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Friday, August 30, 2013

All for the sake of Obama's credibility

By clearly outlining what would compel us to enter into the Syrian conflict, Barack Obama effectively turned himself into Robert Conrad saying, "I dare you to knock this battery off my shoulder. C'mon, I dare you," in those old battery ads.

He became Clint Eastwood saying, "Make my day."

He morphed into George W. Bush (his personal hero) saying to the Taliban, "Bring it on."

This may not be the way Obama sees himself, but it's who he is, this week. His basic self image, of course, is of a guy so charismatic that other world leaders will by swayed by his wonderful powers of oratory.

But now that soaring oratory ("a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,”) has painted him into a corner.

In fairness to Obama, his original intent was not to look macho. He was asked what it would take to get the US involved in Syria, and he gave an off the cuff answer which was intended to make it sound as if he cared about Syrian civilians.

But we have no vital interests in Syria, and the public has no appetite for another Mideast incursion. Nonetheless, Barack wants to maintain his street cred, so here we go.

Again.

The US will spend millions of dollars, Syrians will die, and more Muslims will hate us.

Of course, John McCain and the rest of the War Axis aren't framing the decision this way. They're talking about how it's the country's credibility and standing which are at risk.

Obama's motivation is a little more personal. See, once you've played Dirty Harry, you can't back down, or you look silly. And weak.

But does anyone really think that launching a few Tomahawks will make Obama look like a strong, decisive leader? Or will people now be even more inclined to see him as a guy who shouldn't talk without the aid of a Teleprompter?

The unnamed U.S. official who spoke to the L.A. Times earlier this week seemed to have gotten right to the core of Obama's motive: the White House, he said, was probing a strike with a level of intensity “just muscular enough not to get mocked.”

So, now we get to see Barack flex his muscles -- in order not to be made fun of.

Perhaps, when he announces the strike from that dais in the White House press room, they can play Jim Croce's hit, You Don't Mess Around with Jim, in the background:

Yeah you don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Slim

Or, given that Obama spent a fair amount of time in the Windy City, perhaps Croce's other hit, Bad Bad Leroy Brown might be even more appropriate:

Well the south side of Chicago
Is the baddest part of town
And if you go down there
You better just beware
Of a man name of Leroy Brown

Yep, you don't mess around with Big Bad Barack Obama.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Joke

Not sure why, but just remembered a joke from thirty years ago:

Q: What's the definition of a macho guy?

A: A guy who comes home at three in the morning, shakes his wife by the shoulder, and says, "Wake up honey, you're next."

Thirty years ago I found this joke absolutely hilarious. Looking at it now, in print, it doesn't seem quite as funny. Of course, there is no age at which women find this funny.

I Have a Dream


The fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech has certainly attracted a lot of attention over the past few days. While I agree with all the tenets of the original civil rights movement back in the 60's, many of those principles have long since been turned on their head. An updated, more topical version of the speech:

I have a dream, that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" -- in the intellectual as well as legal sense -- and that any man who says otherwise shall be cast out into the wilderness.

I have a dream, that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves will be 39 times more likely to commit acts of violence against the sons of former slave owners than the other way around, and that the newspapers and television stations shall not utter a word about this.

I have a dream, that for every black woman raped by a white man, more than 100 white women shall be raped by black men -- and that any man who dares mention this shall be castigated across the land.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the content of their brains, but by the color of their skin, and gain admission to college accordingly.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream, that whenever a black kills a white, the newspapers shall ignore it, and if they must mention it, they shall describe the killing as random.

I have a dream, that if a white man kills a black man, even in self defense, it shall be cried forth from the mountaintops, and held up as an example of the oppression of our people!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we can sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

You could say, this country is a dream come true. 

"A weirdly worded wandering to war"

From George Will, an eloquent denunciation of the administration's path to a military incursion into Syria.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The truth comes out

I had, like most people, been both horrified and angered to hear of the beating death of Delbert Belton, the 88-year-old WWII veteran. Two sixteen year olds had stolen his wallet and left him with serious head injuries in a Spokane parking lot several days ago.

Initial reports described the five foot tall Belton, known to his friends as "Shorty," as a wonderful man who enjoyed fixing up old cars and who was always willing to lend a helping hand to anybody.

But the NY Post reported this morning that Kenan Adams-Kinard, one of the two 16-year-olds, now says that the reason they beat him was because Belton shorted them in a crack cocaine deal.

Ah well. Live and learn. I had naively assumed that Belton's friends were telling the truth when they initially described him as a kindly old man. Turns out they were merely covering up for just another wounded-at-Okinawa no-good crackhead.

What a "teachable moment."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Congress should veto Obama's war"

More common sense from Pat Buchanan.

Cheryl Cole's new tattoo

Cheryl Cole is a British singing star and television personality. (I'd never heard of her till I saw this article.) According to Wikipedia, she is also a fashionista, and FHM has put her at the top of its 100 Sexiest Women in the World list twice. Two fairly recent shots:



Now she has a new tattoo:


I criticized tattoos in general here, in 2009. But Cole's tattoo goes far above and beyond -- or rather below and beyond -- most ink.

What Cole doesn't seem to understand is, men are aroused by the sight of naked female bottoms. Naked female bottoms. But she has now transmogrified hers so that even when naked, it will seem partially covered. And when the magical moment does arrive, the tattoo will be just plain disconcerting.

The only thing worse than pulling down a woman's slacks and discovering that monstrous tattoo would be pulling them down to discover a penis.

That tattoo fairly screams: Look at me! Aren't I cool? Admire me! Now!

This is not an enticing message. The sweet little girl persona Cole reportedly employs will now be a bit less convincing.

There are probably a few men who like their women covered with tats. But they are in the minority. The majority will probably find it about as attractive as the majority of women find facial tattoos on a guy:


Flower gardens can be beautiful. Women's behinds can be too. But each is appealing in a completely different way, with zero overlap. Why conflate the two? (Does Cole think that with these tattoos in place her behind will always smell like a rose garden?)

I know of men who are attracted to other men. I know of men who are attracted to children. I know of men who are attracted to lingerie. I even know of men who are attracted to animals. But I've never heard of a man who is sexually attracted to roses.

The whole thing wouldn't be quite so tragic if Cole hadn't had such a nice tush to begin with. It's a little like drawing a Van Dyke beard and sunglasses on the Mona Lisa.

And frankly, Mona Lisa wasn't nearly as good-looking.

