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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Princess Diana II

Is it that slow a news day or is the attention being paid to Chelsea Clinton's wedding just a bit excessive?

Friday, July 30, 2010

"This I know how to do."

The NY Post had an item on Page Six this morning about how President Obama attended a fundraiser at The Four Seasons yesterday and then went to a private dinner for "fashion royalty" at Anna Wintour's.

(The Devil raises money for Barack Obama? Only fitting, I guess.)

Obama gave a brief speech to Wintour's guests and said he wasn't worried about his low poll numbers. He said he planned to go on a national tour delivering the message to voters about his administration's achievements so far.

The Page Six article then quoted him as saying, "I've got my message across before and I'll do it again. This I know how to do."

That last sentence featured an interesting choice of word order. By placing the object at the beginning of the sentence he emphasized it, and set it apart.

It was almost as if he were saying, "This I know how to do -- even if I don't know how to do other things, like govern."

Perhaps it's my political bias that causes me to read this tacit admission into the sentence. But it was a noticeable choice of word order.

That I'm sure of.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Protesting is fun

Last night U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton issued an injunction against the Arizona immigration law, SB 1070.

Despite the ruling, today's scheduled protest against the law was not called off. The marchers, eleven busloads of whom were driven in from Los Angeles, went ahead and had their protest anyway. Why cancel the party just because the reason for the party was canceled? The weather was nice, all their friends were there, and it's hard to beat that warm fuzzy feeling you get when waxing self-righteous.

So they marched from the state Capitol chanting "Hey ho, hey ho, SB 1070 has got to go." (The meter may have been a bit off, but at least it rhymed.)

They also stood outside the office of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio chanting "Sheriff Joe, we are here, we will not live in fear." (True enough; when you really fear someone you generally don't hector him right outside his office.)

Traffic on Tucson's I-19 was disrupted when protesters threw tires, paint buckets, and glass onto the highway. (It is as yet unclear how many commuters were won over with this tactic.)

Let's face it, protesting is fun. It's fun the same way throwing snowballs at cars is fun. Or heckling a comedian. Or razzing a teacher. Or having a few beers and yelling for your favorite sports team. Or looting during a power outage. Or playing mailbox baseball. All of these things allow you to feel naughty and work out aggression at the same time.

And protesting is as gratifying as rebelling against your parents.

Most people outgrow this kind of thing after their teen years. But not everybody. The high derived from protesting can be habit-forming. You get swept up in the crowd's frenzy. You feel a certain strength in numbers, and an exultation in your collective power. You get to yell at the top of your lungs, which can be therapeutic in a primal scream sort of way. You get to hang out with like-minded people. And to top it all off you get to feel virtuous.

It certainly beats reading a book and actually trying to learn about whatever it is you're protesting.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Change in health care priorities

The New York Times ran an article in their business section this morning titled "A Shift Toward Fighting Fat." It talked about how the money targeting obesity has grown while the money aimed at stopping smoking has shrunk commensurately:

"And the nation's battle to shed pounds has in its corner the White House, with Michelle Obama leading a new campaign against childhood obesity. Shortly after the first lady kicked off the 'Let's Move' program, the administration awarded more funds to fight obesity than tobacco through two big new money sources for preventive health. The funds, totaling $1.15 billion, came from economic stimulus and health care reform legislation. They still provided $200 million for tobacco use prevention, but much more to grapple with obesity."

Come to think of it, it would be a bit awkward for Michelle Obama to make an anti-smoking campaign her signature cause as First Lady.

But it'd be awfully funny if she did.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A rule with no exceptions

Nothing quite says class like a guy with a pair of earrings.

Before and after

(above left and right, before and after pictures of Sammy Sosa; immediately above, Bruce Jenner triumphing in Olympic decathlon, 1976; right, a more recent picture of Jenner)

Steve Sailer's blog ( recently featured before and after pictures of Sammy Sosa in a post about skin color and status in foreign countries. And whatever dermal treatment Sosa has used has bleached his skin quite a bit. Sailer attributes Sosa's "creepy" appearance to the newly heightened contrast between his skin color and lip color.

But Sosa's features also seem to have become feminized. He now has a vaguely drag queenish look: his cheeks are fuller and softer. This is what happens when you stop taking steroids. If your body receives an exogenous supply of testosterone for a while, it stops generating the hormone on its own. (This is why the testicles shrink.) Eventually, when you go off them, your body will be receiving no testosterone from either source, and as a result you'll develop feminine secondary sexual characteristics. (This is why ex-steroid users sometimes start to grow breasts.)

There is a difference between the two sets of before and after photos with Sosa. In the set at top left, the before shot shows Sosa at the peak of his home run swatting powers; he has a hard, gristly look. In the set on the right, the lefthand shot shows him after he's off the steroids, but before the bleaching treatment: although his skin is still dark, he has already acquired a softer look.

(It makes one wonder if having a lower level of testosterone predisposes one to having one's skin lightened; the only other guy I know of who had a similar treatment was Michael Jackson.)

Bruce Jenner went through a similar metamorphosis. Jenner was the Olympic decathlon champion who later went on to become a sort of show biz hanger on; he is probably now most famous as the stepfather to the Kardashian clan. His striking change in appearance since 1976 is generally attributed to plastic surgery. But he was widely rumored to have been one of the first Americans to use steroids, and as such, was not familiar with the fact that you're supposed to cycle them, i.e., use them for brief periods and take breaks in between doses, otherwise you permanently kill your own body's ability to produce testosterone.

