Search Box

Friday, October 30, 2009

Without attribution

A friend forwarded this to me. I looked for it on the web in an effort to give credit to the author, but even though I found it several places, the author's name was never listed. Anyway, it's quite clever (you have to read it all the way through):

John was in the fertilized egg business. He had several hundred young layers (hens), called 'pullets,' and ten roosters to fertilize the eggs. He kept records, and any rooster not performing went into the soup pot and was replaced.

This took a lot of time, so he bought some tiny bells and attached them to his roosters. Each bell had a different tone, so he could tell from a distance, which rooster was performing. Now, he could sit on the porch and fill out an efficiency report by just listening to the bells.

John's favorite rooster, old Butch, was a very fine specimen, but this morning he noticed old Butch's bell hadn't rung at all! When he went to investigate, he saw the other roosters were busy chasing pullets, bells-a-ringing, but the pullets, hearing the roosters coming, could run for cover. To John's amazement, old Butch had his bell in his beak, so it couldn't ring.

He'd sneak up on a pullet, do his job and walk on to the next one. John was so proud of old Butch, he entered him in the Renfrew County Fair and he became an overnight sensation among the judges. The result was the judges not only awarded old Butch the No Bell Piece Prize but they also awarded him the Pulletsurprise as well.

Clearly old Butch was a politician in the making.

Who else but a politician could figure out how to win two of the most highly coveted awards on our planet by being the best at sneaking up on the populace and screwing them when they weren't paying attention?

Vote carefully next year - the bells are not always audible.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

O'Reilly vs. Olbermann

The recent brouhaha between the White House and Fox News, and subsequent comparisons between Fox and MSNBC, spurred me to quantify an impression I’d had in the past: that primetime Fox News regularly has guests with opposing viewpoints, whereas MSNBC does not. To that end I watched both Bill O'Reilly on Fox and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC from 8 to 9PM on Monday and Tuesday evenings. (Olbermann wasn't on Wednesday night.) I flipped back and forth to make sure I didn't miss any guests. My impression was confirmed. On Monday evening, most of O'Reilly's guests had conservative views, but he did have Juan Williams, a liberal, and also Mary Ann Marsh, a Democratic strategist. Williams generally tones himself down when on Fox, so let's count Monday night's tally as one and a half Democrats. On Tuesday, O'Reilly interviewed Joe Sestak and Anthony Weiner, both Democratic Congressmen. He interviewed Alan Colmes, one of Fox's two token in-house liberals. And he had on legal expert Jennifer Smetters, who argued vigorously with O’Reilly, although she didn't seem a political animal. We’ll call that three and a half Democrats for Tuesday night. Keith Olbermann had on exactly zero Republicans Monday night. His guests included Chuck Schumer, Ariana Huffington, Chris Hayes (the Washington editor of The Nation), Richard Wolffe, an MSNBC analyst, and author Susie Essman. Tuesday night’s lineup also featured zero Republicans. Olbermann had on Senator Wyden, Rose Ann Demoro (from the National Nurses Organizing Committee), Howard Fineman, an MSNBC analyst, and Gene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist. This trend tends to continue, by the way, for the next hour. Sean Hannity of Fox does occasionally have Democrats on (though generally not as many as O'Reilly), whereas Rachel Maddow of MSNBC has no Republicans on her show. What does it say about a talk show host that he won’t allow any opposing viewpoints? Is he afraid to get into an argument because he knows, or at least senses, that the facts won’t back him up? Is it intellectual laziness? Is he afraid that the brittleness of his personality will be exposed by having to face an actual opponent? Is it all of the above? Liberals are always forever congratulating themselves on their open-mindedness. Yet one would think true open-mindedness would require at least hearing the counter argument. But neither Olbermann nor Maddow is willing to do this. (So much for "diversity.") This is in keeping with attitude of liberals on campus, who will often shout down conservative speakers in an effort to prevent them from getting their message across. Part of the reason for this, of course, is their fear that an audience might be swayed by their opponents' arguments. (Conservatives on campus simply don’t do this to liberal speakers.) In election years, candidates will often try to make it appear that their opponent is the one unwilling to debate. Fox seems to have won this battle. Watch O'Reilly, and after a while it becomes apparent that crocodile smile exudes smugness. His driving force seems to be egotism. Watch Olbermann, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s driven by hate, the emotion liberals love to disparage yet themselves indulge in so frequently. With Olbermann, it’s his very lifeblood. You’ll never hear him say much positive about the left; he far prefers to spend his hour insulting Republicans. There are also undercurrents of hysteria and compulsiveness that pervade Olbermann's presentation. He doesn't seem able to help himself: he absolutely must sneer at every Republican he mentions. On Tuesday night alone, Obermann referred to Rick "Mad Dog" Santorum," "Failed presidential candidate Fred Thompson," "Lead teabaggist Dick Armey," "apparent Adirondack expert Newt Gingrich" (who had gotten into an argument with other Republicans over whether to support the Republican or Conservative candidate in a local race), "streetwalker for the insurance industry" (in reference to a Republican who didn't support the health bill, I didn't catch the name), and "the torture President" (Bush). The reference to Armey, for those unfamiliar with it, was Olbermannn's way of twisting the Republican term "tea parties," named after the famous Boston one which preceded the Revolutionary War, into "teabagging," a sexual practice among gay men. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other, making this a completely gratuitous and nonsensical reference on Olbermann's part. Had a Republican said this, he would of course have been accused of being homophobic. When O'Reilly and Sean Hannity have Democrats on their show, they are generally polite, if argumentative. One gets the sense that this would be beyond Olbermann's capacity. This isn't even an indictment of all of MSNBC. Chris Matthews, a liberal who hosts an earlier show, exudes earnestness and good will. Pat Buchanan, of all people, is a regular commentator. Unfortunately, MSNBC has reserved prime time for their most rigid, strident voices.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Socialism 101

Barack Obama, in an excerpt from a radio interview with WBEZ in Chicago from 2001:

You know, if you look at the victories and failures of the civil-rights movement, and its litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples. So that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at a lunch counter and order and as long as I could pay for it, I’d be okay, but the Supreme Court never entered into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society.

