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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sex rehab

It was reported yesterday that Sandra Bullock's husband Jesse James, the latest celebrity caught in multiple affairs, has gone to a rehabilitation center which treats sex addiction.

He joins a recent list of such rehab attendees as Tiger Woods and former ESPN analyst Steve Phillips.

It seems that whenever a married man gets caught in flagrante these days, a trip to rehab is the penance du jour. I suppose there are worse ways to demonstrate contrition.

But why did no one ever suggest this to some of the more notorious womanizers of the past? Such as Pablo Picasso? Or Jack Nicholson? Or Silvio Berlusconi? Or John F. Kennedy? Or Bill Clinton?

Mick Jagger, despite his age, is still quite the tomcat; perhaps he could benefit from such treatment as well. It's not too late!

Evidently 8% of all the men in a large region of Asia (and 0.5% of all the men in the world) are direct descendants of Genghis Khan. Genghis evidently enjoyed conquest in all its forms. This quote gives a sense of his personality: "Man's highest joy is in victory: to conquer one's enemies, to pursue them, to deprive them of their possessions, to make their beloved weep, to ride on their horses, and to embrace their wives and daughters."

How would Genghis have reacted if one of his Mongol Horde had helpfully suggested that he be cured of his desire to have many women? Somehow I can't imagine him stroking his beard and saying, "Hmm, what a wise idea."

(Of course, they didn't believe in community property back in those days, either.)

If Tiger and Jesse were serious about getting rehabbed, they'd agree to chemical castration, just like all those paroled child molesters. Otherwise it's just a ridiculous dog and pony show.

(This is not a suggestion, by the way, that they do that.)


My son was talking the other day about how exciting it would be like to be in a place like the Korengal Valley (in Afghanistan) when I pointed out, "You could get killed by a sniper. Or blown up by an IED. Or maybe you'll just have your legs blown off."

Now that Johnny has actually enlisted, there's really no point to my warning him of these dangers anymore. For a long time I did so in a vain attempt to discourage him from enlisting, though by this past year it was evident my words were bouncing off deaf ears. Now that he's actually about to be a soldier I should probably just be supportive. The fact that I still warn him is a matter of habit, I suppose.

Johnny just sort of gave a half laugh and said, "Here I was having a good time and....Dad, there's no one who can kill a good vibe quite like you."

I can't really argue.

The Animals

The other day my son and I were listening to The Best of the Animals, the great group which had its heyday in the 60's. To this day the group's driving beat and somewhat bluesy tunes can make me feel euphoric.

Eric Burdon, the baby-faced one in the center of the picture, had a great voice, sort of a funky basso. If I saw some young men who looked like the young men above on the street today, I'd just think, hmm, more kids who know nothing. But the band sounded as if it had decades of hard living behind it -- while maintaining the energy of their youth.

Back in the 60's The Animals were most famous for "House of the Rising Sun," "Don't let Me Be Misunderstood," and "We Gotta Get Out of this Place."

But they had any number of other great songs as well. My favorites include "Cheating," "See See Rider," "San Franciscan Nights," "Sky Pilot," and their cover of "River Deep Mountain High."

I was in the midst of enjoying "See See Rider," and feeling euphorically exuberant, when my son pointed out, "Hey Dad, listen, this song is about you -- 'Sissy Writer'."

Monday, March 29, 2010

The good father

Friday night my son Johnny went to a party where a lot of the kids ended up getting stoned. Johnny doesn't enjoy marijuana, and was slightly annoyed by the whole scene, so he went to the basement and got his friend's nonlethal but realistic-looking Air Soft gun, pointed it at the stomach of one of the stoned kids, and told him, straight-faced, that he was going to kill him.

As Johnny related the story, "Everyone else thought it was funny, but this kid totally freaked out, so I stopped after just a few seconds, and told him that I was just joking, and that it was just a BB gun that wasn't even loaded."

Johnny added, "The kid I threatened is actually a pretty cool kid. He normally has a lot of witty things to say....not then though."

A good father would have told his son never to do that again, that accidents happen even with BB guns, and that people won't like him if he threatens them that way, even as a joke.

But upon imagining the scene, and recalling what marijuana-induced paranoia felt like, all I could do was cackle with glee.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Popular opinion

This morning's NY Post had the following five sentence article:

Punk Mugs B'klyn Granny

A Brooklyn grandmother unloading groceries was viciously mugged by a young thug as her 4-year-old granddaughter watched in horror, cops said last night.

The 68-year-old victim was approached from behind, on Slocum Place, in Kensington, at 9:45 PM Wednesday and pistol whipped several times in the head by the punk.

The suspect, described as being between 15 and 20-years old, grabbed the victim's cellphone, pocketbook and cash, and fled on a black BMX bike.

The woman was taken to Kings County Hospital in stable condition. The child was unharmed.

Nothing particularly interesting about the article. What was interesting were the comments which followed it.

The first commenter, "Dead Rabbits," said, "Gee that's a vague description of the suspect huh? Think the perp had something in common with the bike?"

The second commenter, "Long Islander," said, "Free healthcare for these fine young people!"

