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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ekland, Britt

Back in 1981, I was 26 and single and living in Los Angeles. Nautilus machines were then the latest thing, so I joined a gym called Sean Harrington's Nautilus.

I was working out there one day when I saw a beautiful blonde who reminded me of a girl I'd had a crush on in college. She was using the machine the wrong way, so I told her what she was doing wrong. She looked up briefly but otherwise didn't acknowledge me in any way. I looked at her again and it struck me that she was better-looking than that girl from college. (I found out later that she was 39 at the time; if she wasn't quite at the absolute peak of her beauty, she was close enough.)

The policy at this gym was that you were supposed to put your card in the back of the machine you were using. A few minutes later I snuck a peek at the back of the machine that she was on. Her card said, "Ekland, Britt."

She was using that machine the wrong way too, so again I pointed out the right way to do it. Once again she looked at me with what I can only describe as a look of supreme boredom, and looked away without a word. I thought, well, that was my brush with a movie star.

A few minutes later I was on another Nautilus machine and looked up to see her looking at me. Somewhat chastened by her earlier non-response, I quickly looked away, not wanting her to think I was staring at her.

After I showered and changed, as I was leaving (there was about a thirty yard walk from the men's locker room to the exit), I saw that Ekland was standing by the exit. She was looking me right in the eye. I quickly looked away. When I looked at her again, she was still looking at me, holding my eye. I quickly looked away again, not wanting her to think me rude. When I looked at her a final time, she was still staring me in the eye. Supremely conscious of not wanting to be the kind of rube who stares at a movie star, I looked away again. As I walked past her out the door, I wondered who or what she was waiting for.

By the time I got to my car I realized what had just happened. I saw her walk to her car, get into it, and drive off. By herself.

Maybe I'm kidding myself. But I'm positive that if only I'd gone up to her and said something like, "Can I offer you a ride home," she would have said "Follow me" -- probably with that same bored look. And I'd have a much better story to tell.

But I totally John Craig-ed it.

The funny thing is, I've told any number of guys an abbreviated version of this story, and while none have come out and called me a liar, it's pretty obvious most don't believe me.

I never saw Ekland again after that day. But I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've kicked myself since for my lack of gumption.

Looking back, maybe it's just as well I blew it the way I did. Had I somehow managed to insinuate myself into her bedroom, I would almost undoubtedly have been so intimidated by the enormity of the occasion (for me) that I'd have been unable to perform.

And even if I had been able to perform -- and thus had a really great story to tell -- no one would believe me anyway.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Citizen Renegade

An interesting post about physical fitness and also politics from a site devoted mostly to the art of picking up women:

Always fun to read blogs more extreme than my own.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The backlash begins

Has there ever been a clearer instance of political correctness than NPR firing Juan Williams for his statement that seeing people in Muslim garb on his airplane causes him anxiety? This is, of course, a near universal reaction among flyers, and understandably so.

Williams didn't say that all Muslims are terrorists, nor did he say that Muslims ought not be allowed to fly. He merely gave voice to personal feelings which almost all of us have experienced.

And how ironic that the victim of this political correctness would be a liberal black man, especially Williams, who never emits anything but nice guy vibes. 

But at least there was a huge public outcry against these thought police. Maybe there's a tiny ray of hope for the cause of honesty after all.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Jimmy McMillan

(Jimmy McMillan)

I didn't watch the televised New York gubernatorial debate the other night, but supposedly third party candidate Jimmy McMillan stole the show by repeating several times, "The rent is too damn high."

McMillan's statement resonated with New Yorkers. The movie Men in Black II must have resonated with him. In one scene Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith get into a scrape with a group of aliens. Jones dispatches a couple of them, then kicks the last one between the legs, to no effect. Mystified, he does it a second time, again to no effect. Will Smith then yells out to him, "He's a Ballchinian!" Jones then pulls down the alien's scarf to reveal his unique anatomy, kicks him there, and the fight ends.

Perhaps that scene will prove instructive to McMillan's gubernatorial rivals.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cat's Cradle

The twelve hours I spent in a car yesterday went quicker than they otherwise might have thanks to Kurt Vonnegut. I listened to Cat's Cradle in its entirety. I hadn't read it in over thirty years, but my belief in its greatness remains unchanged.

