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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sociopath alert: Anne Heche

Anne Heche was in the news yesterday morning for her recent appearance on Letterman where she talked about a recent robbery at her house. My first reaction was to wonder whether the burglary actually took place. I couldn't tell from that video segment, but did notice that she seemed extraordinarily pleased with herself. She talked about how her son wasn't concerned about the missing computers, or rugs, but suddenly got very concerned when he found out the Wii had been stolen. Awww, how cute -- and how cute, by extension, she is. She certainly seemed to think so as she talked.

Heche's performance was reminiscent of her acting in Six Days, Seven Nights, the 1998 clunker she starred in with Harrison Ford. I watched the entire thing, to my regret, and was struck at the time by how self-consciously cute she acted throughout the movie, as if she assumed that moviegoers would be charmed by her impetuous stupidity.

Heche's most famous relationship was not with Ford, but with Ellen DeGeneres. That entire romance struck me as patently false, at least on Heche's part. Heche had been heterosexual her entire life, then claimed that when she saw DeGeneres across a room she experienced love at first sight. (DeGeneres may be a good comedienne, but it's hard to imagine her facial features sparking that reaction in any but the most ardent of gold diggers or fame seekers.)

DeGeneres, of course, just happened to be the biggest star Heche could hook up with at the time. Heche had undoubtedly seen all the positive publicity DeGeneres had gotten by coming out right before this, and wanted some of that attention for herself. So every time the cameras were rolling, Heche would intertwine herself with DeGeneres, to flaunt their "forbidden" love. (Sorta like Tom Cruise, except the other way around: people who try too hard always betray themselves that way.)

Immediately after her relationship with DeGeneres ended, Heche went back to being heterosexual, and has remained so since.

Is sexuality really that pliable? I know of people -- some very decent -- who've attempted to lead straight lives but eventually surrender to their true natures and come out as gay. But Heche is the only hetero I know of who went gay in a very public way, then returned to heterosexuality.

Sexuality is evidently much more pliable when employed in the service of overweening ambition.

Anne Heche, Wikipedia, the Early Life section: "Her father was an organist, church founder, Baptist minister, and choir director." (Do I hear "con man"?) After that, we don't even have to read between the lines: "In her book, Call Me Crazy, she claimed that her father molested her during her childhood, giving her herpes simplex. Her father later disclosed his homosexuality to his family before dying of AIDS in 1983."

There are two possibilities here. The first is that the father did in fact molest her, which would explain her character perfectly. The lack of a bond with one parent, and another parent who is so oblivious that she didn't even realize what was going on, or didn't care, is fertile soil for dysfunction, at the very least.

The second possibility is that Heche is lying, and that her father did not molest her. He was, after all, a homosexual, and while I've heard of piggish (and probably sociopathic) heterosexual men who molest their daughters, I've never heard of a homosexual who molests his daughter. If Heche is disgracing her father's memory by lying this way, that, too, would be all we'd need to know about her.

Call Me Crazy is the perfect title for a book by a sociopath, by the way. It's another way of saying, "You're not going to believe this, but --" which is of course a common way of forestalling disbelief.

According to Wikipedia, "On August 19, 2000, Heche knocked on the door of a home in Fresno, California. Dazed and scantily clad, Heche said her SUV had broken down, asked to take a shower, and then made herself at home. When the police arrived a short time later, Heche, who had publicly announced the end of her headline-grabbing three-year relationship with DeGeneres the day before, declared she was God and would take everyone back to heaven in her spaceship. Press reports at the time explained that her disorientation was the result of mental illness—fueled by the drug Ecstasy, according to Heche—stemming from childhood abuse by her father, which led her to create an alter ego named Celestia, who was 'daughter of God, half-sibling of Christ, and that she was to spread a message of love to this stricken planet before ascending into Heaven'."

Was this a genuine breakdown or just fakery? People do hallucinate while under the influence of Ecstasy. But did she actually take the drug? The bit about the alter ego she'd had to create because of her childhood molestation seems less than credible. If she were a split personality, why had Celestia never made an appearance before? Would the daughter of God and half-sibling of Christ -- who had, according to Heche, been around since her childhood molestation -- really be so shy and self-effacing as to not make an appearance before Heche turned 31?

If Heche was feigning insanity, she wouldn't be the first to do so. Kenneth Bianchi, one of the two infamous Hillside Stranglers from LA in the 1980s, faked having multiple personalities when first caught. His ruse was uncovered by a particularly astute psychiatrist. The idea was obviously to set up an insanity defense: I'm not evil, just crazy.

Compartmentalizing is quite common among sociopaths. But it is not the same as having genuinely multiple personalities, which is extremely rare. Could Heche have been thinking along the same lines as Bianchi? She had less pressing motive, but it's always preferable -- from your point of view -- for people to think you off-balance than to see you as a shameless liar. The former gets you sympathy, the latter well-deserved hatred.

Heche got married in 2001 to Coleman Laffoon. After they were divorced in 2009, Heche appeared on David Letterman to complain about the $3700 monthly support she had to pay Laffoon, called him a "lazy ass" and said, in reply to a question about his job, "He goes out to the mailbox and he opens up the little mailbox door, and goes, "Oh, I got a check from Anne! Oh, I got a check from Anne! Yeah!"

Some people are just so filled with poison that they have to let it out, no matter how inappropriate the venue.

My guess: Heche is a sociopath.

Friday, August 27, 2010


There's something pathetic about a guy who gets a job with a corporation, then basically adopts that corporation as his identity.

We've all known people like this. They feel proud to be associated with this corporation, they sport company logos when possible, and their friendships revolve around the office. They even grow to love their company, in a way.

It's as if they just shuck off whatever identity they had before they were hired. Whatever other interests they might have had, whatever other loyalties they might have had, whatever else they'd done in their lives which might have been a source of pride, are all quickly forgotten.

People like this are rarely bright. Yet they often do well. If you're a CEO, you'd prefer to have guys like this than people with mixed feelings about their jobs. Guys like this make better soldiers. Except the patriotism they feel is directed not towards a country but a money-making operation.

Make no mistake, it is a sort of patriotism they feel, however misguided that may be. True believers like this would have done well in Mao's China, carrying around his little Red Book of quotations. Whatever organization they belong to, they drink the Kool-Aid.

Same personality, different situation.

Your personality should be an amalgamation of everything you've ever experienced and done and thought. If you're able to assume a new identity just like that, it shows there wasn't -- and isn't -- much to you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

It's a little early for Olympic predictions, but...,%20But%E2%80%A6

An article for Swimming World about what the next two years might hold for some of the top swimmers. For swimming fans only.

Man bites dog

The NY Post featured the picture and headline above, in an article about a knifing in New York on Tuesday night. The first few paragraphs:

A crazed film student who recently embedded with Marines in Afghanistan is accused of a drunken, hate-fueled attack on a Muslim cabby in Midtown -- further heightening tensions in a city already gripped by the Ground Zero mosque controversy.

Michael Enright, 21, of upstate Brewster, asked his victim if he was a Muslim and exchanged pleasantries in Arabic before going berserk and slashing the driver's neck and face through the taxi's partition, police said.

He has been charged with attempted murder as a hate crime for the attack, in which he allegedly shouted, "This is a checkpoint, motherf- - -ker! I have to put you down!"

"Before yesterday, I never felt like I didn't belong here," Bangladeshi native Ahmed Sharif said.
He added that anger over the proposed Park Place mosque may have played a role in the terrifying attack.

"I know many people are upset. I didn't support the mosque at Ground Zero either."

What made this case stranger was that Enright had reportedly been working with a group which supported the building of the mosque.

But what made the case really shocking was that it was the guy on the left who knifed the guy on the right. Had you had a picture of these two men standing side by side before the attack, and asked 100 New Yorkers to guess which of the men knifed the other on a city street, it would be surprising if fewer than 99 guessed Sharif.

Enright doesn't exactly fit the image of a thug. In the picture on the right, taken in Afghanistan, he looks more like a wholesome, pleasant lesbian trying to promote cross-cultural understanding.

But who knows what lurks in the hearts of men. My guess is that while working to support the mosque, some of the Muslims he was working with dissed him. (Enright doesn't look as if he could grow a beard if he wanted to.)

In any case, I wouldn't want to be Enright when it's time for the Muslim bruthas at Rikers to greet him.

Not that he doesn't deserve whatever's coming.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On the down low at West Point

The NY Times ran an article on the front page today titled, "Resignation Puts Gay Cadets, Hidden at West Point, in Spotlight."

The article goes on to describe how cadet Katherine Miller, had blogged anonymously about being a lesbian at the US Military Academy and subsequently resigned. The NY Times, of course, put her and the other gays in an extremely sympathetic light. (The entire newspaper is basically one big editorial page.)

Anyway, much as it pains me to agree with the Times, they're right on this issue. Anybody who's willing to lay down his life for his country -- something that never even occurred to me to do when I was young -- should be allowed to do that, regardless of his sexual orientation.

Gays in the military are deserving of our gratitude, not our contempt.

Let me put it another way: Any guy in a combat role -- I don't care how much he enjoys giving other men oral sex -- is a better man than me.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Delicious irony

The following article appeared in yesterday's NY Times:

Harvard Finds Scientist Guilty of Misconduct

by Nicholas Wade

Harvard University said Friday that it has found a prominent researcher, Marc Hauser, "solely responsible" for eight instances of scientific misconduct.

Hours later, Dr. Hauser, a rising star for his explorations into cognition and morality, made his first public statement since news of the inquiry emerged last week, telling the New York Times, "I acknowledge that I made some significant mistakes" and saying he was "deeply sorry for the problems this case had caused to my students, my colleagues and my university."

Dr. Hauser is a leader in the field of animal and human cognition, and in 2006 wrote a well-received book, “Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong.”

Yes, it's too sweet for words: an academic expert in morality is found guilty of immoral academic conduct. That it happened at Harvard, of course, makes it all the better. It is as yet unclear exactly what the nature of Hauser's offenses were, as Harvard as been very tight-lipped about the incident so far. But you have to love Hauser's lawyerly apology, in which he acknowledges "significant mistakes" without any admission as to what they actually were, leaving himself all sorts of legal wriggle room should he need it. Time after time we seem to find that people who set themselves up as moral arbiters turn out to be the least moral people themselves.

I suppose, given that pattern, and given this blog's obsessive disapproval of sociopaths, I should be suspected of sociopathy. The equivalent outcome here would be for me to turn out to be a serial killer. But I haven't killed anybody, I promise.

At least not yet.

Then again, that's exactly what a sociopathic serial killer would say.

