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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sherlock Holmes goes to Hollywood


Usually, the more people like a book, the more disappointed they are with the movie. I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories so much I actually wanted to name my daughter Irene Adler Craig, after the one woman who fooled Sherlock Holmes, in "A Scandal in Bohemia." Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately (now that this movie has been made), my wife said no to that.

But I'm pretty sure I would have hated this movie even if I'd never read a single Holmes story. You don't have to be a Holmes buff to know that Holmes was known for his brains, not his brawn. (Many people who've never read Arthur Conan Doyle have sneered, "No shit, Sherlock," thus demonstrating their grasp of that basic concept as well as their lack of originality.) But this Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock engages in fisticuffs at every opportunity -- and of course, always wins. There are so many fight scenes with hulking villains that at times you think you've wandered into a Jean Claude van Damme movie by mistake.

Downey, who manages to look perpetually hungover, as well as wimpy, is a poor excuse for an action hero. But he's an even poorer excuse for an Englishman. Downey acts British by affecting supercilious expressions and trying way too hard to look snobby and disapproving. Actual upper class Brits are not like that. It's only the type of American who goes over there for six months and comes back speaking with a British accent who puts on such airs. I never blamed Guy Ritchie for Madonna's pretentious and unconvincing British accent. But Downey is now the second American he has had this effect on. You have to wonder.

Ritchie, who did excellent work with "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," seems to have lost his touch. He's tried to make up for the weak, ridiculous Hollywoodized plot with a lot of spectacle and loud noise. (Movies are a bit like people that way: the lower the IQ, the higher the volume.) Naturally, the plot involves plans for world domination by a megalomaniacal villain. (Mark Strong, who has been good in other roles, seems to be doing Lucifer-as-ham-actor here.) These days, on any production costing over $100 million, Hollywood demands nothing less than a hero who saves the entire world; a mere damsel in distress is no longer sufficient.

Speaking of overdone, the ridiculous score, which sounds like amped up Gypsy music, was yet another jarring element.

In the Arthur Conan Doyle books, Dr. Watson is pretty much a cipher, a Boswell to Holmes's Samuel Johnson. In the movie he is made into a major character, which is probably why Jude Law agreed to take the role. The two men bicker like a pair of old queens the entire time; we're supposed to be charmed by this. (Think in terms of how charming you find it when any old married couple bickers.) And make no mistake, they don't banter -- they bicker.

Another discordant note: Jude Law is far too pretty to be Dr. Watson. I don't recall any of the Holmes stories making reference to the fact that Watson was so good-looking he would attract the likes of Sienna Miller. And given Downey's very ordinary looks, this is just one more way in which Watson upstages Holmes, further upsetting the natural order.

Rachel McAdams-as-Irene Adler has to rank with Denise Richards-as-nuclear-physicist (in The World is Not Enough) as one of the all time unintentionally humorous miscastings. Having young sex symbols play women who are supposed to be extremely intelligent is a losing cause. (I can't wait for the inevitable biopic of Golda Meir, starring Jessica Simpson.)

I realize this won't bother most moviegoers as it did me, but Adler's character has been totally twisted by the movie. In "A Scandal in Bohemia" Adler was cool, cerebral, and self-possessed, but also decent in character and ladylike in her comportment. MacAdams plays her as an irrepressible flirt, vamping around making goo-goo eyes at Holmes. And the plot turns her into a habitual criminal.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must be spinning in his grave. Or rather, if he's following the lead of the villain in this extravaganza, he must be climbing out of his grave. (The only thing this movie lacked were the vampires from Twilight.) The chief villain here is named Blackwood, which left me wondering what happened to good old Professor Moriarity. Sure enough, he's introduced at the very end, in one of the least subtle advertisements for a sequel you'll ever see.

Not quite sure how they'll top this, though. Perhaps in the sequel Sherlock can battle space aliens.

For a Holmes purist like me, this movie is a sacrilege. For everybody else, it merely sucks.

Recommendation: Skip the movie, read one of the Sherlock Holmes stories instead.

Addendum, 1/1/10: My son just read this review and said, "No wonder J.D. Salinger doesn't want to sell the rights to his books to Hollywood. He realizes they'd probably turn Holden Caulfield into an M-60 wielding stud who just mows down the pimp who tried to bully him....And while they're at it, they could do a remake of Miss Marple starring Angelina Jolie -- you know, the way she was in Lara Croft, kicking ass all the time."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cause celebres























(on left, Karla Faye Tucker; above, Mumia Abu-Jamal)



The previous post about Tiger Woods and Snoop Dogg got me thinking about how much a person's appearance can influence public opinion about them. Two good examples would be Karla Faye Tucker and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Both became cause celebres while on Death Row.

Why? Because they were good-looking.

Tucker looked like a wholesome schoolteacher. Those cherubic cheeks would have looked right at home in a classroom, patiently teaching the little 'uns their A-B-C's.

