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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Going the wiggers one better

My son just announced that he is tired of the sappy, pathetic white kids at his high school who try to act black, so he is going to outdo them: "Instead of acting like an African-American, I'm going to act like an African from Africa."

He then added, in a soft African accent, "Oh, so you grew up in the ghetto? I have been a soldier since I was seven......I am hungry. Where can I get some good pygmy heart around here?"

Dame Shirley Bassey

Moonraker, one of the worst of the Bond movies, even among just the Roger Moore versions, is playing tonight on G4. It's not worth watching, but the theme song, sung by the incomparable Shirley Bassey, is worth listening to. You can hear it here:

Bassey also sang the theme song to Goldfinger. You're undoubtedly familiar with it but it always makes the spine tingle:

And to Diamonds are Forever (another lousy movie with a great theme):

There was something about that brassy, sexy, powerful voice that puts you in just the right frame of mind to watch a Bond film.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper R.I.P.

Most of the recent publicity Dennis Hopper has gotten was about the very public spat between him and his wife Victoria, who was evidently trying to extract as much money from Hopper as she could before he died, even stealing some of his artwork. It was hard not to sympathize with the terminally ill Hopper after reading about that.

But then I read in today's AP obituary that Hopper had been married five times. That's pretty much proof positive that he was no picnic himself.

The AP article quoted film critic-historian David Thomson, who said that "Much of Hollywood found Hopper a pain in the neck."

He evidently had a reputation for throwing temper tantrums on the set, as well as for constantly being stoned or drunk.

After his initial success with Easy Rider in 1969, Hopper abused alcohol and drugs to excess. At one point he was said to be consuming a gallon of rum a day. He also became addicted to cocaine.

Knowing that, it is remarkable that he lived to the relatively ripe age of 74, and even then only died of prostate cancer (which can hit any man over the age of fifty). Hopper seems to be proof once again that we all have our built in expiration dates and no matter what good care we take of ourselves -- or not -- it often doesn't seem to make much difference.

Lindsay Lohan will probably end up outliving most of her contemporaries.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Barriers and masters swimming

An article about masters swimming, for swimming fans only:

Calling Wild Bill Hickok

(Annette Robinson)

Annette Robinson, a Democratic Assemblywoman from Brooklyn, has proposed a law in Albany which would require cops to shoot a gun-toting suspect in the arm or leg rather than in the torso, where a wound would have a higher chance of being fatal.

This bill has the support of fellow Assembly member Darryl Towns, also a Democrat from Brooklyn.

The bill has its opponents. Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes said, "Police are not champion marksmen. It's unrealistic to think cops can shoot someone in the leg in the heat of the moment."

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly agrees with Hynes: "[The bill] makes no sense to anyone who knows anything about law enforcement."

Personally, I think the law is still inhumane. I think cops should be required to shoot the gun out of the suspect's hands -- without nicking his fingers.

Anything more than that would clearly be police brutality.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sociopath alert: Robert Camarano

There's an old adage, "A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client."

A corollary might be, "A non-lawyer who represents himself probably has a sociopath for a client."

Ted Bundy chose to represent himself in court in Florida while on trial for the murder of 12 year old Kimberly Leach. Colin Ferguson, the Long Island Railroad shooter (who chose only white victims) represented himself. Jack Kevorkian, the serial killer masquerading as an angel of mercy, did. And serial killer Rodney Alcala did.

Why would someone choose to represent himself in court when he's not even a lawyer? Perhaps because his self-image is so inflated that he thinks he can do a better job than someone who's been to law school, passed the bar, and tried cases before. Perhaps because he thinks he's smarter than everyone else. Perhaps because he figures he will be able to fool the jury into believing he's innocent the same way he's conned so many other people in his life.

Now we can add Robert Camarano to that distinguished list of sociopaths who've chosen to defend themselves.

Yesterday morning's NY Post had an article, titled, "Pro se murder defendant blames stabbing on victim" about accused killer Robert Camarano:

"Now he's claiming she stabbed herself.

The heroin-addled, lifetime parolee on trial in the murder of his Chelsea girlfriend continued to act as his own lawyer today -- this time cross-examining the coroner to 'prove' she accidentally stabbed herself dead on her own bed.

'Was it possible she could have rolled on [the knife], especially if she was throwing up?' defendant Robert Camarano, 62, asked from the defense table at Manhattan Supreme Court, referring to his doomed ex, UBS employee Michele Hyams, 60.

Not really, said the witness, Dr. Maura DeJoseph of the city medical examiner's office."

Camarano, besides deciding that he is his own best possible lawyer, showed plenty of other evidence of sociopathy. He was a previously convicted armed robber. He had been so self-indulgent that he had let himself become addicted to heroin. He stole from his own girlfriend, whom he theoretically had a close relationship with. Then he murdered her when she demanded he leave her apartment.

