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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Depictions of Jesus

No one really knows 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 helped organize the famous Apalachin 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.)

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?

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. 

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, Google, Amazon, and a host of other recognizable names. (It doesn't take a genius to buy one of these stocks.)

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.

I also don't see this as a punitive measure. 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, and soldiers, are 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 upper middle class jobs 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 most extreme example of our "meritocratic" society: the most prestigious job of all, the Presidency. 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 Presidential candidate 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 the magazine 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.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Having a "good time"

A friend was just complaining about having to attend an outdoor concert tonight. He was saying that because it was rainy, it would take a lot longer than normal, and he would get home late on a weeknight and miss sleep, not to mention his workout. He said having a "good time" is often brutal.

I couldn't agree more. The lengths people will go to in order to do something that has the official label of "enjoyment," whether or not it's actually enjoyable, is ridiculous.

A perfect example is the four day weekend getaway. It's basically two days of travel for two days of "vacation," which is a huge waste of two of your four days off.

Travel -- packing, getting up early, fighting traffic, finding parking at the airport, waiting in line, waiting in another line, sitting in a cramped airplane seat for a few hours, waiting in more lines, renting a car, and getting to your destination -- is almost always misery. Then there are inevitably more wrinkles to deal with at your vacation destination, which half the time turns out not to be all you expected.

I'd much rather have a couple good workouts, and be able to settle into a familiar couch or bed and watch a good movie when I feel like it. Without missing any sleep.

Of course, half the reason people go away for these four day jaunts is to be able to boast about it afterward: "I went down to St. Bart's for the weekend." (That line has never once been delivered -- not once, in history --- without an air of pretension and pride.)

Okay, you're cool.

I'm usually on the fence about whether even a nine day vacation is worth it. (I know, bah, humbug.)

Tom Hardy, before and after

 I recently saw Lawless on Netflix. It wasn't bad, even though it was completely predictable. Tom Hardy did an excellent job as the soft spoken, strong man of action. He exuded toughness and confidence and masculinity.

Yesterday, the NY Post ran an article about how Hardy claimed not to be embarrassed by some old MySpace photos of him that had recently surfaced. Here's one:

I agree: why should he be embarrassed? He looks like just a normal young guy who's hoping to get laid. Maybe he's not as attractive as he seems to think he is, but that's not unusual for a guy. And while he's not in the greatest shape, neither is he in bad shape.

What Hardy should be embarrassed by are his more recent photos, like this one --

-- since they make it obvious he's gone on steroids. Turns out all that masculinity is store bought.

If you look up Hardy on Wikipedia, you'll see he used to be a crackhead back in the late 90's and early 2000's. So, perhaps he is to be congratulated for having been clean since 2003. Or, maybe all he's done is substitute one drug for another.

When an athlete goes on steroids, it's cheating, and reprehensible. When an actor does, it's more just the equivalent of getting plastic surgery. But even though Hardy's not cheating, it still must be a little embarrassing for him that his masculinity isn't really his. This is why no one ever admits to juicing, just as no one ever admits to having had plastic surgery -- as commonplace as both are these days.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

As long as they're considering Idris….

What with Daniel Craig about to abdicate the role, there's been some recent talk of Idris Elba being cast as the next James Bond:

Some people seem to be saying, why does James Bond have to be white? This is 2015! Take that, you racists!

Of course, some hide-bound traditionalists are bemoaning that possibility, even calling it a sacrilege, since Bond was created by Ian Fleming to represent all that is best about British, Anglo-Saxon manhood.

But I applaud the choice. In fact, I think we should open our minds to other possibilities as well.

Why not also consider an openly gay James Bond? Who says Bond has to be straight? I hereby nominate Boy George to be the next Bond:

Making 007 a bit of a Karma Chameleon is a long overdue idea. Take that, you homophobes!

For that matter, why not cast a woman? Anne Hathaway would make a great Jane Bond. Okay, so she was born in Brooklyn. But she is of British descent, and her years spent as a Women's Studies minor at Vassar should give her the gumption and smarts to embody this feminist dream come true:

And if you still want all the Bond babes, well, we'll just make Jane a lesbian. Problem solved! Take that, you sexists!

Also, why does James Bond have to be lean? It would be a great gesture of inclusivity to cast Richard Griffiths as the next Bond:

Frankly, Griffiths is twice the man that Daniel Craig ever was: let's make 007 into 014. This would be a great step towards ending fat-shaming.

In fact, why does Bond have to be attractive at all? It's time to end lookism completely. How reassuring would it be to all of the ordinary-looking guys in the world if someone who looks like Peter Pettigrew --

--  could pull in the Bond babes? How nice would it be to know that you don't have to look like Sean Connery to get plenty of Pussy (Galore)?

And what's all this prejudice about Bond having to be a jock? Perhaps the best Bond of all would be cerebral Englishman Stephen Hawking:

After all, Bond lived by his wits, and Hawking certainly has the mental firepower. While this Bond battled SPECTRE, he could also vanquish the tyranny of the able-bodied.

