic whine you expect from people who have done too much therapy, he is worrying that she is insensitive to his needs. Imagine a 33 year old man mewling: What about my needs? Sorry, I know that that will ruin your appetite for the day.

If he cannot suck it up he should move back home with his mother. Case closed.

The Coming Bond Market Collapse

Savvy investors have been crying wolf for so long that one is tempted to ignore their warnings. Whereas Robert Rubin once told Bill Clinton that he could not just do as he pleased, because he had to answer to the bond market, today’s politicians do not seem to have the same worry. 

Apparently, central bankers have taken charge of the bond market… which means that the market is effectively being rigged… in order to keep interest rates low, to keep mortgage rates low, to keep real estate prices high and to flood the system with money that moves the stock market higher and higher. The bond market has, in its terms, mispriced risk.

Of course, it does not make a great deal of sense to speak of an advanced free market economy when the biggest market of them all, the bond market, is rigged.

As you know, I am not even close to being able to explain it all. William Cohan offers some seemingly sage advice in Vanity Fair. I pass it along for your edification.

He begins by emphasizing the importance of the bond market.

The stock markets get most of the attention from the media, but the bond market, four times the size of the stock market, helps set the price of money. The bond market determines how much you pay to borrow money to buy a home, a car, or when you use your credit cards.

What does a rigged market look like? Cohan explains:

… the yield on European “junk” bonds is about the same—between 2 percent and 3 percent—as the yield on U.S. Treasuries, even though the risk profile of the two could not be more different. He correctly pointed out that this phenomenon has been caused by “manipulated behavior”—his code for the European Central Bank’s version of the so-called “quantitative easing” program that Ben Bernanke, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, initiated in 2008 and that Mario Draghi, the head of the E.C.B., has taken to heart.

Bernanke’s idea was to have the Federal Reserve buy up trillions of dollars of bonds, increasing their price and lowering their yields. He figured lower interest rates would help jump-start an economy in recession. Whereas Janet Yellen, Bernanke’s successor, ended the Fed’s Q.E. program in 2014, Draghi’s version of it is still going, which has led to the “manipulation” that so concerns Gundlach. European interest rates “should be much higher than they are today,” he said, “. . . [and] once Draghi realizes this, the order of the financial system will be turned upside down and it won’t be a good thing. It will mean the liquidity that has been pumping up the markets will be drying up in 2018 . . . Things go down. We’ve been in an artificially inflated market for stocks and bonds largely around the world.”

The Gundlach in question is first named Jeffrey. He manages so much money invested bonds that people around Wall Street call him the Bond King.

Cohan ends on a sober note. Forewarned is forearmed:

But the major propellants of the stock market these days are the economy Trump inherited, the tax cuts that may turn out to be a chimera, and an overinflated bond market that misprices risk every day. When it all comes crashing down, will Trump take credit for that too?

To which we are tempted to ask whether Barack Obama really deserves credit for an economic recovery that was engineered by the Federal Reserve. Unless, of course, you want to credit him for having set up policies that made that recovery the most anemic in recent history. As I often noted during the Obama administration, he looked to me like an "apres moi le deluge" president.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Freed from Responsibility

From Maggie's Farm, a thought for today:

Fake News about the Opioid Epidemic

Recently, the Washington Post and CBS touted a blockbuster story about the opioid epidemic that is ravishing our nation. As might be expected, the paper wants the story to pin blame for the problem on Republicans, especially on Congressional Republicans. If you are a propaganda organ of the Democratic Party your role in life is to fight Republicans. No more and no less.

As it happens, no one doubts that responsibility for the opioid crisis lies with pharmaceutical manufacturers, physicians who prescribe the drugs, and the government agencies that approved the new drugs. But, Congress... not so much. Anyway, there is a lot of blame to go around.

Unfortunately, the Post’s breathless expose about the Republican-led Congress suffers from a notable defect in reasoning. Writing in the Wall Street Journal Holman Jenkins identifies it:

Unless the Washington Post and CBS ’s “60 Minutes” have discovered a new, physics-defying form of quantum action at a distance, their splashy exposé last weekend identified neither the cause nor any solution.

