Category Archives: personal relationships

West’s Batman vs Zen Batmen

“Holy kleenex Batman, it was right under our noses and we blew it.” I came of age with Adam West’s Batman on TV and a relatively sane Batman in the comic books. Batman was a sort of urban cowboy: a loner, but law-abiding, honest, and polite – both to the police and to the ordinary citizen. He was good, and he was “nice.” As with future Batmen, no one died, at least not from the Batman.


More recent Batmen have been not nice, and arguably not good either. They are above the law, trained in eastern monasteries by dark masters of kung fu, with a morality no one quite understands. One could say, quite literally, “He was a dark and stormy knight.”

Well, a few days ago, I found the item at left for sale on e-Bay, a plastic Batman-Buddha, and I started wondering about the meditations that produced Batman, and that Batman expounds on life and crime. It wasn’t pretty. They are not pretty. A quick check from the movie versions suggest the Zen Batman is pretty messed up, something that psychologists have noted.

Here’s a quote from the goofy, Adam West Batman of the 1960s: “Underneath this garb, we’re perfectly ordinary Americans.” Believing yourself to be normal helps improve sanity, and helps you relate to others. Calling yourself an American implies you keep American laws. Here’s another quote: “A reporter’s lot is not easy, making exciting stories out of plain, average, ordinary people like Robin and me.” It’s nice to see that the Adam West Batman feels for the other peoples’ problems, respects their professions, and does not profess to be better than they. By contrast, when a more recent Batman is asked: “What gives you the right? What’s the difference between you and me?” The Dark Knight responds, “I’m not wearing hockey pads.” This is a might-is-right approach, suggesting he’s above the law. The problem: a self-appointed vigilante is a criminal.

Here are some more quotes of the recent, eastern Batmen:
“Sometimes it’s only madness that makes us what we are.”
“That mask — it’s not to hide who I am, but to create what I am.”
“I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.”

These quote are at least as messed up as the hockey pad quote above. It sometimes seems the Joker is the more sane of the two. For example, when Batman explains why he doesn’t kill: “If you kill a killer, the number of killers remains the same.” To which Joker replies: “Unless you kill more than one… but whatever you say, Batsy.”

Not a classic Batmobile, but I like the concept.

Not a classic Batmobile, but I like the concept; if that’s not Adam West, if could be.

The dark, depressive Batmen tend to leave Gotham City in shambles after every intervention, with piles of dead. West’s Batman left the city clean and whole. Given the damage, you wonder why the police call Batman or let him on the streets. Unlike West, the current Batmen never works with the police, quite. And to the extent that Robin appears at all, his relationship with Batman is more frenemy than friend or ward. Batgirl (mostly absent) has changed too. The original Batgirl, if you don’t recall, was Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. She was a positive, female role model, with a supportive, non-sexist parent in Commissioner Gordon (an early version of Kim Possible’s dad). The current Batgirl appears only once, and is presented as the butler’s daughter. Until her appearance that day, you never see her at Wayne Manor, nor did she know quite what her dad was up to.

Here are some West Batman / Robin interactions showing an interest in Robin’s education and well-being:

“Haven’t you noticed how we always escape the vicious ensnarements of our enemies?” Robin: “Yeah, because we’re smarter than they are!”  “I like to think it’s because our hearts are pure.”

“Better put 5 cents in the meter.” Robin: “No policeman’s going to give the Batmobile a ticket.”
“This money goes to building better roads. We all must do our part.”

Robin: “You can’t get away from Batman that easy!” “Easily.” Robin: “Easily.”
“Good grammar is essential, Robin.” Robin: “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.”

Robin/Dick:”What’s so important about Chopin?” “All music is important, Dick. It’s the universal language. One of our best hopes for the eventual realization of the brotherhood of man.” Dick: “Gosh Bruce, yes, you’re right. I’ll practice harder from now on.”

“That’s one trouble with dual identities, Robin. Dual responsibilities.”

“Even crime fighters must eat. And especially you. You’re a growing boy and you need your nutrition.”

“What took you so long, Batgirl?” Batgirl: “Rush hour traffic, plus all the lights were against me. And you wouldn’t want me to speed, would you?” Robin: “Your good driving habits almost cost us our lives!” Batman: “Rules are rules, Robin. But you do have a point.”

And finally: “I think you should acquire a taste for opera, Robin, as one does for poetry and olives.”

Clearly this Batman takes an interest in Robin’s health and education, and in Batgirl’s. Robin is his ward, after all, rather a foster child, and it’s good to seem him treated as a foster child — admittedly with a foster-father whose profession is a odd.

