Thursday, July 30, 2015

Americans, Politics and Politicians, 2015

In the early years of the U.S. republic, the politicians were people of stature and intellect. They were people like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. Of course, at that time, only land-owners, educated people and men could vote. But that is not true anymore- at least in theory. As a result, now we get the likes of the Bushes, Richard Nixon, the Clintons, a do-nothing Congress controlled by special interests, and a dwindling middle class.  

In the U.S. the reputation of politicians is extremely poor. A recent 2015 poll indicated that the approval of the Republican dominated Congress is at 19%. In fairness, this statistic is largely the results of the politicians own making. In a "what me worry"  congressional attitude, the same politicians who shut down the U.S. government and had an approval rating of 14%, was re-elected.
Politician enact bad and/or self-serving policies.  By and large, they are terrible people. They are mostly weak, self-serving people who are not concerned about the public good and therefore, not fit for public office. Politicians promise improvements  but they are obviously lying and we all know that is going to happen. 

So, why do people bother to vote at all? Actually, they don't. The United States has one of the lowest percentage turnouts for election in the industrial world. And, the turnout continues to decline especially among the young. The elections of 2014 had the lowest turnout since 1941, an election that took place during World War II when many men were in the military and could not vote.

However, not all politicians are idiots or self-serving, but plenty are. The U.S. seems particularly afflicted with them, for instance, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, etc. And, the archetype of the idiot politician, George W. Bush, was the president for 8 years during which time he caused an economic crisis, went to war without any justification, and whose idiotic musings and statements caused laughter around the world. 

So, what is going on here? Logically, you would want to have an intelligent compassionate person in office who understands the best approach and methods for running a country in the best possible way. But no, people seem drawn to demonstrations of questionable intellectual abilities. There are a wide variety of ideological, cultural, social, historical, financial and other factors involved, because politics incorporates all of these things, but there are also some known psychological processes that may contribute to this phenomenon.

Confident people are more convincing. This is has been demonstrated in many studies. Most studies focus on a courtroom setting, and suggest a confident witness is more convincing to a jury than a nervous, hesitant one (which obviously has worrying implications for justice), but it can be seen elsewhere. It is a phenomenon used-car salesmen and estate agents have exploited for decades. And, politicians are clearly aware of it so any politician that does not come across as self-assured, likeable, and confident does not win elections. So, confidence is important in politics even if you are a self-serving liar and hypocrite.

However, the Dunning-Kruger effect reveals that less-intelligent people are usually incredibly confident. More intelligent people, by contrast, are not. Self-appraisal is a useful metacognitive skill, but one that requires intelligence. If you do not have much of it, you do not consider yourself flawed or ignorant, because you do not have the ability to do so.

So, if you want an intrinsically confident person to publicly represent your political party, an intelligent person would be an extremely bad choice. However, this can backfire. Studies have shown that when very confident people are shown to be wrong or lying, they are then considered far less reliable or trustworthy than an non-confident person. This may explain the negative image of politics which is mostly a series of confident individuals making big promises and failing miserably to keep them. This turns people off not only concerning a specific politician but politics in general.

Add to that, effectively running a country of millions of people, all of whom have different requirements and demands, is an incredibly complicated job. There are many variables which need to be considered. Unfortunately, it is impossible to condense all this into a convenient sound-bite for use with the modern media and a population conditioned to not delving into complex matters, so personalities tend to come to the fore more often. And, the less intelligent and confident personalities are more successful in politics than intelligent, thoughtful and introspective people are.

Add to that, people are generally put off by intellectual and complex subjects and discussions. They may have no experience with the issue or may find it too complex and time-consuming. They want quick answers and simple solutions to complex issues and not ones which require a lot of thought, time and effort. However, politics, particularly in democracy, requires people to be involved. After all, the word "democracy" means "government by the people". Oops, I forgot. The U.S. is a republic and not a democracy!

