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Friday, April 29, 2011

Having it both ways

Two days ago Donald Trump said that despite the fact that Obama "wasn't a good student," he had managed to get into both Columbia University and Harvard Law School.

Although he didn't spell it out, what Trump was saying, of course, is that Obama must have been the beneficiary of affirmative action.

A number of media commentators have expressed outrage at Trump's statement, and have called him a "racist" for having made it.

So...the same people who advocate affirmative action insist that if you spell out exactly what it is, and imply that someone might have benefited from it, that makes you a racist.

What affirmative action boils down to is black and Hispanic students with lower grades and lower test scores being let into college ahead of white students with higher grades and scores. That is all it is: people being judged by their race rather than their qualifications. And as long as this policy is in effect, it means that all blacks and Hispanics who've gotten into prestigious colleges will be suspected of having been admitted with lesser qualifications.

There, I've said it. I'm a racist. 

If Obama wasn't an affirmative action baby, he could easily prove it by unsealing his transcripts. But he has done the opposite: he has spent close to a million dollars on lawyers who have made sure those transcripts stay sealed.

Chris Matthews' take on this was classic fact-based Matthews: "How many white kids who were smarter than [Obama] didn't get into Harvard? I don't think there are any!"

Chris must have had access to all the LSAT scores at the admissions office from back in the mid-80's.

Anyway, Obama must be smarter -- after all, he's President, and the way he reads from the Teleprompter sends shivers up our legs!

Okay Chris. Do you also think Donald Trump must be incredibly smart because he's so rich?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

UFOs

My son sent this compilation of UFO sightings as reported by the mainstream media to me yesterday. If you have eight minutes to waste (the last four minutes of the video are not interesting), you might take a look; it's sort of interesting:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87PRVP4EQAo&feature=player_embedded#at=46

There are other possible alternative explanations for these recordings, including weird Aurora Borealis formations, secret military experiments, lasers, comets, burning meteors, even exploding stars from light years away. Maybe some are even computer generated images, although evidently most of these phenomena were seen by many people. (The guy whose phone message was played at the end could easily have been either  crazy or a hoaxer.)

I've never been particularly interested in UFOs, and when people talk about Area 51, I usually tune out. I just tend not to believe in them, though I'm probably as much agnostic as atheist.

In any case, this video will make you wonder.

The Times strikes again

Caster Semenya, as you may recall, is the runner who won the 800 at the world championships in 2009, then was found to be a hermaphrodite. Her saga has involved the intersection of sport, gender identity, justice, and politics. This blog has weighed in on the subject before here and here.

I'd like to emphasize again, Semenya herself was in no way at fault. From what was made public at the time, it was apparent that her external genitalia were those of a woman, and she had no idea of her condition until she was tested. I thought it highly unfair that her condition was made public; it should have been handled with far more discretion by the governing authorities of track.

Since then, the IAAF has ruled that Semenya be allowed to compete as a woman. What I'm guessing happened is that Semenya had an operation ridding her of her internal testes, and this was enough to sway the authorities. (Doctors evidently recommend that such conditions be reversed anyway, as they can lead to long term health risks.)

The New York Times chose to weigh in on the subject with an editorial this past Sunday by Alice Dreger, a professor of clinical humanities and bioethics at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.

Dreger's argument is basically that the IOC's philosophy that women who naturally produce too much testosterone must do something to change that condition if they want to compete as women is unfair, since men have no similar provision. After all, if a man produces more testosterone than most, he is allowed to compete against other men, even though he has a natural advantage. Ms. Dreger feels this constitutes discrimination against women. In her words: "It is only women who are being limited in terms of natural biochemical advantage."

Ms. Dreger employs a peculiarly Timesian emphasis. She sees a difference in the way a rule is applied to women and men, and seizes upon that, while completely ignoring the fact that it is unfair for biologically normal women to have to compete against hermaphrodites who produce several times more testosterone than they do. This rule wasn't instituted as a way to discriminate against women; it was instituted as a way to ensure fairness among women. Yet Ms. Dreger disregards this, and focuses instead on the fact that there is no equivalent rule for men.

What she also ignores is a difference at the heart of sport: that men compete in the open category, whereas women compete in what is essentially a restricted category. Such restrictions permeate sport at all sorts of different levels. If a 25 year old wants to compete in a masters meet, he is not allowed to compete in the 40-44 age group; he must compete against those his own age. If a 240 pounder wants to compete as a wrestler, he is not allowed to compete in the 126 pound division. If you want to compete against restricted competition, you have to meet the requirements for that restriction yourself. It's all a matter of fairness. So people who want to compete in the women's category ought to fit some standardized definition of a woman. (I have yet to hear of athletes framing such restrictions as issues of age discrimination, or weight discrimination.)

Perhaps the fairest thing for hermaphrodites would be to have their own division. But lacking such, it seems unfair for them to compete against women. 

The issue Ms. Dreger raises, one of fairness between the genders, is a false one. The issue here is what is fair between women, and whether women should have to compete against athletes who are as much man as woman. Ms. Dreger (I looked her up) is a champion for the rights of the intersexed; I don't doubt that they need championing in various ways. But the implication that the authorities are picking on Carter Semenya as a way to discriminate against women is ludicrous. The first people to complain about Semenya were the other women in the race, several of whom were quoted as saying they shouldn't have to compete against a man.

Ms. Dreger does not suggest a solution to this issue herself. She merely expresses indignation.

Count on the Times to hoist a false flag and proudly wave it high.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Dems' biggest hope

So far the mainstream press has pretty much savaged Donald Trump, especially since he seems to have emerged as a serious candidate. But polls have shown that he would do worse against Barack Obama in a general election than any other conceivable Republican candidate except Sarah Palin.

At some point, the mainstream press, which has willfully overlooked all of Obama's lies, hypocrisies, and empty campaign promises for the past few years, will wake up and realize that they don't want to make Trump look like the buffoon that he is. In fact, their fondest wish should be for him to succeed in the Republican primaries. 

Serious conservative commentators like Charles Krauthammer and Karl Rove have already realized this and have spoken out against Trump. Sooner or later the 90% of the press which votes Democratic will wake up and realize this too.

They will conclude that they should support him through the primary season. And that only after that should they allow themselves to spew their bile to their hearts' content.

How soon will they come to this realization?

The family tree

Last August I put up a post about convergent evolution, and mentioned it again just a few posts ago. If you go to the post from last August, and double click on the chart, you can get a detailed analysis of the genetic distance between the different racial groups. But that is a very detailed chart which requires a lot of study, so here is a much simpler version, which is actually viewable in the space this blog's format allows:


This chart, by the way, is from the following website: http://barclay1720.tripod.com/hist/origin/outafrica.htm

This is essentially the same chart as the one referenced above, but without all those complicated numbers (it's been a long time since I took statistics). This chart indicates the relative stages at which the different branches of humanity split off from each other. The tree has some expected branches, but also contains a number of surprises.

It makes sense that East Asians and Inuit and Amerindians are so closely related, since the latter two just went over the Bering Strait during the last Ice Age, a mere 12 - 14,000 years ago. (A friend who grew up in Japan once innocently commented to me that during the two hours he spent at the Anchorage Airport he saw more drunk Japanese than he had in his entire childhood; it was only later he realized his error.) But who would ever have guessed that the East Asians split off from Europeans more recently than they did from Southeast Asians? Japanese and Koreans certainly resemble Filipinos more than they do Swedes.

It's a little bit of a surprise to find that (subcontinental) Indians are more closely related to Europeans than they are to other Asians. It's more of a surprise that they branched off from Europeans more recently than did the Lapps, those reindeer-herding blonds from northern Scandinavia.

Perhaps the biggest surprise (which isn't visible from the chart above, but can be seen from link at the top of this post) is that the group mostly closely related to Africans are non-European Caucasians, followed closely by European Caucasians. And the group with the furthest genetic distance from Africans are the Australian aborigines and Melanesians. Here are some pictures of Melanesians, from Papua New Guinea and Fiji:






If you saw any of these faces on the streets of East St. Louis, you probably wouldn't look twice. But genetically speaking, they are more alien to that environment than Renee Zellweger would be.

Zellweger, by the way, is half-Lapp, so she would, genetically speaking, actually be more out of place in Copenhagen than, say, actor Ben Kingsley ("Gandhi") who is half-Indian, half-Brit.

Appearances can certainly be deceiving.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The new Jerry Lewis




When I was a child, I would look at Jerry Lewis movies and think, how could anybody ever have thought these funny?

In thirty years, will people look back at Jim Carrey movies and think the same?

