So, I was reading the following article:
http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/safox/2009/12/16/che-guevara-hollywoods-mass-murdering-phenom/
And it set me thinking about something I’ve read and pondered a lot: The importance of charisma.

Frankly, I have no idea if any of what this person says about Guevara is true or not. But the point is, if he weren’t so damn charismatic, his picture wouldn’t be all over those t-shirts. Charisma seems to me to be a very big, if not the no. 1, factor that determines a person’s success in many fields.

Here’s the first essay I read on this subject, by a guy who is smarter than I am:
http://www.paulgraham.com/charisma.html

Graham’s essay has influenced my thinking on this issue, and, I think, gives an excellent assessment of charisma, though his conclusion about charisma canceling out doesn’t seem to be working. (See McCain v. Obama, 2008)

First of all, it seems like looks have a lot to do with charisma.  (Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, discussed the importance of superficial factors in determining the winner of Presidential elections. He pointed out that “the tall guy with the best hair usually wins.”) I think that part of it is that youthful vigor lends itself to charisma, part of it is that people are superficial, and tend to trust good-looking people more.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t explain how, for example, Ronald Reagan was able to defeat Carter and Mondale, as whatever created his charisma, it surely wasn’t youthfulness.

It might be good, at this point, to see what a totally unreliable internet source thinks are charismatic people:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_charismatic_leaders_as_defined_by_Max_Weber’s_classification_of_authority

This list does seem to match up fairly well with people who I would consider charismatic and who demonstrated great ability to mobilize people to do their bidding.

(As an aside, I note that there are way fewer women on the list than men. One possibility is that women simply weren’t allowed in positions of power until relatively recently, and so many charismatic women were passed over.)

It’s important to note, if we take this list to be true, that charisma appears to be completely independent of ideology or even morality. This is all the more important because some have argued that charisma is not something which can be learned; rather, it is innate. There is some supporting anecdotal evidence for this claim in such cases as Charles Manson’s cult, wherein an obviously insane individual was nonetheless able to use charisma to control his followers.

The best case I can think of for charisma being learned is probably Ronald Reagan. I suspect that being an actor helps you at that sort of thing. But people like Manson and Guevara seem to argue against this (Manson, particularly, seems unlikely to have learned anything.)

Another argument against it being a skill one can learn is the sad case of Hillary Clinton. She knew she had everything else required to beat Obama except charisma, she had a husband who had charisma, and she had more time to prepare to use it than Obama. And yet, she still couldn’t learn to do it, despite every opportunity.

 So, is charisma learned, or is it innate? And which would be worse?

Everyone in the world is currently whipped into a frenzy over either the undeniable truth of climate change or the obvious fallaciousness of it. 

Most major news outlets behave as if it is already an accepted fact. Except some are pretty sure it is either not happening, or else if it is happening it is part of a natural cycle of some kind and therefore is no cause for concern.

The people who dispute climate science have a wide variety of objections. They generally find some fault with the data itself, or else offer counter-evidence to the theory of global warming. After this, however, many proceed to draw conclusions like this:

“There are serious flaws in this Climate Science. These flaws are so widespread as to indicate that the entire thing is in fact a conspiracy to redistribute wealth and gain greater control over people. Global Warming/Climate Change is a kind of Reichstag Fire for anti-capitalist, totalitarian regimes.”

Of course, the counter-argument is that all of these ideas are being secretly funded by oil companies who are trying to prevent the loss of revenue. If that’s true, the best thing to do would be to encourage the Climate Change questioners to spend more and more effort on campaigning against oil company regulation, so that they will eventually run out of money and then this will all be a moot point.

Really, though, my point is that there’s no way for a layman to be sure about it. Yes, we’re told that an overwhelming consensus that there is man-made global warming exists, but the other side responds that any source which says this is biased in favor of the Socialist conspiracy. The response to this is that the skeptics are taking money from “Big Oil”.

So, how can I be sure? More importantly, how can any non-climatologist on either side be sure? 

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2009/12/barack-obama-nobel-peace-prize-speech-text.html

Read all of that before you read this analysis. It’s a very good speech.

Most people, Republican or Democrat, seem to have liked the speech. Of course, the Democrats like anything Obama says, so that is not relevant. But when Republicans praise him, it means we must take notice.

