Hypnotist hypnotises himself

Win Bigly - Book Cover

Book review

Win Bigly:
Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter

by Scott Adams

(My rating: click here.)

The basic premise of Scott Adams latest book, written during and finished after the 2016 election that saw Donald J Trump elected President of the United States, is easy to test. He gives us his argument in the introduction:

“Trump is what I call a Master Persuader. That means he has weapons-grade persuasion skills. Based on my background in that field, I recognized his talents early. And after watching him in action during the election, I have to say that Trump is the most persuasive human I have ever observed.”

(the author’s capitals and bolding)

Adams – best known for his Dilbert cartoon strip – predicted that Trump would “cruise to victory in the biggest, hugest landslide the American electorate has ever handed any candidate.”

Did he? Let’s look at the evidence.


Master Persuader Test #1

In 1920, Warren Harding won the popular vote by a little over 26% — which is to say his nearest rival, James Cox, got 26% fewer votes. Calvin Coolidge came close to that in 1924 with a little over 25% of the popular vote. Even Richard Nixon won 23% of the popular vote in 1972. So surely Trump, the master persuader — sorry, Master Persuader — easily trumped them?

Er … no.

In actual fact, in the league table of 49 presidential elections ordered by the percentage of popular vote, Trump is 3rd from bottom with a negative majority of -2.10%.

Of the 60.2% of Americans who voted in 2016, only 46% voted for Trump — which means only around a quarter of illegible voters were persuaded by the Master Persuader.

By way of comparison, Barack Obama had positive majorities in his two elections: +3.86% in 2012, and +7.27% in 2008, and even at his lowest ebb, George W Bush (2000) had a negative rating of just 0.51%.

Of course, the popular vote doesn’t determine the outcome of a US presidential election. That’s done through their Electoral College, and there Trump did win the nomination, getting 56.5% of the delegates’ votes. But even that wasn’t a “bigly” win, placing him 39th out of 49 presidential elections and nowhere near the +90%s of the likes of Roosevelt, Reagan, Lincoln and Nixon.


Master Persuader Test #2

Perhaps, given a year in power and all the kudos granted to a sitting US president, Trump would use his “weapons-grade persuasion skills” to bring the public round …

Apparently not. According to the latest Gallup polls, Donald Trump’s presidential job approval rating is at 37%. By way of comparison with other elected presidents in the second January of their term, the next lowest was Ronald Reagan (in Jan 1982) at 48%, and Barack Obama (in Jan 2010) at 49%, while the highest was George W Bush (Jan 2002) with an approval rating of 84%.

So by purely empirical tests, Donald Trump is not a master persuader!

Still, Adams argues that failing such tests proves nothing.

“Facts don’t matter. What matters is how you feel. And when you watch Trump and Pence fight and scratch to keep jobs in this country, it changes how you will feel about them for their entire term.”

Except it seems that 63% of Americans have yet to feel the love.


The trained hypnotist

Adams’ previous book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life (2013), was an entertaining introduction to both Adams himself and his theories about persuasion, goal setting and why we do the things we do. Win Bigly is the opposite. A hodgepodge of self-congratulation and past blogs that appears to have been thrown together to satisfy a publishing contract.

Again and again, Adams tells us he’s a trained hypnotist – though when it finally comes to the details, this “training” seems less than impressive:

“I signed up for an evening class at the Clement School of Hypnosis. (It no longer exists.) And by “school” I mean there were about ten students learning from one professional hypnotist. If I recall, we met twice a week for about ten weeks, or something along those lines.”

Again and again, Adams reminds us about “confirmation bias” – the tendency to pick out facts that match our point of view – while seeming blind to his own. Although he claims to have no political persuasion, favour no particular party, not even to vote, yet Win Bigly comes off as a paean to a glorious leader the like of which you might expect from an acolyte of Kim Jong-un. Adams even attempts to put a positive spin on the notorious Access Hollywood “Pussygate” tape:

“Part of what protected Trump from that scandal is that some form of bad-boy sexual behaviour was already baked into what we assumed about him. He never presented himself as an angel.”