Carrey is not just a ham, he's an incredibly selfish one. How the Grinch Stole Christmas might better have been titled, How Jim Carrey Steals Every Moment of Every Scene He Is In. Carrey not only chews scenery, he swallows it and regurgitates it, then scoops it up and chews it some more. By comparison, Robin Williams is an actor of serenity and subtlety.

Look through the list of Carrey's movies and see what big name actors have agreed to appear alongside him. The answer is, basically none. Ed Harris was in The Truman Show, but never appeared in any of the same scenes as Carrey. (Several actors reportedly turned down that role.) Morgan Freeman appeared with him in Bruce Almighty, but Freeman will take a paycheck for pretty much anything. Other than those two, most stars have studiously avoided becoming Carrey props.

You probably know people in your own life who always need to be the center of attention. They can be a lot of fun at first, but once their constant neediness becomes apparent, they pall quickly. With people like this, there's only one conclusion you can draw: their parents didn't pay them enough attention.

I'm reminded of all this because this morning's NY Post ran an item on Page Six describing how Carrey had turned up at an aquatic-themed party at the Gramercy Park Hotel in full scuba gear:


How desperate for attention do you have to be to go that far for fear someone might upstage you?

Once upon a time the French thought that Jerry Lewis was a genius. One would think that if the French liked Lewis, they would feel the same about Carrey. But they seem to have suffered a crisis of national embarrassment after their love affair with Lewis and have not become similarly smitten with Lewis II.

We have only ourselves to blame for Carrey. But at least his career seems to have slowed. The national appetite for grown men who act like five year olds seems to be sated, at least for now.

Straw Man Department



Christo is the man who wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin (at left) and the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris. He created the 24 mile Running Fence in Sonoma, and The Gates in Central Park (above).

Why is he considered an artist?

The essence of modern art seems to be making a statement, no matter how lame and pointless. But it's hard to determine what statement Christo is making.

It's also hard not to wonder what inspired him in the first place. Who would look at the Reichstag and think, hmm, that needs covering? Did Christo think that Central Park looked somehow naked without all those orange polypropylene sheets?

Every now and then some Halloween pranksters decide to toilet paper a house. Does anyone call them great artists? No, they're basically just mischievous kids. Which is forgivable, especially since toilet paper does no permanent damage. What would be unforgivable is if those kids called themselves artists. But they are, as much as Christo is. And so are the workmen who lay down the tarp over the infield at Fenway Park so the Red Sox don't have to play in the mud after it rains. In fact, every suburban Dad who hangs a tarp over his boat to keep it from getting rained on is as much of an artist as Christo.

Much of what Christo covered (or desecrated, if you prefer) was actually quite beautiful. Sonoma County is one of the prettiest places in the US. And the Reichstag is a magnificent building. He is hiding beauty, not creating it. Maybe I could drape some plastic sheets over Keira Knightley, so she can't be seen, and call myself an artist.

Perhaps the most important question here is, who were the German officials who gave permission for Christo to encase the Reichstag that way? Who were the Councilmen who gave their approval for Central Park to be filled with those ghastly orange plastic sheets? Who are the news executives who deemed his doings worthy of coverage?

There will always be village idiots. We used to laugh at them. Now we enable them.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Proxies

I get proxy forms from various companies on a fairly regular basis. They mostly signal elections for new Board members, and usually come with a recommendation by the company as to whom to vote for. I just throw them away. I figure that voting my tiny holdings wouldn't make any difference anyway.

I also have the sneaking suspicion that these elections are easily fixed. 

The following scenario is all too easy to imagine: the CEO wants his guys on the Board of Directors, because he knows they will rubber stamp whatever he wants, including the bonus he wants to award himself. He goes to the accountants his firm has hired and tells them that if they want to continue to get business from him, to make sure his guy gets elected. What choice does that leave the accounting firm?

It makes no difference to them who's on the Board; but it makes a huge difference to them whether they get that company's business. They also know that no one will find out: when was the last time you ever heard of someone demanding a recount on a proxy vote?

Newsflash: people will lie if it's in their own best interest.

I'm not even sure similar shenanigans don't go on in Presidential elections.

Gender differences, Part VIII: Books

You can tell a lot about people just by looking at their bookshelves. You can tell what their political outlook is. If they are sports-oriented. Whether they're romantic, ambitious, and intellectual. You can even make a fairly educated guess as to how intelligent they are.

One of the easiest conclusions to draw is their gender. 

Romance novels are one of the biggest genres in publishing. Yet you'll never see a guy read one. This makes eminent evolutionary sense. Females, who historically have benefited from keeping a male around to help provide for her offspring, have better reason to long for and believe in True Love.

Self-help books tend to be the province of women as well. (I am referring here to self-actualization as opposed to how-to books.) Most men seem to feel they are perfect just the way they are. And if they actually acknowledge any imperfections, they tend to simultaneously figure, well, tough, that's not their problem. Women, on the other hand, tend to put more faith in the (false?) promise of a new you.

Military history is the near exclusive territory of men. (Barbara Tuchman wrote The Guns of August and other well known books, but she was an exception. I personally have never known a woman with any interest in military history.) My son's room is piled with books like Never Without Heroes: Marine Third Reconnaisance Battalion in Viet Nam, 1965 - 1970; Soldat: Reflections of a German soldier, 1938 - 1949; Dead Center: A Marine Sniper's Two Year Odyssey During the Viet Nam War; The Forever War; Tactics of the Crescent Moon; We Were Soldiers Once and Young; Panzer Leader; Counter-Terrorism. (Those were literally the first eight books in just one stack in his room.)  This is simply not a pile you would find in a girl's room.

Sports books are also the province of males. Women are just not that interested in the inner workings of the NBA last season, or in some inspirational tale about how a young man threw footballs through a tire in his backyard until he achieved gridiron immortality.

Science fiction is also mostly a male thing: you rarely hear a girl described as a nerd. The people who used to camp out to be in line for the opening of the next Star Wars movie were almost all male.

Adventure books are mostly read by males. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were probably the classic American prototypes of a long line penned by authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack London, and Gary Jennings. But such books actually date back to Homer, who wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey, the original boys' adventure stories.

Blockbusters are read mostly by males. If the authors of such only received royalties based on female readership, Frederick Forsyth would still be a reporter for the BBC and Tom Clancy would still be selling insurance.

Mysteries are one of the few genres which large numbers of both sexes read. But even there, men lean towards writers like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Robert Parker, and Ross Thomas, and women toward Agatha Christie, P,D, James, and Sue Grafton. Men prefer their crimes solved with brains and muscle, by tough guys; women, with brains and goodness, by clever ladies.

It goes without saying that men are not going to read books like Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood or Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons or Shoe Addicts Anonymous or The Hot Flash Club: A Novel. All by women, for women.

But the dirty little secret of publishing seems to be that for the most part men are not interested in reading women authors at all. Men don't even read classic books by Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott or Charlotte Bronte unless they're forced to. (Even reading the Cliff Notes version of those can be exquisitely painful for some of us.)

There are simply very few women authors whom lots of men like to read. Maybe Ayn Rand; but she was sort of a man in spirit. Ann Coulter, ditto. Perhaps Ann Rule, a true crime writer. (J.K. Rowling doesn't really count, as she writes primarily for those whose tastes haven't yet been shaped by years of either testosterone or estrogen input.)  

I just scoured my son's and my bookcases. My son didn't have a single female author, and I had only three Camille Paglia's and one Ann Coulter. I don't think we're atypical. My daughter's bookshelf, on the other hand, is comprised of roughly half male authors. Which is also fairly typical.

It certainly gives credence to the standard female complaint that men just won't listen to them.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Racism?

There has been a minor brouhaha recently over California Republican official Marilyn Davenport having passed along the following picture an email, along with the caption, "No wonder no birth certificate."


Thus far people have reacted to the incident in all the predictable ways. Davenport has denied that there was any racial component to the email. Republican Party of Orange County chairman Scott Baugh has expressed horror that Davenport would pass along such a joke, which "drips with racism." (He was undoubtedly shocked, shocked, to find out that such jokes would be distributed via email.) And the California branch of the NAACP has expressed outrage and has demanded an apology.

Davenport is of course being disingenuous: the joke simply wouldn't have been as funny had it shown a family of, say, Golden Retrievers, one of which had Obama's face superimposed on its own. Had the picture not incorporated the disrespect implied by invoking apes, Davenport probably would not have bothered to pass it along.

It's also doubtful that the Baugh was really all that horrified at the joke itself, as opposed to its being made public. He was obviously in damage control/career enhancement/Holier Than Thou mode. In other circumstances it probably would have just elicited an appreciative chuckle from him.