Seriously -- you should always be suspicious of the self-righteously moral, whether they be televangelists or politicians or Harvard professors. Or sociopath-hating bloggers.

I would like to point out that my only claim to moral superiority is vis-a-vis sociopaths.

Which, I guess, is not setting the bar all that high.


This Youtube video shows what was maybe the greatest female group ever, the Supremes:

This clip shows what an artist Diana Ross was in every sense. First, she was an excellent singer. Her voice may not have been the powerful instrument that Florence Ballard's was, as has been amply noted elsewhere. But Ross's tremulous, slightly reedy voice evoked a sense of unrequited longing that was perfect for the songs she sang. (Love songs are always about unrequited love; I have yet to listen to lyrics which express the sentiment, "Well, it's been great, but I have to admit, I'm getting a little bored with you sexually.")

But Ross's artistry went far beyond her voice. Her face and body language were perfect for the role as well. First, her natural feminity matched her voice. The young Ross was also very pretty, and like all good-looking people, she didn't look quite real. But she also knew how to use that face to simultaneously express vulnerability and a winking concupiescence. At times her face seems as if she's on the verge of tears, and her eyes glitter -- but in a glamorous sort of way. Each word that leaves her mouth seems to be a sensual pleasure for her: she seems to almost kiss the music as it leaves her lips.

Put it all together and she was a walking aphrodisiac. Or rather, a singing, dancing, vamping aphrodisiac.

It sounds ridiculous, I know, but watch the closeups and you'll see what I mean.

Hard to blame Berry Gordy for having put her center stage, ahead of Ballard and Mary Wilson.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

How did cavemen pick up women?

What tactics did men use to seduce women back in the Stone Age?

Showing off your car was out of the question. Likewise, showing off your house would have been difficult. Though if one had secured a particularly cozy and safe cave, that could have its benefits.

Dressing stylishly was not an option either. Though if one wore a nice fur, it would be a good indication of one's hunting prowess. And if that fur didn't smell too bad, it would also show skill at curing hides. (Maybe the pimps are onto something.)

Hard to say whether a snappy line of repartee would have had much effect. Language must have been in its infancy then. Then again, a sense of humor, which women almost universally say helps in seduction, can be employed virtually anywhere -- or anytime. One suspects that caveman humor would have been less wry irony tinged with a rueful awareness of postmodern sensibilities, and more slapstick. But either way, a sense of humor proves above all else that one is sane, which is always reassuring to one's prospect. (Insanity must have been even scarier back then, given the lack of tranquilizers and straitjackets.)

Mood music was definitely out. No handy iPods with which to regale her. Not even any phonographs with vinyl records. Then again, singing ability would have been a huge plus, since your prospect most likely had never heard music before. (It is highly unlikely this technique was used often.)

Grooming would have been difficult, since mirrors didn't exist. (In fact the only way of gauging your own attractiveness would have been through others' reactions to you.) And with the concept of bathing still far in the future, body odors must have been overwhelming. But if everybody smelled the same way, perhaps one didn't notice.

Men didn't shave back then, but a full, thick beard would have signaled testosterone and health. Youthfulness, then as now, must have counted for something, since it signals more years in which one can act as provider. The difference is, back then there were no artificial ways with which to enhance the appearance of youthfulness.

A candlelit dinner at a fancy restaurant was out. But cavemen had something even better: meat with which to augment a protein-deficient diet. There's nothing like near starvation to make practically any food taste like a four star French meal. And the gratitude aspect of avoiding starvation would have been even greater.

Hunting ability must have ranked supreme among the seductive qualities. And what would signal hunting ability? Wide shoulders and big muscles, the better with which to throw a spear. Good leg muscles, the faster with which to run. Those muscles would be proof of hunting ability, in another way as well: big muscles can only exist if one is well fed. An actual demonstration of that hunting ability must have worked wonders.

Courage (of a less than suicidal variety) must have been appreciated; after all, if you are unwilling to get close, how could you ever kill a buffalo? Or protect your family from a bear?

Equally important in the Stone Age was a network of friends. Not the kind who acknowledge you on Facebook, but rather a closer group, the kind with whom you could kill large game. Bringing down a mammoth was a group effort, so having that close knit band was often vital to procuring food.

Intelligence was important. Figuring out animal migration patterns, identifying game trails, understanding animal habits, building a better trap, recognizing danger, and being able to orient oneself by the stars were all useful. Since a caveman's entire life was pretty much what goes into the "don't try this at home" category of behavior today, there was less room for stupidity and error.

A full accounting of "seduction techniques" back in the Stone Age back then would have to acknowledge the possibility of rape. The popular stereotype of a caveman clubbing a woman and dragging her off to his cave is probably based partly on the absence of prison terms back then. But the risks one ran did include angry brothers and fathers, and even angrier mates. Not to mention the angry victim. So while there might not have been a long prison term involved, there was a potential death penalty. So if your prospect was well connected, it was not worth the risk. (Family values, caveman style.)

This quick glance at our forebears shows the antecedents of the seduction games played today. Guys on steroids are merely trying to signal that they are good hunters. Guys with fancy cars are just trying to show that they have resources with which to feed offspring. And guys with a sense of humor are only trying to show they won't go berserk and club everyone to death.

We're still just cavemen at heart.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Convergent evolution

I apologize for the small size of the type in this chart, but this was as big as I could make it on this format. This chart shows how the different racial groups split off, and which are most closely related to each other.

In case you can't read it, here it is in larger scale:

I was talking to a friend the other day and he said something which indicated that he thought that sub-Saharan Africans and Australian aborigines were related. I disabused him of that notion, and then found this chart as proof. The lower chart, which shows how closely related each group is to each other, is a little easier to understand. Sub-Saharan Africans bear a superficial resemblance to Australian aborigines and other Pacific Islanders, like the Melanesians. But Africans are in fact genetically further apart from aborigines and other Pacific Islanders than any other two major racial groups are.

This is an example of convergent evolution. If you live in the tropics, you're better off with dark skin so as to have more protection from the sun. And you're better off with wider nostrils so as to be able to take in more oxygen from the humid air. So both Australian aborigines and sub-Saharan Africans each separately evolved those traits.

The group actually most closely related to Africans are, surprisingly, non-European Caucasoids (Arabs, Georgians, Turks, etc.), closely followed by European Caucasoids.

The friend I was talking to is black. So, naturally, I informed him that it was high time for him to unite with his Caucasian brethren against those savage darkies from Australia.

Anchors aweigh!

(Mexican President Calderon)

Is there another country in the world which has a law equivalent to our Fourteenth Amendment, which states that any baby born in this country is a US citizen?

Certainly not Mexico, whose own immigration laws are downright Draconian when it comes to illegal -- or even legal -- immigrants:

In Mexico, anybody who enters the country illegally has committed a felony punishable by two years in jail. Anybody who enters the country a second time after being deported is subject to a ten year jail sentence. Law enforcement personnel at every level are obligated to enforce their immigration laws, including arrests and deportations. Native born citizens have the authority to make citizens' arrests of illegal aliens and turn them in to the proper authorities. All citizens must carry an identity card. Visitors who do not have the correct documentation are subject to arrest as illegal aliens.

What's even more interesting is Mexico's policy on legal immigration: new citizens are allowed in only "according to their possibilities of contributing to national progress." Immigration officials must be sure that "immigrants...have the necessary funds for their sustenance" and for that of any dependents. Foreigners may be barred from Mexico if it is found that their numbers "affect the equilibrium of national demographics" and "if they are not found to be physically or mentally healthy." And a Mexican who marries a foreigner just so that the foreigner can get the equivalent of a green card is subject to five years imprisonment.

And yet Mexican President Calderon berates us for Arizona's new law, which is far easier on illegal immigrants than Mexico's own laws.

The good news is, if Mexico does continue to only allow in immigrants who will help their country, while we provide amnesty for every last illegal who has snuck across the border, this will actually provide a long term solution to our illegal immigration problem. (In another hundred or so years, Mexicans will no longer want to come here so much.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Traffic tickets

I recently got two traffic tickets for running red lights. They were delivered in the mail; one was from New York City, for $50, the other from Providence, for $85. Evidently the traffic lights in big cities are now equipped with cameras which constantly record the cars going by.

In New York, they actually gave me the time which had elapsed after the light turned red when I went by: three-tenths of a second. Had a police officer been guarding the intersection, he probably would have given me the benefit of the doubt.

I complained to a couple of friends, but didn't get much sympathy: they had already gotten similar tickets. (That I whined about this while my friends remained stoic probably says something about my personality; but we won't look too closely at that.)

Anyway, these cities have to fund their graft, kickbacks, and unwarranted disability pensions somehow.

I look forward to the day when radar guns by the highway will be used to give us tickets for going 58 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone.

Rip Van

If you ever find yourself near your old college campus and consider a sentimental stroll, my advice is, don't.

I had occasion recently to be near my alma mater, for reasons that had nothing to do with it. But I did wander around a bit. The setting, the building, the local stores had changed to the point where I felt like Rip Van Winkle. And the students just looked so young to me. Which means I probably looked a little like Rip to them.

All the depressing cliches about the unforgiving nature of time occurred to me.

I've spent better afternoons.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wasted lives

It has been said that skill at pool is nothing more than proof of a life misspent.

Last night I was challenged to play Scrabble against a recent college grad (who, as it turned out, hadn't particularly wanted to play me, but was put up to it by her boyfriend).

While winning the game handily, it occurred to me that skill at Scrabble proves exactly the same.


I've always thought that in the right time and place, there are certain "inventions" I might have been able to duplicate. I can imagine myself having figured out what kind of spears work best, experimenting with various woods to find the sturdiest, then figuring out how best to sharpen them on a rock.

But, I am no genius. I cannot imagine being the first to look at a rock and thinking, "Hmm, I think I'll smelt some metal out of that."

There are some jumps humanity has taken which have required a mind so incredibly imaginative and perceptive that it is mind-boggling to contemplate.

I am probably clever enough to have figured out how to divert a stream to irrigate a rice paddy. But I would never -- ever -- have figured out how to divert a river so as to generate electricity.

I can imagine conceiving the idea that if you have a friendly male wolf mate with a friendly female wolf, you might get offspring that are really friendly." But I can't imagine being the first person to think, "Okay -- let's splice these genes into that chromosome and try to cure this disease."

I can imagine blowing through a conch shell and discovering the cool noise it makes. I can't imagine being the first to look at a piece of plastic tape and thinking, "I think I'll record sound on that."

I can imagine myself tapping out a beat -- maybe even a catchy one -- with my fingers on a bongo drum. But I cannot imagine what it would be like to look at a blank sheet of paper and just create, out of nothing, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Or Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty ballet.

