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Monday, August 30, 2010

Identity crisis

A friend sent the following article, written by Melissa Whitworth, which mocks Vladimir Putin for having posed recently in the prow of a Zodiac raft while trying to shoot a whale with a dart (for research purposes):

Whitworth basically took a very mocking tone while describing Putin, all but calling him a ridiculous macho poseur. My initial reaction to her piece was, hmm, this is probably the type of woman who is known, to those in her circle, as a castrating bitch.

But then I remembered the post I had written about Putin back in April, in which I had taken a similar tone:

And all I could think was, what exactly did that make me?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The New Victorians

While writing the previous post, it occurred to me who the politically correct class remind me of: the Victorians.

The Victorian bourgeois are remembered for having such prudish attitudes that they covered their piano legs out of a misplaced sense of modesty. They studiously avoided certain words they considered indecent. Women were kept covered up, with only their ankles and possibly feet showing. And it was widely assumed during the era that women were asexual.

We laugh at them now for their insistence on ridiculous social codes and their unwillingness to acknowledge basic facts about human nature (such as women's sexuality).

Science has made great strides in learning about human nature in the past century. We've not only learned about women's sexuality, we've discovered the neurobiological roots of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, and have developed drugs which keep them under control. We have learned more about evolution and all its implications, including the different mating strategies between sexes. We have learned about the genetic basis for for such basic human differences as IQ, and even for traits like shyness.

However, any mention of any actual differences between people -- or populations -- is considered scandalous by the New Victorians. Unfortunately, they seem to be in control.

Any politician who would dare mention the genetic basis for IQ in public would be hounded out of office. In fact, any scientist who mentioned that would be forced to leave his job. Just ask James Watson, long ago discoverer of the double helix and more recent discoverer of the consequences of political incorrectness.

Any university president who suggested that there might be cognitive reasons why women aren't as well represented in the highest ranks of science or engineering or math would provoke a firestorm of protest. In fact, merely suggesting such a possibility was the beginning of the end for Larry Summers at Harvard.

The statistics on IQ, by the way, show that women average five points less than men, and are underrepresented at both ends of the bell curve, meaning, fewer female geniuses as well as fewer female idiots.

But heaven forbid anybody mention this. It would be like the Victorians talking about a woman's leg. It's simply not something that decent people do.

The Grey Lady

The reason the NY Times is referred to as the Grey Lady, as opposed to, say, the Red Lady, is because they are so successful at draining all the color out of a story.

The Times considers itself high-minded, above appealing to the worst in human nature. Too often this means studiously ignoring the feral side of human nature. But you simply don't learn about what people are really like unless you read juicy stories with quotes showing people at their most self-serving. (The NY Post serves these stories up on a regular basis.) Reading a Times account of a story is a little like looking at a charcoal and ink drawing of wild beast rather than seeing a movie showing the animal in all its Technicolor glory. This is a prudish and, at heart, dishonest sensibility.

Here are a few of the concepts the Times just doesn't get, or even worse, pretends not to get: beauty, intelligence, and truth. Instead it offers a strained, unrealistic version of political correctness.

First, beauty; some people are good-looking and some are not. This basic fact governs sexual attraction and status. None of us is immune to it in our personal lives. And that includes every single NYT reporter. If you want to know whether beauty really matters, simply look at the Sunday Times Magazine fashion advertisements: you'll never see a better-looking collection of women. But the Times would sooner have Naomi Wolf in their pages than anybody who acknowledged beauty's gravitational pull.

As befits a newspaper which celebrates the sculpture of Richard Serra and the paintings of Jasper Johns.

Intelligence is another fact of life. Some people are smart, and some dumb. Differences in intelligence are largely genetic in origin, all ethnic groups are not identical in average IQ, and this largely explains how and where civilization progressed. The NYT, of course, strenuously denies this, and turns a blind eye to any evidence that it is so. (Which means ignoring an awful lot.) Yet every individual NYT reporter keenly wants to have his articles lauded as brilliant. And what exactly constitutes brilliance? A plateload of IQ points, along with some originality. Yet any mention of this is abjured by the NYT.

Truth is another concept, which, while occasionally subjective, is always sacrificed by the Times on the altar of political correctness. Take a clear-eyed look at any of its sacred cows? Forget it. One such bovine is the taboo subject of gender differences. The French say, vive la difference! The Times says, quel difference?

Reading the NY Post is like seeing an entertaining, enjoyable, and sexy -- though not necessarily Oscar caliber -- movie. Reading the Times is like watching a dull Tass documentary filmed in black and white. The choice is stark. One is full of life, nerve, and common sense. The other is dessicated, prim, stiff, and pretentious.

One telling difference in the online versions of each newspaper is that the Post allows reader feedback, whereas the Times doesn't, for fear that some politically incorrect thought might peep through. The Post allows raw emotion, the Times only its own prim disapproval.

If you can stomach one more metaphor, the Post is like a hamburger, juicy and rare. The Times is an arugula salad with no dressing. You read the Times because it's good for you, and because of what you think that says about you, not because you enjoy it. But would you continue to feel virtuous if you found out that the salad served up by the Times is not that good for you -- that it's just propaganda, the intellectual equivalent of eating cardboard?

