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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Suburban spies

It's a little hard to get one's arms around the recent scandal involving Russian spies in this country. First, some of the methods they used seemed weirdly old-fashioned. They did use some high tech methods, like transmitting messages via the coding in pictures posted publicly on the internet. But they also relied on invisible ink, bag drops, and cash buried in a field. (I remember being taught to use lemon juice/invisible ink in elementary school.)

Second, they seemed incompetent. One female spy who claimed to be from Montreal couldn't speak French with a French-Canadian accent. Another who claimed to be from Toronto knew nothing about the city when asked about it by someone who had lived there.

But third, and more importantly, they seemed unable to gather any worthwhile information. One of the eleven charged with espionage was able to contact a "former high-ranking American national security official and a nuclear weapons researcher," according to the NY Times. But he got nothing from them. And several of the spies lived out in the suburbs. It's hard to imagine exactly what information they expected to collect out there. Perhaps they were trying to ferret out the following vital secrets:

(1) Grandma's recipe for apple pie.

(2) American secrets for getting along with Little League coaches.

(3) The most effective method for mowing a lawn.

(4) Where one can obtain the best prices for diapers.

(5) The inner workings and the power structure of the PTA.

(6) If the Tupperware parties are all they're cracked up to be.

Vladimir Putin must be one curious fellow.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Hamptons

Just got back from a weekend in Amagansett, where my brother rented a place for a few weeks (not the place pictured above).

I was trying to put my finger on exactly what it is about the Hamptons that betrays its pretentiousness, figuring I'd get a blogpost out of the weekend if nothing else. The one time I left the house I went to the East Hampton Y, and kept my eyes open for examples of the Hamptons' character. But I didn't find anything there; YMCA's are by definition unpretentious places.

But there are a lot of grandiose houses south of the highway, all of which announce "I have arrived!" in highly unsubtle fashion. Many are built in Cape Cod clapboard cottage style, but "cottage" is the wrong term for these monstrosities.

Probably the one thing which best illustrates the true nature of the place is the number of people on Wall Street who'll tell you they have a place out there, then in the next breath say, "Oh, I'm not really into, you know, The Hamptons, the social scene out there. I just like the beach, that's all."

(I always wanted to reply, "Then why not go to Jones Beach? The beach itself is actually nicer there, and it's closer to the city.")

As I pointed out two posts ago, nobody ever bothers to deny something they haven't been accused of unless it's true.

If you meet someone who volunteers that he is honest and has a lot of integrity, put your hand on your wallet.

If you meet someone who volunteers that he's not an uncompassionate guy, expect no mercy.

If you meet someone who, apropos of nothing, tells you he's not stupid, prepare for a lot of uninsightful comments.

And if you meet someone who tells you he's not into the trappings of wealth, expect ostentation.

You'll meet a lot of that last type in the Hamptons.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

An A for ambition

You've probably heard of Gary Faulkner, 50, the unemployed construction worker from Colorado who had traveled to Pakistan with a pistol, a 40 inch sword, and night vision equipment on a mission to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. The forty inch sword was for beheading bin Laden if need be. (Gotta love a guy who never outgrows his boyhood dreams of adventure.) The Pakistan government released Faulkner after determining he had broken no laws while over there, so he is back home in Colorado today.

Scott Faulkner said about his brother last week, "Is it out of the norm? Yes, it is. But is it crazy? No. If he wore a uniform and called himself special ops, would he be crazy?"

Well, no, not if he actually were in an Army Special Operations unit. But he's not.

Most of the news accounts of Gary Faulkner have had an understandably mocking undertone. Faulkner, to my knowledge, doesn't speak Urdu, has no contacts in Pakistan, and can only be away from his kidney dialysis treatment for limited periods of time.

Faulkner said, "This is not about me. What this is about is the American people and the world." This, of course, was a sure sign that this was in fact about Faulkner: nobody ever denies something they haven't been accused of unless it's true.

Had Faulkner succeeded in what his relatives called a Rambo-style mission, he would have embarrassed the entire US government, the US military, the CIA, and the last two Presidents, who have been unable to locate and capture Osama bin Laden.

