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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Academic credentialism

I've always found that the more stock a person puts in having gone to a prestigious school, the dumber he is. This isn't a vague but positive correlation: it is, in my experience, almost a straight line correlation. Saying you're a graduate of such-and-such a school is a substitute -- and a poor one -- for demonstrating intelligence through your own words and actions.

People get into Harvard for all sorts of reasons. Some because they're legacies and their parents donated money. Some because they were good athletes. Some because of affirmative action. And a few, like me, get in because they were faculty children.

Some of these people would have gotten in anyway. But most wouldn't have. So what exactly does it mean that they have Harvard degrees?

When I was in college, graduating wasn't hard. The dumbest guys I knew at Harvard -- and you'd be surprised how dumb they were -- graduated at pretty much the same rate smarter people did. They took easier courses, or they cribbed other peoples' papers, or they just graduated with worse grades.

So what exactly does it mean that they have Harvard degrees?

And the people who get in purely on their "smarts" tend to be grade grubbers. They're not necessarily smart, but they study hard, are pretty good at short term memorization, and can spew facts back on tests. They generally take great pride in their grades, and to them, their GPA is proof of how smart they are.

But we've all known enough of these people to know that, really, they're not that smart. They're almost never witty, they can't think for themselves, and they're generally only founts of received wisdom.

So what does it mean that they have Harvard degrees?

The smartest people I've known were not grade grubbers. They just explored various subjects because they found them.... interesting. Those subjects, whether lowbrow, middlebrow, or highbrow, simply held appeal for them. So these people were mostly autodidacts, and formed their own opinions about those subjects.

Most of the academically credentialed, when it comes right down to it, don't really trust their own opinions. (For good reason.) So they tend to recite middle of the road, "respectable" opinions, since their worst fear is that someone might think them off-kilter somehow.

And therefore, these are the same people who are most easily conned into believing in various forms of political correctness. (These days, "educated" is just a synonym for "brainwashed.")

These are the same people who recite cliches as if they're imparting the wisdom of the ages. (The more you use cliches, the more apparent it is that you cannot think for yourself.)

These are the same people who would say, with an airily dismissive wave of the hand, "Oh, I would never listen to anything that Neanderthal would say." (Shouldn't an argument be judged on its own merits?)

And these are the same people who recite their credentials as if this is proof that what they say must be correct. They may not be quick, they may make a lot of mistakes, and others may find their company deadly. But, they have the diploma, so they must be smarter than those who don't have it.

I've always found that the best measure of a person's sanity and intelligence -- but especially sanity -- is their sense of humor. To be funny, one must have a sense of the absurd. And to have that, one must have a strong instinctive grasp on reality. (When was the last time you heard someone boast of his academic credentials and then say something truly funny?)

The next time you hear someone ask for your academic pedigree, as prelude to reciting his own, you should hear three things: first, he's not really that smart; second, he's probably pretty closed-minded; and third, he's a snob.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"New Biography: Young Obama ‘Considered Gayness’"

A friend, Ed, just forwarded this article from The Daily Caller:

President Barack Obama considered being homosexual as a young man, according to a forthcoming biography of the president.

The biography by David Garrow, "Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama," is set to come out on May 9. Garrow wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Martin Luther King Jr., and is a regular contributor to The New York Times and The Washington Post.

In a chapter about the former president’s two years at Occidental College, Garrow reveals a close relationship Obama had with an openly gay assistant professor named Lawrence Goldyn.

“Goldyn made a huge impact on Barry Obama,” Garrow wrote in the book. “Almost a quarter century later, asked about his understanding of gay issues, Obama enthusiastically said, ‘my favorite professor my first year in college was one of the first openly gay people that I knew…He was a terrific guy' with whom Obama developed a ‘friendship beyond the classroom.'”

The biographer added, “Goldyn years later would remember that Obama ‘was not fearful of being associated with me’ in terms of ‘talking socially’ and ‘learning from me’ after as well as in class.”