What a wonderful world it would be if we could only set aside all of our prejudices.

Let's hope Hollywood sees it the same way.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A scandal that it's not a scandal

A few days ago an anonymous commenter pointed out, after the Hillary's Watergate post:

Bill Clinton doubled the amount of money he earned from speaking engagements funded by foreign entities while his wife served as secretary of state. The government of Norway donated $25 million to the Clinton Foundation and was rewarded when the State Department shelled out $177.9 million for a new embassy in Oslo in 2011. The agency built the complex over the objections of diplomatic officials in Norway, who suggested the money be spent to strengthen embassies and consulates in countries that faced a higher terror risk.

I checked it out, and yes, it's true. Not only that, it's part of a definite pattern: the Clintons milked Hillary's job at the State Department into as many dollars as they could get from foreign entities. Has there ever been a Secretary of State remotely as corrupt? 

Why hasn't more been made of this? I've seen the quid pro quo Clinton foundation mentioned in a few places (I hadn't known about the Norwegian embassy until the commenter pointed it out). But the story seems to have no legs.

To me, this is far worse than Hillary's email scandal, which seems to be mostly about the coverup. (Not that that's not bad enough.) This State Department favoritism for Clinton Initiative donors was outright bribery. Whether or not it's strictly legal is not the point. (And that would depend on what the definition of "is" is, anyway.)

The point is, it doesn't pass the smell test. And the fact that the media just let the story die stinks just as badly. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Yet another person insulting herself

The post I wrote on Aspergers Syndrome back in 2011 has gotten 383 comments, far more than any other post on this blog. Many are hostile ones from Aspies or their kin.

I got another critical comment from "Anna" two days ago. We had the following exchange (her comments in italics):

One issue clearly established in the research literature is the terrible rate of bullying inflicted on children and young adults who are on the ASD spectrum by neurotypicals and its equally terrible impact on the adult lives of the victims - or at least those who don't become suicides at an early age. The marginalisation, othering and bullying of neurodiverse populations is a tragic fact of Western culture which encourages the bullying, and in my opinion - such as it is - your opinion piece fits with the definition of "othering", so it is part of the problem, not the shining authoritative light that you appear to believe it is, not a solution but a sharpened knife hidden behind a pretence of objectivity and 'fairness'.

By all means, let's cover up the truth then. And your bit about me seeing myself as a "shining authoritative light" seems to be a bit of projection.

Projection? Whatever, have it your way and so be it. You seem to habitually respond to critics with ad hominem remarks, please review your responses and note how often you have done this.

I'm not about to wade through all the comments, but if you're so inclined, why don't you do so and see that I generally only respond with ad hominem remarks when such have been directed at me. I would use your previous comment as an example: "your opinion piece is…..not the shining authoritative light that you appear to believe it is." Are you seriously trying to suggest that this comment is not dripping with venom? As I said, projection.

[end of correspondence]

My guess is that Anna is either therapist, a school counselor, or related to someone with Aspergers. She's also from the UK, as you can tell from her spellings of "marginalisation" and "pretence."

I've written in the past about how people's favorite criticisms almost always reflect on themselves. Aspies have accused me of having Aspergers, a gay guy accused me of being homosexual, and a sociopath once said I was a "narcissist" who got a "buzz" out of hearing of other's misfortunes. 

Anna wasn't as nasty as the commenters I've linked above. But, she has made two accusations here. The first is that I seem to see myself as "a shining authoritative light." Yet if you look at her first comment, you'll see that the language she uses is straight out of the Aspergers support literature, and she seems to be presenting herself as an authority. (Whether or not she is a "shining light" I cannot say.) 

Her second accusation is that I use ad hominem attacks -- of the sort she had just leveled at me. (But as I pointed out, I tend to respond in kind -- she started it!!)

Always remember, whatever people accuse you of is likely true of them. 

Anyway, that's my life these days: fighting with complete strangers. (Too bad, in this case: I've always liked British women. Hmm….I wonder if that was Keira Knightley just using the name "Anna.")

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Which statement was more sincere?

The NY Post just ran an article about the wife of Washington Redskins GM, Jessica McCloughan. The relevant excerpt:

In a tweet sent out earlier this week, Jessica McCloughan, the wife of Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan, asked ESPN reporter Dianna Russini if she used oral sex to obtain a scoop about the team's front office souring on quarterback Robert Griffin III. 

Here was Jessica's original tweet: 

"Please tell us how many blow jobs you had to give to get this story. And did they laugh at you before or after?"

After the Tweet started making the rounds early Wednesday, Redskins management went into full damage control mode. By Wednesday evening Jessica had released the following statement through them: 

“I deeply apologize for the disparaging remarks about an ESPN reporter on my personal Twitter account. The comment was unfounded and inappropriate, and I have the utmost respect for both the reporter and ESPN. I regret that my actions have brought undeserved negative attention to the Redskins organization and its leadership. My comments in no way reflect the opinions or attitudes of the organization, and I regret that my behavior has in any way negatively impacted the team and its loyal fan base.”

