Sunday, January 15, 2017

A New Cold War with Russia?

Barack Obama is riding off on a wave of glory. The media is pushing the narrative that Obama really was the Messiah—and thus that the media was right, the American people notwithstanding.

And the same media have been peddling the story that Donald Trump is the Antichrist. Thus must mean that they are looking forward to the Second Coming of Christ… after they destroy the Antichrist.

As always, all good things are to the credit of Barack Obama. All bad things are the fault of Republicans, whether Trump or G. W. Bush.

It is such a flagrant lie that it rates with the notion that Hillary Clinton was the most qualified presidential candidate in American history. Anyone who believed that suffers from a thought disorder.

Today, the national hue and cry is directed against Russia. Obama spent eight years ceding authority and power to Russia (and to China, if you wish).  The picture of an all-powerful Russia—one that was pulling the strings in the American election by manipulating a weakened American mind--  makes clear that Obama yielded to Russia, just as he yielded to Iran and just as he let the Chinese do what they wanted. Attacks on Russia show that Obama made Russia powerful.

Incidentally, how did it happen that, according to this scenario, the American mind is so easily manipulated?

And now Obama’s supporters are insisting that Donald Trump get into a fight with Russia. They have been attacking Rex Tillerson for being soft on Russia. Mostly, this is coming from the left, the same left that cheered Barack Obama’s retreat from world leadership. Though naturally, John McCain and Lindsey Graham have hopped on the bandwagon.

Where Trump seems to be reviving the policy of détente, even Republicans like Marco Rubio are beating the drums for toughness against Russia. For the record, Rubio’s mindless insistence that prospective Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declare Vladimir Putin a war criminal tells us that many people seriously overestimated the political savvy of Marco Rubio. Can you imagine an American Secretary of State making his opening gambit in a negotiation with Putin the statement that Putin is a war criminal?

Anyway, the long knives are out for Donald Trump. Leftist forces have been in overdrive trying to discredit his election and to undermine his administration… even before it starts. It tells us that however much Barack Obama was courtly and eloquent and reasonable in his own comportment, he was ultimately a divisive president.

Anyway, the other night on Tucker Carlson’s show, many of us saw a conversation between Tucker and Stephen Cohen.  See this link also. Cohen is a retired academic, an expert on Russia, who often writes for The Nation—which is not a publication of the alt-right. As it happens, Cohen is married to Katrina vanden Heuvel, the publisher of The Nation.

Cohen believes that Trump wants to pursue a policy of détente toward Russia, a policy that was first practiced by Richard Nixon,that was denounced but eventually revived by Ronald Reagan. But, he says that certain forces do not want this to happen and are trying to delegitimize the Trump administration in order to produce a new Cold War. Moreover, Cohen suggests, those who are blaming Putin are trying to find someone to blame for the failure of the Obama administration foreign policy.

In a previous article Cohen claimed that we should direct our efforts against Radical Islamist terrorism  and not at Russia. He might have also singled out the dimwits who want to fight climate change and who submit to Islam. The Obama administration has gotten itself far more lathered up over Islamophobia than it has over Islamist terrorism.

Anyway, it is worth our while to examine Cohen’s take on the current dustup about Russia, beginning with the leaked Buzzfeed allegations. Cohen sees a campaign to undermine the Trump presidency and to produce a new Cold War:

Two conflicting interpretations are suggested, says Cohen. Either Trump is about to become a potentially seditious American president. Or powerful US forces are trying to destroy his presidency before it begins, perhaps even prevent him from taking office. Even if the allegations are eventually regarded as untrue, they may permanently slur and thus cripple Trump as a foreign-policy president, especially in trying to diminish the exceedingly dangerous new Cold War with Russia, which would constitute a grave threat to US national security—particularly in an existential nuclear confrontation like the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. If anti-Trump American forces are behind untrue allegations of this magnitude, those forces are the primary enemies of US national security and should be investigated fully and publicly.

