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.