This was not Faulkner's intent, of course. His intent was merely to become a hero. And what a hero he would have been. Imagine if this unemployed construction worker had personally killed Osama bin Laden and lived to tell about it.

What would his life have been like?

He would have gotten that $25 million dead-or-alive reward. Books would have written about him, movies would have been made about him. He would have been a national hero. Everywhere he went he would have been greeted with spontaneous applause. Everybody would have wanted to be his friend. Women would have thrown themselves at him. All sorts of people would have been interested in -- and would have valued -- his opinion on subjects he knew nothing about. He would have been in great demand on the lecture circuit. The nurses administering his dialysis would have begged for his autograph.

He would have been so famous even his other family members would have become celebrities as well.

Sweetest of all, the President would have had to swallow his pride and invite him to the White House to congratulate and thank him.

Maybe Faulkner was being unrealistic about his chances of actually killing bin Laden. But you can't fault the guy for not dreaming big.

Addendum, same day: the NY Post just came out with an article saying that Faulkner intends to return to Pakistan and finish his mission. This sounds crazier than ever, now that his photograph has been widely released. (What are the odds that bin Laden's deputies would not kill him on sight now?) On the other hand, the article also mentioned that Faulkner has just signed with a PR firm.

So maybe he's crazy like a fox as well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Groupies for killers

(Left, Ted Bundy; below, Richard "The Nightstalker" Ramirez)

This is a brief excerpt from an article which appeared in yesterday morning's NY Post:

"Sloot's getting marriage proposals: report

"AMSTERDAM — Some women really go for the bad boy. Accused killer Joran van der Sloot says he's received several marriage offers from women while jailed in Lima, Peru, where he is awaiting trial for allegedly killing a young woman in his hotel room.

"'One of them even wants me to get her pregnant,' De Telegraaf newspaper quoted Van der Sloot as saying.

"Van der Sloot, 22, has been charged with the premeditated murder of 21-year-old Flores in his hotel room in Lima, Peru — 5 years to the day after the 2005 disappearance of U. S. teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba, a resort island just north of Venezuela. He is the main suspect in Holloway's disappearance, but her body has never been found and he has never been charged.

"He met both women in casinos and is the last person known to have seen them alive...."

Every prominent serial killer who hits the news seems to attract more than his share of wacky women. Richard Ramirez, known as "The Nightstalker" when he terrorized Los Angeles in the 1980's, attracted a cheering section of women at his trial, and got a slew of marriage proposals. Ted Bundy himself got several marriage proposals while on Death Row.

Exactly what is it that women see in these men?

Is it that they're famous? Are these women attracted to bad boys -- in these cases the ultimate bad boys? Is the threat of danger a sexual turn-on for them? In order to achieve an orgasm must they think that their lives could be snuffed out at any second? Do they think that their love will transform these poor misunderstood men into the good people they were always meant to be if only they had had the love of a good woman?

Given that some of the men are already on Death Row, consummation of a marriage might not be possible anyway, so do the women just want notoriety by association? Or maybe it's that these are the type of women who just like to know where their men are, that their men aren't out on the town gallivanting with other women.

Both Ramirez and Bundy were good-looking in a lupine sort of way. Van der Sloot is a fairly ordinary-looking guy, though he is big, at 6' 3", and that attracts some women.

But there is more than the usual physical attraction going on here. It makes one wonder what kind of family background these women had. (Are some of these women doing this as a way to get back at their parents? Would their parents even notice?)

It makes one wonder what their IQs are. (Do the women who fell into Richard Ramirez's orbit not realize that he sometimes laughed as he killed his victims? Do they really think these men are innocent, as some claim?)

It also makes one wonder what these women look like. One has to assume that they are not supermodels. Are they not capable of getting men otherwise?

Psychological profiles of these women along with some photographs would certainly make for a more interesting article than one merely saying that these men had gotten marriage proposals.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Coming out of the closet.....