And uh, to that extent, as radical as I think people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution — at least as it’s been interpreted, and Warren Court interpreted it in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties: [It] says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf.

And that hasn’t shifted, and one of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil-rights movement was because the civil-rights movement became so court-focused, uh, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change. And in some ways we still suffer from that.

Keep in mind, these are all Obama's words. It wasn't as if the interviewer gave that speech and then asked Obama if he agreed, and Obama replied, "Yeah, I guess so." You don't talk at length about how the tragedy of the civil rights movement is that if failed to bring about redistributive change unless it's something you've thought long and hard about, and feel strongly about.

Any time you hear the phrase "redistribution of wealth" used in a positive way, or the phrase "economic justice" used in any way, you're listening to a socialist.

Now ask yourself, what are the odds that Obama had a major change of heart between 2001 and 2008 and shifted his world view rightward?

(I agree.)

Will the real Barack Obama please stand up? Well, he did, back in 2001. He stayed in his chair in 2008, but he's standing again now.

I have no problem with Obama being socialist, that's certainly his right. But I do have a problem with the way he posed as something else during his Presidential campaign.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ask and tell

The reasoning against allowing openly gay people in the military is roughly as follows: the other soldiers would be uncomfortable with a homosexual in the barracks, and it might hurt the esprit de corps. 

But the guys most comfortable with gays tend to be those most secure in their own masculinity, and you'd think the macho types in the barracks wouldn't be upset by their presence. (Though this does tend to be truer of 30-somethings than 18-year-olds.) 

Gays abound in corporations. Yet you never hear people complain, "We can't get any business done, those homos are just blowing each other left and right and are really hurting the company morale." (My impression is that they make great workers.) 

Some might point out that coworkers at a corporation don't have to sleep in the same room, which is true enough. But students often room -- and even shower -- with gays in college dormitories. You never hear anybody complain that they can't get any studying done as a result. 

Gays are certainly omnipresent on Capitol Hill. Well, that may not be the best example of a place which remains functional despite their presence. 

Heteros tend to imagine that any gathering of gays will automatically turn into a big orgy. But this is not so. I went to a gay-themed swimming meet once (it was held in conjunction with the Pride festivities of 2004, and I was looking for a meet in a fast pool). I was apprehensive beforehand, and was one of the few non-gays there. But the meet was well run, people were polite and helpful, and there were zero public displays of affection that I saw. 

The only place which has a widespread homosexual harassment problem is prison. And it seems that most of the rape there is committed by animals whose orientation would be straight on the outside, but who will jump on anything that moves. (This is not a brief for abolishing prisons, though something should be done to protect prisoners from homosexual rape. On second thought, if their crimes were odious enough, maybe not.) 

As it is, gays are not banned from the military unless they "tell," which means that some are serving now. Yet you never hear of cases of gay-caused disruption. ("We were attacked by the Taliban, and we might have held them off, but Bruce and Geoffrey were too busy painting their nails to bother to pick up their rifles.") 

Army culture will always be macho -- as it should be, if you're interested in winning wars -- but that doesn't have to exclude gays. The gays drawn to the military are probably a fiercer breed than the ones drawn to fashion. 

Some of the biggest Olympic stars have been gay. Given that sport is essentially stylized, nonlethal combat, many of those gay athletes would undoubtedly have made great soldiers. Greg Louganis, after suffering a concussion from hitting his head on the springboard in 1988, continued to compete, and went on to win the gold medal. If it had been me, I probably would have listened to the doctor and quit. Louganis would have made a better soldier than me. 

Spartan soldiers were known to have homosexual relations with each other. The case could be made that soldiers thus bonded would be even more loyal to each other. (Check out the movie 300; it's proof that soldiers who wax their chests make incredibly effective warriors.) 

In 2002, the military saw an increase in enlistments because of the surge of patriotism which followed 9/11. But as the war dragged on, enlistments faltered and the military had to lower its standards in order to make its quotas. 

More recently, enlistments have risen again because of the economy, and the standards have risen commensurately. (The Army can once again insist on high school diplomas and a minimum IQ of roughly 92.) 

If gays knew that they would be accepted, they would enlist in larger numbers, and that might allow the Army to raise its standards even further. (Who knows, they might also improve the decor of those drab barracks.) 

It's hard enough to recruit people willing to die for our country. Turning some of them down on the basis of their sexuality seems wasteful. (Rather than turning them away, we should be honoring them.) Gays have always been with us, and always will be. The military might as well take advantage. 

Any fighting force brave enough to face enemies with guns is more than brave enough to face gays in their barracks.

What insurance is

The biggest controversy attached to the ever-evolving health bill is whether to include a public option. There seems to be much less publicity about the insurance companies being forced to take on people with pre-existing conditions. This stands the idea of insurance on its head.

If, once you develop a serious -- and expensive -- illness, no insurance company can turn you down, there is little incentive to purchase insurance beforehand.

You can't wait until your house burns down to buy fire insurance, and then expect to be paid off for the fire. Neither can you buy life insurance on people who are already dead. When you buy insurance, you're guarding against the small possibility of a catastrophe. If a lot of people are willing to pay a small amount for a tiny chance of a large payout, then insurance companies can make money and survive.

In that sense it's not unlike the lottery, which is a government program to make money.

If, once you found out what the winning number of the previous lottery was, you could then retroactively order a ticket with that number, and demand a payout, the state would soon go bust. Yet this is what Obama is recommending for insurance companies.

