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Monday, October 5, 2015

Fred Brito, Part II

As Rifleman discovered, it turned out that the "Mark" who made that unwittingly self-abnegating comment is almost certainly Fred Brito, a well known con man. One of the things that is apparent from the articles is that he is a homosexual.

In an NBC interview in 2007, Brito said:

I learned a lifestyle that I’d never participated in before. The lifestyle of Mercedes Benzes, living in the Hollywood hills, going to Beverly Hills restaurants, doing all the things movie stars would do. And I got to meet a lot of movie stars….Paul Lynde, you know, he had an entourage of people. He had usually five or six people that were friends of his and I at one time was lucky enough to be the the favorite chosen one, until I got older ...and I was cast off.

(This almost certainly means that Brito was Lynde's boy toy for a while.) 

The Lies of Fred Brito states that Brito was arrested for molesting an underage boy in 1974, though the charges were eventually dropped.

Looking back, Brito's comment to this blog on the Abagnale sociopath alert did sound awfully gay somehow:

"what is this the Jerry Springer show ? Is that retard Steve Wilko going to throw people off the stage. Uneducated finger pointing trailer trash calling people sociopaths and narcissists as if the they have a clue. Passing judgement is so unproductive.How disrespectful to this life we are lucky enough to have that you draw conclusions with such tiny amount of facts. So this is what feels like to be a hypocrite."

What exactly was it about that comment that betrayed Brito's sexuality?

The worst insult he could come up with was to call me (and possibly some of the other commenters) "uneducated trailer trash." Brito had admitted in his interview that he had developed a taste for "the lifestyle of Mercedes Benzes, living in the Hollywood hills, going to Beverly Hills restaurants, doing all the things movie stars would do." In other words, the opposite of living in a trailer park: glitz and glamor. These are things that gay men tend to be more attracted to.

Brito seems to consider the Jerry Springer show the height of tackiness. Yet he is evidently familiar enough with the show to know who Steve Wilko is, meaning that he has enjoyed watching the show himself. The man he's referring to is actually named Wilkos, and he was head of security on the Jerry Springer Show from 1994 to 2007. He is a 6'3" former police officer. And how would an effeminate little guy express his resentment of big, masculine, straight guys? Probably by calling them "retards" or something to that effect.

And then, "Passing judgment is so unproductive." This line is not so much gay as it is namby pamby, the kind of thing you'd hear a liberal woman say. (And when it's said right after having passed judgment oneself, it's hypocritical to boot.)

"How disrespectful of this life we are lucky enough to have that you draw conclusions with such tiny amount of facts." I can't say exactly why, but that sounds awfully gay too. Maybe it's the nominal nod to the fact that we are lucky to be alive, which is something no one would argue with, and then trying to tie that in to something which has nothing to do with it, which is drawing conclusions about others. How is calling Frank Abagnale a sociopath (which, by the way, there is plenty of evidence for) disrespectful to life itself? Brito's statement was utterly logic-free -- in a gay sort of way.

Anyway, I've milked his comment for all it's worth. I promise not to bring it up again -- unless Brito writes in again. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"Secret Service agents: Hillary is a nightmare to work with"

The worm's eye view of a person is always far more illuminating than any other view.

Update, next day: yet another book detailing Hillary's violent tantrums, many of them directed against Bill. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fred Brito

Rifleman did some research and turned up these two articles about the commenter "Mark" whom I spoke about three posts ago (Another commenter insulting himself):

The Lies of Fred Brito


The ultimate con artist

Turns out that when you click on "Mark's" name, his Google ID of "Mark Esparza" comes up. That is evidently one of the names Fred Brito uses.

It makes perfect sense that Brito would have been looking up Frank Abagnale, who led a very similar existence as a con man.

It also makes perfect sense that Brito would be resentful of those who would disparage Abagnale as the sociopath he is, since Brito himself has undoubtedly been called one many times himself.

And my original guess about him being sensitive about his socioeconomic and educational background turns out to be correct. Brito had big social aspirations, but had neither the education nor the financial means to back them up. He talked his way into a number of high profile jobs, but was fired from all of them after his lies were uncovered.

Something for everyone

The latest mass killer, Chris Harper-Mercer, is a bundle of contradictions who will probably prove a telling Rorschach test for many.

He's of mixed race, meaning that in this country, he's be considered black. And he had sympathized with Vester Flanagan, the gay black man who killed that reporter and her cameraman recently. But Harper-Mercer had also condemned the killing of random policemen, and said that Black Lives Matter bore partial responsibility for that.

