Friday, August 17, 2018

August 17, 2018--A Pocket Full of Distractions

I finally figured out why Trump doesn't button his suit jackets. Until now I thought it was a vain attempt to hide his William Howard Taft-like girth. 

Now I realize it was for another, to him more urgent reason--to give him quick access to the list of distractions he has secreted away in his inner jacket pocket so it is always ready at hand for him to refer to in order to change the subject when he does something wrong or makes a fool of himself. To distract us and the media. 

To change the subject, for example, from Omarosa and the N-word tapes to cancelling former C.I.A. director John Brennan's security clearance. 

Trump has this list nearby in the same way he has the nuclear codes at the ready. Those are schlepped along wherever he goes by a military aide in the so-called "football." 

The list of distractions, to him much more important, Trump carries himself. Close to the heart.

I was able to sneak a look at the list the other day, and for the sake of checks and balances and the historical record I here for the first time reveal what's on it.

He has the distractions categorized--so, for example, there are distractions in waiting about immigrants. They include--

Point out serious felonies perpetrated by illegal immigrants to remind your supporters they are murders and rapists.

Announce all children separated from their parents at the border have been reunited.

Claim Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi support amnesty.  

Mention Nancy Pelosi along with "no-collusion" at every opportunity or whenever her name comes to mind.

Under the distraction category Women--

Mention Maxine Waters every time you appear in public. Remind people that she supports Nancy Pelosi and this is evidence of her low IQ.

Talk about how smart you are: where you went to college, your IQ, how much money you are worth. About that, triple what your personal accountant itemized on your most recent 1040 form. (Don't worry about the tax implications)

Invite Laura Ingraham, Janine Piro, and Megyn Kelly to the White House for, like Obama, lunch on the lawn. (Don't mention Obama)

On August 26th, National Dog Day, announce you've changed your mind about Hillary Clinton. (Your supporters will stop chanting "Lock her up" every time you mention her name. Instead, they will bark)

Announce that you and Melania will be adopting a shelter dog. (You're the first president since FDR not to have one)

African-American distractions include--

Talk about black people who are some of your best friends: Don King, Mike Tyson, Dennis Rodman. Invite them to lunch on the White House lawn. (Consider inviting Obama, who is a black African)

Invite Miss Universe Pageant winner Paulina Vega to lunch on the White House lawn. (She may be from Colombia but she is still black)

Call Nancy Pelosi a low-IQ dog to demonstrate you are not a racist.

There are many media distractions. Here's just one that touches a few bases--

Announce you're going on Don Lemon's show to talk about your black friends. (He's black)

It's on CNN. (This shows the intrepid side of you--your willingness to venture into enemy territory. It's not the same as visiting Afghanistan, but we all know that's the last place in the world you'll be visiting.)

And with Lemon you get a three-fer: His blackness, CNNness, and his gayness. (He's out of the closet)

Then there are North Korea distractions--

Reprieve "Little Rocket Man." (To flatter him consider "Big Rocket Man")

Shoot down a North Korean jet off the coast of South Korea.

Bomb Syria

Bomb Tehran.

Bomb Venezuela.

Bomb Pyongyang.

Nuke Pyongyang.

Bomb San Fransisco (Nancy Pelosi's district).

Finally, there are the firings distractions--

Fire chief of staff Kelly.

Fire Jeff Sessions. (The attorney general)

Fire Stephen Miller. (Your senior advisor)

Fire Kellyanne Conway. (Counselor to the president--you)

Fire Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Your press secretary)

Fire Mike Pence. (Forget that you can't do that. Fire him anyway)

Fire Sean Spicer. (Ignore that you already did that)

Fire Michael Flynn (Ditto. Fire him again)

Fire Steve Bannon. (Ditto)

Fire Paul Manafort. (Ditto)

Fire Anthony Scaramucci. (Ditto)

Fire Omarosa. (Ditto)

Fire Jared. (Your son-in-law)

Fire Ivanka. (Your daughter)

Fire Melania. (Your wife)

Fire Barron. (The youngest of you 3 or 4 sons)

Fire Nancy Pelosi. (Soon again to be Speaker of the House)

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

August 16, 2018--Friday Plan

We spent all day yesterday attending to our car's servicing needs and so I will be back here tomorrow with thoughts about distractions.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

August 15, 2018--Consumer Price Index

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is responsible for calculating the inflation rate and Consumer Price Index (CPI). This is important because, among other things, these rates are used to determine whether or not to increase retired people's Social Security. Something these years I keep close track of.