I’ll admit I didn’t read the Post’s 7,800-word opus on first pass. To the credit of some merciful editor, the lead sentence told me I needn’t bother. The piece begins: “In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets.

In other words, whatever the sorry tale of the sausage factory to follow, the abuse epidemic was already in full swing when Congress acted barely a year ago, so the DEA’s “potent” weapon perhaps wasn’t so potent.

Get it. By the time Congress got around to passing its bill, the “most potent weapon” that the DEA had had against the drug companies had been failing. And had been failing badly. It’s nice to see such a blatantly dishonest lead in a news article. Surely, it deserves attention.

The tool in question was “immediate suspension orders” against drug distributors. Yet, as Jenkins points out, these orders were already being reduced, well before Congress got into the act:

Moreover, the Post hardly bothers to substantiate the central pinion of its story—its claim that the DEA has been deprived of a vital tool, known as “immediate suspension orders” against drug distributors. Such orders peaked at 65 in 2011 and have fallen to single digits. But is this a meaningful gauge?

A federal survey finds misuse of prescription opioids peaked in 2012 and has returned to 2002 levels. Suspension orders were already being dialed back—41 in 2012, 16 in 2013—before Congress intervened. Maybe the message got through to drug distributors via a tactic that didn’t lend itself to being repeated or accelerated.

The article wants mostly to blame the Republican Congress. And yet, the vote on the bill was unanimous. All Democrats voted for it. The legislation was supported by the Justice Department and signed by Barack Obama. It was one bill among many. And yet, why miss an opportunity to bash Republicans:

In an accompanying editorial, the Post fulminates that “Congress alongside the pharmaceutical industry helped fuel the opioid crisis,” but fails to mention the bill in question was one of 18 that the Associated Press called a “mountain of bills addressing the nation’s opioid abuse crisis.”

The measure in question, which rewrote the legal standard for suspension orders, was approved by the Obama White House, DEA and Justice Department. It was unanimously supported by Congress. It reflected, as the New York Times noted, a Congress under pressure from drug lobbyists to show an interest in “ensuring access to narcotic painkillers” for patients even while “addressing the addiction epidemic linked to those drugs.”

Finally, we get to the real target of this totally dishonest investigative report: one of the bill’s authors, Rep. Tom Marino, a man who was being nominated to be the Trump administration drug czar. But then, you need to ask yourself how important the drug czar really is.

Jenkins has the answer:

I got around to reading the rest of the Post piece after it prompted one of the law’s many authors, Rep. Tom Marino (R., Pa.), to drop out of consideration for Trump drug czar. Don’t worry. I am not about to overplay the significance of this consequence. The drug czar is a largely powerless office whose value is symbolic at best.

Fake news, anyone?

Schadenfreude for Megyn Kelly

It’s time for a little more of that special Schadenfreude that we reserve for Megyn Kelly… a woman who had it all, who leaned in, and now seems to have thrown it all away. Keep that in mind the next time you think that leaning in is such a good thing. Keep that in mind the next time you use your career to make a political statement.

Anyway, Kelly’s new morning show on NBC has been a bust. For those who hired her and for Kelly herself, the news keeps getting bad. The Washington Post has the story:

Last year, Kelly was a rising star on Fox News, earning national headlines for her dogged questioning of presidential candidate Donald Trump. But her short tenure on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today” continues to be challenging both for her and the network.

The show premiered on Sept. 25, and its ratings continue to tank.

The fallout is so worrisome to the network that other “Today” hosts have begun visiting Kelly’s show as if on a rescue mission, according to the trade publications. Matt Lauer, Al Roker and Savannah Guthrie all recently appeared. It could be “a strategic way to familiarize viewers with faces they already know and boost viewership,” according to Variety.

How do Kelly’s ratings rate with those of her predecessors? Rather poorly, as it happens:

Her ratings aren’t even close to those of her predecessors, Tamron Hall and Al Roker, compared to their show during the same time-slot last year. During her debut week, Kelly’s show was down 12 percent in total viewership from that time slot last year. The second week brought in 24 percent fewer viewers, and the third week saw a 23 percent smaller audience, according to Nielsen data obtained by Variety.

