Nude Celebrity Photos

September 2, 2014

Big breaking news! Hacked nude photos of celebrities on the Internet! Holy Cow!

UnknownLike, this is the very first time we’ve ever seen pictures of these actresses WITHOUT THEIR CLOTHES ON! I am shocked, shocked.

The celebrities are indignantly huffing and puffing about the scandalous invasion of their privacy.

Excuse me – these people were not kidnapped, forcibly stripped, and photographed against their will. Hello, this is the 21st century. It’s the friggin’ INTERNET. If you don’t want your nude photos splashed all over the Internet – then don’t let them get anywhere near the Internet. Why, it’s just that simple. But, of course, naïve celebrities can’t be expected to understand such things. (Don’t they hire “people” for that?)

[Nerd note: How many hits will this blog get from folks googling “nude celebrity photos?” I got an unexpected traffic spike on a recent post from people using the search term “head chopped off” or variants thereof.]

The Passion of the Western Mind

August 30, 2014

UnknownThis book by Richard Tarnas is a history of Western thought. Now, yes, Eastern thought is also worthy of respect. But the Western intellectual tradition is the 800 pound gorilla, the elephant in the room, the hippo in the bathtub.

I have written about our falling down on humanities education. Tarnas presents his history as a story – the tale of how we got from Point A (the ancient Greeks) to Point B (where we are today), with hints of a further Point C. It’s actually a thrilling story – but more, it’s vital to understanding our world and its challenges.

Play-doh's Forms

Play-doh’s Forms

Tarnas says he aims to describe systems of thought “on their own terms,” without “condescension,” so that we can better understand our journey. He begins with the Greeks, notably Plato, whose theory of “forms” was a first stab at understanding the nature of reality, starting a conversation that’s never stopped.

Then comes Christianity. True to his word, Tarnas gives us Christian thought and its development straight, “on its own terms,” nonjudgmentally. images-2This takes many pages. Frankly I skimmed over much of it. However, one thing that impressed itself upon me was how impossible it was, in Europe at least, during the centuries of church domination, to break free of that influence. The Christian way of thinking was the only way of thinking.

But then the story gets good. Revolution bursts out all over. You’ve got your Renaissance. Then your Reformation. And then your scientific revolution, and your Enlightenment. It all makes the church’s head spin.

When it comes to discussing the modern intellectual paradigm – the Enlightenment of science and rationality – Tarnas lets slip his straight-faced mask of nonjudgmentalism. images-4He is downright triumphalist about how thoroughly the modern idea demolishes the older mentality grounded in religion. To read his passages on the sweeping victory of science over faith, you might think religion has slunk away, crushed and banished. This may be true in the academic groves Tarnas inhabits; but it sure ain’t true in Kansas.

Meantime, though, it wasn’t just religion having trouble with science; philosophy did too. It’s the eternal problem of epistemology:  what is true knowledge, and how can a human mind possess it? “The Crisis of Modern Science,” Tarnas calls this chapter. In particular he invokes philosopher Thomas Kuhn (1922-96), and the notion that what we’ve got is not so much information as interpretation; we cannot truly know anything. And then we find sentences like this: “The aggressive exploitation of the natural environment, the proliferation of nuclear weaponry, the threat of global catastrophe – all pointed to an indictment of science, of human reason itself, now seemingly in thrall to man’s own self-destructive irrationality.”

Please. This is indeed the pessimistic post-modern mindset. But just as Tarnas was over-the-top in declaring that science had killed faith, he is even further off the mark in declaring science mortally wounded.

Unknown-1Firstly, you can bullshit all night in your dorm room over the epistemological conundrum, whether we can truly know anything – but airplanes fly (and pigs don’t). That airplanes do fly actually proves that the great corpus of modern scientific knowledge is true. Not probably true, as Kuhn might at most allow, all encrusted with qualifiers and caveats – but absolutely true, full stop. (But perhaps Professor Kuhn, believing as he did, never boarded an airplane; or did 99% of the other things modern people do, like using computers, thanks to scientific knowledge.)