And the third commenter, "Sunnyside-Up," said, "...and they KEEP ON MULTIPLYING -- ON OUR TAX DOLLARS."

These aren't sentiments you hear expressed by the NY Times, or even by the Post. They are far too raw and honest. But they are closer to what a lot of people are feeling these days. Yes, the people who comment in such forums tend to be more outspoken than most, and more extreme. But they are nonetheless more indicative of what "real people" think than the overly careful-not-to-be-offensive articles written by professional journalists (and editors) who need to hang on to their jobs.

Newspaper articles and editorials (though in the Times it's hard to tell the two apart) often have a slightly Sunday School-ish tone. The readers' comments, on the other hand, can occasionally sound like something one of your more witty friends might say to you after he's had a couple drinks and he thinks no one else is listening.

Now that we have interactive online versions of the major newspapers, it's a lot easier to gauge the popular temperature.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Harry Reid's stance toward the American people

(Senator Harry Reid)

Last fall Senator Charles Grassley (Republican of Iowa) proposed an amendment saying that all non-civil service government employees -- including those in the Executive branch and Congress -- be covered by the new health care bill.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wouldn't allow Grassley's amendment to be debated or voted upon on the Senate floor.

Reid wanted no part of the new health care plan for himself.

There's an old expression: "Never trust a chef who won't eat his own cooking."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Insurance to look forward to

Now that health insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, I look forward to the day when casualty and life insurance companies are forced to underwrite similar policies.

Once my house burns down, I'm going to buy a boatload of fire insurance on it. Those evil insurance companies ought not to be allowed to discriminate against me just because of the pre-existing condition of my house. I'm only asking for economic justice.

When a loved one dies, I'm going to buy millions in life insurance on him or her. The insurance companies shouldn't be able to take advantage of a death in my family to deny coverage. That would be downright ghoulish of them.

And now that I think of it, I might as well buy some life insurance on J.D. Salinger, too. After all, I really enjoyed his book.

By the way, I've been paying for health insurance for years on the off chance that a member of my family might contract some catastrophic illness. And I've never really gotten my money's worth out of it (thank goodness). But now that I can just wait till one of us gets sick before I buy the insurance, why waste the money in the meantime? I'd rather just pay the fine, which is cheaper.

It's a brave new world out there, thanks to our brave new leader.

How would liberals have fared in the caveman days?

Given the somewhat unrealistic world view of liberals, one can't help but wonder how they would have fared back in the Stone Age:

"Oh, what a cute little brown bear. It looks lost, let's take it back to its mother. She'll be grateful, I'm sure."

"Oh look, it's an alien tribe brandishing spears and clubs. Those poor things probably think they have to defend themselves from us. Let's lay down our arms so they realize that we're good people and they're in no danger."

"I know we're starving. But it would be wrong to kill a deer."

[If someone else bags the deer]: "Don't cook it, the fire will pollute the environment. Just eat it raw."

"We should have women do exactly half the hunting, and men do exactly half the gathering. Otherwise it wouldn't be a fair division of labor. Anything a man can do, a woman can do better."

"Oh, there's that fierce tribe that doesn't look like us. Some of my best friends come from that tribe. Let's take great care not to do anything to hurt their feelings, like trying to discourage our women from mating with them. Having them think that we are somehow hostile to them would surely be a fate worse than death."

"Why should I kill him just because he killed one of my children? It's not his fault, he just grew up in a harsh, dehumanizing environment. The right thing to do would be to forgive him, give him a second chance, show him we trust him around our other children."

There used to be a species of bird which evolved on an island without humans and therefore had no fear of them. When sailors came up to them, they didn't try to get away. They were called dodo birds.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Casino Royale (1967 version)

Before the recent Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig was released in 2006, another movie by that name was released four decades earlier. It was a spoof of the Bond series directed by John Huston.

The film is based on the premise that the real James Bond (David Niven) had to come out of retirement to counteract all of the damage done by his successor, a sex maniac man who had damaged to the British Secret service's reputation all over the globe. Niven's enemies, of course, try to destroy his self-image and reputation by tempting him with numerous beautiful women. There is a subplot involving newphew Jimmy Bond, played by a young Woody Allen.

The plot is not much more than an excuse for a lot of cool atmospherics, and it's a great big mess of a movie. Peter Sellers reportedly walked off the set halfway through shooting, and they had to make do without him for the second half of the movie. But the holes in the plot matter less than you'd think, since the movie makes no pretense of being anything other than what it is, which is just an excuse for a lot of silly fun. It has a great score. And it is, in my opinion, the sexiest movie ever made, with more beautiful women per reel than any other movie ever made.

Casino Royale features a young Jaqueline Bisset, an older Deborah Kerr, Ursula Andress and Barbara Bouchet at their primes, Joanne Pettet, Daliah Lavi, and a host of other beauties who aren't even credited. (By my count, there are roughly forty spectacular beauties in the film.)

