Putin’s rationality debated

September 1, 2014

By Jeff Schubert

John J. Mearsheimer has written an article, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault”, for “Foreign Affairs” magazine. I essentially agree, however, the article contains the following three quite important comments that I would take issue with:

(1) “In March, according to The New York Times, German Chancellor Angela Merkel implied that Putin was irrational, telling Obama that he was ‘in another world’. Although Putin no doubt has autocratic tendencies, no evidence supports the charge that he is mentally unbalanced. On the contrary: he is a first-class strategist who should be feared and respected by anyone challenging him on foreign policy.”
(2) “Russia is a declining power, and it will only get weaker with time.”
(3) “The United States will also someday need Russia’s help containing a rising China.”

Why are these comments questionable?

(1) Putin is  either “irrational / mentally unbalanced” or a “first-class strategist”?

Putin is not “mentally unbalanced”. However, he will be “irrational” to the extent that his decisions will often be adversely affected by his extended time in power, which will have affected his thinking and ensured that his lieutenants and advisers will lack genuine independent thought and/or be loath to disagree with him. And, then there is his reading habits. See my November 2011 article on “Putin’s dangerous reading”

 

If Putin were a “first-class strategist” (like, say Bismarck) he would have stopped after taking Crimea, and Russia would have gained more in terms of security than it lost in terms of a relatively temporary negative effect on the economy. But, by over-playing his hand (in an “irrational” way, in my view) Putin is doing significant direct and indirect (through the effect of sanctions) damage to the Russian economy. Putin’s great strength is taking advantage of the stupidity of others (be it the authorities in Kiev, or the US).

 

(2) “Russia is a declining power, and it will only get weaker with time.”

I keep reading this, although I suspect that very few people who put this view know much about the detailed workings of the Russian economy other than it is very commodity dependent and has significant demographic problems. However, in many ways the Russian economy now has many features similar to successful economies such as Australia (which also has a significant, although less, dependency on commodities). Having said this, there is much that could be improved in the medium term and very significant gains in Russian GDP per capita obtained. See my articles on Russian economic reform to get a professional view of the Russian economy

 

(3) “The United States will also someday need Russia’s help containing a rising China.”

This comment implies that the US will repeat its Russian “containment” mistakes when dealing with China. This, in my view, would be a an even bigger mistake.

About Jeff Schubert

Jeff has studied the motivation of leaders deeply. He writes regularly for Leaders we deserve. You can read more of his work on his blog site.


Sexism ain’t what it used to be

August 29, 2014

A patronizing ad by the ‘better together’ campaign has prompted a rerun of MSN’s   21 1950s ads from the United States, now considered as illustrations of prevailing attitudes towards women

The montage makes a promising introduction to a leadership workshop on cultural diversity and discrimination:

With the Better Together campaign’s recent advert “The Woman Who Made Up Her Mind” lampooned by opponents as being hopelessly sexist and dated, MSN looks at the adverts that have perpetuated female stereotypes and patronised women.

 

In the No campaign’s advert, a women sits down to have a cup of tea and makes glib comments about how her husband Paul “will not leave off” about the referendum. She calls Alex Salmond “that guy off the telly” and tells viewers “there are only so many hours in the day” to make a decision.


The Independence debate as it happened:unedited notes

August 27, 2014

Polls suggest that the second debate on Scottish Independence was a win for the Yes campaign and its leader Alex Salmond. These unedited notes prepared at the time for LWD suggest something different

Opening statement Alex Salmond. Mostly convincing until claim that among other advantages, an Independent Scotland would ‘prevent unjust wars…’

Opening statement Alastair Darling. Mostly, why trust silver-tongued Alex?

First question from audience. was on financial security. Darling focused on risks of leaving. Salmond a bit less focused, but essentially seeking a mandate to share Stirling while mentioning other options.

Oil revenues. Little spat on who said what in the past. Unclear. I lost the points being made.

Plan B again What is Option B if no Stirling agreement is reached? Alex gives rehearsed answer but don’t mention a plan B. Chair suggests Plan B is to use pound anyway. Gradually Plan B seemed a bit unclear although
Salmond says he has three options. He then seizes on Darling’s point that Scotland could use Sterling after independence. This seems an important concession for audience.

Question on health finance Bit more ‘he said I said’ on NHS funding. More near incomprehensible stats from both speakers. Angry audience speaker calls AD a hypocrite for betraying Nye Bevan.

Later. AD confusing when he talks of our country. Scotland or UK?

Cross examination Plan B. Yawn. Oil revenue. Not quite yawn. More disputed stats. More shouty stuff. Both advocates a bit het up. Only slight personal preference was for AD on sincerity. A very cross examination.

Switched off I really couldn’t take any more. Was a switch off. So switched over after forty five of sixty minutes. Can’t see how the debates are changing many voters’ intentions.


