Tuesday, March 20, 2018

When the Crown Prince Met the Crown Prince

Today, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia arrives at the White House to meet with President Trump and his foreign policy team. More importantly, it seems, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be meeting again with the America’s Crown Prince, Jared Kushner. Link here. 

To say that this does not please the foreign policy establishment would be an understatement. And yet, considering how bad America’s relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were after eight years of Obama, one can be forgiven for being distrusting the skill and acumen of those who have been conducting America’s foreign policy.

No band of professionals will ever admit that it has been outdone by a mere amateur. And rest assured, in the world of foreign policy, Kushner is an amateur.

And yet, bands of professionals can all become convinced of the same bad idea and can all get suckered into following the same losing approach. Sometimes, fresh eyes from someone not beholden to the errors of the past, is needed.

Besides, our most recent secretaries of state have certainly not done a very good job. Evidently, Rex Tillerson knew nothing about foreign policy… though he did have relationships with foreign leaders. Hillary Clinton was completely incompetent and John Kerry was weak and feckless. As for Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, they did not do very well managing the aftermath of the Iraq War. We could go on.

We certainly value experience and we value the brain power that a Mike Pompeo will bring to the State Department. Other than that, America’s foreign policy hands have not done a great job.

Still, Kushner is anything but popular. He does not leak to the press. His comings and goings, his parleys and his negotiations have stayed silent. This does not make him popular in the media. Moreover, a certain number of dubious business dealings has prevented him from gaining maximum security clearance… thus, he is not fully apprised of the most sensitive intelligence.

Yet, Kushner has one trump card that other foreign policy hands lacked: his interlocutors know that he speaks for the president. Tillerson was speaking for himself; Kushner speaks for Trump.

The foreign policy establishment has long since thought that the solution to the problems of the Middle East was to negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. The fact that the Palestinians were terrorists committed to destroying Israel did not seem to register. The fact that willingness to negotiate with one group of terrorists empowered other groups of terrorists did not seem to send up any warning flares. Willingness to make concessions to staunch terrorism never worked. And yet, the foreign policy establishment persisted.

Until the Saudi Crown Prince met the American Crown Prince. With new leadership in Saudi Arabia, and new leadership in the United Arab Emirates, the Sunni Arab world joined the war against terrorism… and made a grand public display of its commitment. The event should count as momentous.

But, the Sunni Arab nations also came to accept a point that I have been suggesting for some time: when it comes to the problems in the Middle East, Israel is the solution, not the problem.

Examine what has happened since young Jared Kushner took over relations with Sunni Arab nations. Admittedly, some of them happened behind the scenes. Some have not been announced publicly. And yet, we can read the tea leaves and draw some conclusions… or better, we can draw a picture of the political and diplomatic breakthroughs.

Saudi Arabia is liberalizing, it is opening its country to the outside world and it is promoting more free enterprise. None of it, I contend, would have happened if MBS did not think that Donald Trump had his back.

Saudi Arabia is cracking down on corruption, and on the billionaire princes who have—in my view—been funding terrorism and the propaganda mills called madrassas. It probably happened in consultation with Trump and Kushner.

Note that MBS is wildly popular in his own country. Since America is a close ally, the people of Saudi Arabia are more likely to be well disposed to our nation.

If you listen to the Israeli prime minister, you will hear the joy in his voice as he talks about the improving diplomatic relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Without the Trump administration this would not be happening.

As noted her and elsewhere, last week Kushner convoked a meeting at the White House among leaders of Sunni Arab nations with Israel present. It was the first public sit down among these nations.

The Trump administration did something that no previous administration had done: it recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I believe that this would not have happened without the acquiescence of the Crown Princes of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Clearly, the American foreign policy establishment was opposed to this move. If it happened, the relationship between MBS and Jared Kushner was part of the equation.

Finally, the Crown Princes of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates told Mahmoud Abbas that they had had enough of the Palestinian cause and that he should make peace with Israel, on Israel’s terms.

You will notice that Abbas has lately been sounding more unhinged and angry than usual. He is furious that his precious cause, a cause given legitimacy by the geniuses of our foreign policy establishment, was a lost cause. The sound of Abbas baying is the sound of a man who has just been told that he has been defeated.