Of course, it's never surprising to hear that a murderer like Camarano is a sociopath; I've always found it far more interesting to realize that someone like Richard Blumenthal is one. But the main thrust of this post is to point out exactly what character traits are involved when a non-lawyer decides to act like one in court.

Next time you hear of someone who doesn't even have a law degree defending himself, especially from some horrifically gruesome crime, you can be 100% certain that person is a sociopath. And you can be 99% sure he is guilty of whatever specific crime he's being accused of.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


There are bad manners, and then there are really bad manners.

I just set my USMS record of 2:04.97 for men 55-59 in the 200 yard butterfly on April 11th. Today, at masters nationals, Brad Horner beat that record with a time of 2:03.18.

My record was only six weeks old! It was a cute little neonate of a record, with big eyes and darling dimples and such an innocent, helpless expression on its face. And that spoilsport had to come along and kill it in its infancy.

It was like clubbing a baby seal.

I suppose it could have been worse. Horner was capable of beating the record by an embarrassing margin, but didn't, mostly because he paced it poorly. So I don't feel that bad: if you sorta squint your eyes, it looks as if he only beat it by a second.

But I'm still officially in mourning.

Calderon's hypocrisy

A great editorial from the NY Post on Mexico's own immigration policy, as revealed in an interview with Mexican President Juan Calderon:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Suggestion for Vince

Vince McMahon is the majority owner, chairman, and chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment. He often likes to appear in his own shows as one of the designated villains. When he does, he doesn't let false dignity get in his way of his performance, as the above picture illustrates.

I'll occasionally stumble across a WWE show while channel surfing at night. There's something weirdly compelling about them; I'll often watch for two or three minutes before flipping the channel. The interplay between the professional wrestlers can occasionally be quite funny, especially when McMahon himself appears.

McMahon's wife, Linda, is currently the leading Republican candidate for the US Senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd in Connecticut. Her main opponent is Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who was recently ensnared by his lies about having served in Vietnam.

Amazingly, even after his exposure as a liar who covered himself with false glory, Blumenthal is still leading Linda McMahon by three points in the polls.

Vince McMahon's next role as a designated villain should be to appear as a fake Vietnam vet, replete with army uniform and fake ribbons.

The WWE fans would love it.

And Vince would certainly be driving home the message about his wife's opponent.


(Above left, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly; above right, actor Charles Dierkop; left, Charles Manson)

Raymond Kelly has led a long and distinguished career in law enforcement. Before his current stint as NYPD Commissioner, which dates back to 2002, he was Commissioner of Customs for the US from 1998 to 2001, Undersecretary of Enforcement for the US Treasury from 1996 to 1998, and was first the NYPD Commissioner from 1992-1994. He has spent a total of thirty years with the NYPD, and also served as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps in Vietnam.

There is now talk that he may run for Mayor of New York when Bloomberg's current term is up.

Kelly bears a striking resemblance to actor Charles Dierkop, perhaps best known as Flat Nose Curry in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Kelly also resembles Charles Manson, who needs no introduction. All of them have that stunted growth look one tends to associate with deprived childhoods. And all three are rough contemporaries: Manson was born in 1934, Dierkop in 1936, and Kelly in 1941.

Dierkop got many of his roles because his short and muscular physique and broken nose gave him an intimidating appearance. Kelly also looks as if he could have played one of the outlaws in a Western, or any of the roles that James Cagney played. (One has to wonder how much Kelly's bulldog-like appearance has helped his career.)

Charles Manson had a similarly tough look, at least when he was young. Of course, in his case, his generally unkempt appearance and the swastika tattoo on his forehead also made him look crazy. (This look was not misleading.)

It is often said that men who become criminals and men who go into law enforcement are cut from the same cloth. If appearances don't deceive, that may be the case here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sociopath alert: Richard Blumenthal

The NY Times ran a lengthy front page article yesterday detailing how Connecticut Attorney General and Senatorial candidate Richard Blumenthal lied about being in Vietnam. Not only did Blumenthal never serve in Vietnam, he actually obtained five deferments from military service between 1965 and 1970. According to the Times:

"In 1970, with his last deferment in jeopardy, he landed a coveted spot in the Marine Reserve, which virtually guaranteed that he would not be sent to Vietnam. He joined a unit in Washington that conducted drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive.

"But what is striking about Mr. Blumenthal’s record is the contrast between the many steps he took that allowed him to avoid Vietnam, and the misleading way he often speaks about that period of his life now, especially when he is speaking at veterans’ ceremonies or other patriotic events.

"Sometimes his remarks have been plainly untrue, as in his speech to the group in Norwalk. At other times, he has used more ambiguous language, but the impression left on audiences can be similar."

Evidently both Slate Magazine, in 2000, and the Hartford Courant, in 2004, both prominently stated that Blumenthal had been the captain of the Harvard swimming team.

Blumenthal was never on the swimming team.