Most notably, Harper-Mercer singled out Christians to kill, asking various students if they were Christian before killing them. (If they weren't, he shot them in the leg.) And he belonged to an organization called, I Hate Organized Religion. Yet he idolized the Irish Republican Army, which was largely a Catholic organization. And he also an admirer of the Nazis, having ordered Nazi memorabilia on at least two occasion.

So, no matter your racial or political outlook, Harper-Mercer provides plenty of grist.

Barack Obama, of course, wasn't going to let this crisis go to waste: he called for more gun control the very next morning. (In Obama's world, whenever a white kills blacks, as with Dylann Roof, it's proof of what a horribly racist society we live in. Whenever a black kills whites, as with Vester Flanagan or Harper-Mercer, it's proof that those dastardly Republicans are keeping us from getting the gun control we need.)

Other interested parties will undoubtedly also react as expected.

Harper-Mercer had also shown interest in both the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook shootings, having recommended documentaries on each -- proof, once again, that the media should be belittling these killers, not making them larger than life. (I wrote about this before regarding Adam Lanza.)

Rather than mention Harper-Mercer by name, they ought to just refer to him as "the latest loser" and scoff at him. ("Did he have any idea what the Nazis would have thought of him? They would have considered him subhuman. And why did he have to advertise for girlfriends? Could he not hold onto one? And how did he get to age 26 without accomplishing a single worthwhile thing? It's always most the pathetic losers who lash out like this.")

Filial respect, Part VI

While we were on the subject of men's looks this evening, my son offered the following analysis of mine:

"Dad, you're like a walking, talking anti-miscegenation poster."

(I'm half white, half Asian.)

Another commenter insulting himself

In June of 2011 I wrote a sociopath alert about Frank Abagnale, the con man about whom the movie Catch Me if You Can was about.

Yesterday I got the following comment on the post from "Mark":

what is this the Jerry Springer show? Is that retard Steve Wilko going to throw people off the stage. Uneducated finger pointing trailer trash calling people sociopaths and narcissists as if the they have a clue. Passing judgement is so unproductive.How disrespectful to this life we are lucky enough to have that you draw conclusions with such tiny amount of facts. So this is what feels like to be a hypocrite.

I replied:

"Passing judgment is so unproductive"?

What exactly is it you just did?

Mark is a perfect illustration of someone whose worst insults are unwittingly about himself. First he calls me "uneducated finger pointing trailer trash….as if they have a clue." Then he makes that statement about how passing judgment is unproductive. Then, to cap it off, he accuses me of being a hypocrite, which is what he has just proven himself to be.

Judging from Mark's grammar, his syntax, his tendency towards projection, and his absence of knowledge about sociopathy (Abagnale is an open and shut case), I'm guessing he's also sensitive about his own education and socioeconomic background.

Anyway, a big thank you to "Mark" for providing yet another colorful example of a person whose most scathing insult is to accuse someone of being like him. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A nation of immigrants

The other day Ed Gendreau pointed out:

"People always say 'We're a nation of immigrants' as a rationale to allow illegal immigrants to stay, find a path to citizenship, and so on. In other words, since we started that way, that path must be continued indefinitely. But aren't we are also a nation born of, and founded by revolution? And does that mean we should continue to revolt? Why work with a dysfunctional government?" 


A few other thoughts: 

We're a nation of slaveowners. 

We're a nation of indigenous people-killers.  

We're a nation of atomic bomb-droppers.

We're a nation of Jim Crow law-enforcers. 

We're a nation of polluters. 

We're a nation of people who drove many animals, like the buffalo, to near extinction. 

Liberal logic demands….

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Depictions of Jesus

No one really what Jesus looked like, of course, but it's interesting to look at the various paintings of him and consider their implications.

Here is the earliest known depiction, from the catacombs of Comodilla, dating from the fourth century:

Here is an eleventh century painting:

Neither of these is shocking, or seems sacrilegious in any way. Both show a somber-looking man.