How is Kelly doing against the competition? Not very well there, either:

Meanwhile, the show’s biggest direct competitor, ABC’s “Live With Kelly and Ryan,” has a healthy lead over Megyn Kelly. The ABC program drew 14 percent more viewers than Kelly during her first week and a robust 34 percent more during her second, according to Nielsen data obtained by BuzzFeed News.

For all her caterwauling about wanting to spend more time with her children, Kelly seemed to wanted to stick it to Fox News… and thus to become a feminist heroine.

Unfortunately for her, it seems to have boomeranged. Anyone who thought that Kelly would be a great fit for 9:00 a.m. should find another line of work.

When It Comes to Crime, London Beats New York

It’s so hard to believe that no one is reporting it. Even the American media, so quick to attack Donald Trump for anything and everything, has missed the story.

The news, from the London Telegraph, tells us that London has surpassed New York in crime. The British capital is more dangerous than my city:

London is now more crime ridden and dangerous than New York City, with rape, robbery and violent offences far higher on this side of the Atlantic.

President Trump tweeted that the root cause of the crime wave was the lax British attitude toward Muslim immigrants. British Labour Party leaders were sorely discommoded by the thought. 

One might say that it has something to do with the notoriously weak-kneed London mayor, Sadiq Khan. Then again, Bill de Blasio is not exactly a stickler for law and order. And yet, de Blasio’s police commissioner Bill Bratton held the same job under Mayor Giuliani, when the city tried a new way to attack crime, a way that worked very well.

The Telegraph reports that New Yorkers can take a small consolation from the fact that their city is still leading London in homicides:

Criminal justice experts insisted rising crime in the UK, and particularly London, was more to do with the way the city was policed and blamed the reduction in neighbourhood patrols across the capital.

While both London and New York have populations of around 8 million, figures suggest you are almost six times more likely to be burgled in the British capital than in the US city, and one and a half times more likely to fall victim to a robbery.

London has almost three times the number of reported rapes and while the murder rate in New York remains higher, the gap is narrowing dramatically.

Now, the British are studying New York policing methods, to see what they can do to improve their city. That idea contains its own special irony:

But in the mid-1990s spiralling crime rates in New York - sparked by the crack cocaine epidemic - resulted in radical a new approach being adopted by the city's police department.

Under the leadership of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and police commissioner, Bill Bratton, the NYPD introduced a zero tolerance approach to low level crime and flooded problem areas with patrols.

The force also put a huge amount of emphasis on community policing in order to build bridges between the police and members of the public.

As a result the murder plummeted from a high in 1990 of over 2,000 to a record low of 335 last year.

London’s Metropolitan Police took an opposite tack. They decided to ignore small infractions and to focus on more heinous crimes. They ended up with more of both:

But the last decade has seen the Metropolitan Police move away from the neighbourhood policing model and low level in favour of pursuing more serious offences.

Last week it emerged that Scotland Yard would not even bother investigating a large number of low level offences as part of a major cost cutting drive.

In addition a huge amount of police resources have been poured into high profile and politically sensitive cases, such as a the flawed VIP child abuse inquiry and the phone hacking inquiry.

At the same time crime rates in London have been creeping up and the latest statistics are likely to increase pressure of Met bosses to reassess their policing priorities.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Dark Triad

While the therapy world gnashes its teeth over who is feeling whose feelings, social psychologists are hard at work identifying what it takes to succeed in the real world.

Sometimes they sound like moral philosophers. At other times, they seem to be culture warriors. If you think that capitalists are evil and venal you will accept the theory that people who succeed in business are evil and venal. To put a finer point on it, the social psychologists have previously declared that success in the business world would befall those who possessed the “dark triad,” who were Machiavellian narcissistic psychopaths.

For my part, I find the term “dark triad” to be inspired. It could easily be the title of a horror movie. We should be happy to recognize creativity, regardless of where it comes from.