This is part of the backchannel dialogue and negotiation between the two Crown Princes. Under normal circumstances I much prefer that foreign policy be conducted by professionals, not amateurs. And yet, judged on the merits, Kushner has certainly amassed an enviable record of success in the Middle East.

Anti-Semitism in Washington D.C.

This man is a member of the District of Columbia City Council. You would expect that respectable government officials would have some command over the English language. You would expect that they would comport themselves with dignity. You would not expect that they would be promoting the anti-Semitic notion that Jews control the weather. If so you would be wrong.

The Washington Post has the story:

A D.C. lawmaker responded to a brief snowfall Friday by publishing a video in which he espoused a conspiracy theory that Jewish financiers control the weather.

D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) posted the video to his official Facebook page at 7:21 a.m. as snow flurries were hitting the nation’s capital. The video, shot through the windshield of a car driving west on Interstate 695 through downtown Washington, shows snowy skies while White narrates.

“Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation,” he says. “And D.C. keep talking about, ‘We a resilient city.’ And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.”

So, you take a little climate change mania and add a bit of Louis Farrakhan and you get Trayon White’s anti-Semitic rant. 

When first called out on it, White refused to apologize:

In a series of text messages, he confirmed the voice in the video is his but expressed surprise that his remarks might be construed as anti-Semitic. Asked to clarify what he meant, he wrote, “The video says what it says.”

He did not understand that he was trafficking in anti-Semitism. Huh? Lucky he was not a Republican. He would quickly have been run out of town on a rail.

In time, White did apologize. He took down the video. And yet, shouldn’t he resign his office in disgrace? An apology that is not accompanied by a self-inflicted penalty is not sincere.

The Derangement of John Brennan

The Wall Street Journal calls it yet another sign of “the madness of American politics.” Editorializing about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ firing of former deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, the Journal opines:

Mr. Sessions acted on a recommendation by the FBI’s own Office of Professional Responsibility, but Democrats and the media ignored that and called the firing part of Donald Trump’s plot to undermine the FBI and steal American democracy. Mr. Trump then seemingly tried to confirm the accusations with a Twitter fusillade hailing Mr. McCabe’s firing and escalating without cause to attack special counsel Robert Mueller. Which triggered another round of claims that Mr. Trump’s days in office are numbered, or should be.

One is hard put to dispute the Journal’s assertion that Trump would have done better not to make himself the central issue. His “Twitter fusillade” muddied the waters and obscured the madness of his opponents. To be fair, Trump’s opponents are not really opponents. They are enemies, furies consumed by a will to destroy. 

The world would be a better place if the Obama alumni who are stoking the rage had shown the same will to destroy when faced with ISIS or with Islamist terrorists. Instead, in that war they manifested the silence of the lambs. Not even a bleat.

Playing Mr. Tough Guy was former CIA Director John Brennan. The Journal picks up the story with Brennan’s ill-tempered tweet:

John Brennan, Barack Obama’s CIA director, tweeted in response to Mr. Trump’s tweet that, “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.”

Given the way the Obama team thinks of Trump, is it difficult to believe that Andy and Peter and Lisa were conspiring to prevent him from winning the election? Or that they were taking out what they called an “insurance policy” to prevent him from governing?

Brennan is clearly unhinged. He obviously has a problem with impulse control. This man was the Director of the CIA. But, what do we really know about his temperament, his decorum, his loyalties, his ability to maintain his composure in the line of fire? It’s one thing to denounce Trump for manifesting a less than presidential demeanor. And yet, you cannot sustain the argument if you seem to be even more deranged.

Brennan was not alone in flying into a rage over it all. Many media commentators got in touch with their inner outrage and spewed it over the media. Their goal: to obscure the issue and to persuade people that when the Attorney General was following a recommendation made by the FBI, Donald Trump was pulling the strings. 

But who, in the end, was pulling John Brennan’s strings? Shouldn’t we know more about him and his temperament and what he was doing at the CIA? Clearly, the anti-Trumpers from the Obama administration are attacking Trump because they want to protect their Messiah. What are they trying to hide?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Universities Breaking Down

Powerline’s Steven Hayward has been tracking the break up and break down of American universities. By his lights, universities are now dividing between the STEM fields and the rest. More numbers-based fields like economics will find themselves with the STEM fields. (via Maggie’s Farm)

Hayward explained his thought in a lecture at Arizona State University:

I think we’re already seeing the beginnings of a de facto divorce of universities, in which the STEM fields and other “practical” disciplines essentially split off from the humanities and social sciences, not to mention the more politicized departments.

