Category Archives: psychology

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.

bat-buddah

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.

zc-percentage-total-suicides-by-method-2000-2003-ca-2007-us

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).

Why did Hamilton wear his glasses at the duel?

The musical play “Hamilton” ends with his duel with Burr. A song leading up to it, the world was wide enough tells the audience that Hamilton “wore his glasses” at the duel, and that he “methodically fiddled with the trigger.” It doesn’t say why, but tries to imply a sort of death-wish where Hamilton “threw away his shot” (fired into the air) because he didn’t want to kill his first friend, or because he thought of his son, who died near the spot. The theory is supported by popular myth, though the details of the events are, by necessity, muddy. All the witnesses testified that they looked away before the shooting started –customary in duels at the time.

There are some problems I find with this theory, and I’d like to present another: that Hamilton was so eager to kill Burr that he over-stacked the deck in his favor. The witnesses noted that Hamilton performed some provocative actions that seem out of character for someone who wants to commit suicide: “As they were taking their places, he (Hamilton) asked that the proceedings stop, adjusted his spectacles, and slowly, repeatedly, sighted along his pistol to test his aim”[1]. This seems like a taunt, if anything. As I reading the letters too, I find Hamilton taunting Burr to duel. He could have bowed out in many ways, as Washington always had, or been neutral. Why taunt? Why wear glasses and fiddle with the trigger? Why test your aim and then throw away your shot?

The choice of guns is important too, along with where the shot actually went. First the shot: While Hamilton’s second originally thought Hamilton had shot in the air, when the seconds went back the next day they found the shot in a cedar limb, “at an elevation of about twelve feet and a half, perpendicularly from the ground, between thirteen and fourteen feet from the mark on which General Hamilton stood, and about four feet wide of the direct line between him and Col. Burr, on the right side”.[2] The men stood 10 paces apart (16-18 feet), so apparently the shot hit about 6 feet above Burr’s head on a line reasonably towards him. That’s not quite shooting in the air.

The pair of Wogdon dueling pistols used in the Hamilton - Burr duel.

The Wogdon pistols used in the Hamilton – Burr duel. Currently the property of the JP Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank, in 1976 they were found to have a hidden hair trigger, something Hamilton knew, but Burr would not have known.

The choice of pistols is also suggestive. The pistols were the property of John Church, a brother-in-law to Hamilton, and a business partner of both men. Church had fought a duel with Burr some years before and, using Burr’s pistols, shot a button off Burr’s coat. Burr missed completely. Church then bought these new pistols in London — Wogdon pistols, with an extra-large bore and sights. Sights were not considered “sporting” for duels, and not ordinarily allowed. With sights on the pistols, one could not miss if one aimed. As for the bigger bore, this too was unusual. If you hit, you killed; most gentlemen preferred a less-deadly duel. Hamilton chose to use these pistols even though he owned two, “legal” pistols (smaller bore, no sight). As the challenged party, it was his right. Still, why not choose your own, if not to make use of the sight and the large-bore. And, according to his second, he seems to have practiced with the pistols beforehand [4].

Analysis of the guns, done in the late 1970s [3] turned up another illegal feature. While they appear to be normal dueling pistols, these guns have a hidden feature. If you move the trigger a fraction of an inch forward it sets a hidden, hair-trigger. It’s a hidden feature that Hamilton knew about [3] but Burr almost certainly did not. If Hamilton surreptitiously set the hair-trigger, it would give him a tremendous advantage. He would be able to shoot more quickly and more accurately, with a much lighter squeeze on the trigger. The sights ensured it would be a kill. Burr’s gun, unset, would have required the normal, heavy, 10-15 pound pull. His shot would have been slower and less accurate. As it was, it seems Burr fired second.

Ten paces is not very far apart. People missed because of the 10-20 lb pull and lack of sights made it hard to hit. Besides, many people who were hit survived.

Ten paces is not very far apart. People missed because of the 10-20 lb pull and the lack of sights made it hard to hit anyone. Besides, with a small bore, you didn’t kill.