The larger question is, why is likening blacks to monkeys considered racist? President Bush was compared to a monkey many times during his presidency. Google Image "Bush chimpanzee" and you will get 577,000 results, many of which show computer generated images which have morphed his face and a chimpanzee's.





(Google tried to delete a similar image of Michelle Obama's face, was unable to, and felt obliged to apologize for that inability. They never made any similar attempt or apology with the Bush pictures.)

To say that someone is a "big ape" has been commonplace at least since the heyday of Raymond Chandler, who used the phrase to describe white thugs.

So why is it racist to liken Obama to a monkey? Is this a double standard? Or is calling it a double standard itself disingenuous, since blacks have more frequently been compared to monkeys in the past?

We are all descended from apes. (We're not descended from chimpanzees, but we do share a common ancestor with them.) Is it true that one race resembles them more? Any honest appraisal of the issue has to examine this question.

John Baker, the eminent biological anthropologist from Oxford University, stated in his book Race that there were over 200 traits in which either whites or blacks more closely resembled gorillas, and of those, whites were closer in only one: their hair, when viewed transversely through a microscope. (Not quite sure why a microscope needs to be used, that similarity is apparent to the naked eye.)

Such data is generally squelched. But there's no hiding the fact that one of the races has longer arms, wider nostrils, darker skin, and slightly more prognathous faces. This is evidently what has made the comparison so taboo. And this is why Scott Baugh said that the picture above "drips with racism," although of course he would never spell out exactly why that is so. (Upon examining the above picture, though, it occurs to me that the chimps also have thin lips, which is certainly a Caucasian trait. And now that I think of it, they also have proportionately shorter legs, which Caucasians also have relative to blacks.)

One thing to bear in mind is that several of the traits listed above are results of convergent evolution which have evolved in both sub-Saharan blacks and Australian aborigines, who genetically are further apart from blacks then white people are. And these traits evolved long after humans diverged from ages. Longer limbs, wider nostrils, and darker skin are all adaptations to tropical climates. Darker skin is a protection against excessive sun exposure. Wider nostrils allow more air in, which helps in humid environments. And longer limbs (i.e., more surface area per mass) help dispel heat more quickly. So these are superficial resemblances.

I look a little like a monkey. If you look at the picture at the right of this blog, you'll see a guy with a long upper lip, receding chin, and prominent brow ridge: simian traits all. (Go ahead and agree, I promise not to accuse you of racism.)

If Obama wants to disarm the swing voters, he could take a similar approach: "I thought that was a nice picture of my mom and dad." Or he could pretend faux outrage: "How dare they print that picture! My ears don't stick out like that!" But he could never do so, because all the usual suspects would take offense. And he would never do so because it would go against his every instinct to come to the aid of a Republican.

In the meantime, I can't help but harbor the sneaking suspicion that those who howl in protest about blacks -- but not whites -- being compared to apes are themselves making a statement they don't want to be.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Please stop -- I'm a Malcolm X scholar!


(Amanda Kijera)

My son sent the following link, from a liberal website:

http://www.race-talk.org/?p=4008

It is the first person account by a white woman, Amanda Kijera, who went to Haiti and was raped. She initially pleaded with the rapist to stop on the grounds that she was a Malcolm X scholar. He told her to shut up and slapped her in the face.

Kijera blames her rape on the "global hierarchy,"  "the oppression of colonized peoples," and "the issue of [lack of] racial integration."

Evidently it had nothing to do with her rapist being horny.

Kijera sees herself as "a receptacle for a Black man's rage at the white world" and says she is "grateful for the experience. It woke me up, made me understand on a deeper level the terror that my sisters deal with daily."

Here Amanda, have some more Kool-Aid.

Addendum, next day: Amanda is the perfect example of someone who paid attention to her professors in college but has done zero learning since. She uses the same language that sociology professors use to put forth their world view. And although life has since (quite literally) slapped Amanda in the face, she adamantly refuses to to adapt her views. That level of rigidity, by the way, often indicates Aspergers Syndrome, a mild form of autism. Those who have that syndrome, in my experience, can be quite frustrating to deal with.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Head banging

Two days ago I was swimming backstroke with fins and banged my head against the side of the pool quite hard. I saw the backstroke flags which signified the end of the pool, but somehow thought that it was the penultimate set of flags and not the final set (the pool was configured long course) so kept going. I was swimming 50 meter repeats in about 32 seconds, which means I was traveling at slightly less than four miles an hour. That may not sound fast, but that pool wall brought me to a dead halt, and the lifeguards could hear the crack from the other side of the pool.

My first thought, as always when such occurs, was: Goddamn it, I just lost another couple IQ points. I felt quite stupid afterward, both for the dumb mistake and also at the thought of those lost IQ points.

But is that how it works? Boxers who receive repeated blows to the head have long been known to become punch drunk, i.e., suffer brain damage. Muhammad Ali is Exhibit A for that phenomenon. As a young man he was mentally quick and at times even witty, but by age 42 he was slurring his words and was obviously no longer all there. I can't compare my single 4 mph collision with the best that Ernie Shavers, Joe Frazier, and Ken Norton each had to offer over the course of 15 rounds. But it was enough to make me worry.

Then I thought of people who survive auto accidents and survive. Some of these people didn't wear seat belts and hit their heads against the steering wheel or windshield at, say, 30 mph. What is the long term effect on their brains? Is it possible that a one time hit causes damage, but that it's so minor that nobody (including the person who got banged up) notices? If you lost, say, two points of IQ, or the functional equivalent, would you notice? How?

Then I thought of Jon Corzine, my former boss's boss's boss at Goldman Sachs. While Governor of New Jersey, he got into an accident while his SUV was traveling at 90 mph, and he wasn't wearing a seat belt. Did he suffer brain damage? He's now working again at a financial firm, and I haven't heard anybody say that he's not as smart as before. But if he lost a few points, would anybody notice?

Who would be able to tell the difference if someone was just slowing down a bit because of age or because he had gotten knocked in the head? And how much of "aging" is actually caused by things like knocks in the head?

I've been monitoring myself fairly closely for the past two days. Yesterday I beat my daughter at chess, though just barely. And this morning I did the crossword in the usual time. So far so good. But neither of those prove that there wasn't some minor diminution in function. 

Also, a knock to the head hurts, but is the actual shock to the brain any greater than, say, when you jump down from a height of four feet and land on your feet? When you do that, you feel the impact with your feet and legs as opposed to the top of your skull, but is there any less squishing of brain against skull wall?

One would think that evolution adapted us to accommodate to a certain amount of impact without any measurable brain trauma. A caveman lifestyle must have necessitated a fair amount of getting banged up (against cave walls if nothing else).

I guess I'll never really know if any damage was done.

Those of you who find my opinions too extreme can hope the impact knocked some sense into me.

Just don't get your hopes too high.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Grete Waitz, RIP

While writing this post about the toughest guy I ever met, I tried to think of icons of toughness to illustrate different facets of that quality. One of the first people to come to mind was Grete Waitz. I wrote this about her:

"Grete Waitz won the New York Marathon nine separate times. During one of those races, she was suffering from diarrhea; but had she used one of the Port-O-Sans along the way, she would have lost valuable time. So, she simply continued to run, the excrement dribbling down her leg. That one race alone put her in the Toughness Hall of Fame."

Waitz died today in Oslo, after a six year battle with cancer, at age 57. I knew little about her other than her achievements in running, but always had the impression of a very decent -- as well as tough -- person.

To mention how Weitz once had a bad case of diarrhea might seem to be robbing a dead woman of her dignity. But in fact, there's no greater dignity than overcoming physical infirmity through sheer grit.

Grete, thank you for being such an inspiration.

Hybristophilia

My son couldn't contain his laughter two days ago as he told me the story of a German woman who had fallen for a Death Row inmate in Texas. He felt she represented everything that is wrong with the way some women think. When he told me she was beautiful, I was doubtful, but then he sent the following link:

http://www.zimbio.com/Interracial+Dating+Service/articles/8/European+women+find+love+death+row

Such a case would ordinarily leave one wondering about Romina Deeken's IQ and family history. But the article is actually quite informative, and attaches a name to the mystifying phenomenon of women who are attracted to notorious criminals: hybristophilia. (At least now we know it's considered an official mental illness.) The article goes on to explain that most of the women who suffer from this particular condition were abused themselves when young (although the women interviewed for the article all denied it).

Here is a picture and brief description of the crimes of Jose Martinez, the man Deeken has fallen for: 

http://crime.about.com/od/deathrow/ig/Texas-Death-Row-Inmates/Jose-Martinez.htm 

There would certainly seem to be more deserving recipients of Romina Deeken's affections.

