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In the spotlight
Interesting article by David A. Bell, a professor of history at Princeton. Bell begins by reciting some cases in which the personalities of world leaders appear to have been decisive in the course of world history -- Lincoln, Churchill, Hitler, Stalin are given as examples -- reinforcing the "Great Man" theory of history, a theory often dismissed by modern historians.
"Despite the vast power at the disposal of the American president, most occupants of that office, even when commanding congressional majorities, have felt constrained by a host of structural conditions of one sort or another. They want to avoid spooking the stock market, damaging their party's chances in future elections, upsetting carefully negotiated diplomatic agreements, and so on and so forth. They almost certainly have a lower estimate of their own power than almost anyone else. But these constraints, which change far more slowly than a president's moods, make the actions they take more predictable and therefore more easily subject to social scientific analysis.
"Donald Trump, however, is so willful and thin-skinned, so convinced of his own abilities, so enamored of his own unpredictability, and at the same time so unable to concentrate on any particular issue, that he is far less likely to appreciate the constraints that have weighed so heavily on his predecessors or even to understand them. He is also far less likely to listen to his advisors, and these advisers themselves are, overall, far more ignorant of their supposed areas of expertise than any other group of high-level administration officials in American history.
"Even in crisis situations, U.S. presidents have generally done their best to follow predictable, well-established decision-making protocols. The television shows that present a president making hugely consequential decisions under pressure, from the gut, with only a handful of close aides in the room, eliminate from the picture the vast bureaucratic operations that exist to provide information, to evaluate the reliability of that information, to analyze it, and to game out the possible consequences of different courses of action. Up to now, presidents have generally respected these bureaucracies in most cases. They know how important it is, in a world of nuclear weapons, for there to be steady, predictable protocols for resolving crises. They remember all too well that during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, only the steadfastness of a single Soviet military officer kept a submarine commander from launching a tactical nuclear weapon against an American destroyer, possibly provoking nuclear war (if you don't know the story, read this). Donald Trump, alas, is almost certainly less likely to follow established protocols than any of his predecessors. In a crisis situation, how is he likely to react? Can anyone know?"
"For Reines, who thought he was playing a historic role in helping elect the next president, the months he spent studying Trump's every word and gesture have transformed into something else, now that Clinton lost and Trump won: They've given him a unique perspective into the mind and behavior of the president-elect.
"Reines hasn't talked about the experience publicly until now. But nine days before Trump was set to be sworn in as the country's 45th president, he sat down with POLITICO and opened up about what living like Trump taught him about what to expect when Trump's unusual psyche collides with the unique demands of the American presidency. Looking ahead to the inauguration and beyond, Reines thinks Trump's biggest challenge is going to come from within himself....
"To attribute forethought to how and when Trump tweets, or how he comes to a decision, is to misunderstand the instinctual player who might not be strategic but certainly recognizes the upside of simply being himself, according to Reines. 'I think of it like a pinball machine, where Congress are the bumpers, the machine says tilt, no one controls where the ball goes, and the player, at best, is just playing goalie,' says Reines. 'Trump is not the player, he's the ball," he adds. "The truth is the ball doesn't know what it's about to do.'
"President Trump will be more preoccupied with being able to declare success than with actually succeeding, Reines predicts. Trump, for instance, declared victory when Sprint agreed to keep 5,000 jobs in the United States. Those jobs, however, were part of a commitment that Sprint's parent company had previously announced. Those details didn't matter much to Trump. A photo-op at the groundbreaking of a wall along the Mexican border might be all he needs to declare the fabled project successfully underway, and move on."
Tile, skylights, fountains, big hair, mullets.
"Money poured into the fringe organizations of the left like MoveOn, which had moved on from a petition site to a PAC. In 2004, Soros was its biggest donor. He didn't manage to bring down Bush, but he helped buy the Democratic Party as a toy for his yowling dorm room of left-wing activists to play with.
"Soros hasn't had a great track record at buying presidential elections. The official $25 million he poured into this one bought him his worst defeat since 2004. But his money did transform the Democrat Party.
"And killed it....
"The left had recreated the Democrat Party and marginalized it. Much of this disaster had been funded with Soros money. Like many a theatrical villain, the old monster had been undone by his own hubris. Had Soros aided the Democrats without trying to control them, he would have gained a seat at the table in a national party. Instead he spent a fortune destroying the very thing he was trying to control.