Would Adams make the same argument for Harvey Weinstein, et al?


Lose Bigly

The picture Adams presents of Trump is wildly at odds with that presented by Michael Wolff in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump Whitehouse. Adams image is of a master persuader restlessly pacing about in his Lair of Persuasion, working tirelessly on ingenious schemes to Make America Great Again. Wolff portrays Trump as an arrogant, egotistical, nepotistic, childish, and downright nasty character who never expected to win the election in the first place. (He just did it for the publicity.) So does that mean Trump really lost bigly?

Win Bigly opens with an unusual disclaimer from its publisher. Right after the copyright notice, you’ll find this:

Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences, and the words are the author’s alone.

Wolff’s controversial book offers no such a distancing disclaimer.

It seems Adams has lost bigly too:

“… my writing about Trump had cost me half of my friends. My lucrative speaking career had dropped to zero, and I didn’t expect any new Dilbert licensing deals. I had become toxic for any kind of mixed crowd. But I was okay with my situation because I expected to be right in my prediction that Trump would win it all. Winning fixes most problems.”

In a September 2016 interview, Adams told The Daily Beast, “The moment you join a group [or party], you start to identify your identity with the group’s identity, and then you merge, and the group’s opinion starts to become your own—and then you lose all credibility.”

Prophetic words. A pity he didn’t listen to himself.

In short

MY RATING:   1 star (out of 5)

If you’re a fan of the Dilbert comic strip, you’ll like the “Trumpbert” cartoon on the cover, but that’s about as good as Win Bigly gets. If you’re looking for a engaging, informative and Trump-free book on persuasion, I suggest Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion instead.

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Still time to enter the Mogford Short Story Prize

Mogford Prize graphicThere’s still a few weeks left to enter the Sixth Annual Mogford Food & Drink Short Story Prize. The prize is worth £10,000, the contest is open to anyone of any nationality (over the age of 18), stories must be no more than 2,500 words long, and the closing date is 3 January 2018 (at 12 noon, GMT). There’s one other small consideration:

“Food and drink must be at the heart of the winning tale. Your short story could, for instance, be about crime or intrigue; about a chance meeting over a drink; a life-changing conversation over dinner; or perhaps the details of a relationship explored through food or drink.”

Full terms and conditions are here.

This year’s judges include author Bill Bryson, and English television cook, Lorraine Pascale.

You’ll find the last five winners here. I’ve only read last year’s so far: “Bait” by Nicky Winder. It’s a doozy!

Entries can be made online, and each entry costs £10.

Good luck!


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Bad Sex Day Tomorrow

The winner of the Literary Review’s annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award will be announced tomorrow (30 November).

The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction. The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature.

Previous winners include Melvyn Bragg, Tom Wolfe, Rachel Johnson, John Updike (who received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008), David Guterson, Ben Okri and former Smiths frontman Morrissey.

Here’s this year’s shortlist:

  • The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet
  • The Destroyers by Christopher Bollen
  • Mother of Darkness by Venetia Welby
  • As a God Might Be by Neil Griffiths
  • The Future Won’t Be Long by Jarett Kobek
  • War Cry by Wilbur Smith (with David Churchill)
  • Here Comes Trouble by Simon Wroe

The Guardian has a full list of nominated passages, but I reckon this is a winner (from The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet):

He puts his hands on Bianca’s shoulders and slips off her low-cut top. Suddenly inspired, he whispers into her ear, as if to himself: ‘I desire the landscape that is enveloped in this woman, a landscape I do not know but that I can feel, and until I have unfolded that landscape, I will not be happy …’


Bianca shivers with pleasure. Simon whispers to her with an authority that he has never felt before: ‘Let’s construct an assemblage.’


Apparently, many people nominated Donald Trump for his “locker room remarks” revealed last year, but unfortunately the nominations were discounted because the award only covers fiction.

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Send your money to the toilet!

Malaysian Travel Scratchie Scams

I knew I’d won at least $100,000 even before I’d scratched the cards. I was so confident, I took before and after shots to prove it …

See? Second prize: US$190,000 … Woot!