One of the central characters of the book, Felix Hoenikker, is described as "the father of the atom bomb." He invents "ice-nine," a type of ice which only melts at 130 degrees Fahrenheit. It also sets off an instantaneous chain reaction converting any water it comes into contact with into ice-nine, meaning that if it comes into contact with any large body of water that pretty much means the end of the world. As his legacy he has left each of his three children a tiny sliver of the ice.

Vonnegut had fought in WWII, and several of his books, most notably Mother Night, deal with the horrors of war. While listening yesterday I thought that Hoenikker must have been based on either J. Robert Oppenheimer or Edward Teller, and that the idea of ice-nine was inspired by the doubts about the very first atomic bomb test at White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. (Scientists were originally unsure as to whether the nuclear explosion would set off a chain reaction which would incinerate the entire world.)

But upon reading Wikipedia this morning, it turns out that Vonnegut's inspiration for Hoenikker was neither of those men, but rather Irving Langmuir, a scientist he had come into contact with while working in General Electric's PR department after the war. Langmuir had evidently actually originated the concept of ice-nine himself, as a way to amuse H. G. Wells, whom he had met in the 1930's.

Vonnegut's characterization of Hoenikker as a man who lives on a different plane than most humans, and who is emotionally uninvolved, even with his own children, is actually a perfect description of someone with Asperger's Syndrome, that mild form of autism which has only become widely recognized in the past two decades. (Vonnegut wrote the book in 1963.) Some people with Asperger's, partly because of their intense focus on one thing, are capable of tremendous insights. (It is thought that Einstein may have had Asperger's.)

Vonnegut's understanding of a syndrome as yet unclassified, as well as his insights into the essential silliness of social status, institutional association, mindless patriotism, and even romantic love, are all evidence of his genius. His ability to tie all these things together into an entertaining story is why he deserves to be re-read.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lysistrata II

Back around 400 BC, the Greek playwright Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata, a play about a group of Greek women who withheld sex from their husbands as a way to pressure them into ending the Peloponnesian War. 

The previous post alluded to how students in the inner city are sometimes mocked as "acting white" by their peers if they study too hard. What we need in the ghetto is a wholesale change of attitude. Here is a conversation that would portend just such a positive change, between two pretty female high school students in the inner city -- presented in the spirit of Lysistrata:

Shaniqua: Some a these guys, what they thinkin'? Jerome think he can get wit' me, but that punkass bitch only have a 2.8 GPA.

Lashondra: That chump tried gettin' over wit' me one time too, I said, unh-unh honey, not till you take a drug test. I know he been smokin' the weed when he supposed to be studyin'.

Shaniqua: Other day Darnell be tryin' to put the moves on, I say baby, don't come around here wit' that weakass 480 math SAT score. I want me a real man!

Lashondra: Four-eighty?! (Doubles over with laughter) You go girl!

Shaniqua: Do the math, fool. I'm subtractin' you outa my life.

Lashondra: (still laughing) That shit is whack.

Shaniqua: And then Darnell say to me, what's wrong with you bitch, you some kinda playa hater? I tol' him, that is exactly what I am. Steada hangin' wit' your home boyz you oughta be hittin' the books!

Lashondra: Ah-men!

Shaniqua: And that Jamal, always talkin' bout his strong pimp hand. Strong hand my ass, fool ain't got but one AP course in his entire curriculum!

Lashondra: Some of these homeboys is trippin'. Jermaine think he all that, but he only got into State, and that only 'cause they wanted his basketball playin' ass. Fool think he be knockin' boots wit' me, but I say, I ain't interested in guys spend their time dribblin', I wanna sexy brotha -- one who knows his way around a library. You know what I mean.

Shaniqua: Now Tyrone....

Lashondra: (dreamily) Tyrone. Mmmmmm......

Shaniqua: He is one baaaaad motherfuckah. Man has a straight up 4.0 GPA, an' he takin' AP calculus and AP chemistry. Now that is a fly report card!

Lashondra: (mouths the name sensually): Ty-rone scored 2310 on his boards. That is so phat....

