Sunday, August 30, 2015

Confessions of a Mad Men Viewer

So last night, well past 11:00 p.m., my wife and I finished watching the final episode of Mad Men -- meaning that in the past several months, we watched all 92 episodes of this masterful series.   No, I’m not braggin’, just sayin’. 

When all is said and done, I can’t stop thinking about the series’ final set of images – a real Coke commercial that aired in 1971.   The creator of Mad Men would like us to believe that it was the product of the show’s central (fictional) character, Don Draper.   But like every other Baby Boomer, I remember the ad as one of the greatest TV commercials of all time – even greater than that other classic Coke commercial with Mean Joe Green that featured the phrase, “Have a Coke and a Smile”:

Like Don Draper, I too, would like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.   This afternoon at my house, a group of us will be getting together to plan the next set of activities for the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington (JIDS).  Like Mad Men, our meeting will likely end on a note of hopefulness, and we will be able to take stock of our accomplishments during the 6 ½ years that our organization has been in existence.  But we won’t kid ourselves about creating anything close to perfect harmony.   The problem with interfaith organizations like mine is that we always seem to be preaching to a relatively limited choir.  For every person who is attracted to our events, there are a dozen others who either are completely apathetic about anything that remotely involves religion or who are way too parochial to reach out beyond the confines of their own limited religious spheres.  I might be able to find a group of shiny, happy people to sing on a hilltop about peace, love and understanding, but it wouldn’t be “the world.”   It would just be a single hilltop.   At JIDS, we’re about to embark on a mission to expand beyond that single hilltop.  Somehow, we must reach into mainstream mosques and synagogues and bring into the fold Jews who are turned off by the Muslim religion and Muslims who are turned off by the idea of Jewish peoplehood.  That’s what it really takes to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.  It’s a lot more difficult than making a commercial.

Speaking of difficult, it’s not easy creating a TV drama involving 92 episodes that generally hold together and keep the audience’s interest.  Mad Men did that and, for my money, ended on a high note.  Take a bow, Matthew Weiner!   First the Sopranos, then Mad Men.   If that doesn’t put Weiner in the Rushmore of television, he’s certainly close.  I love the symbolism of starting the series talking about advertising cigarettes, and ending it with images about advertising Coke.  You could say that in roughly a decade, the characters went from promoting lung cancer to promoting diabetes.   But the truth is that we didn’t think much about the scourge of diabetes back then, so we were able to enjoy that hilltop to the fullest.  We sure know about Coke’s connection to diabetes now, however.  Every Baby Boomer either has diabetes or knows a number of folks our age who struggle with it.  As a result, watching a bunch of beautiful young people calling Coke “The Real Thing” and “What the World Wants Today” doesn’t quite ring true anymore.  We’ve grown up.  We’ve realized that in this Eden that Madison Avenue has helped to create, some of the tastiest apples can be poisonous. 

The characters in Mad Men struggle with the fact that money and power can’t buy excellence of character.  They can’t even buy happiness or love.  The problem is that money and power present temptations, and once we give in to these temptations, we fall down one slippery slope after another.   This is the path to infidelity, disloyalty, amorality, dishonesty, depression, even insanity.   In those 92 episodes, we’ve seen so much of that path, and so little about moral virtue.  But enough about the characters of the show; what about us, the audience?  What is the central lesson for us?

It’s simple.  In real life, no less than in the world of TV drama, there are temptations, and then there’s the path of virtue.   Among our greatest temptations is to get home from work every day thirsting to sit in front of the tube and watch other people live dramatic or comedic lives.  That way, we can keep ourselves entertained from one scintillating series after another, reveling in the creations of imaginative souls like Matthew Weiner and learning more and more about the human condition in the process.  It can be relaxing, exciting, and even a bit enlightening.  What can be more tempting than that?

But that’s the problem, isn’t it?  The life of TV addiction is worthy of the Garden of Eden, but the path of virtue involves leaving that garden and heading into the world.  We need to get off our butts and actually DO something (other than just toil away at the office and relaxing when we get home).  There is only so much an adult can accomplish from a life devoted to watching stuff happen and cogitating about it.  At some point, if you want the world to live in perfect harmony, you have to BE the change.  You have to make the TV show, staff the homeless shelter, work on that political campaign, or … perhaps even gather together with a group of Jews and Muslims and try to figure out a way to knock some sense into our xenophobes and apathetes.