Perhaps the most normal comment from a non-West Batman is this (it appears in many posters): “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” It’s, more or less, a quote from Karl Jung (famous psychologist) and can serve as a motivator providing pride in one’s art, but job-attachment goes with suicide, e.g. when you lose your job. The far healthier approach is less identification with job; just be proud of doing good and developing virtue. West’s Batman finds Catwoman, a woman with her own moral code, odious, abhorrent, and insegrievious, and says so. The only difference between her and The Joker is the amount of damage done; he should find her insegrievious. Sorry to say, recent, Zen Batmen and Supermen are just as bad. To quote Robin: “Holy strawberries, Batman, we’re in a jam.”

Robert Buxbaum, June 26, 2017. Insegeivious is a made-up word, BTW. If we use it, it could become part of the real vocabulary.

Race and suicide

Suicide is generally understood as a cry of desperation. If so, you’d expect that the poorer, less-powerful, less-mobile members of society — black people, Hispanics, and women — would be the most suicidal. The opposite is true. While black people and Hispanics have low savings, and mobility, they rarely commit suicide. White Protestants and Indians are the most suicidal groups in the US; Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Catholics, Moslems, Orientals, are significantly less prone. And black, non-Hispanic women are the least suicidal group of all — something I find rather surprising.

US, Race-specific suicide, all ages, Center for Disease control 2002-2012

US, Race-specific suicide, all ages, Center for Disease control 2002-2012

Aha, I hear you say: It’s the stress of upward mobility that causes suicide. If this were true, you’d expect Asians would have a high suicide rate. They do not, at least not American Asians. Their rate (male + female) is only 6.5/100,000, even lower than that for Afro-Americans. In their own countries, it’s different, and Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans commit suicide at a frightening rate. My suspicion is that American Asians feel less trapped by their jobs, and less identified too. They do not feel shame in their company’s failures, and that’s a good, healthy situation. In Korea, several suicides were related to the Samsung phones that burst into flames. While there is some stress from upward mobility, suggested by the suicide rates for Asian-American females being higher than for other woman, it’s still half that of non-hispanic white women, and for women in China and Korea. This suggests, to me, that the attitude of Asian Americans is relatively healthy.

The only group with a suicide rate that matches that of white protestants is American Indians, particularly Alaskan Indians. You’d figure their rate would be high given the alcoholism, but you’d expect it to be similar to that for South-American Hispanics, as these are a similar culture, but you’d be wrong, and it’s worthwhile to ask why. While men in both cultures have similar genes, suffer financially, and are jailed often, American Indians are far more suicidal than Mexican Americans. It’s been suggested that the difference is religiosity or despair. But if Indians despair, why don’t Mexicans or black people? I find I don’t have a completely satisfactory explanation, and will leave it at that.

Age-specific suicide rates.

Age-specific suicide rates, US, all races, 2012, CDC.

Concerning age, you’d probably guess that teenagers and young adults would be most suicidal — they seem the most depressed. This is not the case. Instead, middle age men are twice as likely to commit suicide as teenage men, and old men, 85+, are 3.5 times more suicidal. The same age group, 85+ women, is among the least suicidal. This is sort-of surprising since they are often in a lot of pain. Why men and not women? My suspicion is that the difference, as with the Asians has to do with job identification. I note that middle age is a particularly important time for job progress, and note that men are more-expected to hold a job and provide than women are. When men feel they are not providing –or worse –see themselves as a drag on family resources, they commit suicide. At least, this is my explanation.

It’s been suggested that religion is the consolation of women and particularly of black women and Catholics. I find this explanation doubtful as I have no real reason to think that old women are more religious than old men, or that Protestants and Indians are less religious than Hispanics, Asians, Moslems, and Jews. Another difference that I (mostly) reject is that access to guns is the driver of suicide. Backing this up is a claim in a recent AFSP report, that women attempt suicide three times more often than men. That men prefer guns, while women prefer pills and other, less-violent means is used to suggest that removal of guns would (or should) reduce suicide. Sorry to say, a comparison between the US and Canada (below) suggests the opposite.