If we believe the vilification campaign, Vladimir Putin put Donald Trump in the White House because he considered Hillary Clinton the greater threat. If you really believe that Putin was manipulating it all from behind the scenes you have to believe that he was most threatened by Hillary Clinton. As you know the Russians have consistently treated Hillary and John Kerry and Barack Obama with nothing but contempt.

Cohen offers this analysis:

Two conflicting interpretations are suggested, says Cohen. Either Trump is about to become a potentially seditious American president. Or powerful US forces are trying to destroy his presidency before it begins, perhaps even prevent him from taking office. Even if the allegations are eventually regarded as untrue, they may permanently slur and thus cripple Trump as a foreign-policy president, especially in trying to diminish the exceedingly dangerous new Cold War with Russia, which would constitute a grave threat to US national security—particularly in an existential nuclear confrontation like the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

The American left is playing the only card it has left: the politics of defamation. We should evaluate the consequences:

Cohen points out that even before the latest “revelation” there has been an unprecedented media campaign to defame Trump as a would-be traitor in his relations with Russia. On the night of January 4, a CNN paid contributor characterized the next president as a Russian “fifth columnist”—no one on the panel dissented or demurred. 

Subsequently, Washington Post columnists warned that Trump might have committed “treason” as president or replicate with Putin the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. Another set out the articles of his impeachment even before his inauguration. Here, too, nothing so poisonous, or potentially detrimental to national security, or to the presidency itself, has occurred in modern American history.

Everyone has been saying that Trump needs to accept the conclusions offered by the intelligence community uncritically. Cohen disagrees, suggesting that Trump is right to remain skeptical:

US national security requires a president who is able to evaluate critically intelligence reports or have people around him who can do so. Whether Trump and his appointees are such people is a separate question.

Cohen considers Tillerson to be well qualified to be Secretary of State:

Cohen counters that the United States does not need a friend in the Kremlin but a national-security partner whose national interests are sufficiently mutual for sustained cooperation—détente instead of Cold War. In this regard, Tillerson, whose success was based on reconciling national interests, would appear to be well qualified, though he too is defamed for suggesting any kind of cooperation with Moscow, no matter the benefits to US national security.

One notes that Andrew Young, an icon in the civil rights movement, also supports Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State:

So, for me, an "Oil Man" as Secretary of State is a "Stone of Hope."

Statecraft has a tendency to be moralistic. Business is more pragmatic, seeking mutual self-interest rather than arguing absolutes of right or wrong.

I offer these views because they do not come from Trump supporters. In the current cacophony of threats and posturing, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find people who can see beyond moral absolutes.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Marissa Mayer

When Yahoo! hired Marissa Mayer as the new CEO, it was throwing what is known in another context as a "Hail Mary" pass. Here we’ll call it a "Hail Marissa" pass.

The company was in trouble and the Board of Directors must have thought that the risk of hiring a woman with no real managerial experience and who was about to give birth to her first child was worth taking.

As it turned out, the Mayer tenure at Yahoo! has not been a success. Mayer now has three children but the company, as it was, will soon cease to exist.

For the record, this blogger has generally been supportive of Mayer. When she banned telecommuting as a way to overcome the dismal state of the Yahoo! office environment I wrote that she had every right to make an executive decision. The market, not bloggers and columnists, would be the judge.

The same applied to Mayer’s policy of giving special preference to female hires. True enough, most of Silicon Valley is anything but diverse. Most of it is run by white and Asian males. If Mayer wanted to hire more women, regardless of merit, she had every right to do so. Again, the market was the final judge.

For the record, Mayer has been sued for discriminating against men. Wikipedia reports:

Scott Ard, a prominent editorial director, fired from Yahoo! in 2015, has filed a lawsuit accusing Mayer of leading a sexist campaign to purge male employees. Ard, a male employee, stated “Mayer encouraged and fostered the use of (an employee performance-rating system) to accommodate management’s subjective biases and personal opinions, to the detriment of Yahoo!’s male employees”. 