Shaniqua: Tyrone got hisself into Princeton, he didn't even tell them he was a brotha.

Lashondra: Mmmmm, dude may be short, and not much to look at, but those thick glasses is sexy.

Shaniqua: Tyrone come over to my crib anytime!

Lashondra: (chuckling) Gimme some a them smart genes! It's all good, baby.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Blacks cooler than whites

One of the most common themes in American culture is how blacks are cooler than whites, and how blacks who act white are losers.

Educators bemoan the fact that in the inner city, kids who want to study are mocked for "acting white," and are thus discouraged. The idea of the "Oreo -- black on the outside but white on the inside" -- has long been held in contempt in the black community. And blacks whose political attitudes don't fall into line with tribal priorities have long been derided within the community as "Uncle Toms." (The most courageous black public figures today are probably Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, and Clarence Thomas; Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and our current President merely toe the party line.)

But this attitude isn't just found in the inner cities; it is reflected in the wider culture as well. Even on television,  blacks who act too white are mocked and ostracized. Urkel, the character played by Jaleel White on Family Matters, is the perfect example. He wore a cardigan and blue jeans pulled high, or a bow tie and suit. He was the manager of the basketball team rather than a player. And his voice was a squeaky parody of white voice. Much of that show focused on emphasizing on what a turkey he was.

The long-running show Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which starred Will Smith, had a similar theme. The designated turkey of the show was the character Carlton Banks, played by Alfonso Ribeiro. Banks spoke and dressed like a white person. He was laughed at by the other characters for being a fan of the Celtics (at the time the only majority white basketball team in the NBA). His favorite song was also "It's not Unusual" by Tom Jones. And at the end of each show he was always shown up by his street smart cousin from West Philadelphia, the "Fresh Prince" played by Will Smith.

The messages of these shows were very clear: if you act white, you're a loser.

(It's hard to imagine a TV show which regularly featured as the designated turkey a white guy who spoke, dressed, and acted like a black person, and who was constantly shown up as a fool by a character with more middle class white values.)

In the Eddy Murphy vehicle Beverly Hills Cop, where Murphy played a streetwise Detroit detective, he made fun of a black cop on the Beverly Hills force for having a voice which sounded too white. It was a funny scene; the Beverly Hills cop did sound white, and his voice did seem to emanate from his upper chest rather than his stomach. But the message was unmistakable.

The theme of a cool black guy paired with a nerdy white guy is even more common. We see it in movies, in television, and even in commercials, with the most recent example being the Michael Jordan commercials for Hanes, where he has to put up with an overenthusiastic white basketball fan.

There may be some truth to this. Black people are higher on average in testosterone, which gives them a certain natural dominance. It has long been my impression that they're generally less inhibited -- so they tend to do better in situations where a certain flair is called for. And they tend to come from rougher backgrounds, on average, so they're less apt to be intimidated by situations those of us from more sheltered backgrounds are frightened by. Plus, unlike white people, they don't have to tippy toe around worrying about being accused of racism.

So, at a certain level, maybe black people are cooler. 

But given the self-destructive culture so endemic in the inner cities, the national media ought not to consistently mock blacks who are more willing to adopt white culture.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Judge for yourself

Although I go to the BFRO site on an almost daily basis, my computer is set up so I just go directly to the new sightings page, not to the front page. A friend pointed out yesterday that the front page now has a link to what seems to be a genuine -- albeit brief and somewhat blurry -- film of a sasquatch in a remote section of the McKenzie River in Oregon. It appears at 1:42 of the film; take a look and judge for yourself.

It does add to the credibility of such a "sighting" when the film was shot for another reason, and the figure in the background is only discovered a couple years later. Such was the case with the Mono Lake film, where the family which took a film of their vacation only noticed the blurry-but-unmistakeably-bipedal figure with long arms in the background seventeen years later. No hoaxer would wait that long to unveil a "discovery":

Addendum, 10/17/10: Upon further research it turns out that an enhanced picture shows that there might be a second figure with the first, in which case the two figures are most likely human. It also turns out that the area in which the figure was sighted is fairly easily accessible by a short hike from a road, which increases the possibility that it was human. My apologies to Mr. Hoffmann for my nasty response to his comment (not that he really deserves one).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Collective guilt

We constantly hear about slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, segregation, and the other injustices which whites have perpetrated on blacks in the past. There is no argument about the injustice here, but no white below the age of 72 alive today had anything to do with Jim Crow. So how guilty should young -- or middle-aged -- whites feel?