My main takeaway from Mad Men is that I can’t afford to watch too many more seven-season TV series.  My time is far too precious to go through that experience again.  But I tip my hat to Matt Weiner and the brilliant cast of Mad Men for a job well done.   And as long as I can keep this TV-watching thing to a moderate amount, I’ll consider myself better off for the experience.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Matthew Stewart's "Nature's God"

Last week, I spoke about this being the “Summer of Trump.”  Yet for my wife and me, it’s been more like the Summer of Mad Men.   We started watching that seven-season series after the final episode was televised earlier this year, and it would be embarrassing to admit how many seasons we’ve watched since then.    That show, which is about Madison Avenue in the 60s, is a lot like the drug that people smoked on college campuses during the 60s.   It might not be physically addicting, but it’s sure psychologically addicting.  I only wish that it wasn’t so bleak, though bleakness seems to be de rigueur these days for American television dramas.   I wonder what that says about our society.   Actually, I don’t think we need to bring in Freud to answer that one – these aren’t exactly upbeat times.

Fortunately, America wasn’t always so droopy.   I’m thinking in particular about the time of our nation’s founding, when we had a group of leaders who were truly inspired and they had a dream of doing something majestic that had never been done before: creating a democratic society that would rule over a vast expanse of land.   I have always admired the so-called “Founding Fathers” of this nation and often wish that they could walk into a time machine, enter our society, and take over the reins.  Recently, I read a book about these individuals that I told my family was a must read.  So I want to pass on that same advice to all of you.  The book is entitled “Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic.”  Written by philosopher Matthew Stewart, Nature’s God analyzes the Enlightenment Era principles that underlay the beliefs of such luminaries as Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Washington and Paine.   What Stewart demonstrates is that as much as Christian fundamentalists would like to claim the Founding Fathers as their own ideological ancestors, the fact is that our nation was founded by a bunch of religious rebels.  We can debate whether to call them deists, atheists or pantheists, but one thing is for sure – they were free-thinking heretics.  As a bit of a heretic myself, you can see why I pine for their return.

Stewart’s goal in Nature’s God is to demonstrate that the Founding Fathers were merely links in a chain.  This chain began with Epicurus, Stewart argues, and continued with Lucretius, Spinoza and Locke, just to name a few of the philosophers who figured most prominently in this book.   This is not the first work of Stewart’s I’ve read, and each time, I’ve been struck by his ability to take difficult philosophical concepts and make them simple without distorting their meaning.  Stewart especially excels in making Spinoza’s teachings come alive to the casual reader.   And don’t let the title of the book fool you – this work is as much about political theory as it is about religion.   After all, to the great thinkers like Spinoza, the challenge is to create a coherent philosophy that ties together perspectives on God, ethics, science, and political-economics.    What’s amazing is that our nation was founded by a group of individuals who actually sought to formulate their own coherent philosophies, rather than discerning their views from polls and political donors.   As the Mad Men would say, recalling the Virginia Slims ad campaign of 1968, “We’ve come a long way, baby” – a long way down, that is.

Please note that I am heartily recommending Stewart’s book despite the fact that he and I don’t agree on a fundamental point.   Stewart, you see, likes to say that deep down, the intellectual forefathers of the American Revolution – and some of the statesmen who borrowed their ideas -- were truly atheists who simply pretended to be “believers.”  In other words, they invoked the name “God” for semantic purposes when what they really meant was simply “Nature.”    

Sorry, but I’m not buying it.  While I appreciate why Stewart, who is himself an atheist, would love to claim as many free-thinkers as possible as part of the tent of “non-believers,” he can’t have it both ways.  On the one hand, Stewart extols Spinoza for his integrity and courage in following ideas to their logical conclusion and saying what is true and not merely what is expedient.  But on the other hand, Stewart is forced to recognize that Spinoza categorically denied charges of atheism and devoted much of his philosophy to the One he called “God.”  So which is it – was Spinoza a fundamental true-teller or a fundamental liar?  He can’t be both.

