:-) What? Are you stupid or something?

Smiling emoticons in work related e-mails portray low competence, according to a new study.

This was simply too good not to put up on my blog immediately.

The paper, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science on July 31st, also suggested such emojis could undermine information sharing and may not create a positive reaction regarding the communication.  The study was conducted by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), Beer-Shiva, Israel; University of Haifa, Israel; and Amsterdam University, The Netherlands.

They conducted a series of experiments with 549 participants from 29 countries. Not a huge sample by any means, but the findings were apparently significant (in a statistical sense).

According to the study, while smiling during face-to-face communication was perceived as warm and indicated more competence with regards to the first impressions created, a text-based representation of a smile in computer-mediated communication did not have the same effect.

“Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence,” said Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at the BGU Department of Management, Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management, according to a news release.  “In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile.”

In one of the three experiments conducted, participants were asked to read a work-related email and then assess the competence and warmth of the person. While the messages remained similar for all participants, some e-mails included smileys. The researchers found that unlike face-to-face communication, smileys did not have any effect on the perception of warmth, and in fact had a negative effect regarding perception of competence.

“The study also found that when the participants were asked to respond to e-mails on formal matters, their answers were more detailed and they included more content-related information when the e-mail did not include a smiley,” said Glikson. “We found that the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing.”

“When you meet somebody for the first time, face to face, smiling is normal. Is a smiley or smile by email considered equivalent? No. Really no. It does not create that perception of warmth, of friendliness. It does not achieve that, whatever we might expect,” said Arik Cheshin of the University of Haifa’s Department of Human Services, a co-author of the study, according to a report by Haaretz (a news agency).

Another experiment saw the use of a smiley compared to a smiling or neutral photograph in a work-related email. This experiment found that the smiling sender was perceived as more competent and friendly than the neutral sender.

The study also contributed to the discussion of the role of gender with regards to use and interpretation of emoticons. When the gender of the sender was unknown, participants were more likely to assume the sender was a woman if it included a smiley. According to the news release, however, this had no influence on assessing competence and friendliness.

“People tend to assume that a smiley is a virtual smile, but the findings of this study show that in the case of the workplace, at least as far as initial ‘encounters’ are concerned, this is incorrect,” Glikson concluded. “For now, at least, a smiley can only replace a smile when you already know the other person. In initial interactions, it is better to avoid using smileys, regardless of age or gender.”

I really never liked emoticons. And as of today, I intend to stop using them altogether. 🙂

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Circles of Competence

In the professions of counseling and executive mentoring we often speak of our scope of competence. What that means is this: we know what we can do and work to expand that scope, but we also understand what we cannot do and work to refer our clients to others who have that (whatever it is) in their scope of competence.

Warren Buffet calls this the circle of competence. In business, it is often referred to as a firm’s “core competency.” Knowing what that is, and outsourcing the rest, is the key to sustainable business excellence.

As an aside, yesterday Cindy, Julietta, and I, were stuck in a traffic backup on Interstate 80. As we looked at the many large trucks idling around us, waiting as we were for the accident ahead to be cleared, Julietta asked about a truck’s insignia, parked next to us, which read: Logistics.

I am not sure when the term logistics took off. Surely, as a concept, it has been around for a long time. In brief, logistics companies do for you what you would rather not do for yourself. They do for you what you are not good at. They allow you to focus on those things that you do do well – your core competency.

What an investor needs is the ability to correctly evaluate selected businesses. Note that word “selected”: You don’t have to be an expert on every company, or even many. You only have to be able to evaluate companies within your circle of competence. The size of that circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital.

Thus began Warren Buffett in a shareholder letter of many years ago.  And the concept of a Circle of Competence is simple: Each of us, through experience or study, has built up useful knowledge on certain areas of the world. Some areas are understood by most of us, while some areas require a lot more specialty to evaluate.

For example, most of us have a basic understanding of the economics of a restaurant: You rent or buy space, spend money to outfit the place and then hire employees to seat, serve, cook, and clean. (And, if you don’t want to do it yourself, to manage.)

From there it’s a matter of generating enough traffic and setting the appropriate prices to generate a profit on the food and drinks you serve—after all of your operating expenses have been paid. Though the cuisine, atmosphere, and price points will vary by restaurant, they all have to follow the same economic formula.

That basic knowledge, along with some understanding of accounting and a little bit of study, would enable one to evaluate and invest in any number of restaurants and restaurant chains; public or private. It’s not all that complicated.

However, can most of us say we understand the workings of a microchip company or a biotech drug company at the same level? Perhaps not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But as Buffett so eloquently put it, we do not necessarily need to understand these more esoteric areas to invest capital. Far more important is to honestly define what we do know and stick to those areas. Our circle of competence can be widened, but only slowly and over time. Mistakes are most often made when straying from this discipline.

The essential question he sought to answer: Where should we devote our limited time in life, in order to achieve the most success? Here’s a simple prescription:

You have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose. And that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence.