Several versions of the new plan make it compulsory for everyone to buy insurance of some sort, and include a $3700 penalty for people who don't. But how could this possibly be enforced? And although Obama has said that he won't raise taxes a single dime to pay for this health plan, that $3700 smells an awful lot like a tax, just under a different name. I suppose that would be one way to pay for the new "insurance."

The fundamental problem is that you can't repeal the basic laws of economics, any more than you can repeal the law of gravity. Yet this seems to be what the Obama administration is attempting. They did it when they shortchanged the GM and Chrysler bondholders in favor of the unions. And they want to do it here. To be fair, the Bush administration also did it with their TARP program. They also did it when they changed the rules for mortgages in an effort to get more minorities into houses. (That sure worked out well.) In fact, any interference on the part of the government can be construed as interfering with the laws of economics. But most government interference, at least to date, is meant to gently nudge things in one direction or another, not turn economics on its head. In general, the more government interference there is, the more the laws of economics are disrespected.

But that's sort of like messing with Mother Nature. Many drugs have side effects, which is why in that field, pharmaceutical companies which want to mess with Mother must have their products go through very extensive testing, including double blind experiments to measure every conceivable side effect.

The health insurance bill will go through no such testing process. It will just be sprung on the public immediately, full force.

In a way, though, Obama's effort to nationalize and unionize as much of the economy as possible has been tried before. It was tried in the Soviet Union starting in 1917. It was tried with a number of Eastern European countries a little later. And it is still being tried in Cuba and North Korea now.

Judge for yourself how successful those experiments have been.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fake votes

The widespread fraud behind Karzai's election in Afghanistan makes it apparent that the appropriate response for a rigged election -- there and elsewhere -- ought to be more than just having those votes not counted.

When someone doesn't pay his taxes, his punishment isn't merely having to then pay them. There is always an extra penalty assessed. Otherwise there is no disincentive for tax evasion.

It ought to be the same way with any sort of chicanery around election time. If you somehow arrange for 5000 fraudulent votes, not only should those be disallowed, but you ought to have 10,000 legitimate votes subtracted from your total as well. Or something like that.

Of course, this could result in a situation whereby a politician's enemies try to arrange obviously fraudulent votes on his behalf. But politics has always been a blood sport.

The best thing the U.S. could do for Afghanistan is arrange for a legitimate election overseen by the U.S. military.

And then have the U.S. military leave.

That would also be the best thing for us.

Mike Tyson

I watched "Tyson" Saturday night. It's not something I would have seen on my own, but my son has a bit of an obsession with Mike Tyson, so I tagged along. Much of the movie consists of just Tyson talking; these scenes are interspersed with clips showing various highlights (and lowlights) of his life.

Before the movie started, my son asked me, "Is Mike Tyson a sociopath?" I said I wasn't sure. (But I did come to a conclusion by the end of the movie.)

The obvious answer would be yes. Tyson seems to be out of control. His run-ins with the law, including his rape conviction, his almost bestial quality in the ring, including the infamous ear-biting incident, and his numerous colorful quotes ("I'm going to eat his children," etc.) all emit the odor of sociopathy.

But sociopaths are always, at root, dishonest creatures. A sociopath is concerned with presenting a certain image, and to that end will try to hide his true nature. Tyson is the opposite. His personality is basically just one big primal scream. It can be a scream of joy (when he was on top of the world), of rage (when more duplicitous types took advantage of him), and of regret (more recently). There is an almost childlike quality to the way he talks so honestly about his life, and the way he doesn't try to hide his emotions, raw as they may be. This was particularly apparent when he spoke of his early criminal history and other bad behavior.

The most poignant scene in the movie came when Tyson talked about his relationship with Cus d'Amato, the trainer who semi-adopted him: Tyson's tears welled up and for a while he was unable even to talk. Whenever I've seen a sociopath cry, it is always out of self-pity. (Witness Leona Helmsley breaking down after her arrest.) You can say that Tyson broke down partly out of self-pity, since d'Amato was the only one who ever gave him love and consideration. (You can also say that d'Amato's "love" was also somewhat selfish, since he wanted a heavyweight champion and saw Tyson as that vehicle.) But there also seemed to be genuine affection, on both sides.

Verdict: Mike Tyson, though he lacks self-control, is not a sociopath.

One aspect of Tyson's makeup inseparable from his behavior is his hyperandrogenization, giving him his own inbuilt genetic supply of "steroid rage." He was in the grip of this rage when he bit Holyfield's ear. Evidently Holyfield had continually head-butted him during their match, and referee Mills Lane, an avowed Holyfield fan, had refused to call Holyfield for it. So Tyson became enraged and lost control.

Tyson has certainly had other, better reasons for rage. (At the head of that list would be Don King, who most definitely is a sociopath. Second on the list is Robin Givens, a probable sociopath.)

Another person who may have exploited Tyson is Desiree Washington, the woman whose "rape" he went to jail for. Tyson claims he didn't do it. He admitted having "taken advantage of" other women in the past, but insisted he hadn't done so with her. Given how honest Tyson is in every other aspect of his life in the movie, it seems telling that he is so bitter against her.

Google "Desiree Washington," and you'll find nothing. But look at the Wikipedia entry on Tyson, and you'll see a paragraph about the trial. It came out there that Washington had a history of leading other men on, and despite her original statement, she later admitted that she had had several opportunities to leave his hotel room that evening, but hadn't taken them. The jury was evidently put off by Tyson's demeanor during the trial, which they read as sullen and arrogant. (That may in fact have been a function of his resentment about the false charges.) Such an attitude may be good reason to dislike someone, but it is not reason to convict him.