Early medieval depictions of Jesus tend to put him in royal garb. This isn't all that surprising, as royalty was looked at back in those days with almost holy reverence. Those artists might have considered it insulting to show him in anything less:

Later medieval artists tended to put more of their own personal stamp on their work. Here is Christ as a Man of Sorrows, by Andrea Mantegna, who seemed to want to depict Christ as a man who hit the gym regularly and had a farmer's tan:

And here is The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca, from 1449, a depiction with homoerotic overtones:

As Christianity spread, local artists tended to depict Christ in their own ethnicity, understandably enough. Here is a Chinese painting, Christ and the Rich Man:

And here is a Haitian painting of the Baptism of Christ:

Westerners may laugh at these Chinese and black Jesuses, but western portrayals showing an Anglo-Saxon Christ are also misleading:

More recently, the efforts of artists to depict him with an almost otherworldly saintliness have led in some weird directions. The artist who produced this painting seemed to envision Jesus as a beautiful woman wearing eyeliner and a beard:

Of course, all artists are faced with a certain quandary. Should they depict Jesus as careful coifed, with a neatly trimmed beard and hair that looks as if he's fresh from the salon, which might indicate vanity? Or should they depict him as looking more like a homeless guy, which might be viewed as disrespectful? This artist opted for the former look:

Jesus has evidently just walked on water here, but his freshly scrubbed face looks more as if he has just bathed in it. Cleanliness evidently is next to godliness.

Here's a Jesus who looks a little like a goody two shoes:

Here's a hipster Jesus-as-party-animal from the anti-Christian 1999 film Dogma:

 And here's a triptych of the Mormon Jesus:

On the left, Jesus dressed by Bed, Bath, and Beyond; in the middle, Jesus-as-action-hero; and on the right, Jesus-with-a-sense-of-humor.

I'm not trying to be sacrilegious; these are all comments on the artists, not Jesus himself. But what did Jesus look like? He was, after all, a Jew, so probably looked Semitic. He was intelligent -- had a high IQ, in modern parlance. He had to have been charismatic, to attract so many followers. And as a natural leader of men, it's not unlikely that he was tall.

So perhaps he looked like this intelligent, 6' 5" Jew:

Or, perhaps he had a swarthier cast to his features. Here's another 6' 5" Semite who attracted many followers:

(Surprisingly, bin Laden often wore a strangely beatific expression.)

Okay, now I'm being sacrilegious. But the fact is, Jesus probably did bear more resemblance to Howard Stern or Osama bin laden than he did to the blue-eyed blond so frequently depicted in the past century.

Either way, the larger point here is that Christians are a tolerant people. They will not attack you no matter how you depict their leader -- unlike members of another religion. Christians even bend over backward to accommodate other religions. And it's that tolerance of others' intolerance that will be their downfall.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The unsung hero of the gay rights movement

The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, is widely known as the catalyst for the gay rights movement when it was raided by police in late June of 1969, and the patrons finally rebelled, taking to the streets and rioting in an uprising which eventually led to all of Greenwich Village.

But who made all of this possible? According to PBS:

In the early 1960s, while homosexuality was legal in the state of New York, establishments openly serving alcohol to gay customers were considered by the State Liquor Authority (SLA) to be "disorderly houses," or places where "unlawful practices are habitually carried on by the public." The SLA refused to issue liquor licenses to many gay bars, and several popular establishments had licenses suspended or revoked for "indecent conduct." Businesses that remained open were frequently raided by the police.

Already a strong presence in New York, members of the Mafia saw a business opportunity in catering to the otherwise shunned gay population. By the mid-1960s, the Genovese crime family controlled the majority of gay bars in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood in southern Manhattan that was quickly becoming a hub for the city's burgeoning gay community. In 1966, young Genovese family member Tony Lauria purchased the Stonewall Inn, then a low-earning 'straight' bar and restaurant. "Fat Tony," as he was known, renovated at low cost and reopened the Christopher Street club as a gay bar, controlling everything from the jukebox to the cigarettes. 

And who was the head of this crime family when this transformation took place? None other than Vito Genovese himself.

Genovese may seem an unlikely hero of the gay rights movement. His life reads like a history of the Mob in the twentieth century. At various times he teamed with Lucky Luciano, Albert Anastasia, Bugsy Siegel, and Carlo Gambino. He heaped organize the famous Apalachian conference. At the 1958 US Senate McClellan Hearings, he invoked the 5th Amendment 150 separate times. He participated in and ordered numerous murders, including that of a man whose wife he wanted for himself.

Eventually, in 1959, Genovese was convicted of conspiring to import and sell narcotics. He spent the rest of his life behind bars, though he continued to run his crime family from there, and ordered several hits from prison.

It is unknown how Vito himself felt about homosexuals. His personal resume does not bear much similarity to that of, say, Harvey Fierstein (author of Torch Song Trilogy).

Genovese died in February 1969, four months before the uprising, so he didn't live quite long enough to see the pivotal, historic role his Stonewall Inn would play.

So far the gay rights movement doesn't seem to have taken any great pride in its association with Genovese.

