Sunday, June 25, 2017

Are You Man Enough... To Be a Nurse?

This is probably not the most shocking thing you are going to hear today. While male unemployment is high jobs are going unfilled because men do not want to do them. Better yet, their wives do not want them to do the jobs. And those who hire people for the jobs do not want to hire men. Those who do the jobs do not want men as colleagues either. I am talking about care giving jobs, like nurses and home health care workers.

Naturally, Susan Chira attributes it to stereotyping, but does she know better than the men, their wives and their prospective colleagues? At the least, she ought to respect the views of the women who live with these men.

Yet, as Chira presents the case, the feminist vision of male nurses and male home care workers fades into oblivion. Gender interchangeability is just another dumb idea… one that takes permanent leave from reality.

Chira opens:

Traditionally male factory work is drying up. The fastest-growing jobs in the American economy are those that are often held by women. Why not get men to do them?

The problem is that notions of masculinity die hard, in women as well as men. It’s not just that men consider some of the jobs that will be most in demand — in health care, education and administration — to be unmanly or demeaning, or worry that they require emotional skills they don’t have. So do some of their wives, prospective employers and women in these same professions.

Notions of masculinity have developed for reasons that have everything to do with human nature. Why is that so difficult to accept?

A sociology professor who sets her straight:

Ofer Sharone, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has studied middle-aged white-collar professionals who have lost their jobs. He found that some men who might have been willing to consider lower-paid jobs in typically feminine fields encountered resistance from their wives, who urged them to keep looking.

“Marriages have more problems when the man is unemployed than the woman,” Professor Sharone said. “What does it mean for a man to take a low-paying job that’s typically associated with women? What kind of price will they pay with their friends, their lives, their wives, compared to unemployment?”

That may be, he said, because other sociologists have found that while work is important to both men’s and women’s identities, there remains a difference. “Work is at the core of what it means to be a man, in a way that work is not at the core of femininity,” he said.

Clients do not want to hire male caregivers, either. Perhaps they have bathed in the ambient culture, the one that demonizes men as repugnant abusers. Perhaps they understand that men lack the genetic make-up to be good caregivers:

Sherwin Sheik, president and chief executive of CareLinx, which matches caregivers with families, said that many clients remain suspicious of male home health care aides, worried about abuse or sexual predation, and convinced that women will be more caring.

And, of course, women who work in what have traditionally been women’s professions do not want a lot of men around:

Men can also face resistance from their female peers. Jason Mott, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, said some of his male students were teased by their female classmates. “They feel they need to really express their manhood, stressing the athletics they take part in,” he said.

Nursing offers a perplexing case study. In theory, nursing should appeal to men because it pays fairly good wages and is seen as a profession with a defined skill set. Yet just 10 percent of nurses are men, despite “Are You Man Enough … to Be a Nurse?” posters and other efforts to enlist men.

Of course, it’s all a messaging problem. You want to attract men to nursing, you need more posters about how only a man who is man enough can be a nurse. 

Women know better. They are not rushing out to marry male nurses. Men whose manhood has been compromised by such occupations often believe that they need to become more macho than thou, more aggressive and more violent… to assure themselves and their prospective mates that they are really man enough.

If women do not want it, we should respect their views.

Why Relationships Fail

Consider this a footnote on yesterday’s post about “Why Marriages Fail.” You recall that Harvard professor Alexandra Killewald’s research showed that women were more likely to walk away from marriages when men were not breadwinners. That is, when men became the kind of male beings that feminists have told them to become.

Fortuitously, New York Magazine has just written up a case study of a relationship that failed because the man did not make enough money. (via Maggie's Farm)

Carly is 38, with a five year old son. She has her own business and barely makes ends meet. Jackson is 37, without children, but who loves her children. They have a great rapport and great sex. Yet, Jackson has no real ambition and does not make much more than he needs.

Carly said:

 It felt great having a boyfriend. A giant weight was lifted off my shoulders because I had someone to talk to, someone to rely on, someone who fit with me and my son. Plus, the sex was incredible. It was kind of picture perfect, despite the untraditional-ness of it all. I guess the only issue from the very start was that Jackson didn’t have a stable job. He’s a super-talented photographer, but his work was a little unsteady. If I’m being honest, I thought maybe there was family money, and I hoped for that only because it meant I could stay with him forever. I didn’t want to be with someone who couldn’t contribute; I knew that would only lead to resentment. But there wasn’t family money …

He was not going to be a breadwinner. End of relationship.

To be fair and balanced, Jackson offered his own viewpoint:

I didn’t make the kind of money she wanted me to, which bothered her way more than me. I feel like I’m lucky that I have a rent-stabilized apartment and work that I enjoy. In my eyes, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t provide for her or her son. Love, affection, adventure. I was devoted. Dollar signs weren’t a thing as far as I was concerned.

Carly’s response:

It started to annoy me, big time, how little he worked, how rarely he thought about money or ambition. He’d do the littlest thing, like maybe smoke a joint with my friends, and I’d just boil over inside. Like, “You fucking stoner deadbeat!” Meanwhile, all my friends were also smoking and I’d be like, “Cool, love you guys.” But I was conflicted — he and my son had gotten so close and there was so much I loved about Jackson too.

But, Jackson has work/life balance:

She wanted to change this very innate quality about me, which is that I’m not driven by money. I’m not materialistic. I don’t need fancy things. I just need good people, creativity, inspiration, honesty, a beautiful woman, a cold beer on my front stoop …

I would have done anything to make it work, except get a terrible, soul-crushing job. And that was the only thing she ever wanted me to do. It got real ugly. She’d yell at me about everything. I went from this man she wanted to raise a child with to someone who couldn’t do anything right.