Anyway, I will trust that if you pick up this book, you won’t necessarily believe every argument you read.   The point is that there is so incredibly much to learn by reading this book that you can’t afford to ignore it.   And besides, this work is a tribute to heresy and the ability to think for yourself.  So it’s only fitting that it should be recommended to you by a heretic who is warning you to read it critically.

To me, Stewart’s work is a page turner -- suitable for binge readers.   And let’s face it, spending a few hours a day reading Nature’s God is a whole lot more rewarding than watching, say, five Mad Men episodes in one day.  Believe me, I know.  I’ve done both.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"The Summer of Trump" and the Residue I Hope It Leaves

Please tell me you’re enjoying the Presidential campaign this summer.  I sure am.  You can condescendingly call it a circus, but that’s not the worst thing in the world.  A good circus can be entertaining.  This one is enlightening as well.

Trump has turned into a classic comedian – kind of like Don Rickles but without the Semitic flavor.  Rickles is all Borscht Belt; Trump, by contrast, is Mr. Jersey Shore.    Personally, I prefer “Take my wife, please” to “Bada Bing, Bada Boom,” but any talented comedian can make me laugh.   Like Rickles, Trump thrives primarily on insult comedy.  Their shticks work because they’ve got their timing down, and because underlying their penchant for ridicule is the fact that they’re tapping in to a bit of the truth.  Believe me, these two men have a lot more in common than their first names.

Consider, for example, Trump’s riffs about the effects of money on politics.   Have you listened to his routine lately?  It’s actually pretty spot on.   According to Trump, all of his competitors in both parties are bought and sold by the fat-cat businessmen who bankroll their campaigns.   Here’s the Donald’s own words from the recent debate -- “I will tell you that our system is broken…I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something, two years later or three years later, I call them — they are there for me. And that’s a broken system.”  Is there any doubt that he’s right? 

Trump’s special genius on this issue is that he is criticizing all of his opponents without sounding sanctimonious.  The Donald freely admits that he’s been a part of this corrupt system just like everyone else.  The only difference is that now he has amassed such a war chest from his life as a businessman that, unlike professional politicians, he doesn’t need to prostitute himself in order to get votes.  In other words, while he’s not above pimping for a living, if he’s elected, there are 10 billion reasons why he can afford to leave the prostitution business and become truly public spirited, whereas his competitors can’t. 

That is certainly Trump at his best – focusing on the biggest problem in American politics today while pointing fingers at himself as well as his competition.  Typically, though, Trump isn’t interested in accepting responsibility.  Like Rickles, Trump prefers to concentrate on ridiculing other people.    Trump is willing to “aim low” – at folks like Perry, Graham and Paul, who seemingly have no chance to win but represent easy pickings – but he also enjoys taking on the purported front runners: Clinton and Bush.  Just as a true insult-comedian isn’t afraid to confront every race, gender, and body type, Trump is willing to pick on every candidate who enters his radar screen.  Don’t take it 100% seriously, my friends;  enjoy it for what it is -- the theater of the absurd … though with a bit of truth underlying the absurdity.

Yesterday, I was listening to the Donald pulverize Jeb for his unwillingness to separate himself from W on the topic of Iraq.  The attack was extremely effective.   Jeb has been trying to have it both ways – acknowledging perfunctorily that “mistakes were made,” while refusing to blame anyone for those mistakes or to recognize that the country is far worse off because of them.  Trump doesn’t want to analyze Jeb’s Florida two-step in detail.  He just wants to laugh at the absurdity of trying to brush W’s Iraq failures under the rug.  And you know what?  Trump is right.  W’s war is quite simply indefensible.  So is Jeb’s decision to retain virtually all of his brother’s advisors to serve as Jeb’s own brain trust.   In this case, Jeb isn’t so much cow-towing to his donors as he is “standing by his man,” but the effect is the same.  He comes across as unable to think for himself on this issue, for nobody who is as articulate as Jeb is on most issues can fail to blame W and his henchmen on Iraq … unless of course he’s unwilling to say what he knows to be true.

In the finale of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart essentially said that his show was all about what is known as “calling bullshit.”  And all he is asking of his audience is to be vigilant when bullshit comes our way.  When you think about it, the Donald’s role is in the 2016 campaign is similar to that of Stewart – whenever his opponents open their mouth, he sees it as an opportunity to call out their bullshit.   He’s going to identify whatever it is their saying or doing that doesn’t make sense, and he’s going to ridicule it and try to make them seem like “losers” (i.e., pathetic people).  They, in turn, will call bullshit on Trump.   And that’s going to be the pattern unless and until Trump starts to sink in the polls.

