The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

All of a sudden The Pasty Little Putz is trying to convince us that he cares about “The War on Women.”  He has a question:  What is behind all the threats, venom and misogyny that women face online?  “Gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Douthat is always bemoaning sexual liberation, to the extent that it’s a bit disturbing. It makes you wonder what decade he lives in, if he hasn’t yet caught up with the ‘sixties. Rather than liberation and liberalism, he might think about the damage ignorance, fear and repression cause.”  In “Thunder Road” MoDo says Chris Christie groveled like a champ, but the traffic jam scam is still unraveling.  The Moustache of Wisdom, in “If I Had a Hammer,” says in the Second Machine Age, it’s all about getting smarter, faster.  And if you can’t do that you can always sell your old clothes.  Mr. Kristof tells us that “In This Case, the Victim Was 4.”  He says doing a better job of imposing punishment has reduced sexual violence in the United States. It could work in other parts of the world, too.  Mr. Bruni considers “The ‘I’ in Christie’s Storm” and says in politics, it’s best to work some “we” into the me, me me.  Here’s Putzy:

The year is new, but we already have a candidate for the most troubling magazine essay of 2014: Amanda Hess on “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” in the latest issue of Pacific Standard.

Hess takes a reality many people may be only dimly aware of — that female writers come in for an extraordinary amount of abuse online — and fleshes it out with detail, data and personal experience. The anecdotes, her own and others, range from the offensive to the terrifying, but there’s also a thudding, soul-crushing sameness to them: graphic threats of sexual violence, rape and murder, intertwining and repeating.

Everyone who writes online comes in for abuse, but Hess’s essay describes a form of intimate attack that few male journalists experience. We hear about it over drinks, we catch glimpses of it on Twitter, but it’s easy for us to miss how radically different it makes our female peers’ experience.

Hess’s essay is mostly interested in solutions and responses: how women should deal with their harassers; how online forums should police abuse; how the laws surrounding stalking and discrimination might adapt to deal with online threats.

But it’s also useful to think about root causes, and where all the hate and twisted fantasies are coming from. Is this misogyny always latent in a subset of the male population, or are there magnifying forces at work?

One potential magnifier, of course, is the Internet itself, which by its nature is a kind of unreal space for many users — a place where a range of impulses can be discussed, explored and acted out in what feels like a consequence-free zone.

There is some evidence that the emergence of this fantasy space has actually made the real world slightly safer for women: studies have shown correlations between access to online pornography and lower rates of sexual assault. But the flip side is that many men who might have successfully regulated their darker impulses now have what seems like a green light to be “virtually” abusive … because they’re just trying out a role, or because the woman on the receiving end seems no more real to them than a character in a pornographic film.

Another magnifier is ideology. Hess is a feminist who works in culture-war terrain, and there’s no question that women writing from that perspective come in for more personal, sexualized abuse than women writing about, say, monetary policy. Where the personal is political, the political becomes personal more quickly, and the grotesque abuse that liberal, feminist writers can receive for being liberal feminists is a scandal that conservatives, especially, need to acknowledge and deplore.

But many conservative and libertarian women also take a remarkable amount of sexual-political abuse. So it may be that the culture war cuts both ways, and a certain kind of left-wing narrative about gender — in which women are expected to hold liberal views just by virtue of being female — can become a license for allegedly progressive men to demean and dehumanize women who decline to play that part.

And then to further complicate matters, there is the phenomenon of intraliberal misogyny — like the flood of abuse, cited by Hess, that greeted the atheist writer Rebecca Watson when she wrote about sexism and harassment at a skeptics’ convention.

Cases like Watson’s suggest that there’s a chauvinist attitude in play here, a kind of crypto-ideology of sex and gender, that doesn’t map neatly onto what we usually think of as culture-war divides. This attitude is “liberal”  in that it regards sexual license as an unalloyed good, and treats any kind of social or religious conservatism as a dead letter. But at the same time it wants to rebel and lash out against the strictures it feels that feminism and political correctness have placed on male liberty, male rights.