Although Mona probably had more sense: we'll never know for sure, but it's highly unlikely she had a gigantic tattoo on her ass.

Monday, August 26, 2013

"5 Hormones That Determine How You Look and How to Control Them"

This is actually a great summary of the most recent research on how to influence the hormones which determine your body composition.

It's written for men, but some of the principles apply to women as well.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Androbolix

I've recently started to take a supplement you can get over the counter at GNC, called Androbolix. It's supposed to be a testosterone precursor, i.e., it's not anything that's illegal athletically, it's just a mixture of herbs and seeds (testofen, fenugreek, etc.) that are supposed to convert more readily into testosterone than most foods do.

So far I haven't noticed any positive changes. My muscles are still barely visible to the naked eye, and my sex drive is such ancient history that there hasn't even been a perceptible placebo effect.

The one effect that I have noticed, however, is that I am now, at age 59, getting zits.

Hey, at least that's something.

At a certain level, I should probably be proud that I can still get them at my age. In fact, just this morning I noticed some new soreness around my right nostril.

We all have to have something to take pride in.

And even if I am a sexless little wimp, at least I feel young again!

Perhaps if I keep taking this stuff -- which I plan to -- the next effect will be that I will revert to the overwhelming awkwardness of my youth. (As opposed to the sporadic variety I currently suffer from.)

Who knows, maybe after that I'll even start believing liars again, as I did in my tender years.

I have much to look forward to.

Half-human

A company called DAZ3D has come up with a lot of computer-generated imagery to populate personalized video games. One of their products is known as the "Ape World Bundle."

Click here, then click on the three pictures below the main one. One shows chimps evolving into humans, another orangutans, and another gorillas. The picture of the evolved gorillas is particularly interesting.

It's a little surprising the company hasn't gotten into trouble for this.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Elmore Leonard, RIP

Elmore Leonard, the great Westerns and crime novelist, died on Tuesday at age 87.

I said what I had to say about him here, back in May of 2009, and don't have much to add. The most fitting tribute is probably just an excerpt from one of his books anyway. This is from Chapter Four of Gold Coast:

    They let him do the work, yes, because no one walked into a room and faced people the way Roland did.
    Into 410 of the Ocean Monarch high-rise condominium on the beach, Jesus Diaz behind him, into the big living room of the apartment with the expensive furniture, where the four young guys were sitting with their beer cans and music and the smell of grass -- a heavy smell even with the sliding door open to the balcony.
    Arnold Rapp, the one they came to see, let them in, looked them over, turned and walked back to the couch. Jesus Diaz closed the door behind them. He liked the loud funk-rock music. He didn't like the way the four young guys were at ease and didn't seem to be scared. Yes, stoned, but it was more than that. They lounged, sitting very low on the couch and the chairs, no shoes on, each with long hair. They looked like bums, Jesus Diaz thought, and maybe Roland was right. Rich kids, yes, who didn't give a shit about anything. Man, a place like this, view of the ocean, swimming pool downstairs -- these guys laying around drinking beer like they just came off a shift, not offering anything, waiting, like Roland was here to explain something or ask for a job.
    Roland said, "Your mommy home?"
    They grinned at him. Arnold said, "No, no mommy, just us kids."
    Roland said, "Well now, who're your cute little friends, Arnie?"
    Arnold said "Well now" -- imitating Roland's cracker accent, getting some of the soft twang -- "This here is Barry. That there're Scott and Kenny."
    The young guys -- they were about in their mid-twenties -- snickered and giggled.
    The one called Barry, trying the accent, said, "And who be you be?"
    It broke them up, "Who be you be." The guys laughing and repeating it, Jesus, who-be-you-be. They thought it was pretty funny.
    Roland walked over to the hi-fi. He brushed the stylus off the record and the funk-rock stopped with a painful scratching sound.
    Arnold straightened up. "Jesus Christ, what are you doing?"
    "Getting your attention," Roland said.
    Barry was still grinning. He said, "Who-be-you-be, man?" And one of the others said, "He's the who-be-you-be man. Comes in, who-be-you-bes your records all up."
    "No, I'm the man's man," Roland said. "Sent me to ask you what happened to the five hundred and forty thousand dollars, I believe is the figure."
    "It's in the municipal incinerator," Arnold said.
    The one named Barry said, 'We already told it, man. Ask him."
    Roland tilted up his Ox Bow straw. He walked out to the open balcony with its open view of the Atlantic Ocean and leaned on the rail a moment.
    Jesus Diaz stood where he was in the middle of the room, watching Roland, hearing the young guys say something like "Hey partner" and something about riding here on a fucking horse, and another one saying, "A fucking bucking bronco, man," and all of them giggling again.
    Roland came back in. He said to Arnold, "How about you tell me what you told him."
    "Coast Guard picked up the boat in international waters and brought it into Boca Chica," Arnold said. "He knows all about that. The pot went to Customs and they burned it up."
    "Pot went to pot," Barry said.
    "The crew, the three guys, were turned over to Drug Enforcement," Arnold said. "Your man is out the five hundred and forty grand and there's nothing I can do about it."
    "It's a high fucking risk business," Barry said, "anytime you get two hundred percent on your investment it's got to be."
    "Two and a half," Arnold said.
    Right, two and a half," Barry said. "You know it's high risk going in, man, if you're not stupid."
    Roland walked over to where Barry was lounged in his chair. He said, "Is that right, little fella? You know all about high risk, do you? Stand up here, let me have a look at you."
    "Jesus Christ," Barry said, sounding bored. "Why don't you take a fucking walk?"
    Roland pulled Barry up by his hair, drew him out of the chair and an agonized sound from Barry's throat, telling him to hush up, turned him around and got a tight grip on the waist of Barry's pants that brought him to his toes, Levis digging into the crack of his ass.
    Jesus Diaz reached behind him, beneath his jacket -- to the same place Roland was gripping the guy's pants -- and brought out a Browning automatic, big .45, and put it on the other three guys, sitting up, maybe about to jump Roland.
    Roland said "See it?" without even looking, knowing Jesus had the piece on them. "Now tell me about high risk," Roland said to Barry, walking him toward the open balcony, the other three guys rigid, afraid to move. "You want me to tell you," Roland said, bringing the young guy to the opening in the sliding glass doors. "Fact is, I'll show you boy, the highest risk you ever saw." And ran him out on the balcony, gripping him, raising him by his hair and pants and grunting hard as he threw the young guy screaming over the rail of the fourth floor balcony.
     Someone in the room cried out, "Jesus -- no!"
    There was silence.
    Jesus Diaz held the gun on them, not looking at the balcony.
    Roland stood at the rail, leaning over it, resting on his arms.
    When he came back in adjusting his hat he said, "That boy was lucky, you know it? He hit in the swimming pool. He's moving slow, but he's moving. People gonna say, my, what do those boys do up there? Must get all likkered up, huh?" Roland paused, looking at Arnold and Scott and Kenny sitting there like stones. He said, "Now, who-be-you-be, who be's gonna answer my question without getting smart-aleck and giggling like little kids? You see what I do to smart kids, huh. Next one might hit the concrete, mightn't he?"
    "The name of the boat in the paper was Salsa," Arnold said quietly. "The same one I hired, I know, because I saw it in Key West two weeks ago."
    "And the Coast Guard cutter hauled it in was the Diligence," Roland said. "Same thing I'm gonna use till you pay us back the five hundred and forty thousand. You can take your time, Arnie, we're reasonable folks. Long as you understand the vig's fifty-four grand a week, standard ten percent interest."
    Arnold began to nod, very serious. "We'll pay you, don't worry."
    Roland said, "Do I look worried?"
 