But Tucker was anything but wholesome. A prostitute from the age of fourteen, she was eventually convicted for killing Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton, sinking a pickaxe into their bodies. Tucker enjoyed the sensation so much that she told friends it generated a triple orgasm for her (though she later claimed that she had said this merely to impress her friends). She was executed in 1998.

Tucker, who found religion while on Death Row, was for a while a focal point for opponents of the death penalty. Would this have happened if she hadn't been photogenic?

Mumia Abu-Jamal is perhaps the most famous Death Row resident. In the picture above, with his even features and soft cheeks, he looks like a friendly Rastafarian, the type who would be as happy to give you some ganja as sell it to you.

Abu-Jamal (slave name Wesley Cook) is a former Black Panther Party member and lifelong radical black activist who was convicted in 1982 of the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, who had stopped Abu-Jamal's brother for a traffic violation. Several witnesses identified Abu-Jamal as the man who ran across the street to shoot Faulkner. A .38 caliber Charter Arms revolver belonging to Abu-Jamal, along with five spent cartridges, was retrieved from the scene. Abu-Jamal himself was wounded by Faulkner during the shootout. Two witnesses from the hospital where Abu-Jamal was taken after the murder testified that during his treatment he said, "I shot the motherfucker. I hope the motherfucker dies."

The defense consisted mostly of character witnesses who stated that Abu-Jamal was viewed by the black community as a gentle, articulate, genial man, and that the prosecution witnesses were unreliable. Abu-Jamal did not testify in his own defense, nor did his brother, who stated, "I ain't got nothing to do with this."

Since then, Abu-Jamal has been made an honorary citizen of 25 cities around the world, and remains a pet cause of organizations ranging from the NAACP to Amnesty International. Would this have happened if he weren't photogenic?

Had Karla Faye had looked like Rosie O'Donnell, and had Mumia looked like Sonny Liston, neither would have become nearly as famous.

We're all influenced by appearance. But we should at least be aware of its prejudicial influence.

Can't judge a book by its cover department
























One of the main reasons that people were so willing to buy into Tiger Woods' pristine image for so long was that he looks so baby-faced and wholesome. Some pictures make him look more like a Kewpie doll than a human being. At other times he evokes one of those innocent cartoon characters who are forever being threatened by the bad guys.

Contrast his face to Snoop Dogg's face. Snoop has perfected the insinuating sneer, but he has the natural advantage of a face tailor-made for sneering: prominent cheekbones, hooded eyes, flaring nostrils, and a complete lack of baby fat. Of course, Snoop has always tried to cultivate his gangsta image, so it's hard to imagine him as, say, a dedicated athlete.

Sex drive in men is highly correlated with testosterone, and testosterone is correlated with muscle. If you compare Tiger with Snoop on that score, they are each at the opposite end of the spectrum. Tiger, at least in his more recent years, is completely jacked, almost like a body builder. Snoop, if you've ever seen a picture of him without his shirt, is preternaturally thin.

Which means that as far as the women go, Woods is more of a tiger than he let on.

And Snoop may be less of a dog than he pretends.

Xena no more

Here's one from the you-can't-always-believe-what-you-read department:

Last night the NY Daily News printed a followup to the story from several days ago about the girl who knifed one of of the men who were harassing her on the subway. It turns out that the argument had started when Cyan's male friend had bumped into Thomas Winston. Winston then said, "You could say excuse me," and Cyan got mouthy. Moments later she pulled a knife out of her bag, lunged at Winston, and stabbed him.

It was at this point that Winston's friends chased Brown into the subway station and tried to pull her off the F train, but she escaped. At the time, witnesses who saw Brown fleeing thought that she was being harassed by a group of thugs.

But it turns out they were just a bunch of guys trying to see justice done.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A wild time was had by all

My 52-year-old brother is getting married (for the first time, to a 32-year-old woman) on January 16th, in Santa Barbara.

I just informed him that his bachelor party was this past Friday night, when we watched The Hangover (see review below).

When you're 52, an appropriate bachelor party seems to consist of watching a movie about someone's else's bachelor party, then falling sleep, exhausted, at ten.

And speaking for myself, when you're 55, the idea of a real, live bachelor party is, unfortunately, completely and utterly without appeal. Although, come to think of it, even in my youth I never found them appealing. A late night, and a bunch of obnoxious drunken guys yelling at a hired (and very bored) stripper. Not exactly conducive to thoughts of romance -- or even sex.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Hangover


I saw The Hangover, now out on DVD, last night.

The movie is about a group of thirty-somethings who drive to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. But it is at heart a teen comedy, with the classic genre plot: a group of (theoretically adult) boys party a little too hard and irresponsibly and get into trouble.

The difference with this movie is that we don't see any of the wild partying, only the aftermath when the boys wake up to find they're in trouble, but can't remember the previous night. The premise works, because the clues eventually make (some) sense and most (though not all) of the loose ends are tied up at the end.

Most importantly, the movie obeys the number one rule of good filmmaking, which is that every word out of a character's mouth is something none of the others would have said. We laugh because we instinctively recognize the personality types, and think to ourselves, yeah, that's so so-and-so.