Sometimes this rebellion is just coarse and libertine: think of lad magazines, or the world of pick-up artists, or Seth MacFarlane on Oscar night. But where it intersects with status anxieties, personal failure and sexual frustration, it can turn vicious — in effect, scapegoating women (those frigid castraters, those promiscuous teases) for the culture’s failure to deliver a beer-commercial vision of male happiness.

I don’t think either the left or the right quite understands this worldview: feminists tend to see it simply as a species of reaction, social conservatives as the dark fruit of sexual liberation, when it’s really a combination of the two. And because it channels some legitimate male anxieties alongside its chauvinism and resentment, it probably can’t be shamed or driven underground — or not, at least, without making its side effects for women that much more toxic.

Instead, it needs to be answered, somehow, with a more compelling vision of masculine goals, obligations and aspirations. Forging this vision is a project for both sexes. Living up to it, and cleansing the Internet of the worst misogyny, is ultimately a task for men.

No shit, really?  Next up we have MoDo:

I have learned two things covering politics.

One, first impressions are often right. John Edwards is slick. Hillary Clinton is expedient. W. was in over his head. Barack Obama is too much in his head. Chris Christie can be a bully.

Politicians are surrounded by spinners who work tirelessly to shape our perceptions of the characters of their bosses. Pols know how to polish scratches in their image with sin-and-redemption news conferences, TV confessionals and self-deprecating turns at hoary Washington press banquets. As Carter spokesman Jody Powell joked, if Hitler and Eva Braun came on stage at the Gridiron Dinner and mocked themselves in a song-and-dance routine, Washington chatterers would say, “Oh, they’re not so bad.”

After being showered with spin, you say to yourself, maybe that first impression was wrong. But often it isn’t.

Christie’s two-hour “I am not a bully” news conference was operatic about an act of malice so petty it did not merit being called “authentic Jersey corruption,” as New Jersey native Jon Stewart said, adding that it was unworthy of a state with a severed horse head on its flag.

If you’re going to wage a vendetta, at least make it a well-thought-out one. How can Christie & Co. run a national campaign when they can’t even aim straight? How moronic to think the mayor of Fort Lee would get blamed for problems on a bridge that everyone knows is controlled by the Port Authority. If you want to be malicious, it would be so easy to put a project close to the mayor’s heart on hold for a few months or redirect 60 state snowplows the night before a storm.

The governor groveled to New Jersey residents after his aides so gleefully burned them (even joking about children being late for the first day of school because of the orchestrated gridlock on the George Washington Bridge).

After zapping Obama for being so clueless that he couldn’t find “the light switch of leadership” in a dark room, Christie is trying to salvage his once blazing career by claiming he was in a dark room, clueless to the bogus traffic study masking a revenge plan that top aides were executing in plain sight.

The epic news conference felt like a scene out of the governor’s favorite movie, “The Godfather”: Christie offering his tremulous, grandiose, self-pitying public apologia while in cross-cut scenes, his henchmen were getting rid of those who threatened his operation.

Calling his deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly “stupid” and “deceitful,” he threw her off the bridge, without talking to her himself or, as Niall O’Dowd slyly wrote in, even extending the courtesy of the old Irish wedding night admonition: “Brace yourself, Bridget.”

He also disappeared his two-time campaign manager, Bill Stepien. His cronies at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, fell on their swords last month.

Christie took a line straight out of the Robert DeNiro handbook, lamenting: “I am heartbroken that someone who I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust.”

Yet we know workplaces are chameleon-like. I once had a publisher who loved the Audubon Society, so we ran a lot of bird stories. I had another boss who wore suspenders, so guys in the office started wearing suspenders.

Shades of Watergate: Since they were headed toward a landslide, you’d think the Christie crew would have been in a more benevolent mood. But given the governor’s past flashes of vindictive behavior, this was probably a wink-wink, nod-nod deal. Question: Who will rid me of this meddlesome mayor? Answer: The “little Serbian” has been dealt with.

The second thing I’ve learned from covering politics is that we can debate ad nauseam whether Christie was telling the truth, shading it or bluffing. But we can’t gauge that from his impressive, marathon Trenton performance art.