Carly saw it as “the Urban Cowboy thing” and she refused to make it a part of her life. As opposed to what we read in therapy columns, this account shows a good dose of responsible adult reasoning. 

"Another Soul-Sucking Disappointment"

Democrats thought they had it won. They were convinced that they would win Tom Price’s Congressional seat in the Georgia runoff election last week. They were wrong. They lost. Now is the time for soul-searching. Because, if Democrats are good at anything, it’s soul searching.

While not the first to weigh in, Maureen Dowd has gotten her groove back in today’s column:

The Democrats just got skunked four to nothing in races they excitedly thought they could win because everyone they hang with hates Trump.

If Trump is the Antichrist, as they believe, then Georgia was going to be a cakewalk, and Nancy Pelosi was going to be installed as speaker before the midterms by acclamation. But it turned into another soul-sucking disappointment.

I’m not so sure what the Antichrist has to do with cakewalks—shifting narratives—but Democrats were persuaded that young attractive centrist Jon Ossoff would easily beat Karen Handel. He didn’t. He didn't even live in the district.

Dowd contacted Rahm Emanuel, to learn how to win elections:

“We congenitally believe that our motives are pure and our goals are right,” Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, told me. “Therefore, we should win by default.” But, he added dryly: “You’ve got to run a good campaign. In elections, politics matter. Oooh, what a surprise.”

Apparently, Rahm has forgotten the other rule of politics: when you have power you have to govern effectively. The man presiding over the killing fields of Chicago, within a state that has been bankrupted by years of Democratic governance, does not serve as a role model for effective governance.

If Democrats do not think that it matters, they are living in their own fairy tale. Dowd explains it well:

Democrats cling to an idyllic version of a new progressive America where everyone tools around in electric cars, serenely uses gender-neutral bathrooms and happily searches the web for the best Obamacare options. In the Democrats’ vision, people are doing great and getting along. It is the opposite of Trump’s dark diorama of carnage and dystopia — but just as false a picture of America.

True enough, there is enough dystopia in districts that voted for Donald Trump. That’s why they voted for Donald Trump. But, if you are looking for a real dystopia, put Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago on your itinerary.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Self-Sabotage

Again, the letter the frustrated woman writes to therapist Lori Gottlieb is far more interesting than anything Gottlieb has to say. 

As often happens in these letters, we are deprived of most relevant information, condition that makes up prey to Gottlieb’s efforts to shoehorn the woman’s life into a psycho narrative. And thus, to ignore the woman's question?

For your edification, I provide the letter written by a woman who calls herself Frustrated:

I am divorced with two kids, and trying to date in the age of “swiping.” It’s hard. But for the first time in years I fell for someone … hard. The feelings had been intense from the beginning but also very recognizably mutual. All the basics you could hope to check off in the list of desirable dating traits were checked. Prior to this guy I had “dated” guys that would really just consist of a month or so of texting with about three dates total. None of them ignited an emotional connection like this last guy. But with the other guys, I could always tell when the guy was about to call it quits. I learn people and read people’s behaviors so I can tell when something is off and the level of interest has dissolved. My gut has never failed me when it comes to this stuff.

With the most recent guy, I started getting a bad feeling about a friend that he used to date, but he swore they were just buddies. He was forthcoming about his friendship with this girl, but I found it very strange that he would talk all the time to this person and hang out quite frequently. It made me uneasy. I have severe trust issues. He knew this. And he put a lot of effort into reassuring me that there’s nothing going on between them. I tried very hard to trust him. I wanted to trust him.

But I couldn’t shake my suspicions about their friendship. And so I became (secretly) obsessive about trying to figure out if they’re hanging out and how often they’re talking.  It was like I knew deep down that maybe there was unfinished business between them and I was looking for any evidence to prove myself right.  It caused me so much stress and anxiety. There very well could have been nothing going on, but my gut was telling me otherwise.  I had that feeling you just can’t shake that something isn’t adding up.  I think ultimately he sensed that this would probably be an ongoing issue, so he ended things stating that feelings weren’t mutual, which is contradictory to everything he had been saying to me and how he treated me until that moment he broke up with me. 

I think my biggest concern is that I don’t know how to get over the urge to read into everything to “prove myself right” when I think I’m being wronged.  It worries me that I will self-sabotage any future relationship.

We are all impressed to see that Frustrated has already bought the psycho narrative about self-sabotage. Apparently, she has already had some experience of therapy and has learned to blame it all on herself, on her tendency to self-sabotage.

We will note, for the record, that we do not know how old she is, how old her children are, what she does for a living, how old her paramour was, whether or not he had children and what he did for a living. We do not know what she brings to a relationship and what the man in question was bringing. Without knowing any of this we are flying blind. It does not bother Gottlieb, who flings a blizzard of psychobabble about self-sabotage. 

Again, by the terms of the letter we are not dealing with a human being who has a life. Nevertheless we ought to respect her question and address it directly. 

Frustrated was dating a man and became suspicious of his relationship with an ex--. The man was open and upfront about the ex--. He talked with her all the time and told Frustrated about her all the time. So, Frustrated became suspicious. Her instincts told her that something was off, that he was not over his ex--.  Would any sensible adult have drawn a different conclusion?

True enough, Frustrated says, nothing might have been going on, but her “gut” told her otherwise. I am not a fan of going with your gut, but I confess that I respect her intuition. We do not know whether her ex— and his ex— were making the beast with two backs, but that is not the point. The man was obviously unavailable. He might have been pining away for his ex--. His ex—might have been married or engaged. She might have rejected him. At the least, he was not fully engaged in his relationship with Frustrated. His level of commitment was not the same as hers. To anyone who is not a therapist, this is almost self-evident.