Blumenthal later claimed that he had never said this. If it had just been one article, his claim might be credible. But when two different reporters, in two different publications, four years apart, made the same statement, you have to conclude that Blumenthal lied.

Wikipedia states, "In an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Blumenthal said that he never accepted PAC money. Blumenthal accepted over $220,000 in PAC money for the first fiscal quarter of 2010, according to his FEC report. When challenged on the discrepancy, his campaign released a statement explaining that he was referring only to previous campaigns."

It's actually the small lie that betrays Blumenthal's sociopathy more than the big ones. Certain lies are more "normal": if a man has had an extramarital affair, it is understandable that he would lie to his wife about it. For a politician to embroider on his record of service in order to ingratiate himself with his constituents is scummy -- but understandable. But when someone lies about his athletic background when he has no particular reason to lie about it just to make himself seem more appealing, it enters the realm of pathological lying. (This is known as "sport lying" among cognoscenti of sociopaths.) It is a peculiarly sociopathic trait to enjoy basking in such false glory.

Sociopaths tend to think they can fool people, even when they can't. Most of us know that if we lie in a blatant fashion, those lies will catch up with us, and the thought of the shame we would feel when caught is enough to prevent us from ever indulging in such lies. But a sociopath doesn't feel shame, so their internal brakes are simply not as strong.

Another trait which distinguishes sociopaths is that they don't make friends in the normal way, by simply befriending those whose company they enjoy. Instead they cultivate those who can help them. The Times reports:

"As a young man, [Blumenthal] attended Riverdale Country School in the Bronx and showed great promise, along with an ability to ingratiate himself with powerful people."

Blumenthal exhibited this trait later on at Harvard, where he got prominent Professor Daniel Moynihan to oversee his senior thesis, and where he befriended Donald Graham, whose mother Katherine ran the Washington Post, where Blumenthal got his first job.

Sociopaths comprise roughly 3-4% of the population, but there are certain places and occupations which seem to attract more than their proportionate share of them. One such place is Wall Street. One such occupation is politician. And any position which allows one the legal right to come down hard on others, such as prison guard, tends to attract more than the usual 3-4%. (This is, of course, not to say that the majority of people who do these things are sociopathic.)

Another such job is Attorney General. It's a position for those who crave power over others. To achieve that position, one must know which behinds to kiss and which backs to stab, and have no qualms about doing either. Once there, you get to pose as a paragon of morality yourself, and it affords you tremendous power, including the power to punish others. It's the ideal position for a sociopath.

I've known of too many AGs who turned out to be sociopaths to think otherwise.

Let's hope the Connecticut electorate has the good sense to recognize Blumenthal for what he is.

Addendum, 5/23/10 -- Spoke today with my nephew, who took issue with my characterization of Blumenthal as a sociopath (he went to school with Blumenthal's son). But he unwittingly added another piece to the puzzle by mentioning that AG Blumenthal had married Cynthia Malkin, daughter of Peter Malkin, the real estate mogul who owns a large piece of the Empire State Building among many other properties in Manhattan. Who knows, maybe Blumenthal fell madly in love with Cynthia. (My nephew did say she was beautiful.) But sociopaths generally marry with an eye to financial advancement, and my guess is that it is not coincidence that he ended up with an heiress. It just fits too neatly with the rest of the picture to think otherwise.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Deadliest Sin

If you've ever really thought about the seven deadly sins, you've probably concluded that they are nothing more than a description of basic (if not base) human nature:


Each of these traits in fact has a strong evolutionary benefit. Had we not evolved these predispositions we would almost certainly have been outmaneuvered and outbred by those who had.

My original intent with this post was merely to point this out and say that there is really only one unforgivable sin: hypocrisy. Anyone who inveighs against these sins, or any others, and simultaneously indulges in them himself is a hypocrite, and ipso facto despicable. (I've never known anyone who was a hypocrite who wasn't generally despicable, and I've never known anyone who was despicable who wasn't a hypocrite. Sociopaths are always hypocrites.)

But then, while reading about the seven deadly sins in Wikipedia, I stumbled across a list of sins which was much more compelling, and which was much more evocative of the sociopathic 3% of the population rather than the merely human 100%. This list was from, of all places, the Book of Proverbs, 6:16-24:

A proud look.
A lying tongue.
Hands that shed innocent blood.
A heart that devises wicked plots.
Feet that are swift to run into mischief.
A deceitful witness that uttereth lies.
Him that soweth discord among brethren.

This is a wonderful description of sociopathy. Perhaps "a proud look" is something we all indulge in occasionally, but sociopaths are those most likely to wear one constantly. And while the second and sixth qualities are redundant, dishonesty is foremost among the sociopathic traits. Certainly "hands that shed innocent blood" is a good description of a serial killer, or anyone else with no regard for others' lives. And sowing discord among others is a sociopathic specialty.

To be honest, I've never really read the Bible. As addicted to the internet as I am, I probably never will, at least in its entirety. But this excerpt does make me more inclined to do a little skimming.