As for “man’s own self-destructive irrationality,” etc., it’s undeniable that we are at least imperfectly rational and sometimes cause great harm to ourselves and others. But is that the whole picture? It’s not even most of it. The bigger picture – vastly bigger – is that, from our emergence as a species, and especially from the start of civilization, and especially in modern scientific times, we humans have increasingly utilized rationality to create societal structures and to gain knowledge to advance technologically, to give ever greater numbers ever better quality of life.

Unknown-2That’s the bigger picture. All this “self-destructive irrationality” crap makes me sick. We have not blown ourselves up with nuclear weapons. Most of us are less violent than ever (yes; see again my review of Pinker’s book). More people than ever have more food, better health, more education, and more rewarding and longer lives.* True, all this has put a strain on the planet, but rather than being irrationally self-destructive, to the contrary it’s been a rational effort to improve life. There’s no free lunch, but the price has been worth paying, and so far growing knowledge has enabled us to handle the resulting environmental challenges.

Now what about that Point C I mentioned? In the spirit of Tarnas I’ll try to present this “on its own terms.” He suggests a resolution to “the profound dualism of the modern mind” – man vs. nature, mind vs. matter, self vs. other, etc. One’s birth is an expression of a larger underlying archetypal process of moving from one paradigm to another. The newborn is expelled into a world of confusion, needing a “redemptive reunification of the individuated self with the universal matrix.” It’s not a matter of our seeking to extract knowledge from the world; rather, “the world’s truth achieves its existence when it comes to birth in the human mind.” There is a “universal unconscious” that “reflects the human mind’s radical kinship with the cosmos.” images-6This break-out is what the great Western intellectual journey has been leading toward. But so far it’s been mostly a masculine thing, and only now are we beginning to reunite our masculine and feminine. For this, “the masculine must undergo a sacrifice, an ego death.” This evolutionary drama may now be reaching its climactic stage.

Well. As Francis Urquhart, in the original House of Cards would say, “You might think that; but I could not possibly comment.”

* No doubt some lefty cynic will deride me as a blind fool. Much though such folks love to believe everything is getting worse, it just ain’t so.

Ferguson

August 27, 2014

imagesAs a blogger, I’m required to comment on Ferguson.

I’ve read that 65% of blacks polled believe the police overreacted to the protests. This shocked me. I thought: were those other 35% stoned?

But seriously: of course police overreacted, making a bad situation worse.* And gratuitously busting on journalists? Do those policemen think this is Russia or China?

Why did President Obama not go to Ferguson? Shame on him.

Police forces represent a Faustian societal bargain. To protect us, we arm them, while recognizing this can turn around and bite us. Not a concern if police were saints, but alas most are human, and worse, police work too often attracts the wrong sort for the wrong reasons. So cops must be kept on tight leashes by civilian authorities (in a free society, as opposed to a police state).

images-1Modern technology could help on a lot of problems. In Rialto, California, after cops were equipped with cameras recording interactions, their use of force declined 60% and citizen complaints 88%. But law enforcement generally seems stubbornly resistant to such advancements. Ferguson actually has the cameras – but hasn’t deployed them. Police still do not routinely videotape interrogations and confessions, sources of so much subsequent repercussion. Nor do they routinely test DNA. In fact, police and prosecutors often fight tooth and nail to prevent DNA tests. Because they’d rather punish an innocent than be proven wrong.**

All this is exacerbated by the militarization of the police. America has the posse comitatus legal principle barring use of the army to enforce local law. Yet now the police are turning into another army. images-2True, sometimes they’re met with bad guys toting serious weapons. But we read about local cops in a small town patrolling a pumpkin festival in an armored personnel carrier. Ferguson police behaved like an occupying army going into battle.

U.S. cops killed 409 people last year. In Britain and Japan — zero. The difference is chiefly due to the ubiquity of guns in America; police are always worrying the guy they confront has a gun, and act accordingly.

Looming over everything is the drug war. The illegality of drugs is key to the big-time criminality that is the police’s greatest challenge (just like in an earlier era, Prohibition gave birth to America’s organized crime). Race relations – and particularly relations between minorities and police – are poisoned by the high arrest and incarceration rate experienced by minorities. And that too is a direct fallout of the drug war.

images-3So is police militarization – it’s not only because police think they need heavy duty weaponry against the most extreme drug criminals, nor just because the Pentagon has been handing out surplus military kit. Under the pretext of the drug war, U.S. police forces have been on a rampage of confiscations and forfeitures, of cash and other kinds of property. I’ve written about this scandal. Any property police say they suspect may possibly have something to do with drugs can be seized, without them having to prove a thing. (Forget the Fourth Amendment!) images-6In many cases police get to keep what they grab (a big incentive factor). And this has filled the coffers of local police forces with a flood of lucre, with which they can splurge out fulfilling their testosterone-fueled fantasies with military-style toys.

