What’s been happening lately?
The smelliest story of last week, if not truly deserving of being the largest, was not quite how it was widely interpreted. Our president’s descriptive term about Haiti and a group of central African countries was vile, highly offensive, gratuitously provocative, and a piece of putrid diplomacy. It was not racist. The tendency of many liberals and some others to see any situation involving significant numbers of blacks through a racial lens came through here. It is true that the countries referred to have predominately non-Arab African populations, but so do many others, such as Barbados, The Bahamas, and Botswana, which would never, even in his mind, suggest that label. The citizens of almost all the world’s poorest countries are predominately of that overly general racial type, so unless he had gone out of his way to name one of the exceptions, say, Afghanistan, his statement would draw that accusation. In our generally reasonable efforts to assess what this president is doing and saying, even when it is as here spectacularly repulsive, we must still be fair.
Prejudicial responses also came from last week’s top business news, Walmart’s boost of their lowest chain-wide pay from $9 to $11 per hour, with additional benefits and many $1,000 add-on bonuses, and their almost simultaneous announcement of their decision to close 63 Sam’s Club stores later this year. Walmart is to liberals much as Jane Fonda is to old-time conservatives, and their reaction to these business decisions, the first of which will cost the chain $700 million, was no more positive and believing than what those on the right would say if the former actress posed with a cache of guns and expressed fealty to the Second Amendment. The point of this sharp attack may have been John Foley’s January 11th New York Times “Walmart’s Minor Act of Retribution,” which called the over-two-thirds-of-a-billion-dollars “just a sliver of what it could save in taxes,” though according to analysts it was actually about 30 percent, or rather more if you imagine that portion of a pie. The company also announced it would be cutting 1,000 corporate positions, which also seemed to get no favorable press. It was noteworthy that while the closing Sam’s Club locations are heavily located in urban, suburban, or other relatively high-wage areas, a much larger share of the workers benefitting from these 22% wage increases are not, meaning not only that the company will now be sending a greater part of its money to the poorest American areas, but that it will get even more applicants for jobs already in heavy demand. Investors were not moved much, and it may prove to be a lose-lose proposition for the firm, costing itself money while failing to satisfy its inconsolable opponents.
Another large news item was from the previous week, that of Oprah Winfrey giving a fine if very partisan speech at the Golden Globes award ceremony, and emerging almost instantly as not only a possible 2020 presidential candidate but as a potential juggernaut of one. She seems the perfect Democratic response to our current president – she is widely beloved for reasons other than substance, she is a woman, her fame is mostly from entertainment, her previous political experience borders on nonexistence, her party orientation is secondary but clear-cut, and she is black but transcends racial limitations similarly to Colin Powell who decades ago could have run and won. Given the bizarre turn presidential politics took two years ago, she is deserving of the oddsmakers’ present choice of her as the most likely Democrat to win. If she wants it she should go for it – it is quite possible that she is actually the only person, aside from the president himself, who can limit our current, potentially disastrous situation to four years.
Moving to the subject of an article appearing in a Monday-dated magazine but appearing online the week before that, we, along with Alexandra Schwartz in The New Yorker’s “Resolutions” (electronic-version title “Improving Ourselves to Death”), look at the state of self-help literature. Schwartz showed us how the genre has responded to higher work standards and requirements, gained diversity, and of course built on its own history, giving us approaches based on self-acceptance, telling others off, setting measurable and quantifiable goals, multifaceted development including such as cleansing diets and 1,000-digit pi memorization, making radical situational changes, and even choosing to “content ourselves with being average.” It’s a good check-in on the field, but does not quite touch on what I have long considered its largest problem, that no matter how much most people can improve, their success will be determined by others who usually will not care about, or even like, your progresses. Unless you want to do it as a hobby, or you have the aptitude, opportunity and sustained intensity necessary for a serious business venture or other project (and, as the world is closing in, realistic settings for such things are getting rarer and rarer), raising yourself from the 90th percentile to the 99th in public speaking, self-awareness, physical health, organization skills, work habits, or self-esteem will generally not, in money or even happiness, justify itself. The outcome for people in the great middle capability and ambition zone is more likely, per Schwartz writing freely and quoting various authors, to contribute to high suicide, body-dissatisfaction, and anxiety rates; succumb to perfectionism, “the idea that kills”; and, if conveyed to others, add to the current situation, where “parents continue to feed their children the loving, well-intentioned lie that there are “no limits” and they can “be anything,” which leaves the kids blaming themselves, rather than the market’s brutality, when they inevitably come up short.” If you find yourself the likes of morbidly obese, emotionally unable to chair a meeting at work, or stopping yourself from social behavior you know would be fun as well as beneficial, get the help you need, but once you surpass problems of this severity it may not be healthy for you to consume figurative platefuls of vitamins.
Another issue that keeps coming up is the possibility of removing our president through the Twenty-fifth Amendment, which, if “the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” the vice president can indefinitely act for him. Our current one may be as objectionable as anyone to ever hold that office, and be the best likewise at bringing out negative emotions, but is not in this territory. He maintains an excellent chance of being impeached, especially if Democrats take over both houses of Congress this fall, but it’s a waste of hope and effort to get him out before 2021 otherwise. On a similar note, it’s wrong to overstate how much he is damaging our country’s reputation, as a clear problem with our form of government is that, once a century or two and with luck no more often than that, we elect a stinker.
Here is one more paragraph on three more issues. One, sex, often called gender, is becoming more of a social construct, defined by which one people decide to present as, which may be a change for the better, but doesn’t make transsexuals biological members of their new one, and it is positively Orwellian to change sexes on birth certificates, which must reflect anatomical and genetic realities. Two, sex differences in average pay need not reflect educated and career-focused women, but those who set up their lives to depend on men for most of their money – as long as Seven Sisters graduates and similarly credentialed women are statistically tethered to others, we will not know the extent of the discrimination they face. Three, in response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others, all should know that advocating social conservatism, in anything from drug legalization to religious views, is going against the flow of history – in fifty years, for example, it will stun our great-grandchildren to realize that using a certain wild-growing weed could once, in this country, get you prison time – and should not be done.
Next week, I will be traveling and well away from both computers and my normal routine, so will not have a blog post. Rejoin me on February 2nd, for my comments on the January jobs report and the latest update of the American Job Shortage Number (AJSN). Have a fine fortnight.