Anyway, those who think that capitalists are fundamentally bad people, or that you cannot succeed in the dog-eat-dog world of business without being a dog yourself were happy to embrace the dark triad. Some people found it reassuring that their own obnoxious and repellent personality traits had destined them for success. I trust that the same people also love horoscopes.

Now… fanfare, please… researchers have discovered that people who possess the dark triad are less capable and weaker performers. When it comes to running hedge funds, being a narcissist or a psychopath or even manipulative will, in the long run work against you.

The Daily Mail reports the story:

From The Wolf of Wall Street to The Big Short, many films about the financial sector feature people with the 'dark triad' of personality traits - psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism.

But a new study suggests that people with these traits may not necessarily make the best investment decisions compared with 'nice guys'.

This is because they are often overconfident and reckless - causing them to stick with bad investment decisions longer than they should.  

The findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that Dark Triad personality traits are not desirable in leaders.

This suggests another slogan: Nice guys finish first. It may not be intuitively obvious, and the research primarily involves investment decisions, but it is good news for those who are working to develop their good character. Who knew that getting along with other people, showing respect and courtesy would make you more successful than seducing and manipulating people in order to pursue a goal more ruthlessly.

The Daily Mail explains the results of the most recent study:

Previous studies have suggested that people with the 'dark triad' of personality traits  make the best managers.

But in a new study, researchers from the University of Denver suggest that this isn't the case.

Dr Leanne ten Brinke, lead author of the study, said: 'We should re-think our assumptions that might favour ruthlessness or callousness in an investment manager.

'Not only do these personality traits not improve performance, our data suggest that they many hinder it.'

One suspects, in passing, that what counts as callous indifference was in many cases a sign of competitive focus, and therefore an absence of empathy for one’s opponents. Such an attitude does not bespeak a personality defect. It is a sign of a competitive personality. It does not matter when you feel empathy for your opponent. What matters is that you display sportsmanship. This coincides with a more cooperative attitude—you cannot compete effectively if you are not a trustworthy teammate.

I am sure you want to know what counts as psychopathy. The newspaper explains:

Psychopaths display different traits depending on their disorder.

Common signs include superficial charm, a grandiose notion of self-worth, the need for stimulation and impulsiveness, pathological lying, the ability to manipulate others and a lack of remorse and empathy.

Of course, getting other people to do what needs to be done because they want to do it, as Eisenhower suggested, is not necessarily manipulative. When you seduce people into doing  your bidding because you want it done you are being manipulative. When you are getting them to do what needs to be done you are leading them. Is it about the leader's personality or the good of the company... the distinction is worth underscoring.

Bloomberg News reports on the same research. It emphasizes the fact that a good investor does not go it alone. He works with other people, shares ideas and respects differences of opinion. He does not try to impose himself on the world:

However, some psychologists have shown that the quality of work exhibited by people with such tendencies [the dark triad] can fall short. “More psychopathic individuals tend to be able to talk the talk, but not walk the walk,” ten Brinke said. Over time—and measured by an objective standard such as investment returns—their shortcomings can become glaringly obvious.

Psychopaths are also very difficult to work with, as one could probably surmise. Investing, like other fields, can require collaboration, listening to the ideas of colleagues, and hiring specialists to execute your strategies.

It concludes with a cautionary note:

“There’s good research to suggest psychopaths are poor leaders,” ten Brinke said. “If you put someone with psychopathic traits [in charge] of a group, they’re more likely to divide the group.”

A Pen Pal with Benefits

I’m happy to say that New York Magazine’s resident therapist gets it right today. It’s nice to be able to say so, since it does not happen all that often. 

Lori Gottlieb is responding to a letter from a woman who calls herself, Rock and a Hard Place. At issue is a relationship. The relationship, the best RHP has ever had, has failed because her inamorato is doing an executive training program and has been relocated to Paris, for four months.

The relationship was great fun, but not very solid before the move. It has not survived the move.