The least flawed personality seems to be Doug, the protagonist. We also see him the least, since he goes missing. The fact that he is supposed to get married the next day creates a sense of urgency.

His friend Stu, a dentist, is a grownup version of MacLovin, the character from Superbad. (There's even a slight physical resemblance.) A subplot revolves around Stu's theoretically soon-to-be fiancee, an extremely unpleasant woman. She is a very common type normally underrepresented in the movies, so it's good to see her onscreen in all her bitchy glory.

Another subplot involves a stripper/hooker, played by Heather Graham, whom Stu apparently meets during the night's festivities. She is the exact opposite of Stu's girlfriend back home: a hooker with heart of gold. Hookers with hearts of gold are about as realistic as those beautiful Hollywood superheroines who singlehandedly beat up gangs of thugs. Nonetheless, both types are normally overrepresented in the movies. But it's still good to see Heather Graham on the screen. (Does anyone have a good explanation for why she never quite graduated from starlet to star?)

The cool guy is Phil, the schoolteacher. We first see him calling his students nerds under his breath, a refreshing inversion of the usual teen comedy stereotype. Phil, as befits a slick operator, is also somewhat heartless, a point best demonstrated when the buddies find a baby in their hotel room, along with a tiger. Phil says they have to leave, and Stu points out that they can't leave the baby in the hotel room when there's a tiger there. Phil shrugs, "Why not? It's not our baby."

The most compelling character is Alan, Doug's future brother-in-law, who is constantly making inappropriate, lame, dumb comments. He seems to take a lot of things literally. The word "autistic" is never mentioned in the movie, but Alan's condition becomes apparent when it turns out that he has a special talent for card counting: a wonderful "aha" moment. (Alan had made an earlier reference to Rain Man as a "retard," but the foreshadowing -- which this movie does well -- was disguised by the way he mispronounced the word.) Alan is the butt of a lot of the movie's jokes. This brings up the question, is it okay to make fun of autistic people? Decent people would probably say no. (My vote is yes.)

Mike Tyson makes a slightly-longer-than-cameo appearance in the movie. He's not much of an actor, and comes across like a big kid tickled to be in a movie. He is a false note in a movie full of them; but because the false notes are such an integral part of the humor, they never jar. Tyson looks fat, underscoring what an advantage it is to have those outsize cheekbones, which allow you to still look fierce even when overweight. (That aura may also be helped by our knowledge that he was perhaps the most intimidating heavyweight of all time.)

The Asian gangster, Ken Jeong, plays to every stereotype of wimpy Asians. Probably in order to deflect accusations of racism, the filmmakers have Jeong's sidekick played by a handsome, manly Asian man in a mostly nonspeaking role.

And what better place to set a grownup teen comedy than Las Vegas? It allows the three thirty-something teenagers to behave like rock stars for a night, which, of course, is what Las Vegas is all about. Certainly every cliche about Vegas -- the Elvis background music, the luxury suite, the gambling, the drinking, the strippers -- is invoked in this movie.

Recommendation: Watch the movie, but have a drink or two beforehand.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Xena Warrior Princess

BY Kerry Burke and John Lauinger

DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

Friday, December 25th 2009, 1:33 AM

Several thugs tried to drag a woman off a Queens subway train Thursday night, but she fought back and fatally stabbed one of her tormenters before fleeing on another train, police said.

The large group of men - perhaps as many as eight - surrounded the woman outside a chicken restaurant above the 21st St.-Queensbridge station about 9 p.m., police and a witness said.

The harassment, which may have included unwanted sexual advances toward the woman and grabbing, continued as she entered the subway station.

The woman broke free from the men and frantically ran down to the platform and hopped on an F train, with the thugs right behind.

"They tried to physically drag her off the train, but she fights back," one cop said.

The struggle continued as the group pulled her off the train and dragged her up the stairs to the mezzanine level.

At one point, the woman stabbed one of her attackers - identified by family as Thomas Winston, 29 -- multiple times in the chest.

The woman then sprinted back down to the platform - with the thugs in hot pursuit, said witness Ricardo Josephs, 41.

"Seven or eight of them were chasing the woman," said Josephs, an MTA employee.

"They all jumped over the turnstiles after her," he continued. "She got on the Queens [-bound F] train. They tried to grab her; they tried to hold the train - but she got away."

Winston, who lives in a nearby shelter and has a 10-month-old daughter, was pronounced dead at a Manhattan hospital.

The woman was still in the wind Thursday night, police said. One police source said investigators suspect the woman was acting in self-defense.

Winston has numerous prior arrests, including several raps for sale of narcotics, most recently in September.

You have to love the way the police source said that investigators only suspect the woman was acting in self-defense.

If this woman were to come forward, it's hard to believe that any jury would convict her. But right now she is probably less worried about a jury than she is about Winston's friends and relatives.