At this rate eventually many of our leading research universities will bifurcate into marginal fever swamps of radicalism whose majors will be unfit for employment at Starbucks, and a larger campus dedicated to science and technology education.

The break up is starting to happen, he continues, at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. That school has now decided to eliminate a significant number of humanities and social science departments.

He quotes Inside Higher Education:

Programs pegged for closure are American studies, art (excluding graphic design), English (excluding English for teacher certification), French, geography, geoscience, German, history (excluding social science for teacher certification), music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology and Spanish.

Some commentators responded to Hayward by noting that while English and French were being eliminated, the fever swamps of leftist thinking, gender and ethnic studies were not.

Hayward responded:

To which I would say, you’d be astounded at how politicized some foreign language departments are. Many English departments are totally lost to the left; one easy screen is to see whether they have dropped Shakespeare as a requirement for an English degree. When you see that, you can cross them off your list. I’ve already written here about how most Geography departments have become leftist fever swamps that have nothing to do any more with what you’d recognize as “geography,” and I’ll bet “geoscience” is doubtful too. History is often more than half lost to the left, too, though there is more variance in History.

But, Hayward sees a silver lining in it all. Perhaps the English professors who are about to lose their jobs will band together and take out after the identity politics departments and the oppression studies faculties:

It will further isolate the crazy “studies” departments, and may galvanize the faculty members who know, but lack the courage to say, that these “studies” programs are mediocre fever swamps. If more and more tenured faculty in traditional departments face the axe, they just might start to find some courage to say aloud what everyone knows—that the academic emperor of oppression studies isn’t wearing any intellectual clothes.

Calling them “mediocre fever swamps” seems a mite generous to me. They are indoctrination mills designed not only to brainwash students but to make it impossible for them to learn much of anything within the context of the humanities and the social sciences.

I would appear that the students who have suffered this brainwashing are being rendered dysfunctional, unable to function with a normal work environment. Yet, I have been informed by a commenter on this blog that the corporate world has been working to adapt to the dysfunctionality and does not hold young hires responsible for their malformation. If such is the case, we are in worse shape than we think.

Reality Strikes Back Against Gender Neutering

For reasons that puzzle the minds of organizational psychologists both men and women seem naturally inclined to see men as possessing more leadership potential. The results of their studies are not ambiguous. No matter what the researchers do, when a man and a woman speak up and offer ideas the man is considered to have demonstrated leadership potential, the woman, not so much.

Keep in mind, we’ve have fifty years of constant conversation about gender. We have all been told that we must consider it a social construct. We have even been forced to use gender neutered or generically feminine pronouns. We have even seen women leaning in more and more. 

Our benighted culture has been hard at work teaching people to deny the evidence of their senses and their understanding of reality. It has taught them to feel that they are bigoted if they see men possessing more leadership qualities than women. And yet, they persist in doing so.

The New York Times reports:

… getting noticed as a leader in the workplace is more difficult for women than for men. Even when a man and a woman were reading the same words off a script, only the man’s leadership potential was recognized.

The authors focused on one particular act associated with leadership: speaking up with ideas to move a team or company forward.

In one experiment, participants were asked to call into a monthly sales team meeting of a fictional insurance company, during which they would hear from either an Eric or an Erica. Later they were asked to rate the speaker on the degree to which he or she had “exhibited leadership,” “influenced the team” or “assumed a leadership role.”

The Erics who spoke up with change-oriented ideas were far more likely to be identified as leaders than Erics who simply critiqued their team’s performance. But Ericas did not receive a boost in status from sharing ideas even though they were exactly the same as the Erics’.

I am sure you find this shocking. The researchers could only explain it by assuming unconscious bias… bigotry against women. Or better, they explain it as a function of our thinking in stereotypes—though there really is no alternative to stereotyping. It would take far too long to form an opinion about each individual as an individual. Thus, we tend to stereotype.

And yet, for all the brain cells that have been activated looking for an answer to this difficult question, no one seems to have considered the fact that the male voice and the female voice are not the same. The male voice is pitched around two octaves lower. Does a lower voice suggest greater authority? I will leave it to you to decide.

Do we also need to mention that men are generally larger than women, that they are generally stronger than women, and that these biological disparities suggest greater authority? Duh.

