One way to pass an afternoon

In last Saturday’s FT, Christopher Caldwell, a Senior editor at the Weekly Standard, asks what cultural impact will Donald Trump have on America? The Trump Aesthetic is a good article (paywalled), even if somewhat depressing. But why should we be surprised?

I was struck by one sentence,

New presidencies have a ferocious cultural knock-on effect. They change how Washington talks, how provincial America sees itself, and what image the word “America” conjures up abroad.

It’s that last bit I have been thinking about. What image will we see?

Trump may hope it will be the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which Caldwell describes in the opening paragraph of his article.

I have a rather more dystopian image in mind – the Bates Motel.

And one correction.

In the article, Caldwell refers to Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes, in which, he says, she “deplored Trump’s alleged mockery of a New York Times reported with a withered hand, an accusation Trump denies.” And he points out that the problem with Streep’s comment, “Disrespect invites disrespect’, is that “this is precisely the criticism Trump’s supporters have always levelled at the elites for whom Streep speaks.”

I think Caldwell misses the point. The reporter, Serge Kovaleski, has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that affects joint movement. Streep talked about Trump (not named in the speech) imitating the reporter (others used the word ‘mocked’) and what Streep was getting at was that by doing what he did, Trump legitimised bullying.

Watch ABC News’ report and draw your own conclusions.

Trumped

Am I enjoying the furore over the Trump dossier? Yes and no. It is extremely depressing seeing Trump live up (or is it down?) to his reputation, and yet at the same time such schadenfreude rarely happens.

But what I am impressed by is the skill of the Russians.

My take – and it is simply that – is that at very little cost they have managed to drive a considerable wedge between a US President and his intelligence agencies, even before he has been inaugurated.

Knowing Trump’s character and how he would react, all that was needed was to provide information through sources trusted by those intelligence agencies, and allow us to do the rest. In time we will learn that most of the dossier is false, but in among its lurid (and as yet unspecified) details there is likely to be sufficient truth to make everyone wonder what is and what isn’t true (and there is also a delicious irony in Trump being skewered by facts that aren’t but which might be). And those truths will have been enough to ensure that Western intelligence agencies couldn’t ignore the dossier.

The UK’s former Moscow ambassador, Sir Andrew Wood,  told the Guardian today that “the report’s key allegation – that Trump and Russia’s leadership were communicating via secret back channels during the presidential campaign – was eminently plausible.” But does that really matter?

For what the dossier has done is to destabilise the relationship between a US administration and its spooks. That is what should worry us.

 

Doctor knows best

Therapy wars: the revenge of Freud is a fascinating Long Read in today’s Guardian. It is a very readable analysis by Oliver Burkeman of the arguments, claims and counter-claims advanced on the one hand by psychologists and on the other by therapists, of the benefits and efficacy (or otherwise) of psychoanalysis and various alternative approaches to therapy, in particular cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

I was particularly struck by this,

David Pollens, in his Upper East Side consulting room, said he had some sympathy for the “dodo-bird verdict”[the idea, supported by some studies, that the specific kind of therapy makes little difference], despite his passion for psychoanalysis. “There was a wonderful British analyst, Michael Balint, who was very involved in medical training, and he had a question he liked to pose [to doctors],” Pollens said. It was: “‘What do you think is the most powerful medication you prescribe?’ And people would try to answer that, and then eventually he’d say: ‘the relationship’.”

My father was a GP in a small market town in the second half of the last century. He would have entirely agreed with Michael Balint. He always maintained that many of the people he saw in his surgery wanted nothing more than the opportunity to sit down with their doctor and tell him or her what was troubling them. For him the relationship he had with his patients was all.

Lessons still being learned

I wrote this to my son 12 months or so ago, at a time when he had just missed getting on a Grad Scheme he really wanted (and before he had been accepted on another). He reminded me of it last week. It was taken from a post I had drafted a little earlier but for some reason had never published.

12 months on  from that letter I am about to change jobs again. I have the same feelings of excitement and apprehension; and in my past two years as the Director of Marketing at a Top 100 law firm, I have had very much the same run of successes and disappointments – and so the learning goes on . . .

Looking back over some 36 years of corporate law, I am struck less by the successes – of which there were a number – as by the disappointments. To some extent it is the latter that have defined my working life as a lawyer. And yet they have also allowed me to develop, to adjust, to grow: and so, in a strange way, they have been responsible for the successes. They have shaped how I have seen things, and have informed the risks I have taken.
 
Disappointment, both professional and private, and how we deal with it, makes us the people we are. This is not about having a glass half full or a glass half empty. My glass has always been more than half full. Rather it is about how we learn. Life would certainly be more straightforward without disappointment – and there might be considerably less pain.
 
But it would not, in the long run, be half as much fun.

Some things don’t change

Reading Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, I was struck by a quotation from a letter PLF wrote to Lawrence Durrell during the crisis over Cyprus,

I do wish the whole [Cyprus] thing was settled. It makes both the English and the Greeks conduct themselves like complete lunatics and grotesque caricatures of themselves.

Some might say very much the same thing about the English and the Argentinians over the Falkland Islands.

It’s never as simple as it seems

In her recent  Editor’s Picks A grim picture for aspiring lawyers Catrin Griffiths, Editor of The Lawyer writes,

With newly-qualified retention rates at the major law firms patchy at best, training as a solicitor isn’t the safe option it was. Taken with the news that the major BPTC providers have hiked their fees again, is the best qualification for a legal career to have wealthy parents?

To which you might add, given the changes that the legal profession is likely to see in the next ten years, why would anyone thinking about training as a solicitor see it as a safe option anyway?

Today’s issues may be the apparent manipulation by City firms of their NQ retention rates (although as the comments suggest, this is not particularly new) and the problems facing LPC and GDL providers (Oxford Brookes being only the latest – Southampton Solent University, the universities of Sunderland, East London and Wolverhampton and Sheffield Hallam University all stopped teaching the GDL in 2011). But if you are about to invest a great deal of time (yours), effort (yours) and money (yours or your parents) in training for a career in the law, shouldn’t we (universities, law firms, the Law Society, the Regulator) all be a bit more honest not just about what that career may involve but what it may not. It is all too easy to duck this; and simply to say, “We don’t know”. You may not buy in to the full Richard Susskind vision of the future for law firms (although I happen to think that he is likely to be more right than not) but what we do know for sure is that the future will not be more of the same (even if many law firms seem to think it may be).

 

 

Grumpy old man

One of the joys of children is watching them grow up (even if they rarely avoid the mistakes we made). Sometimes they cut a little close to the bone. Last night was a case in point, as #5 (the only boy) offered the following observation,

You feel young until you realise that actually you’re old – a perpetual state of adolescence followed by a midlife crisis.

He added, although he omitted it from Twitter (probably ran up against the 140 character limit), “and then you’re fucked”. Charming, not least as I am a little more than a week short of my 60th birthday, and survived my mid-life crisis 20 years ago.

But it got me thinking, again, of generational change, of the excitement that it brings, and the opportunities it offers. And of a comment by Luke Johnson in his FT column some 5 years ago,

Owners and executives have a duty to ignore [behaviours where talent holds companies to ransom] and invest in young up-and-comers rather than greedy, established players.

Sadly not always the way in professional service firms.