The CPI is the measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market "basket" of goods and services. In that metaphoric basket, among many other things, one finds the cost of rent, dental services, and chopped meat.

Inflation is the rate at which the general level of prices for goods and services is rising and, consequentially, the rate at which the purchasing power of money is falling.

Recently I haven't seen much of an increase in my monthly checks. Inflation is deemed to be that low. Almost flat. For example, the BLS is projecting that the inflation rate for 2018 will be "only" 1.9%.

Call me skeptical but I sense it is higher than that. Considerably higher. But how can that be? The federal government, especially this administration, doesn't lie to taxpayers, right?

So on my own I did a little simple checking. With emphases on "little" and "simple."

At Hanniford's, the local supermarket I checked to see if there has been an increase in the price of my favorite yogurt--Dannon. (I always get peach.)

It now costs 65 cents a tiny tub whereas last year it was 55 cents. This represents an 18% increase. Not anywhere near the official 1.9% (Also, a tub now contains 5.3 ounces, down from 6.0, a decrease of 12%)

Rona said, "Let's check the price of your favorite homemade pie. It's been $5.99 for at least a year." So we drove to New Harbor and sure enough at Reilly's market it's now $6.99. About a 17% increase.

Wouldn't I be happy to see my Social Security go up by 17 or 18 percent. But I know better. So how does 10% or even 5% sound?

That would be an example of America being great again.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

August 14, 2018--Jack: Omarosa

"Long time no talk."

"What's on your mind, Jack? I'm sort of busy."

"Omarosa. You've heard of her?"

"Unfortunately, yes. So what is it?"

"Your people are all excited about her. Not actually about her, but about her so-called tell-all book, especially the tapes she says she has."

"Right. The one she made in the Situation Room of Kelly firing her and her claim that there are tapes of Trump during the Apprentice years using the N-word when talking about black people."

"You guys think this is going to bring down Trump. If so, dream on."

"I don't think she's going to bring Trump down. That should only happen. Mueller can bring him down but especially voters beginning in November. The Omarosa business at most will chip away at his support."

"The way I see it," Jack said, "is that she will wind up helping Trump."

"This I have to hear."

"I'm not proud to say this, because as you know I'm not a racist. In fact I hate some of Trump's dog-whistle behavior, including his attack on athletes--black athletes--and other African Americans like CNN's Don Lemon and congresswoman Maxine Waters, both of who I can't stand. Always referring to them as 'low IQ.'"

"That's more than dog-whistle behavior," I said, "It's more like classic, out-and-out racism. Outrageous and disgusting. But finish your thought."

"When Trump plays the race card," Jack said, "it just adds to how you and your kind think about him. You're already convinced that he's a racist. At most it will motivate a few more liberals to vote in November and in 2020, if he runs for reelection. But . . ."


"But," Jack said, "what he said about NFL players or even the very popular LeBron James actually appeals to his people. To them it's another example of his not being politically correct. Which they love. It's one of the things that make them excited about supporting him in the first place. Look, even I will admit that a portion of his base--maybe even more than a portion--are racists. They hate people of color. You heard what Laura Ingraham said the other night on Fox News--that America is no longer the country we loved in the past. It's changed for the worst, she said, because of all the immigrants who have come into the country. Including those who entered legally. Really what she was saying is that the country is now browner and blacker than it was in the good old days. When America was great. She tried to walk it back the next day after she got slammed, but what she said was what she said. It was stark and clear but wasn't pretty."