There are a couple of problems with using hair-trigger pistols, though. They can go off prematurely, even if you know the trigger’s been set [4], and it’s worse if you are not quite sure you’ve set the trigger. The Wogdon guns intentionally made it hard to tell if you have set the trigger or not, and made it impossible to unset the trigger without firing. I suspect that Hamilton cleaned his glasses, fiddled with the trigger, and sighted his aim because he was unsure whether he’d set the hair-trigger. My theory is he came to the wrong conclusion. According to the seconds, Burr’s shot was almost simultaneous, but his apparently achieved a lucky/ un-lucky hit. Burr killed his rival, but also killed his own political career, the unhappy end to a beautiful animosity, discussed in the play, and discussed by me from a different angle. [5]

References:

1. Testimony at trial, Centinel of Freedom, November 24, 1807, cited in Winfield, 1874, p. 220.

2.  Nathanial Pendelton’s Amended testimony of Nathaniel Pendleton and William P. Ness’s Statement of July 11, 1804. Amended after the pair revisited the site and found the bullet.

3. “Pistols shed light on famed duel”, Merrill Lindsay, Smithsonian Magazine. 1976.

4. ibid. Hamilton told his second not to set the hair-trigger, and then seems to have set his own. Linsay’s theory is that Hamilton knew he’d set the trigger, but squeezed it too early.

5. Since the witnesses looked away, you might think of another explanation: that Burr fired first and Hamilton’s gun then went off in death throw, in the general direction of Burr. A couple of problems with this theory: for the gun to go off like that, Hamilton would have had to set the hair-trigger. The ordinary 10-15 lb trigger would require a determined squeeze. Also, for the bullet to hit the tree like that, Hamilton would have had to raise his gun past Burr, though not to the side or down as one might if he wished to throw away his shot. And Burr would have to have set the trigger himself to shoot so fast and so well. Randall’s book, “Alexander Hamilton, a life”, claims he did, p. 424, but looking at this video of the hair-trigger mechanism, I find the mechanism is too cleverly hidden for Burr to have noticed. It escaped detection for 170 years. Finally, for Burr to shoot to kill without provocation, would require that he murder in cold blood, and Burr shows no evidence of that. Besides, Burr would have had to worry that the witnesses might turn around and see his dastardly deed. As it was, even with Hamilton’s gun going off, Burr’s reputation was ruined. I reject this theory, and assert as others have: “Hamilton did fire his weapon intentionally, and he fired first.”

Robert E. Buxbaum, May 10, 2017. You may like these other songs from Hamilton, “your obedient servant,” and “the ten duel commandments.” And you may like this essay about Burr, Tammany Hall and the Manhattan bank.

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.

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.

Say no to the dress

A popular reality TV show follows the struggles of young brides-to-be shopping for a wedding dress at a famous store, Kleinfeld’s. They’ve come to believe that this charming adornment will make their dream-wedding really perfect. There is some sort of idea that the perfect wedding is necessary (or desirable) to get you started on a perfect life. This is stated in various ways throughout the show with phrases like: “you deserve to be the princess,” or “you deserve your special day.”

Each woman brings a retinue to help her pick the gown, and to help advise her about what dress has the most pop, or looks best on her, or makes her look the most special. Often it’s someone in this retinue that will pay for the dress too, a father, uncle, or a close family member. The store caters to the retinue at lest at the beginning to get a commitment to the price, generally $5,000 to $10,000, but sometimes to “no limit on the price.” It then provides a dazzling variety of dresses and an old hand or two to guide the young lady to the right one. At first, the retinue chimes in, but eventually the retinue is detached, and the bride is made to embrace that it’s her special day, alone. Then, when the perfect dress is finally chosen (often at the high-end of the budget), the bride is asked: “are you ready to say yes to the dress?” She does, with tears, and everyone claps, especially the retinue. Often, there is a final shot of the beautiful bride at the beautiful wedding. It’s touching, but perhaps unnecessary. So here’s an alternate  thought: just say “no”. No to the expensive dress; no to the expensive cake (sorry, cake boss) and no to the fancy, big diamond. instead, throw a big fun wedding on the cheap, perhaps at a park in a rented gown; friends will get you through life, the big dress and big cake will not.