If you want to be the best tennis player in the world, you may start out trying and soon find out that it’s hopeless—that other people blow right by you. However, if you want to become the best plumber in Pittsburgh, that is probably doable by two-thirds of you. It takes a will. It takes the intelligence. But after a while, you’d gradually know all about plumbing in Pittsburgh and master the art. That is an attainable objective, given enough discipline. And people who could never win a chess tournament or stand in center court in a respectable tennis tournament can rise quite high in life by slowly developing a circle of competence—which results partly from what they were born with and partly from what they slowly develop through work.

So, the simple takeaway here is clear. If you want to improve your odds of success in life and business then define the perimeter of your circle of competence, and operate inside. Over time, work to expand that circle but never fool yourself about where it stands today, and never be afraid to say “I don’t know.”

Or, as Dirty Harry has said, “A man’s GOT to know his limitations.”

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Most of us are Amateurs

Most of Us are Just Amateurs

I am borrowing this from Brain Food and wanted to have it up on my Blog for posterity. I intend to use it in my work as both a counselor and executive mentor, for I have found that much of the hubris I encounter in others, and in myself, is misplaced.

Do you strive to be a Professional? Then, you need to know what differentiates most of us, as amateurs, from the professionals around us. What are the differences? Well, there are many …

  1. Amateurs stop when they achieve something. Professionals understand that the initial achievement is just the beginning.
  2. Amateurs have a goal. Professionals have a process.
  3. Amateurs think they are good at everything. Professionals understand their circles of competence (I will cover this in a future post).
  4. Amateurs see feedback and coaching as someone criticizing them as a person. Professionals know they have weak spots and seek out thoughtful criticism.
  5. Amateurs value isolated performance. Think about the receiver who catches the ball once on a difficult throw. Professionals value consistency. Can I catch the ball in the same situation 9 times out of 10?
  6. Amateurs give up at the first sign of trouble and assume they’re failures. Professionals see failure as part of the path to growth and mastery.
  7. Amateurs don’t have any idea what improves the odds of achieving good outcomes. Professionals do.
  8. Amateurs show up to practice to have fun. Professionals realize that what happens in practice happens in games.
  9. Amateurs focus on identifying their weaknesses and improving them. Professionals focus on their strengths and on finding people who are strong where they are weak.
  10. Amateurs think knowledge is power. Professionals pass on wisdom and advice.
  11. Amateurs focus on being right. Professionals focus on getting the best outcome.
  12. Amateurs focus on first-level thinking. Professionals focus on second-level thinking.
  13. Amateurs think good outcomes are the result of their brilliance. Professionals understand when outcomes are the result of luck.
  14. Amateurs focus on the short term. Professionals focus on the long term.
  15. Amateurs focus on tearing other people down. Professionals focus on making everyone better.
  16. Amateurs make decisions in committees so there is no one person responsible if things go wrong. Professionals make decisions as individuals and accept responsibility.
  17. Amateurs blame others. Professionals accept responsibility.
  18. Amateurs show up inconsistently. Professionals show up every day.

There are a host of other differences, but they can effectively be boiled down to two things: fear and reality. Amateurs believe that the world should work the way they want it to work. Professionals realize that they must work with the world as they find it. Amateurs are scared — scared to be vulnerable and honest with themselves. Professionals feel like they are capable of handling almost anything.

Luck aside, which approach do you think is going to yield better results?

 

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UNCOVERED! Russian Interference in Presidential Writing!

Russian Interference in US Elections!

Donald Trump was seen recently using a yellow No. 2 pencil aboard Air Force One. Since I happen to know the link between yellow pencils and the Russian Empire, I am calling for yet another special prosecutor to investigate this apparent breakdown in our national security.

Why, you might ask?

The story must begin with the basic question: Why are traditional pencils yellow? I mean, why not red or black or white? Of course, there ARE those color pencils, but when we stop to think about the everyday pencil, we might forget to ask ourselves: why yellow?

Is it because school buses are yellow? No. Is it because kids love the primary colors? No, again.

Turns out that the first pencil that we have come to know as the traditional No. 2 pencil, came from a company based in Austria, which in 1889 debuted their newest creation: a cedar-wood barreled writing instrument with lead made from a combination of clay and graphite, and which sported a bright yellow paint job. I saw one of those original pencils at a museum here in Oxford just this very day.

The company, Hardmuth (they are still around, by the way) figured, for whatever reason, that yellow was associated with luxury. Go figure. But in truth, the color was a nod to the Indian diamond, the Koh-I-Noor, that was, at the time, the largest diamond in the world. The diamond was then, and still is, part of the Crown Jewels of England.

Furthermore, the color choice (made by the marketing people, no doubt) was intended to evoke images of the still-mysterious Orient, and specifically to what was considered the best graphite in the world: Siberian graphite. Yes, Russian graphite!! Yellow and all-things-Oriental were colored yellow, it turns out.

Enter American capitalism, which sought to capitalize on the association between yellow and luxury. Pencils were painted yellow and for the most part, still are. Trump may not have had any choice when he asked his valet for a pencil. Still, given the Russian connection, I say, “bring in the special prosecutors!”

 

Next up? Why are school buses painted yellow?