For all we know, his distance might have had nothing to do with Frustrated. Since we do not know whether he was married or not, whether he had children or not, how old he was, what he did for a living, we cannot judge whether he had other reasons for his distance.

On one point I do agree with Gottlieb. We would like it if Frustrated trusted her instincts. Failed relationships, relationship traumas will certainly undermine one's ability to trust and one's reliance on instinct. Under the circumstances it’s best to consult someone who is more objective. She would do better to indulge in endless bouts of introspection or exercises in overpriced storytelling. She ought to learn how to look at the situation objectively, with all relevant facts in hand. This will tell her whether she is judging the situation correctly or is distorting it. Of course, being suspicious seems perfectly reasonable here. It tells us that she is not willing to rely solely on her gut.

In this case, I think that Frustrated was right. I think that her suspicions were giving her a sense of the reality of the situation. As a rule, women have very good intuitions about such matters. But, how does it happen that a female therapist does not respect Frustrated’s intuition, her take on the situation? It’s a sad state of affairs when a woman, pretending to offer therapy, disrespects another woman.


Why Do Marriages Fail?

Why do marriages break up? Does it have anything to do with shifting gender roles? Are other economic variables playing a decisive role?

Last year Harvard sociology professor, Alexandra Killewald, published an important study on the topic. It has been reported by Jon Miltimore at the Intellectual Takeout blog (via Maggie’s Farm.)

Killewald considered three options:

A core unresolved question is how trends in marital stability relate to changing family and economic circumstances. Have wives’ greater earnings power and work experience increased divorce by reducing the costs of exiting bad marriages? Are strained household finances associated with heightened risk of divorce? Or do spouses’ work and earnings patterns alter marital stability by conveying signals about whether each partner is fulfilling the implicit, symbolic, gendered terms of the marital contract?

Are more people getting divorced because it’s cheap and available? Or do they opt out of marriage because of financial strains? Apparently not. The most significant factor was that men had not fulfilled their roles as breadwinners. You will note, as we all do, that this role has supposedly been rendered obsolete by women’s liberation. And yet, apparently, a man’s failure to support his family will lead even liberated of wives to seek a divorce. Or perhaps a man who is not a breadwinner will be more likely to stray. 

Killewald explains:

…the strongest evidence for the gendered institution perspective is that, for marriages begun in 1975 or later, divorce is more likely when husbands are not employed full-time. Consistent with my hypotheses, there is no evidence that this association is weaker for later than earlier marriage cohorts. Just as male breadwinning has remained important for marriage formation (Sweeney 2002), the results here demonstrate its enduring importance for marital stability. The results are consistent with claims that bread-winning remains a central component of the marital contract for husbands (Nock 1998).

Many feminists will respond that it just shows how entrenched sexism is. Other, more rational folk, will conclude that people who ignored traditional roles paid a price for it.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Trump to Xi: Toughen Up!

No sensible adult is going to defend all of Donald Trump’s tweets. Yet, no sensible adult should reject them all out of hand.

Case in point: Trump’s tweet regarding China and North Korea. Isobel Thompson at Vanity Fair calls it mystifying. It is anything but.

Following the death of Otto Warmbier, Trump tweeted this:

While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!

This tells us that Trump asked China’s president Xi for help in dealing with North Korea. And it says that the Chinese president agreed to do so. There is nothing wrong with pursuing a diplomatic solution to the problem with North Korea. It  beats the alternatives. Surely, it is more diplomatic than making threats. 

Now, Trump is saying that President Xi may have oversold his ability to influence the regime in Pyongyang. The subtle and ironic jab at China, wrapped in compliments, suggests that if the Chinese expect more from America they will need to do better with North Korea. After all, the whole world is watching. That is what it means to send the message via tweet instead of via back channels.

If China wants to be recognized as a world leader, it should honor its commitments and deal with its vassal states. Your move, President Xi.

Trump is not telling Xi what to do. He is not condemning him. He is saying that China’s president is embarrassing himself on the world stage, looking weak next to North Korea, and that Trump hopes that he can do better.

Thus, Trump is leaving Xi a way to save face and is putting Xi on notice that he expects more than a good effort. The tweet is sophisticated, diplomatic and subtle… apparently too subtle for many observers. Don't these readers understand irony?

Deal Breakers

We all know why relationships fail. We know all about the several kinds of abuse—physical, emotional, verbal, sexual—and we imagine that, high on the list of deal breakers is: adultery. Let’s not forget the possibility that your beloved turns out to be a pathological liar, a criminal or a drug addict. He might have some truly unsavory habits—like a fascination with child pornography. Or he might chronically keep the toilet seat up.

Thus, we have been taught to think of it in terms of drama. When relationships fail we assume that something dramatic happened, something that can make its way to the small screen in a movie of the week.

But, life is not all about drama. Or, at least, I hope that yours isn’t. Life is about little things, about small stuff that can make or break an observation. So says Judith Newman in a recent article. In most cases Newman is talking about how a woman understands in a blinding flash of insight that she must exit her relationship. Perhaps she is talking about tipping points. Perhaps she is talking about something as gauche as calling your beloved, in a moment of passion, by someone else’s name.

Newman is not talking about abuse and she is not even talking about personal habits—like bad personal hygiene-- that make an individual insufferable. She writes:

I’m not talking about the kind of differences that make life with someone clearly incompatible: smoking, different concepts about hygiene, profound religious or political schisms. I mean the differences that may, from the outside, look like mere quirks—but turn out to be anything but. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that small discrepancies in style can indicate much larger ones in substance.