No matter how jaded we feel in the news business, we are still suckers for the big lie. It’s tough to wrap your head around a stunning level of duplicity.

I learned this lesson the hard way covering Paul Tsongas’s presidential surge in 1992. When The Times’s Dr. Larry Altman came on the campaign trail to interview Tsongas, he was skeptical about the candidate’s claim that his lymphoma had not recurred. I told Altman it was impossible for me to believe that Tsongas, who prided himself on his honesty and who was so straightforward he was mocked as “Saint Paul” by Clinton aides, could lie about that — especially given the profound political consequences.

Dr. Altman was right, as Tsongas later admitted. The candidate and his doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston repeatedly said he was cancer-free when he was not.

A cascade of subsequent outraged denials about transgressive behavior delivered with bravado and finger wagging, from Gary Hart to Bill Clinton to John Edwards to Anthony Weiner, has persuaded me that politicians — who are narcissists and, in essence, actors stuck in the same role — can persuasively tell the big lie if they believe their futures are on the line.

The Christie saga is still unraveling. Maybe he was a dupe in the dark. Maybe the man in the fleece jacket is fleecing us. Let’s just say, I’m not yet permitting him in my circle of trust.

Oh, puhLEEEZE.  Christie a dupe?  Then I’m the Queen of the May.  Idiot bitch.  Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

My favorite story in Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s fascinating new book, “The Second Machine Age,” is when the Dutch chess grandmaster Jan Hein Donner was asked how he’d prepare for a chess match against a computer, like I.B.M.’s Deep Blue. Donner replied: “I would bring a hammer.”

Donner isn’t alone in fantasizing that he’d like to smash some recent advances in software and automation — think self-driving cars, robotic factories and artificially intelligent reservationists — which are not only replacing blue-collar jobs at a faster rate, but now also white-collar skills, even grandmasters!

Something very, very big happened over the last decade. It is being felt in every job, factory and school. My own shorthand is that the world went from “connected to hyperconnected” and, as a result, average is over, because employers now have so much easier, cheaper access to above-average software, automation and cheap genius from abroad. Brynjolfsson and McAfee, both at M.I.T., offer a more detailed explanation: We are at the start of  the Second Machine Age.

The First Machine Age, they argue, was the Industrial Revolution that was born along with the steam engine in the late 1700s. This period was “all about power systems to augment human muscle,” explained McAfee in an interview, “and each successive invention in that age delivered more and more power. But they all required humans to make decisions about them.” Therefore, the inventions of this era actually made human control and labor “more valuable and important.” Labor and machines were complementary.

 In the Second Machine Age, though, argues Brynjolfsson, “we are beginning to automate a lot more cognitive tasks, a lot more of the control systems that determine what to use that power for. In many cases today artificially intelligent machines can make better decisions than humans.” So humans and software-driven machines may increasingly be substitutes, not complements. What’s making this possible, the authors argue, are three huge technological advances that just reached their tipping points, advances they describe as “exponential, digital and combinatorial.”

To illustrate “exponential” they retell the story of the king who was so impressed with the man who invented chess that he offered him any reward. The inventor suggested rice to feed his family. He asked the king to simply place a grain of rice on the first square of a chessboard and then have each subsequent square receive twice as many grains as the previous. The emperor agreed until he realized that 63 instances of doubling yields a fantastically big number, even starting with one grain — like 18 quintillion grains of rice, once you finish the second half of the chess board.

The authors compare this second half of the chessboard to Moore’s Law about the relentless doubling of digital computing power about every two years. Unlike the steam engine, which was physical and doubled in performance every 70 years, computers “get better, faster than anything else, ever,” says Brynjolfsson. Now that we’re in the second half of the digital chessboard, you see cars that drive themselves in traffic, Jeopardy-champion supercomputers, flexible factory robots and pocket smartphones that are the equivalent of a supercomputer of just a generation ago.