Of course, most Republican praise has been explained by saying that it’s exactly the kind of thing President Bush would’ve said, so it is a vindication of his policies. This is true to some extent–though Bush could never have matched Obama in terms of the quality of the presentation–but it is also true that what Obama and Bush did was the same as what any wartime President has done: say that War is necessary to achieve Peace. He says: “I know there is nothing weak –nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King. But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.” (Italics mine)

Am I wrong, or did Obama just (a): subtly show everybody that pacifism is impractical and (b): do it front of the people who prize pacifism? 

While I would wholeheartedly agree, that is surely a helluva time and place to put down pacifism. 

An interesting blog post from one of my favorite bloggers:

http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2009/03/jay-leno-dislikes-free-market.html

While I understand Professor Mankiw’s argument about the market, I think what Leno is really saying is: These tickets are supposed to go to the people who would pay $800 to see his show, but simply do not have $800. While there are probably Leno fans who can and would pay $800 (or more)  to see him, and there are certainly people who would rather have $800 than see him, Leno is targeting the select group who would pay $800 but can’t. 

Therefore, this isn’t so much about creating an altruistic image for Leno as it is about rewarding his most loyal poor fans.

This isn’t particularly altruistic either. It is somewhat similar to a drug dealer giving a free injection/cigarette/whatever to someone who is broke, presumably in hopes of getting them hooked so they’ll come back when they get money. Leno knows that the people who would pay $800 to watch him will still be there for the soaking at future events. As he himself puts it: “You’re out of your mind to pay $800 to see me.”

The best and most obvious idea is to tax the bonuses to get the money back, as Congress is already working to do. Of course, this should, in theory, only help soothe the rage against AIG if it means larger tax rebates for the people paying for the bailout of AIG.

While I agree wholeheartedly with the anger at AIG, I can’t help but wonder what the hell anybody expected from these bailouts. This is one argument in favor of Nationalization. Obviously, if Congress and the Executive make them comply with the taxpayers’ wishes, they are nationalized in in spirit if not in letter.
This is, I think, the best illustration of “Moral hazard” to come out of this crisis and response so far. The best explanation for this behavior on AIG’s part is that they think they’re going to get infinite, as needed bailouts.

This is a phrase that is tossed about by Democrats in forums, and often can lead to many irresolvable arguments between Democrats and Republicans.

Now, if you are a Democrat, you probably agree wholeheartedly with this post’s title. And if you are a Republican, you probably are thinking: “Oh, yeah? Well, then why did Democrats oppose overthrowing Saddam, whereas Republicans supported it? Where’s the empathy for all those poor people he oppressed?” Or: “What about having empathy for the working-class and wealthy people the Democrats want to make pay for social programs?” Or: “What about empathy for all those aborted babies?” Then you dismiss this blog altogether.

The trouble is that these responses come from a flawed understanding of empathy. Empathy does not imply compassion, or mercy, or charity. It is merely the ability to think like someone else, to put oneself in someone else’s position, to assume their values and beliefs. One need not maintain them forever. I can imagine, for example, what it was like for Saddam to be executed. I imagine that being executed was unpleasant. Yet merely comprehending this fact does not mean I object to Saddam being executed.

However, both of the typical responses I outlined above stem from the erroneous belief that empathy implies kindness and compassion. Empathy may frequently result in such things, but it need not always.

And so the Republicans problem arises: They see things simply in terms of: “Are the good guys in this scenario being hurt or helped?” Democrats, though, think like this: “What is it like to be Group A in this case? What is it like to be in Group B? Who’s hurt more? Who needs help more?”

Again, at this point I’m sure Republican readers are sceptical. If Democrats are really applying this reasoning, why do they seem to side with, say, pro-abortion activists who not only support what Republicans consider murder, but attack anti-abortion activists with, at times, vitriolic rhetoric? But again, they feel empathy, they simply don’t agree with their beliefs.

In short, to be absolutely clear, I am not saying the Democrats or their views are necessarily superior to the Republicans and their views. Nor am I saying that Republicans don’t want to help other people. (They just may not be as good at figuring out what is likely to help other people.)I am saying however, that the Democrats enjoy a tremendous strategic advantage because of this ability. I don’t think the Republicans are aware of it yet.

I am sure other people have noticed, and probably written about, this issue as well, though perhaps in different terms, as a Google search on the phrase “Republicans lack empathy” turns up little beyond the taunts-given and received without understanding their meaning-that I alluded to at the beginning of this post.