Mayer may n0t have been willing to proclaim herself to be a feminist, but she certainly acted like one.

Now, Erin Gloria Ryan is ranting about how Mayer owed everything to feminism and yet failed in her primary task—or better, what Ryan defines as Mayer’s primary task—to be a vocal and outspoken feminist.

That’s right, Mayer did not have to answer to Yahoo! shareholders. She had to answer to her true employer: Feminism, Inc. She should have been out there on the front lines fighting for free IUDs for all women. Would that have made her a better CEO? Ryan does not ask the question.

Obviously, any woman who announces that her primary loyalty is to Feminism, Inc. and not to her company will normally not be hired at all. And she is certainly not going to be promoted. The same applies to any man or woman who makes social justice or some other ideological cause the object of his full commitment.

Ryan—not the brightest bulb on the tree—has offered a good reason for women not to be hired and promoted. She has told women what they need to do in order not to be hired, or better, in order not to be elected president of the United States. After all, a presidential candidate must, above all else, show him or herself to be devoted primarily to the nation, not to a cause. America was tricked by Barack Obama. It was not tricked by Hillary Clinton.

As Ryan describes her, Mayer failed as CEO:

Mayer’s tenure at Yahoo has been singular for several reasons. On a practical level, it was a gutsy hire when she was brought on in 2012, as a product-oriented person who, at 37, was young and relatively inexperienced with running an entire company. Her management style occasionally raised eyebrows. Although she was six months pregnant when she accepted the job, shortly after coming aboard she banned telecommuting for employees. After her son was born, she had a nursery built in her office. Other Yahoo employees who were working caretakers didn’t have the same luxury. She spent lavishly on high-profile hires like Katie Couric, who cost Yahoo $10 million a year and exposed it to controversy at a time the company’s reputation couldn’t exactly afford the ding. Ultimately, a combination of overzealous acquisition, questionable decisions that led to poor employee morale, and plain old bad luck grounded Yahoo’s aspirations for a turnaround.

A rational individual might have concluded that the Yahoo! Board had made a mistake in hiring Marissa Mayer. A rational individual might have seen that a pregnant woman, a woman who was about to give birth, a woman who would naturally undergo the transformations that accompany her condition, was not in the best position to run a major corporation. Not Ryan.

In an especially mindless fashion she inveighs against Mayer for refusing to return the favor granted her by feminism. She attacks Mayer for not embracing the ideology.

If you think I’m exaggerating, take a gander at this:

Then there was the woman thing. Mayer’s womanhood, her glamorous public image, her status as a mother, her outspoken stances on feminism and women at work made her rise and ultimate thwarting uniquely of-this-era. She is a woman who has achieved impressively, who has benefited from feminism immensely. And yet, she is a woman who didn’t feel compelled to identify with the ideology of feminism. In fact, in an interview early in her tenure as CEO of Yahoo, she distanced herself from the activism that gave women the right to vote and obtain birth control and the right to apply for credit cards without a husband’s permission, saying she found the whole thing too “negative.”

Does Ryan imagine that an activist feminist would have been a better CEO? Was Hillary Clinton, everyone’s feminist role model, a competent Secretary of State?

We will ignore the fact that no one really identifies with an ideology—to repeat Ryan’s clumsy phrasing—but that one adheres to it or embraces it. Ryan is saying that Mayer and every other woman who has enjoyed any recent success owes it to feminism and is obligated to return the favor.

As a counterpoint, we mention that Mayer herself deserves credit for her considerable accomplishments as well as blame for her failures. We should also notice that feminists, being card-carrying ideologues, only take credit for what they perceive to be the good that feminist has achieved. You do not see too many feminists crying out to with pride over all the divorces and broken homes that feminism provoked. You do not see too many feminists taking credit for the infertility problems of women who follow the feminist life plan.

Any time anything does not work out for a woman, feminists blame the sexist, misogynist patriarchy. Any time a woman succeeds feminsim gives the credit to feminism. It’s the definition of an ideology. In the end you cannot even think straight.