 

 

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Canterbury July 8th 2017

Our goal after Scotland was to drive down to Oxford where we would make camp for about 7 days while Cindy attends a conference. On one of the first days there, we made a trip down to Canterbury to see some friends from Australia who have since relocated back to their home country of England. I had been in Canterbury about 25 years ago. For a town that is on the order of 1500 years old, I can say that nothing much has changed.

We met up with one of Cindy’s friends from grad school, Mary McVee, and headed southwest to Canterbury to meet Dr. Andrew Peterson and his family at The Foundry,  a brew pub in Canterbury, just off High Street. The drive down was uneventful – along the Ring Road which surrounds London (the M25, where M stands for motorway) – and parking was surprisingly easy. But for future reference, the thing to do is go as early as possible. Parking is at a premium, notwithstanding our experience.

Canterbury Cathedral houses the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the primate of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion owing to the importance of St Augustine, who served as the apostle to the pagan Kingdom of Kent around the turn of the 7th century.

 

The city’s cathedral became a major focus of pilgrimage following the 1170 martyrdom of Thomas Becket, although it had already been a well-trodden pilgrim destination since the murder of St Alphege by the men of King Canute in 1012. A journey of pilgrims to Becket’s shrine served as the frame for Chaucer’s 14th century classic The Canterbury Tales.

Canterbury is a popular tourist destination: consistently one of the most-visited cities in the United Kingdom, so it is no surprise that the city’s economy is heavily reliant upon tourism. The city has been occupied since Paleolithic times and served as the capital of the Celtic Cantiaci and Jute Kingdom of Kent. Many historical structures fill the area, including a city wall founded in Roman times and rebuilt in the 14th century, the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey and a Norman castle, and the oldest continuously operating school in the world, the King’s School.

Modern additions include the Marlowe Theatre and the St Lawrence Ground, home of the Kent County Cricket Club. There is also a substantial student population, brought about by the presence of the University of Kent, Canterbury Christ Church University (where our friend Ansrew teaches), the University for the Creative Arts, and the Girne American University Canterbury campus. Canterbury remains, however, a small city in terms of geographical size and population, when compared with other British cities.

The River Stour runs through the middle of the town, and at times even under the town. This picture is taken from a famous bridge along High Street in the center of town. Note, if you can, the dunking chair above the boats. This was used to determine if a woman was indeed a witch. The reasoning went something like this: if she survived a dunking sure to kill any normal person, then she must be a witch and therefore must be killed. Go figure.

The River Stour was one of the first improved rivers or canals in England. It was in 1705 that Parliament mandated public navigation rights along the river and provided the basis of a joint stock company of London and Suffolk investors who raised £4,800 to cut and manage the river. Although partly supplanted by railways, lighters (men who would walk along boats floating through the river) were still working on the Stour above Manningtree almost until World War II. As of 2016 they still operate as far as Mistley. Fascinating stuff if you ask me.

Chaucer is an interesting guy. He wrote, of course, The Canterbury Tales, which contrasts with other literature of the period in the naturalism of its narrative, the variety of stories the pilgrims tell, and the varied characters who are engaged in the pilgrimage. Many of the stories narrated by the pilgrims seem to fit their individual characters and social standing, although some of the stories seem ill-fitting to their narrators, perhaps as a result of the incomplete state of the work.

Chaucer drew on real life for his cast of pilgrims: the innkeeper shares the name of a contemporary keeper of an inn in Southwark, and real-life identities for the Wife of Bath, the Merchant, the Man of Law, and the Student, have been suggested. The many jobs that Chaucer held in medieval society—page, soldier, messenger, valet, bureaucrat, foreman and administrator—probably exposed him to many of the types of people he depicted in the Tales. A possible indication that his career as a writer was appreciated came when Edward III granted Chaucer “a gallon of wine daily for the rest of his life” for some unspecified task.

But did you know that he was also a CPA? Yes, he was, and for a time he was the Chief Financial Officer for several of the port companies along the River Thames.

He was born around 1343 and died (we think) in 1400.

As mentioned, we met up with Andrew Peterson and his family. Dr. Peterson, like Cindy, was a professor at the University of South Australia while we were there, and is a delightful man. His family, even more so. His wife, Jessica, and their two boys, Oliver (Ollie) and George, joined us for lunch at The Foundry, one of many brew pubs sprouting up around England (much like in the USA).

Ollie and George are caught up in the spinner craze, which we had only heard about in passing. Designed, apparently, as toys for children with ADHD, they have taken off. Quite literally. I was amazed at the machining that goes into these little devices.  Put simply, a fidget spinner is a toy that consists of a bearing in the center of a multi-lobed flat structure made from metal or plastic designed to spin along its axis with little effort. Fidget spinners only became popular toys this year, although similar devices had already been invented as early as 1993. The toy is popular among schoolchildren and consequently some schools have banned the spinners for being a distraction, while other schools allowed the toy to be used discreetly.  The toy has been advertised as helping people who have trouble with focusing or fidgeting by relieving nervous energy or psychological stress. As of May 2017, there is no scientific evidence that they are effective as a treatment for autism or ADHD.

Here are George (left), Andrew, Jessica, Ollie, Mary, and Cindy in front of the Canterbury Cathedral Store. We enjoyed our time with them very much.

