Blind Patriotism


At the Hungarian Pastry Shop this morning we talked about US politics and Isis.

To begin with, I mentioned how discomforting it is to hear the idiots at the Trump rallies shouting USA USA!  It's the type of blind patriotism, right wing nationalism, that leads countries to do bad things. Trump says we need to win, "we don't win anymore", and the crowd responds "USA USA". Don't bother us with talk about US policies and goals, so long as we "win".

Cal says its been that way as long as he can remember. He describes a billboard during the Vietnam War with a soldier saying "I don't know what it's all about, but I'm ready to go!"   I'm thinking: that's considered a good attitude.  Jesus.

Boris said that, as a former officer in the military, he can tell us that's not the way the people in the military think, at least the officers.  They think a lot about the long-term consequences of military actions and whether or not it's a good idea in particular cases.   Rarely does it make sense without coordinated diplomacy to achieve objectives. The officers often have strong views even if they're not allowed to express them in public forums.

In terms of ISIS, Boris thinks people will choose the best option for themselves.  Some of the Sunni's in Syria and Iraq choose to go with crazy (but Sunni) ISIS because there are no good options.  In Iraq the Shiite government doesn't represent or protect the Sunni's. In Syria, the Sunni majority has suffered atrocities from Assad's government in Syria for a long time.  Routing Isis from Raqqa or any other strongholds will have only temporary effects if a stable governmental structure is not put in place to represent and protect the moderate Sunni's.  Military action against ISIS has to be a part of a larger diplomatic effort in the region.

This seems reasonable to me, and explains why Obama continues to emphasize that the ultimate solution will involve UN oversight of a revised Syrian constitution and new elections -- even if it doesn't elicit loud cheers of "USA USA".      

Writing a textbook


For about two years I have been writing a textbook with a collaborator on how brain activity gives rise to learning, memory, and so on. There are 13 chapters, and the title will be "Fundamentals of Behavioral Neuroscience", or something like that.

Each chapter takes several months to write. When it's done, the editor at Oxford University Press makes excellent revisions that always make the chapter easier to read. Once she's okay with it, Oxford sends it out (usually 2 or 3 chapters at a time) to a number of Psychology or Neuroscience professors who use this type of textbook for one of their courses. On the basis of their feedback, we make additional revisions. From Oxford's point of view, the most important question that these seven or eight professors answer is the last one on the questionnaire: How likely are you to switch from your current textbook to this one? On a 10 point scale, the publisher considers an 8 or above to be good.

After all the chapters are done, we'll work with Oxford's art team who will make the book's illustrations.  It all takes a long time.  My collaborator and I have each written about half the chapters on our own, but a few of them together. We have three more chapters to go.

But about a month ago, my collaborator suffered a serious brain stroke that left him unable to speak. I've visited him several times in the rehabilitation center.   It's hard to tell how much he understands. Sometimes it seems like he's understanding everything I say to him. But he responds with mostly random words. He doesn't seem to notice that his words are coming out wrong.    He's definitely trying to communicate, and is frustrated by his inability to do so.  It's hard to see him like this. He can't communicate through writing, although his wife told me that he has learned to write his name. 

The people at Oxford are 100% understanding about the slowed timeline and focus only on Barry's welfare.  It's impossible to know how much he'll recover because there's so much variability in recovery from aphasia (language loss) after a stroke. Of course kids often recover completely from brain injury because their brains are so adaptable, so plastic. Our adult brains are still plastic, but less so. I'm hoping for the best, but I am working to finish the last three chapters of the book on my own. 

Hillary Clinton: Thinking vs Feeling


It's impossible to talk about Hillary Clinton today without mentioning the surprising result of that 11-hour prosecutorial extravaganza on Benghazi designed to make her look bad.    The result was exactly the opposite.  Family and friends who watched the hearings told me they're more enthusiastic about Hillary's candidacy now than they were before. 

I felt the same way.  Before the hearing, I supported her just because she was the only Democrat with a chance to beat the Republican candidate.  (Okay, the truth is I'm rooting for Sanders.)  But during the hearing, I think Hillary Clinton came off as presidential, diplomatic, balanced, confident, smart. The Republicans on the committee did her a big favor.  And they can't be happy about that.

But that's not the point of this post.    In the past, I thought about Obama's personality characteristics  ("Is Obama an Introvert or an Extrovert?").  Myers and Briggs describe personality according to four dimensions: Introvert vs Extrovert, Intuitive vs Sensing, Thinking vs Feeling, and Perceiving vs Judging.   For Hillary, I've been considering the Thinking-Feeling dimension.  The thinker principally makes decisions on the basis of  logical reasoning, while the the feeler is more influenced by how her decisions will affect others.   The distinction is not about how deeply one feels emotions.  The thinker, for Myers-Briggs, may be highly emotional at times -- but when it comes to making decisions, the top priority is logical consistency. 

I think Hillary falls on the thinking side of the Thinking-Feeling dimension.  And I believe that she sees herself in that way.  Here's an example that pushed me to that conclusion:

During the first primary of the 2008 election, Obama won Iowa.  Clinton came in third, behind even John Edwards.  Her campaign had spent a ton in Iowa, and her money began drying up after the Iowa loss.  On the morning of the New Hampshire primary, Hillary's adviser Patti Solis Doyle gave it to her straight: their internal polls showed that Clinton was going to lose the state by a lot.  And things didn't look good for the coming states either --- African Americans were quickly shifting to Obama.  According to Heilemann (writer for the New Yorker and the Economist) and Halperin's (Time magazine, ABC news) book Game Change, Solis Doyle suggested that Hillary should consider dropping out after New Hampshire.

I remember watching TV footage of Hillary at that New Hampshire coffee house that day,m in a round-table of undecided voters.  A woman asked her: "How do you, how do you … keep upbeat, and so wonderful?"

Hillary teared up and answered: "It's not easy. It's not easy. and -- and I couldn't do it if I just didn't, you know, passionately believe it was the right thing to do. Eh... (chokes up) You know, I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don't want to see us fall backwards."

Obama's advisers were worried when they saw this emotional side of Hillary.  David Plouffe phoned Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod and said: "I don't like this".

Hillary thought she'd blown it.

Even when some of her advisers reassured her: 'It made you seem real, seem human', Hillary didn't seem to know what they were talking about.  "I'm an information person," she said.

She won New Hampshire in a surprise come-from-behind victory.  I'll bet that she's thinker and information-oriented enough to realize that there are advantages to sometimes showing one's emotional/vulnerable side on the campaign trail.