Anyway, for your edification, here are some choice parts of RHP’s letter:

Then, last September, I was visiting friends in New York (I live in Chicago) and one of my friends was having a party, and he happened to be there. We got to talking and he asked if I still lived in Chicago, as he was moving to Milwaukee for work that week. We exchanged numbers and I told him to let me know if he ever wanted to come down to Chicago and check out the city. About a month later, he did, and that was the first time I realized I was interested. He walked in and I saw him in an entirely different light. We ended up hooking up and then started dating a couple of months later, with him coming down to Chicago or me going up to Milwaukee on weekends.

His job, however, made it hard for us. He works for a large corporation in an executive-training program and so he moves around the world every four months, likely not knowing where he’ll be until two to three weeks before he leaves. He moved to Paris in early February for four months and by May, our relationship had gone downhill. I was gripped by anxiety about where he would be moving to next, how often we should be talking and FaceTiming, and when the next time we’d see each other would be.

We broke up a few weeks ago and I have absolutely no idea how to handle it. He initiated the conversation, but I agreed with everything he was saying.

We didn’t have enough of a foundation to build off of when he moved to Paris and were putting so much pressure on ourselves to make it work that it ultimately did not.

The thing is, we both acknowledged how absolutely fantastic we are together. When we are together, it is incredible. The best relationship I have ever had by far. We have a blast, we are always laughing, and we are so crazily compatible that it’s slightly scary for me. A main point he kept bringing up as we were breaking up was the possibility of us being together once this program is over — which could be in one year or in four years, he doesn’t know.

I want to keep that door open because of how much I care about him and how compatible we are, but also know and understand that I need to focus on moving forward at the same time. We were talking back and forth after we broke up, but I finally asked him to give me space as it was making it impossible for me to even begin to heal and move on. Now I don’t know if that’s the right choice.

I have no idea what to do and, truthfully, right now, I just feel like I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

So far, so good. RHP might think it was true love, but she would have done better not to hookup so quickly and so soon. When a woman hooks up quickly, even effortlessly, she gives definition to the relationship and states her intention. She has told him that she is not in it for the long term. Of course, it might become long term, but she has gotten off on the wrong foot.

Be that as it may, Gottlieb gets to the right point. That is, that “Joe” has made no commitment. When he left, he did not offer a commitment and did not state an intention to forge a future relationship, no less a marriage. It is not a good idea to pretend that an offer exists when it doesn't. Instead he broke up… and, if I say so, this probably means that he is prowling the Parisian nightlife for other hookups. Some young women do not understand that one hookup is not that different from another.

Be that as it may, Gottlieb writes:

As I read your letter, though, I took away a very different “main point.” To me, the main point is that Joe did not say, “I care deeply about you and don’t want to lose you. How can we make this work?” The main point is that he did not say, “Please hang in there with me because I believe we have something special here.” The main point is that Joe did not seem to be “gripped with anxiety about where he would be moving to next, how often we should be talking and FaceTiming, and when the next time we’d see each other would be.” The main point is that Joe broke up with you. The main point is that this “happy-go-lucky” guy is being happy-go-lucky with your romantic future — maybe we’ll get back together in some undetermined number of years — a sentiment in which your best interests are nowhere to be found.

To which Gottlieb correctly adds that Joe was never a real possibility. He was a lot of fun for RHP. For him she was a lot of fun. That was all it was… no matter how much fun they had and how good the sex was.

Then, Gottlieb becomes harsher, but correctly. RHP did not really have a relationship. She was a friend with benefits:

If you hooked up in September, started dating in November, and he left for Paris in February, you were in an in-person relationship for a mere three months — weekends only. You spent approximately 12 weekends or 24 days together. That’s less than one consecutive month. You two know what it’s like to have romantic weekends together, to laugh and have sex and miss each other when you’re apart. You know what it’s like to talk and text and FaceTime, but that’s not a relationship. That’s a pen pal with benefits.

What was missing, Gottlieb continues, was what she calls the dailiness of a constituted relationship. An excellent point. As I have put it, true love, no matter how true it is, needs to be socialized and domesticated. Otherwise it will have a very short shelf life.