As a result Jenner's cheeks have had very feminine contours since the 1980's, and now he actually looks more like the Kardashians' stepmother. (Note to Bruce: that pouffy hairdo, which must be intended to evoke 1976, does nothing but emphasize your feminine appearance.)

There's a neat yin and yang symmetry to what has happened to these men. Try to make yourself super-masculine at some point and eventually you'll pay the price by becoming more feminine.

It's sort of like that story "Flowers for Algernon," but about masculinity rather than intelligence.

In any case, both men are now cautionary tales.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


(The Milky Way galaxy)

My father mentioned yesterday that the nearest star to our sun is Alpha Centauri (in fact a double star), which is 4.2 light years away. A light year, of course, is the distance that light, which travels 186,000 miles per second, can travel in a year.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is a spiral galaxy approximately a hundred thousand light years in diameter and about two thousand light years thick. The period of our sun's orbit about the center of the galaxy is approximately once every two hundred and fifty million years.

The Milky Way contains between 200 and 400 billion stars.

(Our neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, contains approximately a trillion stars.)

There are over a billion galaxies in the Universe. And that's just the observable part of the Universe.

And the universe is ever expanding.

It is always said that contemplation of these facts will remind one of one's own insignificance in the cosmos. And how trivial our problems really are.

My ego (and my problems) are such that it fails to have that effect on me.

But perhaps it will work for you.

(Or, maybe you can use that line of logic the next time someone complains to you. Just say, "Hey, we're just one little planet out of nine in the solar system, our sun is just one of three hundred billion stars in our galaxy, and there are billions of galaxies in the universe. On our little planet there are 62,000 species of vertebrate animals among over a million animals worldwide. And of our species, you're just one of seven billion. So stop being so goddamned egocentric -- no one really gives a shit about your problems.")

Friday, July 23, 2010


A violent storm came through my hometown two days ago and much of the town (including our neighborhood) has been without power for almost two full days now. It certainly underlines how dependent we are on electricity.

I'm no Bear Grylls: put me in the jungle and I'd be dead within two days. I wouldn't know which plants to eat, how to kill an animal (or keep one from killing me), how to construct a rudimentary shelter, or even which water would be safe to drink.

There does seem to be something a little pathetic about a guy so utterly helpless he's almost like a newborn baby in many ways.

But as much fun as Bear is to watch on TV, I still have no particular desire to learn those things.

Most suburban -- or urban -- types are the same way. And the more civilization progresses, the softer we get. (I can't even imagine how harsh life must have been for those unfortunate souls who lived in the pre-internet era.)

Something has been lost.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


The following article appeared in today's The Guardian:

Arab guilty of rape after consensual sex with Jew

A man has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after telling a woman that he was also Jewish

A Palestinian man has been convicted of rape after having consensual sex with a woman who had believed him to be a fellow Jew.

Sabbar Kashur, 30, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Monday after the court ruled that he was guilty of rape by deception. According to the complaint filed by the woman with the Jerusalem district court, the two met in downtown Jerusalem in September 2008 where Kashur, an Arab from East Jerusalem, introduced himself as a Jewish bachelor seeking a serious relationship. The two then had consensual sex in a nearby building before Kashur left.

When she later found out that he was not Jewish but an Arab, she filed a criminal complaint for rape and indecent assault.

Although Kashur was initially charged with rape and indecent assault, this was changed to a charge of rape by deception as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

Handing down the verdict, Tzvi Segal, one of three judges on the case, acknowledged that sex had been consensual but said that although not "a classical rape by force," the woman would not have consented if she had not believed Kashur was Jewish.

The sex therefore was obtained under false pretences, the judges said. "If she hadn't thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated," they added.

The court ruled that Kashur should receive a jail term and rejected the option of a six-month community service order. He was said to be seeking to appeal.

Segal said: "The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls. When the very basis of trust between human beings drops, especially when the matters at hand are so intimate, sensitive and fateful, the court is required to stand firmly at the side of the victims – actual and potential – to protect their well being. Otherwise, they will be used, manipulated and misled, while paying only a tolerable and symbolic price."

Gideon Levy, a liberal Israeli commentator, was quoted as saying: "I would like to raise only one question with the judge. What if this guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman?

"Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not."

What exactly would happen in this country if, say, a light-skinned black man told a white woman that he was white, the two had consensual sex, and the woman then found out that he in fact had black blood and accused him of rape on those grounds? Would a court even hear the case? And what would happen if the court convicted the man? Exactly how loud would the public outcry be?

What would the NAACP have to say about it? What would President Obama say?

The fact is, they'd be right: such a conviction would be a case of racial discrimination, pure and simple. There would not have been any rape involved, not by any remotely relevant definition of the term. All of the public outrage would be against the woman, for her racism, and even more against the court, for its racism.

This was not the work of a lone rogue Israeli judge, either: there were three judges deciding the case.

The judges tried to obfuscate the naked racism involved with their statement, "If she hadn't thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated." By using the word "bachelor" they are implying that he was hiding his marital status, and there is nothing in the article which says he did that. And by using the phrase "serious romantic relationship" they are implying that this starry-eyed young ingenue was hoping that this romance might eventually lead to marriage -- but if she were interested in marriage, or even a seriously long term relationship, would she have had sex with him immediately after meeting him?

(If sex obtained under the "false pretences" of being interested in a serious relationship is a crime, then most of the male population of the US ought to be incarcerated.)