    He said to Jesus, in the car, driving away from the beach, "I told you, didn't I, them dinks'd pull something."
    "But they weren't lying to you," Jesus Diaz said. "It was the same boat was picked up."
    'Oh my oh my, you don't understand shit, do you?" Roland drove in silence to the federal highway, US 1, went through the light and pulled over to the curb. "Out you go, partner."
     Jesus looked around. "What am I supposed to do here?"
    "Hitch a ride or take a cab, I don't give a shit. I'm going up to Lauderdale."
    Roland was looking at himself in the rearview mirror, squaring his new Ox Bow wheat-colored straw.

Elmore Leonard, the one and only. No one had a better ear for dialogue, or a better feel for sociopaths. RIP.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Usain Bolt's appeal


Usain Bolt has been in news again recently, with his three gold medals at the World Track and Field Championships in Moscow last week. I didn't catch the meet on TV, but, having read about his triumphs, was moved to watch a couple of videos of him on Youtube. (The ones of him dancing are always amusing.)

I then stumbled across this biopic of him. Although it's interesting, and captures his natural appeal, it's also a little propagandistic. At one point in the movie, it shows him at home in Kingston, playing dominoes with some of his friends, with a few girls laughing in the background. The narrator then intones, "And that's about as wild as it gets." Somehow I doubt that. (Other Youtube videos pretty much give the lie to that claim.)

The movie also makes him out to be an extremely hard worker, which has never quite been his reputation. At one point, it shows him on his hands and knees throwing up in practice. This scene looks staged. It looks as if Bolt is merely spewing out some Gatorade, and when his coach, Glen Mills, asks him if he's okay, Mills has a semi-smile on his face, as if to say, "Okay, I'll play along with this little charade that the director asked for, but I do feel sheepish about it."

But even if the movie is somewhat staged, it still manages to capture Bolt's appeal and his incredible popularity, both of which are completely real. Wherever he goes, he is greeted by huge throngs of adoring, screaming fans. Meet directors know that his presence will guarantee a huge gate.

Part of Bolt's appeal, of course, is that he is a double world record holder. But Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele, both from Ethiopia, were also recent double world record holders and Olympic champions, and neither ever generated a tenth the enthusiasm Bolt does, at least among non-hardcore track fans.

Some of that has to do with the fact that the sprints are more glamorous, dramatic events: the title "world's fastest man" carries more weight than "world's most enduring man." And watching a 100 meter dash, unlike, say, a 10,000 meter run, requires little patience.

But most of the difference can be attributed to Bolt himself. It always helps to be good-looking, and he is. (Steve Sailer once pointed out that Bolt has the head of an East African perched on a West African body.) His height and distinctive rollicking gait allow you to pick him out from across a stadium, always a plus for the charisma quotient. He also doesn't have the kind of swollen-looking body which screams steroids, as so many of his competitors do.

Mostly the crowds love his playfulness. He strikes a variety of humorous poses. He pretends to be an airplane. He shadow boxes. He makes faces. And he is loose enough to do these things in the last minute before a race. At a time when most of us would be so nervous that any attempt at a smile would emerge as a grimace, Bolt is mugging for the camera and obviously enjoying himself. Two weeks ago in Moscow, he pretended to be opening up an umbrella as a response to the heavy rain at the start of the 100.

After his races, Bolt expresses joy more eloquently than any other athlete I've ever seen. It's not a vituperative joy, where he wags his finger admonishingly at a disbelieving media, or shakes his fist in an "I beat these bastards but good" sort of way. It's more unalloyed: he continues to run after the race is over, prances over to congratulate his teammates, high fives all the fans who stick their hands out, hugs the mascot who is on the field, does the latest dance steps from Jamaica, and obligingly strikes his trademark archer pose. (This pose is, at heart, an exercise in self-mockery.)

Some of Bolt's gestures actually border on vamping, as when he "combs" his hair or smooths out his eyebrows for the camera. Most men would feel uncomfortable acting so fey, afraid that it might somehow compromise their masculinity. But Bolt feels no need to act macho.

Likewise, Bolt sees no benefit -- or obligation -- to act "dignified." (What did dignity ever get anyone, especially since the kind that is strived for is by definition false anyway?)

Finally, Bolt seems to have no political agenda. He doesn't see himself as a spokesman for "the oppressed." From the various Youtube clips, it's obvious he's most comfortable with other blacks; but he seems to hold no animus against whites.

You can't be an effective clown prince if you are burdened by machismo, or dignity, or an agenda. Bolt is blissfully free of these, which accounts for the twinkle in his eye as well as his step.

Jobs

The movie Jobs was supposed to have been a hagiography of Steve Jobs. But there must have been something in it that gave his true nature away, because a lot of people have been coming to this blog after Googling, "Was Steve Jobs a sociopath?"

If you Google search that question, my recent post on the subject will come up on the first page, but there are also a number of people who claim he was not. I took a look at some of those boards, and found that most of them do not understand sociopathy.

Anyway, I'm happy for the traffic, and also gratified that the movie wasn't quite the whitewash I'd been led to believe.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Speaking of the previous post....

I doubt very much that this story will make it to the front page of the NY Times tomorrow.

It's a pretty shocking story: three young gentlemen of color (one looks to me like a very light-skinned black) followed a 23-year-old white man who was jogging and gunned him down because they were "bored."