The Sottish Referendum: from the sidelines

August 25, 2014

Like two heroic leaders of a bygone age, Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling prepare for battle. The symbolic War of independence in Scotland is reaching a crucial stage

Have no doubt of the symbolic nature of the war. The matter is to be decided through votes cast for or against a single six word question by those edible by rights of age and location. No voting rights for exiled Scots.

The six word question

“Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Numerous polls have shown roughly 50% of eligible voters disposed to vote NO, 40% YES,, and around 10% DON’T KNOW. The shifts in voting intention have shown enough of a drift to the YES vote to keep those involved anxious and willing to keep on campaigning.

The dilemma of intervention and MRDA

There seems to be a dilemma for interventions from what is seen as beyond-the-border vested interests. These have tended to be from those offering reasons why the Scots should vote No. These have been most most effectively rebuffed years ago by the famous Mandy Rice-Davis retort .  When challenged in court that Lord Astor denied sleeping with her: ‘he would say that wouldn’t he’. I understand it is now found in tweets as MRDA , standing for Mandy Rice-Davis Applies.

Even if MRDA …

Mandy’s line is strong on dramatic force, but those with vested interests may still be making valid points.

Even if MRDA here, Is it significant that the final Yes No question was reduced to six words of blatant over-simplification? “Should Scotland be an independent country?”appears to be asking for some moral or universal rights assertion. It leaves open for debate whether the voters will benefit more from one outcome rather than the other. Not to mention that the outcome reaches into the haziest of futures. Further confusion is added by the dodgy nature of the statistical missiles deployed in the skirmishes.

Worse, as stated the question reveals the difficulties in laying out the decision by with a say in its phrasing. From the outside, I have not been convinced by the justifications offered for voting Yes or No. In that respect I would be among the 10% Don’t Knows.


Why Boris is remembered for introducing congestion charges and Boris bikes

August 22, 2014

Charismatic leaders attract myths which help constitute their public persona. A case in point is that of Boris Johnsonboris bikes

I was reminded of the myth-making process phenomenon after a meeting yesterday [August 22nd] with two LWD contributors. We were discussing the final draft for a post about Boris Johnson being planned for the near future.

They seek him here, they seek him there

But how to pin down the Boris effect? One instructive episode at the meeting was when we began listing what Boris was known for. Bendy busses. Public gaffs. Teflon-like survival of public gaffs. Boris Bikes. London’s congestion change.

London’s congestion charge?

Well, no not really, but they were added to the list of Boris’s political achievements. Only later did a little research reveal the historical fact that they were introduced by Ken Livingstone, Boris’s predecessor as Mayor of London.

An explanation?

Charisma operates by inducing a state of suspended disbelief. Boris is believed to do big bold controversial things. The congestion change is a big bold controversial thing. I don’t think Boris has tried to abolish it. We assumed he had invented it.

The Guinness effect

A possibly unrelated effect? Some years ago I attended a meeting at which new ideas were being discussed for the drinks company then known as Guinness. A rather nice idea was suggested by a colleague, someone we will call Susan. The idea was hardly greeted with enthusiasm, but at the end of the meeting two unexpected things happened. The idea was accepted as worth further testing.

“That’s a nice idea you had” one of the Guinness executives told me, to general agreement.

Did I insist Susan got credit for the idea? Not loud enough to make a difference to the myth being built. I could argue that the ‘creative ideas’ meeting was structured so that ideas were deliberately left unclaimed and not associated with any one team member. That is hardly the point. I had accrued the social credit for something I hadn’t done. It happened to fit my (then) social identity as the outsider brought in because of his creative skills.

Susan became known in her own right as a successful creative leader. The idea (which involved a re-branding of a well-known product) was followed through. The incident has remained with us as a reminder of what we think of as The Guinness Effect.

Postscript

Even the Boris Bikes are technically branded as Barclays cycle hire scheme for the moment (but a new sponsor is likely) . And even the Barclays/Boris bikes were proposed by Ken Livingstone and implemented during the reign of king Boris …


Sporting leadership and the new CSR of Corporate Sporting Responsibilities

August 18, 2014

Sepp BlatterSporting participants, coaches and administrators face a set of overlapping challenges which collectively could be described as Corporate Sporting Responsibilities

Take a look at these recent sporting stories.

Drug cheating in sport

Drug cheating continues to plague a range of sports since the monumental fall from grace of Lance Armstrong.

In cycling, of the nine fastest sprinters in history only two , the Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Nesta Carther, have not been found guilty of contravening the sport’s drug regulations.

Corrupt practices

Administrative bodies have been accused of various corrupt practices in the award of major global sporting events.