(upper left and at right, stills from the original Patterson-Gimlin film from 1967; bottom left, a more recent picture from an infrared game camera in Pennsylvania)

I have been warned not to confess to this on the blog, and have held off for a long time. But I can do so no longer: I believe in Bigfoot. In fact, I've been on five sasquatch expeditions in the past decade.

Go ahead, think me crazy. But please, also read the rest of this post.

Skeptics, who comprise roughly 99% of the population, will not be satisfied till they have a body, and until then those of us who believe in the creature's existence will be laughingstock. But other than a body, the evidence for the creature's existence is overwhelming.

The most famous piece of evidence for sasquatch's existence is the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film. You may have seen it on TV. It has been analyzed backwards and forwards by experts, virtually all of whom say it couldn't have been faked. Remember, the film was shot in 1967 with an 8 millimeter camera, long before computer animation. Experts who specialized in making costumes for Disney at the time were shown the film and asked if they could make a gorilla suit like that. They all said that it was not possible to make a gorilla suit in which the leg muscles tensed with each step that way. A more recent analysis has shown that the creature had an injury to the top of its quadriceps muscle on its right leg which curled up with each step.

Another aspect of the creature in the film which only came out upon more careful analysis was that it is a female. (If you're trying to create a scary monster, wouldn't you make it a male? How many King Kong suits have you seen with a pair of pendulous breasts on them?) Subsequent analyses of the film have also shown that its long arm bent exactly where it should have, with the elbow located halfway down. Had it been a human in a costume, the creature might have had long arms, but they would not have bent where they should have.

In yet another analysis, when they superimposed a skeleton onto the creature in the film, they found that it had a subtly unique method of locomotion, with the knees turning inward and then outward with each step. (This was only discovered roughly forty years after the film was shot.) No human in a gorilla suit would ever have thought to walk in this very hard-to-duplicate manner.

Numerous footprints for the creature have been found all over North America (hence, "Bigfoot"). Many of these footprints have been found in extremely remote areas, where nobody would reasonably have been expected to find them. If a hoaxer wanted to drum up some attention with some fake footprints, would he not put them somewhere where they would be more obvious?

Jimmy Chilcott, a leading fingerprint expert who has worked for the FBI, heard about these footprints and set out to debunk them as false. He examined many of the plaster casts which had been made from these prints, some of which were so finely detailed that the dermal ridges on the bottoms of the feet could be seen. Chilcott, coincidentally, had also done research on the dermal ridges of the great apes: chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas. What he found amazed him. He said that there were maybe five people in the world who knew that while the dermal ridges on the bottoms of human feet go horizontally, the ridges on the bottom of gorilla and chimpanzee feet are vertical. The ridges on sasquatch feet go diagonally.

Chilcott also said that when there are injuries to the bottoms of feet or the insides of hands, scars form in ways that affect the whorls in certain identifiable patterns. He has noticed these patterns on many of the plaster casts. He has since said that he would stake his reputation on the existence of a large bipedal ape in the North American forests.

Whenever long sets of tracks are found, they show pliable feet, meaning the toes are splayed slightly differently on each stride, depending on the terrain. If a hoaxer were to try to establish a fake set of footprints, he would most likely fashion a fake foot made out of wood or somesuch. Such a foot would not be able to flex and adapt to the ground: it would be stiff and unyielding. But the tracks which are found show natural footfalls, with the toes placed slightly differently in relation to each other, depending on the amount of rocks in the mud, or other anomalies. This would mean that a hoaxer would have had to have constructed a fake foot made out of some sort of rubbery, pliant material. To do that, and also have the level of sophisticated detail recounted by Chilcott, in footprints found in various far flung areas of North America, over the course of many decades, would basically be impossible.

Expert trackers can tell from a footprint how much the creature weighed. Many of the footprints show extremely heavy animals, as heavy as 800 pounds. One tracker commented that in order for a hoaxer to have created the tracks he saw, a 300 pound man would have had to have strapped on the fake feet and taken six foot strides for a long way through the forest -- with another 300 pound man on his back.