The question of whether people should guilty about what their ancestors -- or relatives -- have done is a tricky one. Should today's young Germans feel guilty over what their grandfathers did to the Jews? Should today's middle-aged Germans feel guilty over what their fathers did? Should German-Americans feel guilty about what their racial relatives did?

What sort of price should they pay? To what extent, in this country, is affirmative action atonement for the injustices of the past? To the extent that it is, should, say, second generation Greek-Americans whose ancestors never owned slaves pay a price? Should Anglos whose family tree never included slaveowners pay a price? Should Japanese-Americans in California whose own parents or grandparents were put in concentration camps by FDR during World War II, and whose ancestors never owned slaves, have to defer to affirmative action?

To what extent should a recent immigrant, from, say Haiti, whose ancestors never suffered from slavery in the US, be the beneficiaries of a policy designed in part to rectify this past wrong? To what extent should a recent immigrant from Mexico, none of whose relatives suffered from slavery, be the beneficiaries of affirmative action?

If collective guilt is a legitimate concept, should all blacks should feel guilty about the high rate of violent crime that a small minority of blacks have perpetrated on whites in the last forty years? What sort of price should law-abiding blacks pay for the crimes of their racial brethren?

Such an idea is of course absurd. It would be the height of unfairness to expect a law-abiding black to have to pay any sort of penalty for crimes committed by other blacks. If you've done nothing wrong, then you shouldn't be expected to pay.

But maybe that concept might apply to other races as well.

It is an article of faith in the black community that a murder committed for racial reasons is more reprehensible than a murder committed for any other reason. Thus, the lynchings that took place in the South are somehow far worse than killings committed in, say, the course of rapes or robberies. Blacks are understandably enraged that there were black men who were lynched for flirting with a white woman back then.

But the same people who use the history of Jim Crow as justification for racial set-asides never to mention the more numerous black-on-white murders. They would say you can't compare the two, one is racially motivated, the other is just an ordinary murder. But is one crime really that much more heinous than the other?

I'm not so sure. In both cases the victim is just as dead. The victim of a lynching will never breathe again, or laugh again, or hold his loved ones. But neither will the victim of an armed robbery. And both sets of relatives will miss their loved one just as much. One has a racial element to it, and would today be classified as a "hate" crime, whereas the other would not. But it's hard not to suspect a certain racial animus involved in all interracial killings. All blacks have been subject to the same indoctrination the rest of us have about this country's long history of oppression, etc. Who is to say the generalized resentment a black murderer feels towards whites didn't play a part in, say, his killing of a white store clerk while committing a robbery? When you think about it, any murderer must be carrying a lot of hate in his heart to commit the crime in the first place. At the very best, he must have a completely callous indifference to human life, which amounts to the same thing.

Collective guilt means collective hate which in turn breeds collective resentment.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Saint Edward

The NY Post ran the following item on Page Six yesterday morning: 

Paper spared Ted Kennedy for Jackie

Teddy Kennedy quashed a National Enquirer story alleging Mary Jo Kopechne was pregnant with his child when she died by giving the weekly a fawning article about Jackie Kennedy Onassis and her kids, a new book claims.

In Paul Pope's "The Deeds of My Fathers," he claims his father, Generoso (Gene) Pope, who turned the Enquirer into the best-selling tabloid in America, spiked a story that reported Kopechne, the pretty young campaign worker, was pregnant in 1969 when she drowned in the Chappaquiddick River in Kennedy's car. Pope writes that his father sent a reporter to DC in 1980 to buy the story from Washington Post gossip columnist Maxine Cheshire and a Women's Wear Daily reporter. The story detailing the alleged coverup included on-the-record sources, with every quote attributed.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy,
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy,

"Once people read it, there'd be no way that Ted Kennedy could ever run for president, maybe not even for dog catcher in Massachusetts," Paul writes. But the story never ran...
So Teddy murdered Mary Jo Kopechne to spare himself the embarrassment of a love child!