Maybe next time I'm in a motel without my computer.

Facebook = sleep deprivation

I've talked to so many parents who say that their children are addicted to Facebook. Their children get home from their after school activities, eat dinner with their families, and then go on In-Your-Face-book to catch up with their friends, some of whom they may not have seen for three whole hours.

As a result their homework gets put off till 9 or 10 PM, and if they are assiduous about finishing it, they don't get to bed before midnight. If children don't get their eight or nine hours of sleep, their growth, their health, and their concentration during school will all suffer. They might as well be club kids, hanging out till all hours in the nightclubs.

Congress should pass a law making Facebook illegal on weekday nights. Unlike the health care bill, this one would have the support of the American people -- at least those of voting age.

I've tried to pass such a law in my house but don't seem to have the power to enforce it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


(top right, Rosa Rio in 1934; left, Rosa Rio in 2007, at age 104)

The NY Times published Rosa Rio's obituary today. She died just three weeks shy of her 108th birthday.

Rio was a theater organist who feared that the advent of the talkies (which first appeared in 1927) would put her out of business, but she managed to fashion a career which lasted for eight decades, until last year.

One of the paragraphs read: "Miss Rio was born on June 2, 1902. Her maiden name and birthplace have been lost to time; her given name was Elizabeth and she was reared in New Orleans. She began calling herself Rosa Rio -- a name narrow enough to fit neatly on a theater marquee -- early in her career."

No one remembers what her maiden name or birthplace were? In this well-documented age, there's something almost romantic, and also sad, about that information having been lost forever.

(Then again, there seems to be some controversy about Barack Obama's birthplace, and that mystery doesn't seem all that romantic.)

What was most striking about Rio's obituary were the two pictures, taken 73 years apart. Rio is certainly one of the more vital-looking centenarians you'll ever see. She undoubtedly had had plastic surgery, but she was also vigorous enough to give concerts right up until the age of 106. She must have been doing something right, even if it was only inheriting the right genes.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mythology and debt

What would the various residents of Mr. Olympus have thought of the current situation in Greece, with government workers rioting to ensure that their benefits remain generous? What might they have done about it? And what lessons might today's Greeks learn from their stories?

Hercules, who was half-immortal (the son of Zeus and Alcamene, a mortal woman) might have solved the problem by redirecting a nearby fast-moving river through the Greek Parliament, washing away all the corrupt, self-indulgent politicians and their legislative horse manure. Another of Hercules' labors to draw a parallel to was when he had to slay the Hydra, the nine-headed serpent. But even the Hydra would be easy prey compared to the million government employees, each jealously protecting his turf.

Apollo was the god of light and purity, music, poetry, and prophecy. He advised humans to be moderate in all things (though he himself often ignored his own advice.) "All things" would certainly include the government deficit. Would the Greek Parliament listen to him now?

Upon hearing of the deficit, Ares would probably have been tempted to declare war on Greece. But despite being the god of war, Ares would most likely have retreated upon hearing of NATO's firepower.

Achilles, that great but petulant warrior, would simply have slain all the evil politicians, one by one. (Would this make him a serial killer in the mold of Dexter?)

Athena was the goddess of wisdom. As such, she might have foreseen the outcome of all that debt; unfortunately, one person's wisdom cannot trump everyone else's greed. So Athena, too, would have been powerless in today's Greece.

Castor and Pollux were the twin sons of Zeus. When one was killed, Zeus devised a plan for them to share immortality. On one day Castor would go to Hades, and Pollux would ascend to Mt. Olympus. On the next day, they would switch. This is not dissimilar to the sort of unpaid furloughs which many states in the US have adopted in order to solve their deficit problems. Greece might benefit from such an arrangement.

Perhaps the tale of Icarus, who was not a god, has some cautionary value for the modern day Greeks. Despite being warned by his father not to fly too close to the sun with his artificial wings fashioned of feathers and wax, Icarus did not heed his father's advice, his wings melted, and he plunged to the earth. The Greek economy might not now be in free fall had the Greeks not been singed trying to obtain too high a lifestyle on too little revenue.

Dionysus.....well, the Greeks have probably imitated him too much already. Ditto for Narcissus and Eros.

The Fates were three pitiless sisters who sat by a treadle, deciding when to cut the thread of life for various people. It was said that they knew what would happen to everybody, even the gods, so even Zeus was terrified of them. Perhaps the modern day Greeks could have done with a little more fear for the future themselves before they became so indebted. Then again, perhaps their problem was that they believed too much in small-f fate, and thus didn't take responsibility for the future.

Hera was the queen of the gods, married to Zeus, known for her great jealousy and temper. Perhaps it would behoove today's Greeks to be a bit more jealous of the way the Germans keep their financial house in shape. This might motivate them to keep their own finances in order.