Andrew’s area of research is into compassion as an element of teaching school children. He has written a book on the subject and has appeared in several TV and radio spots explaining his quest to understand how we can teach our children to be more compassionate.

Before we left the Brew Pub, I simply had to take a picture of this map that hung on the wall. Note the presence of a brew pub dedicated to “Canterbury Ales.” Quite fitting.

Onward now to Oxford and our home for the next few days.

 

 

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Scotland – Part Two

So we made our way from Inverness along the Loch Ness and through the Scottish Highlands.  No, we did not see a monster in the 30+ mile long Loch Ness, but we thought it would certainly be easy to hide one there! Without question, some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, rivaling even the South Island of New Zealand and the Alps of Switzerland. Our goal was to enjoy the scenery, which we did, and then to make our way to Greenock, Scotland, along the Irish Sea. Cindy’s family from her mother’s side had a long history in this part of the world, through the late 1800’s, when many of them migrated to America.

Before leaving Inverness, we had to chuckle at the sign posted about the Huntly Street Tavern:

Friendship is like whisky: the older the better. Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whisky is barely enough.

The Scottish Highlands are also a major source of lumber for the UK. And the forests are like carpet. Lush and green and dripping with mist, like a rain forest. The highways were like tunnels through trees, and at times quite harrowing. But we made it.

In the town of Greenock, near Glasgow, we stopped to search for the little church that one of Cindy’s older relatives (a great great great something or other) was baptized in. We found it, and although it had long ago been deconsecrated as a Catholic Church and reconsecrated as a Methodist Church, it was fun to imagine the family as it made its way to a sacred ceremony.

The name of the town has had various spellings over time. It was printed in early Acts of Parliament as Grinok, Greenhok, Grinock, Greenhoke, Greinnock, and later as Greinok. Old Presbytery records used Grenok, a common spelling until it was changed to Greenock around 1700. The origin of the name is unknown, although suggested sources have included the Common Britannic “Graenag,” a gravelly or sandy place which accurately describes the foreshore before the docks and piers were constructed; or the Gaelic meaning of a sunny place, which Grenockians have thought an improbable description. It has also been suggested that “Grian cnoc” or sunny hill could refer to the hill on which the castle and mansion house stood, but this has not found much support.

We found a place to stay overnight not far from the infamous Lockerbie, Scotland, and geared up for the long drive to Oxford.

 

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Inverness July 5 2017 – Lanes

Struggling this morning, here in Scotland, to get WordPress to do pictures. This post will therefore not be as pretty as I would like it to be, but I will keep working on it.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, we made it from Newcastle in England up to Inverness in Scotland, arriving in time for a beautiful sunset along the River Ness.

One of our goals on the trip is to see where our friend and Adelaide neighbor, Eileen Ralston, came from long before she moved to Australia. Inverness is her home town and her family still owns a small jewelry store in the central market of Inverness.

We managed to find that and more in the evening hours of July 5, 2017.

The Victorian Market is that small city market (an arcade as they might have called it in Adelaide), and sure enough, there was William Morrison, Watch Maker. They were closed on Wednesday, so we will go back on Thursday morning before departing Inverness.

At one time Inverness had open-air markets. In 1876-70, the Town Council built a covered market which was destroyed by fire although the original sandstone entrance in Academy Street remains. Following the fire the Victorian Market was rebuilt by Inverness Town Council in 1890-91. It stands to this day, at about 130 years old.  The Victorian Market has a special range of shops that will not be found find elsewhere in  town.

Recently, archaeologists working in Inverness found an old clock that had been set aside some 75 years ago for rebuilding, then never touched again. The great, great granddaughter of the man who made the well-known clock for the hall, meanwhile, has seen his workmanship for herself.  Lindsay MacDonald lives in England but while visiting family in the Highlands, she took time to inspect the Drum Clock which has been taken from the face of the hall and is currently awaiting repair. It was made by John McFarquhar who lived in Merkinch between the 1850’s and 1880’s. Merkinch History Group members are researching the clock’s history but it is known it was originally in Bridge Street, most likely above the shop of Robert Morrison, jeweler and watchmaker. It was moved to Grant Street in the 1930s.

Anyway, we found the place and will report on our meetup with the owners and Eileen’s relatives tomorrow.

A brief stop for dinner and refreshments might have included a stop at The Filling Station, but alas we were in the mood for Italian.

 

 

 

 

 

The lanes in Inverness are limitless. Here is one that caught my eye. Simply gorgeous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And another. This is the pedestrian bridge over the River Ness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our friend, Lynda Wiest, loves Lush. This one is for her!

 

 

 

 

Another lane. They are everywhere! Well-lit and inviting, I suppose anywhere else they would be filled with garbage and graffiti. Not here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dusk fell quickly but not until nearly 10:30. On our way to a late dinner, we passed this inviting lane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alright, so that is enough for today. We are in Scotland. After a few moments in the City on Thursday morning, we will head back into England and make our way to Oxford.