A Centers for Disease Control study (2012) found that people doing manual labor jobs are more prone to suicide than are people in high-strew, thinking jobs. That is, lumberjacks, farmers, fishermen, construction workers, carpenters, miners, etc. All commit suicide far more than librarians, doctors, and teachers, whatever the race. My suspicion is that it’s not the stress of the job so much, as the stress of unemployment between gigs. The high suicide jobs, it strikes me, are jobs one would identify with (I’m a lumberjack, I’m a plumber, etc. ) and short term. I suspect that the men doing these jobs (and all these are male-oriented jobs) tend to identify with their job, and tend to fall into a deadly funk when their laid off. They can not sit around the house. Then again, many of these jobs go hand in hand with heavy drinking and an uncommon access to guns, poison, and suicidal opportunities.


Canadians commit suicide slightly more often than Americans, but Canadians do it mostly with rope and poison, while more than half of US suicides are with guns.

I suspect that suicide among older men stems from the stress of unemployment and the boredom of sitting around feeling useless. Older women tend to have hobbies and friends, while older men do not. And older men seem to feel they are “a burden” if they can no-longer work. Actor Robin Williams, as an example, committed suicide, supposedly, because he found he could not remember his lines as he had. And Kurt Gödel (famous philosopher) just stopped eating until he died (apparently, this is a fairly uncommon method). My speculation is that he thought he was no longer doing productive work and concluded “if I don’t produce, I don’t deserve to eat.” i’m going to speculate that the culture of women, black men, Hispanics, Asians, etc. are less bound to their job, and less burdened by feelings of worthlessness when they are not working. Clearly, black men have as much access to guns as white men, and anyone could potentially fast himself to death.

I should also note that people tend to commit suicide when they lose their wife or husband; girlfriend or boyfriend. My thought is that this is similar to job identification. It seems to me that a wife, husband, or loved one is an affirmation of worth, someone to do for. Without someone to do for, one may feel he has nothing to live for. Based on the above, my guess about counseling is that a particularly good approach would be to remind people in this situation that there are always other opportunities. Always more fish in the sea, as it were. There are other women and men out there, and other job opportunities. Two weeks ago, I sent a suicidal friend a link to the YouTube of Stephen Foster’s song, “there are plenty of fish in the sea” and it seemed to help. It might also help to make the person feel wanted, or needed by someone else — to involve him or her is some new political or social activity. Another thought, take away the opportunity. Since you can’t easily take someone’s gun, rope, or pills — they’d get mad and suspicious –I’d suggest taking the person somewhere where these things are not — a park, the beach, a sauna or hot-tub, or just for a walk. These are just my thoughts, I’m a PhD engineer, so my thinking may seem odd. I try to use numbers to guide my thought. If what I say makes sense, use it at your own risk.

Robert Buxbaum, June 21, 2017.Some other odd conclusions: that Hamilton didn’t throw away his shot, but tried to kill Burr. That tax day is particularly accident prone, both in the US and Canada, and that old people are not particularly bad drivers, but they drive more dangerous routes (country roads, not highways).

Solving the savings dilemma (how to have savings)

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the lack of savings in America, the social causes for it, and the damage it causes. I had some governmental suggestions, but suspect I didn’t emphasize that the main responsibility is personal: if you want savings, you’ve got to save.

Every rich person spends less than he earns. If you aspire to be rich, spend less on clothes than you can afford.

Every rich person spends less than he earns. If you aspire to be rich, spend less on clothes than you can afford.

If you want to have savings, it is up to you to spend less than you earn. If you don’t, you’ll never be rich, you’ll never have savings or net-economic worth, and you’ll always be strung-out over emergencies. Income and gifts won’t help if spending rises to match. At all incomes, the people who get richer are those who tailor spending to be less than earnings.

There is another personal honesty issue here, and a marriage issue too. If you spend more than you earn, someone will be cheated, and that person (your wife, husband, neighbor, friend) is likely to get mad. Earn $100 and spend $99.99, you can be honest and well liked. if you earn $1000 and spend $1000.01 and you will cheat someone you love sooner or later. Be an honest fellow and spend less. Clothes is a good place to start: say no to the fancy dress and the fancy wedding, and to fancy clothes in general. If you smoke, vaping can be a life and money saver. And try to avoid pot-smoking, at $400/oz that’s got to be a killer. And here are some water savers.

A good way to know if you are doing things right :Start a bank account, and check the balance and resolve to see it $10 higher at the end of the week than before. And that’s my two cents.

Robert Buxbaum, April 26, 2017.

Taxes and accounting jokes

A friend called the other day asking about a financial matter. It seems his wife bought some pictures for  pictures a few days ago for $2000, and after having them apprised, she finds they’re worth $2,000,000.