In Gottlieb’s words:

You learn about compatibility, on the other hand, through shared dailiness, and you two haven’t experienced the dailiness of each other. It’s like the difference between color and black and white, or three dimensions and two. Long-distance is “always laughing together.” It’s not, “who’s doing the dishes and picking up towels from the bathroom floor.” It’s not, “I need my space” — or, “I need a smile when I walk in the door at the end of the day, even if you just had a fight with your mom.” It’s not experiencing bad days, bad moods, or annoying habits that you can hide to a degree in a weekends-only situation. It’s not about the richness and texture of logging regular hours together. Compatibility is all of that, and it’s also knowing what it’s like to integrate your lives into your larger worlds — friends, family, acquaintances, and colleagues. You and Joe didn’t have a community around you as you communed. You were an island of two in your blissed-out universe during the 48 hours you had together.

She continues with another salient point. A relationship is never just about two people. It’s about merging two social worlds, creating an alliance between groups:

A relationship may seem like it’s just about two people, but it’s about the confluence of your respective worlds as well. How do your larger worlds mesh? How do they add context to the person you see only through your own lens? The long-distance romance is a rarefied experience, and I can see why it felt like “the best relationship by far.” Despite its loneliness, it protects you from the messier parts of courtship and dating. It’s not surprising that you and Joe are “fantastic” together, because though all new relationships are rooted partly in “fantasy,” a relationship that exists only on weekends is rooted even more deeply in illusion. (It’s possible that you and Joe didn’t have a substantive conversation about the reality of your logistics until Joe broke up with you because neither one of you wanted to puncture the illusion.)

Gottlieb concludes that Joe is not part of the equation. Thus that RHP  should move on. 

Good advice.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lindy West Unhinged

Hollywood, you might have noticed, is not the epicenter of the vast right wing conspiracy. Hollywood, even Hollywood in Tribeca, is a politically correct thoroughly enlightened feminist paradise. Even before they proclaimed themselves leaders of the Resistance against Donald Trump movie industry moguls and actors were true believers in the leftist, feminist cause.

We used to think that the only way anyone could lose a role in Hollywood was to be outed as a Republican. Now, we know that the other way, for women, was to refuse the ham-handed advances of Harvey Weinstein. In some cases, such women were not even allowed to refuse.... 

Obviously, other women in other industries have suffered sexual harassment and sexual assault. You may have been up in arms against what Clarence Thomas supposedly said to Anita Hill, but the charges against Thomas pale in comparison to the assaults and rapes that Harvey Weinstein is accused of having committed.

So, we have had nearly five decades of feminist consciousness raising. We have had two and a half decades of intense conversation about workplace sexual harassment. What did we get from it? We got Harvey Weinstein. Somehow it turned the feminist paradise of the movie industry into a fever swamp of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.

Keep in mind, Hollywood is not filled with Tea Party patriots. It is not chockablock with Republicans or Bible-thumpers or holy rollers. It is not even filled with alt-right fanatics and wingnuts. It is filled with people who are probably atheists, but who religiously fill the coffers of every Democratic candidate and who proudly support every liberal and progressive cause. Hollywood bigwigs pretend to superior moral character and superior insight. And yet, from this fever swamp has arisen, not respectful behavior toward women, but Harvey Weinstein.

People overlook the fact, so let’s emphasize that all of these self-righteously sanctimonious empty-headed moralists voted to give an Oscar to a man who had raped a 13 year old child. Led by luminaries like Meryl Streep, Martin Scorsese, and Harvey Weinstein they cheered lustily when Roman Polanski won his Oscar. What message was people supposed to learn from that, except that the community would forgive any man anything as long as he made great movies.

Allow me to repeat the obvious. The feminist men who abused, harassed and raped women were given the greenlight by none other than Hillary Clinton. Remember that our enabler in chief defended her sexual predator husband by attacking the women who dared accuse him. When Weinstein stated that he would do penance for his perfidy by supporting leftist causes, he was simply stating the obvious. Feminists happily excused predatory men if they supported the feminist cause. Be a feminist, support the cause, and a man can do what he pleases to women.