“Three years later, Obama wrote somewhat elusively to his first intimate girlfriend that he had thought about and considered gayness, but ultimately had decided that a same-sex relationship would be less challenging and demanding than developing one with the opposite sex,” Garrow wrote. “But there is no doubting that Goldyn gave eighteen-year-old Barry a vastly more positive and uplifting image of gay identity and self-confidence than he had known in Honolulu.”

Garrow recently spoke about his book on The Jamie Weinstein Show. When asked about Obama experimenting with homosexuality, Garrow paused and replied, “I think anyone and everyone, no matter what their role in life deserves a certain basic degree of privacy, in that context.”

You may consider having apple pie for dessert. You may consider buying a new car. You may consider moving to Tallahassee. 

But you don't "consider" homosexuality, any more than you "consider" heterosexuality. Those are things you either are or aren't. 

This is actually one of the central tenets of the gay liberation movement: that they can't be blamed for something they have absolutely no choice about. In fact, gays generally despise those clueless conservatives who term being gay "a lifestyle choice." 

Yet Garrow, who writes for both the NY Times and the Washington Post, is now apparently accepting that Religious Right view of homosexuality. 

According to Garrow, Barack Obama evidently came to this fork in the road of his life, and then, based primarily on intellectual considerations, decided to become a heterosexual.

Note Obama's "reason" for deciding to become heterosexual: "that a same-sex relationship would be less challenging and demanding than developing one with the opposite sex."

Yep, that really rings true. After all, isn't that what all young men want from a romantic relationship: more challenges and demands? (Some of us managed to find those things, but that doesn't mean we were looking for them.)

To swallow that line, one's bullshit detector has to be turned completely off.

And with regard to his answer about whether or not Obama had ever "experimented," could Garrow's evasiveness -- and the real answer -- possibly have been any clearer?

It seems fairly apparent that Obama has never stopped "experimenting."

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sociopath alert: Tony Robbins

I was reading about acromegalics a few days ago, and among the prominent cases mentioned was the 6' 7" Tony Robbins. I peeked at his biography and saw something that should have occurred to me before: he is probably a sociopath.

He doesn't strike me as someone who is out to harm others. But, like Joel Osteen, another ostentatious self-promoter who's made a fortune off of theoretically wanting to help others, Robbins has a lot of the traits of a typical sociopath.

Robbins, a personal empowerment guru, has always given off the air of a snake oil salesman. The phrase "con man" is short for confidence man, and that's exactly what Robbins sells: confidence. He basically gives his audiences rousing pep talks about how they can accomplish everything they've ever wanted to, all they have to do is just do it.

(It's hard to argue with that logic.)

Robbins' books have titles like Unlimited Power, Awaken the Giant Within, and Giant Steps.

For his personal seminars, he uses tricks like fire walking and skydiving to imbue his audiences with the attitude that if they can do that, they can do anything. These techniques can work, and Robbins has many believers.

Pep talks can unquestionably benefit some people, and a skillfully delivered spiel by a charismatic man -- combined with "proof" that we can do things were wouldn't have imagined ourselves capable of -- can inspire us even further.

The question is, what kind of man is going to be best at delivering this kind of message? What kind of man makes the best salesman? What kind of man has no limits -- or brakes, if you will -- on his own personality?

What kind of man can sling that line of talk and constantly exude earnestness, with no hesitation, no catch in his voice, and no sense of sheepishness?

Usually, the kind who is unburdened by any sense of embarrassment.

Robbins certainly had the kind of family background one associates with sociopaths. This is from the "Early Life" section on him from Wikipedia:

Robbins is the oldest of three children and his parents divorced when he was 7. His mother then had a series of husbands, including Jim Robbins, a former semiprofessional baseball player who legally adopted Anthony when he was 12.

His father could not provide for their family, so he left them. His mother started abusing alcohol and prescription drugs sometime after. While growing up, Robbins helped provide for his siblings. Robbins was raised in Azusa and Glendora, California. He was elected student body president in his senior year and grew 10 inches in high school, a growth spurt later attributed to a pituitary tumor. He has said his home life was "chaotic" and "abusive." When he was 17 years old, Robbins' mother chased him out of the house with a knife, and he never returned.