One can't help but wonder what he, in turn, would think of the movement he helped spark.

(Don't ask me why I wrote this silly post; I just thought it was sort of funny that Genovese was so closely connected to this symbol of gay liberation.)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The dodo bird

The dodo bird is an extinct species of bird that lived on the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

According to Wikipedia:

The first recorded mention of the dodo was by Dutch sailors in 1598. In the following years, the bird was hunted by sailors, their domesticated animals, and invasive species introduced during that time. The last widely accepted sighting of a dodo was in 1662. 

The dodo bird has since become a metaphor for any being or thing which is dumb or has outlived its usefulness. But in fact the dodo was perfectly well adapted to its habitat until the arrival of the white man. It had lost its ability to fly because food was so plentiful on the island, and it had lost its fear because it had no natural enemies.

Reading about the way roughly half of Europe seems to be welcoming the recent invasion of African and Syrian immigrants with open arms, it's hard not to be reminded of the dodo bird.

It's not that Europeans are capable only of niceness. They once had it in them to fight, to conquer, and be dominant. The Vikings raped and plundered and pillaged all over northern Europe. Spain conquered a third of the world back in the 1500's. The Dutch took over South Africa and Indonesia and various other places, and were none to gentle about it. The British empire included North America, India, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Africa. The Belgians may have been the cruelest of all, judging by how they treated the Congolese.

The history of Europe is basically the history of various brutal conquering empires.

But one thing you can say for all of the lands that the Europeans conquered: they at least tried to resist, at first, though eventually they all had to bow to the superior technology and organization and military might of the white man.

Now the roles are reversed, and the Europeans are offering absolutely no resistance. They seem to have been brainwashed by the media into a strange, passive acquiescence to politically correct ideals that may result in the eventual extinction of their culture.

While the Europeans have been capable of greater, more successful aggression than the other races, they also seem to be more capable of pathological altruism. It's hard to think of another race which has ever simply welcomed its invaders like this.

It's as if Europe has been hypnotized, and is sleepwalking its way toward the same fate that befell the dodo bird.

What will it take to wake them up?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Demagogue defines the word as:

Someone who becomes a leader largely because of skills as a speaker or who appeals to emotions and prejudices.

"Demagogue" almost always carries negative connotations. But all politicians strive to be great speakers, and all do their best to appeal to voters' emotions. As far as "prejudices," well, one person's prejudices are another person's facts. It all depends on your viewpoint. 

Often, when political enemies hurl charges of demagoguery at each other, it contains more than a trace of jealousy. (Since I don't have his appeal, I'll accuse him of demagoguing the issues.) 

All the current Presidential hopefuls -- and all their handlers -- pride themselves on having their finger on the pulse of America. But there's only one man who milks the public mood like a maestro, and that's Donald Trump.

Yesterday he referred to Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who achieved infamy by raising the price of a pill from $13.50 to $750, as "a spoiled brat."

This, of course, mirrors the reaction of the virtually everybody who'd heard about Shkreli. Trump didn't propose any policy changes, so there was no political cost to his comment. He merely said what everyone else was thinking -- which made all those people think, ah, Trump's my kind of guy!

Yesterday Trump described Hillary as "shrill." Hillary's True Believer feminist supporters don't think that, but the vast majority of other people do -- even if they're Democrats. So Trump once again connected with a large segment of voters who thought, wow, Donald thinks just like me!

When Trump said, during the first Republican debate, that he had no time for political correctness, he connected with all the voters who feel the same way -- and he got points for honesty.

And when Trump said we should stop all illegal immigration immediately, he echoed a sentiment that, according to polls, two-thirds of Americans share.

Trump's poll numbers reflect that ability to connect. That ability to demagogue, if you prefer. (And I'm not using the term pejoratively.)

It's a pretty safe bet that Trump surrounded himself mostly with yes men at his various corporations. So he's gotten used to shooting from the hip -- with a shotgun -- and having his flunkies laugh at all his jokes and insults. It must be gratifying, even addictive, and a hard habit to break. Trump, in his new role as politician, has certainly made no apparent effort to go cold turkey. So, he now treats the voters as his yes men. And, in a weird sort of way, a large portion of them have obliged by becoming such.

Meanwhile, the other candidates are trying so hard to not offend anybody, that they appeal to nobody. (That does seem to be the essence of mainstream Republicanism these days.)

Who'd have thought a billionaire real estate tycoon would be best at connecting with the common man?