Even now, Clinton friend and satrap, Linda Bloodworth Thomason, in a column about what she knew about Weinstein, cannot bring herself to denounce Bill Clinton:

One of the best friends I will ever have and a man I love dearly, former President Bill Clinton, has certainly taxed my feminist conscience, but always without diminishing my affection. I even helped write his apology to the nation for his own sexual misconduct, was sitting next to him when he delivered it, and believe to this day it was based on something that was none of our business.

Not-so-famous feminist ranter Lindy West has declared war on men. As though she needed the recent events to be at war against men. In truth, many feminists have been at war against boys and men for decades now. How is that one working out?

Any time you want to declare war on someone make sure that you have the fire power to win. And keep in mind that when you make war against a large group, indiscriminately attacking the guilty and the innocent, you are going to stoke animosity. And you are going to discover that some of those you are warring against will fight back.

There’s an old moral precept: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. It’s not the same as: Do unto others as they have done unto you.

Unable to accept any responsibility for the state of affairs to which she and the sisterhood contributed West denounces “powerful men.” You see, even in a world that has had its feminist consciousness raised, it’s always the patriarchy. By powerful men you can read capitalist warmongers. And you can read West's column as a veiled effort to enlist women in the revolutionary cause. Isn't she therefore trying to use the Weinstein victims as recruiting tools for her leftist caues.

But, you cannot put the patriarchy on trial. West is exonerating the men who committed sexual malfeasance by blaming all men… as though there is something about men that makes them into predators.

West ignores the fact that men are normally inclined to protect and defend women. As we know, feminists reject all such protection because they say it makes them feel weak. And yet, as one commetator remarked, one of Hollywood’s problems is that—with a couple of notable exceptions, like Brad Pitt—there weren’t any men around to protect and defend young women. Lest we forget, none of the strong empowered feminists in Hollywood were willing to denounce it either.

West is fuming against men, against:

… the smothering, delusional, galactic entitlement of powerful men.

She especially attacks Donald Trump—not Bill Clinton, of course—and his followers. Why miss the chance to make a cheap political point.

In her white hot rage West forgot that the men in Hollywood who have been preying on aspiring actresses were not Trump supporters. Heck, most of them were not even Republicans. She adds a bit of nonsensical psychobabble, presumably to show how bright she thinks she is:

Donald Trump, our predator in chief, seems to view the election of Barack Obama as a white man being fired. He and his supporters are willing to burn the world in revenge. This whole catastrophic cultural moment was born of that same entitlement, of Trump’s paws and Weinstein’s unbelted bathrobe, of the ancient cycles of abuse that ghostwrote the Trump campaign’s real slogan: If I can’t have you, no one will.

By West’s reasoning, the fault lies with the system. One cannot but agree. In a just system Weinstein would have been called out and ruined for his behavior. But, the system that, as she puts it, tolerated Weinstein for years, was not a bunch of church-going folks in Kansas. It was the entertainment industry, in Hollywood and downtown Manhattan. In small town America if someone tries to rape your daughter or your sister, he will not be seeing the next sunrise.

Unless you are sufficiently mindless to believe that all men are bad to the bone, and that all men do the same thing, the crime wave West is inveighing about was committed by card-carrying feminist men, men who have been financing the Democratic Party for decades now. If you ask who let Weinstein get away with it, the answer is: the power brokers in the film industry. It's not so much that they were cowed; I suspect that they did not care:

In a just system, Weinstein would have faced career-ruining social and professional consequences the first time he changed into a bathrobe and begged a horrified woman for a massage. In a just system, the abuse wouldn’t have stayed an open secret for decades while he was left free to chew through generation after generation of starlets. Weinstein’s life, like Cosby’s, isn’t the story of some tragic, pitiable downfall. It’s the story of someone who got away with it.

West is happy to show the world what some already suspected, that she is a witch. But, her wild-eyed harangue at all men, one that has been widely praised, demonstrates that emotional extremes often blind one to the obvious, and even to the self-evident.