We'll never know, but my guess is that he was innocent of those charges. It certainly wouldn't be the first time a man has been sent to jail on false rape charges. One can say, given Tyson's admission that he had "taken advantage" of other women, that his conviction was in fact poetic justice. And maybe it was. But our legal system is not set up to render poetic justice.

Tyson represents everything that the black middle and upper classes like to dissociate themselves from: he is primitive, uneducated, lawless, and out of control. (Talk to any member of these groups, and you'll find they almost invariably prefer -- and prefer to identify with -- the lighter-skinned, eloquent and elegant, playful and politicized Muhammad Ali.) But watching this movie, I was left with the impression that Tyson is, in his own way, far more noble than most members of the black -- or white -- upper classes.

There is a nobility in the way Tyson is brutally honest with himself, and the way he makes no attempt to be anything other than what he is. There is a nobility to the way he fought in the ring. (In an earlier era he might have been referred to as a valiant warrior, and not just because of his ferocity; against both Buster Douglas and Lennox Lewis, although he was losing from the start, he kept battling until he was well and truly knocked out. It's called "going out on your shield.") There is a nobility -- as well as a naivete -- to the way he was so trusting of others. (People almost always assume that others are as honest as they themselves are.) Tyson even looks noble, with his outsize cheekbones, arched eyebrows, fierce eyes, and shaved head. (The hulking physique doesn't detract from this impression.) Even the way he tattooed his face with that Maori war motif, at a certain level, showed a certain reckless courage.

You can interpret all of these things as simple-mindedness, and there may be some truth to that as well. But while he is more childlike than most, he is also more manly than most of us could ever dream of being. And I don't mean that in just the physical sense.

If you've seen any of the King Kong movies, you know that King Kong was a scary, elemental force of nature who knew only the laws of the jungle. Everybody loved to marvel at and be scared by his primordial strength and ferocity. He was not well versed in the ways of humans, and eventually fell prey to some cunning showmen. But he was at heart an honest creature who was capable of love. And by the end of the movie, you know that he was essentially far better -- far more noble -- than the people who exploited him.

I emphasize, strongly, that I am not calling Mike Tyson an ape; I am merely making an analogy.

Black like me

It's a worthwhile exercise for whites to occasionally imagine what it's like to be black. So imagine for a moment that you are a black with an IQ of, say, 120.

Most white people you meet probably assume you're stupid, even though you're smarter than the vast majority of them. Thanks to affirmative action, even a degree from a prestigious school won't help, because everybody just assumes you got in because of your race. Every time you meet a new white person, you must prove your intelligence. You're guilty (of being dumb) until proven innocent.

I don't blame whites for making the assumptions that they do, but if you're black, it's got to be wearying.

Every single white person you meet you wonders if you're dangerous. You must be friendly and soft-spoken in order to slowly earn their trust. Again, I don't blame whites for fearing blacks; but if you're black, constantly having to work to set people at ease must also be tiresome.

The police are more likely to be suspicious of you and stop you. Again, for the police not to be more suspicious of the group which commits the most crime per capita would be silly. But if you're the average law-abiding black, and you've personally done nothing to deserve this type of suspicion, it would be hard not to be resentful.

These days blacks rarely encounter overt hostility. Most whites are far too cowed for that. But because of that fear, most whites become much more guarded around blacks. So the racism blacks encounter these days is far more likely to be of the subtle variety -- the kind liberals exhibit. Whites who are overly friendly to black people in a way they would never be to other whites make black people uncomfortable.

Liberals also judge black behavior by a different (and lower) standard. Black people are aware of this -- and will sometimes take advantage of it -- but the implications are not lost on them. When less is expected of you, this is merely a different form of racism.

Liberals also have a tendency to use blacks to prove something about themselves, namely, that they're good, i.e., nonracist, people. This type of behavior makes blacks realize that whites often see them as a generic black person, rather than as an individual. (The fact that whites sometimes mistake one black for another doesn't help.)

If you're black, this kind of reception has to make you feel -- at some level -- like the unwanted guest at the party.

An example. My son recently took an African History class at his high school. There was one black kid in his class. Whenever the teacher -- a confirmed liberal -- didn't know something, he would ask the black kid, as if the fact that he was black meant that he would know something that took place in Africa hundreds of years ago. My son also said that whenever the teacher would defer to the black student this way, the student would just say he didn't know and look extremely uncomfortable.

Liberals may not be threatening, but they are effective at making blacks feel their sense of otherness.

Even prominent liberal white politicians who publicly decry racism never seem to want to actually live among blacks themselves. What do blacks make of this?

Blacks see other "liberation" movements who've taken their cue from blacks, for instance women and gays. These groups like to paint themselves as oppressed. And, at a certain level, they are. But they haven't suffered nearly as much from discrimination as blacks have. They've never been slaves, or even segregated. White women have always been taken care of, and white gays can just hide their sexuality. Blacks can never hide their race.

Blacks see young white men who adopt ghetto mannerisms and wonder, who do they think they're fooling? What do they think, that being black is an affectation? They can go back to being white any time they want.

Whites often get tired of slavery being used as a reason to demand special privileges, or an excuse for bad behavior (as do I). But imagine again, for a moment, that you are black. I remember thinking when I was eight years old that if I were black, the very thought that someone else owned my ancestors would make my blood boil. One person owning another person? You might have been someone's property? What right do they have? Yes, this happened a long time ago, and no one alive is guilty of it. But that has to be part of every black person's psyche.

If you're white, your life is not about your race. Given current sensibilities, you're pretty much colorless. Your life may be about your job, your hobbies, or your passions. Your race simply doesn't loom that large. But if you're black, your race permeates your daily existence in all sorts of insidious ways.

If you're black, every time another black miscreant hits the news, you wince a little, thinking, oh no, another black person making us look bad. When whites hear about a new white serial killer, for instance, they never think, oh no, he's making white people look bad. (Instead they often react with ghoulish fascination.)