Now add the spread of the Internet to both people and things — soon everyone on the planet will have a smartphone, and every cash register, airplane engine, student iPad and thermostat will be broadcasting digital data via the Internet. All this data means we can instantly discover and analyze patterns, instantly replicate what is working on a global scale and instantly improve what isn’t working — whether it is eye surgery techniques, teaching fractions or how best to operate a G.E. engine at 30,000 feet. Suddenly, the speed and slope of improvement, they argue, gets very fast and steep.

Combinatorial advances mean you can take Google Maps and combine them with a smartphone app like Waze, through which drivers automatically transmit traffic conditions on their routes by just carrying their phone in their car, and meld both into a GPS system that not only tells you what the best route is to your destination but what the best route now is because it also sees all the traffic everywhere. Instantly, you’re the smartest driver in town.

 Put all these advances together, say the authors, and you can see that our generation will have more power to improve (or destroy) the world than any before, relying on fewer people and more technology. But it also means that we need to rethink deeply our social contracts, because labor is so important to a person’s identity and dignity and to societal stability. They suggest that we consider lowering taxes on human labor to make it cheaper relative to digital labor, that we reinvent education so more people can “race with machines” not against them, that we do much more to foster the entrepreneurship that invents new industries and jobs, and even consider guaranteeing every American a basic income. We’ve got a lot of rethinking to do, they argue, because we’re not only in a recession-induced employment slump. We’re in technological hurricane reshaping the workplace — and it just keeps doubling.

And when there’s finally an AI that can write a coherent sentence poor little Tommy will also be out of a job.  One can pray, can’t one?  Here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Nairobi, Kenya:

She’s a 4-year-old girl named Ida, fragile and shy, and when she was raped by a neighbor boy in September, her family tried to have the attacker arrested.

Yet the only interest the police showed was to ask for a bribe equivalent to $11.50 to make the arrest, the family says. The family didn’t have the money, but perhaps the rapist did because the supposed police investigation stalled.

This kind of police indifference and corruption is a major factor in the impunity that leads to staggering levels of sexual violence in much of the world. A United Nations study released in September of 10,000 men in six countries in Asia and the Pacific found that almost one-quarter acknowledged having raped a woman.

Other studies have reported similar findings. A 2011 study found that 37 percent of men in part of South Africa acknowledged having raped women.

Often the victims, like Ida, are breathtakingly young. Ida lives in the vast, teeming Kibera slum in Nairobi, where she is being raised by a great-uncle and great-aunt, Stephen and Jane, after her parents largely abandoned her. Stephen and Jane are pillars of stability in a troubled area, and they have taken in three street children to raise along with four children of their own.

After Ida’s rape, Jane closed her tiny restaurant for two weeks to get Ida surgery to repair internal injuries. Jane then made five trips to the Kilimani police station that oversees the slum to try to get someone to make an arrest.

In this case, the evidence seemed strong: A neighbor had caught the alleged rapist in the house during the attack, and a police doctor had filled out forms documenting the rape and internal injuries.

Yet the police shrugged and did nothing. Stephen assumes that the perpetrator bribed the police.

After repeated inquiries, the police officers finally threatened to make an arrest in the rape case — not of the young man caught red-handed, but of Stephen and Jane for leaving the girl unattended and vulnerable.

The police station had the right physical infrastructure to deal with sexual violence. It had a separate counter for such cases, staffed by female officers. Posters denounced rape.

Yet Stephen and Jane tried to do the right thing — and then the police, in my presence, shouted at them and threatened to arrest them for their perseverance.

That was a terrifying threat, for who would look after Ida then? Stephen, a dignified man who was heartbroken at what happened to Ida, wilted. He seemed to have lost hope of justice.

What happened to Ida was no anomaly. I followed two other girls, a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old, who both said that they had been raped by a wealthier neighbor with H.I.V. Their families made eight visits to the Kilimani police station in Nairobi, waiting hours at a time, pleading for justice — but nothing ever happened. The families did spot the perpetrator’s wife at the station, perhaps paying a bribe.

On each visit by the family, the police reported that some paper had mysteriously gone missing from the file. When a witness report was needed, the family brought the witness to the police station — and then the police charged her a fee for a piece of blank paper to write her statement on.