I started talking about un-realized profits, and mentioned that I never imagined that his wife had such an eye for art. He said, they’re not art pictures, exactly; they’re of you discussing business with the Russians. (It’s a joke — I thought you-all might depreciate it).taxation with representation


When I started my business, I found that you could deduct medical costs. I called the IRS and asked if I could deduct birth control. They told me: “only if it doesn’t work.”


I’m glad I learned about parallelograms in school, instead something mundane, like taxes. It’s really come in handy this parallelogram season.


I got a robo-call asking me to press “1” to hear about a government program for those who wanted to avoid paying back taxes. I did, and a voice said “Leavenworth.”   It wasn’t much of a program, more of a sentence.


Robert E. Buxbaum, April 5, 2017.  For jokes on other topics, click the jokes tag, here.

Global warming and the president’s Resolute desk

In the summer of 2016, the Crystal Serenity, a cruse ship passed through the Northwest passage, going from the Pacific to the Atlantic above the Canadian arctic circle. It was a first for a cruise ship, but the first time any modern ship made the passage, it was 162 years ago, and the ship was wooden and unmanned. It was the British Resolute; wood from that ship was used to make the President’s main desk — one used by the last four presidents. And thereby hangs a tale of good global warming, IMHO.

President Trump meets with college presidents at the Resolute desk. Originally the front had portraits of Queen Victoria and President Hayes. Those are gone; the eagle on the front is an addition, as is the bottom stand.

President Trump meets with college presidents at the Resolute desk. Originally the front had portraits of Queen Victoria and President Hayes. Those are gone; the eagle on the front is an addition, as is the bottom stand. The desk is now 2″ taller than originally. 

The world today is warmer than it was in 1900. But, what is not generally appreciated is that, in 1900 the world was warmer than In 1800; that in 1800 it was warmer than in 1700; and that, in 1640, it was so cold there were regular fairs on the frozen river Themes. By the 1840s there were enough reports of global warming that folks in England thought the northwest passage might have opened at last. In 1845 the British sent two ships, the Erebus and the Terror into the Canadian Arctic looking for the passage. They didn’t make it. They and their crews were lost and not seen again until 2014. In hopes of finding them though, the US and Britain sent other ships, including the Resolute under the command of captain Edward Belcher.

The Resolute was specially made to withstand the pressure of ice. Like the previous ships, and the modern cruise ship, it entered the passage from the Pacific during the peak summer thaw. Like the ships before, the Resolute and a partner ship got stuck in the ice — ice that was not quite stationary, but nearly so, The ships continued to move with the ice, but at an unbearably slow pace. After a year and a half captain Belcher had moved a few hundred miles, but had had enough. He abandoned his ships and walked out of Canada to face courts martial in England (English captains were supposed to “go down with the ship”). Belcher was acquitted; the ice continued to move, and the ships moved with it. One ship sank, but the Resolute, apparently unscathed, passed through to the Atlantic. Without captain or crew, she was the first ship in recorded history to make the passage, something that would not happen again till the Nautilus nuclear submarine did it under the ice, 100 years later.


The ghost ship Resolute was found in September 1855, five years after she set sail, by captain Buddington of the American whaler, George Henry. She was floating, unmanned, 1200 miles from where captain Belcher had left her. And according to the law of the sea, she belonged to Buddington and his crew to use as they saw fit. But the US was inching to war with Britain, an outgrowth of the Crimean war and seized Russo-American property. Franklin Pierce thought it would help to return the ship as a sign of friendship — to break the ice, as it were. A proposal for funds was presented to congress and passed; the ship was bought, towed to the Brooklyn Navy yard for refitting, and returned to Britain as a gift. The gift may have worked: war with Britain was averted, and the seized property was returned. Then again, Britain went on to supply the confederacy early in the Civil War. None-the-less, it was a notable ship, and a notable gift, and when it was broken up, Parliament decided to have two “friendship desks” made of its timbers. One desk was presented to President Hayes, the other to Queen Victoria. One of these desks sits the British Naval museum at Portsmouth; its American cousin serves Donald Trump in the Oval office as it has served many president before him. It has been used by Coolidge, Kennedy, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama before him — a reminder that global warming can be good, in both senses. If you are interested in the other presidents’ desks, I wrote a review of them here.

As for the reason for the global warming of the mid 1800s, It seems that climate is chaotic. ON a related note, I have proposed that we make a more-permanent northwest passage by cutting thorough one of the islands in northern Canada. If you want to travel the Northwest passage in 2017, there is another cruise scheduled, but passage is sold out.

Robert Buxbaum, March 16, 2017.