At a certain level race relations are more strained now than ever. Fifty years ago whites weren't beset by a constant paranoia about being called racist. So they acted more natural. Maybe that naturalness incorporated some corrosive condescension, and that obviously wasn't good. But on a personal level, the current awkward dance that some whites do around blacks doesn't do anything for race relations either.

This blog is largely about pointing out the essential dishonesty of political correctness. But if you want to understand an issue, you have to look at it from both sides.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


When I was young and I saw older guys with hair coming out of their ears, I would think, ugh, how gross.

Now, of course, I need to groom there.

When I was young and I would see old guys with their stomachs sagging over their belts, I would vow never to get let that happen to me.

But skin is basically like a rubber band that just loses its elasticity over time, and there's little that can be done about it. As I have discovered.

When I was young and would see old guys fall asleep in front of the TV, I would think, how pathetic: why don't they just turn it off when they feel themselves getting tired?

Now my television is like a second mother, singing me lullabies every evening.

I was always nearsighted, so couldn't get my mind around the concept that some people needed glasses to see things up close. After I got LASIKS, I was proud to finally see both near and far.

Now I have a hard time focusing on the crossword puzzle in the morning. But I still refuse to get reading glasses. Nothing says old (and disapproving) like staring over a pair of half-moons.

When I was young and would hear about older people not being able to sleep through the night, I would think, they're just not exercising hard enough.

Now I know that's not the case.

When I was young, I never actually thought that I wouldn't get old. But I did sorta feel that way.

Mark Twain was right: life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.

Now that I think of it, that would actually make death a lot sadder. (Death is easier to face if you're half dead already.) But life would certainly be happier.

In keeping with the recent superficiality of this blog....

Mr. Raj Rajaratnam, 52, the founder of the Galleon hedge fund, was arrested yesterday along with five others and charged with insider trading. Rajaratnam is said to be worth $1.3 billion. The insider trading he was involved with netted $20.4 million. It is not clear how much of that amount would have gone to him.

Why would a billionaire risk it all for what, for him, represents a trifling amount? (This, of course, begs the question of how much of his net worth was gained from insider trading in the first place, before the feds started tapping his phone.)

There is an old expression that runs something along the lines of, until the age of 50, you merely wear the face you are given. But after 50, you are responsible for your own face, i.e., your character starts to show on your face.

Rajaratnam looks a decade younger than his 52 years; fat has a way of smoothing out the wrinkles. But his weight does somehow give him the look of a greedy man with little self control. His weight is all the more striking given that you almost never see fat "Indians," even in this country. (Rajaratnam is actually Sri Lankan.)

A few years ago there seemed to be a nascent "fat liberation" movement in the works. A few fat people complained about how they were being discriminated against, how it was harder for them to get hired, how people assumed they were lazy, how people mocked them, and how their obesity wasn't their fault. (The latest medical evidence does seem to indicate that we are simply born with a certain number of fat cells, and there's nothing we can do about it. Which is why fat people who go on diets always seem to end up returning to their natural weight.) And the media, ever eager to find new "victims," gave them some air time.

The publicity surrounding Rajaratnam's piggishness certainly isn't going to help the cause.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Time for a little defensiveness

I was recently informed that this blog is neither inspirational nor uplifting.

I guess yesterday's post "Schadenfreude Magazine" would be a good example of that. (Is there a word which means the opposite of "uplifting"?)

Sorry, but this blog is meant only to be amusing, and slightly educational (mostly for me, when I have to look stuff up to augment my usually scanty knowledge). At best it will help crystallize your own thoughts. At worst it is gossip-mongering and self-indulgent. Either way, I hope it is fun.

But it's not uplifting.

In fact, I've even been told in the past that this blog is at times mean-spirited.

Guilty as charged.

I submit, however, that it is impossible to be funny without being mean. If I'm going to skewer someone -- including myself -- I have to aim accurately, otherwise it is just meaningless -- and not really funny.

Anyway, "uplifting" is beyond my abilities (which stop short at, and sometimes of, "entertaining.")

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Schadenfreude Magazine

The Germans have a word, schadenfreude, which translates as "delight in another person's misfortune" (courtesy of Princeton University's wordnetweb).

There is no equivalent English word.

But the lack of a word does not imply the lack of an emotion. To the contrary. If I -- or any other English speakers I know -- are any indication, we feel it. Perhaps to excess.

So here's an idea for a magazine which would be dedicated to gratifying the maliciousness in all of us.

Such a magazine would not be about life's castoffs, those poor unfortunates who never did very well for themselves. Although we may be glad that we are healthy and whole, hearing about those who are not should not provoke schadenfreude. If we are anything less than sociopaths, such people should provoke sympathy.

No, Schadenfreude Magazine would concentrate on those who once had the world by the tail, but now have their own tails tucked firmly between their legs -- preferably because of their own transgressions.

Would you be interested, for instance, in an article about Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO (and looter) of Tyco, and what his current life in jail is like? Imagine a photo spread of his six foot by nine foot cell, featuring a thin single mattress and a toilet with no lid. (An inset could show his former mansions.) The spread could also include a picture of the communal showers where he must clean himself with the other prisoners. The caption might read, "Where's the $6000 shower curtain?"

Perhaps the photo above could be captioned, "Dennis Kozlowski, about to have his cavity searched."

Imagine an article about Sam Waksal, the social climbing insider trader. He's out of jail now, but it would have been fun to read about him while he was incarcerated. The title could have been, "Where are all your fancy friends now, Sam?"

Would you find this edifying? (Be honest, answer yes.)