 

 

 

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Inverness – July 5, 2017

Inverness, I am told, means “mouth of the Ness,” and so it is. It is also the largest city at this latitude in the whole of Great Britain. We arrived here late on Wednesday the 5th, in time to talk a nap and then to walk the city at dusk. We had dinner at a decent Italian restaurant, then walked some more.

Lots of lanes in this little city. Lots. Not always called a lane, there are nevertheless a whole bunch of little lanes spurring off the main roads.

I will post some more pictures of Inverness’ lanes tomorrow.

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Photographic Theme for UK 2017 – Lanes

We arrived unharmed in London early on Monday morning and proceeded to drive north toward Scotland. I ran out of fuel before the car did, so we took a room at a Holiday Inn Express dear Darlington, England.

On the flight over, Cindy and I decided that, like our friend Fenice did on a trip to Australia in 2014, I would adopt a photographic theme while in the UK. She had decided on windmills. I decided on “lanes:” Freeway lanes, bowling lanes, country lanes, bike lanes, immigration lanes, “stay in lane,” illegal lane changes,” and so on and so forth.

And wouldn’t you know it? The first real example of lanes during the trip occurred Heathrow immigration where lane after lane of people waited to be processed by some of the slowest immigration officers on the planet. Turns out, they were engaged in a work “slow down,” which may not differ very much from when they actually engage in work, fast or slow, but the lanes were crowded as a result. Sadly, photos were not allowed.

There is a section of Brighton in the south east of England that is called The Lanes. Leftover from Medieval Times, the Lanes are a collection of shops and restaurant tucked into an older section of the City. Long past their prime, The Lanes should be demolished and replaced with a modern parking structure. But I digress.

These are the lanes I mean. Lanes exist throughout the UK. This is the theme of the photographs I shall be taking on this trip.

Stay tuned.

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Camille Paglia Speaks

The Weekly Standard is out this week with an interview with Camille Paglia, easily one of the most articulate writers from the Left on the scene today. She has been around for quite a while and I have enjoyed her pieces wherever I can find them. She pulls no punches and is a poster-child for rational analysis and thoughtful commentary.

Further, then, to the theme of the past few posts here at www.jvrusso.com I give you the entirety of Jonathon Last’s quick email-based interview with Miss Paglia (she objects to the term “Ms.”), which covers Trump, Islamic terror, and transgender issues, and once again, I claim no authorship. I put it up merely to preserve her words for my own amusement and future reference.

I am also putting it up on my blog because of the quotes she has taken from a recent Trump speech, in which he talks about the logjam of construction regulation. Cindy and I have witnessed first hand how the red tape and inefficiency contribute to the now-two-year old construction project on 2 miles of highway in Fort Collins. Two years to rebuild two miles! An unbelievable waste of time and energy.

As you read this, remember that Paglia is a registered Democrat and a liberal. Her words matter, and they certainly add value to the debate. Much like Peggy Noonan’s piece (posted yesterday and which speaks to the growing estrangement in our country), Paglia is essentially saying, “cool it.”


Camille Paglia is one America’s smartest and most fearless writers. Like Elvis, she’s the kind of superstar who really needs no introduction—though it is worth pointing out that Pantheon has just published a collection of her essays on sex, gender, and feminism, titled Free Women, Free Men. It’s fantastic and if you love her work, it’s must-reading. (And there’s another collection due out in the Fall of 2018, which is more good news.)

Last week I sat down with Paglia over email to talk about Donald Trump, Islamist terrorism, and the transgender crusade. Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Jonathon Last: Donald Trump has recently feuded with Jim Comey, Bob Mueller, Sadiq Kahn (mayor of London), Emmanuel Macron (President of France), Angela Merkel, NATO—we’ll stop the list there. You were one of a very small number of people who understood Trump’s populist appeal early on. Looking at his presidency so far, do think he’s continuing to deliver on that appeal? What is he doing right? What is he doing wrong?

Camille Paglia: Some background is necessary. First of all, I must make my political affiliations crystal clear. I am a registered Democrat who voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary and for Jill Stein in the general election. Since last Fall, I’ve had my eye on Kamala Harris, the new senator from California, and I hope to vote for her in the next presidential primary.

Like many others, I initially did not take Donald Trump’s candidacy seriously. I dismissed him as a “carnival barker” in my Salon column and assumed his entire political operation was a publicity stunt that he would soon tire of. However, Trump steadily gained momentum because of the startling incompetence and mediocrity of his GOP opponents. What seems forgotten is that everyone, including the Hillary Clinton campaign, thought that Marco Rubio would be the Republican nominee. The moment was ideal for a Latino candidate with national appeal who could challenge the Democratic hold on Florida.

Thus, Rubio’s primary-run flame-out was a spectacular embarrassment. Under TV’s unsparing camera eye, he looked like a shallow, dithery adolescent, utterly unprepared to be commander-in-chief in an era of terrorism. Trump’s frankly arrogant self-confidence spooked and crushed Rubio—it was a total fiasco. Ben Carson, meanwhile, with his professorial deep-think and spiritualistic eye-closing, often seemed to be beaming himself to another galaxy. With every debate, Ted Cruz, despite his avid national following, accumulated more and more detractors, repelled by his brittle self-dramatizations and lugubrious megalomania.

