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Sunday, February 28, 2016

"The Faces of American Power, Nearly as White as the Oscar Nominees"

On Friday, the New York Times ran an article on who holds the power in this country. In their words:

We reviewed 503 of the most powerful people in American culture, government, education and business, and found that just 44 are minorities. Any list of the powerful is subjective, but the people here have an outsize influence on the nation’s rules and culture.

The Times then ran pictures of the people they deemed most powerful and listed them by category. The list seems a little questionable at times, as many of the people listed don't even have Wikipedia entries. (You'd think that the 503 most influential people in the country would all be in Wiki.) But, if you take the list at face value, it is certainly true that the races are not represented proportionately.

There are only four East Asians among the 503: the Governor of Hawaii, a Senator from Hawaii, the mayor of San Francisco, and the CEO of Warner Brothers. Combined with the nine (subcontinental) Indians listed, that brings the total to 13 Asians, or 2.5%, roughly half their population percentage.

There were a grand total of 15 Hispanics, or 3% of the 503, far less than the roughly 17% of the population they represent. Most interesting, not a single one of the Hispanics, who included Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, had visibly Amerindian features. (The vast majority of Hispanics in this country do.)

The 17 blacks listed -- 3.4% -- are far less than the 14% of the population they comprise. (Although here, too, some of the choices seemed questionable: TV exec Channing Dungey made the list, but Oprah did not.)

So, yes, whites are overrepresented. But scrolling through the list and looking at all of the names, the overwhelming impression I was left with was how many of the powerful were Jewish. Jews comprise roughly 2.5% of the population. And they were vastly overrepresented in virtually every category of powerful people.

There are currently 10 Jewish Senators: Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon; Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York; Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii; Bernie Sanders, Democrat of Vermont; Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota; Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California; Benjamin Cardin, Democrat of Maryland; Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado; Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut; and Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California. That's ten percent of the Senate.

The third category of powerful people listed were Presidents of Ivy League universities. Peter Salovey of Yale, Christina Paxson of Brown, Amy Gutmann of the University of Pennsylvania, and Christopher Eisgruber of Princeton are Jewish. (Eisgruber was raised Catholic, but discovered later on that his mother was Jewish, and now identifies as a nontheist Jew.) It's unclear what ethnicity Philip Hanlon of Dartmouth is. Elizabeth Garrett of Cornell, Lee Bollinger of Columbia, and Drew Faust of Harvard are not Jewish, although Faust married Jewish. So at least 50% of the Presidents of Ivy League universities are Jewish. 

In the category "Hollywood  Executives Who Choose Which Movies Get Made," 14 of the 20, or 70%, of the execs are Jewish. 

In the category, "People Who Decide Which Television Shows Americans See," 11 of the 27 whites, or 41%, are Jewish. (There are also two blacks.) 

In "People Who Decide Which News Gets Covered," 5 of the 11 whites listed are Jewish, and there are two people of color listed as well. (Roger Ailes and Jeff Zucker each made both of these last two lists.) 

Three of the eight Supreme Court Justices, or 33%, are Jewish. 

Among the owners of men's professional football, basketball, and baseball teams, Jewish people are also drastically overrepresented. 

I suspect that many readers were struck by the large number of Jewish people. 

As long as the New York Times is bemoaning white domination of positions of power, they ought to spell out which ethnicity is really overrepresented. (Not that it's not already abundantly obvious.)  

Do they really want to go down this road? If you're going to get into the head counting game, and if you want to imply that whites consciously exclude minorities because of their own ethnic cohesion, or clannishness, or dislike of outsiders, might not advocating such a narrative possibly backfire?

Had the Times been completely honest, they would have titled their article, "The Faces of American Power, Even More Jewish than the Oscar nominees."

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Why does the Republican establishment fear Trump?

There's been a fair amount of publicity about how the functionaries in the Republican Party dislike and fear Trump. But why, exactly?

If you ask them, they'll say he's not electable. They've felt this way from the beginning, and backed Jeb Bush instead.