One would think that the justice system, in the interests of discouraging crime, would allow the access required to produce such photos and articles. (It would not be dissimilar, in both spirit and intention, to pubic hangings. Or, from an even earlier era, the heads of enemies mounted on spikes.)

Likewise, if you want to discourage athletes from taking steroids, what better suasion than a layout of Marion Jones when she was in prison garb? Or a picture of her current living quarters, now that she is broke?

How gratifying woult it be to see a picture of Philip Markoff, the Craigslist murderer, incarcerated? Perhaps the shot might include his cellmate, a large, ugly fellow, who is wearing a self-satisfied grin as he gazes at Markoff, who lies gingerly on his stomach on his bunk bed.

Don't think there isn't a market for such a magazine. Certain human impulses are universal. (This is why pictures of mug shots are so popular on the internet.)

It's always gratifying to read about lottery winners brought low. No matter how much money they win, they usually seem to end up with nothing. Given that their pre-lottery financial planning consisted of investing in lottery tickets, perhaps this should not be so surprising. Nonetheless, all the jealousy we felt upon hearing about some other guy's windfall should dissipate quite nicely upon reading about his divorce, his various run-ins with the law, his greedy relatives, his soured investments, his dishonest managers, and his problems with substance abuse. (Let's face it: some people were just meant to be poor.)

How often have you read about someone winning the lottery and thought, why him and not me? Isn't it more fun to read about someone who provokes the reaction, "better him than me"?

We all felt a pang of envy upon reading about those dotcom and Wall Street millionaires. And we all felt a corresponding twitch of satisfaction upon reading of how the ones who didn't get out in time lost it all. A detailed accounting of the contrast between their current and former lives could turn that twitch into a veritable orgy of satisfaction.

There are all sorts of airheaded Hollywood stars who, at the peak of their fame, felt obliged to show us what wonderful people they were by publicly pontificating about their political beliefs, their support for the right causes, and their disgust for the wrong kinds of political incorrectnesses. Well, some of them fall upon hard times. How about paying them to take an IQ test, then publicizing those results? (It would allow us to think, we were supposed to take political advice from them?) How satisfying would that be?

Different people, of course, would enjoy different parts of the magazine. Liberals would prefer to see conservatives in jail, and vice versa. Some people might prefer to see white people fall low, others blacks. But there would undoubtedly be something (or someone) for everyone.

The magazine would be the ultimate in feel good journalism. It could even have a catchy subtitle: "Appealing to the Worst in Human Nature."

And it would make people appreciate what they have, rather than resent those who have more.

If the title is a little too direct for you, perhaps it could be called Poetic Justice Magazine.

Either way, it would be a satisfying read.

This guy should be a stuntman

A friend just sent the following link:

Pretty amazing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The "intelligentsia"

The word "hip" (analyzed in the previous post) reminds me of another word which has fallen out of fashion in the past few years, but which you heard a lot a decade ago: intelligentsia. This was a word which the East Coast media elite used to describe people who were, uh, just like them: liberals who had gone to prestigious universities where they majored in soft subjects and were brainwashed into being politically correct.

Strangely, the word was never used to refer to physicists, or engineers, or mathematicians, or experts in any number of other arcane fields which actually required a high IQ. Rather, it denoted a certain set of precious sensibilities.

Ironically, the self-anointed "intelligentsia" found the concept of intelligence itself absolutely abhorrent: anybody who actually thought that IQ was anything other than a "social construct" couldn't possibly be a member of the "intelligentsia." Yet this didn't keep them from using the term. (There didn't seem to be any members of the intelligentsia aware of this irony.)

Those of us not members of the intelligentsia were, by implication, members of the "dumbsia." (In previous generations a slightly different kind of snob would refer to these people as "the great unwashed.") The intelligentsia obviously felt that these unenlightened masses should have been kneeling at their feet, absorbing their proper way of thinking.

Thankfully that word has fallen out of favor, since its preening nature was obvious to everyone but the intelligentsia, who finally cottoned onto its implications.

Are you hip?

This morning's NY Times had an article by David Brooks describing the participants at a meeting of the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society as surprisingly "young, hip, and attractive."

"Young" is a quality which is easily quantified, and "attractive," though a concept that varies slightly from beholder to beholder, is something we all know when we see it. But what exactly did Brooks mean by "hip?" defined it as:

1. a. sophisticated; knowing; aware
b. fashionable; stylish

2. of or associated with hipsters or hippies

"Hip" is a word which you'll hear invoked to describe the crowd at a gallery opening, or at a new and fashionable restaurant, or at an exclusive nightclub, or any other place where the young and vain congregate.

I've always found "hip" to be a word that just exudes self-satisfaction. I first heard it in high school, back in the Dark Ages when hippies were still in vogue. People would say, "I'm hip, man," to convey that they were in on the joke. (Though the people who said that almost invariably had no sense of humor.)

The term has always had a strongly leftist bent. (These days it is most often applied to our Hipster-in-Chief, in a transparent effort by the media to contrast him with old fogey Republicans.) It also has fashionista overtones, as well as slight intimations of superior intelligence.

The word is never used by anyone who doesn't consider himself "hip." But what exactly is it that they are hip to? It's not entirely clear. Mostly it bespeaks a certain this-is-not-your-father's-Buick sensibility, a desire to be new and different. This, of course, is one of the oldest desires in the world.

This is the urge which drives most modern artists. (Feel free to judge their work for yourself.)

People who strive to be "hip" are usually trying just a little too hard to be fashionable, in both their dress and in their thinking. When you try that hard to wear clothes that are up to date, you will almost inevitably look silly a couple of years from now. Or maybe even now. (Take a look at any fashion runway if you doubt this.) And when you're trying that hard to be au courant in your thinking, doesn't that mean that you're not really thinking for yourself?

Of course, the main purpose in being "hip" is to feel superior to those who are not.