There were two genial, moderate Mid-Western governors who could have wrested the nomination from Trump and performed strongly versus Hillary in the general—Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. But they blew it because of their personal limitations: On television, Kasich came across as a clumsy, lumbering blowhard while Walker shrank into a nervous, timid mouse with a frozen Pee-wee Herman smile.

The point here is that Donald Trump won the nomination fair and square against a host of serious, experienced opponents who simply failed to connect with a majority of GOP primary voters. However, there were too many unknowns about Trump, who had never held elective office and whose randy history in the shadowy demimonde of casinos and beauty pageants laid him open to a cascade of feverish accusations and innuendos from the ever-churning gnomes of the cash-propelled Clinton propaganda machine. In actuality, the sexism allegations about Trump were relatively few and minor, compared to the long list of lurid claims about the predatory Bill Clinton.

My position continues to be that Hillary, with her supercilious, Marie Antoinette-style entitlement, was a disastrously wrong candidate for 2016 and that she secured the nomination only through overt chicanery by the Democratic National Committee, assisted by a corrupt national media who, for over a year, imposed a virtual blackout on potential primary rivals. Bernie Sanders had the populist passion, economic message, government record, and personal warmth to counter Trump. It was Sanders, for example, who addressed the crisis of crippling student debt, an issue that other candidates (including Hillary) then took up. Despite his history of embarrassing gaffes, the affable, plain-spoken Joe Biden, in my view, could also have defeated Trump, but he was blocked from running at literally the last moment by President Barack Obama, for reasons that the major media refused to explore.

After Trump’s victory (for which there were abundant signs in the preceding months), both the Democratic party and the big-city media urgently needed to do a scathingly honest self-analysis, because the election results plainly demonstrated that Trump was speaking to vital concerns (jobs, immigration, and terrorism among them) for which the Democrats had few concrete solutions. Indeed, throughout the campaign, too many leading Democratic politicians were preoccupied with domestic issues and acted strangely uninterested in international affairs. Among the electorate, the most fervid Hillary acolytes (especially young and middle-aged women and assorted show biz celebs) seemed obtusely indifferent to her tepid performance as Secretary of State, during which she doggedly piled up air miles while accomplishing virtually nothing except the destabilization of North Africa.

Had Hillary won, everyone would have expected disappointed Trump voters to show a modicum of respect for the electoral results as well as for the historic ceremony of the inauguration, during which former combatants momentarily unite to pay homage to the peaceful transition of power in our democracy. But that was not the reaction of a vast cadre of Democrats shocked by Trump’s win. In an abject failure of leadership that may be one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of the modern Democratic party, Chuck Schumer, who had risen to become the Senate Democratic leader after the retirement of Harry Reid, asserted absolutely no moral authority as the party spun out of control in a nationwide orgy of rage and spite. Nor were there statesmanlike words of caution and restraint from two seasoned politicians whom I have admired for decades and believe should have run for president long ago—Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi.

How do Democrats imagine they can ever expand their electoral support if they go on and on in this self-destructive way, impugning half the nation as vile racists and homophobes?

All of which brings us to the issue of Trump’s performance to date. The initial conundrum was: could he shift from being the slashing, caustic ex-reality show star of the campaign to a more measured, presidential persona? Perhaps to the dismay of his diehard critics, Trump did indeed make that transition at the Capitol on inauguration morning, when he appeared grave and focused, palpably conveying a sense of the awesome burdens of the highest office. As for his particular actions as president, I am no fan of executive orders, which usurp congressional prerogatives and which I was already denouncing when Obama was constantly signing them (with very little protest, one might add, from the mainstream media).

Trump’s “travel ban” executive order in late January was obviously bungled—issued way too fast and with woefully insufficient research (pertaining, for example, to green-card holders, who should have been exempted from the start). The administration bears full responsibility for fanning the flames of an already aroused “Resistance.”

However, I fail to see the “chaos” in the White House that the mainstream media (as well as the conservative Never Trump crowd) keep harping on—or rather, I see no more chaos than was abundantly present during the first six months of both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Trump seems to be methodically trying to fulfill his campaign promises, notably regarding the economy and deregulation—the approaches to which will always be contested in our two-party system. His progress has thus far been in stops and starts, partly because of the passivity, and sometimes petulance, of the mundane GOP leadership.

There seems to be a huge conceptual gap between Trump and his most implacable critics on the left. Many highly educated, upper-middle-class Democrats regard themselves as exemplars of “compassion” (which they have elevated into a supreme political principle) and yet they routinely assail Trump voters as ignorant, callous hate-mongers. These elite Democrats occupy an amorphous meta-realm of subjective emotion, theoretical abstractions, and refined language. But Trump is by trade a builder who deals in the tangible, obdurate, objective world of physical materials, geometry, and construction projects, where communication often reverts to the brusque, coarse, high-impact level of pre-modern working-class life, whose daily locus was the barnyard. It’s no accident that bourgeois Victorians of the industrial era tried to purge “barnyard language” out of English.