My son does have a point: you never hear of men flocking to notorious female criminals.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sacrilege

My son sent the following link with the words, "This is horrible."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkp4t5NYzVM

It's a clip of Daniel Craig appearing in a clip for International Women's Day, in a spot narrated by Dame Judy Dench, who plays M in the two James Bond films he appears in.

Craig dresses in drag for this spot (you don't have to bother to watch the clip, it's boring).


The message is the standard one, that women don't have equal rights. The IWD sponsors undoubtedly thought they could make a bigger splash by enlisting 007 to present their message.

Craig in a dress bears a striking resemblance to Courtney Love (which makes me feel all the more justified in finding her completely unattractive). But that aside, what my son meant with his comment was that by appearing in the spot Craig was cheapening the 007 brand. As an actor, Craig is of course free to appear in whatever he wishes. But he is now most closely associated with the Bond role, and there was nothing about Bond -- as he was originally created -- that indicated he was a feminist.

What also struck me about this spot was how much it reminded me of all those actresses who appeared naked for PETA. Many of these beautiful young women would appear naked in ads with captions saying "I'd rather wear nothing at all than fur." It was my impression that many of these women simply wanted to pose naked and used the PETA cause as a high-minded excuse to do so.

Likewise, it is hard not to suspect that at some level Craig relished the opportunity to appear in drag.

Ian Fleming must be turning over in his grave.

Heroism

My son sent these links this weekend.

The first is the amazing story of a Gurkha who single-handedly fended off 40 bandits, but only after it became apparent they intended to rape an 18-year-old girl as well as rob the train's passengers:

http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=27100 

The second article starts off discussing a Gurkha who got in trouble in Afghanistan for having beheaded a Taliban warlord, then goes onto describe the ferocity and courage of the Gurkhas in general. 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1296136/As-Gurkha-disciplined-beheading-Taliban-Thank-God-side.html

Both stories are, in their own way, inspirational.

Hope Johnny doesn't get too inspired as he sets off for Afghanistan.

"Spending reductions in the tax code"

A reader who would like to remain anonymous circulated the following email among his friends recently:

Fellow Citizens,

There is an old joke, at least in capitalist circles, which goes: Q: “What is the definition of profit?” A: “The amount of money the government lets you keep.”  The joke’s humor is in the upside-down perspective of how we normally think of profits deriving from the value that is created by the supplier rather than the value that is (or is not) taken away from him.

In his April 12 “Deficit Reduction Speech,” our President offered a substantially less humorous upside-down perspective. He repeatedly featured the peculiar phrase of “spending reductions in the tax code” rather than speaking the unpopular sound byte “higher taxes.”  It’s nothing new to hear the politicians equating specified tax cuts with Government Spending, as they can both have a similar effect on the calculated deficit.  But this new euphemism goes much further: It implies that ALL of citizens’ “after-tax earnings” are Government Spending. Not the equivalent of Government Spending, but literally, by its own definition, direct Government Spending. Ergo, according to the President’s slight-of-tongue paradigm, we all actually get paid by the Government’s tax code, not by our customers or employers. That is, the value we create through our inspiration and perspiration first becomes the bounty of the Government, and then the Government determines our pay through the wages it lets us keep. 

I, for one, reject this attempt to further interject of the State between the links of contribution and compensation.  I reject it because such Statist control can only be achieved through the tyranny of forced coercion, inherently destructive of life, liberty, and property. With his clever oratorical construction, our President has described our Nation as one in which the Government is the master of the people, rather than the people being the master of the Government.  Sometimes, upside-down is not funny at all.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Platoon" revisited

























(Top, Tom Berenger as Staff Sergeant Barnes in Platoon; above, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, the alleged ringleader of the Afghan kill teams)

Those of you who saw Platoon will remember that the most compelling character in the movie was Staff Sergeant Barnes, the ferocious sociopath played by Tom Berenger. Berenger made Barnes' machismo charismatic, but there was also no doubt that Barnes was a sociopath. At one point Barnes kills an elderly woman in a village he suspects of being sympathetic to the Viet Cong; later he kills another sergeant (Willem Dafoe) who had reported that earlier killing to a Captain.

The recent Afghan kill team scandal referred to in the previous post has its own real life version of Barnes: Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs. The following article from the NY Times outlines the case against Gibbs, both for his war crimes and his sociopathy:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/05/world/asia/05gibbs.html

Gibbs showed many of the classic hallmarks of sociopathy. He is described as the ringleader of the kill team which staged fake combat situations in order to justify killing civilians, and posed for grisly photographs (see post below) with their victims. The word "ringleader" often has sociopathic connotations: it means chief manipulator, chief enforcer of a twisted group ethic, and bully whom everyone else fears and acquiesces to because they sense he will stop at nothing to get his way.

Gibbs was certainly a manipulator. At 6' 4" and 220 pounds, he had the physical presence to be intimidating. According to one of the soldiers in his unit, he mocked them for not meeting his standards for soldiers: "He told me that the type of soldier he was looking for was the type who could kill anybody without any regret." When that soldier responded that he could not kill someone without cause, Gibbs reportedly responded, "And that's why you'll be stuck in the truck the whole time. The guy I'm looking for is the guy that would shoot the dude just because he could shoot the dude."

The implication, of course, is that if you're not that guy, then you're less than a man. Young men are particularly susceptible to the kind of manipulation which takes dead aim at their masculinity, and sociopaths instinctively know how to take advantage of this. As a big, handsome, charismatic risk taker himself, Gibbs was perfectly suited for this role. (Gibbs' last sentence, by the way, is actually an accurate self-assessment.)

Gibbs reportedly discussed how he could kill one of the soldiers in his unit who he was afraid might report the staged deaths of civilians. As a sociopath, he would have felt no more compunction about this than he had about killing those civilians.

Gibbs reportedly collected fingers as trophies. This is typical behavior for serial killers, who often like to keep driver's licenses, jewelry, underwear, or even body parts as mementos.

Gibbs had a number of people stick up for him, but sociopaths always have people like that, people who have only had a limited snapshot of his behavior and who are swayed by his personal charm. One childhood friend who became a Marine himself but who hasn't seen Gibbs since 2006 said, "People get messed up in the head [during combat missions]. But not Calvin. He was always a rock."

That friend was actually right, but in a way he didn't realize: ordinary people will be greatly affected by the brutality, bloodshed, and overall horror of war. Seeing friends die will leave most people very shaken. But since sociopaths feel absolutely zero sympathy for others, they will not be likewise affected. A sociopath is, as Gibbs' friend pointed out, more like "a rock."

In fact, a certain kind of sociopath has a taste for taking human life: he will use war as an excuse to indulge his own bloodthirsty instincts. Gibbs was one such.

Abu Ghraib squared


Ed Gendreau recently included the following paragraph in an email:

Just read a couple of bits about US soldiers in Afghanistan who formed “kill teams” – killing civilians sympathetic to the Taliban. The photo I saw showed a smiling US soldier kneeling next to a dead Afghan man, holding the man’s head up by the hair. This occurred under Obama’s watch – fighting ‘the right war’, as he defined it, and the press has been silent.  Contrast this to the Abu Ghraib scandal, where nobody was killed. That story was covered thousands of times, Rumsfeld went down over it, and Bush had to answer to it in multiple interviews.

It's true. The way Abu Ghraib was covered, you'd have thought that W himself had been down in the bowels of that dungeon personally overseeing the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners.

But even though the recent murders by the Army Afghan kill teams have been far worse than anything that happened at Abu Ghraib, the publicity about them has been much more muted. And Obama has been left...strangely...untouched. 

There will always be a few sociopaths in the armed services who will use the cover of war to commit atrocities. And a sitting US President cannot be held personally responsible for everything that happens on the battlefront while he is Commander in Chief.

I don't blame Obama for the Afghan kill teams. Neither did I blame Bush or Rumsfeld for Abu Ghraib. But I certainly believe that whether or not you feel sitting Presidents bear some responsibility for wartime atrocities, you should at least judge them by the same standard.

I'm almost getting to the point where I think our media might be just a teeny tiny bit biased.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What influences us most

For most of us, our earliest memories date back to around age five. It's possible that some people remember things from age three or four, but certainly no one remembers things from before that. We may think we can remember things from before that, but chances are what we remember are things that others have told us, and that we only think we remember. 

Talk to any psychiatrist, and they will tell you that character is formed mostly before that age. For instance, whether or not someone becomes a sociopath has mostly to do with whether or not he formed any real bonds with another human being before the age of one. This is why orphans who are adopted after the age of two, no matter how nice the family, often turn out to be sociopaths. 

