Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova

The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova is so today. The key to the con game is “We’ve done most of the work for them; we want to believe in what they are telling us.” Politicians are the supreme con artists. Right now, Donald J Trump is the ultimate con artist. The name “con man” comes from the “confidence man.” If you had confidence in someone you gave him your trust, money, or a possession expecting a return, which rarely happened. Ponzi schemes are classic con games. It is more than three card monte. An important element of the con game is that you never knew you were conned, which meant it could happen again and again and again. Konnikova establishes the criteria for identifying a con man and his traits in her thesis and then sets out to prove it. According to her the con man is a psychopath, a narcissist, and Machiavellian. The psychopath has no empathy for his victims, no guilt, no remorse; thus the con is easy. The must be the center of activity and dominate the stage. Finally the Machiavellian must be the ultimate boss, the authoritarian. Konnikova uses these three traits, the dark triad, to define the con man and then sets out to prove it. I immediately saw Trump in this set of criteria, especially in his career in NYC as a real estate tycoon. He says whatever he wants without concern for other people’s feelings and never apologizes. He lies or simply says whatever he needs to to support his positions. “No publicity is bad publicity” was always his motto. He scorns losers and steam rolls over all competition in illegal, immoral, and heavy-handed ways, as he is the cruel authoritarian. Now he is in the White House.
The first step to a con, as we all know, is doing your homework. Before that interview, study up on the company so you can talk about it with intelligence. Once “you get your foot in the door” chat up your colleagues and superiors about their family, especially their kids. Remember names. These are the basic tools we all use in our professional and personal lives. After all most communications with others is based on what they can do for us at some point in our lives. We’ve all been told this in career counseling or from others when they willingly give us advice on advancement. We use information to ‘manipulate’ others we get from their family members, friends, colleagues and social media; if not from them directly.  We ingratiate ourselves with others by sharing common ideas, experiences, and stories for our advantage in a future collaboration or endeavor. “Never burn bridges” is further advice we are given for the sole purpose of any future need on their part for our advancement. Our false compliments, phony glad-handing, and social lies begin our conning someone else. It doesn’t matter our intelligence or our financial level, we are all conned and we all con; it is just a matter of degree and outcome.
“We believe because we want to.” After “getting the foot in the door” it becomes about the good story. Facts can be checked or fudged, but a story; a good story is always the hook. Religions are built on stories, not philosophies. The more emotional a story is the better the con. Con artists prey on those who have lost a job, a lover, and a family member. If blame can be assigned to that loss all the better. Trump found this easy as he preyed on the disillusioned voter who was looking for a scapegoat, a reason for his misery and loss. The mark will believe any lie and not verify anything as long as it soothes their immediate pain, not realizing greater pain is in the future. Lies, of course, are the foundation for many a con.
As I read this book, I came to realize everything we do is a con. It is a matter of degree when we consider them to be hurtful or not. It is all about what’s in it for me, how am I going to get what I want, or how am I going to gain something?
The stories of the great cons are amazing and one can’t but appreciate the genius of many of them and yet be disgusted at them in the same moment. The gullibility of the conned also doesn’t escape us as we think “that couldn’t happen to me” and yet it probably has and you don’t know it. In England, the police discovered a list of 1600 people who were conned that was being passed around different con men. When the police made these 1600 people aware of the cons, most of the 1600 weren’t even aware they had been conned.
In trying to get a handle on our political events of late, I’ve come on what may satiate me to the cause: “What seems like sheer stupidity at best, and more likely willful ignorance, is actually quite understandable in the moment. The power of the tale isn’t the strength of its logic; it’s that at the point it’s told, we’re past being reasonable. The superiority bias doesn’t just make us more vulnerable to tales that seem rather tall to an objective eye. It colors how we then evaluate evidence and make decisions.”  The key point is “willful ignorance.” This is why we get conned. Rather than fact check, rather than verify, rather than investigate the American voter simply accepted what they wanted to hear: “willful ignorance.”
We may think of con artists as shady characters lurking in back alleys, when in fact they are center stage (the narcissist). Hucksters are all around us from car salesmen to the evangelist to the teacher. They come in all degrees and professions. As I read this book I became more conscious of how much teachers, my profession are con artists. How do we make those kids do our bidding? “Con artists, at their best and worst, give us meaning. We fall for them because it would make our lives better if the reality they proposed were indeed true. They give us a sense of purpose, of value, of direction.” So many of the researchers cited by Konnikova are the same researchers I read and studied during my teaching career, the same researchers that are used in educational arguments and theories.
A curious fact is that Trump’s name doesn’t appear once in this book.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Bronx Requiem by John Clarkson