You may remember Bernhard Goetz from twenty years ago. He was a mild-mannered white man who lived in Greenwich Village with his pet chinchilla who was accosted by four black men brandishing screwdrivers on a subway car. He shot them and disappeared. The press then dubbed him the subway vigilante. Nine days later he surrendered to police and was charged with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and possession of an illegal firearm. A Manhattan jury acquitted him of all charges except the gun charge, for which he served eight months in jail. Goetz became a symbol of sorts for people who were fed up with New York street crime in the 1980's.

This woman, based on this report, makes an even more sympathetic figure. First, she is a woman, and therefore perceived as more vulnerable. Second, she was surrounded by eight men, not four. Third, she tried to escape twice but they kept chasing her and even tried to drag her off the subway. And fourth, she didn't use a gun, only a knife. I have no idea what the woman's race was, though I'd be willing to make a guess as to the ethnicity of the men.

My guess is she will eventually be identified -- after all, there are at least seven living witnesses who saw her up close, and undoubtedly more who saw her from a short distance.

When she is identified, she can expect to become a mini-celebrity of sorts, one who is particularly celebrated by women. Her aura may be dimmed, however, if it turns out that she has an extensive criminal history of her own, which, given her proficiency with a knife, she may well have.

In the meantime, I wish her a Merry Christmas.

Addendum, next day: the woman turns out to be Cyan Brown, 16 years of age. Her mother claims that she was acting in self-defense. The dead man's cousin claims that Brown has a history of stabbing people she gets into arguments with. The police are "trying" to contact Brown to question her about the killing, which says to me that they think it was self-defense (otherwise they would just arrest her). This says to me that the story is as initially presented, though there is now a small element of doubt about it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Article on masters swimming

http://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/lane9/news/23029.asp?q=A%20Message%20to%20Non-Masters%20Swimmers

A brief article on the Swimming World website about the nature of masters swimming, and how it is more fun than scholastic swimming.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Avatar


Just saw Avatar (in 2-D) this evening, and enjoyed every minute.

It was as predictable a movie as I've ever seen: you know exactly what conflict the hero will be faced with (whether to side with the rapacious earthlings or the noble nature-worshipping Na'vi of the planet Pandora). You know from the moment the female Na'vi heroine first appears (and spares the hero's life) that romance will ensue. In fact, you pretty much know the outcome of the entire movie after the first fifteen minutes.

All of the characters are two dimensional (the 3-D version of the movie does not add depth to the personalities). They all fall neatly into two categories, Good and Bad. Before even getting to the theater, you know from the publicity stills which category the Na'vi, with their big eyes, feline faces, elf-like ears, full lips, and thin bodies, fall into. Their nobility is just as obvious as Orlando Bloom-the-Elf's in Lord of the Rings: Hollywood may occasionally make good beings ugly, but it never makes evil beings beautiful.

One slightly discordant note: Stephen Lang, the accomplished stage actor who plays the evil Colonel Quaritch, has a much more intelligent face than Sam Worthington, who plays hero Jake Scully. Worthington, who was evidently up for the role of James Bond in Casino Royale before it was awarded to Daniel Craig, looks like a callow Ben Affleck (if that's not redundant). Lang has a more refined face, one which seems more capable of empathy, even as he struts and bullies in his role as chief bad guy.

The movie's anti-war and environmental messages are delivered in typically heavy-handed Hollywood fashion.

Avatar is also heavily derivative. When Jake Scully meets his first fearsome Pandoran beast, his dialogue is lifted from Will Smith's giant cockroach scene in Men in Black. The penultimate battle scene, with Na'vi on their Pandoran version of horses riding to their doom against the superior modern artillery of the earthlings, is straight from The Last Samurai. The Na'vi themselves are obviously derived from every Disney cliche about noble Native Americans.

And yet, despite all these faults, the movie was impossible not to enjoy. I don't like being instructed what to think -- and whom to root for -- anymore than anyone else. But I couldn't help but root for the Na'vi. (Who would argue against nature and for war?)

The idea of having a paraplegic Marine occupy the body of an avatar is ingenious. You can feel his joy at the liberation his new body brings him. But the real genius of the movie lies in the creation of the lush, beautiful planet. It is Pandora, and the essential sweetness of its inhabitants, that keep you involved, even as subsequent plot developments are telegraphed from a mile away. (I smell a well-deserved Oscar for art direction, probably along with a few undeserved ones, this coming March.)

Avatar reportedly cost upwards of $400 million. I'm not sure what that kind of money is supposed to look like, but it probably resembles something like Pandora. The rain forest is exquisite down to its last detail, and the colors are gorgeous (in contrast to the movie's messages, which are presented in black and white). The movie is like the cover of one of those old Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp novels come to life. You can't ask for better entertainment than that.

Any movie which has the nerve to last two hours and thirty-six minutes had better be entertaining. This one delivered.

James Cameron is once again the king of the world.

Prediction: this movie will generate a whole slew of hardcore, Trekkie-type fans who will paint their faces blue and go to Avatar conventions as every opportunity.

Avoid them, but see the movie.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Enchanted


The USA channel has been playing Enchanted all weekend there, and will play it again tonight at 9PM Eastern time. (The movie is not to be confused with Ella Enchanted.)