To be fair, Newman does not offer a grand theory about why this should be. She does not say that the women should or should not do what they are doing. She accepts their actions and respects them. It’s perfectly reasonable and perfectly fine with me. One does best to suspend one’s critical and theory-making faculties long enough to examine the evidence, dispassionately and objectively. And to recognize that, in the world of dating and mating, whatever makes sense to you is good enough for me. 

In her own case, Newman walked out on the love of her life over a movie. In Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, a man tells his friend that it is better to murder his mistress than to risk her exposing their affair to his wife.

Newman’s paramour found the reasoning cogent. Newman ended the relationship:

I left because the man who had me as his mistress believed a man who murdered his mistress acted rationally. Call me old-fashioned, but that was a deal-breaker.

But, in most cases she is not talking about something quite that profound. She received messages from women who have broken up with men because of ridiculous tube socks, bow ties, lame tattoos and ugly gym bags.

Perhaps we are dealing with a habit that represents the tip of an iceberg… something small that signifies something much larger. Heck, it might be taste in books. In the interest of gender equity, Newman offers a man’s response:

“For me, the horror is discovering that an adult I’m interested in is a huge fan of Harry Potter,” says my friend Spencer. “I mean, go to the movies, if you must. Read the books to your kids.  Go to Harry Potter Land at Universal, see Daniel Radcliffe naked in Equus, anything, just don’t gush about what great literature these novels are if you’re over 21.”  Recently Spencer met a woman who seemed great for him in every way—until the HP subject popped up.  She’d read all seven.  “I wish she’d just lied to me,” he sighed.

And then there are repugnant verbal tics. They are not repugnant because they are obscene, but because they are so completely out of context:

Similarly, there are those were entirely sunk by using or misusing words repeatedly. “Ciao” turns out to be, for some, a devastating irritant. Ditto the promiscuous use of LOL. And “dude.” As one woman put it, “If I wanted to hear ‘dude’ in every other sentence I’d date 13 year olds.” Another friend told me she had to break up with someone when she couldn’t get him to stop saying “ekcetera ekcetera ekcetera.” Was she dating Yul Brynner, I wondered, but then I discovered it was the mispronunciation that set her teeth on edge. “Why was it so hard to learn ETcetera?  WHY?” she asked.

Newman’s friend Lynn Snowden Picket has her own list of deal breakers:

Her deal breaker?  “A man who ordered a crèche of wine instead of a carafe, and when I told him he’d just ordered his wine in Jesus’s manger he said, `Oh, I’m a writer, I play with words.’” She fired him as her date not so much for the wrong word, but for being a pretentious git.

Why the concern with restaurant manners? Try this: if she continues to date him and finds herself out in company with him, she risks being mortified by his behavior. No one really wants to be attached to someone who is going to make her look bad in front of family, friends or colleagues. It’s all about status and standing, about prestige and good behavior. Most women will not risk being humiliated by a date or a lover or a husband who likes to pretend that he is a teenager.

And then there are mistakes that people make in bed. This one is NSFW:

“I was with this new man, and we were having a fantastic time,” said my friend Lily.  I was really losing myself in the moment when he looked up from what he was doing and said, “You likee?” And that was it. I knew he would never be in my bed again.” At first I thought Lily was being ridiculous; after all, wasn’t it nice that the guy was trying to please her? Then I remembered an incident in my own life when, at a distinctly inopportune time, the new man I was with shouted, “Yee-haw!” Maybe this would have been ok if he were a cowboy.  He was a plastic surgeon.

Call these epiphanies, moments where a woman recognizes that the man she is in bed with is not really there… that he is recollecting a past experience or reliving a prior casual encounter. It’s roughly like calling her by the wrong name.

Sometimes, the deal breakers involve gender identity. A man who does not do manly things can be dismissed for being insufficiently manly. What does or does not count as manly changes with geography:

Often these deal-breakers are critical signifiers of masculinity or femininity.  “I won’t date a man who doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift,” says Kristen K. To those who grew up in cities, where cars are not really erotic symbols of much, this makes no sense. But Kristen, who grew up in Kentucky, was adamant that a man who couldn’t drive a stick shift was not a real man. (To me, that position would be taken by a man who didn’t know how to litigate, but then I grew up in Scarsdale.).

Surely, this is far better than embracing or rejecting a prospective lover or even a spouse on the grounds of hotness or coolness… depending on your age.

So, Newman’s message is to sweat the small stuff. If you are thinking about spending a lot of time with someone, it’s a good idea to be on the same page, or better, for both to be present to the relationship:

Taste matters. Style matters. And sometimes they matter more over the years, not less. To those of you on a first date to that Broadway musical that makes your heart soar:  If he’s sighing and looking at his watch, pay attention.

It's not so much that he's bored with the play-- most Broadway musicals are boring-- but that he is bored being with you. If he cannot suck it up to enjoy sharing an experience with you, look elsewhere.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Like a Scared Little Girl

It wasn’t very long ago that newby Senator Kamala Harris made a name for herself by trafficking in bad manners. Sitting on Senate panels, questioning administration officials, Harris distinguished herself for being unable to shut up long enough for the witnesses to answer her questions. For her efforts she was twice, or was it thrice, rebuked by the committee chairman.

The Feministocracy rose up to defend Harris against this egregious instance of manly oppression. Some practically nominated her as the next Democratic candidate for the presidency. She leaned in; she refused to be cowed; she showed how tough and strong she was when facing manly men. She stood up to the patriarchy.

