Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sex or Opioids: Which is America's Biggest Addiction Problem?

Not all those accused of harassment can be called sex addicts. Addiction to sex as with alcohol is usually something that’s self-diagnosed. But when you read the lengths to which some of those accused have gone and the amount they have been willing to lose in order to gratify their habit, it’s reminiscent of the stories that you hear about heroin, and Oxycontin. Could the epidemic of sex addition be right up there with opioids?  Look at the list of politicians and celebrities who have recently gotten into trouble: Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Kevin Spacey, James Levine, Matt 
Lauer, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Oreskes, Al Franken, Garrison Keillor, Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Roy Moore, Blake Farenthold and Trent Franks—to name a few. It seems inconceivable that one would put Al Franken and Garrison Keillor on any list, considering the comparatively innocent nature of their transgressions, but remember that you don’t have to be falling down drunk to have an alcohol habit. Like with alcohol, sex abuse leaves a path of destruction in its wake, hurting both the victims and the perpetrator who’s in thrall to fantasies which may eventually result in the loss of many things they hold dear. A key point is that a paraphilia or sexual perversion really creates a narrow palette and the excitement itself may derive from self-punishing behavior that violates social norms. This may, in fact, be  part of the story since many transgressors on the basis of their behavior seem to be involved in a compulsion in which there's some degree of self-undoing. It’s not surprising that many highly motived and successful people may have problems with addictions, though guilt and the desire to implode tend to be equal opportunity employers. Alcoholic and drug addictive behavior does great harm. That’s why part of the steps of AA and NA have to do with making amends. Saying that many of those who have been caught up in the recent spate of harassment are sick doesn’t discountenance the pain they have caused, it just points to the fact that causing pain to others and to one’s self go hand in hand once the spiral of addictive behavior has begun.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Are Animals Good?

Is there any evidence to suggest that animals are good? The notion of animal consciousness is a subject of continual debate. The philosopher Thomas Nagel famously wrote an essay on the subject entitled, “What Is it Like to Be a Bat.” It’s easy to ascertain that dogs for instance possess intuition as they're able to sense emotions like danger and even the sadness which may be afflicting their master. Of course, no one can get in a dog or any animal’s mind and any attempts to deduce the reality of what's going on within any creature are purely anecdotal—though neuroscientists have undoubtedly conducted FMRIs on a variety of species. But goodness is a function of the creation of a moral sensibility which represents a pretty advanced evolution of the cortical areas of the brain. Goodness has to do with ethics and the kind of right thinking that Kant was trying to unearth with his “categorical imperative.” The good news might be that seeing goodness in your poodle may be a wish, a projection, which is a reflection of the human’s own desire to attain this state of grace. One might conclude that a person who thinks that animals are good is good himself and someone who fails to see the good in lower species, merely looking at them as prey, is simply a homo sapiens who, despite the advanced mind, still lacks a moral compass. Surely there are plenty examples of that.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Other Side of Hope