When my brother first told me I'd enjoy it, after the first ten minutes (which are in cartoon format) I openly mocked him. But you must see those first ten minutes in order to understand the story, so please stick with it.

It's far more clever and intelligent than most movies, and that alone makes it worth watching. As with most movies, the first hour is probably the best. (The early James Bond movies with Sean Connery are probably the best examples of this.) Enchanted gets a little sappy, but the movie also makes fun of itself, making the sappiness more palatable. (The low point on that score is probably the Central Park song/dance scene, where some choreographer was given way to much leeway.) The ending is downright ludicrous, but it is, after all, a fairy tale.

If you don't like it, be as insulting to me as you like; I promise to publish your comment anyway.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What women like


I spent last weekend at a big masters swimming meet. These meets are always a blast, and have a bit of a cocktail-party-by-the-pool feel to them. I saw a number of people I hadn't seen in years, and that's always fun as well.

Among the people I saw was Benn Doyle, 51, who holds the world record in his age group in the 100 short course meter breaststroke. Ben stands 6' 4" and weighs around 230. He has a little bit of a gut, and is more hawk-faced than classically handsome. But he's nice looking in a rugged sort of way. In any case, the overriding impression he leaves you with is one of masculinity-to-spare, which, for guys, is probably more important than being pretty anyway.

Benn is a veterinarian. I asked how his practice was going, and he replied that he was busy, and hadn't seen any downturn in his business due to the recession: "People just love their pets, and will do anything for them."

He added, with a shrug, "I'm the same way. I cry when I see a baby squirrel run over in the street."

All I could think was, women must absolutely adore this guy. Most women's ideal man is a hulking monster with a kind heart (who also makes money), and Benn is exactly that.

(I also think it helps to be six feet four inches of testosterone on the hoof when you admit to guys you don't know that well that you cry at the sight of a dead baby squirrel.)

Benn explained that the worst thing was to see a squirrel that had been partially run over and was still alive but couldn't move; he said that he always made a point of backing up and running them over again, so their suffering would stop. He then mentioned a buck he had seen in his backyard which had had an arrow sticking out of its chest, and how he had tried -- but failed -- to trap him. "He actually survived for three more weeks," he said sadly.

(It did occur to me that these were just lines -- they're certainly effective ones -- but then I thought, he wouldn't have spent his life being a vet just to buttress this pose.)

I told him that my wife and daughter would be big fans of his.

Of course, being as wise as I am, I also know what women don't like: a strutting bantam rooster who's constantly trying to prove his toughness.

Like me.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Shades of "Psycho"

The following AP article appeared yesterday:

NC woman accused of hiding corpse appears in court

Wilmington, NC -- A woman accused of hiding her elderly mother's corpse for seven months in the family's North Carolina home has asked for a court-appointed defense attorney.

Amy Stewart made her first court appearance Thursday before a district court judge in Wilmington.

The 47-year-old did not enter a plea. She was charged Wednesday with concealing a dead body, a felony. Stewart posted bond and was released from jail.

Police responded to the family's home Tuesday after a 911 call and found the body of Stewart's 87-year-old mother, Blanche Matilda Roth, in a bedroom. Police estimate Roth died in May.

If Stewart killed her mother, she probably could have gotten away with it if she had immediately reported her death. After all, the death of an 87-year-old will usually not excite suspicion. But now the coroner's office will be extra careful.

Or was Stewart simply so attached to her mother that she couldn't bear to let her go? Judging from the fact that a 911 call was made, things may be a little dysfunctional at the Stewart household, which generally means less than overly strong attachments. But the need for a court-appointed, i.e., free, attorney would hint at a lack of the kind of resources which might provide at least one kind of motive for murder.

Either way, it would have been more appropriate if Stewart's name had been Norma Bates.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Their diversity is their strength?


The three animals above were confiscated from Atlanta area drug dealers eight years ago -- at age two months -- and delivered to the Noah's Ark Animal Rescue Center in Locust Grove, Georgia. The lion, tiger, and bear -- unimaginatively named Leo, Shere Khan, and Baloo -- have been brought up together since their youth, and evidently get along fine together. (Rudyard Kipling, based in India, did not include a lion in his Jungle Tales book, so Leo had to settle for being named after an astrological sign.)

Baloo and Shere Khan are particularly close, because they both rise early and like to play. Leo, being a lion, prefers to sleep till late. The animals' natural instincts kick in in other ways as well. Since tigers and bears like water, the zookeepers have a creek running through their enclosure. Lions evolved in Africa, where the rivers contain hippopotamuses and crocodiles, both easily capable of killing a lion. So Leo has an instinctive aversion to water. Bears get fish, notably salmon, from northern rivers, so Baloo likes to play in the water. And tigers are strong swimmers; tigers from the Sunderbans mangrove swamps of India have been known to swim out to fishing boats, capsize them, and kill the occupants.

Diane Smith, assistant director of the rescue center, pointed out, "They are totally oblivious to the fact that in any other circumstance they would not be friends." True enough. Had they grown up in the wild and encountered each other there, each of these apex predators would have attempted to kill the others, or at the very least, avoided them.