I tweeted a photo from the police station, saying the police wouldn’t take action. Soon after the tweet, the police officers’ attitudes miraculously changed, and authorization for an arrest was given. Yet when the police went to make the arrest, the alleged rapist had obviously been tipped off somehow and had fled.

This breakdown in justice is common in much of the world. In many poor countries, the criminal justice system was set up decades ago to protect white colonial families and never really made the transition to serving the entire society. Salaries tend to be low, corruption high, accountability nonexistent — and, as a result, deterrence negligible.

In the United Nations survey, by far the most common reason men cited for raping women and girls was a sense of male entitlement, with explanations like “I wanted her.” Another factor was impunity, for more than two-thirds of men who acknowledged raping said that they had faced no legal consequences.

Attitudes like entitlement are hard to change. Reducing impunity is somewhat easier, and if we need evidence that imposing penalties can reduce the incidence of rape, just look at the United States.

Few people realize that rape has fallen by three-quarters over the last four decades in the United States, according to Justice Department statistics. It’s true that underreporting makes the data not fully reliable, but underreporting is unlikely to be more serious now than in the 1970s.

The reason for the decline in American rape is simple. Most rapes are acquaintance rapes, and a generation ago police often shrugged. (“You were drinking. You were making out with him. You still call it rape?”)

These attitudes still exist in America, rape kits often aren’t tested even after evidence has been properly collected, and plenty of date rapists get away with their crimes. But punishment is still far more likely today than it once was — and that danger restrains men even when they’re tipsy and lusting. If ending the impunity worked to reduce sexual violence in America, it can do the same in other countries.

That may be beginning to happen. After some horrifying rapes, India appears to be taking crimes of sexual violence more seriously in some cases. And here in Kenya, I was following Shining Hope for Communities, a slum-empowerment program in Kibera started by a remarkable young man, Kennedy Odede, who was once a homeless, uneducated street child in Kibera — and then taught himself to read and write, attended Wesleyan University, and now runs programs serving 43,000 slum residents.

Odede operates the Kibera School for Girls, an outstanding elementary school, and he soon found that many girls entering prekindergarten had been raped. To build a safer environment for the girls, he started a system of victim advocates to help push the police to do their jobs, and the group is winning support for its message that “no” means “no” — and that rapists should be punished.

It’s having an impact, offering a model for efforts to combat sexual violence worldwide. I’ll tell you in my next column what happened to Ida’s alleged attacker.

Last but not least we have Mr. Bruni:

Politics boils down to three pronouns: I, you, we. The politician who has them in balance goes a long way.

From the “I” comes the lust for attention necessary to face all the cameras, hear all the clamoring, weather all the commentary. From the “I” comes the yearning to be celebrated and, because celebration often hinges on accomplishment, the drive to get things done. Personal glory and public good dovetail. What we call narcissism overlaps with what we call altruism, neither of which is as tidy as we make it out to be.

“You” matters just as much in this transactional age. A politician must promise measurable improvement to each and every voter’s life. That’s what President Obama was trying to do with his pitch for the Affordable Care Act; he just went way too far. He became utterly fixated on the individual “you,” when the best argument for universal health insurance was and is about the communal us.

“We” is essential. It must be in the mix. A politician who can cast his or her mission as our mission not only finds the cloak in which self-regard is most fetchingly wrapped but also creates the sense of collective purpose that’s vital to progress.

Can Chris Christie do that? Can he fit the “we” into me, me, me?

This question preceded the scandal that enveloped him last week. This question will also survive it, even if the public officials and reporters digging into his role in the lane closures near the George Washington Bridge never find a smoking traffic cone. And that’s because this question strikes to his overarching problem, which isn’t an instance of gridlock but a pattern of grandiosity. While Christie sometimes seems to be fighting for you and for us, he almost always seems to have himself first and foremost in mind. There’s too much “I” in the stew. Its flavor isn’t sufficiently masked or muted.

In his news conference on Thursday he found a way to spell apology with a thousand I’s.