So -- after that preamble, are you ready to answer the question posed by the headline of this post?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Can overtraining stunt growth?

On the Swimming World website, a watered down version of the post on stunted growth from last November:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What a couple years of partying can do

(Above, Mischa Barton a couple years ago. On right, a picture taken earlier this year, at age 23. )

I am not sure which substances Barton has abused, nor in how much quantity, but she has always been an actress with one of those reputations. Whatever she has done has certainly taken its toll: she once looked like an angel, but now, though the beauty is still evident, she looks more like a vampire.

Barton's "before" picture brings to mind Tolstoy's dictum about how complete the illusion that beauty is goodness. (Note the soulful eyes.) In fact beauty can also convey a (mis)impression of brains: Barton even looks luminously wise. (How could those even features and that gentle but steady gaze hide an IQ of less than 150?) She looks as if she is considering you as a friend, someone she might do a favor for. (Yet another illusion imparted by beauty.)

In the "after" shot, her eyes look dull and lifeless, as if her very soul has been sucked right out of her. Her primary concern appears to be which part of your neck to sink her fangs into.

It's tragic whenever anyone self-destructs. It only seems worse when a great beauty does it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Let's hope he's at least a little embarrassed

Barack Obama has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, just eight months into his Presidency.

Once he leaves office, Obama will undoubtedly write a book. They should just give him this year's Nobel Prize for Literature for that as well.

It will be interesting to see what effect this award has on his imminent decision on Afghanistan.

Will he accede to General McChrystal's advice and send 40,000 more troops, thereby making a mockery of his Peace Prize? (It's doubtful he'll want to tarnish his award.)

Will he go with VP Biden's wishes and keep a reduced force in Afghanistan, sharply focused on finding and stamping out Al Qaeda?

Or will he do the politically expedient thing and just let the war meander on as is? Maybe he figures if he just pretends to get more serious about al Qaeda, the electorate won't really notice that we're accomplishing nothing while wasting American money and lives. This way he won't really be claiming ownership of "Bush's war," but at the same time he won't be tagged with its loss, either, and thus it won't prevent him from being reelected in 2012.

My guess is that he'll do the latter. And that he won't be embarrassed about it, any more than he is embarrassed by his Nobel Peace Prize. BTW, expect a speech later today about how he "hopes to live up to" the ideals of this Prize.

(Is it possible that the committee which selected him was trying to subtly manipulate him into winding down the Afghanistan conflict? If so, then I applaud them.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Papa

Every great band usually has one creative genius behind it. In the case of The Mamas & The Papas, that genius was John Phillips, the tall, soulful-looking man (at top, above) who wrote all of their songs.

If you get a chance, listen sometime to some of their greatest songs: California Dreamin', Boys and Girls Together, Dedicated to the One I Love, Dream a Little Dream of Me, I Saw Her Again, Go Where You Wanna Go, Got a Feelin', and Monday Monday.

These are gentle, beautiful, spiritual songs, the work of a supreme romantic.

This is partly why MacKenzie Phillips' revelations last week were such a shock. Could the same guy who wrote those sweet, lilting tunes actually have had sex with his own daughter?

Other members of the family (including former stepmother Michelle, above center) have suggested that MacKenzie, who has a long history as a drug abuser, may be lying in order to sell her book.

We'll probably never know for sure.

If MacKenzie is telling the truth, it's certainly proof that wonderful music is not necessarily created by wonderful people.

But we already knew that. Mozart was a musical prodigy, but by all accounts supremely superficial. Richard Rodgers, creator of some of the most romantic music of the twentieth century, was supposedly cold and businesslike. John Lennon was, despite his peace-and-love reputation, abusive.

But at least none of them ever had sex with his own daughter.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


The longer in life it takes people to arrive at their political leanings, the better their sense of judgment seems to be. How can anybody less than 25 possibly have seen enough to have an informed judgment about which side is right? More to the point, how can any young person think he has seen enough? The smartest conclusion a young person can come to about politics is that he doesn't have enough experience to really know what's what.

It's always been my impression that teenagers convinced of their own righteousness grow up to be adults who only see one side of a (political or any other kind of) argument.

Some kids never have a chance. Those with far left parents, so called red diaper babies, grow up seeing only one viewpoint and convinced of their own righteousness from the start. Babies born into conservative (and especially, religious) families are similarly exposed to only one viewpoint. The extent to which people from either group are able to later recognize the parochial nature of their own upbringings will demonstrate how open-minded they are.

(It is ironic that those most smug about being "open-minded" are in fact usually the opposite.)

Real open-mindedness is demonstrated by admitting that one's own side is wrong occasionally. By seriously considering opinions from other side. And by exposing oneself to other viewpoints. (Liberals tend to watch NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, and read Paul Krugman; conservatives tend to watch Fox News and read George Will.)

The ultimate test of good judgment is whether someone is willing to change his mind based on new evidence. If such a person feels that facts which contradict his beliefs must be explained away with lame, convoluted reasoning, then he is closed-minded.

Another trait inversely correlated with closed-mindedness is how quickly someone will turn an argument personal. Sometimes, when people don't have logic on their side, they will call the other side a name (like "Nazis"). If you have good arguments, you needn't resort to name-calling.

A young person should make an effort to read both conservative and liberal opinions, and try to see the merits and drawbacks of each. He should get a sense of how the media spins things, and what they report and don't report. He should also get a sense of which types of people (i.e., smart of dumb) are on each side. Which side has more liars and corrupt politicians. Which side believes in shouting down opposing speakers on campuses and elsewhere.

A young person should also look abroad, and see which countries believe in a free press and free elections. And which countries rely on the military to keep their citizens in line.

Any 20 year old who feels he understand politics is severely deluded. The smartest thing he can do is have a strong sense of how little he knows.