An expensive wedding didn’t keep John Kennedy faithful, nor did it help cement Elizabeth Taylors 7 husbands (two to Richard Burton). Just the opposite: a recent study on marriage stability showed that the higher priced the wedding, the more likely it is to end in divorce.

Marriage stability goes down as the wedding costs go up.

Marriage stability goes down as the wedding costs go up. If you dress costs $5,000, your wedding is unlikely to come in at less than $10k. From Francis and Mialon, “A diamond is forever and other Fairy Tales,” 2014. The average cost of a US wedding: $30,000.

The point of the wedding is to have a long, happy marriage, not a one day party, and expensive weddings appear to be counter-productive to stability. Things are worse for those who enter poor, backing up the observation that money stresses are among the main causes of marriage failure. This is not to say that you should not have a wedding party, but that spending should be watched especially if the couple isn’t that extraordinarily rich. The average, employed US 20-something earns about $26,000/year before taxes. That’s not bad money until you realize that the average US wedding costs over $30,000 not including dress, ring and honeymoon. There is a far lower chance of divorce for the couple with the $5-$10k wedding, and even lower if the couple can keep expenses in the 0-$5k range.

Give her a diamond ring, but the ideal cost is between $100 and $2000 (unless you're super rich)

Give her a ring, but the ideal cost is between $200 and $2000 unless you’re super rich.

Statistics suggest that spending on the diamond doesn’t help either, unless it’s a very expensive stone — and that, perhaps, is because the very expensive stone is only bought by the very rich groom. Still, even for the 1% who can afford it, the dress or stone should be considered a sunk cost, not an investment. You’ll never be able to resell that dress at all, and though you can resell a diamond it is virtually impossible to get even half your money back. This isn’t to say that you should not give a ring — without a ring the bride will feel cheated, but most grooms will be better served giving one in the $100-$2000 range.

It seems that having lots of people at the wedding is perhaps the single best thing you can do for marriage stability. On the other hand, this graph might show that the sort of person who has 200 good friends is the sort of person to remain happily married.

Having lots of people at the wedding is perhaps the single best thing you can do for marriage stability. On the other hand, this graph might show that the sort of person who has 200 good friends is the sort of person to remain happily married. ibid.

While your wedding should be cheap, or at least affordable, it should not be small. It turns out that having lots of friends and family in attendance correlates strongly with having a long, stable marriage. I’m not sure if this is entirely cause and effect: perhaps those with lots of friends and family are giving and stable than those without. Still, it strikes me that friendships are good for every couple, and very worth maintaining. These are people who will be there for advice, or just be there when things get rocky. Give them a good party, and don’t drive them away by sending a message that a large gift is expected. If you get married on the cheap, it’s likely your guests will feel more comfortable showing up in business clothes with simple affordable gifts. Most bridesmaids are happier if they don’t have to buy a big expensive dress.

Honeymoons help malaise stability too.

Honeymoons help marriage stability too. ibid.

Robert E. Buxbaum, July 12, 2015. My 3 children are all entering marriageable age — and PhD age (I wrote a post comparing a wedding to a PhD.) The above are my thoughts before being hornswoggled into buying $5,000 worth of taffeta. They are also suggestive of the sort of work to get a PhD. Another good spending investment, I think, is to go on a honeymoon. I didn’t, and though we didn’t get divorced, in retrospect it seems like a good idea. I plan to finally go on a honeymoon for our 25th anniversary. Let’s toast (with Geritol) to finding the right mate. Good luck.

The mystery of American productivity

Americans are among the richest and best paid people in the world. On a yearly basis, Americans produce and earn about 20% more than Britons and about 30% more than Japanese. On an hourly basis, counter to what you might expect, American workers produce about 30% more than Britons or Canadians, and about 50% more than the vaunted Japanese.

Per hour worker productivity, from the Economist.  We do OK for backward hicks.

Per hour worker productivity, from the Economist. We do OK for backward hicks.