Last week, that conceptual gap was on prominent display, as the media, consumed with their preposterous Russian fantasies, were fixated on former FBI director James Comey’s maudlin testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. (Comey is an effete charlatan who should have been fired within 48 hours of either Hillary or Trump taking office.) Meanwhile, Trump was going about his business. The following morning, he made remarks at the Department of Transportation about “regulatory relief,” excerpts of which I happened to hear on my car radio that afternoon. His words about iron, aluminum, and steel seemed to cut like a knife through the airwaves. I later found the entire text on the White House website. Some key passages:

We are here today to focus on solving one of the biggest obstacles to creating this new and desperately needed infrastructure, and that is the painfully slow, costly, and time-consuming process of getting permits and approvals to build. And I also knew that from the private sector. It is a long, slow, unnecessarily burdensome process. My administration is committed to ending these terrible delays once and for all. The excruciating wait time for permitting has inflicted enormous financial pain to cities and states all throughout our nation and has blocked many important projects from ever getting off the ground…

For too long, America has poured trillions and trillions of dollars into rebuilding foreign countries while allowing our own country—the country that we love—and its infrastructure to fall into a state of total disrepair. We have structurally deficient bridges, clogged roads, crumbling dams and locks. Our rivers are in trouble. Our railways are aging. And chronic traffic that slows commerce and diminishes our citizens’ quality of life. Other than that, we’re doing very well. Instead of rebuilding our country, Washington has spent decades building a dense thicket of rules, regulations and red tape. It took only four years to build the Golden Gate Bridge and five years to build the Hoover Dam and less than one year to build the Empire State Building. People don’t believe that. It took less than one year. But today, it can take 10 years and far more than that just to get the approvals and permits needed to build a major infrastructure project.

These charts beside me are actually a simplified version of our highway permitting process. It includes 16 different approvals involving 10 different federal agencies being governed by 26 different statutes. As one example—and this happened just 30 minutes ago—I was sitting with a great group of people responsible for their state’s economic development and roadways. All of you are in the room now. And one gentleman from Maryland was talking about an 18-mile road. And he brought with him some of the approvals that they’ve gotten and paid for. They spent $29 million for an environmental report, weighing 70 pounds and costing $24,000 per page…

I was not elected to continue a failed system. I was elected to change it. All of us in government service were elected to solve the problems that have plagued our nation. We are here to think big, to act boldly, and to rise above the petty partisan squabbling of Washington D.C. We are here to take action. It’s time to start building in our country, with American workers and with American iron and aluminum and steel. It’s time to put up soaring new infrastructure that inspires pride in our people and our towns.

No longer can we allow these rules and regulations to tie down our economy, chain up our prosperity, and sap our great American spirit. That is why we will lift these restrictions and unleash the full potential of the United States of America. We will get rid of the redundancy and duplication that wastes your time and your money. Our goal is to give you one point of contact to deliver one decision—yes or no—for the entire federal government, and to deliver that decision quickly, whether it’s a road, whether it’s a highway, a bridge, a dam.

To do this, we are setting up a new council to help project managers navigate the bureaucratic maze. This council will also improve transparency by creating a new online dashboard allowing everyone to easily track major projects through every stage of the approval process. This council will make sure that every federal agency that is consistently delaying projects by missing deadlines will face tough, new penalties…

Together, we will build projects to inspire our youth, employ our workers, and create true prosperity for our people. We will pour new concrete, lay new brick, and watch new sparks light our factories as we forge metal from the furnaces of our Rust Belt and our beloved heartland—which has been forgotten. It’s not forgotten anymore.

We will put new American steel into the spine of our country. American workers will construct gleaming new lanes of commerce across our landscape. They will build these monuments from coast to coast, and from city to city. And with these new roads, bridges, airports and seaports, we will embark on a wonderful new journey into a bright and glorious future. We will build again. We will grow again. We will thrive again. And we will make America great again.

Of course, this rousing speech (with its can-do World War Two spirit) got scant coverage in the mainstream media. Drunk with words, spin, and snark, middle-class journalists can’t be bothered to notice the complex physical constructions that make modern civilization possible. The laborers who build and maintain these marvels are recognized only if they can be shoehorned into victim status. But if they dare to think for themselves and vote differently from their liberal overlords, they are branded as rubes and pariahs.

In summary: to have any hope of retaking the White House, Democrats must get off their high horse, lose the rabid rhetoric, and reorient themselves toward practical reality and the free country they are damned lucky to live in.

Last: One of the other big news stories for the last few weeks has been terrorism in Great Britain. Everyone goes to great pains to say that this isn’t “Islamic” terrorism, but rather “Islamist” (“Islam-ish?”) terrorism. Does nomenclature matter here? Does the fact that Western liberalism gets so wrapped up in knots over how to talk about its antagonists mean anything?

Paglia: You’ve nailed it about Western liberalism’s obsession with language, to the exclusion of wide-ranging study of world history or systematic observation of present social conditions. Liberalism of the 1950s and ’60s exalted civil liberties, individualism, and dissident thought and speech. “Question authority” was our generational rubric when I was in college. But today’s liberalism has become grotesquely mechanistic and authoritarian: It’s all about reducing individuals to a group identity, defining that group in permanent victim terms, and denying others their democratic right to challenge that group and its ideology. Political correctness represents the fossilized institutionalization of once-vital revolutionary ideas, which have become mere rote formulas. It is repressively Stalinist, dependent on a labyrinthine, parasitic bureaucracy to enforce its empty dictates.