The Koreans used to stage fights between lions and tigers, which would inevitably result in the death of one of the animals. Initially they used Siberian tigers, but those tigers were not aggressive enough, and would be killed by the lions, so they switched to Bengal tigers, which sometimes bested the lions. (When I was a child and would ask my father which would win in a fight, he would say the tiger. And that is what one would think, given the tiger's greater size and strength. But it's not that simple: a tiger generally pounces on its prey, whereas a lion clamps its jaws around the throat of its prey, which is the more effective fighting technique when two big cats are involved.)

The picture above was taken at an opportune time: it looks as if the three animals have just had a happy play date and are now heading home. It is surprising, at least after looking at the picture above, to hear that the felines each weigh around 350 pounds, whereas the bear weighs 1000. Black bears in the wild generally don't get above 500 or 600 pounds, whereas tigers get up to 660 pounds, and male lions 550 (there is more sexual dimorphism among lions). But bears have the ability to put on fat more easily than the other two, since fat is crucial to their survival during the long winter months when they hibernate. So a well fed bear in captivity has more potential to grow obese.

Unexpected fact: until 10,000 years ago, lions were the most widespread large land mammal after humans. They ranged all over Africa, from Western Europe to India, and in the Americas from the Yukon to Peru.

"Leo" is obviously a female (she lacks a mane), so if the tiger is a male, offspring could conceivably result. When a male lion mates with a female tiger, the offspring is called a liger; when it happens the other way around, which is rarer, the offspring is called a tigon. Ligers generally end up much bigger than either parent, since the lion sire passes on a growth gene, but the corresponding growth inhibitor gene is absent in the female tiger. So ligers can often reach lengths of ten to twelve feet and weigh upwards of 1000 pounds. (Male ligers are generally sterile, but female ligers have been known to produce offspring.)

One can't help but wonder what lessons this happy trio can impart to human beings. If a European, an African, and an Asian were, as far as they knew, the only people on earth, they would probably get along fine as well. It is only when there are large numbers of each that racial discord arises.

At least this rescue center can honestly claim that its diversity is, if not a strength, at least not a weakness.

But only, of course, under the most carefully controlled and artificial of circumstances.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Only the good die young

(Theodore Sypnier)

A 100-year-old child molester was released from his halfway house this past weekend. Here's an excerpt from the AP article of five days ago by Carolyn Thompson:

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Everything that pedophile Theodore Sypnier has to show for his 100 years on Earth is packed in a single duffel bag as he prepares to begin a new chapter in life: freedom.

New York's oldest registered sex offender is scheduled to move by week's end out of a Buffalo halfway house for released inmates and into a place of his own, after completing his latest term in state prison for molesting little girls.

The judge who sentenced him said at the time that she expected him to die behind bars.

But 10 years after his last arrest, as Sypnier prepared to shed the closely monitored lifestyle of the halfway house, its director warned that the spry and active Sypnier has not changed. "Whether he's 100 or 101 or 105, the same person that was committing these crimes 10, 25, 30 years ago still exists today and has an unrepentant heart," said the Rev. Terry King, director of Grace House, which has twice taken Sypnier in from prison. "He is someone that we as parents, as members of the community, any community, really need to fear."

(It sounds as if the judge's prediction may still come true: he will die behind bars, for his next crime.)

Six months after marking his 100th birthday in the Groveland Correctional Facility — becoming the first New York inmate to reach the milestone while incarcerated -- the retired telephone company worker now says he wants to get to know the youngest members of a family that has disowned him.

(Retired telephone company worker? Wasn't AT&T's former ad campaign "Reach out and touch someone"?)

A former daughter-in-law said he is not likely to get the chance.

"No one from the family plans to have any contact with him," Diane Sypnier said before ending a brief phone interview.

Being grandfatherly was how the 5-foot-5, 150-pound Sypnier found his victims, authorities say. After his most recent arrest at age 90 on charges of raping and sodomizing a 4-year-old girl and her 7-year-old sister, his neighbors in the suburb of Tonawanda recalled what appeared to be a kindly Sypnier offering rides to adults, handing out money to children so they could buy candy, and baby-sitting.

It's often the people who appear the warmest at first who are in fact sociopaths, who have a knack for great first impressions.

A ninety year old rapist? I wonder if he took Viagra before these encounters.

The nerve

From this morning's NY Post:

Sex Overdrive

By RITA DELFINER

A mother of two in New Mexico has lost some of her lust for life after an injury in a car crash left her with an insatiable sex drive.

"It's unbearable," Joleen Baughman, 39, was quoted as saying by the Telegraph of London. "Just my clothes rubbing against me gets me so aroused I can hardly think straight."

In the April 2007 collision, a nerve in her pelvis which controls desire was damaged -- and got locked in the "on" position. Because of the condition, the slightest movement turns her on -- even when she vacuums or walks, the newspaper said.

Could someone please tell me where this nerve is located?