In any case, it's an interesting insight into Israeli attitudes.

What's wrong with our government

("Congressman, I really wish you'd reconsider your vote on deep water drilling in the Gulf....I'd be ever so grateful. Really....I would.")

The NY Post ran an article this morning about how House Minority Leader John Boehner has told GOP congressmen who partied with female lobbyists to "knock it off."

The Post article stated, "While there's no evidence of anything more than friendly flirtatious behavior, the lawmakers have been told to keep partying to a minimum in this midterm election year."

The article went on to cite several examples of Congressmen who had been seen in intimate conversations with "comely lobbyist[s]" in various venues.

When I was working at Goldman, we had a female lobbyist come in to give a presentation to our department one time (the partner in charge of our department had hired her to represent the firm in Washington). She was a very attractive woman, and smart enough. But she also looked, smelled, and carried herself like a high priced hooker.

Which, reading between the lines of the Post article, is what many of these female lobbyists evidently are.

(One wonders exactly how the interview process goes when one of these good-looking women applies for a job at a lobbying firm. How clear is it made to them exactly what the job entails? Or is it left up to them to make clear what they are willing to do for their job? And how exactly do these interviews square with the laws on sexual harassment -- and prostitution?)

Put yourself in the shoes of a congressman from a small town in, say, Nebraska. You've slept with exactly six women in your life (the national average for this particular statistic), one of whom is your wife. But none of the women you've been with had nearly the sexual allure of this incredible-looking creature who is sitting across from you at a fancy restaurant in Georgetown, plying you with drink. And here she is, hinting seductively that if only you would vote to allow, say, more deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, a certain intimacy will ensue. You know that such drilling might result in a horrible accident, but.....damn she looks good.

All your life it seems you've been around women who look and sound like Rachel Maddow, but this woman looks like one of those Fox news analysts.

This, in a nutshell -- or perhaps in a tight-fitting cocktail dress -- is what's wrong with our government. Congressmen are all too often willing to sell their country out for a campaign contribution -- or for a romp with the kind of woman they never got before they were congressmen.

When you think about it, this kind of behavior is downright treasonous -- and there ought to be penalties attached which reflect that.

(The only other entities which employ such honey traps are foreign intelligence services, which don't exactly have the best interests of the American people at heart either.)

But the only people who could pass a law against this sort of thing are, well, congressmen, many of whom know that their fastest ticket to wealth is to become lobbyists themselves after they leave office. And why would they voluntarily give up the kinds of goodies which are available to them before they leave office?

This is an issue which needs more airtime.

The lack of seriousness with which this issue is taken may best be indicated by the fact that the Post only ran their article as an item on Page Six.

(The NY Times, of course, would never run it at all, since even bringing up such a topic would imply that some women actually voluntarily sleep with men as part of their jobs, and that would be sexist.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

He can have his life back now

The NY Post just reported that Tony Heyward is expected to step down as CEO of BP within the next ten weeks.

A BP insider was quoted as saying, "Why keep damaged goods on the shelf?"

Why indeed.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Animal fights

A friend, Guy Davis, sent this this morning with the note, "One badass leopard":

It is an inspiring story, since crocs usually get the better of leopards, and given that we are instinctively inclined to root for our fellow mammal over a reptile.

This article brings to mind what another friend told me twenty-nine years ago: if you could get a tiger and a polar bear together, people would pay any amount of money to watch that fight.

True enough.

For generations, young boys have asked their fathers who would win in a fight, a lion or a tiger. And their fathers have almost universally answered, "A tiger, son." This answer made perfect sense: after all, tigers weigh up to 900 pounds, and are extremely graceful, whereas lions weigh in at 600 pounds at most, and generally only hunt in packs.

It turns out the answer is not that simple. Evidently the Koreans -- bloodthirsty savages that they are -- used to actually stage fights between lions and Siberian tigers. Surprisingly, at first the lions almost always won these battles to the death. The reason was twofold. First, tigers generally kill by jumping onto the backs of their prey and dispatching them with either a swipe of their powerful paws or a bite to the spine. Lions, on the other hand, will generally go for the jugular, literally: they will clamp their jaws around the throats of their prey and suffocate them to death. So when a tiger attacks from above, it leaves its throat open, leaving it vulnerable to the lion. (As they say in boxing, styles make fights.) Secondly, the Siberian tigers were surprisingly unaggressive, especially compared to lions.

So now we know: the expression "Go get 'em tiger" is in fact misleading. And "the king of the jungle" is, in fact, the king of the jungle.

Eventually the Koreans thought to bring in Bengal tigers for these fights, and the Bengals, a more aggressive breed of cat, proved an equal match for the lions.

It would be harder to figure out whom to root for there than it is in the leopard vs. crocodile matchup. Luckily, these fights are no longer allowed, so we needn't bother.

"The Sitch"

The NY Post reported this morning that Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, of Jersey Shore fame, has a workout video out and is also marketing his own line of health supplements.

Look at Sorrentino closely. Observe his weak jaw line, lack of prominent Adams apple, and thin neck. They are indicative of the modest level of endogenous testosterone he had while growing up. They don't match his muscular torso and arms, which were obviously pumped up with the aid of an exogenous supply which was introduced later. (Very few guys work on their neck muscles.)

The only supplement Sorrentino is qualified to market are the steroids which he and most of his male castmates on The Jersey Shore have taken to transform their naturally wimpy physiques.