I guess that last sentence pretty much applies to any 55 year old as well.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ce n'est pas un crime

This morning's NY Times had an article about the reaction to the Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland on a three decades old rape (and unlawful flight) charge.

At first, they quoted various Hollywood luminaries, all of whom of course supported Polanski. There was Whoopi Goldberg, who said that it wasn't as if Polanski committed "rape rape." Harvey Weinstein referred to the charge as a "so-called crime." Then Weinstein was quoted as saying, "Hollywood has the best moral compass." (Yes. He actually said that.)

Then they quoted various French cultural figures, all of whom of course supported Polanski as well. (Polanski has made his home in France for the past three decades.)

The Times at least had the decency to quote a poll showing that only 25% of Americans think Polanski should not be prosecuted, though they didn't quote that till later in the article, on an inside page (as always, more conservative positions are banished to Siberia).

But back to the French. The article talked a bit about other criminals the French had embraced. One in particular stood out:

"Louis Althusser, the French Marxist philosopher, strangled his wife in 1980. But French intellectuals supported him, too. Mr. Althusser had a history of mental instability. He said he had been massaging her neck, only to discover that he had killed her. He avoided prison, instead going to a psychiatric hospital where he remained until 1983, after which he retired to write an autobiography in the north of Paris."

Massaging her neck?

If his first trial had been held in France, OJ could have said he was performing an emergency tracheotomy on Nicole. Justin Volpe could have said he was just checking Abner Louima's prostate for him. Phil Spector could have said he had just been cleaning Lana Clarkson's teeth with that handgun. Each might have gotten off with a couple years in an asylum. And if they believed in Marxist philosophy, the French intellectuals would have lionized them.

French intellectuals have always seemed to live, as my kids might have said when younger, in Opposite Land. The further away from the Land of Common Sense they travel, the prouder they seem to get. And the more the other French admire them.

Why you should never smoke marijuana

Parents, please show the following AP news item (from Yahoo this morning) to your children:

Nude man accused of pounding on cars on a highway

GREELEY, Colo. - a man who told officers he was a medical marijuana provider has been arrested for allegedly standing naked on a Colorado highway, pounding on passing cars and spitting at a state trooper. Dustin Robbins, 27, of Westminster, faces 13 counts including indecent exposure, assault and driving under the influence.

Robbins was arrested Sept. 25 on U.S. 34 east of Greeley. Witnesses told investigators he was cursing at cars and hitting some.

Two women in their 70s and 80s told deputies a naked man jumped on the hood of their car, broke windows, walked across the roof and jumped off the back. Damage was estimated at $1200.

Authorities said Robbins spat on the state trooper who arrested him.

Robbins is jailed under $50,000 bail. No phone listing could be found for him and it wasn't known if he had a lawyer.

Just tell your kids that this is what happens when.

Why you should become a film director

(Left, Roman Polanski with first wife Sharon Tate; above right, Polanski with second wife Emanuelle Seigner)

These photographs are all the evidence you'll ever need as to why you should want to be a film director. Even if you resemble an undersized rat -- and Polanski wouldn't even make a particularly prepossessing member of that species -- you can get women who look like goddesses.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Should Obama have gone to Copenhagen?

There's been a lot of talk this week about how Obama was somehow demeaning the Presidency by going to Copenhagen to lobby the IOC to get the Olympics for Chicago in 2016.

The Democrats are saying it was a noble effort, even if in a losing cause, and conservative commentators are saying that for Obama to go on a sales pitch like this when there are so many more pressing problems facing the country showed a lack of judgment.

But if Obama hadn't gone, he might have been criticized for that as well. All three other countries under consideration sent their heads of state to Copenhagen. If Obama had helped Chicago win, it would have created jobs. Yes, a lot of the money would have found its way into the pockets of corrupt Chicago political operatives, but thousands of new construction jobs are something this country needs.

As it was, the IOC members seem to have been unmoved, if not turned off, by Obama's participation. But no one, least of all Obama, could have predicted this, and the point is, he did try.

My take, as someone with little faith in Obama overall, is to give him a pass on this one. We do have more pressing problems, but it's not as if he would have solved them by staying at home an extra day or two. And it does smell a little as if he's using his office to pay off old debts, but it would have been good for the country, so it's justifiable.

Anyway, there are plenty of other, better reasons to criticize him -- like his foreign policy.

Or his domestic ones.

"I don't mean to...."

Today is the day that the host city for the 2016 Olympics will be decided, between Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, and Madrid. Evidently the prospect of a home Games is so exciting that Fox Network will enter the bidding for the Games -- but only if Chicago wins.

This morning Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox, was quoted in the paper: "I don't want to call anybody a liar, but no one's ever made any money out of it."

(NBC has claimed in the past to have turned a profit on the Games.)

Why do people, even those as sophisticated and worldly as Rupert Murdoch, so often start a sentence by disowning their very clear intentions? Obviously, he wanted to call NBC a liar, otherwise he wouldn't have said what he did.

How often do people say, "I don't mean to interrupt, but..." and then do exactly that?

How often have you heard someone say, "I don't mean to be rude, but...." and then be rude?

How often do people "disguise" their boast by prefacing their statement with, "I don't mean to toot my own horn, but...."

How do you react when you hear, "I don't mean to impose, but...."? Do you wince?

It's not as if these speakers are fooling anybody. Who actually concludes that you didn't mean to interrupt as you rudely butted in?

But it must fool someone, otherwise people wouldn't use this formulation all the time.

Maybe you should try it sometime.

You could visit a bank and say, "I don't mean to stick you up, but hand over all your money right now," before you stick a gun in the teller's face. At the trial, your defense could be, but I said I didn't mean to hold her up.

It would be as credible as Rupert et al.

I don't mean to be insulting, but people who speak this way are silly morons.