I can imagine figuring out that if you have two paper cups with a string attached, and put your ear to the cup, that you can sort of hear the other person's voice a little better than you could with your naked ear. I cannot fathom the kind of mind it would take to be the first person to think, "Okay, let's transmit sound through electric waves -- that way people in Massachusetts can just talk to people in California."

I can imagine having figured out how to use charcoal to draw a buffalo on a cave wall. I can tell you, quite honestly, that the idea of putting an electron gun inside a vacuum tube to bounce images off a fluorescent screen so that everyone could have a TV in their den would never have occurred to me.

I'm smart enough to have figured out the connection between sexual intercourse and the appearance of a child nine moons later. All on my own. After, perhaps, some experimentation. I am quite positive I could never have figured out how to come up with a pill which would regulate a woman's hormones so as to prevent that birth. No matter how much experimentation I did. (Well, wanted to do, in any case.)

You may be thinking, well, these more recent inventions weren't just sudden inspirations from cavemen, they were the result of the long step by step evolution of science. As Isaac Newton famously said, "If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the backs of giants." (Newton himself, by the way, was as great a giant as any, responsible for far more than noticing the apple which landed on his head -- something I always felt I could have done.) But many of those individual steps still represent leaps of genius that are simply incomprehensible to me.

I might have been able to figure out how to harness the power of gravity and create a water wheel (once that apple had conked me in the head). And I can safely say I would have been able to tell which heavenly body provides us with light. But I cannot imagine the kind of mind it would take to figure out that gravity bends light. (And that was just one guy, Albert E.)

I can imagine figuring out how to add and subtract, and even multiply and divide. I might even have stumbled across the formula for the area of a square, or rectangle, had I been constantly faced with a reason for doing so. But I would never, not in a million years, have been able to come up with the formula for calculating the area under a curve.

I probably would have had some sense of speed: the impala and cheetah are incredibly fast, the wildebeest less so. Had someone else already invented the stopwatch, I might even have been able to measure their speed. But I never, ever, could have mustered the mental firepower to be able to calculate the speed of light --186,000 miles per second. Both my stopwatch and brain would have failed me there.

I can imagine having discovered, perhaps through an unfortunate trial and error process, that the elements composing gunpowder are quite volatile when heated. I cannot imagine being the person who thought -- "Hey, let's split the atom and build a bomb which can level an entire metropolis."

I'm your typical upper middle class weenie. All my life I've prided myself on silly things like LSAT scores and being able to finish a crossword a little faster than the next guy. But I am, at most, separated from my competition by inches. The people responsible for the creations above are separated from the rest of us by miles.

I'm not even smart enough to comprehend how smart they must be.

Monday, August 16, 2010

It's not too late to sue him for sexual harassment

Alfred Eisenstadt's photograph of the sailor who grabbed a passing nurse on VJ Day and bent her backwards to give her a kiss has, in the fifty-five years since it was shot, taken on iconic status. To many Americans, it symbolized the joy they felt as they celebrated the end of WWII. At least ten men have come forward claiming to have been the sailor in that picture. And at least eight women have claimed to be the nurse.

Question #1: If this happened now, say, after the last American soldier comes home from Iraq, would this woman complain of sexual harassment and call the authorities?

Question #2: If this man happened to be rich, how big an award could the woman expect in civil court? One million? Five million?

Question #3: Were we as a society crazier back then, or now?

You be the judge.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mark Hurd

Good article by Joe Nocera in the NY Times business section about the rise and fall of a sociopath (though Nocera never uses that term) at Hewlett-Packard:

(It's fairly long, only for those who are fascinated by corporate politics.)

Julian Assange

(Julian Assange)

A NY Post editorial this morning discussed the damage caused by Wikileaks:

WikiLeaks, the anti-war group that dumped 75,000 pages of secret US military material onto the Internet, may already have blood on its hands -- even as it gets set to dump another 15,000 pages, putting yet more lives at risk.

This group needs to be stopped -- and held to account.

The Taliban reportedly has targeted at least 100 Afghans identified in the documents as informants for the US-led counterinsurgency -- and may already have claimed its first victim.

Marc Thiessen of The American Enterprise Institute reports that Taliban leaders gleefully announced they'd begun combing the documents -- which not only named the informants, but in many cases also ID'd their villages, family members and the names of those on whom they'd been informing...

But it may get worse: WikiLeaks says it will publish another 15,000 documents, with perhaps even more catastrophic consequences. That, the Pentagon says, would "compound a mistake that has already put far too many lives at risk."

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange snidely retorts that the Afghan people "should know" who among them has engaged in "genuinely traitorous behavior" -- i.e., helping the US-led coalition.

Assange is clearly a guy bent on mayhem, though he cloaks his motivations in high-minded talk about transparency and openness.

If you check someone's biography on Wikipedia you can often find, reading between the lines, some formative influence (almost always in the "Early life" section) which accounts for their destructiveness and even sociopathy. What they said about Assange's childhood was very illuminating:

"According to The New Yorker, Assange was born in Townsville, Queensland in 1971. In the past, Assange did not publish his exact age, only stating that he was born in the 1970s.

Assange has said that his parents ran a touring theatre company, and that he was enrolled in 37 schools and six universities in Australia over the course of his early life. From age eleven to sixteen, he lived on the run with his mother and half-brother, avoiding his half-brother's father who was believed to belong to a cult led by Anne Hamilton-Byrne.

An article in The New Yorker has stated that Assange was married to his girlfriend in an unofficial ceremony at the age of 18 and had a son. The article says she left him while he was being investigated by the Australian Federal Police for hacking, and took their son."

A guy who touts the virtues of openness and transparency won't even give his own real age? When you've been to 43 schools in your life, it neither encourages stable relationships nor breeds any sense of loyalty. The most telling part, of course, was about how from age 11 to 16 he lived on the run, avoiding a guy whom his mother undoubtedly painted as the bogeyman to him and his half-brother. (It's possible the half-brother's father was the bogeyman.) And whatever happened to Assange's own father? Think that kind of background might have left Assange feeling bitter and deprived? And why did his "unofficial" wife leave him? Does he keep in touch with his own son? And what kind of person becomes a hacker in the first place?

Verdict: not quite enough evidence to know for sure, but probably a sociopath. He definitely seems to want to inject the anarchy that was so much a part of his early life into others' lives.

Be curious to know what that half-brother's up to these days.

Profilers baffled

(Elias Abuelazam in court after his arrest)

From an AP article last night:

RAMLE, Israel – A man accused of going on a stabbing spree across three U.S. states and who was once suspected in a stabbing near his hometown in Israel has baffled profilers, who say murder does not appear to have been his goal.

So it remains a mystery as to what drove Elias Abuelazam, who relatives described as a shy man from a respected family who had recently become despondent. Abuelazam is suspected of attacking people in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, leaving 13 people wounded in addition to the dead....

A family member in poverty-stricken [Flint] said Abuelazam had become unhappy about his personal life in recent months. And others in the Arab neighborhood where he grew up expressed shock that the man they knew could be a suspect in the gruesome attacks.

"I wouldn't believe it even if I saw it with my own eyes," said Abuelazam's 49-year-old cousin, also named Elias Abuelazam. He said that when his cousin last visited earlier this year, he was tense, unhappy and unsure what to do with his life. The younger Abuelazam said he wanted to get married and settle down in Israel. "He seemed confused," the cousin said. But he said suggestions that Abuelazam was a killer were "malicious rumors."

He said news of the arrest had devastated Abuelazam's mother, who was excitedly waiting for a text message to pick her son up at the airport when she heard the news. "She couldn't stand up ... She was hysterical," he said. In a brief radio interview, she described her son as a "religious, God-fearing man" and said she refused to believe he was a killer.

However, Israeli police said Abuelazam was a suspect in a stabbing attack early this year, although charges were never pressed. A senior police commander said Abuelazam was believed to have stabbed a close acquaintance in the face with a screwdriver during an argument in a parked car about six months ago. The commander said police dropped the case because the victim refused to cooperate with investigators. He said Israeli police would request samples of Abuelazam's DNA to investigate unsolved stabbings in the Ramle area.

The alleged victim in the attack, Ziad Shahin, denied being assaulted by Abuelazam but had a large scar from his right ear to his throat. Speaking outside his candy store in Ramle, Shahin said he was born with the mark. Ramle's roughly 3,000-member Arab Christian community is tight-knit, and residents were extremely cautious about discussing Abuelazam's past.

Acquaintances said Abuelazam's father died of illness when he was a baby, and that he was raised by his single mother and four sisters. The family owned a grocery store and two other shops in town, and the mother was well regarded. Abuelazam, a member of Ramle's Greek Orthodox community, attended two prestigious Catholic schools, they said.

All but four of [Abuelazam's] 18 attacks occurred the Flint area. The others were in Leesburg, Va., and Toledo, Ohio. In one case, the attacker used a hammer. The youngest victim was 15; the oldest 67. At least 15 victims were black, although there's no evidence that race played a role, authorities said. A motive was not known.

Robert Keppel, a retired Washington state homicide detective who profiles serial killers, said it's rare for someone to attack males exclusively. Whoever is responsible for the 18 attacks, "he's just getting off on stabbing people. He's not guaranteeing that they die," said Keppel, who investigated the Ted Bundy homicides in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s. "For some reason, the satisfaction is just in the action of the stabbings," Keppel said. "He's only turned on by the act of the approach and the initial stabbing. He's got some hang-ups. ... He's a rare killer among rare killers."

Also Friday, police in Leesburg, Va., said they were investigating whether Abuelazam is responsible for the March 2009 stabbing death of a 44-year-old man who lived across from Abuelazam in a townhome community.

Usually when you read about a serial killer, the more you find out, the more neatly the picture of a sociopath fits together: either he was an orphan or had a mother who didn't love him. He was abused as a child. He had a special sexual kink which could only be gratified one way, through killing his victims, and felt no qualms about gratifying it. Or he had a consuming hatred for a certain type of person. And he exhibited a whole host of other behaviors which betrayed his sociopathic nature.

But this guy seems to have neither that background nor those inclinations. His mother seems to have loved him -- and still does, if her behavior is any clue. His father died when Abuelazam was a baby, so he wouldn't have been abused by him. He was raised in a household where everybody else was female, yet his hatred doesn't seem to be directed at women -- all of his victims were male.

The first news reports made the killer sound like some sort of KKK guy on a rampage -- but now it's not even clear that there was any racial motive; it may just be that most of the people he encountered on the street when he was in the mood to attack happened to be black.

When we hear of an Arab being responsible for multiple deaths these days, naturally our first thought is, "Islamic terrorist." But Abuelazam wasn't even a Muslim; he was a Greek Orthodox who attended Catholic schools.