We reported recently that brain science has demonstrated definitively that a woman’s brain changes during pregnancy, the better to activate the instincts that will make her a better mother. These changes are unlikely to make her a better CEO. The point is so obvious that only a feminist would miss it.

In truth, Mayer was having her first child at age 37. She was doing so because she was following the feminist life play, postponing childbearing until her career was firmly established. Feminists failed to notice, as Penelope Trunk brought to their attention, that if a woman has children in her late 30s she will be running after toddlers at the same time when she is eligible for a senior management role. If feminists really want women to enter the executive suite the better course would be to have children young. And yet, the thought is anathema to feminists.

When push comes to shove, however, we have to admit that Ryan does have a point. She has a point about the influence of feminism. In truth, were it not for the ideological climate created by feminism, an ideological climate that believes human biology to be a social construct, no one would have chosen a pregnant woman with no management experience as the CEO of a major corporation.

The Yahoo! Board was influenced, overtly or covertly, by feminist ideology. It wanted to make a politically correct point—by ignoring pregnancy and inexperience--and tanked the company. Or better, sent the company further into the tank.

As for Mayer, if she had not been influenced by the ideology she would never have taken the job. Mayer might not have been a feminist. She might have refused to embrace the ideology, but she was a product of the culture, especially of the culture of Silicon Valley, and to that culture she owes the fact that she made a bad decision. Certainly, the decision was bad for Yahoo! We do not know whether it was good or bad for her as a mother.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Abandon All Hope....

If you thought that America’s young people were in trouble, look at what is happening across the pond. That is, in Great Britain.

Perhaps the psychological distress felt by large numbers of British children has nothing to do with America. Or perhaps, Great Britain is merely a mini-America, reflecting similar but not identical trends on our side of the pond.

According to a recent survey large numbers of British young people have serious mental health issues. They are in so much despair about their future and about their ability to shape it that they can barely focus at school.

One can be forgiven for imagining that the new sign welcoming people to Great Britain should read: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Or as Dante saw on the portal leading into the Inferno: Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate.

The London Telegraph reports the bleak news:

Half of young people have so many emotional problems they cannot focus at school, a study has found.

Some 48 per cent of youngsters said that they experienced problems during their school years that prevented them from concentrating on their academic work.

Of these, 46 per cent did not talk to anyone about their problems, mainly because they did not want other people to know that they were struggling.

More than half (58 per cent) did not think that asking for help would solve the problem.

Children who believe that they are being robbed of their future, perhaps by the actions of their elders and their government, are unlikely to believe that they can solve the problem by taking a pill or by going to therapy.

One does not wish to draw conclusions about a situation one cannot completely grasp, but surely, the reasons for this despair must derive from a loss of national pride. Or is it caused by the apocalyptic visions and general hysteria of those who did not want Britain to leave the European Union?

Serious politicians and thought leaders should understand that when they fill the airways with their emotion-laden rants, when they dispense with cold reason in favor of the hot mess of their feelings, they will damage the minds of young people who have not been immunized against the cultural toxins.

If you fill the media with anger and outrage, people will conclude that rational deliberation and consequential action can never produce any positive results.

Or perhaps the current despair has been produced by a loss of national identity and national purpose, loss that Brexit was designed to heal. Or, has it been caused by the sense of feeling alone and abandoned, cut off from Europe? Or, has it been caused by too much free enterprise or by too much bureaucratic socialism?

For their part British children see the problem in economic terms:

Half of young people said they feel the pressures of getting a job are greater than they were a year ago and more than a third said they did not feel in control of their job prospects.

The eighth Index, based on a survey of 2,215 young people aged 16 to 25, revealed many feel their circumstances are trapping them.

Dame Martina Milburn, chief executive at the Prince’s Trust said: “This report paints a deeply concerning picture of a generation who feel their ability to shape their own future is slipping away from them.