It's a little strange to think that your entire character -- your loyalty, decency, honesty, self-control, capacity for love, capacity for work, and ability to take criticism -- is determined almost entirely by things you cannot remember.

But at a certain level, somehow, it makes sense.

Gender differences, Part VII: My son's view

I Skyped with my son last night. The conversation went something like this:

Johnny: Dad, your blog is so lame. If you weren't my father I probably wouldn't read it. You try too hard not to offend people. 

Me: Are you kidding? I say plenty of stuff that a lot of people would find offensive. What about that series on black names? Or this series on gender differences? A lot of people just try to ignore or deny that stuff. And most people would certainly never say it.

Johnny: Okay, sure, it's politically incorrect, but you still need to be more controversial. You know, say stuff that will shock people.

Me: Johnny, my goal isn't to shock people. It's to get them to say, "Hmm, that's true." I just try to tell the truth, no matter what the subject. And a lot of times what the other side says is partly true too, so I'll point that out as well. Name one thing I've said that isn't true.

Johnny: Okay, well maybe. But there's a lot of stuff you don't say that you should.

Me: I've covered most of the politically incorrect stuff. But how many times can I talk about race and IQ? Or about race and crime? I lose interest in those things myself. I just try to talk about stuff I find interesting, and that I think other people will find either interesting or amusing.

Johnny: But you're not nearly hard-hitting enough. In your series on gender differences, why don't you talk about how woman's suffrage should be repealed?

Me: What?!

Johnny: Oh come on, you know how destructive it's been. Look how this country has gone downhill and become so ridiculously liberal since 1920. [The year women got the vote.]

Me: Johnny, you have got to be the oldest member of the We Hate Girls Club.

Johnny: Dad, don't be stupid. You know it's true as well as I do. Or why don't you talk about women never invent anything? Tell me, how many Nobel Prizes have there been in the hard sciences which have been awarded to women? Or why don't you talk about the fact that women can't make decisions? They just want to do everything by committee. Come on Dad, you know it's true.

Me: I know what I'll do. I'll write a post about how you say these things.

Johnny: Dad, don't be such a goddamn pussy. I know you know all these things are true.

Me: Well....

Johnny: Well just don't forget to put in the part about how women's suffrage should be repealed.

It's good to have a son who will give voice to things that even I won't say. Thanks to Johnny, I can give such views airtime without putting my name to them, and pass them off as an amusing father-son conversation.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gender differences, Part VI: Attitudes toward sport

For millions of years, men have been selected for traits like being able to throw a spear well and being able to run fast enough to escape a lion. We have always wanted these abilities ourselves. And we have wanted the other men in our tribe -- on our "team," so to speak -- to have those abilities as well. Thus, appreciation for physical prowess, both our own and others', holds an instinctive, visceral appeal to us.

This is an appeal which for the most part seems lost on women. Women can appreciate someone's nice build. And women can appreciate that someone is a star athlete. But women are rarely heart and soul into a sport themselves.

Sports simply seem to speak to something in men's souls. And they don't speak to most women the same way.

At around age 8 or 10 or 12, many boys will simply become fixated on a sport. The sport just becomes part of them. Forever after these boys will think the crack of a bat hitting the ball, or the thud of a tackle, or the swish of basketball net, the sweetest music in the universe. Such men will walk onto a baseball diamond, or into a football stadium, or into a basketball arena, and simply feel more alive. They love everything about their sport. And they often know everything about their sport.

Such men are not rare. (Such women are.) 

Some men outgrow these feelings, but many don't. Men will usually keep some connection with their sport for the rest of their lives. They will follow their old high school team, or college team. They will get involved in fundraising for those teams. They will keep in touch with old sports friends, with whom they can reminisce. They will forever replay the highlight reels of their own careers in their minds. And they will forever gnash their teeth about their defeats.

(There has as yet been no That Championship Season written about women.)

To women, all of this is a foreign language. You almost never find a female who can recite voluminous statistics about her sport, and whose idea of a good time is arguing about the merits of various players. Women just don't get that analytical, or even enthusiastic, about sports. Most women just regard such avid interest in sports as silly.

Women don't greet each other with statements like, "Hey, how 'bout them Mets, huh?" Women don't wear jerseys with numbers of their favorite players. In most households, there is never a fight between husband and wife for the sports section.

Girls simply don't have the mentality that makes trading baseball cards seem fun.

This is not to say that girls don't become athletes. They do, frequently. But they tend to do it with a different mindset. Girls who join high school sports teams tend to become very involved in the team aspect of the sport, even if they do an individual sport like track. When boys join teams, they tend more to be in it for the individual glory.

Women who train together have been known to start having their monthly cycles in sync. Guys have no equivalent response.

For most girls, a team is a social group with a sport attached. For most boys, a team means an opportunity to do what they love, even if it means having to put up with other people they might not like.

Men just seem to be more competitive by nature. If two women go jogging together, the social interaction will consist mostly of offering each other moral support in their mutual quest to lose weight. A group of men who run together will focus more on determining who the best runner is. Men will do silly things like go faster at the end in order to "win," then pretend not be as winded as they are.

At the office, men will even do things like compete to see who can throw a piece of crumpled paper into the waste basket from a longer distance. You don't see women doing this.

If man is good at a sport, he will use every opportunity to show off his prowess. A man will actually invite someone to play tennis with him just so he can crush that person and show how good he is; this is actually more important to him than a good match. A skilled woman is less likely to have such an urge. If anything, she is as likely to pretend not to be as good as she is.

When a female athlete retires, she stays retired. Men don't seem to have that ability: when was the last time a champion boxer retired without making at least one comeback? A man never knows when it's his time, mostly because he never wants it to be that time. He just loves his sport (and himself) too much.

Women find boxing, and more recently, mixed martial arts, brutal and distasteful. And, of course, they're right: it is a bruising, bloody, barbaric sport. But that's exactly what men find appealing about it.

Women are as likely to be fans of men's teams as women's. In general, men are not fans of women's sports unless they're individual sports like track, or swimming, or gymnastics. How many men do you know who follow the WNBA? How many men show up for their games? At a certain level, this is understandable: it's just not same thrill to watch a lesser version of a sport, which is what women play.  

And even when women attend a WNBA game, you get the sense they are doing it more out of a sense of sisterhood than because they think the Indiana Fever vs. the Washington Mystics will be an incredible game. They simply want to show solidarity, and support women's sports. There has never been a single male basketball fan who showed up at a Lakers game because he wanted to show brotherhood. 

Of course, female fans are also better behaved. Women don't riot when their team wins the WNBA championship. Women don't heckle from the stands. Women don't stampede at soccer tournaments. And women don't get into fights in the stands.

Women live vicariously through their children as much as men do, but they tend not to do it through sports. One infamous hockey dad beat another hockey dad to death; we have yet to hear of a hockey mom doing that.

When we do, then -- and only then -- will we be able to say that women have achieved true equality in sports.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sociopath alert: Raul Barrera

The following article about Raul Barrera, who evidently knifed his girlfriend to death two days ago because she wanted to leave him, was in this morning's NY Post:

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/killer_charm_N4fRhl9rEy43nscdnotFJM

It's hardly a surprise that a murderer is a sociopath. But even apart from that, Barrera's other behaviors provide a good lesson in how sociopaths behave.

He had evidently beaten Sarah Coit, his girlfriend and victim, before. The police had come after being called by other neighbors, but had not arrested him. From 2001 to 2004 he had a record of seven domestic violence incidents, with two other former girlfriends.

His former boss described Barrera, a P.R. man, as "very much a charmer." Sociopaths are often very charming, at least when they have motive to be.

The most revealing comments came from Jessica Blum, Coit's best friend: "He was controlling over her....He broke her computer when she wouldn't let him use it. He would take her Blackberry for a week at a time, saying she didn't need to use it."

According to the Post, Blum "also said Barrera would send Blackberry messages to Coit's friends from her phone, pretending to be her and cutting them off."

Even if Barrera hadn't killed Coit, that little snapshot of his behavior would be enough to identify him as a sociopath. Sociopaths have a desperate need to control others. Breaking someone's computer after being forbidden to use it is childish, impulsive, and selfish. Sociopaths are all three of those in the extreme. And justifying taking her Blackberry by saying she didn't need it is the type of facile rationalization which sociopaths use all the time.