Some Republican stalwarts have also said Trump isn't a "true conservative" because in the past he's supported abortion and a national health care plan. But Trump is in fact more conservative on the issues which have resonated with voters than the Republican establishment has been.

Trump has spoken out against illegal immigration more strongly than any other candidate. This makes the establishment uncomfortable because they are terrified of being accused of racism. But turning a blind eye to illegal immigration helps also big business by driving down their labor costs.

This is the issue on which their -- i.e., their donors' -- interests are most directly aligned against the middle class.

Big business also likes to farm plants out to India, China, the Philippines, and Mexico without penalty. They also like being able to reincorporate in Ireland and other tax havens.

Trump has spoken out against these practices. He has also suggested that hedge fund managers out not to have their management earnings taxed at the long term capital gains rate. (Hint as to where the Republican establishment stands on this issue: hedgies donate big bucks to the GOP.)

There's also the discomfort caused by Trump's criticizing of Republican orthodoxy. But who has more credibility: Trump, for saying that the Iraq War was a mistake, or the Republican Party, for refusing to acknowledge that?

Trump also ignores the rules of political correctness. Before him, no major Republican figure dared suggest that illegal immigrants from south of the border committed crime disproportionately, or even raise the possibility that we might reconsider allowing Muslims in until we can screen the terrorists better.

The Republican establishment, naturally, found this embarrassing. But polls show that a majority of Republicans and plurality of all voters agree with Trump about Muslim immigration.

Trump has also denounced the soft corruption of campaign contributions. This scares not only the big business donors, but also all the Senators and Congressmen hoping to eventually make a handsome living on K Street.

The Republican Party has always paid lip service to the middle class, but has enacted policies which favor their rich donors. And that's where Trump really scares them. If they can't control him, donors would have less reason to give the Party money. Even worse, Trump might try to reform that system.

It is true that Trump has turned every criticism he's received into a personal vendetta, and part of the job description for the Presidency is "thick skin." Calling Carly Fiorina ugly was ugly, saying Megan Kelly was "bleeding from her wherever" was a poor choice of words, and saying John McCain wasn't a war hero was ridiculous. But so far, none of the salvos from this loose cannon have backfired.

Yes, Trump is a bully and an egomaniac. But that's not why the Republican establishment fears him.  The real reason is, they want to keep their donors happy.

Otherwise, their spigot gets turned off, and then who would support them?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Whatever it takes to win

There's been a fair amount of publicity recently about the Cruz campaign's dirty tricks. There was the well-publicized incident where his campaign manager said falsely that Ben Carson had left the race. More recently the Cruz campaign stated falsely that Marco Rubio had mocked the Bible.

The phrase "do whatever it takes to win," evokes a different strategy in sociopaths than it does in nonsociopaths.

When the average athlete is told that he must be willing to do whatever it takes, he thinks, yep, I'm going to train hard every day, eat right, get my sleep, and really push myself past the pain barrier. All of his coach's corny maxims echo in his ears. And when he sees an abnormally muscular champion, he thinks, wow, that guy has really been hitting the weights; that's what I need to do.

When a sociopath hears the phrase, he thinks, okay, that means some Hgh, EPO, and a lot of 'roids; hey, everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't I?

When the average corporate employee hears that he must be willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, he thinks, okay, I'm going to put in extra hours, be a real self-starter, and try to have good relations with everybody. When they see how hard I work, they'll want to promote me.

When a sociopath hears that, he thinks, aha, time to curry favor with the bosses, highlight my coworkers' weaknesses and encourage them to self-destruct. Hey, they'd do the same to me if they were smart enough.

When a nonsociopathic politician is told that he'll have to do whatever it takes to win, he thinks, I'm going to get out there on the hustings, shake as many hands as I can, hone my message, and show the voters why I'm the best candidate. Just like Honest Abe.