There was no overtly sexual element to his attacks, and he didn't even bother to make sure his victims died so as to eliminate witnesses -- he just stabbed and ran. (Sociopaths tend to be more careful about covering their tracks.)

I can't figure this guy out at all. The more we hear, the more it sounds as if he's just some kind of Mad Slasher -- in the way newspapers of fifty years ago would describe some serial killer, as if he was just plain crazy.

That may actually turn out to the case here -- that there is some form of insanity involved. Stay tuned.

Zsa Zsa's lost son?

Zsa Zsa Gabor (back in the hospital) and Stephen Slater (the steward whose justification for his hissy fit aboard that Jet Blue flight is now being contradicted) were both back in the news today.

I couldn't help but notice the physical resemblance between the two. Yes, there are differences: Gabor's appearance is a triumph of artifice (she apparently wanted to keep that Stephen Slater look for as long as possible), and Gabor was born into the right gender. But despite Gabor's Hungarian extraction and Slater's Irish, they must have had some common ancestors somewhere back in the line.

I am afraid it is a physiognomy I will forevermore associate with drama queens.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

One sure sign of a narcissistic personality

One of the surest signs of a narcissistic personality is to constantly laugh at one's own jokes. (Yes, wearing clothes like those above might also be a sign, but that's not what this post is about; don't worry, we'll get to Diamond Dave soon enough.) It might seem as if I'm reading too much into one insignificant mannerism, but I've known several people over the years who always laughed at their own jokes, and, inevitably, there was a whole set of other characteristics that went hand in hand with it.

(Please bear in mind, although all sociopaths are narcissistic personalities, only a small fraction of narcissistic personalities are sociopaths. Quick definition of a narcissist: a selfish individual who will never admit he's wrong. Narcissists are generally not dangerous the way sociopaths are, they're merely unpleasant company. Also bear in mind, only a small fraction of narcissists laugh at their own jokes, although all people who laugh at their own jokes are, in my experience, narcissists.)

When I was in college, my swimming coach would make lame jokes and then let out this weird staccato laugh afterward, as if to signal to his listeners that he had just made a very funny joke and they should laugh too. No need to get into all the gory details of his personality; suffice it to say that he was unanimously disliked. After he left, I heard that unanimity of opinion followed him elsewhere.

Think of it this way: you're texting a friend, and after each of his own rejoinders he writes "LOL!" He doesn't say this after any of your bon mots -- only after his own. Wouldn't that strike you as a little bit off -- and more than a little vain? People who laugh at their own jokes are effectively doing the same thing.

Let me cite an example you may be better acquainted with: rock star David Lee Roth, the lead singer of Van Halen back in the 80's, pictured above. Roth was, by the way, one of the greatest performers in rock and roll, and he made three of the coolest music videos ever, which I will link here. "Jump" shows him at his campy best, vamping sexily for the camera and dancing up a storm -- but also seemingly making fun of himself at the same time:

Roth's cover of Louis Prima's "Just a Gigolo" is another tour de force: he sings, he dances, and he mocks the other big pop stars of the era. (I admit, this post is, as much as anything else, just an excuse to link these videos.) The first minute and a half of the video is slow, but the next few minutes have more joie de vivre squeezed into them than I've had in my entire life:

Finally, Roth's cover of The Beach Boys' "California Girls" is equally well staged. Most videos try to be sexy; this one is sexy and fun, if you can make it past the first minute:

After having seen these videos twenty years ago, I happened to listen to an interview with Roth on the Howard Stern show around ten or twelve years ago. Roth was extremely witty and quick, one of the few guests who could keep up with Stern. When Stern left the station to go to satellite radio, Roth was chosen as his replacement.

But when I listened to the show, I was disappointed. Carrying a four hour show five days a week is completely different from being impressive for a half hour as a guest star, and Roth, though he kept up a fairly snappy line of patter, couldn't quite manage it. What was most off-putting about his presentation was that he would punctuate his every comment with an appreciative laugh -- at his own wit. Even when he wasn't witty.

Within a few months, Roth's show was canceled. It was then that I remembered hearing once that his former bandmates all hated him. Then I thought about the kind of boundless self-confidence it would take to be the kind of performer he was, and to make the kind of videos he did. Then I thought of Roth's oft-repeated line about how the only thing he was allergic to was criticism. And then I thought about how long and bitterly he went on about the unfairness of his show's cancellation. And then I started to think about every other person I had ever known who laughed at his own jokes. And I saw a pattern.

(Just counted, and there were seven "I's" in the last paragraph; just so you know, eight is the threshold that marks a narcissistic personality.)

Anyway, think of the people you know who always laugh at their own jokes. Can any of them admit it when they're wrong?

Please don't confuse laughing at your own jokes with not being able to finish a joke because you're laughing so hard. One is a punctuation mark designed to demonstrate to the world -- and yourself -- that you're funny. The other is simply finding something so funny that it robs you of your ability to perform.

A very closely related behavior, by the way, is to listen to someone else make a joke, not laugh, basically repeat it with a very slight variation, and only then laugh. Another endearing habit of my former coach.

Wasn't this a great post?! LOL! LMFAO!! ROTFLMGDAO!!!

Are puns really humor?

A couple days ago I related the two jokes in the post from earlier this month -- --

to a swimming buddy. He retorted, "Did you hear the one about the giraffe who walked into the bar? He said, 'Highballs on me'!"

I tried to smile, but I'm afraid it came out more of a grimace.

I like the two jokes from the post because they both say something about -- sorry, but I can't think of a less pretentious phrase at the moment -- the human condition. (Hey, just be thankful I didn't say it in French.) The joke about what wives say after sex says something about the nature of marriage that we all recognize and acknowledge (privately if not publicly). And the joke about Hillary and Chelsea makes a statement about Bill that captures the man perfectly.

But my buddy's joke didn't bring a wry smile of recognition, or hit anybody where it hurt, or help crystallize a thought in my mind, or, really, say anything about anything. All it did was bring to mind the age old question: are puns really humor?

When they're made in the service of a larger point, they can add to the humor. But on their own, I gotta say, no.

Does a sense of humor correlate with IQ?

One of the arguments against the g factor is the existence of savants, autistic people who are mind-bogglingly good at one particular kind of mental task, but subnormal in most other ways. I don't find this a particularly compelling argument: severe autistics are too anomalous an offshoot to draw conclusions about the rest of humanity from.

To me, a better argument against g would be the existence of Asians. Northeast Asians (Japanese, Korean, northern Chinese) average somewhere between 105 and 110 on IQ, yet the vast majority of Asians have nerdy personalities. If g is such an all around boost, why do so many Asian-Americans seem to have weak senses of humor? (I'm half-Asian, which is probably why I seem to spend around half my life being lame. Actually, now that I think of it, my white half is pretty lame too: let's call it seven-eighths.)

For that matter, it's been my experience that blacks, who on average do poorly on IQ tests, often have good senses of humor. Does IQ not correlate with humor?

Possibly. I've known plenty of whites with all sorts of intellectual credentials and incredibly lame senses of humor. And I've met plenty of whites with none who have good senses of humor. So what gives?

It may just be that a lower level of inhibitions correlates with a better sense of humor. Much of humor consists of saying things others are unwilling -- perhaps too shy or too inhibited -- to say. Delivery is crucial as well: telling a joke hesitantly basically strangles it. Sociopaths are totally uninhibited, and this allows them to be glibly charming, with what appears at first to be a good sense of humor (in fact they usually just have a bunch of prepackaged lines they trot out at the appropriate times).

It also helps to have an outsider's perspective, which may help explain the many funny blacks and gays.

Gays seem particularly skillful at delivering funny impressionistic summations of situations which highlight their absurdity -- witness David Sedaris.

A sense of humor may derive in part from a sense of helplessness. (As in, the winners get the spoils, the losers get philosophy -- because they have no choice but to be philosophical about things.)

It also helps to have what is known as a twisted outlook, all the better to have a sick sense of humor. But this may also just be a matter of being a left-handed, right-brained type of person, the type long associated with creativity.

Speed of thought helps too. If you're like me, and can only think of the perfect response half an hour later, no one will ever think you funny.

It has often been said that comedians are angry people. So that probably helps. Except I've never seen a person actually throwing a temper tantrum who was funny except in an unintentional way. It's also been said that the top comedians are often substance abusers. And, come to think of it, you don't see a lot of Asian-American alcoholics.

But many of the funniest people I know are also the smartest. This can't be just coincidence. A few of them are even well-adjusted: having a sense of humor would seem to equip one well for the various slings and arrows that come our way.

So is humor a form of intelligence or not? I'd say that it is, even if it doesn't correlate well with measured IQ.

One thing a sense of humor does correlate with is sanity -- which also doesn't necessarily correlate well with IQ. (The existence of Harvard University is testimony to that.) To have a sense of what's absurd or out of place or unexpected, you must start with a strong sense of what is normal.

There also seems to be a gender correlation. Men are just funnier than women. There, I've said it. But it's not as if I'm the only one who's ever noticed -- or said -- this. I've heard similar comments from a wide range of people, including some females. (As the old saying goes, a woman with a good sense of humor is one who laughs at your jokes.)

If testosterone is associated with humor, then that might explain why blacks are funnier than Asians, since blacks on average have the highest testosterone levels, and Asians the lowest. But you don't generally associate a quick wit with muscle bound NFL linemen. On the contrary, when you look at the top comedians, like Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle or Richard Pryor or Howard Stern, they tend to be skinny guys who look like they'd be lucky to make the JV basketball team.

There's also a correlation with humor and narcissism -- a negative correlation. If you can't laugh at yourself, you're probably not going to be very funny.

So it's settled then: the funniest person is going to be a quick-witted, left-handed, gay, non-narcissistic black man who is exceptionally intelligent and sane.

I started out writing that sentence intending to sound sarcastic. But now that I look at it, that guy actually does sound as if he'd probably have a good sense of humor.

Monday, August 9, 2010


In the post about coyotes (on August 3rd) I made a snippy reference to the Fashion Institute of Technology.

I'm about to get even snippier.

How did they come up with that name? F.I.T. was founded in 1944. (The California Institute of Technology was founded in 1891, MIT in 1861.) Did whoever came up with the name Fashion Institute of Technology think that perhaps its graduates would be considered to be on an intellectual par with CIT and MIT alumni?

And what, pray tell, does fashion have to do with technology?

Or did they choose that name because its acronym would mesh cutely with a fashion theme (as in, good clothes fit well)?

And wasn't 1944 -- in the middle of World War II -- a strange time to be opening up a college devoted to something as frivolous as fashion?