Personality studies suggest that many people demonstrate goal orientation, a “disposition toward developing or demonstrating ability in achievement situations”. Feeling that you are actively influencing something (e.g. an election) is a powerful motivator, but if some knowledgeable type starts spouting big words about interest rates or health trust deficit management, this is going to alienate those who don’t follow or grasp such things. So if a confident person says there’s a simple solution or promises to make the big complicated thing go away, they’re going to seem far more appealing.

This is also demonstrated by Parkinson’s law of triviality which says that people will spend far more time and effort focusing on something trivial that they do understand than something complicated that they do not understand. The former offers far more scope for contribution and influence. And, people do not like to concentrate on complex issues. They tend to leave to the "experts", in this case, the politicians. But, they love trivial and non-complex issues like the latest fashion trends and the antics of movie stars and sports heroes. Therefore, less-intelligent people can only deal with big issues in brief snippets. Most of the American news outlets understand this. The news is kept brief and complex issues lack depth. They know that unless they do that, people will turn off the dial.

One of the often-cited qualities of George W Bush was that people felt they could “have a beer with him”. Therefore, they felt they could relate to him. By contrast, elitism is a negative quality. The idea that those running the country are outside the norms of society is alarming to many, hence the constant efforts by politicians to “fit in”. Ironically, most people do not feel that way about their doctors. They want them to be more intelligent than they are. They fail to realize that running a nation is also a life-and-death situation the ramifications of which can have long-lasting effects. 

The majority of people are prone to numerous subconscious biases, prejudices, stereotyping and  prefer their own “groups”. None of these things are particularly logical and invariably are not supported by actual evidence and reality, and people really don’t like being told things they don’t want to hear. People are also keenly aware of social status; we need to feel we are superior to others in some way to maintain our sense of self-worth. As a result, someone more intelligent saying complicated things that contain uncomfortable (but accurate) facts isn’t going to appeal to anyone, but someone demonstrably less-intelligent is not challenging to someone’s perceived social status, and if they’re going to say simple things that support inherent prejudices and deny uncomfortable facts, then so much the better. 

It is an unfortunate situation, but it just seems to be the way people’s minds work. There’s a lot more to it than what’s mentioned here of course, but including that would make the whole thing more complicated, and that is no way to get people to like something, as should be obvious by now.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Neglected Important Artists, No. 14

Zinaida Yevgenyevna Serebriakova (nee: Lanceray;1884-1967) was one of the first female  Russian painters of distinction. She was born in Ukraine (at that time part of Russia) into one of Russia's most refined and artistic families. In 1900, she was admitted to an art school and studied art until 1905. Between 1902–1903 she spent time in Italy, and from 1905–1906 she studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. In 1905, Zinaida Lanceray married her first cousin, Boris Serebriakov, and took his surname.
Zinaida Serebriakova strove to express her love of the world and to show its beauty. Broad public recognition came with her self-portrait At the Dressing-Table (1909). Between 1914 and1917, she reached her prime producing a series of pictures on the theme of Russian rural life, the work of the peasants and the Russian countryside. In 1916, she was commissioned to decorate the Kazan Railway Station in Moscow. At about the same time, she began compositions on subjects from classical mythology, but these remained unfinished.
In 1917, her whole life changed. During the October Revolution which created Russia's Communist government, she was at her family estate. Her husband was arrested and in 1919 he died of typhus contracted in Bolshevik  jails leaving her without an income and responsible for her four children and her sick mother. All the reserves of the estate had been plundered, so the family suffered from hunger. She had to give up oil painting in favor of the less expensive techniques of charcoal and pencil and she found some work at the Kharkov Archaeological Museum where she made pencil drawings of the exhibits. In December, 1920, she moved to her grandfather’s apartment in Petrograd.
Because she received a commission for a large decorative French mural, in the autumn of 1924, Serebriakova went to Paris. She intended to return to the Soviet Union when she fished the work where her mother and the four children remained. However, she was not able to return, and although she was able to bring her younger children, Alexandre and Catherine, to Paris in 1926 and 1928 respectively, she could not do the same for her two older children, Evgenyi and Tatiana, and did not see them again for many years.
In 1928 and 1930, she went Morocco, at that time, a French colony. She was fascinated by the landscapes of northern Africa and painted the Atlas mountains, as well as Arab women and Africans in ethnic clothing. And, in 1947, Serebriakova became a French citizen. It was not until Soviet Premiere Khruschev allowed a modest amount of freedom in the arts that the Russian Government allowed her to resume contact with her family in the Soviet Union. In 1960, after 36 years of forced separation, her older daughter, Tatiana (Tata), was finally allowed to visit her. At this time, Tatiana was also working as an artist, painting scenery for the Moscow Art Theatre.
Zinaida Serebriakova's works were finally exhibited in the Soviet Union in 1966, in Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev, to great acclaim.. And, although she sent about 200 of her works to be permanently shown in the Soviet Union, the bulk of her work remains in France today.
Zinaida Serebriakova died in Paris on September 19,1967, at the age of 82. She is buried in Paris, at the Russian cemetery at Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois.