What I liked most about superman: the disguise

Superman's costume, like Clark's, is mostly affect.

Superman’s costume, like Clark’s, is his affect.

Like many people my age, I find that the current movie versions of Superman miss the points that I most liked in the comics and movies of the 60s and 70s. The thing that most impressed me about Superman was the disguise, or the lack of one: it was mostly his affect. Though Clark Kent wore glasses and a conservative suit, this only accentuated his main disguise, that he kept his head down. This shlumpy affect was the main reason, as best I could tell was what kept people from realizing he was super strong and from a different planet. Superman, by contrast, wore a fancy outfit of bright, primary colors and stood with his chin bizarrely up. Superman was careful to keep his hands on his hips or outstretched in front when he flew. Standing and dressed this way, they didn’t recognize him as Clark Kent, and they instantly liked him; everyone except for Luthor, it seemed. It’s a fantasy: being able to blend in when you want, and being able to stand out for the good when you want. As best I could tell, this was the main (Jewish) fantasy of the series: to think that you’d be liked if you stood erect and affected confidence, and that you could pass un-noticed if you wore a suit and slumped over. The current movies get rid of all of this affect and all this fantasy. He no longer flies with his hands out, and Clark is no longer a schlump. You have to wonder why no one suspects that Clark Kent is Superman. And I have to wonder what people find attractive about the movies. Where’s the fantasy?

This didn't happen in the comics of my day except as teasers.

This didn’t happen in the comics of my day except as teasers.

Another fun aspect of the comics that the movies have dismissed was the love triangle of Clark, Superman, and Lois. Or, if you like, of Superman, Supergirl, and Lois. In the comic books of my era, it was clear that Lois is attracted to Superman but feels nothing but feminist revulsion for Clark. Meanwhile, in the comics, Superman clearly felt no attraction for Lois, not in his guise as Superman nor as Clark Kent. There is a sort of paternal affection, but nothing more. Humorously, this paternalism attracts Lois when it comes from Superman, and repeals her when it’s from Clark, the sexist schlump. There’s probably something Freudian there, and it makes perfect sense in context too: You, the reader, know that Lois is of a different species. Clark/ superman would just as soon fall for her as for an orangoutang or a rare potted plant. It’s funny and comforting that he cares nothing for her physically in the comics since she’s such a weaker species that, if they were to mate, the Super Sperm would probably cut Lois in half, or impregnate the entire city. It’s funny because Lois is entirely oblivious to how hopeless her case is and this causes narrative tension. All this tension is removed in the current movies and comics: Lois and Clark, as it were, are a sexual pair, and there is no super sperm disaster.

Bizarro Superman is hated on earth for no reason, just as normal superman is loved for no reason. There is a morality lesson here.

Bizarro Superman is hated on earth for no reason, while normal superman is loved for no reason. There is a moral lesson here.

Highlighting the humor of the interspecies romance, occasionally Superboy or Supergirl would show up in the comic books of my day. The comics of my day showed a chemistry between the two supers that did not appear between Lois and Clark/ Superman. Furthering the humor, it is clear that Supergirl does not share Superman’s affection for mankind. She has an alien morality and it shows. Supergirl generally can’t understand why superboy/ superman takes such care of the humans, and Supergirl finds Superman’s “Truth, Justice, etc. ” morality childish. It’s like she sees him as a grown man playing with toy soldiers or with an ant farm. Super girl makes sense here, by the way. Why would someone from a distant planet share the same morality that we have unless they shared Clark’s Kansas upbringing.

Lois, true to form, is totally oblivious to the interspecies morality difference, and is jealous of supergirl. It’s super fun, made somewhat better when super-dog shows up (he’s a dog in a cape). There is no super-dog in the movies, and no super girl or superboy, so far. Super girl is supposed to appear soon, but it’s hard to guess why.

Mr Mxyzptlk gets superman to say his name backwards. Why? It’s fun.

And then there are the villains. In the comics of my day, the villains were there to develop the humor. Except for Luther, they were aliens and thus didn’t need a real motive for their mischief. Take Mr Mxyzptlk, a favorite of mine and of may others. He meant no harm, but was an alien from the 5th dimension who just wanted to have fun (don’t we all?). Like Superman, Mxyzptlk was super powerful, and Superman had to defeat him with his wits.