Hermes was the messenger of the gods, known for his winged sandals, caduceus, and cap. He was also the witty patron of gamblers, businessmen, and thieves. He sounds like a natural denizen of Wall Street, a place where speedy information is king. Perhaps he could help the Greeks with their investments, possibly even with a little insider trading.

Medusa was once a beautiful young woman, until she aroused the jealousy of the goddess Athena, who transformed her into a monster. Medusa had one power the modern Greeks could certainly use: turning people -- in particular, their debtors -- to stone.

Odysseus was said to be short-legged, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, and red-haired. (All Neanderthal traits, by the way.) He was best known for his cleverness and trickery. It was Odysseus who won the war with Troy by coming up with the idea of the Trojan Horse. So his is not a cautionary tale for the Greeks themselves, but for their enemies: beware of Greeks bearing....bonds.

During his travels, Odysseus met an enchantress named Circe, who turned his men into swine. (Has she already done this to the government workers?)

Pandora -- well, too late for that. (Why, by the way, did they name that beautiful planet in Avatar after this overly curious woman who wrought so much damage upon the world?)

Ancient sailors used to claim that they saw Poseidon riding the waves in his dolphin chariot when the sea was particularly wild. One time an angry Poseidon flooded the low-lying areas around Athens. If he saw what was happening today, he would undoubtedly be tempted to wash away the entire country with a gigantic tidal wave.

Sisyphus was the proud prince of Thessaly and the founder of Corinth. When it was time for Sisyphus to go to the Underworld, he told his wife not to bury him; once there, he complained that he had not been given a proper burial. Persephone, the goddess of the dead, allowed him to return to the land of the living to arrange his affairs. But then Sisyphus refused to come back. Finally, Hermes was sent to escort Sisyphus to the Underworld, where Zeus decreed that Sisyphus be forever condemned to push a large boulder up a hill, a boulder which would always roll down again right before it reached the top. The question this evokes is, what is the proper punishment for those Greeks who pushed these Sisyphian loans onto their children, to be paid off only after they themselves were dead?

There were two qualities Zeus particularly abhorred in mortals: pride and trickery. Certainly the current debt crisis incorporates elements of both. Were the ever amorous Zeus able to tear himself away from the lovelies sunning themselves on the Greek isles, he would undoubtedly hurl a few thunderbolts into Parliament.

Hephaestus (perhaps better known by his Roman name, Vulcan), was the god of the forge and the master of fire. It was said that he was happiest when working at one of his underground forges. Perhaps the modern day Greeks could learn from his work ethic.

Then again, perhaps even the ancient Greeks were no more hard-working than the current crop. Had any of them ever bothered to scale the 9570 foot Mount Olympus, less than one-third the height of Everest, they would have seen that no gods lived atop it.

(It must also be pointed out, the Sherpas never came up with anything nearly as entertaining as Greek mythology.)

Perhaps, instead of looking at Greek mythology, we should look to Greek history. Looking back, it's hard to imagine the country of Aristotle and Plato allowing itself to get into such trouble.

It seemed a more heroic place back then. Who among us hasn't heard of the 300 Spartans who held off 10,000 Persians at Thermopylae?

Today those 300 warriors would probably go on strike unless guaranteed six weeks of vacation, time and a half pay on overtime, and a guaranteed 80% pension starting at age 55.

Herodotus might suggest that Sparta declare war on Athens again, in line with the guns and butter theory of stimulating an economy. But for Sparta to do this would be a bit unseemly at this point. Anyway, the Spartans are hardly what they once were: the very existence of the adjective "spartan" seems ironic today given the current Greek penchant for gorging at the public trough.

The worst part, of course, is that we Americans seem to be well along this same path. (What would Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin think?)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

All the propaganda that's fit to print (Part II)

A front page headline in this morning's NY Times blared, "City Minorities More Likely To Be Frisked."

The first paragraph read: "Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by the police in New York City in 2009, but, once stopped, were no more likely to be arrested."

At first glance that sounds like racism on the part of the police. And what a lot of poeple would take away from that statement is, hey, they're just as innocent as whites are, but they're nine times more likely to be frisked. But consider that statement: They were no more likely to be arrested.

What this means is that once stopped, they were arrested in the same proportion as whites. (Much later in the article it is stated that both blacks and whites were arrested after about 6% of the stops.) If this is the case, then the police are exhibiting absolutely no racism, because the same percentage of blacks as whites who were thought to be exhibiting suspicious behavior were in fact guilty. (The article did not list the arrest rate for Hispanics.) If blacks were less likely to be arrested once stopped, then in fact the police would be demonstrating excessive suspicion of them. But they weren't.

The reason blacks and Hispanics are stopped more frequently is because they tend to live in high crime areas, which is where more police are sent. (Should more police be shifted to patrol low crime areas?) And there is in fact evidence that the percentage of people stopped on the street who are black is less than the percentage of violent street crime committed by blacks.