When a sociopathic pol hears that, his thoughts run more to Saul Alinsky. He thinks, time to mock the oppo for things they've said and claim they've said things they haven't, use push polls, tell all potential donors whatever they want to hear, lie about my intentions, embroider my record, and have every supporter vote twice, if possible.

I'm not saying Ted Cruz is a sociopath. (I'm not saying he's not, either.) I'm just making the point that when most of you are asked if you're ready to do whatever it takes to win, you'll interpret that question differently than a sociopath would.

And that's why sociopaths often win.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Walking the dog

We got a new Cairn Terrier to replace the old one. (The new one is dark, which makes him the spitting image of Toto.) My wife was away this weekend, so it was my job to exercise the dog. I did so in the dog-walking area of my hometown.

While there, four different women started conversations with me. They had no interest in me, the cute little Cairn was the draw. But I was still surprised they would just start talking with me. When I'm dog-less, most people seem to view me as a potential Ted Bundy. With one, I'm evidently instantly trustworthy.

As I said in the post linked above, I'm not really a dog lover. I appreciate their many remarkable qualities. They are fierce, great runners, have incredible senses of smell, and are loyal and protective. But I'm not so overflowing with maternal instinct that my affections slop over onto anything furry and vaguely cute.

Women are different. Millions of years of evolution have selected them to feel affectionate toward anything small and cute. And they are completely uninhibited about coming up and ooh-ing and aah-ing over a 20 pound Cairn.

Dogs have long had a reputation as a useful prop for men looking to meet women. I now see why; if I were young and on the prowl, I'd consider getting one.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Friends" who see you as a customer

I got the following email from a friend yesterday (I've changed the name):  

Do you know Kathy Smith? We are friends of Jim (her husband) and her. Kathy recently got trained (in TX) to be a sales person for some diet powder. You drink two shakes a day (morning and lunch), and eat dinner. The powder is $20 per day. I listened to Kathy’s sales pitch (involuntarily) after she got back from TX. “It’s a great product. I’ve researched it. It’s a great product. I am a biologist and I’ve researched it and it’s a great product. I studied the ingredients…. (on and on) … did I mention that it’s a great product? “ (And she announced that teaching, that piece of cake government job with a fat pension, was difficult and tedious, and she’s going to make so much money off this product that she won’t have to work anymore.)

Now she is trying to jam this powder down all her friend’s throats – so they can help her reach her goal of not having to teach anymore.

[My girlfriend] had a coworker who very aggressively sold a legal package to all her coworkers. It was some kind of legal insurance – which offered common services people might want (wills, defense against dui, I don’t remember exactly). This woman stated she was going to be able to quit her job due to all the money she was making.

But after they burn through all their co-workers and friends (many of whom are too polite to refuse the aggressive pitch; with the added threat of loss of friendship if you decline), these people are all done.

My point: Kathy is a hard leftist. The friend who got her into selling the powder is a whacko leftist. I would love to know what percentage of people who go into these sales programs are Left vs. Right. My guess is that they are mostly left. Most conservatives, being much more polite, would not feel comfortable jamming some stupid product down their friend’s throats, to make money and dream of being rich.

I responded:

I couldn't agree with you more about Kathy. I've always found it incredibly obnoxious whenever someone who's theoretically a friend tries to make money off you like that. 

I've never made the correlation with these types of shameless pitches and leftists, but I suppose it could exist. Certainly the lack of realism in thinking that one could retire on the money one makes from this indicates the lack of numeracy that I do associate with leftists. 

And now that I think about it, there's another correlation: the Kathy's of the world, become indoctrinated by these sales organizations, which requires a certain gullibility, and an inclination to believe whatever they want to believe. They hear the spiel they hear about how much money they can make, and believe it. So they pay whatever upfront fee is required to the organization (how the organization makes a significant percentage of its money), and figure they're going to get rich. That susceptibility to indoctrination is reflective of the way they listen to, say, a Barack Obama, and believe everything he says. So, I'd guess you're probably right about it being more of a leftist thing. 