"It’s shocking how many feel so desperate about their situation and it is vital that we support them to develop the confidence and coping skills they need to succeed in life.”

These young people do not believe that they can succeed in the marketplace. They do not believe that they can compete. They believe that their prospects are limited and that opportunities barely exist. It does not take a leap of imagination to see that more than a few of our fellow Americans hold the same pessimistic outlook.

Have both nations lost the will to compete, the will to fight and to excel? If so, that would explain some of what is happening to British youth. Perhaps the culture war against the Anglosphere and Western Civilization has contributed to this mindset.

The Telegraph reports:

Of those surveyed, 42 per cent said traditional goals such as buying a house or getting a steady job were unrealistic and 34 per cent said they thought they will have a worse standard of living than their parents did.

Almost a fifth said they "don’t believe they can change their circumstances if they want to" and 16 per cent said they "think their life will amount to nothing, no matter how hard they try".

Of course, the Prince’s Trust, run by Charles, Prince of Wales is trying to solve the problem. But, ask yourself this, is Prince Charles the solution or the problem? To those of us on this side of the Atlantic, he comes across as an insufferable flake, someone who embraces every trendy cause, even to the point of using his Christmas address this year to ask his subjects to think about the Prophet Mohammed.

All things considered, when you watch the Prince of Wales you understand why Great Britain goes into a panic every time his mother catches cold. Let’s not forget that Great Britain has Charles to thank for that self-indulgent fame whore, Lady Diana, who made it her mission in life to discredit the monarchy—thus, national unity and purpose—because her husband did not love her enough. One does not know how to calculate the negative influence of such a role model, but it must be considerable.

How many of these children’s problems derive from the nation’s drift toward multiculturalism, its loss of the pride in being British?

The psychological aspects look like this:

Of those who do not feel they are in control of their lives, 61 per cent said they felt this was because they lack self-confidence, and that this holds them back.

A range of factors that may contribute  to young people not feeling in control of their lives have been highlighted by the Index.

One in 10 young people said they did not know anyone who "really cares" about them, 45 per cent felt stressed about body image and 37 per cent said they felt stressed about coping with work or school, the report found.

The Youth Index showed that many feel confused, and 44 per cent of those surveyed claimed they don’t know what to believe because they read conflicting things in the media about the economy.

Dazed and confused by what appears in the media, children are pessimistic about their future. The more political and thought leaders become unhinged, the more they believe that their role is to disseminate propaganda and to become public drama queens, the more the children will suffer.

Don't Multitask!

Long time readers of this blog know that multitasking is bad for you. When you try to do multiple tasks at the same time you lose focus and become less efficient. Apparently it even damages your brain.

Multitasking is as bad for you as multiculturalism.

For links to my previous posts, see here and here and here. One notes that they begin nearly eight years ago. For once I do not feel like I am late to the party.

Anyway, Travis Bradbury makes the case against multitasking:

You may have heard that multitasking is bad for you, but studies show that it kills your performance and may even damage your brain. Every time you multitask you aren't just harming your performance in the moment; you may very well be damaging an area of your brain that's critical to your future success at work.

Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.

Yet, we all know people who say that they are great at multitasking. Happily enough, the research has evaluated their claims:

But what if some people have a special gift for multitasking? The Stanford researchers compared groups of people based on their tendency to multitask and their belief that it helps their performance. They found that heavy multitaskers — those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance — were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another.

Why is this so? Because, Bradbury explains, the brain can only focus on one thing at once. Try to make to focus of two or more things at the same time and it will malfunction.

Not only that, but if you multitask too much you will lose a few IQ points. Say what?

Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they'd expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.

So the next time you're writing your boss an email during a meeting, remember that your cognitive capacity is being diminished to the point that you might as well let an 8-year-old write it for you.