Unfortunately, the Times doesn't consider this kind of narrative part of "all the news that's fit to print."

They prefer to focus on the Duke lacrosse players, or that horrible racist George Zimmerman.

Publicizing heroism



Yesterday's NYTimes sports section had a front page article about former Atlanta Hawk Dan Roundfield, who died while trying to save his wife from drowning in Aruba. (She survived.)

The article included a lot of fond reminiscences of Roundfield from his wife, his sons, and his former teammates. They talked about how he always had a lot of good stories, how he was a devoted father, and how he was an underrated basketball player. It also highlighted how he had stayed married to the same wife throughout his career.

There were multiple pictures of the Roundfields in the article.

Roundfield sounds as if he was an all around great guy, and deserving of whatever publicity he gets.

The woman who actually saved his wife from drowning was Nicole Brandt, a 43-year-old massage therapist. She swam out to where the current was dangerous in order to save a complete stranger from being pulled out to sea. The Times described her role, but included no picture of her. This is somewhat understandable, as the article was in the sports section and Brandt wasn't a sports star, merely part of the faceless middle class.

But it makes one wonder, what if a white sports figure had drowned while trying to save his wife? Would he have gotten as much ink in the Times a year later? Somehow I doubt it.

A while back Al Neuharth, the late founder of USA Today, said that he wanted a positive black role model on the front page of his newspaper every single day. There are certainly enough positive black role models to fulfill that directive. And you wouldn't have to tell any lies in order to do so, though it might require articles that are less than newsworthy. But when a newspaper -- like USA Today, or the Times -- treats one race differently by consistently trying to emphasize the positive about them and ignoring the negative, it adds up to a big lie.

Likewise, when a newspaper gives a lot of publicity to a perceived white-on-black crime, like the one George Zimmerman was tried for, and simultaneously ignores the far more multitudinous and unprovoked instances of black-on-white crime, that, too, adds up to a big lie.

As I said above, Roundfield sounds like a great guy, as well as a hero, and I certainly don't begrudge him whatever accolades are heaped on him.

But my guess is that had he been white, the Times article wouldn't have been written.

Unless, of course, he'd been Jewish.

In that case, the incident in Aruba would most likely have been turned into a movie.

Monday, August 19, 2013

"Whores have more interesting backstories"

A young man mentioned to me recently that whores almost always have more interesting life histories than did the regular girls he met. I'd never thought about it before, but it's probably true.

Who is more interesting:

Girl A: Was brought up in a nice middle class home, father was a middle manager at a Fortune 500 company, mother was a homemaker. She studied hard, played field hockey, went to the University of Connecticut, and is now as an assistant product manager at Proctor & Gamble. She stays in touch with her circle of friends from college and has recently taken up triathlons. Occasionally goes clubbing.

Girl B: Was brought up on the outskirts of the Everglades. Her father was a fisherman and part time alligator poacher. (She helped him skin the alligators.) When she was 11, her father was killed by a water moccasin bite. Her mother later spent time in jail for transporting a controlled substance, which she did at the behest of her meth dealer boyfriend. While the mother was in jail, the boyfriend raped the girl, then 17. It didn't occur to the girl to press charges, but she did later steal some meth from him and sold it herself. With the money she got from that, she moved to Miami and got a job as a cocktail waitress, then soon discovered she could earn more by hooking on the side.

I realize that this sounds as if I'm romanticizing poverty in a particularly elitist way, making the poor girl's life sound almost appealing, when there's really nothing good about it. Any sane person given a choice would obviously choose to lead Girl A's life.

And to anybody who grew up in poverty, Girl A actually had the more exotic, intriguing background.

Still, most of us would probably be more impressed by the resourcefulness and toughness of Girl B than of Girl A.

I suppose that making this comparison is a little like pointing out that Ted Bundy has a more interesting backstory than the average well loved middle class child. The average child did not have a grandfather who swung a cat around by its tail and bashed its brains out against a wall. And the average child is not told that his unmarried mother is merely his older sister. Such a background is, of course, more interesting, but unfortunately the end result can be Ted Bundy.

Likewise, most prostitutes are hardly role models for well-adjusted, healthy lives either. Many are dysfunctional because of their abused backgrounds, and many are just plain too dumb to do much of anything else. (And this is ignoring those who were tricked or coerced into prostitution.)

All this said, the young man still had a good point: people who've had to scramble to survive have usually led far more interesting -- and often, admirable -- lives than those whose biggest worry in life has been their GPA.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Descriptive names

In the recent post on Westminster Abbey I mentioned that all English kings up through William the Conqueror (for instance, Ethelred the Unready and Edward the Confessor) were given descriptive titles rather than numbers after their names.

It's unfortunate that this tradition was not continued, as such names are far more informative than, say, George III or Elizabeth II.

To those of us unacquainted with Russian history, the name Ivan Vasilyevich probably does not ring a bell. But when we hear "Ivan the Terrible," the name he is better known by, we not only recognize him but feel as if we already know a little about him.

As it turns out, Ivan actually gets mixed reviews for his long reign, and many historians claim that his original Russian sobriquet, grozny, is more accurately translated as "fearsome" or "formidable" than as the more pejorative "terrible."

Still, personally, had I been Mr. Vasilyevich, I'd have preferred to be known to history as "the Terrible" than by my surname.

There are other historical figures, however, such as Vlad the Impaler, who were fully deserving of their descriptive names. (Impalement was actually his favorite method of execution, and his victims were said to number in the tens of thousands.)

If only modern politicians had more descriptive names. What are family names, after all? They carry no more meaning than numbers do. And getting rid of them would help eliminate nepotism, and political dynasties.

Take our current President. Were the mainstream media to anoint him, he would probably become known as Barack the Savior. A more clear-eyed view might result in Barack the Con-man, or Barack the Narcissist.

However, as they say, history is written by the victors, so for now we'll have to accept the Savior.

Other recent Presidents could also be given such titles:

George W. Bush could be known as George the Heir (to denote his primary qualification for the office).

Bill Clinton could be known as William the Slick, a variation on a nickname he's already been given. Or, perhaps, Bill of Goods, to signify what he sold us. Or, William the Affect-hungry Sociopath.

George H. W. Bush could be called George the Accidental, an explanation of how he rose to the Presidency.

And so on.

Such names could extend beyond the Presidency. Harry Reid might be called Harry the Obstreperous.  Nancy Pelosi, Nancy the Know-Nothing. John Kerry, as John the Conniver. Hillary the Hanger-On (to her husband's coattails). Newt the Unembarrassable.