Most of us have been subjected to burdensome sales pitches like his from friends or acquaintances. In my experience, it's more common to be hit up for someone else's favorite charity. But I've had the unpleasant experience of having people be friendly to me, only to have it turn out that they were just looking for a new customer. It's inevitably disappointing and a little maddening to discover the ulterior motive. If, as with my friend who sent the email, the person simply saw an opportunity to milk a pre-existing friendship, it's almost as bad. 

I have to admit, though, I've never noticed a correlation between this sort of shamelessness and political viewpoint. But, speaking of shameless, that in itself hints at another correlation. Think of the liberals you know, and think of the conservatives. Which group is more likely to broadcast their beliefs to all their friends, wear clothing proclaiming their beliefs, plaster their car with political bumper stickers, loudly declare that they could never be friends with someone who didn't share their political beliefs, and in general hit you over the head with their politics?

Does not such behavior itself indicate a lack of shame? 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Robert Heinlein quotes

My son just sent me this list of quotes from Time Enough For Love, my favorite Heinlein book, which was first published in 1973. What's striking about them, looking at them now, is how timeless many of his observations about human nature are.

The title of the book refers to the lifespan of Lazarus Long, who was born in early twentieth century America -- like Heinlein -- but who lives for two thousand years, after which he no longer has any desire to live. The book is always listed under the category of sci-fi. But it has all the ingredients of any great book: it's romantic, adventurous, sentimental, and practical, all at the same time.

It certainly moved me when I read it in 1974.

(In fact, I may have just talked myself into re-reading it.)

Effective or rude?

My son and I were in the left lane of the Cross Bronx Expressway the other day when a police car came up behind us, lights flashing. I moved over to the middle lane, then saw what the fuss was about. A black guy was walking on the very narrow shoulder to the left of the fast lane, right next to the divider.

One of the cops said over his loudspeaker, "Get the fuck off my highway or I'll run you over myself."

The pedestrian kept walking. I didn't see any way he could have weaved his way through the traffic to get to the side of the road anyway. The police then drove over to another car which was stopped in the right hand lane, which was probably the reason they had been called to that area in the first place.

I wasn't sure what to make of the incident. Was cop being unnecessarily rude? And why didn't he arrest the guy? The pedestrian was a hazard not just to himself but to any car which might have swerved to avoid him. Did the officer need to swear and claim ownership of the highway? His tone of voice was definitely not the one they use on those police reality shows, where the cops always seem to call everybody sir.

Was there a racial component to this? (You could tell from his voice it was a white cop.) Was the cop just showing off to his partner?

My son said it sounded like something a drill sergeant would say.

I thought about it, and came to the conclusion that sometimes you just have to come across like a hard ass. A polite request would have seemed completely inappropriate here: "Excuse me sir, would you mind not walking in the middle of the highway?"

Sometimes, to be effective, you have to be rude.

Was there a racial angle to all of this? Nah. I have to think the cop would have taken the same tone with anyone doing something that stupid. (Anyway, who would you expect to be doing that kind of thing, an Asian girl?)

There may have been an element of the cop showing off to his partner, but it was probably more just a matter of not wanting to appear soft.

And the cop probably didn't have time to arrest him, since the patrol car had been summoned to deal with the car stalled on the right hand side of the road.

My guess is, even when he's off duty, that cop is a pretty obnoxious guy. And yes, he could have been a tad more polite to the pedestrian. But, as my son once pointed out, who would you want to have doing that job, your average high school teacher?

No thanks.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Cam Newton vs. Peyton Manning

I'm not a football fan, but I watched a little bit of the Super Bowl two nights ago just because I'd read a little bit about Cam Newton.

He expresses his joyous egotism so utterly without inhibition and artifice it's almost endearing. He's the kind of athlete sportswriters used to describe as a "man-child," though you don't hear that phrase much anymore because of its racial implications.