French and German workers produce about as much as we do, per hour, but tend to work fewer hours. Still, the differences are not quite what you might expect. French workers take many more hours off than we do and are still so much more productive than the British that it appears they could take an extra month off and still beat them in yearly output. Japanese workers meanwhile produce only as much as the French, per year, but take far more hours to do it. One thought is that it’s all the vacation time that makes French so productive and it’s perhaps the lack of vacations that causes the Japanese to be relatively unproductive.

Not that vacation time alone explains our high productivity, nor that of the Germans or Italians relative to the Canadians and Britons. One part of an answer, I suspect, is that we put fewer roadblocks to workers becoming business owners, and to running things their own way. Another thought is that US and Germany have a low minimum wage, comparatively, and Italy has no minimum wage at all; Germany had no minimum wage in 2013, the time of the productivity comparison. In countries like this, there is a larger profit to be had by clever individuals who work hard, think, and start their own businesses. With minimal requirement on how much to pay, the business owner can bring to bear a mix of low-wage, minimally productive workers with labor-saving innovation, allowing them to become rich while decreasing unemployment. It also allows them to serve otherwise under-served parts of the market and profit from it. And profit is a powerful motivator. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “a why beats a how.” 

The nine European countries with no minimum wage are among the richest on the continent, and among those with the lowest unemployment: Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. By contrast, England, Canada, and Japan have relative high minimum wages and relatively high unemployment. There are also some poor countries with no minimum wage (Egypt, Zimbabwe, Rwanda…) but these countries suffer from other issues, like rampant crime. I’ve argued that the high “Living Wage” in Detroit is a major cause of Detroit’s high unemployment and bankruptcy. If low minimum wage is a major source of American worker productivity and wealth, it would be a real mistake to raise it.

Worker productivity is the best single predictor of long-term national success. As such, the long-term prediction for Britain, Canada, and Japan is not good. Unless something changes in these countries, we may expect to see them off to a long, dark tea-time of declining significance. Perhaps, it is a fear of this that was behind the resounding defeat of the Labour party in British elections last week. The Labour government oversaw England’s last big drop in productivity.

R.E. Buxbaum, May 28, 2015. It’s also possible (unlikely) that US universities are really good, or at least not as bad as thought. We don’t seem to quite beat the enthusiasm out of our students, though we do drug them quite a lot. Here’s a Forbes article on minimum wage.

From Princeton: dare to be dumb.

Let’s say you have a good education and a good idea you want to present to equally educated colleagues. You might think to use your finest language skills: your big words, your long sentences, and your dialectically organized, long paragraphs. A recent, Princeton University study suggests this is a route to disaster with the educated, and even more so with the un-educated. In both groups, big words don’t convince, and don’t even impress, like small words do.

Most people won't care what you know unless they know that you care.

Like this fellow, most folks aren’t impressed by fancy speeches. (cartoon by Gahan Wilson)

http://web.princeton.edu/…/Opp%20Consequences%20of%20Erudit…

People, even educated ones, want ideas presented in simple words and simple sentences. They trust such statements, and respect those who speak this way more than those who shoot high, and sometimes over their heads. Even educated people find long words and sentences confusing, and off-putting. To them, as to the less-educated, it sounds like you’re using your fancy english as a cover for lies and ignorance, while trying to claim superiority. Who knew that George W. was so smart (Al Gore?). Here’s George W. at the SMU graduation yesterday (May 18). He does well, I’d say, with mostly one-syllable words.

This is the sort of advertising that people notice -- and trust.

Lower yourself to be one of the crowd, but don’t go so far that you’re the butt of jokes.

Reading this study, I’ve come to ask why fancy language skills is so important for getting into  college, and why it adds points when writing a college paper. Asked another way, why are professors pleased by something that’s off-putting to everyone else. One thought: this is a club initiation — a jargon to show you belong to the club, or want to. Alternately, perhaps professors have gotten so used to this that it’s become their natural language. Whatever the reason, when outside of university, keep it simple (and) stupid.

Some specifics: at job interviews, claim you want to work at their company doing a job in your field. Only when dealing with professors can you claim your goal is capitalizing on your intellectual synergies, and phrase that means the same thing. Don’t say, you’ll do anything, and remember it’s OK to ask for training; poor education doesn’t hold-back American productivity.

Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum, May 19, 2015. Here are some further thoughts on education, and some pictures of my dorm and the grad college at Princeton back in the day.

Winning the peace at Appomattox

George A. Custer with captured confederate prisoner. Custer was a man of action but not of cruelty.

George A. Custer with a captured confederate prisoner. Custer was a man of action, but not of cruelty.

It is often forgotten that the aim of generalship is not winning a war, but winning a stable peace. In that sense, most generals and most diplomats are failures; their victories benefit only the undertaker; their peace-treaties only provide time to reload. That was the case with the Mexican civil war but not the US civil war. The choices and surrender at Appomattox, 150 years ago lead to a genuine, stable peace. It’s worthwhile, therefore to consider the how that was done here and not in Mexico, perhaps as a lesson for the future.

I begin, near the end of the war with a much-maligned general, George A Custer on April 8, 1865; this  is the day the 13th Amendment passed, four days after Lincoln walked through a defeated, smoldering Richmond, the capital of the south. The war would end soon, but would the result be peace, or chaos. George A. Custer had graduated at the very bottom of his class at West Point, the position known as goat. As is not atypical with goats, he was not particularly suited to following orders during peacetime, but was supremely suited to war and action. Custer liked to attack first and think later, but he was also a man of peace; he become the youngest Union Brevet General in US history. On April 8, with Lee at Appomattox Court House (that’s the name of the town), Custer led a small group of men to attack a nearby town, Appomattox Station, a rail depot three miles to the southwest. There he captured, without a fight, three, rail cars full of desperately needed arms, ammunition and supplies that had been sent to Lee’s army from Lynchburg.

While leaving the station, Custer’s men ran into the artillery unit of Confederate Brig. Gen. Reuben Walker, and attacked (of course) eventually capturing 25 artillery pieces, nearly 1,000 prisoners and all of their supplies. It took several attacks to win, but the results were worth it. Custer took the cannon and his troops, and positioned them on Lee’s likely escape route, on the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road south of Appomattox Courthouse. Lee was now nearly trapped, but didn’t know it yet.

Paining in honor of the 45th regiment colored troops: Afro-American soldier stands with flag before a bust of Washington.

Painting in honor of the 45th regiment colored troops: Afro-American soldier stands, with flag, before a bust of Washington and a depiction of battle (Fair Oaks? Petersburg?)

On the same day, April 8, General Grant sent Lee a proposition to surrender. Lee responded that he was not interested in that, but would like to meet at the McLean House at 10:00 A.M. April 9 to discuss “restoration of peace.” Grant replied that he didn’t have that power but agreed to meet Lee, none the less.

In the meantime, Lee prepared his forces to clear the Stage Road so his forces could escape south-west, to Appomattox station and home. Grant, no newcomer to war, ordered two corps (XXIV and V) under the commands of Maj. Gen. John Gibbon and Bvt. Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin to march all night to the west and north. These corps included 5000 Afro-American troops, mostly in the 45th and 116th U.S. Colored Troop Brigades. On the morning of April 9, Lee attacked to the south and managed to capture the forward pickets defending the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road. But when he reached the rise of the hill, he saw his escape was blocked. His 45,000 troops were surrounded by 113,000, better-armed Union soldiers, cannon and cavalry. It was then suggested that Lee disband his troops for an extended guerrilla war, an option he refused as it would lead to murdering bands roaming the county, and would make peace nearly impossible. Instead Lee rode off to discuss surrender to Grant. 

Map of the troop arrangements April 9, 1865. Checkmate. Lee's forces, x or + are out numbered, out gunned and surrounded. The end.

Map of the troop arrangements April 9, 1865. Checkmate. Lee’s forces, x or +, are out numbered, out gunned, and surrounded.