That ought to be the definitive, last word on multitasking. It probably won't be.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"A Tangle of Squabbling Nationalities"

Stephen Metcalf’s long disquisition about late philosopher Richard Rorty is promising. Unfortunately, it does not quite deliver. I do not believe that Metcalf is at fault. Trying to remain true to Rorty’s thought he muddles the issues. This means that Rorty muddled the issues.

In any event Rorty, who died ten years ago, has recently enjoyed something of a renaissance for having predicted this:

The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. . . . Once the strongman takes office, no one can predict what will happen. 

Obviously, this made Rorty look like a prophet. Similarly, Scott Adams of Dilbert fame claimed to be a prophet for having predicted the election of Donald Trump. Someone will have to figure out how thinkers like Rorty, who had no truck with facts or reality, should be extolled when one of his predictions seems to have come true.

Rorty was correct to see that the people of the country would not long tolerate handing their freedom over to a guardian class of philosopher kings.

While no one can predict what will happen when Donald Trump becomes president, but we already know that the guardian class has declared all-out war against him. Yet, we also know that a number of his senior appointments are not beholden either to party or to ideology. Some of them have already shown clearly independent thinking about the issues and questions. And, dare I say, precious few of them look like the kinds of people who needed the job or who are likely to kowtow to the White House.

In a nation is divided by ideology it is not a terrible thing to have competent executives running cabinet departments. And it is surely better than having such departments run by grandstanding senators like Marco Rubio. Or incompetent senators like HRC.

Anyway, Metcalf went back to the source of the Rorty quotation and discovered that the philosopher was inveighing against a tendency on the political left to disassociate itself from patriotism and national pride. One can easily conjure the image of Colin Kaepernick disrespecting the national anthem and the American flag… with the support of Democrats ranging from the president to Jane Sanders. So, clearly Rorty’s point is even more salient today.

It was not, of course, original… even in 2007. One notes in passing that Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. argued the point at length in his 1992 book, The Disuniting of America. I need not tell you that Schlesinger was not a right wing ideologue.

Metcalf summarizes the thrust of Rorty’s book:

It is, instead, a book about the left’s tragic loss of national pride. “National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals, a necessary condition for self-improvement,” Rorty writes in the book’s opening sentence, before describing in grim detail how the democratic optimism, however qualified, of Walt Whitman, John Dewey, and James Baldwin has been abandoned in favor of what he calls a “blasé” and “spectatorial” left.

Yet, Rorty wants to restore national pride while at the same time he wants to retain political correctness, whose purpose is to undermine national pride on the grounds that it was built on a foundation of oppression. 

Metcalf explains Rorty’s point:

Rorty, in “Achieving Our Country,” shows unqualified admiration for the expansion of academic syllabi to include nonwhite and non-male authors, and describes such efforts as one means of awakening students to the “humiliation which previous generations of Americans have inflicted on their fellow citizens.” He adds, without reservation, “Encouraging students to be what mocking neoconservatives call ‘politically correct’ has made our country a far better place.”

Rorty objected to ethnic diversity on the ground that it left out class distinctions. This suggests that, as something of an unreconstructed Marxist, he would have preferred to see the nation divided by class. This message might have played well to the peanut gallery in the lecture hall, but it otherwise has no real resonance. It shows its proponent to have  had a very limited knowledge of the real world.

Of course, Rorty was working within the university system and had to suck up to the powers that be, the guardian class that was running those places. Thus, he had to be for and against the same thing at the same time. Otherwise his reputation would have been tarred.

For a sane liberal approach to the problem, we counterpoint the words of Arthur Schlesinger. In no particular order:

Let us by all means teach black history, African history, women’s history, Hispanic history, Asian history. But let us teach them as history, not as filiopietistic commemoration. The purpose of history is to promote not group self-esteem, but understanding of the world and the past, dispassionate analysis, judgment, and perspective, respect for divergent cultures and traditions, and unflinching protection for those unifying ideas of tolerance, democracy, and human rights that make free historical inquiry possible.

And:

The rising cult of ethnicity was a symptom of decreasing confidence in the American future.