There are over 400 sightings a year in North America. (And one must add to that all the sightings that go unreported for fear of ridicule.) There is a remarkable similarity between many of the reported sightings. People describe a creature up to nine feet tall, usually covered in brown or black hair (not fur). There is less hair on the face than elsewhere. Its face is often reported as looking halfway between a gorilla and a man. It is often said to have a distinctive sagittal crest atop its head (like a gorilla). No ears or genitals are visible. It has large eyes which glow in the dark, like other nocturnal animals. It head seems to be set right on its shoulders, and it usually turns its body to look to the side. It is usually described as being tremendously powerful-looking, with huge shoulders and a massive body, and it evidently has a very distinctive, smooth-flowing, long stride. When so inclined it can run extremely fast. Its arms are long, with its hands sometimes extending to it knees. It has large feet and hands for its size.

Sasquatch reportedly have a very loud, fearsome cry, which will often start out as a high-pitched scream and descend into a deep roar. Many people report that the entire forest will go eerily silent around the time of a sighting. This is supposedly because the sasquatch can emit a subsonic sound which frightens all the other animals in the vicinity. (Orcas can do the same.) Even humans are susceptible to this sound, and many have reported a feeling of extreme nervousness right before their sighting.

Skeptics dismiss these sightings as hallucinatory. But the sightings always occur in areas with large amount of forest cover, a dependable fresh water source, and plentiful food, i.e., ungulates and berries.

The people who have sightings tend to be park rangers, hikers, campers, hunters, horseback riders, and those who live in remote areas. Some immediately sense that the creature meant them no harm, and was just curious.But many are terrified, and say that they have never gone back to that area where they saw the creature. Many who report their sightings to the BFRO still show symptoms of fear years later when recounting the incidents. Some people who have seen it from their cars even avoid driving on those roads again.

Many of the reporters have said that they either haven't told their friends or even family for fear of ridicule. Those who have have often been told by their friends that they must have seen a bear walking on its hind legs. But virtually all of the sighters have insisted that they know what a bear walking on its hind legs looks like, and there was no way that what they saw was a bear.

For one of the more dramatic and interesting sightings, follow this link:

Sasquatch can evidently see much better than us. (One hunter reported that he spotted a sasquatch through his telescopic sight, from three hundred yards away; the sasquatch, partly hidden by some branches, was calmly observing him.) They can probably smell better and hear better as well. And they are far more mobile, quicker, and instinctively stay within the treeline and keep themselves hidden. If they see us coming, they stay away. Plus they're primarily nocturnal. It is little wonder they are seen so rarely.

Indian tribes throughout North America named local mountain ridges after this creature, and this encompassed over fifteen different language groups spread all over the continent. Alaskan totem poles hundreds of years old show what are clearly anthropoid faces. But how could the Aleuts have known about primates? There are no other known species of primates in North America. To this day on Indians on reservations throughout the generally believe in sasquatch. To them it is not a mythical beast. This, of course, is partly because the reservations tend to be located in the type of wild, thinly settled areas where sightings occur.

Back before Europe was as densely populated as it is today, sasquatch probably lived there, too. It seems likely that the werewolf myth was based on a European relative of sasquatch. Consider: a werewolf was supposed to be a nocturnal creature, strangely manlike but covered in hair, immensely strong and preternaturally fast, which emitted a fearsome howl. Other than a few Roman centurions, no white man had ever seen a gorilla until the mid-1800's. So if a villager saw a sasquatch at night, what was he to think? They naturally attributed it to the supernatural, and came up with the theory that these creatures were changelings, human by day and werewolf by night. One of the more compelling aspects of this theory is the sheer prevalence of the werewolf myth, which existed in every European country, from Romania to France, from Norway to Greece.

It's easy to imagine that sasquatch is also responsible for a lot of ghost stories: how else to account for howling, moaning, fast-moving creatures which one may not even see?

So what exactly is a sasquatch?