Legalizing drugs might cause some harm, but not remotely approaching the harm done by keeping them illegal. The insane drug war’s damage to America is beyond calculating.

*Gene O’Donnnell of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice says, “It is hard to point to anything that Ferguson police did [after the Brown shooting] that was not wrong.” (But in the same mentioned poll, only 33% of whites thought police overreacted.)

** Thus often leaving at large the true culprit, who goes on to commit further crimes.

TSA Follies and The Death of Common Sense

August 25, 2014

I hear the TSA is seeking public suggestions.

imagesRecently at airport “Security” we almost missed a flight because TSA thought a boarding pass didn’t look quite right. They might have simply checked with the airline. But that would be too sensible. This is government, remember.

UnknownWhat is TSA’s mission? To prevent hijackings and bombings? Maybe in theory; but that’s not how TSA actually functions on the ground. For its employees, the real mission is to follow procedures and tick off the bureaucratic boxes. So your boarding pass must look a certain way. (Some think the true purpose of TSA is “security theater” — to make travelers believe flying is safe.)

But anyway, two seconds thought shows that the whole rigmarole of officiously checking boarding passes and IDs makes no sense. Faking them would be the easiest part of the plot for a would-be hijacker. Nor does x-raying every bag and person make much sense – especially with TSA personnel being (forgive my bluntness) low-paid drones proven unable to spot true problems.

Unknown-2I’m reminded of Philip Howard’s enlightening 1994 book, The Death of Common Sense. In his latest, The Rule of Nobody, he relates that after some nasty scandals, Australia scrapped hundreds of detailed rules governing nursing homes. Regulatory experts were aghast. Yet, with facilities now enjoined simply to provide a “homelike environment” with “privacy and dignity” – freeing them to think creatively rather than blindly following checklists – they measurably improved.

Howard’s point is that we tend to impose complex regulatory schemes because we don’t trust their targets – be it governmental arms, or businesses – to behave reasonably and fairly otherwise. It’s a big mistake, as evidenced by Australia’s experience. And by TSA.

images-1Before my next flight folks on the security line were told that “if your boarding pass says ‘TSA Pre’” you go on a different (shorter) queue. I’d thought one had to register and pay $85 for that preclearance program. Yet on my return flight, I was surprised to see “TSA Pre” on my own pass. So I was waved through with shoes on, no body scan, no pat-down, nothing. Inquiring, I was informed that “TSA Pre” is now put on some boarding passes strictly at random!

images-2When I told my wife, it took her, yes, exactly two seconds to realize, “Well, if a terrorist just buys multiple tickets . . . .” (Or he could just pay the $85 fee!) What’s the logic of “TSA Pre” when they still insist on otherwise x-raying toddlers and centenarians in wheelchairs? If it’s okay for a few people, some at random, to go unscreened, why not most people?

My next flight: TSA busted me for carrying knives. Lest you think I’m a moron, they were ancient Chinese “knife money”–somewhat knife-shaped, but for use as currency, not cutting, hence without sharp edges, generally encrusted with green corrosion product, and quite fragile to boot. It had never occurred to me, but in TSA’s inane bureaucratized mentality, a “knife” is a “knife,” and there was no arguing. (Fortunately, I was permitted to spend $5.60 to mail them home.)

Chinese knife money

Chinese knife money

If I were in charge of TSA, instead of having an army of drones uselessly torturing travelers by scrutinizing every ID and bag, I would hire a third of the number at three times the pay – highly trained professionals who’d simply eyeball passengers passing (mostly) unmolested through a gate, with discretion to stop for intensive screening anyone who, for any reason, they deem suspect, or at random. (This is pretty much how U.S. Customs operates. Most travelers just walk right through.) And normally innocent items like hand cream or scissors (or Chinese knife money) would be subject to exclusion – but not required to be excluded.