Sorrentino's new gig as a hawker of "health" supplements is reminiscent of the time the first President Bush appointed Arnold Schwarzenegger to be the head of the President's Council on Physical Fitness. Schwarzenegger was also an admitted steroid abuser and had already suffered minor heart damage as a result (he had open heart surgery in 1997). This was the role model that kids were supposed to emulate?

No wonder that twenty years later so many knuckleheads like Sorrentino have juiced up.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Suicide rate by country

Here is a list of the suicide rates by country, from Wikipedia:

It's an interesting list. As in the United States (see previous post), the rate of suicide for men was much higher than that for women, ranging from roughly three to six times as high.

The country with the highest rate was Lithuania, at 30.7 per 100,000 population (55.9 for men and 9.1 for women). Lithuania is a relatively small country, though, with a population of 3.5 million, and tiny countries tend to be outliers on these types of charts. (Look at the list of longevity by country, and Andorra will rank first, ahead of Macau and Japan, but Andorra has a population of 73,000, so it hardly counts as a country. And Macau itself is pretty small as well.)

Second is Belarus, at 28.3 (63.3 and 10.3). Third is Kazakhstan, at 26.9. The latest year for which data were available for Kazakhstan was 2007; Borat was released in 2006. Coincidence? Maybe.

Japan, the land of hara kiri, ranks fourth at 24.4. Fifth is Russia, at 23.1. One has to wonder if the rate has gone up or down since the fall of the Soviet Union. (My guess is up.)

And sixth is Guyana, at 22.9. One has to assume the rate there was considerably higher back in 1978, the year the Reverend Jim Jones had his followers drink the Kool Aid.

The five countries with the lowest rates -- Honduras, Jordan, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, and Haiti -- all have a rate of 0.0.

Being in Haiti has never been my idea of perfect happiness. But evidently appearances are deceiving.

Suicide rates by race and sex

This table lists suicide rates in the US from 2002-2006, by race and sex. Native Americans and whites had by far the highest suicide rates, with black, Hispanics, and Asians/Pacific Islanders at less then half their rate. (I've seen similar tables for other time periods, and the results are similar.)

One hears a lot about the despair on the reservations, and how bleak life is there. That is certainly borne out by this chart. But one also hears about the hopelessness of life in the ghetto. Yet that isn't borne out by the statistics at all. Blacks kill themselves at less than half the rate that whites do.

Strangely, one never hears about the despair and hopelessness of life in the suburbs. Yet whites commit suicide at a rate almost equal to Native Americans. It's hard not to think that were the disparity between the white and black rates reversed, this difference would get a lot more attention from the media. A lot more. And it would be cited as just one more bit of proof of what a racist country we live in.

Another interesting disparity is the difference between the sexes. With the exception of Asians, where the rate is slightly more than twice as high for men as for women, men commit suicide between three and four times as frequently as women.

Yet you never hear of this disparity, either. Were this statistic reversed, one suspects that the media would be making a very big deal of it, and pontificating about how this is proof that it's a man's world, that women are subjugated, and that we need to do something to remedy this. But it's the other way around, so there is, as with the racial disparity, merely a deafening silence.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa's name is synonymous with saintliness, even if she has yet to be fully canonized by the Catholic Church. Certainly, on the surface, anyone who has devoted her life to caring for the poor of Calcutta would seem saintly. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II (this is the third of four steps to official sainthood).

Yet it's hard not to be a bit suspicious of such a pristine public image. Especially when such great care seems to have been taken to burnish that image.

Christopher Hitchens' book about her, "The Missionary Position" was published in 1995, two years before Mother Teresa died. The book details the life of an extremely ambitious woman who cultivated the rich and famous, but who did little real good for those to whom she was supposed to be ministering.

Mother Teresa, born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, was always secretive about her Albanian origins. Her father, who evidently was involved in Albanian politics, died when Agnes was nine. Agnes left home at age 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto; after that she never saw her mother or sister again. This makes one wonder what kind of family bonds she had. If she had any love at all for her family, one would think she would have made some small effort to see them, at least once. But she could never be bothered.

Question: if Agnes had no real love for her own family, how much love could she really have had for those to whom she ministered later in life?

Agnes soon thereafter took the name Teresa, after Therese de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries.

In 1952 Mother Teresa converted an abandoned Hindu temple into the Kalighat Home for the Dying. According to Wikipedia, "Those brought to the home were afforded the right to die with dignity, according to the rituals of their faith: Muslims were read the Quran, Hindus received water from the Ganges, and Catholics received the last rites."

Mother Teresa was quoted as saying, "A beautiful death is for those who lived like animals to die like angels."

Mother Teresa also opend an orphanage and a home for lepers, who received medical attention. The Lancet and the British Medical Journal, however, both criticized the quality of medical care she made available, reporting reused syringes, poor living conditions, and cold baths for all patients. Patients who might otherwise have survived died of infection and other easily diagnosable diseases because of the slipshod practices at her hospices. Mother Teresa herself did not believe in pain relief: she felt that suffering would bring people closer to Jesus.

As Hitchens points out in his book, Mother Teresa could have taken the considerable war chest she had accumulated, which amounted to over $50 million, and built the finest teaching hospital in Calcutta. But instead she chose to keep the money in the bank, and instead merely have hospices, which generally consisted of large rooms with straw mats for the indigent and dying to lie on the floor.

The money she did spend went mostly toward building new convents, the purpose of which was to spread her religious beliefs.