One notes that both men and women had the same reaction to male and female potential leaders. This suggests that women are as bigoted as men. Or it simply tells us that for all the brainwashing we have endured over these many decades, reality, especially biological reality, will out. And that leadership cannot be detached from physical presence, from appearance or even from dress.

Preventing School Shootings

Some of us care about stopping school shootings. Some of us would rather score cheap political points by mobilizing gullible students and turning them into a self-righteous mob.

In the matter of Nikolas Cruz, and several of the other mass murderers, I have long recommended that such individuals, once determined to be dangerous, be committed to a psychiatric facility, involuntarily. One understands that the ACLU finds this offensive and is working long and hard to allow dangerous psychotics to walk the streets. One understands that the Obama administration believed that if minority youth were causing more trouble at schools this could only mean that the administrators were racist… thus, it promoted a policy whereby schools would refrain from suspending violent and dangerous students like Nikolas Cruz. One understands that the Parkland Sheriff’s department was on board with policy. One understands that those who think that men are the problem want to rid the world of guns because guns are a guy thing. I will leave it to you to figure out why.

A confluence of failures, mostly by government bureaucrats, from the FBI to the sheriff’s office to the local school authorities, opened the door to Nikolas Cruz and allowed him to do what he had been telling people he would do.

Now, we discover, some officials did call for Cruz’s involuntary commitment. Only, it never happened. One assumed that higher authorities had looked at the paperwork and did nothing. One would like to know who was responsible for this failure.

Today, the New York Times, among many news sources is reporting:

On the day an 11th grader named Nikolas Cruz told another student that he had a gun at home and was thinking of using it, two guidance counselors and a sheriff’s deputy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., concluded that he should be forcibly committed for psychiatric evaluation, according to mental health records obtained on Sunday by The New York Times.

An involuntary commitment of that kind, under the authority of a Florida state law known as the Baker Act, could have kept Mr. Cruz from passing a background check required to buy a firearm.

But Mr. Cruz appears never to have been institutionalized despite making threats to himself and others, cutting his arms with a pencil sharpener and claiming he had drunk gasoline in a possible attempt to kill himself, all in a five-day period in September 2016.

If Cruz had been committed, he would have lost his right to purchase a firearm.

For the record, the sheriff’s deputy who wanted to have Cruz committed involuntarily was none other than Scot Peterson… the man who was stationed at the high school during the shooting and who kept a safe and cowardly distance from the action.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Anomie Factor

Now, Alison Gopnik joins those who have taken Steven Pinker to task for the distortions and confusions in his book Enlightenment Now. However much you want to buy Pinker’s fascination with gauzy ideals like reason and humanity, he is wrong to blame an optimism deficit for the fact that people are not lining up to become atheists. In truth, people have paid a price for progress.

Gopnik places it on the Enlightenment’s account. For my part I prefer to say, as I have long said, that the Industrial Revolution produced the social turmoil and dislocations. Transformations in the way nations produced goods and services, added to advances in transportation and communication broke communities, causing a loss of social capital and a pervasive anomie.

Gopnik does not use the terms. Yet, she grasps the problem in an example. She shows what happens when she, a scientist, tries to encourage young women to enter her field. They all understood that that career path will detach them from home and hearth, from family and community. If I wanted to be churlish I would add that these functioning small town communities barely exist anymore, but I will leave that for another day.

She writes:

The young woman replies, “That sounds fantastic! But there’s just one thing. I love this town. I have a boyfriend who also wants to be a scientist, and I’d like to get married and have a bunch of kids here soon. My parents are looking forward so much to being grandparents, and my own grandparents need me to look after them. My family and friends are all nearby, and I’d like my kids to live in my community and take part in the same traditions I grew up with. Can I do that and be a scientist too?”

She continues:

The honest answer? “If you join us, the chances are very slim that you’ll end up living in your hometown. You’ll move around from place to place unpredictably, from college to graduate school to postdoc research to professorship, until you’re 40 or so. You’ll be separated from your partner for long stretches of time. You’ll have to wait to have kids, and you may not have them at all. If you do, they almost certainly won’t be able to grow up with their grandparents. But there’s always Skype.”

To be more honest, we would note that this scenario has been generated by the advent of contemporary feminism. It assumes that the young woman wants to have a career equal to that of her husband and that she will willingly risking losing domestic harmony and children in order to follow that rainbow.