What does a graduate of FIT say when meeting a graduate of MIT?

"So...What did you major in at MIT?"

"Oh, I studied electrical engineering."

"Hmm. I majored in quantum physics myself."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Comforting the afflicted

An article just came out in the NY Post about how President Obama played basketball this afternoon with a group of NBA stars:

"WASHINGTON -- President Obama pulled together an informal dream team of current and former basketball superstars Sunday. But only a few people got to see it.

Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony and other NBA all-stars joined Obama in Washington to entertain wounded troops.

The present-day stars were joined by some retired legends, including Bill Russell and Magic Johnson. College player Maya Moore of the Connecticut Huskies women's team also played.

The game was played for a group of "wounded warriors" -- troops injured in action -- and participants in the White House's mentoring program. It took place inside at a gym inside Washington's Fort McNair, a short drive from the White House. The President was inside the gym for about two hours.

The reporters assigned to keep tabs on the President were shut out of the gym, forced to wait in vans outside. Asked why media coverage was blocked, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama "just wanted to play."

After the game some of the players joined Obama and a group of his friends for a barbecue at the White House, capping the President's 49th birthday week."

Question #1: Was watching the President play basketball with a bunch of his athletic heroes really what these wounded veterans wanted? (If you're missing, say, your legs, is watching a bunch of healthy specimens run up and down the court really going to cheer you up? And does watching your Commander-in-Chief's worshipful adoration of these basketball stars make your own sacrifice seem more worthwhile?)

Question #2: Or was playing in front of the wounded vets just an excuse for Obama to indulge in some fantasy basketball?

Question #3: Was the media banned because the answer to the above question was so obvious?

Question #4: Was bringing all those superstars to DC done at taxpayer expense?

Question #5: Were any of the wounded veterans invited back to that White House barbecue, or was it just the NBA players?

Question #6: Who deserves to be invited to the White House more -- young men who've risked their lives and sacrificed their health for their country, or young men who happened to grow tall and are good at stuffing a basketball?

Perhaps the NBA stars did pay their way. Perhaps some of the veterans were invited to the cookout. And perhaps Obama considered it a sacrifice to have to hang with Lebron and Carmelo.

But these are questions worth asking.

Butch O'Hare

About eight years ago I stumbled across the following two part story on, of all places, a Yahoo message board for stocks. Someone had pasted it in without listing the author, so I am unable to give the writer credit for this well wrought story. I printed it out and saved it because I found it quite amazing, and quite affecting:

Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn't famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.

Capone had a lawyer nicknamed "Easy Eddie." He was his lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good. In fact, Eddie's skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time.

To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but also, Eddie got special dividends. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that if filled an entire Chicago city block.

Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him. Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had clothes, cars, and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object. And despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was. Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn't give his son; he couldn't pass on a good name or a good example.

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al "Scarface" Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against the Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great.

So, he testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie's life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street. But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay.

Police removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, and a poem clipped from a magazine. The poem read:

The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop,
at late or early hour.
Now is the only time you own.
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in time.
For the clock may soon be still.


World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O'Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet.

As he was returning to the mother ship he saw something that turned his blood cold: a squadron of Japanese aircraft were speeding their way toward the American fleet. The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn't reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger.

There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber's blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly.

Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction. Deeply relieved, Butch and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier. Upon arrival, he reported in and related the event surrounding his return. The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch's daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft.

This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy's first Ace of WWII, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

A year later, Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29.

His hometown would not allow the memory of this WWII hero to fade, and today, O'Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man. So, the next time you find yourself at O'Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch's memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor. It's located between Terminals 1 and 2.


Butch O'Hare was "Easy Eddie's" son.

As I said, it was quite affecting.

But a story like this also calls for a little research, so I recently did a little search to find out if it was entirely true. It turned out the part about Butch O'Hare is completely factual -- he did single-handedly attack that Japanese squadron, his medals were awarded, he is well established in military lore, and Chicago's airport is named after him.

The story about his father was, well, maybe a little stretched. Easy Eddie was, in fact, Capone's lawyer, he did testify against him, and he was killed in a blaze of gunfire on a Chicago street a little while later, almost certainly by Capone's henchmen. But it seems that the real reason Easy Eddie testified against Capone was most likely to save his own skin and stay out of prison. (His FBI handler, Fred Wilson, later said that Eddie was the best witness he ever had.) It also turned out that he was not only Capone's lawyer but his business partner as well, and he actually helped plan some of Capone's nefarious schemes. He did love his son, who was spoiled as a young boy but evidently straightened out as a teenager. And he probably made a deal with Wilson that his own crimes not prevent his son's admission to Annapolis.

I was unable to establish one way or the other whether the bit about the crucifix and the poem in his pocket was true.

But I have to admit, I sort of wish I hadn't done the research. I liked the story better the way it was originally told.

A definition of sociopathy

Someone told me recently that since I talk about sociopaths all the time, I should define exactly what they are. True enough: just because sociopathy is one of my obsessions doesn't make it so for everyone else. So, a brief three paragraph primer (lifted partly from a December '08 post) for those unfamiliar with the syndrome:

Sociopaths are not capable of real love or affection, and are disloyal to everyone. They feel no guilt or shame. They are dishonest, glib, and instinctively skillful manipulators. They hate others and are destructive. They are also supremely self confident, completely uninhibited, impulsive, and arrogant in the extreme. This gives them tremendous nerve and an ability to withstand what normal people would consider stressful conditions. As a result they are often great performers. They like to be in control and they hate to lose. They can be very charming, and often have dynamic, even electrifying personalities. But the more you get to know them, the more you see their hypocrisy and their core dishonesty. And they frequently think they're fooling people even when they're not. If you spend enough time with them, they will always leave you feeling used and bitter.

When you hear about someone that "you either love him or you hate him," he's probably a sociopath. If you hear that "he'll stop at nothing" to get what he wants, he's probably one. They often develop reputations as "pathological liars." They're often very successful, although they will often also crash after what seems like strangely self-destructive behavior.

Think of the most dishonest, two-faced, selfish -- in short, the most despicable -- person you've ever met. He's probably a pretty good example of sociopathy.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Two little jokes

I've always felt that retelling others' jokes is basically a confession that one has no wit of one's own. So, in that spirit, let me pass along two I've heard recently.

The first joke is from a blog called The Epicurean Dealmaker, which is written by an anonymous fellow who works on Wall Street. He normally writes about the foibles of big shots, and today his blog was about why older men still make fools of themselves over love. (His thesis: because they feel mortality closing in on them.) In any case, he closed with a rather cute joke which he claimed to have heard from his wife:

Q: What's the difference after sex among a prostitute, a mistress, and a wife?

A: The prostitute says, "Did you enjoy that?" The mistress says, "Did you enjoy that as much as I enjoyed that?" And the wife says, "Beige.....I think I want to paint the ceiling beige."

The second joke was told to me, appropriately enough, in the locker room of the local Y:

Before the wedding Hillary took Chelsea aside and asked her if she and her fiance had had sex yet.

Chelsea's reply: "Well.....not according to Dad."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sociopaths you meet rather than read about

There seems to be a general reluctance among people to acknowledge that people they know personally are sociopaths. When I explain what sociopathy is to people, they will nod their heads in general agreement about what I'm saying. But when I tell them -- on the rare occasions that it's true -- that such and such an acquaintance is a sociopath, I'm often met with a response along the lines of, "Oh, Joey? I don't think he's a sociopath. No, not Joey."

To these people sociopaths are exotic creatures whom they read about, not the ordinary-looking person they've had frequent contact with and with whom they might have shared some laughs. They will often say something like, "Joey? Well, sure, Joey has a dark side, but I mean who doesn't? I certainly don't think he's a sociopath."

You can practically see the wheels turning in their heads: Joey? Well, it's not as if he's ever killed anybody. I don't think he even could, he just said the other day that taking a life was wrong. Yeah, he can be a little selfish and even self-righteous at times, but basically he's a stand up guy, I mean he's always talking about morality and stuff. And he just seems so.....ordinary. I don't think he could be one of them.

This kind of thinking is erroneous. One needn't be a murderer to be a sociopath. Serial killers are only a small sliver of the sociopathic population, those whose favorite sexual fantasy involves death. To them, your life is worth less than their orgasm. Most sociopaths enjoy ordinary sex, which means taking someone else's life is unnecessary. But their basic psychology is no different: your well-being is worth less than any small gain to them.

Also, just because someone has given you a compliment and talked about what a moral guy he is doesn't ncessarily make him either a fan of yours or a moral guy. Someone who talks that way may merely be manipulative. Compliments may be heartfelt, de rigueur, or false; you must judge from the context and the speaker which. But people who go on at length about their own integrity usually have none.

There is one group of people who are an exception to this tendency to disbelief: ex-wives. Roughly three-quarters of women with ex-husbands seem willing to ascribe sociopathy to them.

Something tells me the percentage with ex-husbands who actually are sociopaths is somewhat lower.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sociopath alert: Karen Sypher

(Karen Sypher)

The NY Post this morning had a brief article about the woman who tried to extort $10 million from University of Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino:

A cop who took a rape complaint from the woman accused of extorting ex-Knick coach Rick Pitino said yesterday that she made crying sounds -- but never actually shed a tear.

Karen Sypher left out important details and contradicted herself several times when, during a taped interview in July 2009 at police headquarters, she claimed Pitino had raped her in two separate incidents, the sergeant who took the complaint testified yesterday.

At one point on the tape, he even confronted her about waiting nearly six years to file charges.

"I'm still trying to figure out: why now," Louisville Police Sgt. Andy Abbott, told Sypher, 50, after she was rambling about being a devout Catholic, her grandmother dying, and misgivings about having previously had an abortion....

She is accused of demanding college tuition for her children, her house to be paid off, and $10 million in exchange for her silence about a one night fling with Pitino on July 31, 2003, at the Porcini restaurant in Louisville.

That is pretty much all you need to know about Sypher. First, the crying sounds she made with no actual tears shed is a wonderful clue pointing to her emotional dishonesty -- as well as the perfect metaphor for sociopathy. Who pretends to cry without really crying? Someone whose modus operandi is to manipulate others. Most men's instincts would compel them to go to the aid of a crying woman; but cops deal with sociopaths all the time, and Sergeant Abbott saw through her immediately.

Her other statements, which had no direct bearing on the case, were also calculated to elicit sympathy. Talking about her "devout" Catholicism was aimed at winning over fellow Catholics, of whom she probably assumed Sergeant Abbott was one. Speaking of her dying grandmother -- if in fact she had one who was dying, and as if Sypher would care if she were -- was also calculated to milk sympathy. Finally, her "misgivings" about a previous abortion were calculated to make her look like a loving, feeling, caring person, all of which she is not.