(When Mother Teresa herself had a heart attack, she wanted nothing to do with her own clinics. Instead she opted to be treated at a fully equipped hosital in California.)

Mother Teresa interpreted the teachings of the Church so strictly and literally that she saw no room for alternative interpretation. She said that even when a husband regularly beat his wife, the wife should not leave because divorce is a sin. However, when it came to her friend Princess Diana, Mother Teresa said that she deserved a divorce, because she had "suffered enough."

She cultivated other rich and powerful friends, for instance the Duvaliers of Haiti. Baby Doc, son of Papa Doc, and his wife Michelle, who basically stole the entire national treasury of $800 million when they left the country, may have hoped to achieve some measure of redemption through their association with her. What Mother Teresa wanted from them was probably money.

Mother Teresa also became friends with Charles Keating, of Lincoln Savings and Loan fame. She would occasionally travel on his corporate jet. When Keating was on trial in Los Angeles for fraud, she wrote a letter on his behalf to Judge Lance Ito (yes, that Lance Ito) pointing out that Keating had donated $1.25 million to her Missionaries of Charity, and asked him to "look into [his] heart" and "do what Jesus would do."

Deputy DA Paul Turley, who was prosecuting the case against Keating, then pointed out to Mother Teresa that Keating was on trial for having stolen more than $250 million from over 17,000 investors. He wrote to her:

"Ask yourself what Jesus would do if he were given the fruits of a crime; what Jesus would do if he were in possession of money which had been stolen; what Jesus would do if he were being exploited by a thief to ease his conscience? I submit that Jesus would promptly and unhesitatingly return the stolen property to its rightful owners. You should do the same. You have been given money by Mr. Keating that he has been convicted of stealing by fraud. Do not permit him the 'indulgence' he desires. Do not keep the money. Return it to those who worked for it and earned it! If you contact me I will put you in direct contact with the rightful owners of the property now in your possession."

As Hitchens then pointed out, "Mr. Turley has received no reply to his letter. Nor can anyone account for the missing money: saints, it seems, are immune to audit."

When Mother Teresa had an audience with the Pope, she flew to Rome on a private jet. Then, once in Rome with the press watching, she rejected an offer of a limousine ride to the Vatican as too ostentatious. Instead she took a bus, because that's what the common people take.

On another occasion, she visited a convent near Washington D.C. The nuns who were hosting her, excited to have such a famous guest, gave her the nicest room at the convent. But Mother Teresa, upon arriving, insisted that the room be redone in a more austere fashion which would suit her image better. So, at great expense, the nuns had her room redone.

(Wouldn't a real saint have just stayed in the room without putting her hosts to so much trouble?)

One scene from Hitchens' book has stayed with me. At one point a suffering patient at her Calcutta hospice begged her for medication, saying that his pain was just unbearable. Mother Teresa, who didn't want to spend any of the vast fortune she controlled on painkillers, refused. Instead her eyes lit up, she grasped his hand, and said, "My child, the pain means that Jesus is holding you."

It was the part about her eyes lighting up which really struck me: it was almost as if she were enjoying and savoring his pain. What kind of person enjoys this? I'm reminded of Jack Kevorkian, another who devoted his life to working with the terminally ill, and who also saw himself as a saint. There was an unquestionably ghoulish aspect to his work.

I'm even reminded of Ted Bundy, who once early on worked at a suicide hotline, theoretically helping those at the end of their tethers. Why would he, a man who clearly enjoyed causing others pain, have done this? One can only conclude it was because, at a certain level, he enjoyed savoring their pain.

I meet good, decent people all the time. They love their families and none could imagine purposely cutting off all contact with them after age eighteen. They tend to express their goodness in small but telling ways. They don't crave reputations for goodness, let alone saintliness. It's the people who express their "good character" in loud, splashy, public ways who make me suspicious. When I see a new wing of a hospital with some hedge fund billionaire's name on it, it doesn't make me think, wow, he must be a really good person. What I think is, hmm, he really wants public acclaim.

Now devoting your life to the poor of Calcutta is certainly an altogether different matter from peeling off one percent of your wealth to slap your name on a public edifice. But it's not that different than the work that Jack Kevorkian did, at least before he went to jail. And one can make the case that he actually alleviated more suffering. Mother Teresa was not interested in actually curing the ill or eliminating poverty. (In her words, "I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of poor people.") She was much more interested in giving them a place where they could die in a religious atmosphere. While burnishing her public image.

But would a real saint campaign for sainthood?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tyson, again

Back in October I wrote an impassioned defense of Mike Tyson:

Here is a recent interview with him that confirms some of that post:

In this interview Tyson is brutally honest about himself in a way that no sociopath would ever be. He also has some interesting insights about other boxers, including Muhammad Ali, whom he calls the "meanest" boxer ever.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sociopath alert: Oksana Grigorieva

(Mel and Oksana in more peaceable times)

There has been a lot of publicity recently about how Mel Gibson is out of control, ranting and raving and threatening and even hitting the mother of his newborn daughter, Oksana Grigorieva.

Gibson once threatened to burn her house down but demanded oral sex first. Another time he told her she needed "a fucking bat in the side of the head." When Gregorieva called him mean, Gibson replied, "Yeah, you know what mean is now, don't you? So don't call me mean when I'm nice to you. Because I'd like to show you what mean really is. digger! All true! You fucking proved it to me! If you're ever interested in proving otherwise, let me know....Look at yourself. And look at what you've fucking done! Look at your son. He's a fucking mess. You fucking excuse for a mother! You're a fucking bitch!"