In the old days, such names consisted of one word. This could be limiting. It's a little hard to capture Ron Paul without calling him something like Ron the Crotchety Old Foreteller of Doom -- which is not exactly a prescription for a successful candidacy nowadays.

Foreigners could be given such titles as well. Silvio (Berlusconi) the Self-Indulgent. Blair the Bland. Merkel the Sober Purse-keeper. And so on.

And we needn't to limit ourselves to politicians. Some showbiz types scream out for such names. Lindsay the Addict. Oprah the Mighty. Arnold the Austrian Accent. Johnny (Depp) the Chameleon.

Athletes could use such names as well. Though, once again, restricting it to one word could be a little limiting. OJ The Formerly Popular Heisman Trophy Winner Who Got Away with Murder is far more informative than OJ the Killer. Though the latter would suffice.

The only problem is, there are too many celebrities and not enough words to go around. (A thousand years ago, there wasn't quite the same media saturation.) Once you'd anointed Barack the Narcissist and Bill the Sociopath, how many other people for whom those names would be apt would be left without an appropriate descriptive title?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bradley Manning's extenuating circumstances



The NY Post this morning reported that Pfc Bradley Manning's defense lawyers have pleaded with the court for leniency on the grounds that Manning is gay: 

A defense psychiatrist, Navy Reserve Capt. David Moulton, testified that Manning has "gender dysphoria," or the desire to be the opposite sex. Tuesday, the court-martial hearing heard how Manning, who is gay, indicated his torment in April 2010 when he sent an e-mail to Master Sgt. Paul Adkins. It bore the subject line that read “My Problem.” Attached to it was the photo Manning took of himself in a blond wig.

Yesterday, Capt. Michael Worsley, who treated Manning during his deployment in Iraq, described how Manning’s job stress was compounded by being in a “hyper-masculine environment” of a combat zone. “Being in the military and having a gender-identity issue does not exactly go hand in hand,” Worsley said.


IF Manning's homosexuality, as his defense lawyers argue, contributed to the state of mind which caused him to betray his country, and IF the court accepts this as a legitimate reason for leniency, then it is also an argument against allowing gays in the military. 

I've always supported gays in the military, and never saw their sexuality as reason enough to exclude them. 

But you can't have it both ways. If Manning's homosexuality contributed directly to his treasonous frame of mind, then maybe it's time to reconsider. 

(My feeling: it's not an excuse, gays should remain in the military, and Manning should receive a harsh sentence. But if similar cases pile up -- which I doubt will happen -- then it is time to reconsider.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How would you react if you saw these on the street?

Outrageousness is the norm on the runway. The more interesting question is, what would you think if you saw someone actually walking down the street in these recent fashion show outfits?

Here are my reactions (I'll try to be as honest as possible):


"I wonder how much she charges."



"Those look like the tassels that strippers sometimes wear....Hey, wait a sec! Hmm, if I tell her she's showing, would she consider that rude?"



"Wow....I guess Lady Liberty decided to exchange those frumpy green robes for a racier leopard skin print -- and tart up her decolletage while she was at it. Oh well, gotta change with the times."



"That must be how Amish people dress up when it's time to party."



"Evoking Muammar Kaddafi, circa 1983."



"That kind of talk sure doesn't go with that face. The real reason he looks so glum is probably because he knows how ashamed his parents will be when they find out he only got an A- on his biochem final."



"Okay, you've really convinced me -- women should be allowed in combat roles!"



"Must be the Bellevue Hospital ladies' swim team....I wonder how good they are."



"Uh-oh -- an escaped convict. And he's looking right at me!"



"Hmm, are they shooting a zombie movie around here? She must be getting into character."



"I guess the sneakers are in case you didn't get the message from the dress and hairdo that she's deliberately trying to make herself unattractive. Okay, I get it, you're a lesbian, don't worry, I won't be too friendly."


"Ninety-nine percent of gay guys would reject that outfit as 'too gay'."



"Phew....at least this one's not out to mug me....Geez, look at this guy -- I oughta mug him."



"There's something vaguely pimp-like about that outfit....but it's too elegant. Maybe he runs a string of boys -- including the two above."

Monday, August 12, 2013

Date rape drug-detecting cup

Evidently a company called DrinkSavvy has developed a plastic cup which will change color when exposed to the three most common date rape drugs, GHB, ketamine, and rohypnol.

It sounds like a great idea.

I spoke to a college girl last spring who told me that she personally knew two different girls who had been fed such a drug and subsequently been taken advantage of. When I asked why the guys who had done it were not in jail, she said that the girls in such situations never wanted to press charges because they knew they would have their own reputations savaged in court and they didn't want to deal with that, plus they didn't want their parents to know what they'd been up to.

I can understand that, but it is a pity, because by all rights, any guy who'd drug a girl that way ought to be put away. In any case, this new plastic cup is a great idea.

I can think of only one drawback. It's easy to imagine a girl having drink after drink with a guy, and, as long as the cup doesn't change color, figuring she can trust him.

But what kind of shape will she be in after eight or so drinks? Hasn't alcohol been the traditional drug of choice among men ever since humans discovered fermentation?

Just sayin', a monochromatic cup could easily lull a coed into a false sense of security.

("Wow, he's bought me eight drinks and not one of them has changed the color of my cup....What a nice guy....Hmm, I seem to be in a really good mood....You know, I never realized how good he looks before this evening....I think I'll invite him back to my apartment.")

You can't make a silk purse....

I hear an awful lot of blather about how certain schools are failing our children. There seem to be constant debates raging about whether or not test scores should be adjusted, whether or not magnet schools and charter schools are good for the educational system, whether or not teachers ought to get merit pay, class size, the availability of computers, how money should be allocated, how we can attract better teachers, and so on.

Every time I hear these debates, I'm always left thinking, the elephant in the room is IQ. Some kids are smart, and some are dumb. Period. The smart ones will tend to do well and the dumb ones will tend to not do as well. And there's no amount or type of education, no computer, and no teacher, which can turn a dull child into a bright one.

Sure, all of those things may make a slight difference on the margins. But they don't have nearly the effect that educators would have you believe. Washington DC, for instance, spends more per pupil than any state in the country, yet they perform worse on standardized tests than every single state in the country.

Think that might have something to do with IQ being immutable?