Wouldn’t this make a thousand times more sense?

Unknown-1My wife constantly mocks my supposed belief in human rationality. What I actually believe is that people are capable of rationality, and act rationally most of the time. But not, alas, always. True rationality might abolish the TSA altogether. We might lose some planes and lives, but many more lives could be saved if the billions lavished on TSA were spent instead on, say, auto safety, or public health.

And if you really love to hate the TSA, take a look at this!

Paul Auster: The New York Trilogy

August 22, 2014

imagesFor a long time I was vaguely aware of writer Paul Auster. His name would come up here and there. I’d never read his stuff; nor anything, really, about it. Yet I had a picture in my mind. He was always called a “New York” writer. I saw one of those effete, affluent intellectuals who write precious narratives about people just like themselves, their relationships, neuroses, ennui, and (almost obligatory) horrible parents.

images-1His very name suggested that picture. “Paul” has never seemed like the name of a real person to me but, rather, a fictional character. Fiction does seem disproportionately populated by Pauls. And “Auster” – not a real person’s name either; an austere name. If this was indeed a pseudonym, it was chosen perfectly to evoke exactly the picture that it evoked for me.

Of course, all of this says more about me than about Paul Auster. Anyhow, it made me disinclined to read him. And I probably never would have, if I hadn’t met his ex-wife.

Unknown“Met” is perhaps a bit strong. She is a writer too, Lydia Davis, who recently won the Man Booker Prize. Now that is a Very Big Deal. So when she was honored at the Albany library, I went, was able to chat with her briefly, bought a book for her to sign, and asked a question after her talk. Googling her, I noticed that she’d been married to Auster, which served to etch his name a little more vividly into the recesses of my brain. So when I came across a work of his at a used book sale, I figured, for fifty cents, why not.

Unknown-1Even though the title, The New York Trilogy, put me off. Having imagined him one of those “New York” writers I’ve described above, that title could only amplify the preconception.

So I start reading, and he introduces a character who is – guess what – a New York writer – par excellence – thirtyish, living in an apartment, in Manhattan. Based on the literary landscape, you might suppose New York is almost entirely inhabited by people like that.

Scant appetite though I had for an apartment-dwelling Manhattanite writer’s writing about an apartment-dwelling Manhattanite writer, I persevered. The book consists of three novellas. After the first one featuring the writer, the second features a private detective, hired for surveillance of – guess who – a writer (a Brooklyn writer, but for the cognoscenti Brooklyn is the new Manhattan). The third novella features not just a writer (back to Manhattan) – but two of them.

Millhauser

Millhauser

Yet despite this inauspicious syllabus, I was totally sucked in, and riveted by these weird, unsettling tales – not at all what I’d expected. All three seem to concern obsession. Each begins somewhat plausibly, with the protagonist caught up into trying to solve a mystery surrounding some other person. His life is taken over by it, and the developments go to extremes. I was somewhat reminded of Steven Millhauser, who also writes phantasmagorias that ascend to absurdist heights.

In each story, plausibility comes under great strain – the protagonists make choices and decisions which, though in a sense following the remorseless logic of the situations in which they find themselves, seem patently self-destructive, even self-obliterating. It’s as though they have no choice. Maybe this book is an insidious attack on the idea of free will.

Unknown-3In the first story, Auster brings in a character named Paul Auster – who (surprise) also happens to be a New York writer. His wife appears. Now, this was written at the time when Auster (the real one) was married to Lydia Davis. So I thought to myself, this would be a first: encountering a character in fiction whom I’d actually met in real life. However, alas, the wife in the story had a different name, and bore no resemblance to Lydia Davis.

James Foley’s Head Was Not Chopped Off

August 20, 2014

foley20n-1-webAmerican journalist James Foley was beheaded by the “Islamic State.” You might picture his head on a block, neatly chopped off with an axe. It wasn’t. The killer grabbed Foley’s head in one hand and sawed it off with his other using a 6 to 8 inch knife.

The video has been taken down, so I (thankfully) couldn’t find it. But I found this picture. So you can imagine the bloody horror. My intent is not to creep you out; but we must understand the true monstrousness of a religious movement that inspires people to commit such acts.