Another interesting fact which could be observed from the chart on page A27 was that Asians, who comprise 12% of the population of New York, are stopped by the police in only 3 or 4% of the total number of stops, i.e., at a rate roughly one third to one quarter of their percentage of the population. This is about the same proportion as for whites.

If the cops are racist and naturally inclined to harass minorities who don't look like them, why don't they harass Asians more?

And if they don't harass Asians more, isn't that New York Times headline as misleading as the first paragraph of the article?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


The best TV show I've seen recently is Justified, on FX at 10 PM Tuesdays. (You can usually get all but the latest episode on as well.) The protagonist, U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, is based on a character who appeared in two Elmore Leonard novels. The fact that Leonard is listed as executive producer probably has something to do with the show not having been turned into the kind of turkey that some of his books have been made into. (Be Cool, which followed Get Shorty, was probably the lamest sequel ever.)

FX was also home to The Shield, the great, gritty cop drama which ended a year and a half ago. Both shows have been extremely well written. The protagonist of The Shield, Vic Mackey, was more antihero than hero, which was in large part what made that show great. But Raylan Givens is pure hero.

At the beginning of last night's episode we see Givens, who has just been put on an involuntary leave of absence from the Marshalls Service, getting drunk in a bar. He turns to a couple of loudmouths who are boasting about their sex lives and says, "Excuse me, but could you fellows turn it down just a bit?" When Loudmouth Number One objects and asks why, Givens replies, half under his breath, "Because I didn't order assholes with my martini."

When Loudmouth asks him in disbelief to repeat what he said, Givens says, "Any woman who is merciful enough to go to bed with you deserves a little more respect.

When Loudmouth asks if he has a hostile attitude, Givens replies wearily, "So I've been told."

The confrontation leads to a fight outside between Givens and the two men. Givens acquits himself well at first, but is outnumbered and eventually beaten up. Loudmouth Number One then steals his trademark white hat.

Givens' ex-wife, who left him years ago and whom he was supposed to meet at the bar, then shows up. She takes him to his home and patches him up a bit. She wants him to rescue her husband from the Dixie Mafia, from whom he has borrowed money; Givens agrees. She then tells him, "You're a good man."

Givens replies wrily, as she exits, "Not good enough." (For her.)

When one of the villains later disparages Givens' ex-wife to him, and Givens warns him not to do that, the man replies, "If someone insulted my ex, I'd thank him." Givens replies, "That's awfully compassionate of you, Billy Mack."

When Givens tells Billy his apartment smells like a dead cat, Billy, an ex-boxer, replies, "You're not going to be able to smell it when I knock your teeth out."

Givens, who is holding a gun on him, replies mildly, "You're going to bob and weave your way past a bullet? That I'd like to see."

(In an earlier episode, at one point Givens finds that his car has broken down, so he uses his cellphone to call headquarters for a ride. As he is doing this, he sees a car containing the bad guys pull up about forty yards away. At that point he adds, in the same casual tone of voice, "Oh, and send a couple of ambulances, too.")

Givens never raises his voice. But somehow, thanks to the Elmore Leonard-style dialogue, he comes across as even stronger and more masculine by virtue of his originality and intelligence.

The villains are menacing mostly by virtue of their oiliness. (Their lines are often just as witty as Givens'.) The directors were smart enough to know that they didn't have to cast acromegalics in order to project villainy.

Givens himself is played by Timothy Olyphant, who was once a finalist in the 200 individual medley at the NCAAs. He gave up his USC scholarship after a couple years so he could pursue acting, figuring he'd never make any money from swimming. (It turned out to be a wise decision, although trying to be a successful actor can often be as Quixotic an undertaking as trying to be a champion swimmer.)

Olyphant is not quite the Givens described in the books: he doesn't project quite as much grit, and maybe his voice is a tad higher. Olyphant looks more or less like what he was, a pretty boy ex-swimmer. But he's a good enough actor, and this is Hollywood.

In the final scene, Givens returns to the bar where he got beaten up, looking for his hat. He approaches the two men who beat him up from behind, tosses a couple bills on the table, and says, "This one's on me." Loudmouth Number One says, "Hey, I thought I told you never to come back to this place."

Given calmly -- and tiredly -- explains, "I'm just back for the hat." The other fellow says, "Well, I've taken liking to this hat."

Givens says, "Mister, that's a ten gallon hat on a twenty gallon head. It doesn't look right on you."

The Loudmouth says, "Hey, you were the one who was out of line last time."

"Be that as it may, I ain't leaving without the hat." Givens then gives him a hard look, and adds, "And I'm sober this time." The man hands it over.

As is so often the case, the actor playing the bad guy would obviously beat the one playing the hero in a real fight, but it's still a good scene: Givens proves his nobility by not needing petty revenge. All he wants is his hat. (Givens' white hat is a recurring motif throughout the series, and while its symbolism may seem heavy-handed at first, it is treated humorously often enough that they get away with it.)