The most telling behavior was the way Barrera texted Coit's friends, pretending to be her, and trying to cut them off.  Going behind someone's back in such a slimy way is something a nonsociopath simply wouldn't do. Several of the sociopaths I've known did things like this. Some would eagerly tell people what others had said about them behind their backs; often what they said was true, but doing that still violates every unwritten rule of confidentiality. And others would just make stuff up, as Barrera did. Either way, sowing discord is a sociopathic specialty.

So, of course, is knifing people to death. What the linked article does not say is that Barrera hacked Coit up so badly that her head was almost severed from her body.

The whole thing is a little reminiscent of another murder that took place seventeen years ago.

Too bad Johnny Cochran isn't around to defend Barrera.

The Left, summarized

Freedom of speech is a pretty good measure of how free a country is. How liberal it is, so to speak.

Bob Dylan was always primarily a musician. But he did sing songs protesting the Viet Nam War back in the 1960's, and became a highly visible icon of the Left. Yet the US government never made the slightest attempt to infringe on his right to sing whatever he pleased.

Dylan gave a concert in Viet Nam this past weekend. The Vietnamese government -- the same government which defeated the US back in 1975 -- demanded the right to determine which songs Dylan would be allowed to sing. Dylan acquiesced.

The Viet Nam War was a tremendous waste of US lives and money, and frankly, we had no business being there. 

Nonetheless, for Dylan to quietly agree to the censorship of a government he once supported seems a bit of a double standard.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Politeness

I was talking yesterday to a guy who had been a 2:18 marathoner in his day, and had run at the 1980 Olympic Trials. We live in a town where sometimes it seems that every third woman plans to run a marathon.

I asked him, "What do you say when you're at a cocktail party and some woman brings up her running, and talks about how she's hoping to break 4:30? Do you ever mention that you once ran a 2:18?"

He shook his head.

I continued, "Well do you act impressed? Do you say, 'Wow, that's good'? I guess you have no choice."

He grinned, tacitly acknowledging that he had been in that position often, but said, "There was a guy in my office who completed a marathon last year. He basically walked most of it, and went a 5:30. And, you know, a 4:30 is better than a 5:30. I mean, a 4:30 at least means you're actually running it."

I guess you could call that a weak attempt to justify good manners.

Gender differences, Part V: Movies

There is a pretty clear divide between movies that women like, the so-called chick flicks, and movies that guys like, or action movies. It's fairly obvious what the action/adventure genre consists of: a hero killing bad guys and saving the world. But what exactly defines a chick flick?

It boils down to whose fantasy is being fulfilled. A man giving his life for a woman (Titanic) is not a typical male fantasy. A movie where women are expendable playthings (any James Bond film) is. Women's movies feature love; men's feature sex.

Any movie where the heroine does the unexpected (Erin Brockovich) is a chick flick. A movie where the man is heroic (Die Hard) is a guy's movie.

No action movie ever features: a heroine who is torn and must make up her mind; the subject of weight loss; heartfelt conversations between the protagonist and her best friend in which they commiserate about men's faults; or a male lead without much muscle.  

Any movie where females are "empowered" (Fried Green Tomatoes, Thelma and Louise) is geared to women. That word, by the way, is simply not part of the male vocabulary. You'll never hear a guy say, "I adore my new Glock 19, it's really empowering," even though that's exactly why he feels that way about it.

While the Lara Croft movies might initially appear chick flicks, they are actually geared towards a certain type of male fantasy. (Men who like dominatrixes seem to have taken over Hollywood.) There is nothing about Angelina Jolie that most women can identify with, and the way Jolie's breasts are featured so prominently makes clear this is not a movie aimed at women. (The movies were, after all, based on a video game played almost exclusively by males.)

The basic template for many chick flicks is the Cinderella story (Pretty Woman, The Wedding Planner, 27 Dresses). Thus any actor whose primary purpose is to play Prince Charming (a role frequently played by Richard Gere, Patrick Dempsey, and Matthew McConnaughey) is in a chick flick. 

In fact, any movie where marriage is a prominent motif (The Wedding Planner, 27 Dresses), especially when it ends in a marriage, has to be chick flick. No Bond film ever showed 007 fretting about finding the right girl to settle down with.

In chick flicks, the romantic conflict is at the center of action: the man and woman must resolve their differences to pave the way for a happy ending. In guy flicks, the guy gets the girl as a byproduct of his heroism. (Seriously, what girl is going to say no after witnessing you singlehandedly wipe out a nest of terrorists to save her life?)

Any movie with the theme of revenge on men (Second Wives Club, 9 to 5, Fried Green Tomatoes) is, needless to say, a chick flick. Any movie in which the word "sisterhood" is uttered, likewise.

In women's movies, the actors tend to look more like real people. Bridget Jones' Diary is a good example. Renee Zellwegger looks as if she's struggling with her diet, and Colin Firth looks like one of your less memorable prep school classmates. In action films, no one really looks human. Dolph Lundgren and Arnold Schwarzenegger simply don't look like guys you'd meet at a suburban barbecue. And the women in those movies look like airbrushed models.   

If English accents signal refinement, then it's more likely a chick flick (Sense and Sensibility, An Affair to Remember, Notting Hill). If English accents signal villainy (Die Hard, Last Action Hero, Commando, The Expendables), then it's more likely an action movie.

Any weepie is a chick flick. I can't recall any guy friends ever saying, "I'm in the mood for a good cry -- Let's go see Titanic again."

In a chick flick, women get the best lines. Julia Roberts, probably the biggest all time star of such movies (Pretty Woman, Steel Magnolias, Sleeping With the Enemy, Dying Young, My Best Friend's Wedding, Runaway Bride, Erin Brockovich), has been a shrewd manipulator of her own career this way. She has never appeared in a single movie (except Ocean's Twelve) where she wasn't given all the best lines.

In an action movie, the female lead's job is to go from icy hostility to complete infatuation in the course of an hour or so. Thus her lines are mostly variants of "I hate you" and "You're so amazing!" Needless to say, the male lead gets all the best lines -- such as they are -- in these movies. (If guys were actually interested in what women have to say, more men would go see chick flicks.)

Any movie where a guy is described as "sweet" or "cute" is a chick flick. (James Bond was never described as "cute." And Pussy Galore never said, "Aw, he brought me flowers -- he's so sweet!")

Any movie which focuses on social status in high school (Mean Girls) is a chick flick. If such movies incorporate singing and dancing they cross the line from chick flick to gay (Grease). Any movie which is supposed to make us nostalgic for the wild and crazy times we supposedly had in high school (Porky's, Porky's II, American Pie) is a guy movie.

The most common template for men's films is Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous: boy encounters difficult circumstances, boy grows muscles, boy triumphs (The Karate Kid). Even movies like Superman and Spiderman are variations on this common male fantasy. (There was never a Supergirl II or Wonder Woman II because most girls don't fantasize about having super powers.)

Any movie where any actor playing either the hero or a villain is obviously on steroids is a guy film. How much evidence of steroid abuse did you detect in Notting Hill, or Bridget Jones' Diary?

In a guy movie, the clock is always ticking as the hero must race to save the town -- or his romantic interest, or the world -- from certain disaster. In chick flicks, the loudest ticking is that of a biological clock.

Certain actors and actresses become associated with one or the other type of movie. Any movie with Reese Witherspoon (Sweet Home Alabama, Legally Blonde) is likely a chick flick. Likewise with Sigourney Weaver, Geena Davis, and Katharine Heigl. You never saw Rosie O'Donnell (A League of Their Own, Sleepless in Seattle) in a guy's movie, even as a comic sidekick.

On the other hand, Bruce Willis, Jean Claude Van Damme, or Arnold Schwarzenegger in a chick flick would be as out of place as a polar bear on your patio.

Don't tell anyone, but I actually prefer a well made chick flick to a dumb action film. I've never seen a Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, or Bruce Lee movie which was anything but lame. And I enjoyed Bridget Jones' Diary, Sleepless in Seattle, and Sense and Sensibility.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Long Island Ripper

From this morning's NY Times: 

Serial Killer in L.I.Case Is Seen as Versed in Police Techniques

Whoever killed four prostitutes, and possibly four other people, and then dumped their bodies in heavy underbrush along a beachfront causeway on Long Island appears to have a sophisticated understanding of police investigative techniques, according to people briefed on the case.

A series of taunting phone calls made to the teenage sister of one of the victims — calls that the police suspect came from the killer — were made from in or around some of the most crowded locations in New York City, including Madison Square Garden and Times Square, according to the people briefed on the case and to the mother of Melissa Barthelemy, that victim.

The locations, detectives say, were probably chosen because they allowed the caller to blend into crowds, so that if investigators pinpointed his location from the cellphone’s signal, they would be unable to pick him out of the crowd using any nearby surveillance cameras, one of the people said.