On second thought, Teddy wasn't really prone to embarrassment, so let's scrap that theory. Somehow it does make his crime seem worse, though, to think that Kopechne was pregnant with his child. 

What would that child's life have been like? Would the illegitimate Kennedy have been shunned by his cousins? What poetic justice it would have been had that child had grown up to be hard-working and non-substance-abusing, unlike most of his cousins. How much publicity would that child have had growing up?

Probably not much from the NY Times, which hasn't yet run with this story. (What a surprise.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sociopath alert: Robert McMahon

The NY Post ran the following article this morning:

Brooklyn bum fakes war wound for cash

Semper fake!

For years, Brooklyn commuters have opened their wallets for Robert McMahon, handing cash to this heroic and heartbreaking figure, a Vietnam vet in combat fatigues, his left arm missing and his right leg crippled, as he panhandles on Ocean Parkway in Kensington.

He plays to their patriotism, having scrawled his nickname, "Rambo," on the back of his camouflage jacket, along with his years of service with the Marines and two stints in 'Nam that saw heavy action. The top of his empty left sleeve is pinned to his uniform shoulder, and he drags his bum leg behind him.

Robert Mc Mahon appears an arm short.
Photos: Alex Rud
Robert Mc Mahon appears an arm short.
While begging for cash in Brooklyn, he plays up his phony stints in Vietnam.
While begging for cash in Brooklyn, he plays up his phony stints in Vietnam.
At day's end, he counts his cash - with both fully functioning arms.
At day's end, he counts his cash - with both fully functioning arms.
When drivers stop for red lights, McMahon, 53, hobbles over and salutes gallantly, juggling a paper cup and a cardboard sign that reads, "Vietnam vet." They give freely.

They are being scammed.

McMahon has two arms -- and was seen using them last week to count the wads of cash he took off kindhearted New Yorkers.

He is not crippled, as was readily apparent when he swiftly dodged inquiring Post reporters.

And it seems he never served in the Marines nor in Vietnam, according to Corps and Veterans Administration officials who could not find any record of him...

Tuesday, The Post spotted the bearded, one-armed bandit at 4:30 p.m. at Ocean and Foster Avenue, where he limped over to the windows of idling vehicles and held up his cup. Many gave dollar bills. He yelled an expletive at a driver who turned him away.

At 5:09 p.m., McMahon quit for the day, darted across Ocean Parkway's seven lanes with surprising agility and walked briskly east along Foster. Two blocks later, McMahon adjusted himself and quickly thrust his left arm out from under his jacket. He used both hands to count his cash.

When he realized a photographer was taking his picture, McMahon tried to hide his left arm by putting it behind his back, then spat and screamed obscenities at the lensman, threatening to kill him. "I'll put a bullet in the back of your head," he howled....

Most people, when caught red-handed in a lie, display some sort of contriteness, or at the very least, embarrassment. Only a sociopath gets angry. (Remember Bill Clinton wagging his finger at his accuser and angrily saying, "I did not have sex with that woman"?)

But we didn't even have to see that particular behavior to be apprised of McMahon's sociopathy. The essence of sociopathy is dishonesty, and there is no form of dishonesty more manipulative than to pose as something one is not, in order to gain either plaudits or sympathy. But McMahon poses as an armless man. A cripple. And a Viet Nam vet. None of which he is. All to manipulate others' emotions and take advantage of them.

(Where else have we heard this recently? Oh, that's right, Richard Blumenthal, who is running for U.S. Senator. Of course, he doesn't want your money, just your vote.)

Most of us would be too ashamed to cadge money -- or votes -- from strangers under such false pretexts. We'd also be fearful of the hatred which would accrue were we caught. But sociopaths don't feel shame, nor are they fearful of social censure.

That is the key to the behavior of more people than you realize. Next time you come across someone who gets angry when you catch them red-handed, be aware that they have a whole list of other loathsome traits which you really don't want to uncover one by one. They are impulsive, disloyal, extremely manipulative, and wildly egotistical and egocentric. Most importantly, no matter now much they pretend otherwise, they care no more for you than you care for the well-being of the meat on your plate. 
Which is basically how they regard you.