The key word in the previous paragraph is "calculated." All of the emotions she displays are false, but she waves them around like a banner with "I am a Good Person" written on it. This phony emotionalism is a hallmark of sociopathy.

At another (but not entirely unrelated) level, this entire incident might also be read as a parable of greed. Had Sypher merely asked for $100,000, Pitino might have paid up and she might have gotten away with her scheme. But her greedy nature made her overreach, and that was part of her downfall.

It is often said that if you look into a sociopath's eyes there is nothing there. I often find this not to be the case. But if you look at the above photograph of Sypher, she does seem to be a bit of -- I'll go ahead and make the obvious pun -- an emotional cypher. The dyed hair, the slightly overdone makeup, the carefully fitted clothes meant to accentuate her killer body, all give a vague impression of falseness, but a lot of women dress to that effect, and it certainly doesn't mean they're sociopaths. But the blankness of Sypher's face is a little disconcerting.

Then again, I could be reading too much into her facial expression given what else we know of her. There is no misreading of her actions and words, however: they are all dead giveaways of her sociopathy.

Let's hope she gets a long sentence.

Addendum, 8/5/10: The jury at her trial found her guilty after just five hours of deliberation; she will be sentenced in October.

Zsa Zsa Gabor

Zsa Zsa Gabor was in the news recently for having landed in the hospital with some broken bones, and conflicting reports about her condition. She had been off the radar screen recently, understandably enough given her age of 92.

Zsa Zsa wasn't quite famous for being famous the way, say, Paris Hilton is now, but she was definitely a spiritual predecessor. (Coincidentally, she actually married Paris's great grandfather Conrad Hilton at one point, and later claimed that her only child was the result of a rape by him -- while they were married). Zsa Zsa had an acting career of sorts. Strangely, she didn't start in films until 1952, when she was 35. She never broke into A films, but more importantly, her starlet status gave her the platform from which to attract a better, or at least richer, class of suitors.

In the end Gabor was more famous for her many marriages and her personal dramas than for her film career. (Quick, name a film she was in.)

Gabor was married nine times, several times to rich men. (She once claimed that she was a good housekeeper because every time she got divorced she kept the house.) The longest marriage before her final one, at age 69, lasted six years. Evidently once the passion ran out, so did the marriage. One of her marriages officially lasted for one day, from April 13, 1983, to April 14. That marriage was annulled because the previous one hadn't been properly ended yet. (Another quote: "I believe in large families. Every woman should have at least three husbands.")
What is someone who gets married that many times thinking? Samuel Johnson once famously said that getting remarried is the triumph of hope over experience. Was Gabor really that hopeful? Or was there a certain underlying cynicism involved there? Certainly by the fourth or fifth time she coudn't have been taking that "till death do us part" vow too seriously.

Liz Taylor once said that the reason she got married all those times was because she was an old-fashioned girl who didn't believe in sex outside marriage. Not having sex outside marriage certainly is an old-fashioned concept (although getting married eight times doesn't seem exactly traditional). But that doesn't seem to be the case with Gabor, who worked hard at appearing the sexpot.

One of the two pictures of Gabor in the article on her in Wikipedia features her with Porfirio Rubirosa, the famous Dominican playboy/gigolo. In that picture (above) she looks happy, so maybe Rubirosa's reputation was justified. Then again, women who flaunt their sexuality the way Gabor did are often not really that interested in sex themselves. Mostly they just need attention. And Gabor probably figured there was no better way to get attention than with Rubirosa.

In a sense Gabor's entire life was a bit of performance art, a term not around during her era. The Hungarian accent was a little too exaggerated, the display of wealth too self-consciously ostentatious, the various romances too histrionic and overblown. So who was the real Zsa Zsa? Whoever she was, after the course of all those decades paying the sexpot, she probably got lost and forgotten, even by Zsa Zsa herself.

In any case, when Gabor's obituary appears -- most likely in the not too distant future -- it will allow us to take a trip down memory lane and marvel at how much times have changed. And how little.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wile E.

(above, Western coyote; left, gray wolf; below, Eastern coyote)

Eastern coyotes, long considered vermin by farmers, were pretty much eradicated by 1900. But as wolves were also wiped out, the environment became more hospitable to coyotes, which often compete with wolves for food (a pack of coyotes has been known to take down a 550 pound elk). So the midwestern coyotes started to migrate back East. But as they did so, they took a northern detour, around the Great Lakes, and en route interbred extensively with Canadian gray wolves. By the time they reached the Northeast, they had grown much larger.

When a coyote mates with a wolf, the offspring is known as a coywolf. Technically, the coyotes seen in the Northeastern U.S. are mostly coywolves. (Lest you think me the boy who cried wolf, this has been confirmed by DNA evidence. In one study done in Maine, of 100 coyotes collected, 22 had at least 50% wolf ancestry, and one was actually 89% wolf.)

Many scientists believe that the so-called red wolves found in the eastern part of the U.S. (especially in North Carolina) are not a true separate species of wolf, but simply coywolves. Analyses of mitochondrial DNA shows that red wolves are mostly descended from coyotes, and genetically they are halfway between coyotes and gray wolves.

Coyotes have also been known to mate with dogs, with the resulting offspring known as coydogs. However this is a much rarer pairing; around my neighborhood the coyotes are evidently much more apt to kill and eat the dogs, especially the smaller ones. (I must admit, those foofy little dogs spark that same instinct in me.)

Coyotes -- of every variety -- are famously adaptive creatures which can thrive in a wide variety of environments from desert to forest to urban. One coyote was captured in New York's Central Park in 1999, another in 2006, and yet a third was spotted there in 2010. Three coyotes were spotted near Columbia University in 2010 as well. Tests have shown that they are better than dogs at "observational learning." (Translation: they're smarter. This must be why they were found near Columbia rather than the Fashion Institute of Technology.)

Full grown western coyotes range from 25-35 pounds. Eastern coyotes range from 30 to 50 pounds; the largest have been known to reach 75 pounds. Coyotes are athletic as well as smart, able to reach speeds of 43 miles per hour while in pursuit. (Usain Bolt's top speed is 27 miles per hour, and he is undoubtedly more of an outlier for his species.)

The larger coyotes found in the Northeast are more dangerous simply by virtue of their size. This is how 19-year-old folk singer Taylor Mitchell was killed by two coyotes while hiking in Nova Scotia recently: harder to imagine this happening with two 25 pound western coyotes.

Coyote packs are generally smaller than wolf packs, and the relations between individuals tend to be more fluid. (Thus you hear of an alpha male wolf, but not an alpha male coyote.) Coyotes usually hunt in pairs, but there can be up to six involved in a kill.

I've seen maybe five coyotes in my backyard in Connecticut in the past decade. I've always been impressed by the way they move: they prance elegantly, almost like foxes, rather than trot like dogs. And I've always been surprised by their size: they usually seem to be about the size of German Shepherds.

If you live in the Northeast and see a large coyote in your backyard, think wolf.

Sociopath alert: Bill Clinton

That a man would have an extramarital affair is hardly indicative of sociopathy. That a middle-aged man would have an affair with a 21-year-old who works for him is reprehensible, but still not indicative of sociopathy. That a man would lie about his extramarital affairs is downright normal. Lying under oath is more serious, but even that doesn’t necessarily mean sociopathy. What betrays Bill Clinton’s sociopathy is the utter dishonesty which pervades every aspect of his life, his lack of impulse control, his disloyalty, his facile justifications, and his affect-hungry nature.

Like many sociopaths, Clinton will massage the truth even when he doesn‘t have to. But it is the bald-faced nature of many of his lies that really gives him away. During his 1992 campaign, Clinton heatedly denied an affair with Gennifer Flowers even after being caught on tape telling her how to deny their affair. Most married men lie about their affairs -- but few would have the gall to continue lying at that point. Clinton did. Five years later, during his deposition on the Paula Jones case, Clinton admitted the affair with Flowers. But even under oath, he admitted only to having had sex with her once, while Flowers -- by then the more credible of the two -- claimed a twelve year affair.

Many of Clinton’s lies are well documented. His tortured explanations for his draft dodging are classic Clinton slipperiness. Clinton said as little as possible on the subject of Whitewater, other than deny knowledge of it. (Are we to believe that as a poor young governor, this famously detail-oriented man knew nothing about his own investments?) Likewise, regarding Filegate and Travelgate, he was widely regarded as being disingenuous and evasive at best.

But much of Clinton’s dishonesty is not clearly visible until his behavior is viewed through the prism of sociopathy. Ironically, the Clinton comment most widely derided as a lie during his first term, his claim that he did not inhale the one marijuana cigarette he ever smoked, was, I think, the truth. His advisers would never have let him concoct such a ridiculous lie. And Clinton is, in fact, allergic to smoke. It also seems likely that during an era when it was considered cool to smoke marijuana (the late Sixties, when Clinton was at Oxford), he would have wanted to appear hip. Thus, when a joint was passed his way, Clinton probably would have taken a toke, but would have (deceptively) only faked inhaling. In this instance, Clinton was probably lying to his fellow students at the time (“This is good stuff. Man, have I got a buzz going!”) rather than the American public twenty odd years later. The public didn’t believe him because there is no point to smoking marijuana without inhaling. There is no point, that is, unless you are the kind of phony who wants to appear to be smoking when you’re not.

Perhaps most tellingly, Clinton is emotionally dishonest. He drips with the seemingly heartfelt sincerity that only the utterly insincere can muster at will. Whenever he reviewed and saluted the troops, he would sport the mock proud look; and whenever he was being applauded, the mock humble look. C-SPAN once showed President and Mrs. Clinton standing in a receiving line with the Ghanaian President and his wife. I was riveted by the sight of Clinton, who had just the day before been publicly accused of having raped Juanita Broaddrick as Governor, acting as if he were having the time of his life. He received each and every one of the guests as if he (or she) were the one Clinton had been looking forward to seeing all evening.

For most Presidents attending state funerals, it suffices to appear somber and dignified; Clinton always had to take it a step further, and act as if he was overcome with grief and trying bravely not to cry. Clinton exudes all the warmth that only the completely cold can project for anybody, anytime.

During a discussion of the poor during the 1992 Presidential debates, on several occasions Clinton looked down and bit his lower lip as if overcome with sadness at their plight. Are we to believe he was thus affected in the middle of a high-stakes debate? Human nature is such that our heartstrings are pulled by a sad personal story, not by a recitation of statistics. But the nature of a sociopath is that he is moved by neither, thus does not know when to pretend to be sad. (“Eighteen percent of Americans are living below the federally mandated poverty line as defined by HEW, a household income of $16,000 for a family of four -- boo hoo.”)