The reluctance or inability of Western liberals to candidly confront jihadism has been catastrophically counterproductive insofar as it has inspired an ongoing upsurge in right-wing politics in Europe and the United States. Citizens have an absolute right to demand basic security from their government. The contortions to which so many liberals resort to avoid connecting bombings, massacres, persecutions, and cultural vandalism to Islamic jihadism is remarkable, given their usual animosity to religion, above all Christianity. Some commentators have suggested a link to racial preconceptions: that is, Islam remains beyond criticism because it is largely a religion of non-whites whose two holy cities occupy territory once oppressed by Western imperialism.

For a quarter century, I have been calling for comparative religion to be made the core curriculum of higher education. (I am speaking as an atheist.) Knowledge of the great world religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Judeo-Christianity, Islam—is the true multiculturalism. Everyone should have a general familiarity with the beliefs, texts, rituals, art, and shrines of all the major religions. Only via a direct encounter with the Quran and Hadith, for example, can anyone know what they say about jihad and how those strikingly numerous passages have been interpreted in different ways over time.

Right now, too many secular Western liberals treat Islam with paternalistic condescension—waving at it vaguely from a benevolent distance but making no effort to engage with its intricate mixed messages, which can inspire toward good or spur acts of devastating impact on the international stage.

Last: I keep waiting for the showdown between feminism and transgenderism, but it always keeps slipping beneath the horizon. I’ve been looking at how the La Leche League—which stood at the crossroads of feminism once upon a time—has in the last couple years bowed completely to the transgender project. Their central text is (for now) The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, but they’ve officially changed their stance to include men and fathers who breastfeed. The actual wording of their policy is wonderful: “It is now recognized that some men are able to breastfeed.” Left unsaid is the corollary that some women are biologically unable to breastfeed. Though this would go against the League’s founding principles, one supposes. What does one make of all of this?

Paglia: Feminists have clashed with transgender activists much more publicly in the United Kingdom than here. For example, two years ago there was an acrimonious organized campaign, including a petition with 3,000 claimed signatures, to cancel a lecture by Germaine Greer at Cardiff University because of her “offensive” views of transgenderism. Greer, a literary scholar who was one of the great pioneers of second-wave feminism, has always denied that men who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery are actually “women.” Her Cardiff lecture (on “Women and Power” in the twentieth century) eventually went forward, under heavy security.

And in 2014, Gender Hurts, a book by radical Australian feminist Sheila Jeffreys, created a heated controversy in the United Kingdom. Jeffreys identifies transsexualism with misogyny and describes it as a form of “mutilation.” She and her feminist allies encountered prolonged difficulties in securing a London speaking venue because of threats and agitation by transgender activists. Finally, Conway Hall was made available: Jeffrey’s forceful, detailed lecture there in July of last year is fully available on YouTube. In it she argues among other things, that the pharmaceutical industry, having lost income when routine estrogen therapy for menopausal women was abandoned because of its health risks, has been promoting the relatively new idea of transgenderism in order to create a permanent class of customers who will need to take prescribed hormones for life.

Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave, which I think has been produced by far more complicated psychological and sociological factors than current gender discourse allows. Furthermore, I condemn the escalating prescription of puberty blockers (whose long-term effects are unknown) for children. I regard this practice as a criminal violation of human rights.

It is certainly ironic how liberals who posture as defenders of science when it comes to global warming (a sentimental myth unsupported by evidence) flee all reference to biology when it comes to gender. Biology has been programmatically excluded from women’s studies and gender studies programs for almost 50 years now. Thus, very few current gender studies professors and theorists, here and abroad, are intellectually or scientifically prepared to teach their subjects.

The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible. Every single cell of the human body remains coded with one’s birth gender for life. Intersex ambiguities can occur, but they are developmental anomalies that represent a tiny proportion of all human births.

In a democracy, everyone, no matter how nonconformist or eccentric, should be free from harassment and abuse. But at the same time, no one deserves special rights, protections, or privileges on the basis of their eccentricity. The categories “trans-man” and “trans-woman” are highly accurate and deserving of respect. But like Germaine Greer and Sheila Jeffreys, I reject state-sponsored coercion to call someone a “woman” or a “man” simply on the basis of his or her subjective feeling about it. We may well take the path of good will and defer to courtesy on such occasions, but it is our choice alone.

As for the La Leche League, they are hardly prepared to take up the cudgels in the bruising culture wars. Awash with the milk of human kindness, they are probably stuck in nurturance mode. Naturally, they snap to attention at the sound of squalling babies, no matter what their age. It’s up to literature professors and writers to defend the integrity of English, which like all languages changes slowly and organically over time. But with so many humanities departments swallowed up in the poststructuralist tar pit, the glorious medium of English may have to fight the gender commissars on its own.

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