Homo erectus, again

Two of these fellows are artists' recreations of Homo erectus; one is Homo ergaster, though I'm not sure which one. Some biological anthropologists believe that the two species are one and the same anyway.

I find these representations endlessly fascinating. (Click on the picture above for a larger image.)

They seem to explain… awful lot.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

If the government were a person

If a friend borrowed money from you, then, when you asked to be repaid, said that he didn't have the money because he'd given it away to some foreigners, would you be a little bit angry?

If you had to pay your employees more than you get yourself, and found that those employees got health care plans, vacations, and pensions which far exceeded your own, all while working much less hard than you do, wouldn't you be a little miffed? Especially if those employees had, for all practical purposes, lifetime tenure?

If some people broke into your house to squat in an empty bedroom, and a neighbor then informed you that not only were those people who were there illegally not going to be evicted, but that you had to pay for their medical care and schooling as well, would that gall you?

If someone kept taking out new loans in your children's names, and continually got them deeper and deeper into debt, would you find that a little troublesome?

If some of your friends were targeted and killed by a couple of assassins, and someone explained what happened by telling you that it was just a peaceful demonstration about an internet video that had gotten out of control, when you found otherwise, would you ever believe anything that person told you again?

If a guy you know carelessly started a large bar fight, then recruited several neighborhood youths to finish the fight for him, and informed you that you were going to have to pay for part of it, would you be appalled?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hate reading

A young man told me recently that he "hate reads" a certain site, just to see how full of it they are. I'd never heard the expression before, but it's something I've found myself doing from time to time as well.

It makes me wonder how many hate readers this blog has. I actually sorta hope quite a few.

If you're one of them, please feel free to speak up in the comments section. This is your chance to "vote."

Falling in love at first sight….

….is really nothing more than having the reaction: Wow! That woman is so beautiful, I would never get tired of that face. That's all it means.

You're wrong, of course. You'll get tired of anyone. But at least that's how you feel at the time.

"Love at first sight" obviously has nothing to do with any real emotional bond. One may eventually form, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the phenomenon.

Real love, on the other hand, is completely different. The only good definition I can think of is, when you absolutely couldn't stand it if someone died. So much so that you'd want to die yourself.

And romantic love rarely rises to that standard.

Okay, I'll try to make the next post less corny.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sociopath alert: Carly Fiorina

Yesterday "Rifleman" sent a link to Lion of the Blogosphere's post Todd Bartlem on Carly Fiorina. Is she a sociopath

Lion linked to this Daily Mail article, in which Fiorina's ex-husband Todd Bartlem is interviewed.

Before I quote Bartlem, a caveat. Ex-spouses are overly prone to accusing their exes of being sociopaths. The majority of women who've written comments on this blog about their exes have said that those exes are sociopaths. In many cases, that's undoubtedly true. But in some cases, it's just someone wanting to vent about her somewhat selfish ex.

At the same time, it's also true that you're more likely to hear an ugly truth from an ex-spouse, just as you are from the proverbial disgruntled ex-employee.

Some of the excerpts from the Daily Mail article, in italics, with my comments in between:

[Bartlem said], 'She's a very calculating person and her risks paid off but whenever I read descriptions about her life there'd always be this bit that she rose from a secretary at a real estate company to the head of AT&T…

'I mean she had a part-time position when she quit law school and she had to have money to pay the rent, so she worked as a secretary to a real estate firm in Palo Alto, but it was incidental.'

Self-mythologizing about one's humble roots and meritocratic rise is typical sociopathic behavior.

From Bartlem's perspective the marriage began to founder as Carly became more and more fixated with power, the corporate world - and Frank Fiorina [a senior executive at AT&T].

He said of her career: 'That became her whole life because of the power thing that went with it, and, at the end of the day, everything got judged according to how useful it was towards allowing her to get ahead.

'I assume Frank was useful.' 

Sleeping one's way to the top is a time-tested sociopathic technique.

"She is pathologically narcissistic and all she cares about is her,’ he said. "Nothing holds together with her.

"I got kind of suspicious of her towards the end of the marriage because she had no old friends. She had nobody that she knew in the past, and I thought, “God that’s kind of weird.”‘

Today Bartlem believes the reason lies in Carly’s ‘modus operandi’ of ‘dropping people’ as soon as they have fulfilled their useful purpose in her life. Certainly it’s what he believes happened to him. ‘I had no utility and that’s what the judgment was,’ he said. ‘If you aren’t useful to her, your time is over….I was heartbroken. It was brutal.’