Another piece in the puzzle

Dr. Anthony Galea, 50, who has treated Tiger Woods, Alex Rodgriguez, and Dara Torres among other famous athletes, was the subject of a front page article in the NY Times yesterday. He is evidently the subject of a doping inquiry and is suspected of providing athletes with performance-enhancing drugs.

He is being investigated by both the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for smuggling, advertising, and selling unapproved drugs.

Galea has admitted that he has treated himself with human growth hormone for the past ten years, in order to "have a longer lifespan" with his wife, who is 22 years his junior. But he claims never to have prescribed Hgh or steroids to treat any of his elite athletes, among whom he is known as "Miracle Man."

In my opinion, the miracle would be if he hadn't.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Putting it all together




















(At left, Tiger Woods while at Stanford; at right, more recently)


It came to me about the time that Tiger's eighth or ninth girlfriend raved about his insatiable sex drive: the reason Tiger was so incredibly horny is that he was on steroids.

According to the police report from the night of his accident, Woods's wife told them that he had been drinking earlier that day, and also had prescriptions for the sedative Ambien and the pain killer Vicodin. All of which means that Tiger certainly doesn't have anything against putting foreign substances into his body.

You may remember speculation a while back that the drastic change in Tiger's build from his mid-twenties to his early thirties was due to juicing. He said he had weight-lifted extensively before, but before his late twenties had never been able to put on weight. Then, all of a sudden, he magically went from 158 pounds to around 200.

Well, one of the side effects of steroids is that one becomes extremely lustful. I've heard bodybuilders say that when they're on the juice, they would need an entire harem to take care of their needs. The difference with Tiger was, he had the means to actually finance that harem.

Tiger was evidently so desperate for sex that he would have it in the back seat of a car in a church parking lot. He would text his various girlfriends and ask them for dirty pictures, or tell them that he would wear them out. And evidently he did -- most of his girlfriends during his many overlapping affairs were impressed by his stamina and drive.

If Tiger wasn't on steroids, he deserves a medal of some sort.

I certainly can't prove that Tiger was juicing. But it just makes too much sense. You rarely see the kind of wholesale change in build he went through in his late twenties. He simply switched his original body for another. And almost all of these affairs seem to have taken place in the last several years, during his marriage. If he was so driven by sex, why did he never had a reputation as a prolific womanizer during his single days?

If this is true -- and I'd bet a lot of money it is -- Tiger is in a bad place right now. At some level he must want to blame his wanton behavior on the steroids he ingested ("It wasn't me, I was in the grip of this powerful drug"). But he won't, because he knows what the downside is. If someone should happen to come forward at this point to say that he sold Tiger steroids, not only will Tiger's formerly pristine personal reputation be in tatters, so will his reputation as a great golfer. And the latter is now all he has left. I'm not sure what the rules are regarding steroids in golf, but at the very least the public would regard his record as tainted.

And instead of going down in history as Usain Bolt, he would go down as Ben Johnson.

Okay, I promise, this will be the last post on Tiger Woods. Well, I guess I can't promise that. The subject is just too juicy.

I guess if I had gone into journalism, I would have ended up writing for Star Magazine or the National Enquirer rather than the Wall Street Journal.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Do blasians = whites?























(top left, Tyson Beckford; right, Naomi Campbell)






The recent all-Tiger-all-the-time news coverage got me to thinking about his racial background, and I intended to write a short piece this morning about people of mixed African and Asian descent, with an emphasis on their athletic ability. But when I started doing a little research I found myself sidetracked by references to well known people who are of that heritage.

For starters, Tiger Wood's father, whom everyone just thought of as black, was in fact a quarter Chinese. That came as a surprise. Then I read that top model Tyson Beckford was part Chinese (his Jamaican mother had "some Chinese heritage," according to Wikipedia). Evidently Naomi Campbell has a "Chinese Jamaican" father (whom she has never met), also according to Wikipedia. Judging from her appearance her "Chinese Jamaican" father probably had some black blood; maybe "Chinese Jamaican" actually means "Chinese/Jamaican." (It is unclear which part of her lineage she inherited her diva-like phone-throwing tendencies from.)

With both Beckford and Campbell, their Asian heritage is something you wouldn't realize at first, but once you're told of it, you can detect it. Certainly both are splendid specimens.

I'm half-Japanese, half-Anglo. Growing up in Boston in the 1960's, I was a relative rarity. These days Eurasians are much more common. There are so many of them in my hometown in Fairfield County at times you almost think you're in Hawaii. People of mixed black and Asian descent, on the other hand, are, if not quite tions or ligers, still relatively rare -- except in Jamaica. Ian Fleming referred to them in Dr. No as "Chigroes"; now the more acceptable terms are "blasians," or "Afro-Asians." (The term "comblinasian" is a Tiger coinage minted in an effort to universalize his appeal and maximize endorsement deals.)