Lee’s surrender, finalized that afternoon, was penned by Grant’s aide-de camp, Lt Col’, Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian who had an engineering degree and studied law. The kindness to Indians may have suggested similar kindness to the surrendering Confederates. Parker eventually rose to the rank of general, and then to head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The terms of surrender too, were chosen to be unusually generous. Grant did not take the confederates soldiers captive, but instead allowed them to return home, relatively unmolested. Also, he allowed the officers to keep their swords and personal weapons. Kind acts like these may have eased reconstruction. Custer had demanded unconditional surrender from General Beauregard on April 9, something he probably imagined U.S. (Unconditional Surrender) Grant would have wanted; he was over-ruled by his commanding officer, Phillip Sheridan, who probably knew Grant better. 

After the war, most of the confederates swore loyalty to the US. Lee did what he could to promote reconciliation; he supported civil rights and reconstruction, and became president of Washington and Lee College. Some confederate generals and 2500 soldiers headed south to Mexico to join the French/Austrian forces of Emperor, Maximilian I, engaged in a civil war of his own. Maximilian, only 34 years old and a highly decorated Austrian officer, had little local support. He was captured and executed, June 19, 1867. Mexico then descended into chaos: a Pyrrhic victory, and a model to avoid.

Surrender at Appomattox; with Grant are Philip H. Sheridan, Orville E. Babcock, Horace Potter, Edward O.C. Ord, Seth Williams, Theodore S. Bowers, Ely S. Parker and George A. Custer. With Lee is Charles Marshall, his military secretary.

Surrender at Appomattox; with Grant are Philip H. Sheridan, Orville E. Babcock, Horace Potter, Edward O.C. Ord, Seth Williams, Theodore S. Bowers, Ely S. Parker and George A. Custer. With Lee is Charles Marshall, his military secretary. After the signing, most of the furnishings were purchased by Union officers as souvenirs. Lee shook Parker’s hand and said, I’m glad to see a real American here.” Parker replied, “We are all Americans.”

What did Mexico do wrong? For one, in order to win a peace, they failed to get the other side to agree to the peace, with clear documentation about what it is that’s been agreed to (That’s why Parker’s role is so important). Instead of killing Maximilian, they should have had him sign some sort of document and retire him to a farm or college where he could support the peace. In order to win a peace, it’s important to leave a stable country, with stable borders and a strong military, one that can govern itself fairly and well. A stable peace generally involves recognition of your government by other nations, and that too requires not killing your defeated enemy wholesale.

Robert E. Buxbaum, April 7-12, 2015. My sense is that the conditions for building a lasting peace get far too little attention in the study of war and history. I should mention that the 45th were mostly escaped slave volunteers. The 116th were ex-slaves that the Union purchased from Kentucky slave-owners at the beginning of the war to fight for the Union cause. This was thought to be a good emollient for peace, and may have helped keep Kentucky on the Union side. I should note too, that Lee freed his slaves in 1862, near the beginning of the war, a time when Grant still owned some. I’ve noted that men who choose beards tend to show a surprising republican (or communist) generosity. As Lincoln said, “Do I not defeat my enemy when I make him a friend?” For more thoughts on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, see here.

He/she gave it to him/her/them – the new grammar of transgender

When I was in grad school, at Princeton there was a grammar joke about a ghetto kid who comes to Princeton. The kid asks, “Where’s the library at?” and is told, “This is an ivy league school. One does not end one’s sentences with a preposition here.” So the kid rephrase: “Where’s the library at, asshole?” What makes this joke poignant was that I found language divides class, and is a weapon of class war, too. At Princeton, I was of lower economic class along with virtually all of the grad school. It was not that we had less spending money, but we came from public schools, while the undergraduates were virtually all from private, “prep school”. It showed in wardrobe, tastes, and especially language.

Protesting at Fergusson; white radicals marching against cops and the system.

Ferguson rally; white radicals in a black neighborhood. Are the locals as against cops and the system?

To the prep-schooler, the working class was cheap because they were racist, or apartheid, and the preppy was trying to remedy this through activism. Rarely mentioned was that daddy was a major landlord, a college president or ambassador to Chad, or that they planned to go off to jobs in finance, law, or politics as soon as they were done rallying against class, racism, and the system. I imagine that their radical politics was partially sincere, but partially a social tool to keep the unwashed bourgeois at arm’s length. The best answer, I thought then, and now, is in grammar: we are not stingy racists, just being frugal.