Just because something doesn't taste good doesn't mean it's good for you.

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 watched the attached video segment for clues. I couldn't tell from that, but did notice that she seemed extraordinarily pleased with herself as she talked to Letterman. 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 is actually 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 generated by coming out right before this, and wanted a little 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 that way 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 came back 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 have 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 would also 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? Hard to tell. 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 faking it, it wouldn't be the first time this behavior has occurred. Kenneth Bianchi, one of 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 fake 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? Obviously 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 conscienceless dissembler. 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.

Charles Krauthammer

Guy sent me this excellent editorial by Charles Krauthammer on why the Democrats are going to lose badly in November:

Krauthammer, for those of you unfamiliar with him, graduated from Harvard Med School, and worked as a psychiatrist at Mass General from 1975 to 1978. In 1978 he quit his practice to direct psychiatric research for the Carter administration, wrote speeches for Vice President Walter Mondale during the 1980 campaign, then turned to journalism. He has been a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post since 1985.

A background in psychiatry is probably better preparation than most for analyzing politics these days.

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.

A straightforward admission

I had an argument yesterday with someone about the heritability of IQ. I said it was obviously largely heritable. She countered with statements about the importance of education, and family background, and teacher expectations, and nutrition. I agreed that all of those could have an influence, but pointed out that all of the evidence suggested roughly 85% of the variance between people is due to genetic factors, with 15% due to environmental factors. I mentioned the separated siblings studies, which show how much closer adopted children are to their biological families than to their adoptive ones.

She then repeated her arguments about education, etc.

I then asked her, is there any sense in which some people are just smarter than others, even if they come from similar backgrounds? She replied, "Oh, well backgrounds are never exactly the same. How can you think that two families are exactly alike?"

I then asked, are you unwilling to admit that genetics have any role at all in determining IQ? She replied, "I'm willing to admit that IQ has a lot to do with nutrition, and early childhood education." And so on.

In other words, she refused to answer the question.

Whenever people refuse to answer a question, it's because they know how ludicrous they would sound if they answered the way they'd like.

Which is just a straightforward admission that they're wrong -- much as "straightforward" seems like the wrong adjective for their style of argument.

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.

"Some of my best friends....."

A friend pointed out the other day that liberals love to mock people who, if accused of racism or some other "ism," defensively say, "Some of my best friends are black/gay/whatever...." But in fact that is actually a perfectly good illustration of one's open-mindedness. If one hates blacks, or gays, or any other group, and judges them as wanting because of that identity, one would not befriend them. This seems fairly self-evident; my friend is right.

But for liberals, of course, actual open-mindedness isn't enough. Liberals demand the close-mindedness inherent in reciting the liberal shibboleths of the day, including that there are no racial or gender differences. Should one notice a fact to the contrary, and be naive enough to actually blurt it out, subsequently claiming friends of other groups as proof of goodwill is to be sneered at.

As usual, the liberal definition of open-mindedness means the opposite.

One phenomenon I've noticed is that liberals are much more likely to become friends with someone because he's black or gay. It's a great way for a liberal to prove to himself -- and the world -- how hip and open-minded he is. Such liberals often tend to "show off" these trophy friends.

Personally, if I were black, I'd prefer a friend who liked me for myself, not for my potential as a prop.

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.

Friday, August 13, 2010

How prejudices form

(Elias Abduelazam)

There's been a fair amount of publicity recently over the white serial killer from Flint Michigan who made his way to Leesburg, Virginia, stabbing 18 men along the way, and killing 5 of them. At least 15 of his victims were black.

The killer, Elias Abuelazam, 33, was arrested yesterday as he tried to board a flight from Atlanta to Tel Aviv.

It's rare that a serial killer of one race goes after victims of another race; the DC Snipers and Jeffrey Dahmer are about the only exceptions who come to mind. Abuelazam is also the rare serial killer who had no sexual (or even financial) motive for his killings. He just drove around, stopping to ask various men for directions or help with his "broken down" car, then slashing them.

An article from the AP appeared this morning titled, "Fears remain in Mich. after stabbing spree arrest." The article quoted one Aldridge Gardner, 46, whom they interviewed as he waited for a bus: "It makes you not want to give anybody a hand with a vehicle if it breaks down. If it was a female, I would help her. If it was a guy, I'd be skeptical."

This seems a reasonable enough statement, and the authors of the article, Corey Williams and David Runk, did not question Gardner's overt "sexism." After all, since it was a man committing all these crimes, it would be downright silly not to be more suspicious of men. Of course, in this case it was only one man, and he had already been arrested. Nonetheless, Gardner's statement didn't seem to raise any hackles. And it shouldn't have.

But imagine for a moment that the killer had been a woman serial killer (that rarest of creatures). Had Gardner then said that he would help a man but think twice before helping a woman, the authors of this article would probably have done a double take. First, because of the obvious silliness of Gardner's statement -- everybody knows that men commit far more violent crime than women do -- but also because he would have brushed up against political correctness: it's okay to favor women over men, but not the other way around.