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Works by Zinaida Serebriakova

Self Portrait



 The Shoots of Autumn Crops

 Apples on the Branches 

Portrait of Lola Baz


Portrait of Mademoiselle Neviadomeskya

Portrait of Ernst

House of Cards

 Self Portrait

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Facts about Human Hair, No.1

All of the hair follicles are created in the human fetus in the fifth month.

The human body has about five million hair follicles.
The average person has between 100,000 and 150,000 strands of hair on their head.
Each strand of hair contains up to fourteen different elements including trace amounts of gold.
Hair contains information about everything that has been in your bloodstream: medicine, drugs, minerals, vitamins. The only thing that cannot be identified by hair is gender.
Black hair is the most common color.
Only two percent of the world's population has blond hair.
The rarest hair color is red. Only one percent of people have red hair.
A natural blonde usually has more hair strands than a person with dark or red hair. Blonds generally have 120,000 strands; brown/black-haired people generally 100,000 strands; and, redheads average about 80,000 strands.
A single hair strand has a thickness of between .02 and .04 mm.
Hair is the fastest growing tissue in the body. The only thing that grows faster is bone marrow.
Crash dieting can cause temporary hair loss.
On an average adult scalp, 25 meters of hair fiber is produced every day.
At any random time, 90% of the hair on a head is in a growing phase, while the other 10% is in a resting phase.
40% of women have female pattern hair loss by the time they go through menopause.
50% of men have male pattern hair loss by the age of 50.
For it to be apparent that you are balding, you would have to lose 50% of your hair.
Most drugs cause hair loss.
Thyroid imbalance causes hair loss.
Hair is made up mostly of keratin, the same protein by which animals’ horns, hooves, claws, feathers, and beaks are made.
When wet, a healthy strand of hair can stretch an additional 30% of its original length.
Hair grows slightly faster in warm weather, because heat stimulates circulation and encourages hair growth.
All hair is dead, with the exception of the hair that’s still inside the epidermis of your scalp.
Hair contains information about everything that has ever been in your bloodstream, including drugs, and is one of the most commonly used types of forensic evidence.
The only thing about you that cannot be identified by your hair is your gender. That is because both men’s hair and women’s hair are identical in structure.
Black is the most common hair color. Red is the rarest and only exists in about 1 percent of the world’s population, with blonde hair found in 2 percent.
The average number of hair strands varies by natural color, with blondes having the most and redheads having the fewest.
As soon as a hair is plucked from its follicle, a new one begins to grow.
Hair is 50 percent carbon, 21 percent oxygen, 17 percent nitrogen, 6 percent hydrogen, and 5 percent sulfur.
Hair can grow anywhere on the human body with the exception of the palms of hands, soles of feet, eyelids, lips, and mucous membranes.
Goosebumps from cold or fear are the result of hair follicles contracting, causing the hair and surrounding skin to bunch up.
The scientific term for split ends is “trichoptilosis.”
Aside from bone marrow, hair is the fastest growing tissue in the body.
Balding only begins to become visible once you’ve lost over 50 percent of the hairs from your scalp.
A single hair has a lifespan of about five years.
Hair acts as a layer of thermally insulating protection for our heads, which lack the insulation that fat provides for the rest of our bodies.
Eighty percent of Americans wash their hair twice a day.
Red hair on redheads never goes gray.
Each strand of hair can support up to 100 grams in weight. Multiply that by the average 100,000 to 150,000 strands on each head, and your entire head of hair could support the weight equivalent to two elephants.
The hair of humans and fur of animals are one of the main characteristics of what is deemed a mammal.
Hair fibers or strands, grow from an organ in the area under the skin called a follicle, which is found in the dermis skin layer.
The only "living" part of a hair is found in the follicle as it grows. The hair strand above the skin has no biochemical activity and so is considered "dead".
The cross-section of a hair strand is made up of 3 key layers. The outer layer is called the cuticle, within that is the cortex (which contains the keratin), while the center layer is called the medulla.
There are two main types of hair that the body produces, vellus hair and terminal (or androgenic) hair.
Vellus hair develops from childhood covering most of the human body, it is a short, fine, light-colored hair that is often barely noticeable.
Terminal hair is a thick, long and dark hair that is less common than vellus hair but much more noticeable, often replacing vellus hair on certain parts of the body during puberty. The hair on our heads is terminal hair, along with facial and chest hair in men and pubic and armpit hair in both genders.
The hair on a human head serves as a heat insulator and coolant, it also helps to protect us from the sun's UV rays. The function of hair in other locations is debated as we still require clothing to keep us warm unlike other mammals.
Straight hair has round hair fibers while wavy or curly hair will usually have irregular and oval shaped hair fibers.
Two types of hair pigment are responsible for all natural hair colors. Eumelanin pigment is dominant in dark-blond, brown, and black hair, while pheomelanin is dominant in red hair. Little pigmentation in the hair strand results in blond hair.
Eyebrow hair protects the eyes from dirt, sweat and rain, and are a key part of non-verbal communication, displaying emotions like sadness, anger, and excitement.
The eyelash hair protects the eye from dirt, dust and other potentially harmful objects.
Human facial hair grows faster than any other hair on the body.
On average, we lose 50 to 100 strands of hair a day from the scalp.
The hair on our scalp goes through 3 phases, the anagen phase, catagen phase, and telogen phase.
Only a few mammals are regarded as being pretty much hairless, these include elephants, pigs, whales, rhinoceroses,  hippopotamuses, walruses, and naked mole rats.
The Ancient Egyptians were the first people to remove unwanted body hair. That included head, facial (including eyebrows), body, public and leg hair. It was done for both hygiene and aesthetic reasons.
The average man spends five months of his life shaving off facial hair.
The anticipation of sex makes hair crow faster