It is most likely a remnant population of Gigantopithecus, the giant bipedal ape thought to have gone extinct on the Asian continent roughly 500,000 years ago. (It has been speculated that Gigantopithecus crossed the Bering land bridge in an earlier Ice Age, approximately 1.6 million years ago.) All there is to substantiate it are a few fossilized teeth, yet from this Gigantopithecus has attained a perfectly respectable scientific recognition. Contrast this to its modern day descendant, which there is a film of, and over 400 sightings a year of, yet which is widely regarded as a joke.

So why haven't they found a body yet? Nature is very efficient at disposing of carcasses, especially in the moist, humid environments sasquatch tends to favor. It takes only weeks before a large mammal will be reduced to its skeleton, and the bones will then generally be dispersed shortly thereafter by animals which chew them for their marrow.

The primary organization investigating these sightings is the Bigfoot Research Organization. Wander around its website sometime (just click on "home" from the link given above). I've read all of the 4026 sightings reports currently on the website (roughly 20 new reports appear in an average month). The BFRO does a good job of weeding out the hoaxers. There are all sorts of fairly sophisticated forensic psychological techniques that can be used to see if someone is a liar, and the BFRO employs them. The police use somewhat similar techniques when interviewing witnesses to a crime. If they ask the witness what the eye color was of the violent criminal, and the witness tells them, then they can be fairly sure the witness is lying (witnesses in those circumstances tend to focus on several things, none of which is eye color). After the BFRO talks to a witness extensively, they then ask his neighbors if he is a trustworthy person. Then, and only then, will they post the report. And they never name the sighter, to weed out those looking for a moment in the limelight.

The BFRO doesn't edit the reports, which are kept verbatim as written by each sighter (with a short note from the local BFRO investigator at the end of each report). This is one of the most convincing aspects of the reports. If the BFRO was a hoax, they would have a small handful of writers churning out reports. After a while, certain similarities in writing style would emerge. But the writing styles in these reports are extremely varied, with a seemingly infinite number of ways to describe very similar observations and experiences. Either the BFRO has unbelievably intelligent and creative people hoaxing, or these sightings are real.

The creature has been sighted all over world. In the Himalayas it is known as the yeti, or Abominable Snowman. In Australia it is known as the yowie. There are reported sightings of similar creatures in Siberia, in the Caucuses, and in South America (in the Amazon it is called the mapingueira). In China it is known as the yeren. In Malaysia, as the Serjarang Gigi. Even within the United States, the creature has acquired different names. In Alabama, it has traditionally been known as the booger. In Florida, they call it the skunk ape. In South Carolina, there have been sightings of a seven foot tall green creature known as the "lizard man" (whose greenish tint is thought to have come from the algae in the swamps it inhabits). In southwestern Wisconsin, there have been numerous reported sightings of a "werewolf."

The media, of course, regards the creature as a joke. The Weekly World News, which has since gone defunct, certainly did its part to keep sasquatch a national joke by featuring headlines like "I was kidnapped and raped by a lovesick Bigfoot" alongside reports of Elvis sightings. In China, they accept its existence. In Nepal, they feel the same way. Even on Indian reservations in the US, its existence is generally acknowledged. But if you're reading this post, you live in a world in which the very idea of its existence is thought to be crazy.

It is actually remarkable the lengths to which people will go to dismiss the creature's existence. Take another look at the photo of the animal taken from the game camera at the top. Pennsylvania Department of Wildlife officials quickly said that it was a picture of a bear. But it is obviously not a bear, its proportions are all wrong. It is a primate (either a chimp or a juvenile sasquatch); yet wildlife officials were willing to ignore their lyin' eyes in order not to be laughed at.

If you can ignore all the noise and silliness and just look at the evidence -- the Patterson-Gimlin film, the footprints, Jimmy Chilcott's testimony, the number of sightings, the similarity of the reports, the Indian lore -- it's quite convincing. In fact, it would basically have been impossible to fake that film or all those footprints. In the words of Sherlock Holmes, once you have eliminated the impossible, what is left, no matter how improbable, is the truth. (Perhaps I shouldn't be quoting a fictional character in these circumstances, but his words seem apropos.)