Right before that final bar scene, Givens rescues his ex-wife's feckless wimp of a second husband. She is, of course, impossibly elegant and sexy. At the end we see Givens deliver the husband back to his ex-wife, who hugs the feckless one, gives Raylan a brief look, and then goes into the house with her husband. Raylan looks at her, nods, and drives off (into the sunset).

We, of course, are left wondering what she sees in that sap when she could be with Raylan Givens? How did that unappealing idiot ever get such a beauty? (How many times have we entertained similar thoughts in our lives?)

In this scene, as elsewhere, Elmore Leonard's sense of reality and sly humor prevail.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Energy drinks

Looking at a chart listing the caffeine content of various energy drinks can be eye-opening. It turns out that Red Bull, the granddaddy of energy drinks, has only 80 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as a cup of espresso, and less than the 108 mg that a cup of brewed coffee contains.

A lot of the traditional sodas have a fair amount of caffeine, like Coca Cola classic, with 35 mg, and Mountain Dew (yahoo!), with 55 mg. The Diet versions of these drinks have about the same amount of caffeine. Pepsi Cola has 38, though Pepsi Diet Lemon has 48 and Pepsi Diet Lime has 50. But not all soft drinks contain caffeine: Fresca and ginger ale have none.

Afri Cola, which I had never heard of before seeing the list, has 89 mg. (This drink must be for the FUBU crowd.)

But what's striking about most of the names the caffeine-pushers have chosen for their drinks is the way they've tried so hard to give them a macho, pedal-to-the-metal, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll image:

Adrenalyn Shot and Adrenalyn Stack each have 200 mg. (Why do some people consider misspellings cool?)

Ammo has 171. (Drink this and you'll be packin' some serious heat.)

Atomic Dogg has 200. (Evidently the image they wanted was Snoop with a nuclear weapon.)

Bawls has 67, But Bawls Exxtra has 150. (Get it -- balls? And if your "bawls" are double x-rated, that makes you exxtra sexy.)

Blow Energy Drink Mix has 240. ("Blow" is another term for cocaine, and of course that kind of job has positive connotations for most men, at least if they're on the receiving end.)

Boo-Koo Energy has a mind-blowing 360 mg. (Is this the Ragin' Cajun pronunciation of "beaucoup"?)

Brawndo has 200. (This is probably supposed to evoke Marlon in his younger days; had they wanted to evoke the actor as an older man, they could have called it "Brandoughboy.")

Bump has 197, CHARGE! Super Shot has 200, and Bull Tonik has 160. (The "bull" motif must be calculated to appeal to those men who -- like me --have spent most of their lives feeling more like a steer.)

Cocaine Energy Drink is listed as having 280. (I thought that after the outcry over its name this drink had been pulled from the stores.)

Crunk has 194. (That name seems to be a meld of crank, which is another name for methamphetamine, and crunch, which is either what wannabe he-men do to their beer cans or gay guys do with their abs. Come to think of it, it also sounds like "drunk," as in, drunk with the power you'll get if you imbibe some Crunk.)

Einstein Bros Coffee has 206. (It won't make you as smart as Albert, but it'll make you feel like you are.)

Fixx Extreme has 400. (Get used to that dosage and you'll soon be needing a regular fix.)

Full Throttle has 144, but Havoc only has 52. (You won't be able to wreak much on that relatively weak tea.)

Jolt Endurance Shot has 200, but Jolt Energy has 280. (Wouldn't you think you'd need more for endurance?)

Monster, Monster Assault, and Monster Heavy Metal each have 160, but Monster Hitman Sniper has 240. (In this case the badder-ass name, awkward as it is, lives up to its promise.)

Neurogasm -- no explanation necessary -- has only 50. (That must be why it's not called Multiplegasm.)

No Fear Bloodshot has 174. (Not a bad description of what a large dose of caffeine can result in.)

Pimp Juice has 81 (just enough to keep your pimp hand strong). And Player Aid Energy Shot has 120. (Though a real playa, in mah estimation, don't need nothin' extra.)

Howling Monkey, Java Monster, and Red Devil all have 160. (The latter has not yet achieved enough market share to elicit protests from Native Americans.)

Redline Power Rush has 350, and Redline Princess has 250. (Any princess who drinks that won't be bothered by a pea, though with that much caffeine in her system she'll need to pee, and often.)

Rockstar has 160, but Rockstar Citrus Punched has 240. (Somebody spiked that punch!)

Rumba Energy Juice has 170. (Evidently makes you ready to rumble.)

Speed Stack has 250, and Speed Stack Pumped N.O. has 300. (Both of these names will evoke steroids to anyone who's ever browsed through a "health" store.)

Rage and Ripped Force each has 200. (Two more steroid-evokers.)

Spike Shooter has 300, and Spike Double Shot has 350. (Someone at Spike should double check his math.)

A Starbucks Grande Coffee has 330. (Who knew those trendy Stuff-white-people-like types were such juiceheads?)