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From the musical, Hair, a rock musical with a book and lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot

She asks me why, I'm just a hairy guy
I'm hairy noon and night, hair that's a fright
I'm hairy high and low, don't ask me why, don't know
It's not for lack of bread, like the Greatful Dead, darlin'

Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there, hair, shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there, momma, everywhere, daddy, daddy

Hair, flow it, show it
Long as God can grow, my hair

Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees
Give a home to the fleas, in my hair
A home for fleas, a hive for the buzzing bees
A nest for birds, there ain't no words
For the beauty, splendor, the wonder of my hair
Flow it, show it

Long as God can grow, my hair
I want long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty
Oily, greasy, fleecy, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen
Knotted, polka dotted, twisted, beaded, braided
Powered, flowered and confettied
Bangled, tangled, spangled and spahettied

Oh say, can you see my eyes if you can
Then my hair's too short

Down with here, down to there
Down till there, down to where it's stuck by itself
They'll be ga-ga at the go-go, when they see me in my toga
My toga made of blond, brilliantined, biblical hair
My hair like Jesus wore it, Hallelujah I adore it
Hallelujah Mary loved her son, why don't my mother love me?

Hair, flow it, show it
Long as God can grow
My hair, flow it, show it
Long as God can grow
My hair, flow it, show it
Long as God can grow
My hair

You can see and hear the Broadway musical version of the song Hair on YouTube at