You can watch it on youtube:

Living beyond one's means

Some people like to live beyond their means. They buy houses they can't afford. They splurge on fancy vacations and fancy cars and eat out at expensive restaurants. If they see something they want, they just buy it, even if it means going into debt. They don't save for the future, and give nary a thought to what will happen tomorrow, let alone in their old age.

Such people often end up bankrupt, losing almost everything they have.

People like this are a good metaphor for America, since this is what the United States is doing right now. Such drunken sailor-type behavior is harder to see with a country than with an individual person, since a country, with its unlimited borrowing power, can delay its day of reckoning for a long time.

The health care bill, to be voted on this afternoon, looks to be more of the same. As of this writing, it looks as if it's going to pass, against the wishes of the elelctorate.

There have been some recent articles pooh-poohing the polls which show that the public is against the bill. Yes, polls can be misleading, their results often skewed by how the questions were phrased.

But in this case, there has already been a foolproof poll taken. The people of Massachusetts, which already has a version of Obamacare in place, voted for Scott Brown over Martha Coakley. Brown's most prominent position was that he was against the health care bill. That poll, taken in the bluest of blue states, accurately gauged the temperature of the American people.

Unfortunately, it probably won't stop Congress from acting as if they're on shore leave this afternoon.

Financial amendments bill

Last night my parents told me that they had been reading this blog, but that they wished I would write about more substantive issues, since they had "no interest in reading about which movie stars had affairs."

Most people I know of my approximate vintage (1954) have either buried their parents or are taking care of very elderly, frail parents.

Me? I'm still rebelling against mine.

So expect more gossip, or at least gossip-induced observations on human nature (my parents seem to have missed the point of the previous post).

But I am a dutiful as well as rebellious son (the two characteristics can coexist). So here is a more "substantive" (read: boring) post.

Yesterdays' NY Times had an article on page B6 stating that the Senate Banking Committee had received 359 amendments to the financial reform bill by the Friday deadline.

Three hundred and fifty-nine?

That, in a nutshell, is what's wrong with Washington. Every politician beholden to campaign contributors (from Barack Obama on down) needs to kowtow to them. Thus the interests of moneyed minorities take precedence to the interest of the country overall every time legislation comes up.

What we need in the way of financial regulation is actually simple. We need the mortgage bonds which started the financial meltdown to be made more transparent. Mortgages known as collateralized debt obligations had been sliced and diced so many ways that by the time the meltdown started in '08 not even the originators of the mortgages could evaluate them.

We need the banks to have stricter capital ratios. As recently as ten years ago they had capital ratios of twelve to one, meaning they controlled twelve dollars in assets for every one dollar they actually owned. By 2008, this ration had risen to forty to one.

Finally, we need credit default swaps to be regulated and traded over the counter, with minimum collateral standards established. This would prevent another AIG, which essentially sold insurance it couldn't pay for.

You can be sure none of these changes will be made, at least not without being watered down by politicians beholden to lobbyists.

(Okay Mom? Dad?)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tattooed "lady"

(top, Michelle "Bombshell" McGee; right, Sandra Bullock with husband Jesse James after winning her Best Actress Oscar on March 7th)

The NY Post had an article this morning about how Jesse James, the "celebrity mechanic" to whom actress Sandra Bullock is married, had an eleven month affair with Michelle McGee.

The details of the tryst are fairly pedestrian and uninteresting, other than that McGee eventually ratted on him. What grabbed my attention was her picture. How could anybody make love to that?

Jesse James must be one studly guy. If I found myself alone with that woman, I'd most likely run from the room screaming. Even without the tattoos, she'd be scary-looking. With them, she looks like a vampire in a horror movie.

And nothing, not even Hannibal Lecter's hockey mask, says "maladjusted and dangerous" as loudly as a facial tattoo.

Sandra Bullock, looks-wise, is a pretty poor excuse for a movie star. (It's hard to decide whether she looks more like a mouse or a rat). And as a movie star, she's probably pretty difficult to live with.

But better her than a harpy from hell.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mickey Rourke

When Mickey Rourke started his acting career, he generally played bad boys on the screen. He was good in roles which called for a certain slimy, insinuating presence.

As Rourke got older, and crazier, he decided he wanted to resurrect the career he had as a high school boxer. From 1991 to 1994, he had eight professional fights. Despite a record of six wins and two draws with no losses, his face underwent significant damage.

When Rourke went to a plastic surgeon, he probably didn't hold up a picture of The Cat in the Hat and say, "Make me look like that." But that's pretty much what the surgeon did.

If you decide to get plastic surgery, make sure you go to the right guy. If you go to the wrong guy -- as Rourke later admitted he did -- you might end up looking like a Dr. Seuss character.

(Boy is it ever fun to be bitchy.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Joel Osteen

(Top left, Joel Osteen; above, John Thain; left, Tony Robbins. All three men are exhibiting
the I've-got-nothing-to-hide stance.)

The previous post about salesmen reminded me of someone I occasionally see late at night when channel surfing: televangelist Joel Osteen.