And:

But in general one senses a certain inauthenticity in saddling public schools with the mission of convincing children of the beauties of their particular ethnic origins. Ethnic subcultures, if they had genuine vitality, would be sufficiently instilled in children by family, church, and community. It is surely not the office of the public school to promote artificial ethnic chauvinism.

Schlesinger saw danger in tribalism:

Events each day demonstrate the fragility of national cohesion. Everywhere you look, tribalism is the cause of the breaking of nations.

Finally, Schlesinger quoted Theodore Roosevelt:

The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities…

Credit to TR, one of the best writers to hold the office of the presidency, for the phrase: “a tangle of squabbling nationalities.”

Meanwhile, back with Rorty, the American philosopher did not aim his ire at identity politics or the free-market right—as though these are even remotely the same—but at cultural decadence. In that he was certainly prescient.

Metcalf writes:

The principal object of Rorty’s derision was neither identity politics nor the rise of an ignoble free-market right but a peculiar form of decadence, which his larger intellectual project aimed to counter. 

Being a philosopher, Rorty was less concerned with hooking up and binge drinking as he was with Nietzschean decadence, embodied especially in Michel Foucault. After all, Nietzsche regaled us with stories of the god Dionysius, and we know that today’s college students seriously worship that god in their ritual called: Spring Break.
  
Anyway Foucault qualifies as decadent, for defending gay rights on the streets of Paris while also praising the Ayatollahs in Iran at a time when they were treating homosexuality as a capital crime, punishable by death.

Metcalf explains the point:

But his [Rorty’s] loathing of the academic left was neither shy nor gentle. The “Foucauldian” left, he writes in “Achieving Our Country,” “represents an unfortunate regression to the Marxist obsession with scientific rigor.” In the specific case of Foucault, this involved locating the “ubiquitous specter” known as “power” everywhere, and conceding that we are without agency in its presence. “To step into the intellectual world which some of these leftists inhabit is to move out of a world in which citizens of a democracy can join forces to resist sadism and selfishness into a Gothic world in which democratic politics has become a farce,” he writes.

Foucault saw the machinations of power everywhere. It’s a big idea, offered up by a big thinker.

And yet, there is more to the story of academic decadence. The academic left has also fallen prey to the Siren Song of deconstruction, that literary-philosophical practice that is closely akin to the pogrom. Surely, the champions of deconstruction, whose progenitor was the Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger, deserve some credit for the rise of Brown Shirts on America’s campuses. They might even deserve more credit than Foucault.

Strangely enough—I will take Metcalf’s word on this because I have no interest in rereading Rorty this morning—Rorty thought that the solution to these great philosophical problems was therapy, specifically psychoanalytic therapy:

The most philosophical way to abandon them was therapeutically: one could relive the philosophical past the same way an analysand relives her emotional past. By drawing, inch by agonizing inch, an unconscious pattern to the surface, one might discard it forever.

Obviously, Rorty was peddling a fictional account of Freudian treatment, one that never worked in clinical practice and that likely does not work for philosophy either. In fact, the reliance on psychoanalysis, the search for an emotional catharsis— if that was what he wanted, why not just attend a Greek tragedy—can do nothing more than confuse issues.

Rorty's lucubrations amount to nothing more than a retreat from the dire obligation to look at the reality of the situation. They cause people to withdraw into the fortress of the academy and mistake it for the mind.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Reign of Amazon

Zero Hedge has the story: Amazon is eating its competition.

Recently, the venerable Macy’s closed dozens of stores and laid off thousands of workers. The Limited shut down all of its stores. Other once great department store chains—from Sears to Penny’s—are dying a slow death. Only Walmart seems to retain its vitality, and it announced, just yesterday, that it is laying off people.

And Amazon rules over all of them. The ensuing chart involves market capitalization, which is the value the stock market places on the company. And we know that Amazon does more than retail. And, of course, the stock market is not always right. With that cautionary note in mind, we see that Amazon is bigger than the aggregate of all its competitors.