But I won’t bother to claim the prize. Because there isn’t one. The real winnings go to whoever sends these things out. If you claim, you’ll end up paying them.

The envelope these arrived in had no return address, but it came with an impressive array of stamps from Malaysia (five in all) …

… and a nicely printed glossy pamphlet …

… in only slightly dodgy English …

We would like to thank all our clients and which has led to our company’s dynamic growth …

… but I’ve never been a client, and I’ve never heard of Secret of Life Tourism before. (Also, their slogan sounds a little ominous: “Wherever you go, no one will ever know.” Who’s running the place, Tony Soprano?)

So we have three clues right there: unsolicited snail mail, no return address, and all those stamps. (Seriously, how many companies use stamps these days, let alone five on each envelope? Imagine sending out a hundreds or even a thousands of these things. My tongue feels dusty at the thought of it.)

But what catches most punter’s eyes are those scratchcards and the promise of mega-dollar prizes …

(Note, there’s a little bit of cunningness here, too. You don’t win first prize – who would be that lucky? – but second’s pretty good.)

So where’s the scam?

It’s right there, written on the back of the ticket …

Prize winners may be obliged to submit taxes or any other mandatory charges as a result of the award.

When you claim your prize, you’ll be asked to pay Malaysian taxes of $7,000. If you hesitate, the company will graciously offer to pay half, leaving you to find a mere $3,500 to claim $190,000.

At this point, they could just send you the balance of $186,500, but of course there are all sorts of legal and bureaucratic reasons why you have to front up with your cash first. And once you’ve done so … you’ll never hear from them again. What a bargain!

Send your money to the toilet!

The back of both brochure and tickets contains an address:

427 Jalan Tun Razak,
50400 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

So I checked it out on Google Maps then took a peek in StreetView. This is what I found …

(Well, at least we now know how they moisten all those stamps …)

The nuts and bolts

This postal scam has been reported as far afield as Ireland, Canada, the US, Australia, and the UK. Our local Department of Internal Affairs Postal Scams website lists more than 160 variations of the brochure — along with useful PDFs so you can compare yours. But they all amount to the same thing: they’re just bum-fodder – although I’d be wary of that shiny paper and the sharp edges on the scratchies.


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Annie Proulx’s National Book Award speech

Photograph of Annie Proulx
Annie Proulx: “I didn’t start writing until I was 58, so if you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, well …”

Annie Proulx (pronounced “proo”) was born in 1935, but her first novel wasn’t published until 1992.

That novel, Postcards, won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and her second, and best-known, novel
The Shipping News won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a U.S. National Book Award.

In November this year (2017), she won the US National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Her full acceptance speech is here, but below are a couple of excerpts:

We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. This is a Kafkaesque time. The television sparkles with images of despicable political louts and sexual harassment reports. We cannot look away from the pictures of furious elements, hurricanes and fires, from the repetitive crowd murders by gunmen burning with rage. We are made more anxious by flickering threats of nuclear war. We observe social media’s manipulation of a credulous population, a population dividing into bitter tribal cultures. We are living through a massive shift from representative democracy to something called viral direct democracy, now cascading over us in a garbage-laden tsunami of raw data. Everything is situational, seesawing between gut-response “likes” or vicious confrontations.

To me the most distressing circumstance of the new order is the accelerating destruction of the natural world and the dreadful belief that only the human species has the inalienable right to life and God-given permission to take anything it wants from nature, whether mountaintops, wetlands or oil. The ferocious business of stripping the earth of its flora and fauna, of drowning the land in pesticides again may have brought us to a place where no technology can save us … Yet somehow the old discredited values and longings persist. We still have tender feelings for such outmoded notions as truth, respect for others, personal honor, justice, equitable sharing. We still hope for a happy ending.

ence the indispensable silver lining, the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, good names restored, greed daunted, old maids married off to worthy parsons, troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, seducers scurried to the altar, orphans sheltered, widows comforted, pride humbled, wounds healed, prodigal sons summoned home, cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean, hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, general merriment and celebration, and the dog Fido, gone astray in the first chapter, turns up barking gladly in the last.