Bronx Requiem by John Clarkson is a hard hitting violent story of ex-cons teaming with their parole officer to clean up a crime infested neighborhood in the Bronx and beyond. James Beck, is an exonerated cop killer, who gathers together other reformed cons to work behind the scenes to discover the killer of another recently released ex-con, Packy Johnson, who had saved Beck’s life in prison. Packy isn’t out seventeen hours after a seventeen year term when he is killed. Packy had learned his daughter was whoring and wanted to stop it. This is where Beck starts his crusade to solve this murder marching through a tangle of corrupt prison guards and a rising star young cop in the Bronx who figures he is righteous, when in fact he ain’t. The irony in this action packed novel is that the cons are doing it legally while the law enforcement officers are not and they get their comeuppance in very appropriate, creative, and fantastical ways. Beck is a genius in setting the record straight, bringing justice to the right people, and providing perfect endings to otherwise potentially sad outcomes. He does get one thing wrong about Packy’s murder in the ultimate twist to this thoroughly enjoyable novel. The ultimate lesson to this Bronx tale comes through Packy’s daughter.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Woods by Harlan Coben

The Woods by Harlan Coben is the first book of his I’ve read. The first impression is that the past always comes back to bite you and the second is that money is the devil’s tool. All it takes is one sick puppy to hatch a plan of murder to appease his sick mind and he can quickly infest others, especially if he has more money than anyone else and he is a bully. His name is Wayne Steubens in this fiction. “Exactly. One of Sherlock’s axioms goes something like this: ‘It is a big mistake to theorize before one has data – because one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.’”
Paul Copeland, the son of Russian immigrants, is the Essex, NJ county prosecutor. He is prosecuting a rape case. The victim is a young black unwed mother of a fifteen month old.  She is an exotic dancer, a stripper and whore. When she is invited to a frat party a week after she did a show and had some sex with some of the boys. This time she is raped. She doesn’t deserve that. But the rich white boys in the frat don’t get it.
The real story is about what happened at a summer camp when Paul was young, when he lost his virginity and four of his friends. One of the campers was arrested and in jail for life. The owner of the camp and his daughter were destroyed. But then one of the murdered kids shows up dead, twenty years later in Washington Heights. That’s when the roller coaster ride begins for Paul, as he has to go deep into the woods to discover the truth and almost die in the process.
It is a story of what we will do for our children. It is about power misused and about bullies, bullies who prey on the weak until someone comes along and punches the bully in the nose. “No, we were bullies. We were not gods – we were the dirty henchmen of the gods. They had the power. We were scared, so we made everyone a little scared. That made us feel like big men – terrorizing the weak.”

Monday, January 9, 2017

Poison, A Wicked Snow White Tale by Sarah Pinborough

Poison, A Wicked Snow White Tale by Sarah Pinborough is another wickedly good tale from a mistress of wicked tales, which includes her other offerings, Beauty and Charm. Pinborough takes liberties with the classic fairy tale, as does the huntsman, who kills a white stag, with the wicked queen and Snow White, before he is turned into a mouse. He becomes a field mouse because he tries to fool the wicked queen with the heart of a deer instead of the heart of Snow White, for which he was hired to acquire. The wicked queen’s grandmother, an old crone, sees the deception, and helps the wicked queen by turning the huntsman into a field mouse. Once her work is done, the grandmother returns home to greet a young boy and girl following her breadcrumbs to her hovel.
The dwarves aren’t your father’s dwarves: Dreamy, Grouchy, Bolshy, Feisty, Stumpy, Breezy, and Belcher. Snow White isn’t the shy diminutive princess we thought we knew. She dresses like a man rather than like a princess, rides a horse like a man, and dominates in the bed. The question to be asked, is the prince the real prince since he doesn’t wake her with a kiss? He just happens to be at the right place at the right time and does nothing princely to prove he is the right man. In fact he does everything to show he is the wrong prince. The prince, finds his experienced new bride too much to handle, too hot to handle.  He finds a way to dominate her and keep his male pride. There are so many unanswered questions and this story does not end as most fairy tales do when everyone lives happily ever after. Be warned as you enter the beautifully twisted and wicked world of Pinborough as she rewrites and projects another view on love.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick

The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick requires some knowledge of the Bayeux Tapestry. It chronicles events of 1066 when William the Conqueror invaded England and something about Halley’s Comet. Two women, Severine and Róisín, dominate the action of this heady novel. Ghosts haunt the former while the latter is searching the past by studying comets to better understand the present. The trajectory of comets is an interesting metaphor of human life, while ghosts are fascinating specters that also influence humans. In both women’s lives the past is crucial. Both understand that death precedes life. “But under all that, there is a part of her that knows we are too small to matter. Nothing happened, that’s the thing. The universe carried on, the comets kept coming – it made no difference. A life and a death made no difference. Perhaps that’s why she is frozen.”
Severine is frozen in her home of Bayeux, because that is where the ghosts are, her family ghosts. Her son, Françoise, has tried to get her out, but she refuses to leave. Róisín is frozen in her studies as she chases comets all the way to Antarctica. She is exploring the past to understand life now and perhaps project into the future. Severine will become a ghost and follow that unfulfilled life just as Róisín will be like a comet, a frozen mass of rock and ice on an unknown course, and get caught in the gravity of a planet or the sun and burn out or follow a predictable path. In either case “the universe will carry on.”
The trick is to face our ghosts, confront them, engage with them, and then to move on, like the comets that follow a path rather than break up and collide with plants and stars. We all have our ghosts; it is how we deal with them. “There will be tests, they tell her. Physical, psychological, survival. There is something appealing in that. She would like to be told that she can survive.”