Either I'm crazy or it exists. (I present the rest of this blog as evidence of my sanity -- or craziness, take your choice; if you like Obama I guess this will make it easier to discount the existence of sasquatch.)

But I'd stake my life on the fact that it exists.

(Maybe that actually is proof of my insanity.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Kathrine Switzer vs. Bobbi Gibb

(above, the original incident involving Kathrine Switzer; on right, Bobbi Gibb, on top at the time of her run, and at bottom more recently as a lawyer; below, Switzer on left at a recent book signing)

Kathrine Switzer was in NYC yesterday signing autographs at the NY Mini 10K run. She is a minor feminist icon for having run the Boston Marathon back in 1967, back when women were prohibited from running marathons because it was thought to be dangerous for them to run that distance.

Switzer entered the 1967 Boston Marathon as K.V. Switzer, got an entry, showed up on the day of the race, and started running. When Jock Semple, the official in charge of the race, saw her running, he ran up to her and demanded that she turn in her number and stop running. Her boyfriend then shoved Semple and sent him flying. Switzer finished the race in four hours and twenty minutes. (Another woman, Bobbi Gibb, who had hidden in the bushes near the start, also ran that same marathon with much less fuss and finished an hour ahead of Switzer, despite having spent the previous four days and three nights on a bus from San Diego.)

Switzer later went on to become an excellent marathoner, winning the New York City Marathon in 1974 with a 3:07 and recording a personal best of 2:51 in the 1975 New York Marathon.

Certainly Switzer deserves credit for having run a marathon back in the day when popular opinion was that women were too fragile to do so. And it took a certain audacity to officially enter the marathon knowing that it was a men's race. Feminists the world over undoubtedly cheered when Semple was sent flying. And make no mistake, it was the photographs of this incident that made Switzer an international media star. But when a woman's boyfriend assaults someone, how does that make her a hero?

Semple was made out to be the villain in this incident, but think of it from his point of view. Switzer had entered under false pretenses, and Semple must have felt she was mocking his race, the same way people dressed as clowns had done in previous years. So it would have been perfectly natural for him to be angry. And bear in mind, Semple did not single-handedly decree that women should not be allowed to run long distances; at the time the AAU didn't have a single race for women above a mile and a half.

Switzer has since gone on to essentially make a career of that 1967 incident.

Bobbi Gibb, the woman who finished an hour ahead of Switzer in that original Boston marathon with much less fanfare, went on to receive her BS from the University of California in 1969, majoring in philosophy with a minor in mathematics and fulfilling all the pre-med requirements. (She claims she was denied admission to med school because of her gender.) According to Wikipedia:

"Gibb then worked with Professor Jerome Lettvin at MIT on epistemology and color vision while studying law. In 1974, Gibb entered the New England School of Law, graduating in 1978. She worked as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts State Legislature, studied natural systems, and pursued her interest in sculpture and painting. She joined the Massachusetts Bar in 1979. While raising her family, she practiced law, specializing in real and intellectual property. She worked, for part of that time, in patent law...In 2000, she produced a documentary on her art and running entitled Where the Spirit Leads. She pursues a career in art and writes on a wide range of topics including economics, spirituality, the nature of natural systems, and the phenomenon of subjective experience. Recently she joined the Cecil B. Day Neuromuscular Laboratory, in Boston, as an associate working to find the causes of and cures for neurodegenerative diseases, specifically amyotrophic lateral sclerosis."

I have no idea whether Bobbi Gibb was actually good at all of those things or was just a dilettante. (Either way, she sounds highly intelligent.) But she had the courage to try a lot of different things, and had the courage to run the marathon without a boyfriend for protection. It seems to me she'd make a far better feminist icon than Kathrine Switzer.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Different Drum

Sorry, but it's Saturday night and I have nothing better to do than watch old music videos on Youtube. (Actually, I'm not sure that at my age there is anything better to do.)

Another of the greatest rock and roll songs was Linda Ronstadt's Different Drum. No matter how many times I listen to it, this plaintive, wailing sweet tune always seems to increase the level of serotonin in my brain:

(The video is not worth watching but listen to the song while doing something else.)