(Translation: Please don't sue me.)

Do you think Jessica wrote a single word of her own statement? Do you think this is the tone she is taking in private with her friends now?

Will the real Jessica please stand up? (Oh, your hubby told you to remain sitting for now? Okay.)

Wednesday evening's release has that standard, bland-but-stilted, written-by-the-Public-Relations-Department-and-vetted-by-lawyers sound which is recognizable from a mile away. It's almost a different language. We seem to hear it more and more often these days, and it usually follows a public figure having unwisely blurted out an ugly truth.

PR-speak is often unintentionally funny, as it invariably attempts to cover up that honesty with some very obvious dishonesty. Jessica has "the utmost respect" for Dianna? Sure didn't sound like it to me.

PR might as well stand for Pusillanimous Revisionism.

If people actually thought and spoke the way those press releases read, it would make for a very boring world indeed.

After the Redskins' statement, ESPN released the following statement:

“Dianna is an excellent reporter who should never have to be subjected to such vulgar comments. We are obviously disappointed by today’s developments.”

(Translation: While we are aware of Dianna's offscreen reputation, we're certainly not going to acknowledge it publicly.)

Here's Jessica with husband Scot, the GM:

And here's Dianna Russini:

I know, you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but neither Jessica nor her husband Scot look like the type who is overly troubled by inhibition. Or, maybe a few drinks had been imbibed before that picture was taken. (And, maybe, a few before that fateful tweet as well.)

Then again, Dianna doesn't exactly look shy and reticent either.

Anyway, there's nothing like a lack of inhibition to start a good catfight.

We'll probably never know the entire truth of that story.

We'll certainly never hear it from a PR Department. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Hillary's Watergate

A friend, Ed Gendreau, recently pointed out the difference between the way the media covered Watergate -- and the matter of the erased tape -- and the way they are covering the Hillary Clinton email scandal, with its many missing and erased emails.

Ironically enough, Clinton herself, as a young lawyer back in 1973, actually worked to find grounds for impeachment during the Watergate scandal. According to Wikipedia:

In 1974 she was a member of the impeachment inquiry staff in Washington, D.C., advising the House Committee on the Judiciary during the Watergate scandal. Under the guidance of Chief Counsel John Doar and senior member Bernard Nussbaum, Rodham helped research procedures of impeachment and the historical grounds and standards for impeachment. The committee's work culminated in the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974. 

(What would the media's reaction have been if, during the height of the scandal, Richard Nixon had lost his temper and cried out, "What difference, at this point, does it make?!")

In any case, despite the media's relatively gentle treatment of Clinton, poll numbers are showing that the current scandal is hurting her chances for the Preidency. 

As they say, karma is a Hillary Clinton. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Donald Trump, middle class billionaire

Since the late 1960's, both major parties have paid lip service to the middle class during campaign season. But once in office, Democrats generally push policies that benefit the underclass, whereas Republicans push policies which benefit the wealthy.

You don't hear the phrases "Great Society" and "trickle down economics" much anymore, but both concepts are still effectively in vogue with their respective parties.

As a result, the middle class -- the traditional backbone of this country --  is disappearing. 

The rich are doing quite well: income inequality has never been greater, thank you. And the poor are doing well enough to use their electronic benefit transfer cards at strip clubs, tattoo parlors, and liquor stores. 

But the middle class is suffering.

The Republican elites like illegal immigration because it provides cheap labor. The Democrats elites like it because it's a source of future Democrats. Or, maybe, because not liking it is "racist."

But illegals willing to work cheaply hold down wages, which hurts the middle class. And they tend to be a burden on government services, which the middle class pays for.

So far Trump is the only candidate willing to talk honestly about this. 

Corporations which export jobs abroad hurt the middle class. Apple, Nike, and many of other recent corporate success stories have inflated their profits using cheap foreign labor. And you can't phone certain support lines -- like Dell's -- without speaking to someone in India.

Trump is the only Republican talking about penalties for American companies which export jobs. 

It is ridiculous that the highest tax rate is for married couples who make $400,000. (Shouldn't those who make $10 million a year be taxed at a higher rate?) It is an outrage that hedge funders only pay the long term capital gains rate on their earnings when the money they manage isn't even theirs.

So far Trump is the only Republican talking about raising those rates. 

Trump has freely admitted that he's contributed to politicians to get favors from them later on. He's seen how this works from the inside, and is the only Republican talking about fixing this broken system. Trump's changes would come at the expense of the special interests, to the benefit of the middle class. 

It's hard to think of a less likely job description for a champion of the middle class than, New York real estate tycoon. But the rest of the Republican field, including several who are actually are middle class, have so far gone along with traditional Republican benefit-the-rich ("trickle down") policies.  

Trump may still be an egomaniacal blowhard, but that's actually the one area where he doesn't set himself apart from the rest of the field. Think about it: anybody who thinks he should be President is almost by definition a narcissistic personality: the job is too big for any man. The only difference between Trump and the others is that he is more honest about his ego, just as he is more honest about the other issues.

He's got my vote.