Now imagine that Gardner had said that that he would help a black man but not a white man --because, after all, Abuelazam was white. This would be reasonable if the killer were still at large, but he has been arrested. And as Department of Justice statistics show, and as everybody pretty much knows, blacks -- on a per capita basis -- commit far more violent crime than do whites.

But what if some innocent visitor from, say, Mars, said after reviewing the DOJ statistics, "Wow -- from now on I'm going to be really careful around black people. I had no idea they committed so much more crime per capita. I'm going to avoid black neighborhoods, be more suspicious of young black men I see on the street, and be much more reluctant to help black people asking for directions."

Given the statistics, this would not be an unreasonable reaction. And, in actuality, this is exactly the way most white people -- liberal as well as conservative -- act. Yet it's the fear that dare not speak its name.

I applaud Aldridge Gardner -- whom I'll guess is black, judging from his name and hometown -- for his straightforward logic and honesty.

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.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The g factor and the heritability of IQ

From Wikipedia:

"The general intelligence factor (abbreviated g) is a controversial construct used in the field of psychology to quantify what is common to the scores of all intelligence tests. It was postulated in 1904 by Charles Spearman and subsequently developed into a theory in 1923.

Spearman, who was an early psychometrician, found that schoolchildrens' grades across seemingly unrelated subjects were positively correlated, that these correlations reflected the influence of a dominant factor, which he termed g for "general" intelligence. He developed a model in which all variations in intelligence test scores are explained by two factors. First, a factor specific to an individual mental task: the individual abilities that would make a person more skilled at a specific cognitive task. And second, a general factor g that governs performance on all cognitive tasks."

The idea is that we're all born with a certain innate intelligence, and we can then take that intelligence and apply it in any direction we fancy.

This makes intuitive sense; bright people tend to show their intelligence across a wide range of subjects. When I think of smartest people I know, I find that their accurate recollections tend to go hand in hand with mathematical ability, common sense, verbal adeptness, and superior insight.

It seems an inescapable conclusion: some people are bright, some less so. Very few would argue with this. The only controversy attendant upon the issue of intelligence seems to be about the relative roles played by genes and the environment in its formation.

I first became interested in the nature/nurture controversy back in 1973, partly because it had aroused such violent feelings. After doing a little reading, it quickly became apparent that the geneticists -- the nature camp -- were right, and the nurture camp guided by ideology. (I came to this conclusion at age 19, a time in my life when I was completely apolitical.) If you look at the separated monozygotic (identical) twin studies, and the separated sibling studies, the evidence is overwhelming. The IQs of adopted children are much closer to that of their biological relatives than to the families they had grown up in -- regardless of the economic status of either family they were raised in. And the separated monozygotic twins ended up with commensurately closer IQs than did the separated ordinary siblings.

Certainly there are cases of extreme deprivation which affect IQ strongly. But for the most part, 85% of the variance in IQ is determined by genetic factors, and 15 percent by the early environment. These are the numbers given by people on the hereditarian side of the argument, who were perfectly willing to concede that environment plays a role. People on the other side of the argument, however, were unwilling to assign any role at all to genetics despite the overwhelming evidence. In fact, whenever anyone pointed to such evidence, they would respond by calling him names such as "racist" and "Nazi."

Whether or not genes play a role in determining IQ is a scientific question, not a political or moral one. Yet the hereditarians' opponents kept trying to turn it into a political issue, and ascribed a false morality to inaccurate conclusions.

There was a group at my college who called themselves "Science for the People," headed by Richard Lewontin. They objected to any studies which might lead to politically incorrect conclusions. Their primary target when I was there was E.O. Wilson, who is today widely viewed as the father of sociobiology. (Sociobiology posited that evolution has resulted in different mating strategies between the genders across the animal kingdom.) The group might more accurately have been called, "Abolish Science for the People." They were bookburners, plain and simple, straight out of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."

Liberals today mock Creationists who abjure evolution in favor of Intelligent Design. Yet the loudest voices decrying the study of evolution when I was in college were liberals who hated the conclusions that an open-minded study of the field led to.

Another of the voices raised in opposition to the genetic basis of IQ was Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote The Mismeasure of Man, an attempt to debunk the notion. His basic thesis was that since the phrenologists of the 19th century turned out to be wrong in their theories about head shape determining character, and since one of the hereditarians (Sir Cyril Burt) had fudged his data, the entire field must therefore be wrongheaded. This is like saying that because doctors used to prescribe leeches, and because Josef Mengele was a doctor, all of modern medicine must be a sham.

When I read later that Gould had been raised by his father to be a Marxist and absolutely abhorred the thought of any possible racial differences, it was a real "aha" moment.

Studying the heritability of IQ and then listening to the arguments of Lewontin and Gould were very enlightening early exposures to the liberal mentality.

Coincidentally, I just argued with a liberal today about this. After I quoted a few well-known statistics she angrily cried out, "I find your facts really offensive!"

Yes, she actually said that: she finds facts offensive. It was a tacit admission of... everything.

I thanked her for summarizing the liberal mentality so succinctly.

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.