This fact, as well as the killer’s use of disposable cellphones to contact the four victims who have been identified — women in their 20s who advertised their services on Craigslist — suggested to some investigators that the killer was well versed in criminal investigative techniques, gleaned either through personal experience or in some other way, and could even be in law enforcement himself.

“He is a guy who is aware of how we utilize technology,” one investigator said. “Frankly, people are thinking maybe he could be a cop” — either one still in law enforcement or one who has moved on.

“Without question, this guy is smart, this guy is not a dope,” the investigator continued. “It’s a guy who thinks about things.”

Also, the caller kept each of his vulgar, mocking and insulting calls to less than three minutes, according to the dead woman’s mother, Lynn Barthelemy. The caller made about a half-dozen calls over roughly five weeks to the victim’s sister.

One investigator said the brief duration of the calls thwarted efforts by the New York Police Department to use the signal to pinpoint the caller’s location and find him, something Lynn Barthelemy said they told her they tried to do four times. 

Unmentioned by the Times article is that investigators now think that a series of slayings near Atlantic City may be tied in with the Long Island killings. The most prolific serial killers tend to be the smartest. And the smarter they are, the more interesting they get. (That's what made Hannibal Lecter such a compelling villain.)

What will be most interesting is when we find out the family background of the killer, which is effectively the why, or the motive, behind the crime. We don't always get to hear about that, but when we do, it's always an aha moment. It will also be interesting to hear about his recent life, and see all the behaviors -- beside his killing -- that betray his sociopathy.

The cops think he may be a cop. If you follow serial killers, it's striking how many of them have tried to go into law enforcement at some point. Most get rejected, but some -- and possibly the Long Island Ripper, as he's been dubbed by the Post -- make it through. It makes you wonder how many police officers are sociopaths, and what a socioopath's motive for going into that line of work is.

Another possibility, of course, is that the police are deliberately leaking these flattering quotes about him ("Without question, this guy is smart, this guy is not a dope") in an effort to get him to let his guard down. Law enforcement does do stuff like that on occasion.

This case is also a good illustration of how full of rage, frustration, and hatred sociopaths are. I've heard of cases like this before, where a killer will phone up family members of his victim to taunt them. Imagine being one of those family members, knowing that you are talking to your loved one's killer, and listening to him laugh at you and describe in intimate detail how he killed her.

Now imagine being that killer. If you killed someone, would you not feel horrible that you had ended a human life, and that another human being will never breathe or talk or laugh again because of you? A serial killer, of course, feels none of that, otherwise he would not become what he is. But even if the person you killed was a monster who had made your life hell and you killed in self-defense, can you imagine being so full of bile that you still have to vent some of it by phoning your victim's family to taunt them?

The sociopaths I've known have all been pressure cookers who must constantly vent their poison in all sorts of ways, both subtle and unsubtle.

This is true of run of the mill sociopaths as well as serial killers: they are always seething cauldrons of hatred, spite, anger, jealousy, resentment, and vindictiveness. Sociopaths know how to fake the positive emotions -- affection, love, loyalty, admiration, and gratitude -- quite well. But they never really feel them. All they feel are the negative ones. 

Anytime you are ever tempted, for whatever reason, to feel envious of a sociopath, remember that: they never, ever have peace of mind. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

A good line

Guy Davis sent the following quote from Andrew Cuomo, the newly-elected Governor of New York:

"I'm a progressive Democrat who's broke."

It's rare for a politician to be able to satisfy both sides, but that line shows why Cuomo's approval ratings are so high at the moment. With those six words he both shows the left that he is one of them and reassures the right that he has common sense. It's a skillful balancing act.

Cuomo will undoubtedly not be able to satisfy both sides for very long, and his approval ratings only have one direction to go. But so far he has demonstrated that he has inherited many of his father's political skills.

Seeing the world

The post about William Young reminded me of the way my son Johnny has recently spoken of possibly traveling around the world when his stint in the Army is up. His plan -- if he doesn't reenlist -- is to take the money he's saved and travel cheaply, staying at hostels and the like.

Johnny read a lot about military history when he was growing up, but also had a fairly steady diet of adventure books, most of which were set in exotic locales. Two of his favorites were Aztec and The Journeyer, by Gary Jennings. Aztec was about the adventures of an Indian who lived at the time of the Spanish conquest; The Journeyer was a fictionalized account of the adventures of Marco Polo. Both protagonists traveled widely.

Johnny enjoys talking about the places he'd like to visit. He has mentioned Europe, South America, and Asia in particular. He'd like to see a lot of the historic sites he's read about. (Alaska, where he's been stationed, no longer seems as appealing to him as it once did.)

Wanting to travel like this indicates a romantic view of the world. The working assumption underlying such a desire is that the world is full of wonders, places worth seeing and people worth meeting. It is the opposite of a jaded, been-there-done-that attitude.

The instinct to want to see what's around the next bend also bespeaks a certain intellectual curiosity. 

If Johnny takes such a trip, I hope he's not disappointed. I convinced him to drive to California with me in the summer of '07. Unfortunately, we were on a timetable. When you stick to the interstates, you see pretty much the same 11 motels and same 15 fast food restaurants the entire way. It's hard to tell New Jersey from Tennessee from Louisiana. When we drove back via the northern route, with his mother and sister, we saw more beautiful scenery, including Redwood National Park, Gifford Pinchot Wilderness, Mt. Rainier, and Glacier National Park.

One of Johnny's ideas for his world trip is to sneak into Mecca during the Hajj. He had read about Sir Richard Burton (the nineteenth century explorer, not the twentieth century actor) doing it, and wants to try it himself. When I told him that could be dangerous, he replied, "Dad, that doesn't exactly make it less appealing to me."  

I had thought that if he survived Afghanistan and didn't reenlist, I could stop worrying so much about him. Evidently not.

At the moment, of course, I'm just hoping he has the opportunity to take new risks in another year or two.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Worth a thousand words


From this morning's NY Post: "President Obama hails the Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network last night in Midtown. The President took time out from his DC budget battle to be on hand at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

William Young


The NY Times ran the following obituary this morning: 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/04/world/asia/04young.html

You don't get much more exotic and adventurous than this. Young, the son of missionary parents in Laos, at one point organized his own private army of a few thousand Laotians to fight the North Vietnamese there. He sounds almost like another Captain Kurtz.

Several things jump out about Young's obituary:

After the war, he tried his hand at trading gems, owning a fruit orchard, and running a guesthouse. You have to wonder how much he enjoyed running a guesthouse, which doesn't rank quite as high on the machismo scale as warlord. It's a little like going from being Delta Force operative to being a hairdresser, or from dictator to florist. It's just not a career transition one would expect.

Although, come to think of it, it's hard to imagine any post-warlord job which wouldn't be anticlimactic.

Perhaps his "guesthouse" was actually a cover for some CIA operation. Or perhaps it had a certain ill repute.

The obituary says Young is survived by five children, though there is no mention of any wives.

The obit also says that although he was extremely patriotic, he had a falling out with the CIA. Always nice to see a man who thinks for himself.

I'd never heard of William Young before today. I'll have to add him to my list of heroes posthumously.

Judging in sports

The recent post about the SATs reminded me of a parallel I've long noticed in sports: the less prominent the role of the referee, judges, and coaches, the fairer the sport.

One of the things that always appealed to me most about swimming and track was that the ultimate arbitrator in both sports was the stopwatch, an instrument immune from human bias.

In too many sports, coach favoritism plays a role. If you play Little League baseball, will the coach allow you to pitch, or might he find some lame justification to put his best friend's son in that position instead? Will you be allowed to gain valuable experience at first base, or will the coach play favorites there as well? The same sort of dynamic can come into play in virtually every team sport. With a sport like swimming, where one kid's best 100 yard freestyle is a 49.7 and the other kid's is a 50.6, it's harder for the coach to justify not putting the faster kid on the 400 freestyle relay. 

Likewise, in a sport whose outcome is a matter of judging, like figure skating, gymnastics, and diving, there's a lot of room for bias. I cannot recall a single Summer or Winter Olympics during the Cold War when there wasn't some sort of complaint lobbied against one or both sides for their judges' blatantly lopsided scores. And in every large social situation you can name -- and any large sporting event qualifies as such -- there are always all sorts of mini-Cold Wars going on. In swimming and track, neither love for communism nor capitalism ever influenced the electronic timing systems one bit.

Any contact sport which which requires a referee who may or may not see a foul committed, is ripe for abuse. He who plays dirtiest wins. Somehow that never made any sport more appealing to me.