A complete absence of old friends is another sociopathic hallmark. It means either that she dropped people as soon as they are no longer useful, or that others eventually wised up to her. Either way, a red flag. 

Bartlem claims that when Carly walked out on him she did so without leaving so much as a forwarding address or phone number. A year after the divorce, he claims, she pulled up in the driveway of their former home and calmly said, ‘I will never see you again.’

He said: 'She only had one interest and that was to get ahead. When we were together she didn't have a political bone in her body. 

Coming to politics late is not unique, and ambition is hardly a disqualifer for Presidential candidates; but the fact that Fiorina seems to be doing this purely out of ambition makes her passionately delivered speeches about fetuses seem less than heartfelt. False emotionality is another sociopathic marker.

'The only thing she cared about was herself. I assume that's all she's ever cared about since then. Why else would you subject yourself to the ridicule of trying to run for president?'

In 2005 Fiorina was fired by the board of Hewlett Packard. Her tenure had seen a controversial merger with PC maker Compaq and a company restructuring that resulted in 30,000 people losing their jobs - while she tripled her own salary and bought a $1million yacht and five corporate jets.

She was worth a reported $120 million at the time of her departure.

Being fired as CEO is hardly an indictment of someone's character. Companies prosper and go bust, sometimes for reasons beyond a CEO's control, and Fiorina did have the misfortune to oversee HP during the dot com bust. Ironically, as explained two posts ago, rising through the ranks to become CEO is actually a more likely hint to her character.

And, in my experience, sociopathic CEO's tend to be more acquisitive of other companies: it means they have a bigger empire to rule over.

Sociopaths also tend to like the trappings of wealth, like corporate jets and a yacht, so those purchases are yellow flags.

And sociopaths always seem to have a way of making out very well for themselves, even while the company they're shepherding is cratering.

Plenty of people get plastic surgery these days; but a sociopath is still more likely to get it (see picture above). Yellow flag.

A lot of pundits declared Fiorina the winner of the first "B" debate. She was also given high marks for her performance in the "A" debate four days ago. A big part of the reason for this is that she was so poised and controlled. She didn't appear to be affected by nerves at all: this is another hallmark.

Verdict: although some of Bartlem's statements about Fiorina are subjective, they do mesh perfectly with the known facts about her. Fiorina is a sociopath. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

"Even Matt Damon can't escape the PC police"

A funny article by Michelle Malkin about the leftist actor getting in trouble with his cohorts.

Interesting that "merit" has now become a dirty word.

If you're a rich white leftist, you pretty much have no choice but to be a hypocrite.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Is America a meritocracy?

The previous post sparked a debate about the wisdom of taxing high earners, and libertarianism vs. more government control. I agreed with Donald Trump's suggestion that CEOs are overpaid, and two commenters suggested that this didn't fit with this otherwise mostly conservative blog. One also suggested that higher taxes on the wealthy is a punitive position based on false morals grounds.

I'd like to believe that people get what they do through hard work and intelligence. I'd like to believe that everyone gets what they deserve. But having worked on Wall Street for twelve years, and being a connoiseur of sociopaths, I'm unable to sustain that belief.

That leaves me a little shy of libertarian purity.

Libertarians tend to despise crony capitalism of the type they have in China, where connections to top government functionaries are a huge advantage. A libertarian will look at Russia and see, rightly, that becoming one of the oligarchs was a function of currying favor with the drunkard Boris Yeltsin, and then exploiting that connection. Libertarians look at Solyndra and see crony capitalism at its worst.

They're right about all those things.

But libertarians also tend to think that this isn't the way it's done in the West, with our free markets. But even here, business is largely about cronyism.

It would be nice to believe that America is a land where one gets ahead purely by dint of hard work and honesty and brains. But as anyone who's ever worked in a large organization knows, it's also about a lot of other things. Are you good at kissing ass? Do you go out drinking with the boss? Can you skillfully convince your coworkers that you have their backs while sticking a knife into them? Did you get assigned the best accounts? Can you convince people you're smarter than you are? Are you adroit at taking credit and sidestepping blame? And were you lucky enough to have a boss who wants to help his employees rather than use them as scapegoats?

Does all of that constitute merit?

CEO's tend to come from the ranks of those who are best at corporate gamesmanship. And the people who are best at that kind of thing are, almost by definition, sociopaths.

A lot of people will say, well, salesmanship is a big part of business, and it IS a form of merit. They're right, it is. But the best salesmen are also often sociopaths.

Every expert on sociopathy will tell you that sociopaths are vastly overrepresented among the ranks of CEO's. (And COOs, and heads of departments, etc.)