"You sound like you're all over the place. On the one hand, you criticize Trump for playing racial dog-whistle politics and then you seem to like the fact that by his being openly racist he secures and strengthens his base."

"I am sort of the way you described me," Jack fussed up, "I dislike some of the stuff he does (just as I'm sure you didn't like everything Clinton or Obama did), but overall I still support him and want him to do well in November and then two years later in 2020. To me it's not about distractions like Omarosa but about his policies. So if what he says or implies some times turn me off, what I care about is what he's done and plans to do. I agree with most of his agenda. And so if she jazzes up his people that to me is a good thing."

"To tell you the truth I'm still confused. You're even less coherent about this than usual." I already had my fill of him.

"Let me try to straighten you out. Both she and he energize people but come at it from opposite perspectives. He shamelessly plays the race card while Omarosa convinces people that those like her--black people--are Trump haters and are just like Trump describes them to be--low-IQ criminals. By her extreme and dishonest behavior, without intending to, she reenforces the stereotype of black people he's promulgating. She seems self-seeking and biased. Just the kinds of things he and his people believe to be true about all black people."

"This is too cynical for words. I hate what you're saying."

"You may, but do you disagree with me?"

"Totally. I reject your racist views."

"You're missing the whole point," Jack said sounding exasperated, "I'm against racism. I'm just saying that being openly racist like Trump is--or pretends to be--is a strategy to build and mobilize support for himself. And people like Omarosa and the football players who take a knee are helping with that because, as I said before, they confirm the stereotype."

"I get that and some of what you say may be true, but that doesn't make it acceptable. It's not just about doing whatever it takes to win, how you win also counts. You guys who claim to be good Christians and true conservatives are nothing but hypocrites. I don't see anything Christian in any of this. There is no milk of human kindness. All I see is mean-spiritedness, fear of the 'other,' and hatred. Now I've had my say and am about to hang up." 

Jack held back and so I continued, "For what it's worth, my sense of things is that you need to do some deep soul-searching, including about how you come across. Maybe more than that you would be advised to do some thinking about what you are bringing down upon America. A country you say you love."

And with that I did hang up.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

August 13, 2018--The Nature of Human Nature

In the never-ending effort to understand what it means to be human is there a "nature" that is hard-baked into all of us that helps define our distinctive "humanness"? Assuming there is a distinctiveness. 

Are we human (separate from all other animals, including from the Great Apes to whom we are close relatives) because, as it used to be felt, we (Homo habilis) uniquely have the ability to make and use tools? Subsequently, we have learned that a number of other animals also make tools) or because we are self-aware (some other mammals appear to be as well) or because we alone were made in God's image (you're on your own with this one).

Raging still is the debate as to what constitutes that aspect of humanness that is largely the result of our capacity to respond to and develop because of our ability to be shaped by the effects of nurture and culture.

In this then, how much is nurture and how much nature? Some who study these matters claim it might be as much as 50-50.

Darwin obviously had much to say about this. Though he was skeptical about what we today refer to as "cultural evolution"--he would say we and all other species pass along to progeny such things as eye color and various instincts--among thousand of other adaptions the in-born mammalian ability to suckle. 

On the other hand, in contrast to the social evolutionists, he claims we do not genetically pass along our propensity to be, say, self-sacrificing. In fact, doesn't our propensity to be self-sacrificing go against the notion that our development over millennia contradicts the basic Darwinian insight that our nature is the result of adapting to numerous mutations that were selected because they contributed to our ability to survive? His survival of the fittest.

But if in this regard, since there is considerable evidence that self-sacrifice, including a willingness or even instinct to give up one's life for the sake of the survival of other humans, is there, as some researchers claim, a "benevolence" gene?

While we are at it, is there a universal "God" gene? Or if you prefer, a "belief" gene? If there has never been an example of any human society without its own origin story, it's own larger belief system isn't this propensity to believe a part of what it means to be human? If so, is this, again, culturally or genetically imprinted? 

And then, what about art? Is is more a pleasure than an instinct? A debate about this also rages.