Pretty much everything the press has been saying about him is true. Yes, it's inappropriate for him to celebrate his touchdowns so gleefully when his team is losing. Yes, a little more self-awareness would be nice. And yes, he should have made more of an effort in the post-game press conference on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Peyton Manning is generally regarded as the epitome of good sportsmanship.

I don't see things as being quite that simple.

Yes, Manning carried himself graciously in victory, shaking hands and exchanging hugs with all sorts of people, saying all the things he was supposed to, and sharing credit whenever possible.

But it's pretty obviously all an act. Manning does what he thinks he's supposed to do, and says what he's supposed to say, rather than just be honest.

As far as the honesty goes….Manning may or may not have taken the human growth hormone which was mailed to his house; I'm having a hard time buying the claim that it was just for his wife. That comment about how he was going to drink a lot of Budweisers that night also raised suspicion. If he didn't have a sponsorship deal lined up with them, why would he not have just said "beers" instead of naming a brand? And mentioning that he was going to take some time to thank "the man upstairs" sounds good. But if you're truly religious, why not just thank Him quietly without broadcasting that fact?

Manning does deserve credit for being one of the all time great quarterbacks, if not the greatest. Even more than that, he deserves kudos for being incredibly tough, surviving as an NFL quarterback until age 39.

And there's certainly something to be said for having the discipline to always behave graciously. Societies can't function if people don't act as they're supposed to, rather than reverting to a childish petulance.

But at the same time, if everyone put on act the way Manning does all the time, the world would be a pretty boring place.

Newton, by contrast, didn't try to fake anything. He was disappointed after the game, and didn't try to hide it. He didn't bother to recite any of the usual cliches about how his team would get 'em next time, and didn't bother to praise the Broncos or Manning, other than to sullenly say they executed better.

Good sportsmanship is always nice. But c'mon, does anyone really believe the gracious loser ever means what he says?

Yes, Newton is all the things people have said: an immature braggart, a sore loser, and an out of control egomaniac. I'm not arguing with any of that.

I'm just pointing out that at least he's not a phony. And there's something to be said for that as well.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Rubio channeling "Total Recall"

It was painful to watch Marco Rubio come unglued during the Republican debate last night. The first time he said, "Let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing. Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country…." it sounded pretty good.

Then, when he said the exact same words a minute later, it felt a little like a horror movie, as if Rubio were controlled by a force outside himself and was not just speaking of his own volition. Then, to make matters worse, he said them a third time later on in the debate.

It reminded me of this scene from the 1990 version of Total Recall, when the Arnold Schwarzenegger character, hidden inside a robotic woman's head, finds that the head can only repeat the same two words over and over, attracting unwanted attention.

We haven't seen such self-destructive behavior during a national debate since Admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot's vice Presidential running mate in 1992, at one point asked, "Who am I? Why am I here?"

Hard not to think this pretty much means the end of Rubio's chances.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Setting the bar low

Yesterday's post describing the behavior of various serial killers included a fairly graphic description of Edmund Kemper's crimes.

There are a lot of people who worry that they're not nice people, because they said something rude (which they later regretted). Or, because they feel schadenfreude, and wonder if that means they're evil. But these things simply mean they're human.

And if you actually worry about whether you're a decent human being, you're probably not a sociopath anyway. (Sociopaths don't waste their time fretting over such trivialities as right and wrong.)

To get a sense of the utter inhumanity of a sociopath, imagine yourself with your mother's severed head. (Never mind that you were the one who just killed her and cut it off.) How would you react? Would it make you sexually aroused? And would you then want to stick your erection into her lifeless mouth and pump away until you had an orgasm?

Okay, that may be setting the bar for human decency awfully low, and even most sociopaths wouldn't do that. But to get a sense of how utterly without humanity sociopaths are, you have to imagine what it was like to be Edmund Kemper.

The reason so many sociopaths get away with their perfidies is because non-sociopaths can't even conceive of how utterly without remorse or sympathy sociopaths are. Most people simply assume that everybody else is more or less like them. (Which, by the way, is also why most sociopaths often suspect the worst about others.)