"George Soros saw America in terms of its centers of economic and political power. He didn't care about the vast stretches of small towns and villages, of the more modest cities that he might fly over in his jet but never visit, and the people who lived in them. Like so many globalists who believe that borders shouldn't exist because the luxury hotels and airports they pass through are interchangeable, the parts of America that mattered to him were in the glittering left-wing bubble inhabited by his fellow elitists.
"Trump's victory, like Brexit, came because the left had left the white working class behind. Its vision of the future as glamorous multicultural city states was overturned in a single night. The idea that Soros had committed so much power and wealth to was of a struggle between populist nationalists and responsible internationalists. But, in a great irony, Bush was hardly the nationalist that Soros believed. Instead Soros spent a great deal of time and wealth to unintentionally elect a populist nationalist.
"Leftists used Soros money to focus on their own identity politics obsessions leaving the Dems with little ability to interact with white working class voters. The Ivy and urban leftists who made up the core of the left had come to exist in a narrow world with little room for anything and anyone else."
Who they are and what they've contributed to the art of street photography.
"Here is the key question -- what better equips a man to confront a difficult and challenging world? Is it more tears? Or is it more toughness? Is it teaching men to be compassionate or to be objects of compassion? The vulnerable male's cry is "help me." The masculine male's quest is to become the helper....
"Boys will be boys, but they won't all become men. At their best, shorthand admonitions such as 'man up' or 'be a man' carry with them the weight of tradition and morality that makes a simple, though difficult request: Deny self. Don't indulge your weakness. Show courage. Avoid the easy path. Some men fall naturally into this role, for others it's much more difficult. The proper response to those who struggle is compassion. It's not to redefine masculinity for the minority.
"For a father, there are few more rewarding things in life than helping a son become a man, to watch him test himself in productive ways and to help him cultivate and demonstrate a protective spirit. Among the great gifts a father can give a son is a sense of masculine purpose, and no that purpose isn't a 'box,' it's a powerful force for good."
Climate scientist Judith Curry is retiring from her tenured faculty position at Georgia Tech in order to enjoy
"A deciding factor was that I no longer know what to say to students and postdocs regarding how to navigate the CRAZINESS in the field of climate science. Research and other professional activities are professionally rewarded only if they are channeled in certain directions approved by a politicized academic establishment -- funding, ease of getting your papers published, getting hired in prestigious positions, appointments to prestigious committees and boards, professional recognition, etc.
"How young scientists are to navigate all this is beyond me, and it often becomes a battle of scientific integrity versus career suicide (I have worked through these issues with a number of skeptical young scientists).
"Let me relate an interaction that I had with a postdoc about a month ago. She wanted to meet me, as an avid reader of my blog. She works in a field that is certainly relevant to climate science, but she doesn't identify as a climate scientist. She says she gets questioned all the time about global warming issues, and doesn't know what to say, since topics like attribution, etc. are not topics that she explores as a scientist. WOW, a scientist that knows the difference! I advised her to keep her head down and keep doing the research that she thinks interesting and important, and to stay out of the climate debate UNLESS she decides to dig in and pursue it intellectually. Personal opinions about the science and political opinions about policies that are sort of related to your research expertise are just that - personal and political opinions. Selling such opinions as contributing to a scientific consensus is very much worse than a joke....
"At this point, the private sector seems like a more 'honest' place for a scientist working in a politicized field than universities or government labs -- at least when you are your own boss....
"We'll see how all this plays out, but I figured I've earned the right to explore and do what I want. This is my definition of academic freedom (and I'm not asking anyone else to pay for it)."
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One of Trump's more heartening appointments: "David Friedman avidly supports expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank, unequivocally rejects a 'two-state solution' to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and strongly believes the US embassy in Israel should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Those positions put Friedman - Donald Trump's bankruptcy lawyer and close friend - sharply at odds with the US foreign-policy establishment and entrenched conventional wisdom. So when the president-elect announced on Thursday that Friedman was his choice to be the next ambassador to Israel, alarm bells started clanging....
"Friedman's view is that US policy should be sharply reoriented - away from pressuring Israel to keep taking more 'risks for peace,' and toward pressuring the Palestinians to abandon their oft-stated ambition of eliminating the Jewish state. The incoming Trump administration, Friedman explained recently, 'doesn't see much opportunity for progress until the Palestinians renounce violence and accept Israel as a Jewish state. That's really a prerequisite.'"
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