And once these sociopaths make it into the corner office, they generally stack their boards of directors with pals -- cronies -- who will rubber stamp their exorbitant pay packages. (These CEO's are not exploiting poor people, by the way; they're merely ripping off the shareholders of the company, and also the other employees.)

 Is that a meritocracy or a kleptocracy?

If you believe the former, consider the following. In 1975, the average CEO made 30 times what the average worker at his company made. Today, many make upwards of 300 times as much. Have CEO's gotten that much better? Have their IQ's gone up tenfold? Do they work ten times as hard?

Some make the case that the CEO's are worth it if the company stock goes up commensurately. Sometimes, it does work out that way. But stocks fluctuate, and in bad times CEO's don't give their previous paychecks back.

Giving a CEO all the credit when a large corporation does well is a little like giving a President credit (or blame) for a good (or bad) economy. Yes, a President can make a small difference at the margins, but mostly, economic cycles seem to have a mind of their own. Likewise with companies: the CEO is often given credit or blame, but there are limits to what one man can do, especially in a large, mature business.

For the most part, CEO's are not guys who built a better mousetrap so the world beat a path to their door. They are guys who, to use the more recent expression, faked it till they made it.

Another example: all the Senators and Congressmen who get voted out of office, then immediately go to K Street to become lobbyists and make millions. Is that merit? Or is that crony capitalism?

Before those politicians became lobbyists, how beholden were they to their large campaign contributors? Is a business which donates $30,000 to a Congressman and in return is steered a government contract worth millions succeeding on merit, or through crony capitalism?

The return on campaign contributions is something else Trump has talked about. (My recent posts seem to keep coming back to Trump, but my agreement with him is what started the argument after the previous post.) He said that he has donated to various politicians in order to get favors in turn, and that this is why the system is broken. He's right. (And he should know, being partially responsible.)

Trump also said that successful hedge fund managers are often people who just got lucky. If you look at the holdings of the largest hedge funds, you won't be stunned by their originality. Many have Apple, and Google, and a host of other recognizable names. (It doesn't take a genius to say, buy such and such a stock, especially if it's a big name.)

If you believe in efficient markets, or at least rough facsimiles thereof, most fund managers are essentially just making 50-50 bets with their clients' money. Some get lucky, others don't. The ones who are lucky become extremely rich. But if you look at most managers' long term track records, you'll see both good years and bad.

Think of your own investments. Some turned out well, others didn't. Was your IQ higher when you made the good investments, and lower when you made the bad ones? Or do you think there was an element of luck involved?

(This isn't to say that investing well is pure luck, but there is a big and undeniable element of it involved.)

Those who have consistently good records, year after year, often arouse suspicion from the SEC. For every insider trader who gets caught and convicted, there are probably many more who get away with it. (Otherwise, doing it wouldn't be so tempting.) Federal authorities were convinced for a long time that Steven A. Cohen, one of the most successful hedge funders of all time, was doing insider trading. But, they had to settle for convicting one of his underlings.

In any case, when Donald Trump, or even Bernie Sanders, talk about taxing the superrich at higher rates, I don't immediately think, how unjust -- this will move us away from the meritocracy that we are.

But I also don't see this as a punitive measure. It's that if we have a progressive tax system, it shouldn't stop progressing at an income level slightly above middle class.

The middle class are the backbone of America. People who've kept their noses clean and have worked hard their entire lives to have careers as schoolteachers, optometrists, lawyers, doctors, nurses, firemen, engineers, accountants, chiropractors, soldiers, and the ones who make America work. (And their number includes middle managers in the corporations which have sociopathic CEO's at their helms.)

Sometimes, a married couple who both work at what are essentially middle or upper middle class jobs like these can make a combined income of $464,000, which currently would put them in the highest bracket.

Should they be taxed at the same rate as CEO's who make ten million a year?

Here's the best example of whether we live in a meritocratic society: consider who gets the most prestigious job of all, President. Does that selection system reward merit? Think of the circuitous route and series of fortuitous circumstances that propelled Barack Obama into the Oval Office. Was he the smartest, hardest-working, most trustworthy man in the entire country?

Would George W. Bush ever have been considered Presidential caliber if his father hadn't been President? Was he the wisest, most articulate leader this county could produce for eight years? Was Bill Clinton the most honest, honorable man this country could come up with? Did he rise to the top by dint of his honesty and good character?

And so on.

Keep in mind, most corporate climbers don't receive a fraction as much scrutiny and vetting that a potential President does.