The whole project of the so-called art cinema, which can represent anything from the French New Wave of the 50’s and 60’s to Bergman, Italian neo-realism and the films of directors like Wenders and Haneke today can make one question why one goes to the movies in the first place. Is a film like Amour, about a dying old woman, really enjoyable or even enlightening? Is the experience of watching Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest entertaining or is it merely a kind of esthetic workout—with pleasure deriving from the edification or creation of a certain sensibility? Certainly many films in the canon of so-called high art cinema are an acquired taste.The Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki’s The Other Side of Hope, currently completing a run at Film Forum, exemplifies this problem. With it’s title and an opening shot of a soot faced Syrian refugee (a survivor of the destruction of Aleppo) escaping from a ship’s hold it almost seems like a parody of art cinema. Furthermore if the scene of Finnish culture that unfolds is any reflection of life in that land, you might opt for Norway, Denmark or Sweden--unless you’re interested in penal colonies of which Finland boasts some of the most advanced. However, even given the grim scenario, The Other Side of Hope presents a countervailingly challenging narrative strategy, a cocktail of existential and esthetic issues (the Syrian refugee crisis viewed in the context of aleatory action) that make you come away with at the very least an admiration for the filmmaker’s intellect. The Other Side of Hope presents an almost surrealist premise in presenting two seemingly incongruous characters, a businessman named Waldemar Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) who's trying to reinvent himself as restaurateur and the refugee, Khaled Ali (Sherwan Haji), who gratuitously cross paths. Khaled has fled Syria by way of Turkey and Greece and is in danger of being deported back to his country. His object is to find his sister Miriam. There are little kindnesses in the film amongst them Waldemar’s sympathy for Khaled, a ton of sly wit and satire in otherwise improbable situations (one of the most laudable aspects of the production) and lots of evil (the local skinhead population doesn’t take kindly to the influx of strangers who they sometimes mistake for Jews). However, the universe that Kaurismaki creates is fundamentally indifferent. Even when there’s good news, nothing particularly good happens. Ingmar Bergman’s films were dark and challenging but cathartically enjoyable. The Other Side of Hope is competitive with the Swedish director’s despair and yet is steadfast in its refusal not just in offering hope, but solace too.

Friday, December 8, 2017


Watch out for the sarcastic individual. Behind the skeptical seeming exterior lies a romantic and even striving sensibility that's in danger of breaking out. Sarcasm is like the seeming obedience of an oppressed population. You know the kinds of people who love to make little cutting remarks about everyone else’s life, but seem to have few ideas or passions of their own. Such sarcasm is a perfect defense for those who feel their appetites won’t be satiated. More than that it's the perfect protection for those who fear that their grandiose subterranean wishes will be the recipient of a swift rebuke. The sarcastic individual carries a chip on his or her shoulder, but it’s not the result of the fact that they're ready to lead the charge with their colorful peacock’s feather flying. It’s that somehow they're deprived of certain entitlements of which others freely partake. What other default mode is left to them then to make little snarky quips, when if they really tried to put themselves in the batter’s box, they’d surely strike out. Moliere’s Alceste in The Misanthrope is a famously sarcastic character. However, his view of womankind is fashioned by Celimene, a notorious flirt, who has no ethics or standards, and lives to pull the carpet out from under her suitors. Though he’s sarcastic, he’s always on the verge of revealing a vulnerability that would only confirm his negative view of humanity.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Who Is Kim Jong-un's Optometrist?

image: The LoneOptom
Who is Kim Jong-un’s optometrist? It’s a question that has been asked both by intelligence agencies and stylists around the world. We know about Mao suits, the Stalin era overcoats and especially the hairdo, but it's the glasses that give Kim Jong-un a particular distinction (his black frames are similar to the ones worn by Nelson Rockefeller). Most people don’t realize that Stalin was short like Hitler and Napoleon for that matter and neither Hitler, Stalin nor Napoleon sported glasses. Spectacles like the ones that the Korean leader wears weren’t even made back during those long winters in 1812 and l943 when invading armies were defeated by the Russian winter. But there's no doubt that Kim Jong-un’s stature is coming up in the world. When he wears the glasses he almost looks like a Korean Mister Rogers as he peers genially over his babies. Kim Jong-un has the most pleasant avuncular expression on his face when he stands over a bomb; he's never threatening and whoever writes his responses to Trump’s tweets (particularly the one where Trump was called a “dotard”) has the arcane sound of Victorian age Oxford don. As the Times recently reported there are cute little names for his ICBM’s ("North Korea's New Missile is Bigger and More Powerful, Photos Suggest,"NYT, 11/30/17), Hwasong-12, Hwasong-14, and most recently Hwasong-15—this last deemed to have the capability of hitting the East Coast of the U.S. You begin to buy the notion of the North Korean dynasty as a way of life unless, of course, you're a reviled sibling name Kim Jong-nam who doesn't have enough time to administer the atropine, the antidote to the VX nerve agent that killed him in a Malaysian airport ("Kim Jong-nam Carried the Antidote to the Poison that Killed Him,NPR, 12/1/17).