The sexist label of today seems similar to the racist label of those days: partly sincere, partly a social tool built on fear, and the answer too, I think is grammar. Most people see no problem with a name change (just file the paperwork), or with a change in driver’s license sex indicator (who knows or cares?). The problem comes in with the loudly gender fluid: those who’re male today and female tomorrow and want to be respected for it. Are they a legitimate 3rd gender, or an over-pampered minority with no good claim to victimhood or anything else.

Transgender does not have to do with bed partners. Some people like to "keep it fluid" and this is where the grammar problems come in.

Transgender does not have to do with bed partners, but with self-image. Some people are confused and like (need?) to “keep it fluid”; this is where the grammar problems come in. Yet others are sons of privilege trying to make a point. Is this person confused or trying to make a point? Does it matter?

In this, and all such cases, I think it pays to respond to the legitimate complainant first and see if that answers all. One popular option is to use the words “they” or “them” when male or female labels don’t fit. Thus: “I gave my homework to them,” even though only one person received it. This is bad in my mind as it solves one problem but creates at least two others. It’s confusing to call one person many, and gives that person’s opinion extra weight. “They voted yea”, implies many people, not just one. Most Americans cringe when the queen of England says, “We request…” The queen gives her request extra weight by speaking in the plural. Similarly, “L’État, c’est moi.

More republican would be to avoid all pronouns and use the person’s name, e.g. “I gave it to Dennis”. But this can be awkward if the name is long (Hermione) or repetitively used, or if the person’s name is in flux too. What to do with someone who’s Ernestine to some, Dr. Peters to others (and Ernest in the country). Once a person settles on a single gender the grammatical problem pretty well resolves: good manners suggest one use the pronoun “him” for one who dresses male and calls himself Alphonse, not Alice.

Carrie Nation, If she says she's a woman, good manners suggests I agree

Carrie Nation, prohibitionist. If she says she’s a woman, good manners and common sense suggest we agree — no matter how masculine her behavior or dress.

There is thus a need for a good singular pronoun for the gender-fluid, and the socialists have one ready: call all people “comrade,” a word specifically chosen to be gender neutral. It further implied political solidarity and economic unity. This is fine, for some, but uncomfortable for a capitalist. Another option, one Karl Marx himself used, is “citizen.” But this word carries its own baggage from revolutionary France. Instead, I suggest “mate” or “lately” based on pirate lingo: ‘I gave me homework over to yer mate.’ It’s strange, but works. Give it a try on “talk like a pirate day,” September 16 every year.

It’s now to be asked, have we addressed the broader problem of those who see any gender identification as an injustice of the capitalist, repressive system? I answer, does it matter? I suspect these folks are unhappy with themselves, and will never be otherwise, but that’s just a suspicion. Even unhappy folks do good, even when they do bad too.  Here’s a poem “International Women’s Day” (1920) by–Alexandra Kollontai (1920).

Down with the world of Property and the Power of Capital! Away with Inequality, Lack of Rights and the Oppression of Women – The Legacy of the Bourgeois World! Forward To the International Unity of Working Women and Male. Workers in the Struggle for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat: The Proletariat of Both Sexes!

Suffragettes -- Meeting at Cooper Union. Not quite the poor, oppressed, but bringers of positive change, when they were not fighting for prohibition.

Suffragettes meeting at Cooper Union. Not quite the oppressed, but bringers of positive change– and also of prohibition.

Ms Kollontai was a main founder of Women’s day, and this is/ was a good thing. She was also a daughter of privilege and a fan of Stalin’s brand of social engineering (the sort that hung engineers from the lamp-posts as a warning to anti-proletarians). She was Soviet ambassador to Sweden, and as ambassador, kept Sweden from helping Poland or Finland when Stalin and Hitler joined forces to simultaneously invade those countries and murder the population. I find that the world is crazy, and so are the people who do things. You just have to try to take the good with the bad, and laugh if you can. You can not do otherwise.

Robert E. Buxbaum, March 30-31, 2015.