Another favorite super villain was Bizzaro Superman. He was a Superman variant of another planet or dimension and , as seemed perfectly reasonable, he has a completely opposite morality from Superman. He’s happy go lucky, robs banks and does other crimes (why would you think otherwise — it’s normal on his planet.) Interestingly, Bizzaro does not keep his head up, and has none of Superman’s charisma, Bizzaro is there, I think, to emphasize the fantasy of Superman’s non-disguise and semi-human morality. And as such he was a favorite.

These musings on the morality and charisma are all left out of the current movies. There is no Bizzaro, or Mxyzptlk. Instead, Lex Luther is the universal villain and he’s crazy-evil. In the current movies, it’s hard to guess why Lex Luther doesn’t like superman as strongly as he does, or why he puts so much effort into fighting him to no effect. In the comics of my day, Lex’s job was much simpler, get kryptonite and hit superman with it, and his motivations seemed reasonably normal. I’d be put off too by a super-strong flying guy in blue tights who foils my illegal plans. As soon as Lex discovers kryptonite and realizes Superman has an Achilles heal, Lex goes about using it. It seemed normal enough to me then. Why does Luther now have to be a psychopath now.

Robert Buxbaum, October 20, 2016. The original super-costume was super Freudian too. It was supposed to be his baby blanket sewn by his mother in Kansas with design input from dear old dad. As a result the original costume looked soft and puffy, like a baby blanket. Nonetheless, Superman wears it with pride — in the open when saving the world and under his Clark Kent clothes at all other times. it seems he’s a momma’s boy clutching his baby blanket. It what way are the modern movie changes better than the original Freudy cat.

1939, when East and West became friends and partners

Forward Marx

The large mustache, Soviet Socialist it seems is very much like his neighbor, the small mustache, National Socialist.

In August, 1939, just about 77 years ago to the day, Germany and the Soviet union signed a non-aggression pact — The Molotov von Ribbentrop agreement. The open text suggested peace, but there was a secret rider that was made widely available. The large mustache soviet socialist and the small mustache national socialist had divided up the land between them. “In case there was war,” Russia would get Lithuania, Finland, Eastern Poland, and Bessarabia (Northern Romania). Germany would get Denmark, Western Poland, and Greece.

Commemoration of the Soviet -German non-aggression pact, August 1939.

Commemoration of the Soviet – German non-aggression pact, August 1939.

Up till then, we in the US assumed that these nations were bitter enemies and that their enmity would protect us. It turned out they were friends, or at least that they had the common goal of conquest and domination. Both were socialists in the sense that they did not respect the property rights of their neighbors. In the cartoon at right, Uncle Sam is standing on the battlements, looking stupid, holding his useless umbrella (The League of Nations? US foreign policy?). The title, “Watchman, What of the Night.” Is from Isaiah. In August, 1939 night was most definitely coming along with a combined storm of aggression from Germany and the USSR.

I’m posting this as a reminder that East and West are more similar than is generally believed. That left and right too are often useless distinctions. That folks will generally seek their own advantage over philosophical purity, and over the advantage of the US. Internationalism, thus, is not a panacea for peace. Generally speaking, I suspect that Flavius’s dictum still applies: “if you wish for peace, prepare for war.” Also, I had these great cartoons, courtesy of my friend, Jim Wald.

Robert Buxbaum, August 25, 2016. People often forget/ ignore that the USSR started its part of WWII by invading Finland and Poland. Finland resisted invasion a lot better than Poland. So well that, when Germany broke the agreement and Russia became our friend, Finland became our enemy– sort-of. They were still fighting Russia. And, in the East, Russia remained an ally of Japan for another year, even briefly after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. This made sending aid to Russia problematic, though Roosevelt did it. I’ve written about WWII in terms of mustaches because, to me, it makes as much sense as anything, and more sense than east vs west.

The game is rigged and you can always win.

A few months ago, I wrote a rather depressing essay based on Nobel Laureate, Kenneth Arrow’s work, and the paradox of de Condorcet. It is mathematically shown that you can not make a fair election, even if you wanted to, and no one in power wants to. The game is rigged.

To make up for that insight, I’d like to show from the work of John Forbes Nash (A Beautiful Mind) that you, personally, can win, basically all the time, if you can get someone, anyone to coöperate by trade. Let’s begin with an example in Nash’s first major paper, “The Bargaining Problem,” the one Nash is working on in the movie— read the whole paper here.  Consider two people, each with a few durable good items. Person A has a bat, a ball, a book, a whip, and a box. Person B has a pen, a toy, a knife, and a hat. Since each item is worth a different amount (has a different utility) to the owner and to the other person, there are almost always sets of trades that benefit both. In our world, where there are many people and everyone has many durable items, it is inconceivable that there are not many trades a person can make to benefit him/her while benefiting the trade partner.