Whenever I do stumble across Osteen, I'll often find myself watching him for several minutes: there's something absolutely fascinating about this cherubic, wholesome man who seems to exude constant warmth. (Generally the only people able to call up such constant, effusive sincerity are the totally insincere.) Osteen preaches from an Astrodome-like megachurch, and his version of Christianity is basically, God wants you to be wealthy. In Osteen's world, wealth and power are simply just rewards for being a good Christian.

In only a slight paraphrase: God wants you to be greedy. God-as-Gordon-Gekko is certainly an interesting take on Christianity.

God must certainly have wanted Mr. Osteen to be wealthy. He reportedly takes in $43 million a year from tithes, and another $36 million from mailed in contributions.

He gets this kind of money by reciting homilies like: "If you foster an image of defeat and failure, then you're going to live that kind of life."

"We have to conceive it on the inside before we're ever going to receive it on the outside."

"Too many people go around worried and upset. They're always trying to figure everything out."

"Relationships are more important than our accomplishments."

"There is no greater investment in life than in being a people builder."

Sometimes Osteen throws a little God in, too: "When we truly trust in God and believe that He's in control, we can rest. There's a peace in our minds and our hearts."

(Mr. Osteen does not talk about how it's easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to ascend to the kingdom of heaven.)

He's basically a meld of Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie, Tony Robbins, and the US Army ("Be all you can be"). You can't really argue with most of his bromides; but none are earth-shatteringly original.

Osteen looks like a cross between comedian Martin Short and John Thain, the former head of Merrill Lynch. His behavior is closer to that of Thain -- though he is definitely someone whom Short might spoof. (I met Thain once, and he struck me as a weirdly pompous boy scout.) Osteen is particularly reminiscent of Thain in the fall of '08, when Thain was reassuring the world that Merrill was in fine shape, right before he sold it to Bank of America to forestall bankruptcy.

Perhaps this is an unfair comparison; Osteen has yet to be caught in any sort of scandal. Yet the aroma of snake oil follows both men.

Osteen is also reminiscent of Tony Robbins, another "life coach" who preached to everyone that they could be as successful as they wanted to be. Back in the 80's, for a fairly stiff price, you could attend one of Robbins' seminars and listen to him tell you that you could be whatever you wanted to be, that all you had to do was just reach out and grab that success. Then he would have you do things like walk across live coals to prove to you what previously unsuspected abilities you had. The main difference between the two men is that Osteen covers his life coaching with a patina of religion.

A thin patina it is. Osteen calls himself a "nondenominational Christian," which prevents any meddling from (or revenue sharing with) head office types. But more serious Christians are up in arms over Osteen's ministry, which they feel is blasphemous. Osteen rarely refers to Jesus Christ, has no crosses in his church, never talks about sin, and rarely quotes the Bible.

Osteen never went to a seminary, and his only religious training prior to becoming a preacher was to help out behind the scenes until his father (the previous pastor) died. His status as pastor was never conferred by any official group; he pretty much just anointed himself. So in a sense, he is a pastor the same way Julius "Doctor J" Erving, formerly of the Philadelphia 76ers, is a physician. Osteen's sermons are also notoriously light on Scripture. For the most part, he just says that God wants you to do the same types of things that Tony Robbins would have you do.

This brings up interesting question: is Tony Robbins godlike? His voice was certainly deep enough. And Robbins' acromegaly lent a certain larger than life aura to him. (I'm guessing he had surgery to counter whatever pituitary disorder was causing it once he hit 6'6.") Interestingly, two of Robbins' three books are called "Awaken the Giant Within" and "Giant Steps."

Few would mistake Joel Osteen for a god, he's far too boyish-looking. But he is a financial giant. Telling people that God wants you to be rich is a brilliant marketing idea. Asking them to tithe to you and gussying up your trite little homilies with occasional references to God takes a certain shamelessness, but Osteen evidently is not burdened by an overly strong sense of shame.

The spirit of Elmer Gantry lives.

Addendum, same day: my son just read this and said, "What a bullshitter. I'm going to start a ministry and tell all the pretty girls, 'God wants you to have sex with me'."

Sunday, March 14, 2010


There seem to be two main types of salesmen. The first are guys who had no particular direction early in life, but who always got on well with others, mostly because they like others. They are told that they'd be good in sales, so, armed with nothing but a bachelor's degree in some nonutilitarian major, they drift into sales. This type often ends up selling paper, or lawn mowers, or insurance, or sports gear, or pharmaceuticals.

The second type of salesman is the type who prides himself on being able to manipulate and control others. He is the type who, as the old cliche goes, could sell snow to an Eskimo. And he would, too, with absolutely no qualms. Salesmen like this often end up selling big ticket items, like Mercedes or Manhattan real estate or corporate bonds or high end art.

To people like this, a customer is nothing more than a mark. Yet these are often the same people who pride themselves on their ability to build "relationships." (Their personal relationships inevitably suffer in the long run, but that's beside the point.) Such salesmen have nothing but contempt for lesser salesmen who lack their killer instinct, who don't know how to "close a deal." (For reference, see "Glengarry Glen Ross;" or visit any Wall Street bond syndication desk.)