River Deep Mountain High

One of the greatest rock and roll anthems of all time:

Watching this video, and watching Tina Turner in her various other incarnations, she seems the personification of a wild woman, untamed and fierce and indomitable. Hard to believe that as a young woman she would just passively let Ike Turner beat the crap out of her on a regular basis.

This video is from Tina's early days; the background dancing is dated but still very cool-looking, and very evocative of the 60's.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


The following news item was on last night:

"FLA Christian School Fires Teacher over "Fornication" Claims.

A former Florida teacher said the administrators of a Christian school where she was employed fired her because she became pregnant just before her wedding, reported.

Now, she has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the private school in St. Cloud, Fla.

Jarrestta Hamilton said April of 2009 was the happiest month of her life. She was a newlywed and newly pregnant and teaching fourth graders at Southland Christian School. She said it was about that time when she was approached by the administration to talk about "maternity leave."

She said when asked, she admitted that the baby was conceived three weeks before the wedding. A week later, she said the school fired her. Attorney Ed Gay is helping Hamilton sue the school, claiming that her termination amounts to discrimination based on her pregnancy and marital status..."

Maybe this was just an excuse to fire an incompetent teacher. Maybe the school felt that if it inveighed against non-marital sex to the students, that it would look hypocritical to have them be taught by a teacher who conceived pre-maritally. Maybe they actually felt that she had committed a sin.

Whatever their real reasoning, it seems a bit.....unChristian to fire her. Did Jesus not accept Mary Magdalene?

Or is Christianity all about turning the other cheek.....doing unto others as you would have them do unto you....God accepting all of us (and all of us accepting God).....and waiting three weeks for that official contract from the state of Florida before letting your husband-to-be stick his thing into you?

That last part sounds a bit more like Islam.

Teen lingo

The other day my 15-year-old daughter gave me a tutorial on expressions that teen-age girls use. (My guess is that boys don't use these as much.) Here goes:

Awky: adj, awkward, especially referring to a social situation.

Cool: adj, an all-purpose word to be used to express approval of virtually anything or anybody.

Legit: adj, used to express even stronger approval than the somewhat mild "cool."

Sketchy: adj, doubtful or weird; a claim which is somewhat dubious; can also be used to express disapproval of a person about whom you have misgivings.

TY: Short for "thank you"; to be used only when wanting to be purposely obnoxious.

GTFO: An internet acronym (short for "get the fuck out") adapted by teen girls for spoken use; must always be said with an implied exclamation point at the end.

STFU: Another internet acronym ("shut the fuck up") to be spoken with the same breathless delivery.

LOL: Yet another acronym, but to be used in spoken language only in an ironic way.

If you're the type who enjoys watching your teenage daughter squirm, use these words in front of her friends.

It'll be very awky for her, guaranteed.

Sociopaths: An appetite for danger

(Joran van der Sloot)

It's hard for most of us to comprehend the mindset of a sociopath, to fathom how utterly cold they are. When most people are told that a sociopath has no conscience, they think, hmm, there are times when I've done something bad and it doesn't particularly bother me. Gee, I wonder if that makes me a sociopath. Or they think, gee, I've felt schadenfreude from time to time, does that make me a bad person?

(It doesn't.)

A sociopath feels exactly as much concern for other people as you might feel for your toaster. If it breaks, you might think, damn it, I have to get another one. But it would never occur to you to feel the least bit of sympathy or concern or guilt about the toaster itself. (This is not an exaggeration -- that is exactly how sociopaths feel.)

I remember once watching a prison show on TV where a guard said, "We have some bad people in here. I mean, these are guys that will stab you and then sit on your body and eat a sandwich."

That is a perfect illustration of sociopathy. Imagine such a scene. Let's say you've just killed someone for some reason -- you've just ended his entire life, all of his hopes and dreams. And he will probably have relatives who will be besides themselves with grief (besides wanting revenge on his killer). How would you react?