My original point was going to be that the black-Asian combination seems a good one for athleticism. Asians tend to be smaller on average, but they are generally fit, with loose, sinuous muscles, while blacks are generally considered the most athletic race overall. The men in both races are usually lean, at least while young. Apart from Tiger Woods, reigning Olympic decathlon champion Bryan Clay is half Japanese and half black. A girl with that background ran on my daughter's middle school track team, and she was very fast. (The family moved away while she was still in middle school, so I don't know how she developed athletically.) Tyson Beckford certainly looks like a natural athlete. If such a combination does result in athletic ability, it wouldn't be unique in nature: mules, for instance, are known for their power.

Of course, such a relatively small sample size means little. So we'll have to wait for more data points before drawing a conclusion about the natural athleticism of Afro-Asians.

But then I started thinking of the other ways in which this particular combination would work.

For instance, blacks have an average IQ of 85, whites 100, and East Asians 110. Therefore it would stand to reason that Afro-Asians would roughly approximate the average white IQ.

On various measures of behavior blacks and east Asians rank far apart, too. On a per capita basis, according to government statistics, blacks commit roughly ten times as much of the major categories of violent crime (murder, rape, assault and battery, and armed robbery) as whites do. But northeast Asians (Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese) are, on average, the least violent race in this country.

This difference is not surprising when you consider that violence is highly correlated with male hormones. According to Army tests, blacks are the race with the most testosterone flowing through their veins, and Asians the least.

It's often seemed to me that in terms of inhibitions, whites generally act like Asians who've had a drink or two, and blacks act like whites who've had a drink. This is partly why blacks tend to regard whites as nerdy and lame and boring, and whites regard Asians the same way.

On this measure, as on the others, do Afro-Asians, those most exotic-looking of creatures, have natural instincts and aptitudes which average out to those of whites?

Does this mean that Tiger Woods is effectively white?

(And does it explain why he only goes after white girls?)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Test for sociopathy

This is a test which was circulating on the internet a few years ago. It's actually quite well done:

Read this question, come up with an answer, then scroll down to the bottom for the result. This is not a trick question. It is as it reads.

A woman, while at the funeral of her mother, met this guy whom she did not know. She thought this guy was amazing, so much her dream guy that she believed him to be just that. She fell in love with him right there, but never asked for his number and could not find him. A few months later she killed her sister. Question: what is her motive in killing her sister? (Give this some thought before you answer.)






SCROLL DOWN








Almost there.......





Answer: She was hoping that the guy would appear at the funeral again. If you answered this correctly, you think like a sociopath. A famous American psychologist used this test to see if someone had the same mentality as a killer. Many arrested serial killers answered the question correctly.

If you didn't answer the question correctly, good for you.

The basic idea is that a normal (nonsociopathic) person could never even conceive of taking someone else's life so lightly that they would snuff it in order to gain what they want.

I know of exactly one person who got the answer correct, a woman who used to work on Wall Street. (I didn't ask her the question directly, but someone I had passed the question along to asked her, and told me the result.) This woman was a marvel of plastic surgery, including a pair of double D implants which she would flaunt at every opportunity. She would throw herself at men to get business from them. She always struck me as completely lacking in shame and embarrassment.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Note to Tiger




















(Left, Rachel Uchitel; top right, Jaimee Grubbs)




Tiger, could you have possibly picked two trampier-looking women? Both of these women are straight out of the "Housewives of Orange County" mold: plastic surgery, collagened lips, dyed hair, and implants. Neither would look out of place at the Bunny Ranch.

Next time pick a married woman. She might not have as much to lose as you do, but she will at least have some motivation to stay discreet.

And what is the point of paying Rachel Uchitel a million dollars to keep her mouth shut now? The story's already out.

Finally, next time, don't try to make your public image quite so pristine. That way people won't rejoice in your downfall.

Oops, too late for that.

Just not that big a deal

One of the myths we were taught in grade school was that the Puritans came to America to escape religious persecution. In fact, they came here because they were not allowed to persecute others the way they wanted to back in England. (Why do you think they were called Puritans?)

Our puritanical heritage has not totally disappeared, as we have seen in the reaction to Tiger Woods' flings, which seems all out of proportion to the deed. Tiger didn't kill his wife, nor did he hit her. He merely succumbed to some extracurricular temptation.

In Europe, such an affair would not even be a scandal. (The Italians would consider it more scandalous if Berlusconi stopped chasing young women.) Yet over here, it's front page news, though it belongs on Page Six.

The sexual attraction between any couple will fade, no matter how attractive the partners. And that ring on your finger doesn't prevent you from being attracted to other people. Europeans are realistic about this. Americans should be.

I've noticed over time that the people who become the most outraged by others' affairs are almost always those with no such opportunities themselves. Think of the people you know. It's always plain women, or older women, who are most incensed by others' affairs; jealousy and envy seem to be the key emotions here. I've never heard a beautiful woman spit venom at the idea of an affair (unless it's her husband's). And men tend to be less outraged about it in general, because they know what they would do if presented similar opportunities.

I'm not saying that having an affair is right. Merely that it shouldn't be front page news.

Very few people list "Puritan" as their religious affiliation these days, but in this country their influence has not entirely vanished.