Erasing the Obama Foreign Policy Legacy

Among the non-arguments proposed by the unhappy few we have this: Trump’s animosity toward Obama is causing him to undo the Obama legacy, brick by brick, piece by piece. The only reason for Trump's actions, these mindless mavens suggest, is that Obama did it.

By their poor excuse for reasoning, we should keep all elements of the Obama legacy intact… because Obama did them. Keep in mind, the American people, in casting their votes in hundreds of elections, repudiated the Obama legacy throughout the Obama presidency.

Uri Friedman addresses the question in The Atlantic, though he relies far too much on noted Obamaphile flack Ben Rhodes.

He summarizes the Trump wrecking crew:

When Donald Trump last week opted to decertify the nuclear agreement that Barack Obama forged with Iran, it appeared to fit a pattern in the president’s emerging foreign policy. In withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the Paris climate-change accord, in announcing that he was “canceling” the U.S. opening to Cuba, Trump seemed similarly determined to dismantle Obama’s achievements in international affairs. 

But, it’s not just Trump, Friedman continues. Many Obama policy initiatives were wagers … like the wager on Iranian moderation. Reality has proved these to be bad bets:

But to the extent that Obama’s foreign-policy legacy is under threat, it’s not only Trump that’s doing the threatening. Some accomplishments are fraying for reasons that have nothing to do with the 45th president’s apparent contempt for the 44th. Obama’s legacy partially depends on his bets that certain countries—Cuba, Iran, Burma—would, with time, respond positively to diplomacy, which the former president once described to The Atlantic as “the element of American power that the rest of the world appreciates unambiguously.”

Strangely enough, Friedman suggests that the Trump war against ISIS is just a continuation of the Obama war against ISIS. He does not seem to recall that ISIS arose and prospered under the Obama presidency and that the former president exhibited his signature cowardice when confronting it.

On Monday the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa fell. Clearly, it was yet another Trumpian effort to undo the Obama legacy. Obama’s flacks and flunkies were not running around explaining that Trump had wanted to destroy ISIS because he held Obama in contempt. They preferred, in the media, to portray it as a defeat. After all, we cannot have it that Trump might look like he was succeeding, can we?

It took special talents with spin to make victory in Raqqa look like a defeat, but the New York Times was up to the challenge in its news analysis (via Maggie’sFarm):

Its de facto capital is falling. Its territory has shriveled from the size of Portugal to a handful of outposts. Its surviving leaders are on the run.

But rather than declare the Islamic State and its virulent ideology conquered, many Western and Arab counterterrorism officials are bracing for a new, lethal incarnation of the jihadist group.

The organization has a proven track record as an insurgency able to withstand major military onslaughts, while still recruiting adherents around the world ready to kill in its name.

Islamic State leaders signaled more than a year ago that they had drawn up contingency plans to revert to their roots as a guerrilla force after the loss of their territory in Iraq and Syria. Nor does the group need to govern cities to inspire so-called lone wolf terrorist attacks abroad, a strategy it has already adopted to devastating effect in Manchester, England, and Orlando, Fla.

I do not quite see how it happened, but the Times neglected to mention that jihadis far and wide were drawn to ISIS because it looked like it was winning, winning in Mosul, winning in Syria. Obama’s pusillanimous withdrawal from the region empowered ISIS and inspired jihadis in Europe and America.

The Associated Press echoes the Times worry that defeat is really a victory:

Over several nights in September, some 10,000 men, women and children fled areas under Islamic State control, hurrying through fields in northern Syria and risking fire from government troops to reach a province held by an al-Qaida-linked group.

For an untold number of battle-hardened jihadis fleeing with the civilians, the escape to Idlib province marked a homecoming of sorts, an opportunity to continue waging war alongside an extremist group that shares much of the Islamic State's ideology — and has benefited from its prolonged downfall.

While the U.S.-led coalition and Russian-backed Syrian troops have been focused on driving IS from the country's east, an al-Qaida-linked insurgent coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee has consolidated its control over Idlib, and may be looking to return to Osama bin Laden's strategy of attacking the West.

For those bemoaning the erasure of the Obama foreign policy, it’s yet another occasion for anguish and anger.