Personally, I think it’s a healthy trend.  While ridicule isn’t exactly the most dignified form of political expression, neither is bullshitting the public, and that’s precisely what our politicians have been doing to us for a long time.  We’ve grown accustomed to our statesman telling us what they think we want to hear, rather than what they truly believe.  We’ve even come to tolerate bullshit-talk as an appropriate norm for American politics.  But thanks to Jon Stewart – and his “apprentice,” Donald Trump – maybe that won’t be so easy now.   Maybe politicians will realize that the best way to avoid being ridiculed is to be authentic and speak their minds.  Otherwise, they will tie themselves in knots, as Jeb as done whenever he deals with the topic of Iraq. 

It only makes sense that if you make your living as a speaker and you litter your speeches with statements you don’t really believe, it will be difficult to avoid coming across as a loser.   And in the Summer of Trump, isn’t politics all about trying to avoid coming across as a loser?  You want to be that rare gem in the crowd who even a Don Rickles would have trouble effectively mocking.  Perhaps this all sounds very childish – something suited to an election for Senior Class President, rather than leader of the free world.  But we’ve got to learn to crawl before we can learn to run, and right now, our politicians need to learn to speak candidly, treat the American public respectfully, and allow us to decide who we want to lead our country.  If it takes a “Donald” – i.e., a punk with a microphone, to curb politicians of their addiction to bullshit, so be it.   In the meantime, ladies and germs, enjoy the show!

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Reflections on Last Thursday's Debate

Prior to the GOP Presidential Debates on August 6th, a prominent national institution sent out a note of encouragement for anyone and everyone to tune in.  “The first GOP debate is August 6th,” said the institution’s website, “and we already have a pretty good idea of what the Republican candidates will say ... so we made a bingo game! Order your GOP Debate Watch Party Pack and you'll receive: Four (4) ‘I survived the GOP Debates’ 16 oz plastic cups.  Four (4) ‘I survived the GOP Debates’ lapel stickers (please only wear these if you do survive!)   One 50-sheet bingo pad to play our official GOP Debate Bingo game with your friends.”

This is life in 21st Century America.   Politics has morphed into a branch of the entertainment industry.   In fact, it’s at the top of the entertainment heap, right up there with movies (big studio blockbusters as well as “Indie” films), TV dramas (don’t you just love binge watching them on Netflix after they’ve gone off the air?), various types of music (e.g., rock, folk, hip-hop), and non-political comedy.    Check out the list of Prime Time Emmy winners for the “Variety” show category.  Since 2003, that award has gone to a political comedy show every year.  Now, when we think politics, we think laughter, we think satire, we think ridicule.

It’s no wonder Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls.  Every time he mocks another politician, his ratings – I mean his poll numbers – go up.   True, he might have gone too far by blasting Megyn Kelly, but that’s only because he forgot the cardinal rule: if you’re a candidate, stick to mocking other politicians and leave the journalists alone. 

The writers of the website referenced above certainly understand that cardinal rule.   Their message was clear: the only way to enjoy the Republican Presidential Debate is to turn the event into a joke and treat the debaters like a bunch of buffoons.  You don’t so much watch the debate as “survive” it.  You don’t listen for ideas, you listen for words or phrases – so you can circle them on a bingo card. 
Last week, I was vacationing in Wisconsin, but I desperately wanted to watch the GOP Debate.  So I encouraged the group of friends with whom I was vacationing to come to a local restaurant where they could televise the debate and play Presidential Debate Bingo.  I didn’t even need a website to come up with the idea – my wife thought of it, and I immediately knew it was inspired.  Most folks can stomach coffee without sugar, but few can stomach politics these days without spice.  So we spiced up the debate with a bingo game, and everyone in attendance had a blast.

When it was all over, we realized that we had just watched a pretty darned good two-hour television show.  The pace was good, the moderators were in control, the debaters were respectful of the time constraints.  Plus, thanks to Trump, Chris Christie and Rand Paul, there was even just enough conflict to keep the proceedings lively.  So yes, score one for Fox News.  To be sure, very little was said about poverty and nothing at all was said about climate change, but at least there was enough substance to allow us to distinguish among the candidates.