Zero Hedge explains:

Sears went from being worth $27.8 billion to $1.1 billion (a 96% decrease), while JCPenney went from $18.1 billion to $2.6 billion (a 86% decrease).

Amazon, on the other hand, did okay for itself.

The online retailer gained 1,934% in value over the same timeframe, making it one of the most valuable companies in the world, and a key piece of Jeff Bezos’ business empire.

The picture is the same when you look at sales figures. Zero Hedge writes:

Ten years ago, the future of brick and mortar retail sill looked bright. The aforementioned retailers were worth a collective $400 billion, and Amazon was only valued at $17.5 billion.

But disruption often comes without warning. Or if there were warning signs, they went unheeded by retailers.

Big box and department store sales plummeted, as consumers increasingly went online to do their shopping. This year, it is estimated that revenues are equal to just 62% of their totals in 2006.

It’s always worth paying attention to shifting economic realities. As an economist recently noted, the trend toward consolidation and bigness is swamping entrepreneurialism.

The Decline and Fall of Megyn Kelly

Michael Wolff is an excellent media reporter. He has better sources than I do. Yesterday he reported on the Megyn Kelly saga, especially on how ineptly she handled the negotiations of her new contract. It shows a woman who was full of herself and whose strings were being pulled by friends who wanted to make her the great feminist heroine. And it shows how she bought the narrative and the role.

Kelly leaned in and, as often happens when people put ideology above loyalty, she compromised herself, her position and very likely her career.

Wolff describes the debacle that ensued when Kelly negotiated her new contract in public:

She bargained to be the biggest voice of the dominant news channel in America — and, as well, the best paid on-air personality in the history of television news. Instead, she’s become merely a contender among the knives-out egos in the contested (and ever dwindling) territory of network news—and at a steep discount to the brass-ring salary she might have had.

In my view the presumption of disloyalty severely damaged Kelly’s reputation at Fox News. It damaged her relationships with her colleagues and made her persona non grata in the building.

Wolff describes how she made herself into the network’s Eve Harrington:

There is at any given time in the television news business invariably one person more mistrusted and reviled by all the other mistrusted and reviled people in the business. This is what’s called the Eve Harrington Syndrome, after the amoral and unscrupulous showbiz heroine in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1950 film All About Eve (the syndrome, of course, is not gender specific). At Fox, for star colleagues down to make-up artists and, seemingly, by common agreement throughout the television news business, Megyn Kelly is the era’s most hardcore Eve Harrington case—soulless, heartless, shameless, avaricious, etc.

If there were resentments and guardedness before, by this past autumn she was all but shunned, showing up only for her segment and largely talking to no one. The Murdochs’ offer of $100 million and leadership of the network had become a hopelessly poisoned chalice, with Fox an environment in which it would have been impossible for her to work.

Wolff believed that from the Fox perspective, the negotiation were about the future of Fox News. Rupert Murdoch’s sons wanted to make the network more mainstream, despite the fact that in its current incarnation it generates something like $1.5 billion in profit. They wanted Kelly to become the new face of the network.

And yet, Kelly’s inept negotiating style—she should have lowered her head and kept it all private—alienated so many people, Wolff argues, that she would not have been able to function at the network at all.

The result, Wolff concludes, was a considerable loss for Kelly. Was it a tragic fall, brought on by hubris? Or was it simply what happens when you take advice from Sheryl Sandberg?

Fox News will undoubtedly survive. Kelly’s future does not look as bright as it did two weeks ago:

For Megyn Kelly, at a price one person familiar with the negotiations put at $17 million-$18 million (practically speaking it would be hard for NBC to let anyone exceed Today show star Matt Lauer’s recent raise to $20 million), there was a prospective daytime show, with few models of success; a Sunday evening show, typically a loss leader; and a possible move for the hard-news Kelly into the soft hour of Today’ s 9 a.m. hour. Some observers see her inevitable destination as MSNBC—from the top-rated news network to the lowest.