Of course, with the advent of performance-enhancing drugs, even swimming and track are no longer as pure as they once were. I frequently see athletes in both sports who are obviously doping and not getting caught. I've even seen it in the masters versions of both sports, which is really pathetic.

It stinks, but I'd still rather participate in and follow a sport in which biased coaches, judges, and referees play less of a role.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Gender differences, Part IV: Driving

When I was in college, a friend once told me that a man is more likely to get into an accident while driving 90 miles per hour drunk, whereas a woman is more likely to shear off the side of the garage wall while trying to back in. At the time, I, thanks to my expensive education, had the wisdom to realize that such talk was just sexist nonsense.

But life has a tendency to force us to unlearn much of what we were taught in school.

The key gender difference in driving is probably that men are simply more comfortable behind the wheel. This is both good and bad.

Women tend to grasp the wheel with both hands and stare grimly ahead. Men often use just two fingers, and their attention is easily distracted from the mundane chore of steering. Men will open up a soda can, phone someone, change the CD, search for their favorite color in a bag of M&M's, read a map, or even do a crossword puzzle while driving. If conversing, a male driver may look at his passenger for several seconds before glancing back at the road.

I've actually been in cars where the woman driver has said, turn that music off, I have to concentrate on my driving. A male driver will fiddle with the radio himself until he finds a song to his liking. When that song is over, he will then focus most of his attention on the dial again till he finds another song he likes. 

Men also get distracted by things outside the car. How many times have you been in a car where the male driver has to turn completely around to check out a woman on the sidewalk?

If you suggest alleviating the boredom of a long trip by suggesting a contest to see who can spot more deer, a woman driver will likely reply, "No fair, I'm driving." A man will say, "Sure."

Women find driving exhausting. Men find it relaxing.

Women see cars as a necessary evil. Men  see cars as an extension of their personalities. You never see a middle-aged woman taking her 1967 Pontiac GTO out for a weekend spin. Men fall in love with the cars of their youth; women don't get fixated that way.

Both sexes prefer cars which emphasize their gender. Men never fall in love with Mazda Miatas, Volkswagen Bugs, or Austin Mini Coopers. And you never see a woman tooling around in a Hummer or Ford 150 pickup.

Women tend to pay more attention to niceties like speed limits and stop signs. At stop signs, they often come to a complete driver's license test-style halt. (This has occasioned many mutterings of "women drivers" by the men behind them.) Men tend to specialize in the "rolling stop," which might be more accurately characterized as "slowing down only slightly."

On the other hand, women tend to pull out into a street with scant concern for the flow of traffic. And when waiting to pull onto a thoroughfare, they tend to do so with the front half of their car already sticking out into the right hand lane. As drivers, women are far more likely to rely on others' good will.

When women approach a green light, they will slow down and watch for it to turn yellow, in order to be able to stop. If men see yellow, they speed up so that they only have to run the red light by a second or two.

When women make a right turn, they often swerve wide to the left before doing so. Women are more likely to step on the gas right before coming to a red light or stop. And women get flustered by having to drive near a truck.

But the most egregious sins are committed by male drivers.

Men speed. Men tailgate. And men are far more likely to drive drunk, each of them secure in the knowledge that he is the only one who can still drive safely after eight beers.

Road rage is the exclusive province of men. I have yet to hear of a woman shooting someone over a traffic incident.

When you see those caravans of cars racing each other down a highway, it's always young men.

All that is wrong with men drivers can be summed up by the absurdity of the following story. You're watching a high speed car chase on a cop show. A bank robber smashes into the police car, then speeds off, going 80 miles an hour the wrong way down a highway. Several cop cars tail the car, sirens wailing and lights flashing. They tell the robber to stop over loudspeakers, but the getaway car continues to speed away. The criminal then careens down an embankment, and speeds off at 60 mph down a residential street. A police sharpshooter eventually manages to shoot out the tires of the getaway car. But the robber continues to drive for another mile just on the rims. Finally one of the police cars is able to bump the car in such a way that it spins out. It is immediately surrounded and blocked off by three squad cars. Several policemen approach the car with their guns pointed at the driver. The driver's door slowly opens, and the criminal emerges, hands up. The police are all yelling, "Get down on the pavement and put your hand behind your head!!"

She does so.

What was wrong with that picture?

(By the way, if you were surprised by that ending, you're every bit as "sexist" as I am. Congratulations on having traded in your school brainwashing for a real education.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sociopath alert: Larry Davis

The following article appeared in the NY Daily News late last week:

Horror in Harlem: Relatives find dead grandmother stuffed in closet as grandson has sex in bed

An East Harlem granny was found dead in a bedroom closet on Wednesday - after relatives walked in on her grandson having sex with a woman in the same room, police sources said.

Two concerned relatives walked into the apartment at the Wagner Houses on E. 124th St. shortly before 11 a.m. They hadn't heard from 76-year-old Cora Davis for two days.

They opened the bedroom door to find her grandson Larry Davis, 21, having sex with a 20-year-old woman on the bed.

"Where's Mama? Where's Mama?" a relative asked Larry Davis, according to the sources.

An argument erupted. One of the relatives threatened to call police, and Davis ran off. The woman he was having sex with - who has a prostitution bust on her record - stayed behind.

Cops arrived and searched the apartment, finding Cora Davis' body crammed in the bedroom's closet under a pile of clothes, the sources said.

The city medical examiner was trying last night to determine the cause of death. Sources said investigators found signs of hemorrhaging around Davis' eyes that suggest she may have been strangled.

That's all you have to know to render a psychological verdict on Davis. Whether he killed her or not -- my guess is that he did -- if he weren't a sociopath he would have found it impossible to have sex knowing that his grandmother's dead body was stashed nearby.

Put yourself in that position. Would you be able to get an erection knowing that your grandmother's corpse was in the closet?

It's hard for a normal person to fathom the depth of sociopathic depravity.

(Even Norman Bates couldn't bring himself to have normal sex with his mother's corpse nearby.)

Gender differences, Part III: Working out

If you had to summarize the differences between the way men and women work out, it would be as follows: men try to add, women to subtract.

This makes evolutionary sense: both sexes want to emphasize their secondary sexual characteristics. Men try to augment their masculine aura by adding muscle to their arms and torsos and thighs: they want to advertise their high testosterone levels. Women generally try to subtract fat so as to achieve the perfect waist to hips ratio, which advertises their child-carrying capability. Exercisers don't think quite in those terms, of course, they simply think in terms of looking good. But what "good" consists of depends entirely on their gender.

No one ever questions their own physical ideal. If you ever suggested to a male bodybuilder that he would look better if he slimmed down, he would look at you as if you were crazy. And if you ever suggested to the average woman at a gym that she would look better with bulked up deltoids, she would express revulsion.

As a result, bench press and other weight racks are usually dominated by men, whereas treadmills, stair steppers, and elliptical machines are usually populated by women.

But there are many other noticeable gender differences at the gym.

You see dark patches on men's shirts far more often than on the women's. And when you get a whiff of bad body odor, the culprit is almost always a guy. Yet roughly 70% of women carry water bottles, whereas maybe 10% of men do. One would think that given men's greater propensity to sweat, it would be the other way around.

Women are much more likely to have a personal trainer accompany them through their rounds. This probably has something to do with men not feeling they need directions any more while working out than while driving. And, perhaps, with women's desire for a certain kind of pampering.

It's usually men who seem to admire themselves most in the gym mirrors. And men seem to care more about what they look like from the front, whereas women care more about their rear angle. You never see men turn around to view their tushies in the mirror. At least in public.

A guy trying to squeeze out one last bench press rep will groan as if in the throes of a particularly intense orgasm. I have yet to hear a woman sound as if she's coming at the end of her set.

Women do more stretching. Stretching doesn't lead to increased bulk, so most men don't bother.

Classes are the province of women. Any man in a step, pilates, yoga, or water aerobics class looks like either a wimp or a voyeur.

Women are far more likely to read something when on a cardio machine. I can't recall ever having seen a man with a book or magazine perched in front of him while on the elliptical or stair climber.

Men are more likely to gear their exercises to a specific sport. You can often tell their sport by their workout routine. A woman's primary sport is carving the fat off her thighs.

Men are far more likely to require spotters (partners who will help them hoist a weight up once their own muscles have reached failure).

You see a lot of women walking on the treadmill. Men either run or don't get on. In my hometown, women often walk side by side on the street while power walking, forcing all cars to swerve widely. (I always have to repress a desire to run them over.)

Men almost always jog alone. About a third of the time you see women jogging, they are doing it with a friend.

One similarity between the sexes: we're all trying to recapture our lost youth.