Gregorieva also accused Gibson of hitting their baby, and supposedly has a photograph of the baby with a bruise on her chin as proof.

It's definitely been a year of living dangerously for Mad (very mad) Max, whose tongue becomes a lethal weapon after one too many tequila sunrises. And Braveheart certainly didn't make his reputation by threatening women, even a woman who tries to hold their daughter for ransom.

But a lot of guys -- including me -- would, if recorded at their angriest, sound like monsters. When you're furious, you'll say anything.

To me the more interesting question is the one the media has ignored: what kind of woman calmly goads a guy on to these heights of fury and then surreptitiously records him? Why was Gibson so angry at her in the first place? And if Gibson is so abusive, why did he never hit his other seven children with his first wife? In fact, his ex-wife Robyn just offered today to testify on his behalf that he was always a good father and husband. (If Gibson had been abusive towards Robyn, would she have been willing to testify on his behalf?)

Did Gibson suddenly become abusive towards women at age 54? Or was there something about Grigorieva that brought this out in him?

Gregorieva's Wikipedia entry says that her parents were music professors. But it also quotes her as saying, "I've always looked after myself. I've never been dependent on anyone financially." A statement like that makes one wonder about her family bonds and early upbringing.

Grigorieva was obviously after Gibson's money. (She refused to sign a prenup which would have given her $5 million.) And her one previous marriage was to James Bond portrayer Timothy Dalton, which means she searches out the rich and famous to have relationships with. These are red flags for sociopathy.

(She also looks as if she's had extensive plastic surgery, which, if done while young, is a yellow flag.)

None of this excuses Gibson's behavior. Gibson has a serious drinking problem, and when he's drunk he uses vile racial epithets. (And given the nature of what he's said, he may use them when sober as well.)

Gibson hasn't been very popular in Hollywood since he made The Passion of the Christ. And his intemperate racial statements have turned off many. So a lot of people seem to be rejoicing in his downfall. But these recent tapes have to be viewed in the context of his relationship with a sociopath.

(I'm not a Whoopi Goldberg fan, but Goldberg, to her immense credit, did say after the tapes came out that in all her dealings with Gibson over the years he never seemed racist to her. Which makes one suspect that his raging at Grigorieva that she would "be raped by a pack of niggers" was more a function of him instinctively using the ugliest language while in the ugliest of moods rather than a considered statement of his attitude towards all black people.)

Gibson needs to go through that twelve step program, dry out, do some apologizing for his racial language, and choose his paramours more wisely.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Oksana's sociopathy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


(Aimee Sword)

The following article appeared last night on

"Mich. Woman Gets 9 Years for Sex With Son

Pontiac, Mich. -- A Detroit-area woman who pleaded guilty to having sex with the biological son she gave up for adoption and later tracked down on the Internet has been sentenced nine years to 30 years in prison.

Thirty-six-year-old Aimee L. Sword of Waterford Township apologized at her sentencing Monday in Oakland County Circuit Court. She had pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in a deal with prosecutors.

Police say Sword used Facebook in 2008 to find her son, who's now 16. She gave him up for adoption as an infant.

He testified they had sex in Waterford Township and Grand Rapids."

This article left out all the interesting parts of the story: When Aimee tracked down her son, did she identify herself as his mother? If not, did she lie about anything else, like her age? Was he aware that she was his mother by the time they had sex? If not, when did he find out? What was his reaction? Does she have other children? If so, what was their reaction? Is she married? What has she done with her life in the intervening 16 years? Does she have a track record of perverted crimes or was this her first?

As perverted and sick as this story is, I find myself actually feeling a bit of sympathy for the mother. It's easy to imagine that she had always felt a gap in her life because she had given her son up as an infant. His absence may have been an emptiness that gnawed at her over the years, and she felt the usual -- and perfectly natural -- maternal longings. Then maybe her feelings overwhelmed her -- in an unnatural way -- when she met her son. Or maybe the only way she could get his attention via Facebook was to promise sex, and when they got together, she felt obliged to deliver.

Of course, none of this excuses what she did; but it does make it more understandable.

Psychologists have long known that we are predisposed to not want to have sex with people whom we have watched grow up. This has obvious evolutionary benefits. But Sword did not bring her son up, so those natural inhibitions did not get formed. There have been other documented cases of reunited siblings who have sex with each other, even when they knew they were related. Some of them described the attraction as the most powerful they had ever felt.

Maybe Sword is a long time perv, in which case she doesn't deserve any sympathy. I'm just holding out the possibility that she's not, and her inexcusable act was more a matter of temporary insanity than conscienceless self-indulgence.

In any case, it sounds like something a Greek dramatist should write a play about.

Addendum, same day: Turns out that Sword was married and living with her husband and five other children at the time. And the boy's adoptive parents knew he was staying with his biological mother, so he was aware that he was her mother before he had sex with her. Sword said later that she still hasn't figured out what happened and is going to seek therapy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The un-bucket list

The concept of compiling lists of things we want to do before we kick the bucket has gotten a fair amount of publicity recently. There was even a movie by that title which came out a couple years ago.

Most people have lists which include things like, visit Nepal, or learn to fly an airplane, or make love to so-and-so, or shoot a hole-in-one.

I have a similar list: Things I ought to do, but realistically speaking, know I will never do before I die. It includes:

Read the collected works of Shakespeare and really appreciate him. (It's such a pain to go down to the bottom of the page to find out what all those words mean.)