Salesmen like this are inevitably perfectly groomed and dressed, smooth and never at a loss for words. But they always have a vaguely predatory air, and they always make you vaguely uncomfortable. One of the most discomfiting things about them is that they often have the ability to make you feel, for absolutely no good reason, slightly guilty for not buying their product.

At the same time, they're often fascinating to watch, the same way a viper is. There's something mesmerizing about their seamless act, their way of interacting with others. In some ways they're subhuman, but in others, superhuman.

Without getting too philosophical -- yes, we're all salesmen and our ultimate product is ourselves -- you have to watch out for the manipulators. If they make you uncomfortable, there's probably good reason.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A regular Horatio Alger story

The New York Post ran a story today about how Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr.'s pay doubled this year, to $6 million. It sure is good to know that even in this weak economy, there are pockets of success like the newspaper industry.

And it's good to see a guy like Pinch reap the rewards of his hard work. His is an inspirational tale: after bootstrapping himself into the chairmanship of the Times Corporation, he's guided the august "Grey Lady" to record circulation and profits. In fact the Times empire is so vibrant these days that its wholly owned sister publication, the Boston Globe, was absolutely besieged with bids from eager suitors last year.

The rank and file at the Times, who have recently suffered from massive layoffs, a pension plan freeze, unpaid vacations, and a 5% across the board pay cut, must be happy for Pinch.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Sorry, but I can't not talk about this.

My son Johnny enlisted in the Army yesterday, signing a three year contract for the infantry. (Last year the Army met 150% of its recruiting target, so evidently two year contracts are no longer available.) We'd been expecting this, but it is still a shock.

He got 93 on his ASVAB test (you need 31 to pass). The score would have allowed him his choice of jobs, but he wanted the infantry. He passed his physical, though nerves had sent his blood pressure so high on the first reading that he had to calm down before it was taken again.

Johnny immediately felt simpatico with his fellow enlistees in a way he never did with the kids on his swim team. He chatted with an eighteen year old who was already married. Some of the men, in their early twenties, already had kids. Some had tattoos. There was a 6' 4" black guy who was jokingly coming on to some of the women there, telling them things like "Man, I'd like to get all up in that." Johnny, who hasn't known people like this before, found this behavior highly entertaining.

Johnny was given a ride back home by a sergeant, also 6'4" and black, who gave Johnny and another recruit a long lecture about not blowing their money on strippers. Evidently a lot of the soldiers who've just finished basic training haven't even seen a woman for a couple months. They also have a couple thousand dollars in their pockets, more money than they've ever had before. So they will then visit the strip clubs which abound near large bases, where the strippers are all too happy to relieve them of their money. Johnny was completely flattered that this recruiter would mistake him, a sheltered upper middle class high school boy, for the kind of guy who spent his spare time hanging out at strip clubs.

I've never seen Johnny as happy as he was last night. I couldn't be prouder of him. I just wish he wasn't putting himself in harm's way. I couldn't help but think, some day will we look back on this evening with great sadness?

Millions of parents have seen their children join the armed forces. Do they all worry as much as I do? They must. I think about how he could be killed. I think about how he could be grievously injured. I think about what his life will be like if he's blinded, or crippled. I think about these things frequently. I've actually been mourning him for the last year, as silly as that sounds.

Johnny hopes to become a paratrooper once he's at Ft. Benning. In two or three years, he wants to try out for the Special Forces. Being a badass holds great appeal to him. (I understand the appeal as well, though I never had the courage to actually be one.)

My son is a better man than me. I just hope he lives to be as old.

Addendum, next day: Johnny took a look at this post and said, disgustedly, "Dad, can't you even fart without putting it on your blog?"

(Evidently not.)

One thing I've never really liked about Johnny is that he has a mind of his own.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cowboys vs. Indians, Round Two

Whenever I think of the way the white man treated the Indians long ago, my sympathies go unequivocally to the Indians. This was their land. They came here roughly 13,000 years ago, long before the white man. Then the Europeans arrived, going across the country and killing "hostiles" (naturally resentful Native Americans). The US government broke many of their original treaties with the Indians. Then they herded them onto reservations with the most barren land.

Yes, I've been exposed to every bit of the Native-American-as-noble-savage propaganda spewed out by Hollywood in the past three decades. But I think a lot of it is actually true.

Then I read this on Yahoo News this morning:

"WASHINGTON – Minorities make up nearly half the children born in the U.S., part of a historic trend in which minorities are expected to become the U.S. majority over the next 40 years.

In fact, demographers say this year could be the "tipping point" when the number of babies born to minorities outnumbers that of babies born to whites.

The numbers are growing because immigration to the U.S. has boosted the number of Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years. Minorities made up 48 percent of U.S. children born in 2008, the latest census estimates available, compared to 37 percent in 1990."

"Hispanics," of course, are not people from Spain but rather Amerindians from Mexico and other Central and South American countries. So this is, in a sense, poetic justice. The Indians lost the original battles, but seem to be in the process of winning the long term demographic war.