Multiple marriages and substance abuse are often yellow flags for sociopathy. And what kind of monster chases her own son out of the house with a knife? The fact that Robbins ran out of the house shows that he thought she would actually use it. That's certainly a red flag for (her) sociopathy.

And, sociopathic mothers often pass that trait along to their children.

Running for student body president can be a sign of neediness (from one who gets no love from his own parents), and being elected to that position shows a certain early manipulative ability. We shouldn't read too much into that, but in combination with everything else, it is a clue to Robbins' personality.

Robbins has left a long trail of controversy and lawsuits, a not uncommon pattern with sociopaths. Again, from Wiki:

In May 1995, Robbins Research International (RRI) responded to Federal Trade Commission charges of misrepresentation of potential earnings to franchise investors. RRI and the FTC entered into a stipulated settlement agreement, in which RRI agreed to pay US$221,260 in consumer redress. RRI did not admit guilt under the settlement.

Financial seminar guru Wade Cook also sued Robbins for copyright infringement and plagiarism, alleging that Robbins used proprietary terms in his seminars and from Cook's book Wall Street Money Machine. In 1998, a Tacoma, Washington, jury ordered Robbins to pay Cook $650,900 in damages....

One chapter of Unlimited Power, called "Energy: The Fuel of Excellence", is dedicated to a discussion of health and energy. The National Council Against Health Fraud wrote a highly critical review of the chapter.

In 2001, Robbins filed a lawsuit against The Vancouver Sun newspaper, alleging defamation and libel. The judge determined the Vancouver Sun defamed Robbins when it called him an "adulterous, wife-stealing hypocrite." Awarding Robbins $20,000 in damages, the judge wrote "While damages are presumed, the plaintiff's failure to take the witness stand and to testify about his feelings and the effect of the defamation upon his reputation leaves the court somewhat in the dark about these matters"...

On June 24, 2016, dozens were burned and required medical attention after attempting to walk on hot coals during a fire walking event at a Tony Robbins motivational seminar in Dallas, TX. Several attendees required hospitalization and were transported to medical facilities to treat burns while a bus was required by emergency services to handle the triage of burn victims.

None of these things, individually, prove sociopathy, but add them all up and you get a very distinct odor.

What I found most revealing was a letter Robbins wrote to one of his fans who asked him why he had gotten divorced from his first wife. (He had previously gone on publicly about how wonderful his wife was and what a great relationship they had; and he evidently had continued to do so even after they were separated.) Note how Robbins' glib, evasive, and ultimately meaningless reply is filled with vague generalities which reveal exactly nothing:

Thank you so much for your e-mail. First, I want to apologize for this belated reply. My intense seminar and travel schedule, along with my business and family responsibilities, have taken a big bite out of my time. However, I wanted to respond personally and acknowledge the time you took to think of me.

I’ve worked for years to create and present the most innovative, entertaining, and empowering materials possible. However, I know my technology is worthwhile when I receive notes
from people like you who are not only emotionally touched by my work, but more importantly, are taking action on what they’ve learned. To know that in some small way I’ve made a difference for at least one person and that I have helped them to begin to create the quality of life they truly deserve is what drives me most.

I appreciate your interest in my former marriage. The strategies I share with my audience to guide them on the path to more fulfilling relationships are based on my own personal experience and the knowledge I have gained from working with people from 80 different countries for more than a quarter of a century. Relationships are one of the single most important areas of our lives and one of the greatest opportunities for fulfillment or pain. The secret is making certain the person you select shares your values and vision. Some relationships cannot continue to be fulfilling because the two people have different visions for their lives or have learned to value different things.

While I offer many tools for enhancing relationships, I have never led my audience to believe that the path to a successful relationship would be to stay in a relationship where after deep, honest communication and soul searching both people discover that they do not share the same life vision. Any relationship can be made to work, but when people’s values and life directions are extremely different they must compromise. Continuous compromise means a compromised life for both parties. That is when difficult decisions need to be made.