Read the Bible. (Put me in a prison cell with nothing to read but the St. James version, and even then I might not make much progress. Of course, in those circumstances I might actually need to be born again.)

Re-read my calculus textbook so as to once again appreciate the elegance of higher math and marvel at the intelligence of whoever first came up with those theorems. (But the internet and Page Six beckon....)

Take up a new sport, like skiing. (Too much energy.)

Learn a foreign language. (I actually took Spanish for three whole weeks after returning from Spain in 1999, but then realized I would never spend enough time in Spain to make it worthwhile.)

See a sasquatch in person. (I've spent enough time tramping around in the woods searching for the Big Fella to know that the Native Americans are right; you'll only see him when he wants to let you, not when you want to see him.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Echoes of OJ

(above, Bruno Souza with family; at right, Eliza Samudio)

Yesterday's NY Post ran the following article:

"One of Brazil's soccer superstars is under arrest for masterminding the murder of his former mistress -- a model and porn actress -- whose dismembered body was fed to dogs.

Bruno Souza, 25, and six other people, including his wife Dayane, are being held in the grisly case.

Souza, the goalkeeper for Brazil's championship Flamengo team, met the beautiful victim, Eliza Samudio, at a teammate's party last year and got her pregnant the first night they spent together, police said.

But he became enraged when she insisted on keeping the baby. Samudio filed a complaint in October, saying Souza beat her and tried to force her to swallow an abortion-inducing drug.

After their child, now four months old, was born and Samudio tried to prove Souza was the father, he hired a former police detective, Luiz Aparecido Santos, to kidnap, beat and murder her, investigators said....

Souza was taken in handcuffs from his prison cell for DNA testing yesterday to establish a physical link to the murder. But he exercised his legal right to refuse to give any samples.

Souza, who captained his team to the Brazilian championship last year, said he is innocent and has a "clear conscience." He complained that the Samudio case might spoil his chance to play for Brazil in the next World Cup."

A handsome black sports superstar (who also happens to be a sociopath, as the last paragraph indicates) gets in trouble for the grisly murder of a light-skinned woman he was involved with? I swear, I've heard this story somewhere before. I just can't figure out where.


A friend forwarded this very clever piece of writing, which you may already have seen. (Sorry about the small type, I can't seem to enlarge it):

Following the Bible: Some Questions

In her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination accordingto Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.The following response is an open letter to Dr.Laura, penned by a US resident, which was posted on the Internet.

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most

women take offence.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wriggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them?
Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan.

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus, Dept. Of Curriculum,
Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

(It would be a damn shame if we couldn't own a Canadian :)

Addendum, 7/13/10: It turns out that James M. Kauffman, who really is a distinguished Professor Emeritus at UV, is not the author of this letter, which has now been circulating on the internet under his name for ten years now. Someone by the name of Kent Ashcraft has claimed authorship, but the legitimacy of that claim is not clear.

Sports fans

All of the hoopla about fan reaction to Lebron's decision makes one wonder about what goes through the heads of some hardcore sports fans. Why do some people identify with a particular professional sports team so closely?

I'm a swimming fan. Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer of all time. I marvel at his accomplishments in the water, but if he were to leave the North Baltimore Aquatic Club for, say, Texas Aquatics, I wouldn't feel as if he had some how tarnished his legacy. More to the point, I feel no personal connection with him. If he falls on his face in the 2012 Olympics, I'll find that interesting, but I won't particularly care. His loss will simply be another swimmer's gain. I follow Phelps because I'm fascinated by the limits of athletic achievement, especially when it comes to moving fast through the water. I certainly don't bear him any ill will. But I don't really root for him either.

Many of LeBron's fans acted as if their boyfriend just broke up with them. Dan Gilbert, as pointed out by Guy in his comment after the previous post, is acting particularly like a woman scorned. But, as the owner of the Cavaliers, he at least had a reason to feel that way, even if he expressed himself intemperately.

I understand national pride in a sports team, especially when yours is a small country going up against a behemoth, and even more so when your country is ethnically cohesive and the athletes look like you. Ethnic pride is universal, and natural.

But what about the people who had no real personal connection with Lebron? Or what about hard core Mets fans, or Yankees fans, or Celtics fans. Do the fans of these teams not realize that these are just a somewhat random collection of talented athletes bound mostly by a common love of money? These are just guys who happen to have the same employer, and as often as not it's a temporary employer.

It would make as much sense to root for Hewlett Packard over Dell. Or Toyota over Honda. Really: who cares?

Evidently a lot of fans.

Note to fans: you should care as much about your sports heroes as they care about you. Admire their athletic ability, sure, but please, don't invest your personal feelings in them. Save those for people who care about you.

(Like the way I hold myself up as a paragon of rationality?)

Friday, July 9, 2010

New episode of The Bachelor

I'm not a basketball fan, but the hoopla surrounding LeBron James' decision was so overwhelming that I found myself turning to ESPN during my Thursday evening channel surfing. They showed James' highlight reel, which was impressive, but the rest of the show -- or the three minutes I saw, in any case -- was less so.

It was reminiscent of nothing so much as The Bachelor, where the hotly pursued bachelor narrows down the field until he makes his choice. LeBron did everything but hand out red roses to the teams he rejected and humiliated. The only difference being, I don't think any of those girls felt nearly as humiliated as the rejected teams' owners seemed to.

(Or did the bachelor hand out the roses to the girls he picks? I'm not pretending not to know, I honestly don't remember.)