Vamp has 240. (Is this supposed to evoke a vampire or a drag queen vamping? One would think the former.)

Venom (which comes in three flavors, Black Mamba, Death Adder, and Mojave Rattler) has 160.

The "winner" is a drink called simply 5150 Juice, which contains a consciousness-altering, nerve-jangling, sanity-challenging 500 milligrams of caffeine. (Try drinking one of those and sitting still.)

I had a swimming meet this weekend, and forgot to bring along my usual Red Bull, so I stopped off at a supermarket and picked up a Venom Mojave Rattler, with twice the caffeine. I drank about two thirds of it, the equivalent of one and one sixth cups of coffee.

I've always stayed away from coffee since I don't want to get addicted to caffeine (and it is an addiction). I've also figured that if I did stay away, I'd be able to get extra high on just one cup if I ever really needed a lift. I've always had the same philosophy towards alcohol, figuring if I ever really needed to get drunk, it would be easier with a lower tolerance. And there have been plenty of occasions (otherwise known as "parties") where I've felt I've needed to get drunk in order to enjoy myself.

So now I have the capacity of a 13-year-old girl who weighs 105 pounds and gets tipsy on half a bottle of beer. (Some might find this shameful, but I have so much else to be embarrassed of in my life that this particular form of girlishness doesn't really concern me.) And I'm quite sensitive to caffeine.

In any case, after swimming the 200 fly (in 2:05.64, off my recent best of 2:04.97), my immediate reaction was: I want another try. This was partly a function of my disappointing performance, but it was also the Venom talking. (Unfortunately, masters meets aren't structured that way; you only get one chance.) It may also have been the Venom talking when I thought I was taking the first half of the race out faster than I actually was. Then again, that may just have been the usual patter from my always-caffeinated ego. (This was the same ego which had earlier informed me I was capable of a 2:03+.)

Despite my poor performance, the Venom did put me into a good mood for at least the first part of the four hour car ride home. As a matter of act, it made me feel 22 again.

Life is just a matter of choosing your poison -- whatever it's named -- and rationing it out in whatever doses and intervals suit you best.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Unscathed by high school

My son recently expressed the opinion that a man's worth is basically 40% his intelligence, 40% his bravery and toughness, and maybe 20% his physicality: his appearance and whether he can do anything special with his body.

He then added that a woman's worth is 95% her looks, and maybe 5% her brains, but that he was being generous with the 5%.

(The opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the management of this blog.)

I'm not going to pass judgment on the merits of what Johnny said. In any case, he said this to his mother, trying to get a rise, so it's not even clear the extent to which he believes it himself.

But I will say that I'm sorta proud of him that he's made it all the way through high school without ever having been brainwashed into anything remotely resembling political correctness.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A great line

I semi-kiddingly castigated a friend the other day for a social error he had made. He laughed and said, "You're absolutely right, man, shame on me! Shame on me!" Then he laughed some more.

I'll have to file that one away for future use, especially given that my usual reaction in those circumstances is denial and defensiveness.

Then again, maybe I should just continue to live up to my middle name.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Intermediate future bright for U.S. women, not as clear for men

To be read only if you are a hard core swimming fan:

Sunday, May 2, 2010


I was recently talking to a parent whose child is on an athletic team. This parent told me what a narcissistic personality the coach was. Evidently he humiliated some of the kids in front of the others, and set down rules which he bent for his favorites but not for others. He questioned his athletes' college choices if they placed too much emphasis on academics, and even discouraged them from studying too much if it interfered with his practices. And he hated anything which interfered with his control. Unfortunately, this type of personality is not rare in coaching.

Perhaps this should not be a surprise. Why do people go into coaching in the first place? Often, because they can't get along with other adults. Narcissistic personalities don't like being put into a position where they must deal with others on an equal basis. They prefer to give orders, to be in control, to not be questioned, and to deal with people who can't talk back. What kind of career options does this leave you? You can become a Marine drill sergeant. You can become a prison guard. Or you can become a coach.

It is an unfortunate situation because these maladjusted men (for the most part, it is men who are attracted to coaching) have so much control over their athletes' lives. A teacher has a student for three hours a week, for one year. A coach can have that same student for ten hours a week, for four or more years. So if the student really loves his sport, he's at the coach's mercy. When I was in college, the most hated guys on campus were probably the football, basketball, and swimming coaches. Their athletes simply despised them.

This is certainly not always true. One of the most beloved figures at my college was the crew coach, whose athletes usually kept in touch with him even after they graduated. There also seems to be a difference between amateur and professional coaches. An amateur coach, who usually has a child who plays the sport, does it as a sideline to his regular occupation. These coaches tend to be reasonable and understanding. Someone who coaches for a living, on the other hand, is more likely to be a petty tyrant.

The next time you hear a coach say, "I got into coaching because I like working with kids," listen very carefully. You may hear this faint echo: "...and because I've never gotten along with people my own age."