If this latter debate interests you, as I recently did, pick up and read neuroscientist Anjan Chatterjee's The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved Beauty and Enjoy Art.

Though he comes down on the side that claims the appeal of what human's consider beauty is not instinctive, not hard-wired in our DNA, he comes close to making that case.

No more persuasive to the genetic side of the argument, though, are the early human artifacts he cites that archeologists have been unearthing during the past two centuries, including some hundreds of thousands of years old.

Here is a sampling--

First, from as many as 30,000 years ago, from the Paleolithic Period, the Old Stone Age, are the Venus figures, mother goddesses, that most now consider part of a fertility cult. The best known is the 4.4 inch Venus Of Willendorf, named for the village in Lower Austria where it was found. It now resides in the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna. 

Thirty-five years ago I made a pilgrimage to see it in an obscure corner of the museum. Being alone with it, spending an hour in its presence fired a lifetime interest in evolution and human nature.

From the Golan Heights, found at the Berekhat Ram dig in the early 1980s, is another seeming Venus figure. Just 1.4 inches, it appears to be a "pebble" that was shaped and incised by an early human (Homo erectus). It is again a fertility figure or mother goddess. It is on view in Jerusalem at the Israel Museum. Some considerate it to be the oldest existing work of human art.

Then there is the much older, 400,000 year-old Tan-Tan figure that was discovered in Morocco in 1999. As many claim it was shaped by an archaic human hand as others who say it was formed by natural, geological processes such as erosion. Take a look and come to your own concusion. 

It would not surprise me if it turned out to be another Venus figure as I come down on the side of those who contend there is an aesthetic gene. 

There is too much "art" in the world, found among all peoples in all places across too many millennia for there not to be. The usual Darwinian resistance to this view is not sufficiently persuasive for me to agree it is a simple pleasure without sufficient human survival adaptive purposes. Among so many, I would not want to live in an artless world. Thus, the extraordinary proliferation of art alone suggests it is adaptive enough!

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Friday, August 10, 2018

August 10, 2018--Country Club Republicans

Rona said, "You'll see. It's all about money."

"What are you talking about?"

"The news that three of Trump's Mar-a-Lago pals are essentially running the Department of Veteran Affairs. They were talking about it last night on CNN and MSNBC. The details are from an investigative report that was posted on ProPublica's website--'The Shadow Rulers of the VA.'"

"Three pals?"

"Yes. Bruce Moskowitz is a Palm Beach doctor who helps wealthy people obtain high-end 'concierge' medical care; a Washington fixer lawyer, Marc Sherman; and the leader of the band of three, Ike Perlmutter, the very weird head of Marvel Entertainment. The comic book people. Perlmutter is so secretive that he showed up once in a disguise at the premiere of a Spider Man movie. FYI--it wasn't a costume-party opening."

"This is just too much. But with Trump nothing surprises."

"None of these guys ever served in our military and thus are not veterans. In fact, it appears that they haven't even been involved in veterans' affairs, including raising money for vets' organizations."

"But . . ?"

"But, one night at Mar-a-Lago, where for $250K a year they are members, they appear to have sold the idea to Trump that he empower them to effectively run the VA. To let the senior people there know that these fellows are in charge and that even the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should see himself as reporting to them. The pitch seems to have included that the VA is such a mess that normal Washington bureaucrats are incapable of reforming it. Which, I suppose, could be true."