Figure 3, from Nash’s, “The bargaining problem.” U1 and U2 are the utilities of the items to the two people, and O is the current state. You can improve by barter so long as your current state is not on the boundary. The parallel lines are places one could reach if money trades as well.

Good trades are even more likely when money is involved or non-durables. A person may trade his or her time for money, that is work, and any half-normal person will have enough skill to be of some value to someone. If one trades some money for durables, particularly tools, one can become rich (slowly). If one trades this work for items to make them happy (food, entertainment) they can become happier. There are just two key skills: knowing what something is worth to you, and being willing to trade. It’s not that easy for most folks to figure out what their old sofa means to them, but it’s gotten easier with garage sales and eBay.

Let us now move to the problem of elections, e.g. in this year 2016. There are few people who find the person of their dreams running for president this year. The system has fundamental flaws, and has delivered two thoroughly disliked individuals. But you can vote for a generally positive result by splitting your ticket. American society generally elects a mix of Democrats and Republicans. This mix either delivers the outcome we want, or we vote out some of the bums. Americans are generally happy with the result.

A Stamp act stamp. The British used these to tax every transaction, making it impossible for the ordinary person to benefit by small trade.

A Stamp act stamp,. Used to tax every transaction, the British made it impossible for ordinary people to benefit by small trades.

The mix does not have to involve different people, it can involve different periods of time. One can elect a Democrat president this year, and an Republican four years later. Or take the problem of time management for college students. If a student had to make a one time choice, they’d discover that you can’t have good grades, good friends, and sleep. Instead, most college students figure out you can have everything if you do one or two of these now, and switch when you get bored. And this may be the most important thing they learn.

This is my solution to Israel’s classic identity dilemma. David Ben-Gurion famously noted that Israel had the following three choices: they could be a nation of Jews living in the land of Israel, but not democratic. They could be a democratic nation in the land of Israel, but not Jewish; or they could be Jewish and democratic, but not (for the most part) in Israel. This sounds horrible until you realize that Israel can elect politicians to deliver different pairs of the options, and can have different cities that cater to thee options too. Because Jerusalem does not have to look like Tel Aviv, Israel can achieve a balance that’s better than any pure solution.

Robert E. Buxbaum, July 17-22, 2016. Balance is all, and pure solutions are a doom. I’m running for water commissioner.

Narcissism, a horrible disease except in presidents.

Perhaps the worst sort of employee is a narcissist. A narcissist is in love with an image of himself that he sees, and that he has created. Though his behavior does not match the image — it can not –he can not or will not accept the damage he’s caused by insubordination and undercutting. The typical narcissist is always right, and is confident of being right, even when seriously wrong. He can take some advice because he sees himself as humble, but he rarely takes blame, and thus does not change. He can be charming in his love of you and your ideas. Still, you’ll notice his complete disdain for others and of ideas that (to you) look equally brilliant. And once he accepts your first idea as brilliant, he’s unlikely to change to accept your second, or modified version.

The Great Gatsby created an image of himself, and strove to live it. "He looked at you like the moon and the stars shone out of your eyes."

The Great Gatsby created an image of himself, and strove to live it. “He looked at you like the moon and the stars shone out of your eyes.”

The narcissist creates a positive mental image of those around him too, usually as kind, holy, smart people. The Great Gatsby was a classic example of this. It’s nice to be “seen as you’d wish to be seen, as if the moon and the stars shone in your eyes”. It’s an image the narcissist does his best maintain, both of you and of him, even if it kills you and him together. This is a damaging, false image in an underling, employee, but it has a tremendous up-side or two in a friend or boss. It’s nice to work with someone who sees you as God’s gift even if you know it’s false. Besides that, the narcissist usually has some general plan of action or knows how to get one (e.g. hire the best, consult the iChing, build a wall). The plan might not be great, but it’s usually better than having no-plan or waiting to consult the consultants at every turn. And unlike most folks, the narcissist knows he must stick to the plan or he looks like a loser. It also helps that he or she, by force of charisma, has the ability to make others stick to the plan. In times of trouble or confusion, that’s usually far better than hopeless floundering. It’s also good to have solid followers when leading a big organization where decisions are important. The leader can not hope to manage all the details here, but need to be able to lead with confidence. He needs to be able to rely on his loyal minions to get the details right.