There is a woman who lives in my hometown who is always friendly, always laughing, and always has a joke at hand. She recently sent us a card about our son which struck just the right note:

"As we celebrate [our daughter's] graduation and forward march to college, we are thinking of you. Both [my husband] and I know how proud you must be of Johnny's noble pursuit but how terrified too. Know you and his safety are in our thoughts."

It was brief but complete, and sympathetic but not cloying.

I recently found out that this woman has a serious kidney problem, serious enough that she was unable to accompany her family on their spring vacation (she evidently insisted they go without her). And she's had this problem for a while.

I didn't hear about any of this from her. In fact, I have never once heard her complain. As stated above, she always seems to be in a good mood, and despite her own problem her concerns are focused on others.

The word "class" is overused, but it applies here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dishonor system

Yesterday's NY Times reported on the lengths to which officials at The University of Central Florida go to prevent cheating on tests:

"No gum is allowed during an exam: chewing could disguise a student's speaking into a hands free cellphone to an accomplice outside. The 228 computers that students use are recessed into desk tops so that anyone trying to photograph the screen -- using, say, a pen with a hidden camera, in order to help a friend who will take the test later -- is easy to spot.

"Scratch paper is allowed -- but it is stamped with the date and must be returned later. When a proctor sees something suspicious, he records the student's real time work at the computer and directs an overhead camera to zoom in, and both sets of images are burned onto a CD for evidence."

An overhead camera? What was the dean's previous job -- pit boss at the Bellagio?

In any case, the methods used by the UCF students certainly sound more sophisticated than those used by the Russians spies who were just caught. Perhaps the SVR (the KGB's successor agency) would do better if it recruited from UCF.

And from a moral point of view, we've come a long way from West Point's famed honor system.

Whatever did happen to honor?

Probably the same thing that happened to chivalry, noblesse oblige, and modesty. Somewhere along the line it was deemed useless and consigned to the garbage bin of no longer desirable character traits.

The UCF students are evidently a little reminiscent of long term inmates, who with nothing else to do are constantly figuring out ways to circumvent prison rules. These inmates are actually ingenious at figuring out ways to communicate with each other, to make shivs, to smuggle drugs into the prison, and to make moonshine.

The UCF students ought to get a sort of prize for creativity, if not honor.

There was only one confusing aspect to this story: given the lengths to which they evidently go to obtain good grades, couldn't they have gotten into a better school?

Monday, July 5, 2010


(left top, Takeru Kobayashi; at right, Joey "Jaws" Chestnut)

It's always surprising to see the people who win the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. You'd expect them to have bodies to match their eating habits. As Samuel Johnson once said, gluttony is the one public vice. By all rights, Takeru Kobayashi, the six-time champion, should look like a sumo wrestler. And Joey Chestnut ought to look like the Michelin Tire Man.

Are their metabolisms just so fast that they burn off everything they consume? Are their digestive systems so strong that everything just passes through without being deposited on their bodies as fat? Are their insulin levels abnormal? All of the above?

And how exactly was it that these fellows found out that they were good at eating huge quantities of food at one sitting? How does one stumble across that fact if one doesn't have a regular taste for that kind of self-destructive behavior?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Malignant intent

The Reverend Wright was in the news again this week for some of his more incendiary comments while teaching a seminar in Chicago. Wright evidently said, "White folk done took this country. You're in their home, and they're gonna let you know it."

He did his best to advocate racial harmony to his mostly African-American audience by saying, "You are not now, nor will you ever be, a brother to white folk. And if you do not realize that, you are in serious trouble."

Wright called Italian-Americans "Mamma Luigi" and "pizzeria."

And he said that the educational system in this country is designed to mis-educate blacks "not by benign neglect but by malignant intent."

Wright also criticized Martin Luther King for advocating nonviolence.

White America was shocked when they first heard Wright quoted in the summer of '08. They were shocked because they've never hung out with black people.

I had an argument with a black friend once about Obama. My friend, trying to defend Obama, said that Obama had to establish himself with the black community in South Chicago, and to do this needed to join a black church, and it was virtually impossible to find a black church where they don't talk like Wright.

In other words, Wright was not some weird anomaly, but merely spouted the standard black attitudes.

(One must keep in mind that the light-skinned Wright must have felt at some level that he had to prove himself to the community by being blacker than thou; nonetheless, his rhetoric, as my friend pointed out, is typical.)

I was in Las Vegas once with the above-mentioned friend. When we were with the young Italian-American casino host who had been assigned to him (my friend was a high roller), my friend was content to listen to his various stories about women. (If you want to be a womanizer, get a job as a host at one of the casinos.) But when talking to the one black host who worked there, my friend casually mentioned that he used to be a card counter. I suggested later that he shouldn't mention that to a casino employee (casinos are constantly on their guard against counters). My friend said dismissively, "No brother is going to turn me in for that."

He was right, of course. The attitudes and loyalties of black people tend to run far more along tribal lines than do those of whites. I alluded to this a while back:

When news of Barack Obama's association with Wright first surfaced, Obama claimed ignorance of the attitudes expressed by Wright. After all, this was only a man whose church he had attended for seventeen years; who had married him and Michelle; who had baptized his children; and to whom he had donated fifty-six thousand dollars. The American public accepted Obama's explanation at face value and soporifically pulled the lever for him that November.

A year and a half of Wright's acolyte occupying the Oval Office, however, does seem to have finally woken the electorate up. (At least those who are wake-uppable.)