Most of us would be stunned by the enormity of what we had just done. At the very least, we'd be extremely concerned that if we're caught, we'll be spending the rest of our lives in jail, and that we'd better do something quick to cover our tracks. We'd be feeling an intense mixture of horror, regret, and panic.

What we wouldn't be thinking is, hey, a corned beef on rye would really hit the spot right now.

Joran van der Sloot, the main suspect in the Natalie Holloway disappearance in Aruba several years ago, has been in the news recently, for having murdered a woman in Peru. (This effectively "solved" the Holloway murder for most of us.)

Two days ago it emerged that he had confessed to the Peruvian murder (the evidence was overwhelming). Yesterday it came out that right after the murder, he then sipped an espresso and downed a sponge cake while his victim's battered and bloody body lay just a few feet away.

Right before the murder, van der Sloot had tried to extort $250,000 from Holloway's mother in exchange for revealing to her what had happened to her daughter. (This is not the action of a man wracked with remorse.)

Van der Sloot's father, a lawyer in training to be a judge at the time of Holloway's disappearance, was said by Aruban authorities to have advised his son that without a body they would have no case against him. (It's interesting how often people like that -- who feel no particular moral compunctions themselves -- are put in positions of moral authority.)

But Joran's father, even if not a paragon of virtue himself, was at least somewhat concerned for his son.

My guess is that Joran's mother was never concerned at all for her son. Otherwise how could he have grown up to be such a pure sociopath?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Go down kicking and screaming

I saw an old swimming buddy, Bob Kolonkowski, at a masters meet this past weekend. Bob is 62, but looks 42. And he still enjoys surfing. In fact he's been surfing so much recently that it hasn't left him much time to train for swimming. As a result, he's not swimming particularly well, but that doesn't seem to bother him, and he comes to the meets anyway.

He wears his hair in what looks like a modified shag -- or even mullet, I'm not sure -- but that's okay: his activities are the same as they were twenty-five years ago, too.

I told him, "You know, there's a rule in masters swimming that if you look twenty years younger than you are, but are only swimming ten years younger, you get DQ-ed from your events."

He smiled and explained how his hobby had left little time for swimming, said he was going to go surfing later that day, and told me about the recent Costa Rican surfing vacation he had taken with his son. He radiated enthusiasm as he talked about the waves off Costa Rica. He then invited me out to his house, which is evidently within walking distance of the beach on Long Island. "I have seven surfboards in my garage," he said by way of enticement. (At this point I had to confess that I wasn't a surfer.)

Sixty-two years old, yet he still surfs at every opportunity -- because he's still a teenager at heart. I guess he never saw any percentage in getting old.

It's hard to argue with him on that score.

I hope he has another thirty years of riding the waves ahead of him.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A woman with a man's disease

Debrahlee Lorenzana has been enjoying her fifteen minutes after having claimed that she was fired from Citibank for being too "hot." Evidently her managers told her that she shouldn't wear certain clothes because it was too distracting to her male coworkers. According to Debrahlee -- could her parents have possibly come up with a trashier name? -- her managers told her that other similarly attired females were not as distracting because of their general unattractiveness, but that she presented a problem when she wore form-fitting clothing.

Personally, I could have concentrated on my work just fine around her. But tastes vary; some guys like women who resemble cows.

Debrahlee, from the way she comports herself, seems to feel that tastes don't vary, and that every guy must drool at the sight of her.

This situation brings to mind a fairly consistent gender difference: in general, the average man tends to think himself better-looking than he actually is, whereas the average woman tends to think herself worse-looking. (Testosterone builds ego even more effectively than muscle.)

Every now and then, however, you come across a woman who, perhaps with the encouragement of a couple of Citibank managers with poor taste (as well as judgment), thinks herself hotter than she is.

Miss Too-Sexy-For-Her-Shirt must have her share of testosterone.

Let's hope Playboy, which semi-specializes in women who've been embroiled in various controversies, doesn't give her a contract.

Addendum, 6/9/10: Turns out her twins weren't even real. Just one more bit of evidence that women with implants and men on steroids are much more exhibitionistic than those who are naturally buxom or muscular.