Even in cases where there is no racial component, there are plenty of differences between individuals, even from the same family. Certain kids are observant, others less so. Certain kids have good memories, others don't. Certain kids think clearly, others can't. Certain kids can grasp complicated concepts, others will struggle. It's primarily a matter of the way their brains are wired.

And no school is going to change that.

Most of the indignation seems to stem from demographic differences, though. But the rank order of Asians, then whites, then Hispanics, then blacks stubbornly persists across time, between countries, and despite the enormous efforts that have been made in this country trying to eradicate it.

We might as well make it a goal that girls perform as well as boys on the physical fitness tests. Sure, there will be some girls who will outperform the boys at pull ups. And we could hold them up as shining examples and cite them whenever we scream at those who would rudely point out that there are immutable genetic and hormonal differences which explain the overall gender gap.

We could gnash our teeth and rend our hair about the fact that different schools have different numbers of pull up bars. We could talk about bias and sexism and how the pull up test is discriminatory. We could argue interminably about the best location for those pull up bars, and how high off the ground they are, and what kind of grips they have. We could blame the coaches and blame the schools and blame "male privilege" for the performance gap. We could talk about gym teacher expectation and confidence and prenatal nutrition and the lack of female role models for aspiring pull up contestants. But changing all those things would have a near negligible effect on narrowing the gender gap.

Biology is destiny, when it comes to our minds as well as our bodies.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Tiger and schadenfreude

Is anyone else enjoying an inward smile of satisfaction about how Tiger Woods is failing to win any majors besides me?

I suppose I feel more than the normal amount of schadenfreude partly because of jealousy. Tiger made an awful lot of money over the years. And he got an awful lot of adulation, not only from the fans, but from the media, which, as you would expect, fell all over itself celebrating the first black golfer to contend for the title of best ever.

While there was nothing really noxious about Tiger, there was really nothing to like, either. He had a closely guarded personality, and never said anything revealing, or even witty. His primary mission always seemed to be to preserve his sponsorships. (Whoever figured a guy named Tiger could be so bland?)

I actually liked him a little bit more when it turned out he'd had all those mistresses on the side.

But then came that holier-than-thou non-confession confession and the strong denials that he'd ever taken steroids.

(Whatever you say, Lance.)

So, I find myself smirking every time I read that he's out of contention at another tournament.

Punctuation marks for the dainty

I've never understood the point of using punctuation marks rather than the actual word when swearing. If you write, "f@*&ing" instead of "fucking," for instance, what exact does it prove? That you are somehow too good to use the actual word? That you are refined? That you are too good a person to swear?

Everybody knows exactly what you're saying, and the message is exactly the same. So what's the difference?

I've never personally been convinced of a person's essential goodness by the fact that he writes "m**********r" rather than "motherfucker."

It's just a word. Sorry, but if you want to show your good character, that takes a little more work.

If you want to convince me of your dainty comportment, well, it does go a little way. But daintiness and good character are not the same thing.

As to those who are offended by swears, being easily "offended" is the cheapest -- and usually falsest - way of showing good character.

Myself, I try not to overuse such words, but only because they tend to signal a lack of imagination. ("You fucking asshole" is the lamest of insults, since it could be applied to absolutely anybody; if you want to hurt someone, tailor your insult.)

And "fucking"'s use for purposes of emphasis is too meaningless for my taste.

Then again, I don't avoid use of the word either. I will admit, however, I use it less in writing than in speech, since I have the luxury of being able to edit myself on paper, and with a little time to think I can usually find other words which are both more descriptive and more apt.

Anyway, that's where I stand on the matter. If you don't like it, fuck you. (Another meaningless phrase, I guess, since suggesting people they engage in an act they enjoy is hardly the same as damning them.)

Addendum, a few minutes later: it's just been pointed out to me that a good part of the reason you see words written with punctuation marks like that is because newspapers don't want to run afoul of FCC guidelines. True enough. So maybe my complaint is with the FCC and not individual writers. (I've seen people write emails with such punctuation marks; if you're writing me, that's not necessary.)

Friday, August 9, 2013

"Do we really want a Cold War II?"

More common sense from Pat Buchanan.

"Why can't we talk about IQ?"

Nice summary by Jason Richwine of the current media hysteria regarding race and IQ.

"He would have wanted it that way"

The masters national championship in swimming is taking place in Mission Viejo, California right now. Two nights ago, on the first night of the meet, a 65-year-old swimmer, Louis Slater, died after being pulled from the water during the 1500 meter freestyle.

They took a quick poll of the swimmers there about whether to continue swimming the event, and, according to Swimming World, those polled evidently responded by saying that they should continue, since Slater "would have wanted it that way."

How many times have we heard that used as an excuse for survivors to do whatever they please? There's nothing wrong with wanting to continue the meet; that's what the swimmers are there for. They've trained hard all year for this opportunity, they've traveled all the way to Mission Viejo, and they want their chance to perform.

But to pass off doing what they want as some vaguely noble gesture intended to fulfill the dead man's wishes seems fatuous and self-serving. Especially considering that most of the people surveyed probably didn't even know Slater.

Who knows what Slater would have wanted? Maybe he would have wanted the entire meet canceled in his honor. Unless you can read minds, there's no way of telling.

We're constructed to feel overwhelming grief when loved ones die, but not when a stranger dies, or every time we read the obits. And there's nothing wrong with that. (It's certainly not okay to do anything to hasten strangers' deaths; but it's perfectly natural not to feel anything when they occur.)

But for some reason, a lot of people seem to feel it incumbent upon them to put on a little show of grief for people they care nothing about. It's dishonest, and a little silly.

A more reasonable, straightforward response to the question asked two nights ago would have been, "Listen, if canceling or postponing the rest of the event would somehow bring Slater back, then I'd obviously be for it. But since it won't do him any good, why cancel? We're all here to swim, let's do it."

This afternoon I plan to have a few beers, go to a massage parlor, and then have a steak dinner washed down with some Grand Marnier. But please don't think me selfish or self-indulgent. The only reason I'll be doing these things is because, well, James Gandolfini would have wanted it that way.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Weight and appearance

Let me counteract the misandry of the previous post with a little misogyny:

The entire time I was in London, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of attractive women there. It was impossible to take a walk anywhere near my hotel without seeing at least a few. Of course, whenever you're on vacation anywhere, you tend to see more fine specimens, simply because you're out and about. When you're at home in whatever rut you're in, you see fewer people. Nonetheless, it seemed there were fewer fat people in London.