Obama, Hillary, and “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff”

August 19, 2014

imagesBill Clinton had “It’s the economy, stupid.” For President Obama, it’s “Don’t do stupid stuff” (sanitized version) in foreign affairs. Now comes Hillary saying that’s no foreign policy. She’s right.

“Stupid stuff” in Obamanese means Iraq. But Obama is so afraid of his shadow that “Don’t do stupid stuff” works out as don’t do much of anything – which unfortunately becomes don’t do smart stuff. Smart stuff is recognizing and seizing opportunities. While Obama assiduously instructs us that there are no good options in Syria, in fact this wasn’t always true. Earlier, we clearly had a window of opportunity to act in our interests (see my 3/2/12 and 11/29/12 blog posts). It would have been smart (and also right). Obama didn’t act.

images-1Was it riskless? Of course not. Nothing ever is. That’s life. You take a great risk every time you drive. Some risks are worth taking.

And of course failure to act doesn’t avoid risk – but can itself be very risky. In world affairs, it’s often really a choice (as David Brooks says) between doing something small now, or facing much greater costs later to clean up the mess. images-2Call it the “stitch in time” theory of foreign policy. Bosnia was a perfect example. So was Syria (and not just in hindsight; this was obvious early on; see again my 2012 blog posts). Once we might have gotten a big bang for our buck. Obama punted. So now, predictably, we face a giant mess.

Meantime, despite his saying it’s a fantasy to imagine that arming Syrian rebels will achieve anything, Obama is now arming Syrian rebels. Or says he is. (He’s said it before, without follow-through.) He’s probably right that it’s pointless now – so why do it? Similarly, he dithered about the “Islamic State” threat until it got beyond our ability to act usefully, yet now we are acting anyway, while Obama assures us that we do not intend to accomplish anything significant there. As though we’re allergic not to military action per se, but only purposeful military action.

images-3Don’t do stupid stuff? But hasn’t Obama done one colossally stupid thing? That would be drawing a “red line” on chemical weapons use in Syria; then ignoring line crossings; then threatening military punishment when they became egregious; then funking it by needlessly seeking permission from a Congress that would never have agreed; and then letting Putin make fools of us with an irrelevant chemical weapons cop-out. This was literally the stupidest presidential performance I’ve seen, and had dire effects in shredding American credibility.

images-4It’s enough to make one wish we had a man, like Hillary, in the White House.

Sarah’s Story — Abraham and Isaac Revisited

August 17, 2014

NPR’s “Selected Shorts” features actors reading short stories. Today’s, “Sarah’s Story,” by Galina Vroman, read by the terrific Jane Curtin (here’s a link), was a real hoot. It was the Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac, from the viewpoint of Abe’s wife Sarah. She is portrayed as a real person.

From left to right: Sarah, Abe, Hagar, Ishmael

From left to right: Sarah, Abe, Hagar, Ishmael

The backstory: Sarah being childless, Abraham impregnated his slave girl Hagar, with Ishmael. (Owning and shtupping slaves is called “Biblical morality.”) Sarah wasn’t entirely thrilled about this. (She ultimately got Hagar and Ishmael cast out.) UnknownBut anyway, lo, at age 100, Sarah finally had a kid herself, Isaac. (Folks must have been healthier then; maybe it was the water.) Needless to say, Sarah doted on Isaac.

Then one fine day Abraham tells her of God’s latest memo: sacrifice Isaac. Sarah says, “Are you out of your mind?”

They argue. Maybe Abe’s misinterpreted the command? No, it’s perfectly clear. Sarah had always thought Abraham overdid the God thing. And what kind of cruel god is this anyway, who would demand such an atrocity? A god like that should be not obeyed but opposed. Of course devout Abie will not hear of it.

So what will Sarah do? She thinks about running away with Isaac, or even killing Abraham. Of course she is frantically upset, vividly visualizing the actual bloody deed. And when Abraham sets out, with Isaac and some flunkies, for the distant place where it is to be done, Sarah secretly follows.