Personally, I was very impressed with Governor Kasich of Ohio.  He seemed to be a true “compassionate conservative” and a fundamentally decent man.   He also has an impressive background, which includes major successes both as a Congressman and a Governor.  Sadly, for a huge swath of his Party, Kasich is merely a “RINO,” meaning “Republican in Name Only.”   But that just means that he belongs in the tradition of Republicans who controlled the Party in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, before right-wing talk radio took over and moved that Party’s needle way, way to the right.  I’ll be looking forward to additional debates to see just how willing Kasich is to tackle difficult issues.  If you think fundamental decency is a rare commodity in Presidential politics, courage is even rarer.

If I were Hillary Clinton, the last Republican I’d want to face in the general election is John Kasich.   He clearly could appeal to moderates.   The question, of course, is could he appeal to the GOP base?’s chief editor, Erick Erickson, has already announced that he would refuse to support Kasich, adding “Screw you John Kasich, and the pompous a** you rode in on.”   I guess that’s what you get for advocating such causes as Medicaid expansion and gun control, and then having the chutzpah to lead the Republican Party.  It’s not a surprise that of the ten candidates who were invited to the prime time debate, Kasich entered the event in last place.  Then again, after watching his fine performance on Thursday, even the Republican base is bound to take another look at the man.  That’s what debates are all about.

All in all, I’m really happy I tuned in to Thursday’s debate and so are my friends.  Perhaps it was the Bingo idea that got everyone enthusiastic about the event, but I think they all would have enjoyed it anyway even without the sugar or spice.  For me, the real question is what the folks at the Democratic National Committee felt about the evening.  They are the ones who own the website referenced at the top of this blogpost.  They are the ones who apparently believe that in a two-party system, we don’t need two respectable political parties – we can treat one of those parties exclusively with ridicule.

Perhaps the DNC operatives would prefer one-party rule.  Then, we all wouldn’t have to ridicule politicians anymore; we could all just ridicule the voters who show up at the ballot boxes thinking that their votes matter.   Thankfully, that’s not the case.  Votes still matter because we still have a choice of candidates.  We may not like our options – indeed, by the time the list of candidates in each Party is whittled down to one – we may hate the two remaining choices.  But a full-year before the Party Conventions, which is where we stand today, we’re typically presented with some half-decent candidates who are throwing their hats into the ring.   Thank God that these early debates allow us to see these candidates before the political operatives and fat-cat kingmakers drive them into oblivion.  

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Ugly American

“Know thyself.”   Those were the words inscribed above one of the temples to Apollo at Delphi.  Taken together, they form one of the most important principles of Empathic Rationalism.   Nobody can be rational without first understanding oneself.   And even though we often don’t like what we find out when engaging in self-discovery, empathy begins at home – what starts with understanding, and sometimes turns into a bit of self-loathing, should soon elicit our compassion.   After all, “if I am not for me, who will be.”

I offer that prologue to assure you that I have not lost my self-respect.  But it remains the case that what I learned about myself earlier this week wasn’t pretty.  My lesson began by reading this article.   I’m sure you all know about the story by now.   It involves a dentist from Minnesota who loves to engage in the “sport” commonly known as big-game hunting.   Presumably, most of the victims of big-game hunting are anonymous.  But this week, it was revealed that one of Palmer’s latest victims had a name – Cecil the Lion – and that this lion was beloved far and wide among visitors to a national park in Zimbabwe.   The incident has generated so much international outrage that Palmer is now in hiding, his dentistry business is closed, and the government of Zimbabwe is seeking his extradition to stand trial for violating the nation’s hunting laws.

So this is a story of man-kills-animal.   Stories like that happen every day, right?   I have seen estimates that each year in the world, more than 150 BILLION animals are killed for human consumption.   Those killings don’t cause international outrage.  So why has this one act evoked such a reaction?   Surely, that’s what Palmer must be wondering right now.  He’s probably questioning the collective sanity of the world, including millions of folks who sit down at their dinner tables to munch on chicken flesh, cow flesh, or pig flesh while waxing eloquent about what a terrible man Palmer was to kill an animal that actually – I mean WHO actually – had a name.