Also, note what Kemper said about why he shot his grandparents. Every now and then you hear of a killer who pulled the trigger "just to see what it was like." No one ever believes them because they can't conceive of themselves ever taking a human life out of a mild sense of curiosity.

Normal people, when they hear that, will always assume there was some burning reason the sociopath had that he wants to keep secret. But a sociopath actually will kill out of mild curiosity, simply because they assign zero value to other's lives. (I wrote about this phenomenon here, in 2009.)

Kemper, by the way, is an anomaly among serial killers. After he killed his mother and her friend, he turned himself in to the police. I can't think of another serial killer who's ever done that.

Also, his mother was a horrific woman. She was an abusive alcoholic who forced Edmund, from a very young age, to sleep in the basement by himself, even though he was terrified by the noises that the boilers made. No one deserves her fate. But if anybody did, it would be a monster who creates another monster by forcing a little boy to sleep alone, locked away in a place that terrifies him.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Serial Killer test

This past Friday's post on fashion identified some of the "models" only by their first names. Read that first, then see how many references did you recognized.

"That Ted must be a real lady-killer." -- Ted Bundy was known to have killed 36 young women, and is suspected of killing many more.

"In the wonderful tradition of Patch Adams, John has made it his life's work to befriend young boys who didn't necessarily have a strong father figure around." -- John Wayne Gacy killed at least 33 teen-age boys and young men between 1972 and 1978, and buried most of them in the crawl space beneath his home in Cook County, Illinois. (That was actually him dressed up as a clown.)

"Don't you just want to eat Jeffrey up?….all the finer things in life a sophisticated man has a taste for." -- Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17 men between 1978 and 1991, and cannibalized many of them.

"This is one competitor with a killer instinct!" -- Andrei Chikatilo murdered (and eviscerated) at least 52 women and children in the Soviet Union between 1978 and 1990. He reportedly wanted to become the most prolific serial killer ever.

"All the more reason to project peace and love in order to gain people's trust -- especially when you offer them a ride. Smart move, Edmund -- your mother and grandparents must be proud!" -- Edmund Kemper killed his grandparents when he was 15 (because he "just wanted to see what it felt like"). After being released from a youth facility, he killed six female hitchhikers, then murdered his mother and one of her friends. He had sex with his mother's severed head, then placed it on a mantle and threw darts at it for a couple days.

"Some people are simply night owls! All we know is, with that sexy look, Mr. Ramirez must have a devil of a time with women stalking him all over Tinseltown!" -- Richard Ramirez terrorized Los Angeles as the Night Stalker, an avowed Satanist who killed 13 people, raped 11 women, and committed numerous burglaries between 1984 and 1985. 

"Son of a gun -- David certainly doesn't dog it when it comes to fashion…Note that David is wearing cotton -- like any true animal-lover….he'll even let the animals have their way! In fact, David has such a highly developed moral sense he even disapproves of public displays of affection!" -- David Berkowitz was the "Son of Sam," who between 1976 and 1977 killed six victims and wounded seven others. He later claimed he had been obeying orders from a neighborhood dog. Most of his victims were couples necking in parked cars.

"Richard is obviously a nice boy, not the type to nurse a grudge." -- Richard Speck killed eight student nurses in the summer of 1966 in Chicago.

"Who says that fashionistas have a stranglehold on style?!….Like any stylish man, Albert wears his tie nice and snug -- but not too snug!" -- Albert DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler, who murdered 13 women in the Boston area between 1962 and 1964. (There's some question as to whether DeSalvo was actually the Strangler, but for purposes of this post, we'll ignore that.)

"But even though he's moved beyond fashion, he still pays attention to his grooming, never letting his hair go helter skelter…..How many guys can claim to be both a family man and a style icon?" -- Charlie Manson thought that the Beatles song "Helter Skelter" was a call for a race war. His group of misfits and murderers was known as "the Manson family."