This was a point driven home when I arrived back in the US two days ago. The US is supposed to be the second most obese nation on earth (next to Mexico). That seems more apparent when you've just been abroad.

The thing is, about 75% of obese women would be attractive if they became slender, and the other 25% would be passable. Exactly zero percent are attractive when overweight. What makes a face attractive are cheekbones which protrude further than cheeks, and a generally visible bone structure. The eyes are preferably large and clear, and the chin and neck preferably separate entities. Fat is the enemy of all of these phenomena.

(And all these things are true, obviously, for men as well as women.)

Whatever your bone structure, it's preferable to have it showing rather than hidden.

It's often been said that European women stay slender in large part because they smoke instead of eat. I say: whatever works.

Smoking is an odious habit. But, if that's what it takes, light up. Take heroin if you need to. Or cocaine, which is even better for weight loss. Have your stomach stapled.

(Okay, in case it's not clear, the last paragraph is just a joke. But there's nothing wrong with exercising and cutting out dessert.)

Addendum, two days later: I've just been informed what a horrible person I am and how I will lose whatever female readership I had by having put up this post. I won't dispute the former, but I would like to point out that any females -- or males -- who object to my bluntness have long since departed anyway.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How war could be stopped

My daughter is reading Flags of Our Fathers, upon which the Clint Eastwood movie was based. The book was written by James Bradley, whose Navy Corpsman father was one of the six men in that famous photograph of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima.

In the book Bradley includes a great quote from Yoshikani Taki: "Mothers should negotiate between nations. The mothers of the fighting countries would agree: Stop this killing now."

An alternative: have the politicians who support the wars fight them.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Fighting dogs

I was speaking with a young man recently who jokingly told me, "I'm going to get a Bandog to keep my mother's pet terrier company. Or maybe I'll get a half wolf."

When I told him that half wolves were illegal, he said that he would just tell people it's a Husky.

When I asked him what a Bandog was, he explained that they were basically half pit bull, half mastiff, bred to be the world's best fighting dogs. The idea was to combine the ferocity of a pit bull with the size of a mastiff:


He added that if he did get such a dog, he would name it Cerberus.

(They do look as if they come from hell.)

I suggested he name it Fifi instead, and dress it up with pink bows and the like. And when it chomped other dogs in two, he could remonstrate with it in the same tone of voice female pet owners use with their pets. 'Oh, bad Fifi! Bad little Fifi," while giving it an affectionate caress.

The discussion prompted me to do a little research on the internet about fighting dogs. Bandogs are generally regarded as the ultimate fighting dogs, but there are a number of other breeds considered quite formidable, and each has its advocates. Many are named after the areas from which they originated, such as the Dogo Argentino:


The Presa Canario, from the Canary Islands:


The American Pit Bull Terrier:


Akita Inu:


Central Asian Ovcharka:


English Mastiff (don't worry, if this picture puts off-color thoughts into your head, you're not alone):


Neapolitan Mastiff:


Kangal:


Many of these dogs are related to mastiffs, and many are also thought to be descended from the Molossus, a now extinct breed used by the Romans as a war dog:


One of the big questions among owners of fighting dogs is whether any of these creatures can stand up to a wolf. Most think not. There is some evidence that dogs have occasionally bested wolves. But for the most part, wolves kill dogs, even the fighting breeds, because of their superior agility, longer teeth, and stronger bite. Wolves are less muscular overall than the strongest dog breeds, but they have stronger jaw muscles. Wolves generally kill dogs by chomping down on their skulls, which is instantly fatal.

This is not to say that the fighting dogs fear wolves. Many of these creatures were originally bred to guard flocks of sheep against wolves; some were bred as guard dogs. But the qualities required to be a good sheep dog, or guard dog, overlap with those required to be a fighting dog. All of these dogs were bred to be fearless and aggressive, even when confronted with superior firepower.

The problem is, people who want such a dog don't want a pet to lavish affection on. They want a dog to burnish their own macho self-images. And they train the dogs to be effective fighting machines, and, even worse, sometimes abuse them. Hence the killings by dogs.

You've probably heard it said that there's nothing wrong with pit bulls, the problem is with the owners. Yes and no. There are lovingly raised, safe pit bulls. But if you took the worst, most abusive pit bull owners and gave them Pomeranians instead, no humans would die.

It's a little like what the NRA says: guns don't kill people, people do. That is true. But it's also true that without guns most of those killers would be far less effective.

Michael Vick is widely regarded with abhorrence in this country, but in fact dog fighting has long been been a tradition in many, if not most, parts of the world. All those fighting dogs were bred for a purpose. (The American Pit Bull Terrier is in fact called that because of the frequency with which the breed was put in pits to either fight other dogs or enter rat-baiting contests, in which money was wagered on how long it would take a dog to kill all the rats.)

I certainly don't support dog fighting. But I can understand the my-dog-can-take-your-dog sort of pride some owners exhibit.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Top-heavy non-athletes

In April of 2010 I wrote about the gay men who invaded the Cancun Club Med just as we were leaving. I noted at the time that a fair number of them seemed to be on steroids, but had disproportionately large torsos and well muscled arms placed atop scrawny legs.

The other day I was told to Google image, "Friends don't let friends skip leg day." It's full of pictures of guys who do a lot of work on their pectorals, abs, lats, deltoids, biceps, and triceps, but seem to totally neglect their legs. (I suspect that some of the pictures were Photoshopped, but in any case, the message is clear.)

Here's one of the pictures:


Having a buff torso but skinny legs is a dead giveaway that you were never an athlete. It also seems to be a fairly good indicator that you're gay. And it often means that you've juiced, but don't know how to work out.

I can think of almost no sport in which you can get away with having no base. Tommy Hearns, the welterweight boxing champion from the 1980's, had skinny legs, but he was freakishly tall for his weight class, and relied on his superior reach and punching speed. But even with those advantages, he was ultimately undone by the far more agile Sugar Ray Leonard, who played mongoose to Hearns' cobra.


But Hearns aside, I can think of very few athletes, even cross country runners, who get away with such thin legs.

I was reminded of all this because I saw a gay couple walking down the street today and one of them had those prototypical gay body-builder proportions: muscular arms with legs of approximately the same circumference.

It's not a good look.

The goal should be to look balanced, like one of those Greek or Roman statues. If you do it right, you'll look as if you came by that look "honestly," through the practice of a sport, or as if you were lucky, and just hit the genetic lottery. If you do it wrong, as so many of these gay guys do, you end up looking like a silly -- and ignorant -- gym rat.