I admit, I've made a one-sided case here. There are certainly people, like Henry Ford, Edwin Land, and Steve Wozniak who actually did build better mousetraps, and deserved their fabulous riches.

But people like Trump who've seen how the system works up close, are more familiar with the games described above.

I'm not making the case for a larger government here. I think government should be shrunk. I just wanted to point out that the upper class -- as well as the lower class -- can have a parasitical relationship with society.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Trump = Berlusconi?

If Donald Trump has a political equivalent anywhere, it's Sylvio Berlusconi. There are striking similarities, as well as a few qualitative differences.

Both men are rich, though Berlusconi's reported 8.0 billion dollar net worth seems a bit more credible than $8.7 billion that Trump has laid claim to. (In 1987, when Forbes started its list of the 400 richest Americans, many on the list, not wanting the publicity, contacted Forbes to let them know that they had grossly overstated their net worths. Only one person contacted Forbes to say that they had understated his: Donald Trump.)

Both men have varied financial interests. Berlusconi made a small fortune in real estate, then got real rich by buying various media properties. Trump got rich through real estate. He has also controlled an airline, a casino, and two beauty pageants, though has never owned any media.

Neither man is apologetic about appreciating beautiful women. (Trump is also unapologetic for criticizing women's looks.)

Berlusconi didn't even draw the line at prostitutes. It's probably safe to assume that Trump's germaphobia (he has a well known aversion to shaking hands) would have precluded too much promiscuity, and it's highly doubtful that he ever consorted with prostitutes. (It's not hard to imagine him exercising a certain droit de seigneur with some of those Miss Universe contestants, though.)

Both men like living large, although you get the sense that Berlusconi actually enjoys himself more: he has a more ebullient cast to his personality. Berlusconi loved to throw parties on his yacht, and would regale his guests with amusing stories and funny jokes. You get the sense that Berlusconi -- a former singer on cruise ships -- was skillful at making others feel good about themselves.

Trump seems to lack that ability. Trump's driving need for validation means that all of the compliments in a room must flow in his direction, which must get tiresome for those around him. You get the sense that in his business life he surrounds himself with yes men; no other kind would be tolerated for long.

Berlusconi definitely would have been more fun to hang out with. As I wrote in the above-linked post:

When Berlusconi held a joint press conference with Danish leader Anders Rasmussen in 2003, he declared, "Rasmussen is the most handsome Prime Minister in Europe. I'm thinking of introducing him to my wife because he's much more handsome than Cacciari." (At the time, Berlusconi's wife was rumored to be having an affair with leftist philosophy professor Massimo Cacciari.)

But Berlusconi was also corrupt, all too willing to skirt the law should it prove convenient; and he was long rumored to be in bed with the Cosa Nostra (a rumor later proven true). Trump at least hasn't shown any overt evidence of outright corruption (despite his not infrequent use of bankruptcy law). It beggars the imagination to think that a New York real estate tycoon has somehow miraculously remained "pure," but at least there is no evidence of corruption.

After Trump's statement about illegal immigrants, his political opponents searched hard for illegal aliens working for the various Trump businesses, but they were unable to turn up a single one.

Neither Berlusconi nor Trump is an ideologue; being in business seems to have made both practical, willing to take positions from both Column A and Column B. (Trump has previously supported abortion rights and advocated a one payor national health care system as well as higher taxes on the rich.)

Trump may not have Berlusconi's charm, but at the moment, he is what America needs. Despite being the richest Republican running, he's the only one advocating policies which would actually benefit the middle class. Yesterday's comments about CEO's who stack their boards with pals who rubber stamp their ridiculous compensation packages were typical.

Even the Democratic candidates aren't talking about the corrupting influence of money on politics, or the outrageousness way the hedge funders only get their earnings taxed at the long term capital gains rate. They don't want to jeopardize their campaign contributions by doing so. A loud, brash, rich guy like Trump won't be silenced by the need for campaign contributions.

Trump's voice -- and the ego which accompanies it -- may suck all the oxygen out of a room, but that's actually a small price to pay for setting things right.

We can save the Berlusconi charm for another time.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Homo naledi

This National Geographic article describes how Homo naledi was found, why it is significant, and how its bone structure reflects both primitive and modern traits.

The picture of mankind's evolution, while still murky, continues to grow more complete. This is the second major find in the past twelve years, after the discovery of Homo floriensis on the Indonesian island of Flores.

Personally, I find this stuff fascinating, not least because it tells us who we are, where we came from, and how we differ  from each other.