Deciding to end my relationship with my former wife Becky was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. I am extremely proud of our 14-year relationship. When I entered the marriage at the age of 24 I immediately embraced the responsibilities of being a father to a 17-year-old son, an 11-year-old daughter, and a 5-year-old son. I remained in that marriage until my children were grown and I realized that I did not share a life vision with my former wife. At that time I chose to take the necessary actions to pursue a life in which I could be more fulfilled. Sometime later I met Sage, my lovely wife, whom I met coincidentally through a business relationship, and married a year later. We have been together for a blissful two and a half years.

The first two and a half paragraphs are just a standard boilerplate advertisement for his seminars, where he has "worked for years to create and present the most innovative, entertaining, and empowering materials possible."

That second paragraph in particular exudes insincerity: "To know that in some small way I’ve made a difference for at least one person and that I have helped them to begin to create the quality of life they truly deserve is what drives me most."

Gee, I would have thought that money was what drove him most.

And note how skillful Robbins is at reframing questions. When his fan asked him what had happened to his first marriage, about which Robbins had formerly waxed so enthusiastically, he was obviously calling Robbins to account, essentially saying, what the hell happened? But Robbins reframes it by thanking him for his email and "acknowledging" him for the time he took to think of Robbins and saying, "I appreciate your interest in my former marriage."

Now, what do you think the odds are that Robbins really appreciated that interest? (The rest of his reply shows about as much honesty.)

But what really gives Robbins away is that he has that peculiar sociopathic quirk, overuse of adjectives and adverbs meant to emphasize sincerity and goodness. When used in overabundance, however, they in fact indicate the opposite. I pointed out once how Franklin Lynch, aka "The Day Stalker," did this. And I pointed out how David Berkowitz, aka "Son of Sam," did it as well.

Robbins doesn't just have a seminar and travel schedule, he has an intense seminar and travel schedule. Note that the strategies he uses to guide his audiences to more fulfilling relationships aren't just "from my own experience," but "from my own personal experience."

And it's not just to help them create the quality of life they deserve, but the quality of life they truly deserve.

Robbins doesn't just say that the partners in a relationship should communicate, but that they should have deep, honest communication. (In my experience, the only people who emphasize honesty that way are those who lack that trait.)

Robbins isn't just proud of his 14 year relationship with first wife Becky; he's extremely proud of it. Also note that he's reframed the situation so that that first marriage now sounds like a success. Robbins sounds like one of those guys who proudly say they've had five very successful marriages.

And note that Robbins didn't divorce his wife because he grew tired of her and their constant fighting, or because he met a younger, hotter babe. Or because he wanted to take advantage of all his wealth and fame to screw around. It's because he "didn't share a life vision" with her.

That almost makes it sound as if before he divorced his wife, he was divorced from reality. At least, according to the way he describes their breakup.

The fact is, people don't get divorced simply because they don't "share a life vision." It's almost always for much more mundane reasons, like odious personal habits or financial irresponsibility or sheer boredom. And people like Robbins aren't driven by being able to make a difference "in some small way...for at least one person." They're driven by a desire for money, and fame.

Robbins isn't divorced from reality; he's just a habitual liar.

I happened to catch another clip of Robbins, embedded in this article. He's being interviewed by Oprah, and at one point he says, "I love people so much..."

This just isn't the kind of thing that honest people say. Normal people are programmed to love a small handful of people, not lots of people. Whenever you meet someone who talks about how they love a lot of people, it comes across insincere. Generally, the people who claim to love lots of people don't really love anyone.

And a false emotionality is a hallmark of sociopaths.

Robbins is a little reminiscent of Norman Vincent Peale (the author of The Power of Positive Thinking). Positive thinking -- essentially what Robbins pushes -- does work, and Robbins has probably helped a lot of people. But I'm not discussing his techniques -- his "technology," as he puts it -- but the man himself. What kind of guy makes the best promoter?

While I was reading about acromegalics, I was struck by the fact that so many of them have been cast in villainous roles, either in the movies or in professional wrestling. But most of them were actually decent people, from what I could see.