Note to gay guys: you're not Tommy Hearns. As long as you're doing all those bench presses and pull downs and sit-ups, it really wouldn't hurt to throw a few squats into your routine.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Eulogy

I was at the bookstore trying to find a book for the plane flight home today when I stumbled across a great line, on the occasion of someone's death:

"Sure, it's sad and all, but it wasn't as if the alternative had been immortality."

Sociopaths in their natural habitat

The other day a commenter on the post Sociopaths you meet rather than read about told the story of how he'd known a sociopath and a psychiatrist had met this sociopath and given him the benefit of the doubt:

I've even seen a psychiatrist say this about someone after I outed him as a sociopath (having lived with him for a month, the psych having only met him for an hour). She was all "him, a sociopath? I don't believe that. He might be a Borderline, but I doubt he's a sociopath". It's really discouraging when not even psychiatrists realise that sociopaths look like perfectly ordinary citizens....

The fact is, there are a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists who don't really understand sociopaths. Trying to learn about sociopaths in a clinical setting is a little like trying to learn about the hunting habits of the tiger by watching one in a zoo. A sociopath always knows why he is in that clinical setting, and therefore is on his guard and will not act like himself.

And psychologists are only human: they are as susceptible to manipulation as anyone else.

I've known two sociopaths well. One was a quasi-girlfriend I had when I was 25, the other was a boss I had on Wall Street. I got to observe both over an extended period of time. I saw how they operated, how they lied, how they used people, how they saw themselves, how they never took blame, the types of excuses they used, how they never got nervous, how they never got embarrassed. I saw how destructive they were, and how they loved to facilitate others' failure whenever they thought they could get away with it.

I also saw how even people who had been exposed to them for a long time remained blind to their true natures (like me, at first, with that girlfriend). But it's one thing for a layperson to remain blind to sociopathy, it's another for someone who's a professional in the field.

While Bill Clinton was President, I asked two psychiatrists I knew if they thought he was a sociopath. Both were Democrats, and to their credit, both somewhat sheepishly admitted that he was. (Sheepishness is one quality sociopaths themselves never exhibit, and is often the hallmark of a decent person.)

But many psychology students, clinical therapists, and even psychiatrists are often surprisingly naive about sociopaths. Even when they understand the concept of sociopathy they will, as the commenter above noted, give them the benefit of the doubt when there really is no doubt. Sometimes they'll act as if a diagnosis of sociopathy is unwarranted for any behavior short of serial killing.

Sometimes they'll try to draw moral distinctions between the sociopaths they deem personally attractive and those they don't (i.e., that somehow the fat, ugly, self-righteous John Wayne Gacy was more loathsome than the handsome, charming Ted Bundy).

And sometimes they'll let their political attitudes influence their diagnoses. ("Bill Clinton? I don't think so....Newt Gingrich? Absolutely!!")

Sometimes they'll even let a brief personal contact influence their opinion ("He said he thinks I'm smart; he must be a nice guy. And he seems so.....ordinary.")

Sociopathy has nothing to do with attractiveness, or political bent, and probably has little to do with the little snapshot you got if you met them briefly.

To really understand sociopaths, you have to have observed them in their natural setting over an extended period of time. You have to become well versed in their typical subterfuges and patterns of behavior. And even then, you have to understand that you can't necessarily recognize them at first.

(People who do this kind of "field work" almost never do it on a voluntary basis.)

Don't ever think that just because someone is a psychologist or psychiatrist of one sort or another, he understands sociopaths. He has merely observed chimps in a zoo. Or even worse, has read about them in a book.

To really understand sociopaths, you have to be Jane Goodall.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey has more history crammed into a relatively small space than any other place I can think of.

The Abbey has been the site of countless coronations and weddings, and doubles as a graveyard for the great and the mighty (the two don't necessarily overlap). The bodies of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin and the original Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots and Edward I (Edward Longshanks of Braveheart fame) and a host of other luminaries lie there.

Both Elizabeth and Mary have their carved likenesses on top of their coffins, which lay above ground. This allows you to see what they looked like when alive. (I sorta wish this custom had continued.)

There are also a number of people who weren't truly great, but merely prominent religious and political figures from eras past. Churchill and Disraeli are commemorated there, but so are a host of other politicians you've never heard of, including many who were undoubtedly the Harry Reid's and Nancy Pelosi's of their day.

But the fact that Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling and Alfred Lord Tennyson and George Frederic Handel and David Livingstone are buried there leaves you with an overwhelming feeling of being in the presence of greatness, even if their bones have long since turned to dust.

There are also memorials to people not buried there, like Jane Austen and William Shakespeare and Anthony Trollope. It's almost as if England tried to compress all of its glory into one cathedral.

(It's hard not to wonder which recent figures will eventually be immortalized there. Will John Lennon and Paul McCartney make it? Christopher Hitchens? Andrew Lloyd Webber?)

Many of the bodies buried there lie right beneath the floor, and it's hard to avoid walking on their tombs. Darwin's grave, for instance, is stepped on by thousands of people every day. It feels a little disrespectful, but it's pretty much unavoidable. (At least no one pisses on his grave.)

The only grave one is not allowed to step on is that of the Unknown Warrior, an anonymous soldier from WWI whose body lies beneath it, surrounded by poppies. While the rest of the markers leave you feeling awed, this one leaves you sad, at the thought of this young man and all the others like him who gave their lives so nobly, and so wastefully, in their youth.

It's worth taking the official tour. The guide will point out things that you'd never notice on your own. For instance, that Sir Robert Peel organized the nation's police force, and this is why British policemen are called "Bobbies." Or that Lewis Carroll's memorial in Poet's Corner is circular so as to symbolize the hole into which Alice fell in Through the Looking Glass.

Our guide was an older, somewhat fastidious fellow who always asked if we had any questions, but tended to answer them somewhat impatiently. At one point he pointed out that William the Conqueror, otherwise known as William I, who was crowned in 1066, was the last king to be given a title with a descriptive name (like Edward the Confessor, or Ethelred the Unready). After that, they were merely given numbers (like Richard III). I tried to trip him up by asking when Richard the Lionheart reigned (I thought it was after 1066, and sure enough, it turned out to be in the late twelfth century). Our tour guide huffed that that was more of a nickname, not an official title.

But at least he spoke with an English accent. Given today's London, we should have counted ourselves lucky that he didn't speak in an Indian, or Russian, accent.