Now that they are, I find my sympathies going to the whites. Despite the fact that they essentially took the land from the Indians, it was whites who turned North America/the United States into the superpower it is today, something the Indians were not exactly on track to do. And whites are losing the demographic war (and make no mistake, it is a war) largely because white people in general are more responsible about waiting till they are financially solvent and can afford children before having them. Hispanic mothers, on the other hand, tend to exhibit no such patience.

Now that we no longer live in the Wild West but in a technological age, a lower average national IQ, courtesy of the increased minority population, will place us at a competitive disadvantage to, ironically enough, the Asians from whom the Amerindians are originally descended. (The smart Asians knew there was no way they'd have been able to walk across the Bering Strait 13,000 years ago.)

Looking forward, it's hard to be optimistic about this country. If the 20th century was The American Century, this is the Chinese one. Welcome to its start.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Is Donald Trump a cut-rate Howard Hughes?

It would seem almost sacrilegious to compare Donald Trump to Howard Hughes. Hughes was a romantic, swashbuckling, even mythic figure. He had originality, flair, and courage. By contrast Trump is just a pompous rich boy with a swollen ego. Nonetheless, parallels do exist.

Neither man was entirely self-made. Howard Hughes inherited the Hughes Tool company at age 19 when his father died of a heart attack (his mother had died two years earlier). Donald Trump joined The Trump Organization, his father's real estate company, when he got out of college.

Hughes, while a young man, moved to Hollywood to make movies. He made several films, one of which won an Academy Award. Trump has also been involved with show business, most notably with his TV show The Apprentice. He is also part owner of the Miss Universe Organization, which also produces Miss USA and Miss Teen USA.

Hughes famously dated a long list of famous beauties, including Billie Dove, Bettie Davis, Ava Gardner, Olivia de Havilland, Katherine Hepburn, and Gene Tierney. His second wife was actress Jean Peters. Donald Trump has been married three times, the last two times to an actress and then a model. As part owner of (and annual judge at) the Miss Universe pageant, one can't help but suspect that he may have exercised a certain droit de seigneur there.

One of Hughes' notable failures was the Spruce Goose aircraft, which he was unable to complete in time for its intended mission to ferry US troops across the Atlantic during World War II. The wooden airplane (made of birch, not spruce) flew exactly one time, piloted by Hughes himself, at a height of seventy feet. Trump's one venture into the airline business, the Trump Shuttle, lasted only a few years until he was forced to cede control in the early '90's.

Both men had connections to the gaming industry. Hughes bought the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, mostly to have a place to stay. He also bought The Landmark Hotel and Casino, the Sands, the Castaway, and the Silver Slipper. Trump at one point owned the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, though his casino company was later forced to declare bankruptcy.

As Hughes descended into mental illness, he became extremely germ phobic. Trump is reportedly a germaphobe as well, and avoids shaking hands with other people.

Hughes had an estate valued at 2.5 billion dollars when he died in 1976. Donald Trump has claimed to be a billionaire for the past couple decades (he is the only person on the Forbes 400 ever to have complained to the magazine that he was worth more than they claimed). Trump may actually have been a billionaire at some point.

Howard Hughes was a creative man, both as a film producer and as an airplane engineer. At age 11 he built Houston's first radio transmitter, in 1917, and at age twelve constructed Houston's first motorized bicycle. Later on he was responsible for many aircraft innovations. Trump is creative with his boasting.

Hughes at one point refused to leave a darkened screening room at a film studio for several months from late 1947 to early 1948. He spent much of his time sitting naked in a chair, watching reel after reel of film. During this interlude all he ate were chocolate bars and milk. He went to the bathroom in empty milk containers. Trump puts his waste between the covers of books and sells it.

(Okay, these last two were stretches.)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pity the poor comedians, Part III

In today's NY Times' excerpts from the best the late night TV hosts had to offer this week, they quote this witticism from Jay Leno:

"President Bush said today he often turned to prayer during his presidency. Hey, I think we all turned to prayer."

Way to go, Jay. Great joke. Keep putting the screws to Bush. At this rate, sooner or later you're going to succeed in driving him from office.

But always remember, Obama is off limits. If you make a joke about him, people might think you're racist. You can't take that risk.

And as we all know, a truly funny comedian never risks offending anyone.

Tammy Wynette

It's remarkable how often you scratch a famous person and find a sociopath. For those of us not reared on country music, Tammy Wynette was just another vaguely familiar name, famous mostly for her hit, "Stand by Your Man." But today's NY Times Book Review of Jimmy McDonough's "Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen," makes it very clear that she was a classic sociopath.

Some excerpts from Allison Glock's review (italics mine):

"Tammy Wynette [was] a fairly plain, small-minded gal whose searing ambition and begrudging temperament kept her from any lasting contentment."

That's pretty much all you really have to read. Unlimited ambition, vindictiveness, and a worm in the soul -- sociopathic traits all.

She was born in Mississippi in 1942 and her background was not as abject as she suggested. One friend recalls, "Wynette was rich as far as we were concerned," getting $50 for Christmas, never wanting for anything, unlike many neighbors. When she picked cotton, it was as a family chore, not an inevitable career. Her actual poverty came later, marrying a man she hated in order to get back at his brother, whom she loved. She did this at 17, dropping out of high school, a decision that would set the precedent for many equally unwise choices.