But then, last week Harris was given an opportunity to take a stand against misogyny, to take a stand against Islamist oppression of women. She was part of a Senate panel, from the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, convened to interview victims of Islamist oppression. What did she do? You guessed it. She said nothing. As in, nothing. She did not even ask a question. She shrunk into the corner like a scared little girl.

As for other three female senators on the panel, it was the same story: the silence of the feminists. North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill shrunk into their own corners, for fear of offending Islam. Senator McCaskill managed to pipe up that the hearing was offensive to Islam.

Neither she nor Harris found  anything offensive in the fact that witness Ayaan Hirsi Ali suffered genital mutilation and a forced marriage. Not one of the women senators found anything objectionable about any of it. They stood up for Islam. Another witness Asra Nomani had been threatened with death for having had a child out of wedlock. About that the brave Senator Harris had nothing to say.

Hirsi Ali and Nomani wrote about it all in a New York Times op-ed. They explained:

When it comes to the pay gap, abortion access and workplace discrimination, progressives have much to say. But we’re still waiting for a march against honor killings, child marriages, polygamy, sex slavery or female genital mutilation.

Of course, it’s raw hypocrisy. But it also shows that terrorism works. It shows that terrorism threatens, intimidates and silences women. Even women senators. During the last election many people seemed to understand that Hillary Clinton, like Angela Merkel, was not tough or strong, but was weak. Even if they thought that Donald Trump was more bluster than power, they preferred rolling the dice with a man rather than take the risk that a woman in power would shrink into the woodwork, like a  scared little girl.

Otto Warmbier Was a Jew

For all the stories about Otto Warmbier we have heard nothing about the fact that he was Jewish. It’s not just the media. Important Jewish organizations have remained silent about the fate of a young American who was abandoned by the Obama administration. After all, they cannot be expected to say anything that would make Obama look like he was disfavoring Jews.

Liel Leibovitz reports in Tablet:

Now that Otto Warmbier is dead, it’s time to ask what, if anything, might’ve been done to save the innocent young American from being detained and tortured by North Korea’s genocidal regime. To answer that question, it’s instructive to compare Warmbier’s case to those of two other Americans similarly seized and imprisoned by our enemies—Steven Sotloff and Jason Rezaian.

The Obama Administration, Warmbier’s father Fred said in a recent interview, urged a policy of inaction. “When Otto was first taken,” he recalled, “we were advised by the past administration to take a low profile while they worked to obtain his release. We did so without result.”

The Sotloffs, whose son, Steven, was a journalist kidnapped by ISIS in Syria, were given similar instructions. When they tried to raise the ransom money necessary for their son’s release, the Obama Administration, they said, warned them that negotiating with terrorists was out of the question. Steven was eventually executed in a gruesome beheading documented on camera and shared widely online.

As it happened, the Obama administration wanted to see the plight of Jason Rezaian played up in the media. Leibovitz suggests that since Rezaian had been kidnapped by the Iranians and since Obama wanted to make a deal with the Iranians he was happy to gin up support for whatever he had to do to trade Rezaian for planeloads of cash.

Leibovitz concludes:

To the victims of Obama’s legacy—which include the hundreds of thousands slaughtered in Syria as the United States did nothing so as not to jeopardize the Iran Deal—add two more American families, the Sotloffs and the Warmbiers, whose personal tragedies are compounded by the silence forced on them by the previous administration.

In another, follow-up article Leibovitz calls out the American Jewish organization for their silence about Warmbier.

You’d think that the cluster of handsomely funded Jewish organizations that fly the banner of promoting and protecting Jewish life in America and abroad would notice and acknowledge Warmbier’s murder. So far, though, American Jewish officialdom has been deafeningly silent.

Why is this so? These organizations have been spending all their time bashing Donald Trump and defending notorious anti-Semites like Linda Sarsour. They pledged allegiance to Barack Obama and are leading the Resistance to Donald Trump:

The odious Anne Frank Center, whose disingenuous mission statement blathers on about a kinder and fairer world where Jewish children are safe from the death camps of tyrannical regimes, didn’t bother taking a break from bashing Donald Trump to lament a young Jew put to death by the world’s worst offender of human rights. Nor did the ADL, an organization quick to stand up with Linda Sarsour as she denied Jews their right to self-determination but not so swift when the victim was a young Jewish man whose crime was pulling a silly prank at his hotel while on a college tour of a nation that routinely starves, imprisons, and executes hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. Everywhere you turn today, you hear no one demanding justice for Otto Warmbier.

In case you forgot about Linda Sarsour, James Kirchick recounts her monstrous views:

Linda Sarsour is a progressive-media darling. One of Essence magazine’s “Woke 100 Women,” Sarsour was named a leader of the Women’s March that followed President Donald Trump’s inauguration, despite declaring that “nothing is creepier than Zionism”—though her wish to “take away” the “vagina” of clitoridectomy victim and human-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, praise for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, upholding Saudi Arabia as a bastion of women’s lib, embrace of the terrorist murderer Rasmea Odeh, and claim that “Shariah law is reasonable” because “suddenly all your loans & credits cards become interest-free,” are all—at least in my humble estimation—definitely creepier.

What do the social justice warriors have to say about Warmbier? They have been yelping about how Warmbier is a privileged white male, and thus that he deserved what he got:

What you do hear are the howls of the social justice brigades, for whom Warmbier, being white and a man, is mostly to blame for his own murder. When the young college student was arrested last year, the regressive left’s flagships, from Salon to the blessedly defunct Nightly Show, gleefully mocked Warmbier, arguing that white privilege was the real reason for his predicament and suggesting that when it came to oppression, there was really no difference between Portland and Pyongyang. “The hopeless fear Warmbier is now experiencing,” opined a young blogger on the Huffington Post, “is my daily reality living in a country where white men like him are willfully oblivious to my suffering even as they are complicit in maintaining the power structures which ensure their supremacy at my expense.”