Telling the American people “I feel your pain” is just the sort of thing a sociopath would claim. At the time, this statement was widely viewed as an example of what a touchy-feely, emotional man the President was. But in fact, empathy is usually most heavily advertised by those who feel it the least, i.e., sociopaths. (Most of us just assume that others realize we feel some compassion, and thus don’t feel obliged to point it out.)

Clinton’s lying seems to know no bounds. The following is an excerpt from the December 25, 1998 issue of The Forward, headlined ‘Clinton Lied About Meeting Children: It was a Clinton classic. President Clinton stood before the Palestinian National Council and spoke of two ‘profoundly emotional experiences in less than 24 hours.’ One of those experiences was his meeting with the children of jailed Palestinian-Arab terrorists. The other experience was meeting Israelis, ‘some [in Clinton’s words] little children whose fathers had been killed in conflict with the Palestinians…..[But] the Israeli Embassy’s Minister for Public Affairs was unable to confirm that a meeting between Clinton and Israeli children ever took place….Other Israeli government sources who would speak only on condition of anonymity said Clinton never met with the Israeli children. The White House and State Department did not return calls about whether such a meeting took place. There was no such event on the public schedule of the trip.” In other words, this was just more phony emotionalism.

When the Dick Morris scandal broke in the summer of 1996, the media focused on the sexual aspects of Morris’ entanglements with Sherry Rowlands. What got lost among the more prurient aspects of the case was Morris’ characterization of Clinton to Rowlands. Morris called him “the monster” and said that he had no empathy and no common sense, two things sociopaths notoriously lack. Morris has also been quoted as saying, “Hillary loves Bill, and Bill loves Bill. It gives them something in common.” (It also gives Bill something in common with his sociopathic brethren.)

Clinton is corrupt. Hillary’s infamous cattle trading futures profits (courtesy of Tyson Foods’ man at the exchange) were a bribe to Bill, not to Hillary. It was Governor Clinton, not his wife, who had the power to -- and did -- pass legislation favorable to Tyson, laws which allowed Tyson to pollute lakes and streams with impunity and to drive oversize trucks through the state. (This from a man who advertised himself as an environmentalist.) Prosecutors were unable to prove it a bribe, but it stretches credulity to think that Hillary actually studied cattle futures on her own, then turned a $1000 stake into $100,000, then just as suddenly decided to quit. (Why not turn the $100,000 into ten million?) Regarding Whitewater, it seems reasonable to assume that a man who would accept a bribe to poison his home state’s waterways would certainly not be above accepting a sweetheart real estate deal.

Jim McDougal, in his book “Arkansas Mischief,” said that he regularly gave cash to Governor Clinton (a charge Clinton denies). He characterized Clinton as a man who succeeded by promising everything to everyone (a typical sociopathic trait). McDougal also says that he accidentally discovered that Clinton had an affair with his wife Susan (which she has denied).

Clinton is disloyal. The phrase “Friend of Bill,” heard so frequently during his first term, seemed to have fallen out of favor by his second, given its by then ominous implications. The list of people whom Clinton dropped when politically expedient is much longer than the list of aides who managed to last for his entire administration. The moment nominees or advisers became tainted, he dropped them quicker than you could say “Nannygate.”

Another sociopath trait Clinton exhibited is minimal impulse control. According to inside accounts at the White House, Clinton had little control over his temper. (George Stephanopoulos, a dedicated aide during Clinton’s first term, is said to have left in part because he tired of being Clinton’s whipping boy.)

People become addicts because they can’t control their impulse for immediate gratification. Clinton reportedly at one point had a cocaine habit. The November 1996 issue of The American Spectator listed several witnesses to Clinton’s cocaine use, and speculated that this was why he would not release his medical records. A woman who lived next door to Roger Clinton said she heard Bill Clinton comment on the quality of the cocaine he snorted several times. Roger Clinton has been tape-recorded saying that Bill had “a nose like a vacuum cleaner.” Asharlene Wilson, who has been convicted of drug violations, testified that she had personally witnessed Clinton take cocaine at least twenty times. When The American Spectator tried to investigate rumors of a Clinton hospitalization for an overdose in the aftermath of his gubernatorial defeat in 1980, the woman at the University of Arkansas Medical Center, rather than deny it, said she couldn’t talk about it or would get into trouble. Despite his personal involvement, Governor Clinton later had his brother Roger arrested for possession.

“I think we’re all addicted to something,” Clinton told an interviewer in the 1980s, according to his biographer David Maraniss. “Some people are addicted to drugs. Some to power. Some to food. Some to sex. We’re all addicted to something.” Having been addicted to all four, Clinton knew of what he spoke.

Clinton’s character is also demonstrated by his sense of entitlement. Remember that infamous haircut by Christophe? President Clinton decided to have a trim aboard Air Force One while on the runway at Los Angeles International Airport, delaying the other planes for over an hour. Hundreds of other passengers waited so that Clinton could satisfy his vanity; this is not the choice of a man burdened with a sense of shame.

Clinton’s most highly publicized weakness, of course, has been women. Imagine for a moment that Paula Jones’ allegations were true. (She did tell two different people about the incident within an hour of its occurrence.) What kind of man approaches a woman he barely knows by dropping his pants, pulling out his genitals, and asking for oral sex?

While the fact of Clinton’s affairs is not necessarily indicative of bad character, the way he handled the Lewinsky coverup exudes sociopathy. His reaction to the initial accusations was very telling. Clinton stood at the podium wagging his finger at the press, jut-jawed, saying with all the righteous fury of a wrongly accused innocent, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
Clinton even lied to those closest to him about Monica. According to Gail Sheehy in the February 1999 Vanity Fair, he told adviser Sidney Blumenthal that she had come on to him, but he had told her he couldn’t have sex. “I’ve gone down that road before,” said Clinton. “I’ve caused pain for a lot of people and I’m not going to do that again.”

Clinton went on to describe how he had tried to help, in his word, the “troubled” young girl. (It would be one thing to simply deny the charges; but a sociopath must take it one step further, and claim he is doing good.) Hillary herself told the press that the President had been “ministering” to Monica. When the evidence of Clinton’s semen on Monica’s dress came to light, he was caught red-handed (but not red-faced; he is incapable of embarrassment).

Clinton’s claim that oral sex isn’t really sex was a national joke for several weeks. But Clinton didn’t mean it as a joke, and it is exactly the type of facile justification that sociopaths specialize in.

Monica, in her testimony, characterized her relationship with the President as casual sex that turned into friendship; the President characterized it as a “friendship” that spun out of control, as if his initial interest in her were purely nonsexual. This is a common sociopathic lie, to paint a picture of “friendship” that rings hollow.

Monica later said that when she asked Clinton if their affair were merely about sex, “he started to tear up and told me he never wanted me to think that.” When she told him she loved him, he told her, “That means a lot to me.” (Surprising that the opinion of a “troubled” girl would mean so much.)

Clinton’s most shameless manipulation of Monica came when he implied to her that they had a future together. On one occasion, Clinton told Monica that he “might be alone in three years.” Then he asked her, “What will we do when I’m 75 and have to pee 25 times a day?” (Since, according to Clinton, their relationship wasn’t purely sexual, it is curious that he would worry about their “future” in those terms.)

When Monica expressed concern to Clinton that he was more interested in Kathleen Willey than in her, he told Monica that Willey’s breasts weren’t large enough to provoke his interest. With this one statement Clinton managed simultaneously to flatter Monica, lie to her, and insult Willey for her physical attributes, a neat sociopathic hat trick. (Remember, this is the same man who fired Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders for having mentioned masturbation while discussing sexual health with adolescents, and decreed that unmarried donors not be allowed to sleep together in the Lincoln Bedroom.)

Monica also said that Clinton told her that “beginning in third grade there were two Bill Clinton’s -- the good boy and the secret boy.” This sounds almost schizoid on the surface, but in fact is just a typically sociopathic way of separating oneself from one’s bad actions.

Then, on August 17, 1998, came Clinton’s famous nonapology to the nation in which he manfully claimed “full responsibility” for his actions, but then essentially absolved himself from blame. He mentioned that his earlier denials of sex with Lewinsky were “technically correct,” which even his most ardent defenders described as a “lawyerly evasion” (read: lie). Then Clinton lambasted Ken Starr for going after him. Clinton often criticized Starr for the time and money that were put into the investigation; but Clinton could easily have saved the taxpayers that time and money by not stonewalling from the start (after having promised the public “more rather than less, sooner rather than later.”)

Ken Starr obviously recognized Clinton as a corrupt, dishonest, manipulative user who’d gotten away with a lot; yet Starr was unable to make any of the original Whitewater charges stick because of mute (or dead) witnesses and missing files. So, in the manner of Eliot Ness going after Al Capone on income tax evasion, Starr settled for nailing his man on a lesser charge (the Jones/Lewinsky matters).

On October 7th, Clinton announced publicly that the House members should “cast a vote of conscience” on the Republican-written impeachment inquiry. Meanwhile the White House worked hard behind the scenes to pressure Congressional Democrats to vote for a more limited investigation.

Shortly after the impeachment Clinton was asked at a press conference if he felt persecuted, as if there were a conspiracy against him. He responded with what he said was one of his favorite jokes: a man is walking along the rim of the Grand Canyon and falls over a cliff. He sees a twig and grabs it, but then the twig starts to come out by the roots. He then looks up above, and says, “God, why me?” God responds, “I don’t know, there’s just something about you I don’t like.” By this point Clinton had already blamed his troubles on a right wing conspiracy, an overzealous prosecutor, and a troubled young girl. Why not a God who didn’t like him?

It is testimony to Clinton’s character that when he bombed the Sudan and Afghanistan in the fall of 1998, many wondered if he were just trying to deflect attention from the Lewinsky matter. The strikes were ostensibly aimed at Osama bin Laden, who at that point was known primarily as the man behind the bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania weeks earlier. But as time went on it became increasingly apparent that the bombed plant in the Sudan was devoted to making pharmaceuticals rather than chemical weapons, as originally claimed.