Perhaps he nonetheless managed to assure voters that he hadn’t directed the nightmare on Fort Lee’s streets. His denials couldn’t have been more emphatic, unconditional or expansive. He spoke and spoke and spoke, which made some sense, in that he cast himself as someone volunteering information rather than running from the truth.

But as he spoke and spoke and spoke, the apology sprawled into an odd aria of self-congratulation, and he even praised his own penance.

The incident, he said, didn’t reflect “the environment I’ve worked so hard to achieve.”

“Actions have consequences, and I’m living up to that right now,” he added.

“I am not a focus-group-tested, blow-dried candidate or governor.”

“I am who I am.”

“I am not a bully.”

“It is the rare moment in this office when I raise my voice.”

Self-pity crept in.

“I am humiliated.” “It is heartbreaking to me that I wasn’t told the truth.” “I am a very sad person.” “Betrayed me.” “Betrayed me.” “Betrayed me.”

There was an abundance of self-fascination, a surfeit of “me.”

Of course calling out politicians for being entranced with themselves is like calling out actuaries for being interested in math. Certain professions require certain temperaments. But the lesson of political success and failure is that egoism does best with checks and camouflage, lest one’s career be shortened, one’s ultimate goal unreached. Newt Gingrich didn’t want to exit the House of Representatives as soon as he did, and his life’s plan wasn’t to wind up hosting “Crossfire.” An overblown “I” landed him there.

Bill Clinton’s appetite for adulation may have been almost as keen, but its expression took the form of groveling as often as it did grandstanding. That’s long been his genius: to leaven the boastful with the solicitous. Did he, as a candidate and a president, really feel our pain, or did he just feel the need to have us believe that? It didn’t matter. When that lower lip jutted out and those eyes misted, you wanted to give him a blanket, a binky and your support.

It’s interesting that the most frequently imagined presidential matchup for 2016 is Christie versus Hillary Clinton, because she’s a textbook case in taming what the first President Bush, uncomfortable with the first-person singular, called “the big I.”

Back in 1993, shortly after she and Bill moved into the White House, she appeared in an angelic pose on the cover of this paper’s magazine, for a profile titled “Saint Hillary.” It thrummed with self-satisfaction.

Then she fell. And then, as she picked herself up, she learned. In her bid for a Senate seat, she went on that famous “listening tour,” an exercise in self-effacement devoted to you, you, you. As secretary of state, she assiduously logged (and publicized) all those miles. It was a way of projecting a nose-to-the-grindstone humility, the appearance of which is a cornerstone of her sustained popularity.

Humility comes haltingly to Christie, if it comes at all. There wasn’t a scintilla of it at the 2012 Republican convention. His keynote speech there was broadly disparaged for the way the big I eclipsed the little mentions of Mitt Romney, in whose service it was supposedly being delivered. Chris Wallace, an anchor for Fox News, quipped, “For a moment, I forgot who was the nominee of the party.”

Humility was absent when Christie bragged to Dan Balz of The Washington Post about how many Republican luminaries pleaded with him to get into the 2012 race and save the party. Humility doesn’t factor into his habit, as governor, of having someone trail him to collect video of his trademark confrontations with naysayers so that these exchanges can be uploaded onto YouTube, viral testaments to his vaunted truth telling.

When a politician’s self-promotion scales the Olympian heights that his has scaled, a dangerous message goes out to aides, who assume that ascendance is everything and that victory vindicates anything: browbeating, rule-tweaking, a knot of traffic around the world’s busiest bridge.

Something else happens, too. Or, rather, doesn’t. Real friendships beyond a posse of loyalists aren’t made, though they’re essential. A politician needs not just acolytes and fair-weather allies but also peers who feel real admiration and deep affection and will be there when the storm comes.

It’s unclear, in the early days of this scandal, if Christie has that. Some Republican operatives have been strangely tepid in their assessments and defenses of him. Other Republican governors have been slow to rally around him.

Without enough “you” and “we,” a politician inevitably bumps up against a word that, unlike apology, is correctly spelled with an I.

That’s isolation.


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