Qatar’s award by FIFA of the 2022 World Cup has defied rational explanations in failure to take into account the health dangers of extreme temperatures later conceded as requiring serious concerns. Corruption accusations have been backed by commercial sponsors calling for release of results of an internal investigation.

Further accusations have been levelled against FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter. A Government committee in the UK was told that the Football Association would not be ‘wasting its time bidding’ for the World Cup as long as Blatter remains in post.

The Olympic Movement has repeatedly found its idealistic vision at odds with harsh political and financial realities. The recent Winter Olympics at Sochi began with demonstrations against Russia’s recently tightened discriminatory laws. These are said to be contrary to P6, the anti-discrimination proposition in the Olympic Charter.

During the games, accusations of bias were made against a judge whose score elevated a Russian figure-skater to gold medal status.

Corporate sporting responsibilities

Coaching of young athletes has also come under serious criticism.

In researching coaching leadership, I came across an article on a website dedicated to sporting excellence. It suggested widespread coaching abuse of young athletes by bullying coaches obsessed with winning. This chimed which some of my personal observations of amateur coaches including over-zealous touch-line parents.

The article drew my attention to the broader responsibilities of sports coaches and administrators to address the issues and dilemmas outlined in the examples above. The parallels with the emergence of the Corporate Social Responsibilities movement were too tempting to resist.

This sporting life

Any efforts to rescue sport would have to deal with criticisms made by the sociologist Lasch, nearly fifty years ago. Lasch, in The Lonely Crowd, wrote a classic analysis of the development of a culture of narcissism. In a chapter on The degradation of sport he describes how the athlete was increasingly becoming an entertainer, open to being bought and sold in what he describes as in “antagonistic cooperation” to teammates.

Perhaps a movement is required, a new form of CSR, whose principles will be incorporated into sporting charters and declarations. Participants are likely to be leaders in such a movement. Athletes have already stood up in many demonstrations against perceived injustices when administrators have taken a more cautious approach.

More importantly it may, like the original CSR, find expression in the beliefs and actions of a future generation of administrators, coaches, and sports players at all levels of excellence.


Federer versus Murray, and why I might become a behaviorist

August 16, 2014

Andy Murray loses to Roger Federer in the quarter finals of Cincinnati. Your LWD correspondent considers becoming a behavioural psychologist

Just another tennis match, [16th August, 2014] and no big deal. Except Roger Federer has just had praise heaped on him on the event of his thirty-third birthday with the implication he is nearing the end of his illustrious career. He has drifted down to World number six. Andy Murray after surgery has slumped to World number ten, and is slightly under-cooked for the US Open in a week’s time.

At the start of the match, one TV pundit favoured Murray slightly to win it. Another expert favoured Federer slightly. What happened was dramatic and unexpected.

Early exchanges

Early exchanges show Federer to be the more confident player, and he breaks to lead 3-2 and serve. Then he wins another break to take the first set. One of the worse sets Murray has played against Federer.

Second set

Federer’s play dips and Murray breaks at 2-1. Then again to 4-1. Murray strategy to Federer’s backhand side is winning. Federer’s play weaker than in the first set.

Murray drops serve and droops

Murray drops serve with weak play to 4-2. Then drops another serve with even weaker play. If I believed in momentum I would say Federer had gained it.

Murray’s play continues in increasingly predictable weak fashion, and he loses miserably.

‘Between Andy’s ears’

Peter Fleming, one of the better tennis commentators, observed for B Sky B that ‘something was going on between Andy’s ears’ , a euphemism I took to mean that Andy’s mental state was wrong. But on the previous day Andy had shown enormous concentration in defeating big serving Isner. There was no mental fragility on show.

Why I might become a behaviourist

I did not disagree with Fleming’s remark. Except it left me feeling I might give up searching for explanations of human behaviour that involved unobservable processes such as mental fragility. That is the central precept of behavioral psychology,

Fight may still be OK

If I took up with behaviourism, then I could stop worrying about mental events or processes such motivation, commitment, maybe even fright, but fight might just about be OK because like flight it is just about observable.

And, as a behaviorist I would have to abandon worry as an epiphenomenon.

Goodbye to creativity

So it’s goodbye creativity, hello to the world of stimulus and response.

My observations on this brave new world may be reported in a future blog post.

Update

August 22nd:  The Murray conundrum continues in the first round of the US open. Against a veteran opponent Robin Hasse, Murray is tentative from start and gets worse.  The serve is tentative. The play a mix of cautious and over aggressive.  Still struggles on, but wins tie break to go two sets up.

Murray then increasingly physically distressed, cramps mightily, appears to be about to default.  Hasse wins 

set, then also flags. Murray limps home after a wildly swinging fourth set.

I depart from neo-behaviorism and reach speculative view that AM is in same dire form as some English and Indian cricketers I have watched recently.  Cramp is part of a more complex set of actors.  So is first round nerves.


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