Thank you.

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Famous Razors

No, not one of these!

Razors aren’t just for shaving. In philosophy, a razor is a rule of thumb that allows for the elimination (the “shaving off”) of unlikely explanations.

The most famous is Occam’s razor (sometimes written as Ockham’s razor), named after William of Ockham, (1288-1348), an English friar, philosopher and theologian who reckoned “Entia non sunt multiplicanda sine necessitate”, which translates as “Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity” — in short, the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. This is exemplified by the phrase, “If you hear hoofbeats in the night, think horses, not zebras.”

But William of Ockham isn’t the only one with a razor. Here’s a few more you might like to consider, some serious, some not so serious…

Hume’s razor: “If the cause, assigned for any effect, be not sufficient to produce it, we must either reject that cause, or add to it such qualities as will give it a just proportion to the effect.”

Hitchens’s razor: (from the late Christopher Hitchens). “The burden of proof or onus in a debate lies with the claim-maker, and if he or she does not meet it, the opponent does not need to argue against the unfounded claim.” Or as Marcello Truzzi, founding co-chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal once put it, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

Heinlein’s Razor: has since been defined as variations on “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice.”

Newton’s flaming laser sword (or Alder’s razor): “If something cannot be settled by experiment or observation then it is not worthy of debate.”

Sturgeon’s revelation (aka Sturgeon’s law): “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

Finagle’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will — at the worst possible moment.”

Mrs Murphy’s Law: :Anything that can go wrong will go wrong while Murphy is out of town.”

Muphry’s law: (Note the spelling!) “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.”

Parkinson’s law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Peter principle, The: “Managers rise to the level of their incompetence.” (People stop being promoted once they stop performing effectively.)

Segal’s law: “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”

Hofstadter’s Law: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”


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NZ Elections: The Coalition Options

After 21 years of MMP elections, I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t really understand the options available for a coalition government.

So here they are, in less than 300 words …

Formal coalition:

The party giving support gets seats around the Cabinet table.

They are bound by cabinet collective responsibility (call it CCR for short). What that means is that once an issue has been decided, no Cabinet minister can publicly disagree or criticise.

Under a formal coalition, smaller parties might gain the power and influence of a Cabinet position, but they’ll struggle to differentiate themselves from the governing party simply because they can’t speak out about Cabinet decisions .

Confidence and supply:

“Confidence and supply” means the support party will support the minority government in motions of confidence (do they still have public support) and their budgets (supply of funds to keep them going). They may do so by either voting in favour or simply abstaining.

This allows for support parties to have ministerial positions within the executive, but outside of Cabinet, freeing them from cabinet collective responsibility.

Support ministers can’t criticise government policy in their own portfolios, but they’re free to hold independent views on any other issue.


This is simply a promise not to vote against the government on either confidence or supply.

This is the option minority governments fear because the support party can use its leverage to negotiate every piece of legislation the governing party wants to pass.

There. Simple, isn’t it? And all in just 270 words (including these).

So which way do you think the election will go …?

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Another 15 Famous Rejection Slips

Fifteen more famously rejected writers who persevered. Can you identify who, and in some cases, what book, got rejected?

(You’ll find the first 15 here.)

“An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.’” First released in monthly serial form in 1897, and published in 1898, the book still in print today. It’s spawned seven films, a TV series and a particularly famous radio broadcast directed and narrated by Orson Welles.

This author’s enquiry letter was rejected by 14 agents. The fifteenth took a closer look at the book, and it was published in 2005. It debuted at #5 on the New York Times Best Seller list within a month of its release, went on to #1, and foreign rights were sold to over 26 countries. Sales to date: 17 million copies.

An “undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish” story of three young women in the turbulent post-war worlds of Broadway and Hollywood ends up selling 31 million copies.

“Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.” Or perhaps not. Went on to become one of the most popular family movies of all time and sell 15 million copies.

“An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” Sold 15 million copies and is now a classic.