It's ironic that the one famous acromegalic with a reputation for helping people is, in my opinion, a sociopath.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bill O'Reilly's doppelgänger

O'Reilly has been in the news a fair amount recently for his firing from Fox News. Yesterday an article about him in the NY Post featured this photograph:

With his wide, thin mouth, his hooded eyes, his slight grin, his backward-sloping forehead, and the prominent jowls coming down from his chin, he reminds me of a crocodile:

O'Reilly's teeth don't quite emerge from his closed mouth, but the effect is not dissimilar.

Regarding the sexual harassment suits which eventually brought him down: the issue is way overdone these days, and it's ridiculous that cracking a dirty joke in the presence of a female or looking at her the wrong way is now considered "harassment." That said, my guess -- and it's only a guess -- is that O'Reilly was guilty of implicitly making a job contingent upon providing him with sexual favors.

Having his own personal harem must have been fun while it lasted.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why it's hard to sympathize with Aspies

Aspergers support groups say that Aspergers is an organic condition, one that no one chooses to have, and is therefore worthy of sympathy.

They're right, of course. And when we see people with other organic conditions -- such as cerebral palsy, or multiple sclerosis -- we feel sympathy.

The problem with Aspergers, though, is that it is not visible at first, and it only becomes apparent when one realizes how hypocritical, rigid, egocentric, and prone to meltdowns someone is.

In other words, it is an organic disorder which largely mimics a character disorder (narcissism).

Imagine, for one moment, that there was a congenital defect which people had no control over, and which caused them to punch you in the face every time they saw you.

After seeing them, and getting socked in the nose, would your natural reaction be, "Oh, you poor thing?"

Of course not. And that's not how most of us react to Aspies, either. We want to punch back (verbally).

It'd be a lot easier to sympathize with people with Aspergers if there were some visible, physical manifestation of their condition, say, an indentation on their foreheads to let us know their brains were lacking. But there's not, and the process of finding out what their personalities are like -- and finally figuring out the root cause -- is usually so infuriating that the window for sympathy has passed by the time the realization dawns.

Sometimes I think it would be better for Aspies to just say, upon initially meeting people, that they have Aspergers Syndrome, and maybe even semi-apologize in advance for it. This way people would be far more likely to make allowances for them. But, of course, this would also cause others to just immediately write them off, so Aspies don't do that.

And others have to find out the slow way, as described above.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Barack the Bloodthirsty

Commenter Mark Caplan recently provided this link to this article from the Guardian about the amount of bombing America did in 2016, and quoted this mind-boggling paragraph:

In 2016 alone, the Obama administration dropped at least 26,171 bombs. This means that every day last year, the US military blasted combatants or civilians overseas with 72 bombs; that’s three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day.

Were you aware of this? I knew there were ongoing drone strikes, but had no idea it was going on anywhere near this extent.

Obviously, Obama did not approve every last airstrike, but he had to have approved them all in principle.

Why was there no media coverage of this in the United States? Is it not newsworthy? Would we have heard more about this if Obama wasn't so coddled by the MSM?

Twenty-six thousand bombs, yet the media's attention was focused on those horrible people who didn't want trannies to be allowed in bathrooms with their little girls in North Carolina.

They should have labeled him "Bomb-happy Barry." Or "O-bomba."

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"Convicted murderers serving life terms strangle four inmates"

Their diversity was their strength.

As often seems to be the case, the black sociopath had a relatively expressionless face, whereas the white sociopath seemed to have murder written right into his features.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

What we'll never know about Trump's Syrian escapade

Trump campaigned as a guy who wanted to ally with Russia -- and possibly Syria -- against ISIS and al Qaeda. Now he's done an about face.

It's disappointing. It's not as if Trump had been unaware that Syria had used chemical weapons before, given the publicity Obama's infamous "red line" pronouncement had engendered.

And this isn't just a waffling on policy, but a 180 degree change. What caused it? It can't have just been the pictures of the children who were killed.

Trump himself killed children in that Yemen raid two months ago. Does he now consider himself a war criminal?

So what really happened? What goes on behind the scenes is always far more interesting than the predigested version we're fed by the authorities. Unfortunately, we can only speculate.