The Ascent of Mohammed bin Salman

With the ascendance of the relatively young Mohammed bin Salman as heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia the history of the Middle East has turned more positive. Welcoming the American president to Riyadh and allying us with Sunni Arabs in the war against terrorism was a momentous event. Since King Salman’s son, Mohammed was generally credited with the shift in Saudi policy, his ascent was foretold.

You have doubtless read the stories in the American press, both news reports and commentaries. To my mind those in the Wall Street Journal were the best. Following after the convocation in Riyadh, the move was a constructive step, one that has been welcomed by the Journal and the American administration.

For a slightly different take we turn to Debkafile, a website run by Israeli intelligence officers. Being as its writers have skin in the game and boots on the ground, their information is usually trustworthy. One notes that the Debkafile analysis is consistent with views I have expressed variously on this blog.

Regarding the naming of Mohammed bin Salman heir to the Saudi throne, Debkafile opens:

debkafile’s analysts see it as the outcome of a global and regional process initiated by Donald Trump soon after he settled in the White House in January. With his appointment as de facto ruler of the oil kingdom, the Saudi king’s son is ready to step into his allotted place in a new US-Arab-Israeli alliance that will seek to dominate Middle East affairs. Israel will be accepted in a regional lineup for the first time alongside the strongest Sunni Arab nations who all share similar objectives, especially the aim to stop Iran.

Trump’s trip to Riyadh and Jerusalem in early May laid the cornerstone for the new US-Sunni Arab bloc versus Iran’s Shiite grouping and also cemented Israel’s co-option.

Surely, it is early for optimism, but the alliance between America and Sunni Arab nations is beginning to form. Debkafile analysts add that the new blog has been engaging with Israel:

This bloc is in its infancy and has yet to display staying power and prove the wisdom of its policies. But its contours have taken shape. US President Trump is taking the lead role along with Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, another crown prince, Egypt’s President Abdul-Fatteh El-Sisi, and Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Three of those leaders already maintain strong direct – albeit discreet - ties with Israel’s prime minister, its security establishment, military and various intelligence agencies.

And also:

In a lecture on Tuesday, June 20, Israel’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott, spoke of the covert relations between the IDF and certain Arab nations, which he did not name. There is clearly a lot going on under the surface in various political, economic, financial, intelligence and military fields.

Interestingly, President Trump has overruled cabinet officials who are more hesitant about joining with the Saudis:

Recent events in the region already point to President Trump acting on important matters, such as the confrontation with Iran, the war on terror, the Syrian conflict and US intervention in the Yemen conflict, on the advice of the two Arab crown princes rather than Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

And also:

This was strikingly demonstrated when Trump overrode Tillerson’s recommendation to apply diplomacy for resolving the dispute that led to four Arab nations boycotting Qatar, with the Saudis in the lead, whereas the president then demanded strong action to stop Qatar’s funding of terrorists. He therefore opted for the aggressive Saudi and UAE stance against Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Will this lead to a resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? The best we can say is that without the influence of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, there will be no solution. Thus, current administration optimism for the prospects for peace seem well-grounded:

The evolving bonds between the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Israel are the source of President Trump’s optimism about the prospects of pulling off an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, a vision which eluded all his predecessors in the White House, while knocking over the decades-old barriers between the moderate Arab nations and the Jewish State.

How will this happen?

The first steps towards this goal are in the making. They will include exposing parts of their hidden interaction to the light of day, as well as such important symbolic actions, as opening Arab skies to the passage of Israeli commercial flights, or direct telephone links.

Debkafile concludes:

But the process switched on by Trump in Riyadh took a large stride forward on June 21, with the formalization by King Salman of his young son’s role as the top mover and shaker in the Saudi kingdom. King Salman obtained the support of 31 out of 34 members of Saudi Arabia’s Allegiance Council for confirming Prince Muhammad Bin Salman as crown prince as well as deputy prime minister and minister of defense.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

To Snooze or Not to Snooze

Rise and shine… or else? Stay in bed or get up and out? Decisions, decisions. What should you do?

Most of us do not have the luxury of staying in bed all day. So the neuroscientists framed the issue differently: when your peaceful and reparative slumber is disrupted by your alarm should you hit the snooze button and drift off for another ten minutes of repose? Or, should you hop to it, get out of bed, make your bed—as Adm. McRaven recommends—and go face your day?

Today’s research study asks a slightly different question: how do you make the decision? To snooze or not to snooze… that is the question.

How do you decide whether to get up or to go back to sleep? The point becomes salient when you are pondering an extra ten minutes of sleep, not when you are thinking of chucking it all and staying in bed.

If we assume, for the sake of argument, that the best course is to get up sooner rather than later, how do you decide and what makes you act accordingly. Is it all about willpower… and your ability to use it to override your impulse to get more sleep? Or can you use another, more devious and circuitous mental mechanism, to convince yourself that the extra few minutes of slumber is not such a good idea. No matter how good it feels.

What makes you decide to be more active? What mental process allows you to overcome your tendency to be slothful?

We all value self-control. And we all believe that we should not indulge our tendencies to sin. Allow me to introduce another example, from the world of your unruly appetite: should you or should you not eat that extra éclair? How do you decide when an uneaten éclair is staring you in the face, tempting you toward perdition? Is willpower enough, should you say to yourself: I shalt not eat the éclair? Or, I can’t eat the extra éclair… I’ve already had four. Or is something else going on?