Clinton’s public pronouncement after the strike was that he stayed awake “till 2:30 in the morning trying to make absolutely sure that at that chemical plant there was no night shift. I didn’t want some person who was a nobody to me, but who may have a family to feed and a life to live, and probably had no earthly idea what else was going on there, to die needlessly.” Noble words. But they weren’t quite original. About eight months before the bombing, the movie “The American President” came out. It was an extremely sympathetic portrayal of a Democratic President and widower (played by Michael Douglas) whose affair with an environmental lobbyist (played by Annette Bening) creates a mini-scandal which his loathsome Republican opponent tries to make an issue of. It is hard to believe that Clinton would not have seen this movie, which was partially shot in Washington D.C. In any case, at one point in the movie President Douglas must make the decision whether to bomb Tripoli. Late at night, a grim-faced Douglas asks the assembled military brass, “How many people are working in the damn building? The fewest -- what shift has the fewest people? The night shift, right? When are they on?” He then gives the go-ahead for the bombing. Later that night, in the small hours of the morning, when an adviser tells him the bombing will make him look Presidential, Douglas solemnly responds, “What I did tonight was not about political gain. Somewhere in Libya right now, a janitor is working the night shift at Libyan intelligence headquarters. He’s going about doing his job ‘cause he has no idea in an about an hour he’s going to die in a massive explosion. He’s just going about his job because he has no idea that about an hour ago I have an order to have him killed.” Sound familiar? Now ask yourself: was Clinton motivated more by genuine concern for the folks on the night shift, or by a desire to come across like the American President?

Senator Joseph Biden was widely mocked when it turned out he had plagiarized Labor leader Neil Kinnock’s speech about his ancestors in the coal mines. (Of course, it was easy to prove Biden’s ancestor’s weren’t miners, whereas it would be impossible to prove Clinton wasn’t up until 2:30AM thinking about the night shift.) Clinton’s speech may not cleave close enough to President Douglas’ to qualify technically as plagiarism, but it does seem screenwriter Aaron Sorkin should have received at least partial credit for his words.

Clinton left the White House the same way he occupied it, embroiled in another scandal. On the last day of his Presidency Clinton issued more than 170 Presidential pardons, for tax evaders, drug dealers, swindlers, and terrorists, among others. The most widely publicized pardon went to Marc Rich, the convicted fugitive financier who underreported his taxes by fifty million dollars and violated the US ban on trade with Iran. His ex-wife Denise Rich gave over a million dollars to various Clinton causes including his Presidential Library and lobbied strongly for his release. Hugh Rodham, Hillary’s brother, took hundreds of thousands of dollars from both drug dealer Carlos Vignali and swindler Glenn Braswell, both of whom Clinton pardoned. In March of 2002 the House Government Reform Committee released a report on these pardons which it titled “Justice Undone: Clemency Decisions in the Clinton White House.”

Perhaps the essential question to ask is, can you picture Clinton sitting in the White House, head in hands, mortified over one of his moral slips? It’s easy to imagine him angry at Ken Starr, or frustrated at his negative press; but hard to imagine him feeling ashamed. This is the key to his character. People who handle stress well, people who weather personal scandal with aplomb, are often said to be able to “compartmentalize” their lives. (Clinton’s mother Virginia Kelley actually claimed in her memoir that she taught her sons to do this.) What this phrase means, essentially, is that these people don’t let such things faze them. But isn’t this the essence of sociopathy, to be unbothered by any sense of guilt, shame, or responsibility? This is why Clinton was able to present such a strong, smiling face to the world the morning after his impeachment; this is why he is able to lie with such seeming conviction.

Contrast Clinton’s demeanor in the middle of his impeachment to Richard Nixon’s. Nixon, who was later described by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as “a basket case” at the time of the Watergate hearings, finally resigned in August 1974 rather than face the shame of impeachment. Clinton’s State of the Union speech in January 1999 was completely different. Clinton strode into the Senate beaming, shaking hands jovially, head high, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. During the speech itself he came across empathetic, sincere, caring, humorous, and determined. The greatest stage actor, given the luxury of ten takes, could not have done better. There was no sense of sheepishness, no sense of being troubled by the impeachment; make no mistake, it was his sociopathy that allowed him to deliver such a magnificent performance.

Sociopathy does run in families, and Clinton’s family background is certainly dysfunctional enough. His stepfather, Roger Clinton, was an alcoholic who physically abused Clinton’s mother. Strangely, Clinton, born William Jefferson Blythe III, took his stepfather’s name after his mother had divorced the man, despite the fact that Roger had refused to legally adopt him.

Clinton’s mother, the late Virginia Kelley, was described as “an Arkansas original.” This is a nice spin on a woman who had scant control over her various appetites. She loved to smoke, drink, and gamble. And, in her words, she “loved men.” Clinton is truly his mother’s son.

The question is, who is Clinton’s father? William Blythe, the traveling salesman (and accused bigamist) whom Virginia Kelley claimed was Clinton’s father, died in a car accident in May 1946, three months before Clinton was born. That much is not in dispute. The problem is that nine months before Clinton was born, Blythe was serving his country in Italy. When this information surfaced after Clinton was elected President, Kelley said that Clinton’s birth was induced a month early because of a fall she had taken. In her 1994 memoir, however, she never mentioned this. And Clinton weighed eight and a half pounds at birth, a weight almost never reached by premature infants. Not knowing who one’s father is can have a devastating effect on a young boy’s psyche. One certainly cannot blame Clinton for the confusion surrounding his paternity; but then neither can one blame Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, or David Berkowitz (the Son of Sam) for the confusion surrounding theirs. And such backgrounds do tend to be fertile soil for sociopathy.

Jeffrey Toobin wrote an article in the July 6, 1998 New Yorker in which he quoted Linda Bloodworth Thomason: “For as long as I have known the President, he has been extraordinary in his devotion to winning over the most negative person in the room.” (Since Thomason is a Clinton ally, it is reasonable to assume she meant this in a positive way.) Virginia Kelley herself said in her memoirs that if she or either of her sons were at a party with ninety-nine people who liked them and one who didn’t, they would spend the evening attempting to win that person over. This sounds like an affect-hungry sociopath’s description of affect-hungry sociopathy. What better job for such a person than the Presidency?

Jonathan Alter wrote an article in the February 2, 1998 issue of Newsweek entitled “Clinton on the Couch: Why would he risk it all for a little sex with an intern? Look to his biography -- and biology.” Alter states that Clinton was teased for being fat as a kid, then quotes Ben Stein: “He is remedying an early deficit in female attention. Like all childhood deficits, it can never be filled.” Stein is implying that Clinton is making up for a lack of admiration from female classmates. Stein is partially right -- Clinton did suffer from a deficit in female attention during his formative years -- but it was from his mother. As an addict herself, Virginia Kelley was probably emotionally unavailable for her sons; that would certainly explain their later behavior. (Remember, the difference between Bill and his half-brother Roger is IQ, not character.) The tone of Alter’s article seems to imply that Clinton is a good man who has been brought low by this isolated flaw. But the flaws of a sociopath are never isolated.

In the same spirit, it was often said that Clinton had a “zipper problem,” as if his flaw were sartorial in nature. But his entire personality is irrepressibly unzipped: not only can he not tie himself down to his marriage, he can’t button his mouth, he can’t rein in his anger, he couldn’t even stay tethered to one stand on a political issue.

The New York Times, endorsing Clinton for the 1996 election, stated that he could resolve the “character issue” which had dogged him through his first term by standing firm on his core liberal beliefs and not waffling on policy. This is ridiculous. Sociopathy, or the lack thereof, is not demonstrated by one’s political stance. It is demonstrated by the pattern of one’s personal behavior. Another Times editorial once mentioned Clinton’s “mysterious passion for lying.” This passion is mysterious only if you don’t understand sociopathy.

Many seem to think that Clinton’s waffling was a result of agonizing over the heart-wrenching choices he had to make, that he was torn because he wanted so badly to do the right thing. In fact, it was more a matter of following shifting polls and telling whichever audience he was addressing at the time whatever they wanted to hear.

Maureen Dowd offered a particularly telling comment on Clinton’s hypocrisy after both Bill and Hillary had objected to their daughter Chelsea being depicted in a (positive) cover article in People magazine: “As he huffily demands that one young woman be protected from the media monster, he did not hesitate to let another young woman [Monica] be devoured by it.” (The New York Times, February 7, 1999.)

Bob Woodward wrote a book, “The Choice”, in which he characterized Clinton’s thinking this way: “Part of him yearned for an obvious call to action or even a crisis. He was looking for that extraordinary challenge which he could define and then rally people to the cause. He wanted to find that galvanizing moment. ‘I would have much preferred being President during World War II,’ he said one night in January 1995. ‘I’m a person out of my time.’” What kind of vanity must one possess to wish a world war upon his country merely in order to look more heroic, and perhaps be treated better by the history books?

David Brooks wrote an editorial in the September 3, 1998 USA Today in which he highlighted Clinton’s moral vanity: “Many politicians are self-righteous, but Clinton possesses the trait in pure form…..Clinton talks as if he were the embodiment of virtue. Anything done on his behalf, no matter how sleazy or deceptive, is done in the name of virtue and therefore virtuous…..‘I’ve tried to do a good job of taking care of this country, even when I haven’t taken such good care of myself and my family,’ he said at one point. As if his problem were that he isn’t selfish enough.” Moral vanity is one of the hallmarks of sociopathy; a sense of irony is not.

David Maraniss, a journalist for The Washington Post, wrote a series of articles about Clinton the candidate back in 1992 that glowed with admiration for his empathy, openness, and close friendships. In 1995, Maraniss’s book “First in His Class” presented a more mixed view of Clinton. By this point Maraniss recognized the blind ambition and duplicitousness behind the fa├žade. In 1998, Maraniss wrote a book entitled “The Clinton Enigma: A Four-and-a-Half Minute Speech That Reveals This President’s Entire Life” (a reference to the Clinton nonapology of August 17th). As the title indicates, by this point Maraniss was thoroughly disenchanted. He called Clinton “a dissembler” and “one man darkness unit,” and “a personality that explained and rationalized compulsively.” Maraniss said Clinton had a “lack of normal standards of self-control,” and was “incapable of learning and changing.” All phrases that are code for sociopathy. That Maraniss could be so taken with Clinton in 1992 demonstrates just how successfully charismatic and manipulative a sociopath can be; Maraniss’s eventual disillusionment is also typical.

During Clinton’s second term, polls showed 70% of the electorate thought Clinton was a liar. Some Clinton defenders tried to claim the moral high ground by saying that those who detested Clinton were “haters.” But hatred is a natural reaction to incessant dishonesty and insincerity, and is itself no indication of character fault unless directed at a wide range of people.

It is hard to accept that a recent President of the United States is in fact a sociopath, with the same basic mindset as all those infamous serial killers. But Clinton is, and unmistakably so.

Abraham Lincoln, arguably our greatest President, is said to have remarked that you can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Bill Clinton, arguably our most sociopathic, devoted his Presidency to trying to disprove that theorem.