Gopnik is brutally honest. And it’s well and good that young women hear the price of having a career just like a man. I would have preferred that she identify feminist theory as one of the causes of the pervasive social anomie. 

From there she continues to critique Pinker’s book:

The weakness of the book is that it doesn’t seriously consider the second part of the conversation—the human values that the young woman from the small town talks about. Our local, particular connections to just one specific family, community, place, or tradition can seem irrational. Why stay in one town instead of chasing better opportunities? Why feel compelled to sacrifice your own well-being to care for your profoundly disabled child or fragile, dying grandparent, when you would never do the same for a stranger? And yet, psychologically and philosophically, those attachments are as central to human life as the individualist, rationalist, universalist values of classic Enlightenment utilitarianism. If the case for reason, science, humanism, and progress is really going to be convincing—if it’s going to amount to more than preaching to the choir—it will have to speak to a wider spectrum of listeners, a more inclusive conception of flourishing, a broader palette of values.

One understands that serious intellectuals feel obliged to use awkward locutions like “a more inclusive conception of flourishing,” but Gopnik is really concerned about the social anomie produced by rapid industrialization. I think that she is arguing, correctly, that Enlightenment idealism has failed to provide the moral basis for new forms of community, new ways to solidify community ties.

Where Pinker believes that people are simply blinded by their own pessimism—a theory debunked in other places, and even on this blog—Gopnik suggests that if people feel pessimistic perhaps they are reacting to something that Pinker ignores. Rather than address the problem, Pinker blames a few convenient scapegoats:

But if things are so much better, why do they feel, for so many people, so much worse? Why don’t people experience the progress that Pinker describes? Pinker doesn’t spend much time focusing on this question, and he gets a little tetchy when he does. Skepticism about Enlightenment values, in his view, comes from leftist humanities professors and highbrow-magazine editors who have read too much Nietzsche, or from theocrats on the right.

Pinker recommends that we all identify as members of the human species. Yet, this detaches us from social organizations. Humanity is not a social group. It does not have rules for entry and rules that cause expulsion. Being a member of the human species is a biological fact, but it does not confer group membership:

Pinker’s graphs, and the utilitarian moral views that accompany and underlie them, are explicitly about the welfare of humanity as a whole. But values are rooted in emotion and experience as well as reason, in the local as well as the universal.

What does it mean to belong to a group? Gopnik explains her reasoning:

In most mammals, a “tend and befriend” brain system—which involves the neurotransmitter oxytocin, among others—plays an important role in the bonding between mothers and babies. In humans, with our distinctive capacity for cooperation, this system of attachment has been expanded to apply to a much broader range of relationships, from pair-bonded partners to friends and collaborators.

Of course, to have a community you cannot keep it all in the family. Communities are alliances between families. Moreover, you cannot have a community that interacts with other communities if you see them all as dangerous strangers. The thought, for the record, comes to us from the Book of Leviticus and the Gospels—it’s presented as the injunction to befriend strangers and to love you enemy.

Anyway, Gopnik suggests:

In fact, the economist Robert Frank and the philosopher Kim Sterelny have proposed exactly the opposite view. The feelings that go with attachment—such as love, trust, and loyalty—allow people who have different capacities and clashing short-term interests to cooperate in a way that benefits everyone in the long run. Parents versus children, wives versus husbands, hunters versus gatherers—all of these relationships inevitably involve tension and conflict. Rationality and contractual negotiation alone can’t resolve the differences that arise. If individuals all just pursue their own interests, even in coordination with others, they may end up worse off. But emotions can help. Sterelny argues that attachments act as “commitment mechanisms.” They ensure that partners won’t just walk out of an argument or renege on an agreement when it becomes inconvenient.

In other words, it’s not just about oxytocin and empathy. It’s about rules and precepts, ethical principles, the sort that have been taught by religions. But that do not belong to the notably atheistic Enlightenment.

In the absence of religion we have far more difficulty dealing with the social dislocations caused by the Industrial Revolution. The more detached we feel the more we will be drawn to cults… now called tribes.

In Gopnik's words:

But scientific as well as intuitive evidence suggests that tribalism can be seductive when people feel that their local connections are under threat. At the same time, the Enlightenment emphasis on the autonomous, rational individual can also lead to alienation and isolation, which make tribalist mythology all the more appealing.