Traditional therapy will tell you that if you cannot control your appetite or get out of bed in a timely manner, you are suffering from a recurrence of an unprocessed and undigested past trauma. Your parents forced you to get up for school every morning and you have been marinating in resentment ever since. When you hit the snooze alarm you are rebelling against patriarchal oppression. Right on!

Therapy will recommend that you delve into your sordid past, the better to uncover the reason why you are doing what you are doing. If the blinding insight is of little or no use when it comes to refraining from one more éclair or getting out of bed, you will, thanks to Freud himself, be engaged in a battle between your impulse and your willpower. You will be left with a struggle between your id and your ego… in which struggle, the Viennese neurologist happily declared, you will inevitably lose.

Now, Berkeley neuroscientist Adrianna Jenkins has another idea. She presumably rejects the value of reconstructing your past and she has little faith in your willpower. If you want to make a better decision, she recommends that you use your imagination to project the future that will occur if you stay in bed and compare it to the future that will occur if you get up.

We should not think retrospectively, should not bury ourselves in the past and should not try to guide ourselves by exercising our willpower. We should think prospectively and do what would be called, in another context, policy analysis.

Consider what might or might not happen if you follow this or that course of action. Jenkins even suggests, cogently, I might add, that if you project yourself into the future, envision yourself engaging in future activities, you will override the impulses that seem to be controlling your present. This means that ignoring the future in favor of the past will leave you prey to impulses that you will have no constructive way to control.

Cari Romm offers a sufficiently anodyne example, regarding the snooze alarm:

Hitting snooze just one more time means ten more minutes of sleep means not having enough time for breakfast before running out the door means spending the morning cranky and hungry.

The study offers therapists an effective way to help their patients. It tells them to get over their taste for archeological digs through the buried past and to stop trying to empower the will, even the will to power. They should teach their patients to project alternative, but realistic, futures, through the use of imagination.

Rape Culture in Merkel's Germany

German Chancellor Merkel recently traveled to Rome to join forces with Pope Francis. Together the two want to open Europe to more immigrants and to fight the good fight against climate change.

In the meantime, Merkel’s open-arms policy to Muslim refugees has counted another victim.  Or, should I say, another human sacrifice. A Hungarian tourist was gang raped by three Ethiopian men last August. Nine times.

The case is currently being tried. The Daily Mail has the story:

A tearful woman broke down in court in Germany as she alleged that three asylum seekers raped her a total of nine times when she was ambushed at a town fair.

The alleged attack in August 2016 left the 28-year-old Hungarian victim 'shattered,' she told a court in Mühlhausen. 

Her mobile phone was stolen and the men used it to film their brutal assault which included kicking and punching her and dragging her by her hair, she claims.

The woman said she was forced to have unprotected oral, vaginal and anal sex with three Ethiopian men who she identified in court, The Local reports. 

She claimed the men took it in turns to rape her, sometimes acting as a group, and sometimes individually.

Perhaps Frau Merkel considers this to be collateral damage. You can be sure that the intrepid culture warriors who are fighting against rape culture will say nothing about this Hungarian woman. They are too busy militating for more immigrant refugees.

Call this case: Nightmare and her Ninefold.

They Never Stopped Trying

When North Korea finally released Otto Warmbier the dying student’s father called out the Obama administration for failing to bring him home sooner. President Trump quickly joined the chorus.

Evidently, the charge struck a chord. An Obama spokesman responded yesterday:

During the course of the Obama Administration, we had no higher priority than securing the release of Americans detained overseas…. Their tireless efforts resulted in the release of at least 10 Americans from North Korean custody during the course of the Obama administration.

It is painful that Mr. Warmbier was not among them, but our efforts on his behalf never ceased, even in the waning days of the administration. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Warmbier’s family and all who had the blessing of knowing him.

Message: we never stopped trying.

And yet, they failed. Nowhere in the statement does Obama admit to failure. And clearly, the Obama administration failed. It told the Warmbier family not to put a very public face on the problem. Even now Obama is unwilling to admit to failure, to take responsibility for having failed the Warmbier family. One notes the weasel words: “It is painful….” Painful to whom? Anything to weasel out of stepping forward and showing some shame. Trying doesn't count. As Warmbier's father replied: it's the results that matter.

We should not be surprised. Being Obama means never saying you are sorry and never admitting that you are responsible for anything that went wrong.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Negotiating with North Korea

Otto Warmbier’s untimely and unfortunate death drew everyone’s attention back to North Korea. By showing the world the brutal depravity the regime practices against innocents, Warmbier’s death has made the threat of war against the nation more credible, because more acceptable to American public opinion.

Yesterday, before Warmbier’s death was announced, George Friedman analyzed the state of the negotiations between America and North Korea. Evidently, China is a major player in the process and leaders of that nation will be meeting with high level American officials in Washington tomorrow. As the Wall Street Journal reports, China wants to talk trade. The United States wants to talk North Korea.

Friedman opens his analysis:

There are signs that the North Korean crisis is easing. These signs are, in my opinion, part of the negotiating process that has been underway in recent weeks. This process has two purposes. The first is to reach a settlement. If one is not reached, the second purpose is to allow the United States to justify an attack by being able to demonstrate that it has left no stone unturned in a search for an alternative to war. And in fact, the United States doesn’t want war. A war with North Korea, like all wars, would be risky. It would put the South Korean city of Seoul in danger of severe casualties if North Korea retaliated with its artillery, and it would open the door to significant American casualties as well.