Unknown-1Along the way she meets some traders and nomads. When Sarah purchases some billowing white cloth, I burst out laughing, at where this was now obviously going. She hires one of the nomads, to appear in costume before Abraham at the critical moment, and coaches him on his lines. She even has forethought to supply the handy ram. Abe falls for it.

images-2This sounds like the Lucy-and-Ricky version. Traditionally, the story has been read as a parable of virtuous obedience to God. But it shows the moral gulf between its ancient author and us; he could not foresee how horribly the story would strike us. Here is Biblical morality in all its raw primitivism. The story really shows us not that Abraham was a saint but that God was a monster. Sarah had it right: why worship such a god?

images-3Vroman’s re-telling ends with the words, “God works in mysterious ways.” This implies he omnisciently knew what Sarah would do. But didn’t Sarah – like Adam – have free will to make a choice? If I know the God of the Old Testament, he would not have been amused at Sarah’s deception. He’d have turned her into a pillar of salt, or something, at the very least, and probably smited Abe too. But the fact that he didn’t tells us the real lesson of the story: he isn’t there.

Thank God.

Let Women Go Topless in Public?

August 14, 2014

UnknownI recently wrote (disparagingly) about Muslim craziness with covering up women. Shortly after, I heard a radio discussion about public breast-feeding and, more generally, laws against “indecent exposure.” Some callers (all female) decried the “sexualizing” of women’s breasts, and argued that if men can go topless in public, so should women.

I consider myself a feminist. But some feminists seem to say women are not only equal to men, but the same as men. Thus they pilloried Harvard’s Lawrence Summers in 2005 for suggesting women’s under-representation in science and engineering might be partly due to innate brain differences. (Yet feminists celebrated a 1986 book, Women’s Ways of Knowing, that did argue women’s brains work differently. I guess it’s feminist when women say it but anti-feminist when men do.)

imagesSo now some women say their nipples are no different from men’s. Well, of course they are different. I’ve never been able to get milk from mine (and believe me, I’ve tried).

But seriously: is “sexualizing” women’s breasts wrong? True, their headline function is feeding babies. But because breasts are thusly associated with female fecundity, evolution has made men sexually attracted to them. It’s a handy visual cue. This is why breasts are positioned front and center. Men whose genetic makeup attracts them to mate with persons having noticeable breasts would tend to leave more (and healthier) offspring than men indifferent to breasts (who might mate with the wrong thing altogether). Hence genes favoring breast attraction have spread.*

images-1Because this is biologically wired in, men can’t just be told to stop “sexualizing” breasts – any more than women can be dissuaded from attraction to cute guys (see illustration above); or gays from attraction to the same gender. People are sexually attracted to what they are attracted to. It’s what we call a “fact of life.”

Furthermore, in addition to their child-feeding role, during a small part of a woman’s life, breasts do have a sexual function too, for a much longer time – breasts are highly erogenous – for women themselves. (I speak from happy experience on this.)

Unknown-1Those female radio callers saying (in effect), “Stop being attracted to my breasts!” – what were they thinking? Most of us (and this is again programmed by nature) want to be attractive to potential sex partners, however we can. Women whose breasts attract men should be glad. Next we’ll hear men shouldn’t be attracted to their butts, their legs, their hair, their eyes, their lips. Maybe we should only be attracted to their personalities. When pigs fly.

Yet these same women are the ones saying they should be allowed to go topless in public. Hey – if you object to men “sexualizing” your breasts, maybe going topless is the last thing you’d want to do.

images-2But actually, as a libertarian, I’m all for permitting bare breasts. Nothing should be outlawed absent real harm to others. Many Muslims see harm if any female skin or hair is visible because men supposedly can’t handle it. That’s insulting to men and obviously nonsense. Nearly naked women on beaches (commonly topless in Europe) don’t unhinge men. Exposing a little more flesh won’t bring down civilization. It might even make us clean our glasses better.

*But humans are complicated; acculturation is a factor too; and bigger is not always better.

Inquiring Minds Want To Know

August 13, 2014

Last year, when President Obama was mulling limited air strikes to punish Syria’s chemical weapons use, he stopped and decided it would need a Congressional vote. (I was critical.)

imagesNow we are doing air strikes in Iraq, which seems a bigger and open-ended effort, and even sending (dare say it) boots on the ground. Yet there is no whisper about any Congressional vote.

Can someone explain this to me?


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