In the author’s own words: “I knew that [book name] couldn’t possibly be successful. It was a first novel, and nobody reads first novels. It was a first novel about a fish, so who cares?” His publishers reject the 100 pages submitted, so the author starts again. The hardcover spends 44 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, sells 20 million copies worldwide, and becomes a blockbuster film directed by Steven Spielberg.

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” The author’s fourth novel, but his first one published. It began life as a short story, but he tossed it out. His wife retrieved it from the garbage and told him to finish it. Sold a million copies in its first year.

“An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.” One of the many rejections of this children’s classic that went on to sell 25 million copies. Much loved by President Theodore Roosevelt who wrote he had “come to accept the characters as old friends.”

“Stick to teaching.” This author didn’t and her little books is still in print 150 years later.

This book was famously rejected by TS Eliot at Faber & Faber because of its “Trotskyite politics”. The book goes on to become a bestseller.

“I rack my brains why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.” Now a classic but still a challenge at 1.5 million words, it’s divided into seven volumes.

“Hopelessly bogged down and unreadable.” Finally published in 1969 , this book is now generally rated as the second best fantasy novel of all time, after The Lord of the Rings.

“Older children will not like it because its language is too difficult.” This 1972 book about bunnies became one of the fastest-selling books in history

After writing for eight years and receiving 200 consecutive rejections, this book becomes a publishing sensation and wins a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation in 1977 and became an eight-part television series.

“An absurd story as romance, melodrama or record of New York high life.” First published in 1925, the book received mixed reviews and sold poorly. It’s author died in 1940, believing himself to be a failure and his work forgotten, but the book has since become a literary classic and is regarded as one of the great American novels.

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15 Famous Rejection Slips

Rejection slips are part of a writer’s landscape. All authors get them at one time or another, and they usually reflect the opinion of one particular reader — often an over-worked junior employee — on one particular day. You should never take them too seriously. Fortunately, all of the following authors persevered. If they hadn’t we may never have heard of them — or their best-selling books.

Can you identify who, and in some cases, what book, got rejected?

This author finally landed a book deal after five years of continual rejections. Total sales of her books now exceed $2 billion. Only William Shakespeare has sold more books, and he had a 400 year head start.

The author’s agent received 12 rejections in a row. The 13th took it, but only after eight-year-old daughter of the company’s chairman asked for the rest after reading the first chapter. When submitting the second book, the author was told to get a proper job as there was no money in writing for children.

After selling only 800 copies on its first release, the author sought a more sympathetic publisher and subsequently sold 75 million copies of this book.

“I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” This controversial book was first published in France, to great acclaim. The English-speaking publishers who originally turned it down (one of whom is quoted above) went on to sell 50 million copies of it.

After 38 rejections, this author’s book was finally picked up and went on to sell 30 million copies as well as becoming an iconic film starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable.

“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” This was one of the many rejection letters received by this author, but the doctor had the last laugh. He’s now the 9th best-selling fiction author of all time.

“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” One of 15 rejections before this book, originally titled “Het Achterhuis” and published in Dutch, found an English publisher – and sold 25 million copies.

“Nobody will want to read a book about a seagull.” 44 million people apparently did.

“We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough.” So the author tries a rewrite and the book sells 65 million copies, going on to become an American classic.

After years of rejections, this fantasy writer’s book ends up being translated into 47 languages and selling over 100 million copies.

One of this thriller writer’s rejections read: “It is so badly written.” Even so, the book went on to sell over 80 million copies.

Rejected so many times, the author gave up and self-published 250 copies of her book. It’s sold 45 million copies to date.

“Our united opinion is entirely against the book. It is very long, and rather old-fashioned.” One of a number of rejections for this classic. It was finally published with a print run of 3,000 copies, but only 50 of them sold during the author’s lifetime.

Published by a small San Francisco publisher after being rejected by 25 literary agents, the book is translated into more than 30 languages, adapted for a movie and sells 7 million copies.

“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.” Legend has it that part of this novel’s name came about after 21 other publishers had rejected it.

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