A negotiation such as this is a complex process in which each side must convince the other that it is prepared for war but interested in a settlement, while not appearing too eager for one. Each side will make threatening gestures and conciliatory gestures at different points in the talks. Just like in a negotiation to buy a home, both sides must be genuinely prepared to walk away from the deal, creating the illusion that making a deal is not essential.

By these terms, we have not yet persuaded the North Koreans that we are willing to use military force. Everyone knows that the potential consequences for South Korea would be extremely dire, and we do not, apparently, have a way to forestall them. Alternately, the pain that China could inflict by an economic boycott might constitute a sufficient threat.

American officials recognize that China’s ban on importing North Korean coal has had an effect, but we now want China to do more.

Friedman sees the negotiation in terms of manipulating emotions, especially the emotions of fear and greed. In his words:

A negotiation is about taking advantage and control of the other side’s fear and greed. Indeed, there are times when a show of weakness is the key to getting the other side to walk into a trap. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that you are not merely managing the other side’s perception of reality; you must also be ruthlessly controlling your own behavior to project the image and message you want to project.

Certainly, this presents an interesting view of negotiation. I would only add that a good negotiation is a trade-off. You give something and, in exchange, you gain something. If either party senses that it has been manipulated, that it has been taken advantage of by devious means, the purpose of the negotiation will have been undermined.

Second, as I have occasionally noted, in a good negotiation both parties must feel that they have saved face. In the current situation, if North Korea seems to be reacting to pressure, either from America or China, its leaders will lose face and thus find it very much more difficult to govern their nation. Authoritarian rulers need to have face, lest their rule seem illegitimate.

One might say that the recent round of taunts from North Korea, especially its missile tests, are designed to assert its control of the situation and to assure its people that it is not being pushed around or manipulated by any great power. If that nation cannot maintain its dignity and self-respect it will not be able to negotiate anything.

Friedman believes that you cannot negotiate effectively if you do not know the outcome you want. I would suggest that even if you begin a negotiation knowing the price you want to pay or receive, you will probably not get what you want. In most cases the desired outcome is a deal. In the current situation a deal would bring North Korea into the real world of diplomacy. They would exchange their nuclear weapons for legitimacy.

More importantly, America wants to reduce or eliminate the threat that North Korean nuclear weapons pose. One suspects that there are several different ways to achieve this end. At the least, we should pay attention to the way the negotiation unfolds, because we will all, thanks to Barack Obama, be facing the same problem with Iran in the coming years. One notes, yet again, that we are in this bind with North Korea thanks to Bill Clinton's failed diplomacy!

But, Friedman continues, negotiation does not merely involve two leaders. The negotiators must also have the support of their nations. Since they are not in it alone they must manage expectations on the home front.

He writes:

All of this becomes enormously complicated in negotiations between nations because the mood of the nation must also be managed. Particularly with democracies, negotiations can be frustrated by political eruptions that can be misread as weakness in your position. This leads not only to lack of confidence during the negotiations, which is deadly, but in democracies it leads to negotiators losing control over their positions.

American diplomatic negotiators can best be seen as brokers, caught between the American people and the adversary nation-state. There are two strategies for managing this problem. The first is to conduct negotiations in secret, which comes with a number of problems. If the secret leaks, it could cause a public uproar. The adversary will know that you are afraid of the public reaction and will either use that as leverage or shy away from making a deal, concerned that you can’t actually deliver. And if a deal is reached and then announced, the public will realize that negotiations were taking place in secret and its response will be, at best, unpredictable. You can try to keep the deal a secret, but on a significant issue, this can blow up in the negotiator’s face.

The second and better strategy is to make the issue appear less critical than it actually is. If the public can be persuaded to maintain a level of indifference despite the seriousness of the subject, the negotiations have a much higher chance of success. The adversary can’t manipulate public opinion and use the potential for public anger against you because the public is not engaged. The adversary, therefore, is forced to deal with the negotiators, who are free to conduct the talks with confidence.

By political eruptions, Friedman is suggesting that a negotiator must be seen as having the full confidence of his nation. If the nation is embroiled in political conflict or if the negotiator’s position seems tenuous, he will have more difficulty persuading his adversary that he can deliver what he is promising.

Friedman suggests that the best way to solve the issue is for the negotiators to make it appear that the issue is less grave than it appears. He will downplay the importance of the negotiation in order to lull the general public into complacency, thus giving him a freer hand to conduct his business.

What is going to happen? Friedman thinks that the crisis is insoluble. Mark Bowden, in the Atlantic, wargames the different possible strategies and concludes that the best we can do is to live with a nuclearized North Korea. Military action would be too costly. Negotiation will not yield a positive outcome.

In Friedman’s words:

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has signaled both that war would be catastrophic and that the U.S. will not accept North Korea’s acquisition of deliverable nuclear weapons that can reach the United States. And it will not wait for North Korea to acquire them in order to strike. Nothing in the negotiations seems to have solved the problem, and without capitulation on the core issue by one side or the other, it appears insoluble.

Friedman does not believe that we can live with a nuclear North Korea. He concludes his essay by suggesting that conflict is on the horizon…

Therefore, we still believe that North Korea and the U.S. are on the road to military conflict in the near future. War became a possibility after mid-June. The negotiations will continue, since there is little to lose. But U.S. forces can’t remain on alert in perpetuity, and the longer the U.S. waits, the greater the possibility of an intelligence miscalculation that allows North Korea to acquire the capability to strike the United States. Negotiation shapes the perceptions of all sides, but perception is not reality, and successful politicians understand that well. The reality continues to point toward action, and the action continues to look bloody.

One suspects that only China can avert catastrophe now. 

[Addendum: for an extended analysis of the chances that China might pressure North Korea, see this article by Will Edwards.]