Is Trump doing Israel's bidding? Israel has always considered the Shiite regimes (like Syria and Iran) much more of a threat than the more primitive Sunni movements (like ISIS and al Qaeda). My first thought upon hearing of this bombing was, what does Israel have on Trump?

My second thought was, what does this do to our relationship with Russia? It's possible that part of Trump's motivations was to "prove" that he's not in cahoots with Russia in any nefarious way after all the recent efforts of the Democrats to show that he is.

It's also possible that Trump wanted to show himself a more dynamic leader than Obama, who, after talking about that "red line," did nothing about it.

You also have to wonder if the chemical weapons couldn't possibly have been a false flag attack. So far Syria has denied using chemical weapons; while that denial means nothing, why would Assad invite international censure like that in a war he's already winning? It's certainly possible that Mossad or deep state forces within the CIA somehow managed to release the poison gas themselves.

What role did son-in-law Jared Kushner play in all this? It's been made public that he and Stephen Bannon have been at each other's throats, and it seems a fairly safe conclusion that while Bannon favored an America First policy, Kushner was pushing for more involvement in the Middle East.

The only thing we really know is that we'll never be certain of what happened behind the scenes, or what was going through Trump's mind when he changed it so abruptly.

I would have far preferred we ally with Russia to stamp out al Qaeda and ISIS, and then keep our subsequent involvement in the Middle East to a minimum.

In fact, that's a large part of why I voted for Trump.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Life is like a nine day vacation

Ever notice how when you're on vacation, you start counting how many days you have left, and by Wednesday you're a little depressed that half of your week is over, and by Thursday a real pall has settled over you?

Of course, it's an incredible waste of your vacation to spend half of it depressed because it's coming to an end.

Life itself is not dissimilar. One thing everybody of my approximate vintage (1954) seems to agree on is that not a half hour of the day goes by where the thought of our age doesn't pass through our minds in some form or fashion.

If I could get someone to hypnotize me and make me believe I was 32, I'd be happy. I might die in 10 years, but it'd be okay: at least I wouldn't have wasted the final 10 years of my life being depressed that it was nearing its end.

And that really is a wasted life. But somehow, it also seems to be human nature to feel that way.

Dave Chappelle special on Netflix

This post about Dave Chappelle having gone on steroids has been getting a lot of hits recently. It must be because a lot of people have been watching his new comedy special on Netflix. (He wears a jacket during that performance, almost as if he's embarrassed by his new build, but it's still apparent.)

Anyway, his new Netflix show is great. I was quite pleasantly surprised; I had thought that the steroids would somehow have caused him to lose his sense of humor, but they haven't. At least not yet.

It was almost surprising that Chappelle has many of the same mannerisms from before, but he does. And he's still funny.

If you get Netflix, watch it.

As an aside, I get the impression that Chappelle is sort of a closet Trump supporter, even though he voted for Clinton. This article basically confirms that.

In the special, he says he thinks "Trump is going to make America great accident." He has to add those last two words so as not to put off half his audience; but watching him, you get the sense of a realistic guy.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

John McCain needs to go

Yesterday John McCain said that the Republicans who proposed using the "nuclear option" for confirming Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch were "stupid idiots."

Strangely, McCain didn't call the Democrats that when they did the same thing.

McCain uses every opportunity to criticize his own party, and especially Donald Trump, whether or not that criticism is justified.

McCain left his first wife, a former model, after she'd been in a disfiguring automobile accident, in order to marry Cindy Lou Hensley, whose father owned one of the largest Anheuser-Busch distributorships in the nation. But when those Billy Bush tapes came to light, McCain ostentatiously unendorsed Trump, saying that it was impossible to support a candidate who boasted about his "sexual assaults."

After the election, McCain, taking his cue from the media as usual, deemed the Trump White House "an administration in disarray."

McCain has suggested that Trump wants to clamp down on the free press, which is "how dictatorships get started."

He has criticized Trump's travel ban as a "self-inflicted wound in the war against terror."

And McCain has said plenty of other things which seem similarly misguided and off target.

It's high time we gave John McCain back to the North Vietnamese.