What kind of person marries only to get back at someone else? How revenge-oriented must she have been? And how little concern must she have had for the man she married? Sociopaths have no qualms about turning others' lives upside down.

In her autobiography, "Stand by Your Man," Wynette depicts her first husband, Euple Byrd, as a layabout who held her back. In reality, McDonough discovered, Byrd was a simple, upstanding boy who found himself tied to a wild colt. Wynette, dreams deferred, considered married life "dull, drab and exhausting." Though she would ultimately marry five men....Wynette was ill-suited for the compromises domestic relationships required.

How ironic that Wynette, so closely identified with her monster hit "Stand by Your Man," would herself always do the exact opposite. Sociopaths are never willing to make any real compromises with others. And having five spouses is almost always a sign of character deficiency.

[Wynette] was even less adept at child-rearing. When her nanny contacted her on tour, concerned about the kids, an annoyed Wynette snipped, "If you need me, call my lawyer." Her four girls were frequently neglected in her pursuit of fame, though she did mine her failings for material, writing "Dear Daughters," a spoken-word number reciting the milestones in her girls' lives that she'd missed, a song that never failed to bring the crowds to tears.

Sociopaths tend to lack strong maternal (or paternal) instincts. Yet only a sociopath would unashamedly exploit that failing to successfully manipulate an audience, all of whom undoubtedly had more parental feeling than she did.

Wynette's career striving inflamed other struggles -- with family, with drug addiction, but mostly with truth. McDonough's scrupulous research suggests Wynette lied compulsively. About her background. About her husbands. To her husbands. She fibbed about everything from how much makeup she wore to how many drugs she took. She would read a story in the tabloids and make it her own. She would hear a colleague's tale of woe and decide it better suited her life. The lies were so thick and many that they became the truth, her life a story of her own creation. Which is typical of certain celebrities, of course, but hell on a biographer.

There are two behaviors which inevitably spell sociopathy. One is to become a serial killer. The other is to be a pathological liar. Wynette was evidently the latter. It sounds as if she reinvented herself on a regular basis, another sociopathic specialty. Sociopaths are also much more likely to become addicts, as they have less self-control than most.

The biggest fabrication was perhaps Wynette's "kidnapping" -- most likely a flimsy publicity stunt -- in 1978, when she claimed she'd been assaulted and abducted, then set free. This was followed by the discovery of threatening notes many believe Wynette wrote herself.

Sociopaths like to see themselves as victims, and will go to any lengths to portray themselves as such in a bid for sympathy. They can simply never get enough love. Wynette's "kidnapping" is eerily similar to Munchhausen's Syndrome, whereby sociopaths fake illnesses in order to get attention and sympathy.

[Wynette] "could be a very vindictive person," going so far as to sabotage people's careers. She was also an unrepentant narcissist: "I say what I want to say. I go where I want to go. Nobody tells me no."

At least not without incurring her wrath.

This review made no mention of Wynette's family background. So, curious as to the roots of her sociopathy, I looked her up on Wikipedia. Sure enough, her father died when she was nine months old, at which point her mother dumped Tammy with her grandparents to go work in Memphis. A nonexistent bond with her father and a weak one with her mother -- aha.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Some people never grow up

It's surprising how seriously some of us old folks take our athletics. I know a wealthy stock trader who is currently competing at the World Masters Track and Field Championships in Kamloops, British Columbia. Yesterday afternoon, in an effort to win the bronze medal in his race, he leaned forward at the tape, causing him to stumble and take a bad fall, scraping his shoulder and bruising his abdomen.

This morning he emailed, "Sleeping was extra hard last night. I couldn't roll over or cough without causing pain. But all in all, since I only beat [my rival for third place] by three hundredths of a second, it was worth the injuries."

I know a best-selling author who is also a masters swimmer. He has written something like eighteen books, at least ten of which have been bestsellers. I was once in the study of his house on Shelter Island. I expected to see laminated copies of the New York Times bestseller lists he made, or some of his sportswriting awards. There were none of these. (There were about four copies each of his books in his bookshelves, but you had to look for them.)

Instead, on his wall, he had hung some of his medals from various masters meets. This is a guy who for at least two decades has been at the top of the sportswriting profession. But judging from the decor of his study, he's prouder of his swimming.

I can't claim the professional success of either of these two, but I'm no better when it comes to taking my superannuated athletics too seriously. My brother once said, "John sometimes organizes his day around his workout." My initial instinct was to deny it, but then I realized, I couldn't; it was true. I don't keep any medals in my study, but I have to admit that my one record in masters swimming is something I often manage to shoehorn into a conversation. (I actually hold two world records: one, for the men's 55-59 200 meter short course butterfly, and the other for getting the most mileage out of my record.)

I know of at least five guys in masters swimming who are widely rumored to take steroids (and who look as if they do). It's silly enough to juice for big time athletics, but at least there is something tangible at stake there: a pro contract, or prize money, or, at the very least, a college scholarship. In masters athletics, there's only the shadow of a glimmer of a memory of glory.