There are few bigger organizations than government, and government has seen an uncommon concentration of narcissists. These narcissists have done rather well, considering. In the US and elsewhere some of the best (and worst) leaders have been Narcissists. Napoleon, FDR, Stalin, Churchill, Christ, Mohammed, Hitler, Bill Clinton, Gandhi, and Genghis Kahn; all narcissists as best I can tell. They all saw themselves as great, behaved accordingly, and got people to follow. They made grand plans and carried them out by convincing to go along, providing the necessary blood, swat, and tears, even death. Their approach may appall when seen in quiet times, but it’s absolutely necessary in troubled times when the normal alternatives are confusion and despair. Jimmy Carter, a more-normal type, folded in times of trouble; to the Ayatollah and to Idi Amin. Twice he started Iranian rescue operations, then called them off at the worst times. People died, friends lost hope. Carter was a normal person in a situation that required an egotistical narcissist. Meanwhile, the Ayatollah and Idi Amin did as narcissist do, for better or worse.

It’s been pointed out that Donald Trump is a narcissist (he is, congratulations). I strongly suspect that’s true of Cruz, and Sanders too. Trump’s narcissism is unusually blatant because his vision of himself is unusually brash. Cruz and Sanders, have quieter visions of themselves mixing feigned humility with their firm resolve. I don’t see these visions as better, just more normal. Brash visions can be a negative, of course, both in a US president, and in a corporate president, especially if taken too far. But no vision is worse. Apple computer seems to have no vision, and it’s floundering. Jeb seemed to have had no firm vision either, and he ended his run as washed-up flotsam. Fortunately the US government has the power to rein in any (I think) narcissist vision, via the constitution’s balance of power. Congress and the supreme court, if they see to use it, have the power to stop any excess of a narcissist president. The narcissist will fight but will eventually will bend to them; the one thing the narcissist does not wish is to see himself as, is as a loser, and they have the power to portray him that way.

Robert Buxbaum, April 10, 2016. I’m not a psychologist and might be dead wrong here, but how I see things at the moment is that Trump’s narcissism is manageable and perhaps advantageous. Besides, I’ve argued in favor of tariffs for some time, so we have some policy agreement. For April Fools day, last year, I described the duel of a famous narcissist president, Andrew Jackson, with his lawyer.

Celebrating the Eids of March

March 15, the eids of March. On this date in 44 BC (2060 years ago) 5 centuries of republican rule in Rome came to an end to be followed by chaos, civil war, and then Empire. Augustus, Claudius, Nero. That was not the aim of the senators and colleagues of Julius Caesar when they took to assassinate Julius Caesar, first citizen of Rome. They acted out of excessive republican purity, and excessive fear. Their aim was for a pure republicanism where there would be no first citizen, and their fear was that Julius might become the emperor – the emperor that Augustus, Claudius, and Nero became.

Brutus on the face side of an Eids March coin, with two daggers and the legend "Eid Mar" on the obverse. Clearly the conspirators were proud of their act

Brutus on the face side of this Roman coin and two daggers and the legend “Eid Mar” on the obverse. The conspirators were proud of their act.

Shakespeare considers Brutus to be the noblest Roman of them all, but Dante considers him among the worst of the worst. Dante’s Devine Comedy consigns Brutus to the very center of Hell along with Cassius and Judas. What do you think? BTW, why it’s this a comedy?

The difference between a republican government and a democracy is that a democracy can elect a dictator (as Germany did and Iran has) or can choose to execute a citizen for being annoying to the majority, as democratic Athens did to Socrates. In a republic, even the majority is bound by a set of constitutional limitation providing some-measure of inviolable rights, generally that life, liberty, and property can not be taken without due process or the violation of a more-or-less clear law. All other systems are, to a greater or less extent a rule of whim. When the founders of the US picked a model for government, they picked republican Rome, not democratic Athens nor a limited monarchy as existed in England. Their motivation was the observation that power corrupts, and that inequality under the law attracts the worst elements to the position of least check on their power.

Mark Anthony and his wife, Octavia, Octavius's sister.

Mark Anthony and his wife, Octavia, Octavius’s sister.

The death of Caesar set forces in motion that would install Octavius (Augustus) Caesar and Anthony to take over as co-emperors. Here is a coin showing Mark Anthony with his wife, Octavius’s sister. already, neither look as lean as Brutus or Julius Caesar. Shortly thereafter, Octavius would have Mark Anthony killed to cement his power and republican rule would be over until 1776.

Robert E. (beware), March 14, 2016. I suspect this same drive for purity and fear is driving the Republican party today. Don’t fear the Rino, just make sure there is a balance of power.