Here is a sample from the ProPublica article--
Hundreds of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former administration officials tell [the story of their involvement]--of a previously unknown triumvirate that hovered over public servants without any transparency, accountability or oversight. The Mar-a-Lago Crowd [as they are called, operating from the country club itself] spoke with VA officials daily, the documents show, reviewing all manner of policy and personnel decisions. 
They prodded the VA to start new programs, and officials travelled to Mar-a-Lago at taxpayer expense to hear their views. “Everyone has to go down and kiss the ring,” a former administration official said. 
If the bureaucracy resists the trio’s wishes, Perlmutter has a powerful ally: The President of the United States. Trump and Perlmutter regularly talk on the phone and dine together when the president visits Mar-a-Lago. “On any veterans issue, the first person the president calls is Ike,” another former official said. Former administration officials say that VA leaders who were at odds with the Mar-a-Lago Crowd were pushed out or passed over. Included, those officials say, were the secretary (whose ethical lapses also played a role), deputy secretary, chief of staff, acting under secretary for health, deputy under secretary for health, chief information officer, and the director of electronic health records modernization. 
The article continues-- 
The Mar-a-Lago Crowd bombarded VA officials with demands, many of them inapt or unhelpful. 
They proposed inviting private health care executives to tell the VA which services they should outsource to private providers like themselves. It was precisely the kind of fox-in-the-henhouse scenario that the VA’s defenders had warned against for years. [Former VA Secretary] David Shulkin delicately tried to hold off Perlmutter’s proposal, saying the VA was already developing an in-house method of comparing its services to the private sector.
Rona said, "Now about the money. It's one thing to think about these three Mar-a-Lago cronies voluntarily offering their services to the president--others such as Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Nixon had informal advisers, mainly from the business and academic communities--but this is unprecedented. That private citizens would effectively run a mammoth government agency with no oversight whatsoever." 
Rona added, "But in this case it appears that Moskowitz's son has had an inside track to securing VA contracts to, for example, improve their computer systems and in other instances playing an important role in determining what parts of the VA operation should be privatized. This involves billions of dollars. Again, it is going on without the required transparency."
"One thing you can say about Trump," I said, "He's the most inventive president ever in figuring out how to be corrupt."
At Mar-a-Lago: Reince Priebus, Trump, & Ike Perlmutter

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Thursday, August 09, 2018

August 9, 2018--Incels

Those who follow this know I am a poor sleeper and one way I try to get to sleep is to bore myself to exhaustion with late night radio talk shows. From sports talk (WFAN in New York City) to Coast To Coast AM, which focuses on various forms of the paranormal (ESP) with special emphasis on flying saucers, and Red Eye Radio, which offers mainly political talk from a right-wing perspective, primarily to long-haul truck drivers. 

I am not alone (I am not speaking extraterrestrially)--many millions tune in to one or more of these shows. We are a nation of insomniacs. 

The other night I encountered the Incels--Involuntary Celibates. Never having heard of them, I found them so complicated that I listened for at least two hours. 

After leaning about them and their history, rather than dropping off,  fitfully I tossed and turned for additional hours, wondering about the many varieties of human experience and reminded about the tortured inner lives of some of those who walk among us.

From Wikipedia--
Insels are self-identifying members of an online subculture who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner, a state they define as inceldom. Incels are mostly white, male, and heterosexual. 
Discussions in incel forums are often characterized by resentment, misanthropy, self-pity, self-loathing, misogny, racism, a sense of entitlement to sex, and the endorsement of violence against sexually active people. 
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the subculture as "part of the online male supremacist ecosystem . . ." People who have either self-identified as incels or who have mentioned incel-related names and literature in their private writings or Internet postings have committed at least four mass murders in North America, resulting in 45 deaths . . . [including Nikalos Cruz, who murdered 17 people and injured 17 others in 2017 in a mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida].
Further, I learned that members of the incel communities use jargon to communicate among themselves. They frequently refer to women as "femoids"; "stacys" are attractive, sexually active women; and "becky's"--less attractive, sexually active women. "Chads" are sexually active men. "Looksmaxing" is an attempt to enhance one's appearance by dressing nicely or having plastic surgery. 

"Volcels" are voluntary celibates; "marcels" are married people; "nearcels" are those considered close to being incels; "hicels" are thought to have high standards because they are picky when dating; and "fakecels"are those pretending to be incels but in fact have had sex recently.

There are also variations of the term "incel" when referring to people who believe their race is the reason behind their inability to find a partner.

"Currycels" are South Asians and "ricecels" are those of Chinese or Southeast Asian ancestry.

They need help. We all do.

In the meantime, I think it's time for me to consider moving on to Ambien.

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