I’m with you, Palmer, at least to a degree.  If it’s OK to kill animals for food, why isn’t it OK to kill them for “sport”?   Who are we to look down our noses at a man responsible for the gratuitous killing of one mammal if we contribute to the gratuitous killings of so many more?   It’s not like we need to eat animals in order to enjoy nutritious, tasty food.   For the most part, we eat animals because we want the optimal taste experience, and because we don’t give a damn about the animals that contribute to that experience.   Palmer wanted the optimal hunting experience.  What’s the difference?

Actually, I used the first person plural in the last paragraph because I ate meat for more than 30 years and loved every bit of it.   But I kicked that habit 22 years ago and went vegan.   As a result, it wasn’t my own hypocrisy that caused the Palmer story to get under my skin.  It was my reaction to the story.
As I was reading about Palmer and Cecil, I wasn’t thinking about the international response.  I wasn’t thinking about the injustice of this one big game hunter being singled out for reproach when all the other participants in his “sport” were able to carry on with their lives.   Nor was I thinking about all the other “Cecils” of the world who are killed every year, many of whom have two legs and opposable thumbs.   In fact, I wasn’t thinking at all.   I was merely emoting.   And the emotions I felt were savage and hateful.   Apparently, my heart was telling me that Palmer’s “sport” was among the most vile and wretched manifestations of the human condition.

I can’t speak as to why other people react so viscerally to the idea of big-game hunting.  In my case, though, the trauma had a clear origin.  When I was about eight or nine-years old, my parents took me on a trip to Southern California.   After spending a few days in La-La Land, we went south of the border to Tijuana – it’s not the entrance to Hell but you can see it from there.  Since my parents and I were either too old or too young for the brothels, my mom decided that we should go for the second best thing: a bull fight.  So there we sat, for hours, watching one group of homo-sapiens cheer while another group of homo-sapiens stuck daggers into bulls until they died. 

The afternoon at the bullfights was one of the seminal experiences of my life.  It was easily the most depraved.  My primary recollection is that I wanted every human being in that ring to die, and I mean die painfully.   All of my compassion – not 99% but 100.000% -- was extended to the bulls.   I hadn’t the insight to realize that the human beings who participated in that industry were “animals,” just like the bulls, and they were merely reacting to the electrical-chemical stimuli in their own brains, which obviously lit up at the challenge of taking on ferocious beasts in much the same way as a race car driver lights up at the challenge of taking on the Daytona Motor Speedway.

As I read about the Palmer story and sensed my own rage, the memories of those bullfights returned.   I realized that I had never really gotten over my afternoon in Tijuana.  I am destined forever to deny that the gratuitous killing of animals is a “sport.”  I will always feel in my heart that it epitomizes injustice, cruelty, inhumanity, parochialism, ignorance ….   You get the idea.   And when I think about what it means to be a big-game hunter, I begin to realize that even a vegan like me cannot fully analogize this activity to the mere consumption of animal flesh.  There is something especially rotten about enjoying the process of killing big beautiful mammals that isn’t present simply when you consume what some businessman has taken the trouble to kill for you. 

I have friends who hunt birds and mammals.  I realize that in some places, that’s just what red-blooded Americans do.  I’m not here to condemn these people or call them names.   I’m only here to bear witness to my own emotions.   There is something about the killing of large animals that, at my core, horrifies me perhaps even more than the killing of other human beings.  As a rationalist, that reaction makes no sense.   But it would make even less sense to deny my own feelings.

Speaking of killing human beings, it has become a well-accepted fact that serial killers commonly start out as animal killers.  So what should it say about us as a species that we have turned the routinized killing of billions of animals into an industry and turned the spectacular killing of large mammals into a “sport”?   As much as we might want to focus all of our enmity on Palmer, we might be better off focusing our attention on ourselves. 

As for me, I need to come to grips with the rage that I felt when I read about this story.  While it’s easy enough to have compassion for Cecil, who was apparently a “Lion” of a lion, I need to be able to show compassion for other beasts, including a beast like Palmer.  There’s no excuse for rooting on another person’s death or torture.   Indeed, Palmer is just another animal – much like the rest of us.   I might add the words “only uglier,” but then again, my own reaction was not terribly beautiful either.