I was recently contacted for an article on my masters record which appeared on my college swimming team website. I said the following:

"We all know that masters swimming is just an afterthought. But for guys like me, it's fun because it's sort of like a fantasy baseball league: it gives you another shot against the guys who were a lot better than you in college. As far as the record goes, most swimmers have had the experience of looking back at the record books from the 1950's or 1960's and thinking to themselves, 'Hmm, I would have been pretty good if I'd been around back then.' Well, in a weird sort of way masters swimming is a little like that. Setting a record, at least in my age group, is a little like setting a swimming record back in 1924: you simply don't have to be that fast. But you still get to say you set a world record, and it's still a thrill."

Each of the two guys mentioned at the beginning of this post have been part of relays which have set masters world records, and I know them well enough to know they feel the same about that thrill.

Some of us almost seem to take pride in the fact that we never grow up.

And I'm not entirely sure that's such a horrible thing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Now long-defunct Spy Magazine used to have a feature, "Separated at Birth," about celebrities who bore a surprising resemblance. Usually the similarity was calculated to be insulting to one or the other party.

Every time I see a picture of Harold Ford Jr., my first thought is always, "Amanda Beard!" This similarity is not insulting to either person, though it may highlight the fact that Ford is more pretty than handsome.

I just can't figure out is which of the two is prettier.

Or which would make a better senator.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Harold Ford, who has criss-crossed the state for the past two months having all but announced his candidacy for U.S. senator from New York, today said he was not going to run:

"I've examined this race in every possible way," Ford wrote, "and I keep returning to the same fundamental conclusion: If I run, the likely result would be a brutal and highly negative Democratic primary — a primary where the winner emerges weakened and the Republican strengthened."

In other words, he's refraining for the good of the party.

Translation: "The tide has turned against the Democrats and even though I think I could beat Gillibrand in the primary, I might easily be defeated by the Republican in November, and after having lost in Tennessee two years ago I don't want to be known as a two time loser. I'm going to bide my time until I see a race I can win."

"The campaigning is over."

A friend, Guy Davis, said that after watching last week's health care summit, "Professor Obama managed to sweep me once and for all into the anti-Obama camp from my previously neutral stance. When he said 'We're not campaigning any more. The election is over,' in response to McCain's attacks on the [closed door nature of the original negotiations as well as the] earmarks in the health care bills, I took it as the most egregious rejection of any responsibility for his campaign promises that I have ever heard from a politician."

Most of us had interpreted Obama's comment as mere snippiness. But Guy is right: underlying Obama's comment is an assumption -- almost a tacit admission -- that what one says during a campaign has little to do with what one will do while governing.

Obama has certainly demonstrated that this past year.

Dorothy Parker poem

Dorothy Parker was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a famous collection of wits (including Robert Benchley, Harold Ross, Alexander Woolcott, Edna Ferber, and Heywood Broun) who gathered in New York City during the 1920's.

Parker supposedly replied, when asked to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence, "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think." I've always had my doubts about this anecdote: who would ever, in the course of any normal conversation, ask another person to use the word "horticulture" in a sentence? Perhaps she thought of the reply first, then asked someone to ask her the question.

The incident reminds me a little of that story about Abraham Lincoln, who, when asked how long a man's legs should be, supposedly replied, "Long enough to reach the ground." Who would ever ask such an inane question of a President?

Imagine that press conference. Reporters are gathered around Lincoln. One shouts out, "Mr. President, is it true that Lee is considering surrendering?" Another asks, "Mr. President, were the Union losses at Appomattox as bad as reported?" Then another cries out, "Mr. President, how long should a man's legs be?"

I don't think so.

In any case, the horticulture story may be apocryphal, but there is no doubting Dorothy Parker's genius. Read a book of her collected works and you'll be overwhelmed by her biting wit. Her theater and book reviews, especially the negative ones, are fun in a vicious sort of way, and her poems are often quite clever as well. Here's one:

Song of Perfect Propriety

Oh, I should like to ride the seas,
A roaring buccaneer,
A cutlass banging at my knees,
A dirk behind my ear.
And when my captives' chains would clank,
I'd howl with glee and drink,
And then fling out the quivering plank,
And watch the beggars sink.

I'd like to straddle gory decks,
And dig in laden sands,
And know the feel of throbbing necks,
Between my knotted hands.
Oh, I should like to strut and curse,
Among my blackguard crew...
But I am writing little verse,
As little ladies do.

Oh, I should like to dance and laugh,
And pose and preen and sway,
And rip the hearts of men in half,
And toss the bits away.
I'd like to view the reeling years,
Through unastonished eyes,
And dip my finger-tips in tears,
And give my smiles for sighs.

I'd stroll beyond the ancient bounds,
And tap at fastened gates,
And hear the prettiest of sound --
The clink of shattered fates.
My slaves I'd like to bind with thongs
That cut and burn and chill....
But I am writing little songs,
As little ladies will.