Personality profile

My brother, my sister, and I went to Harvard; our father taught there, so it was no great accomplishment for us get in. But my wife's brother and his two sons all went to Harvard as well. To say that my daughter (currently a junior in high school) feels a certain pressure is an understatement.

My daughter visited Hamilton College today. Right before she left I said brightly, "Well, at least it begins with an H-A."

My daughter muttered, "You're such an asshole." She didn't say it loudly, as if for effect. She said it barely audibly, the way people do when they really mean something.

I'm not arguing with her assessment.

All I'm saying is that I am trying, in my own awkward way, to make a joke out of that pressure, so she'll feel it less.

I guess the key word here is awkward.

I'm hoping my daughter will look at this in a couple years and understand.

Preferably, from Cambridge.

(Just kidding.)

My son has a better attitude. Right after he enlisted in the Army, he pointed out, "You know how every now and then you hear about someone who is the first member of his famly to go to college, and how proud he is of that? Well, I'm even prouder to report I'm going to be the first member of my family not to go to college."

Friday, October 8, 2010

Finally, that proverbial headline

This article appeared in the NY Post today:

Connecticut man bitten by police dog bites back

When a man in West Haven, Conn., was bitten by a police dog after attacking an officer, he bit the dog back.

Roderick Lewis, 23, allegedly approached a police officer on a West Haven street early Thursday morning and yelled out "I need a bag of dust," referring to the drug phencyclidine, also known as angel dust or PCP.

Lewis walked toward the officer, Scott Bloom, and reached into his waistband. When Bloom grabbed the man's arms to restrain him, Lewis punched the officer in the face, WVIT-TV reported Friday.

Onyx, the police dog, jumped from Bloom’s vehicle and attacked Lewis, latching onto his leg, but Lewis bit back -- he chomped down on the dog's side and did not release his bite until Bloom could pull him off Onyx.

Lewis was charged with assault on a police officer, disorderly conduct and cruelty to animals, while Bloom and Onyx were treated for their injuries.

Too bad they probably don't have a tape of the encounter, they could have sold it to one of those nature shows as an animal fight.

Then again, while Mr. Lewis doesn't sound like the most upstanding citizen, I'm not sure he should be charged with cruelty to animals: after all, the dog bit him first.

Mr. Teleprompter

(President Obama speaking to elementary school students in Falls Church, Virginia)

Barack Obama's reliance on Teleprompters has become legendary. He is the first President to even use them for press conferences. Even W, stumbling and inarticulate as he was, didn't use them there. One must admire, however, whoever it is who can write Obama's answers so quickly in response to the questions asked.

Even Chris Matthews, the MSNBC host who famously felt shivers going up his leg when he heard Obama speak during the Presidential campaign, is put off. The other day he disgustedly said that when Obama has a meeting with a group of business leaders at the White House, he brings in the Teleprompter so he can talk to them. Matthews asked, "What's the point of even having a meeting with them if all he's going to do is speak from the Teleprompter? There's no connection there."

From shivers to contempt, in less than two years. And on MSNBC, no less.

The Wizard of Oz no longer looms as large in our collective culture as it once did. But one has to wonder if those elementary school students were reminded of the movie while listening to Obama read from the teleprompter in their classroom:

"Pay no attention to that man behind the screen! I am the great and powerful Oz!"

At least the Wizard wrote his own lines.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The velvet rope

There was a reference in this morning's NY Times TV listings to some fashionable fellow who had never seen a velvet rope he hadn't been able to negotiate. It reminded me of an experience I had around twenty-five years ago with such a barrier.

A new nightclub had opened up in lower Tribeca, within walking distance of where I worked. It had just opened up and therefore attracted the kind of crowd which always wanted to try the latest, hottest thing. A friend ( and I happened to be in the vicinity and, curious about the club, got in line outside the little barrier they had erected (it may have been a velvet rope, I can't remember exactly).

We were never picked to go in. Others were whisked by; we were studiously ignored. Many of those let in were actually good-looking women, who of course always get through in such situations. But various men, most dressed in hipper clothes than the business suits my friend and I wore, were also whisked by.

Eventually my friend gave voice to the thought that had been lurking in back of my mind but which I hadn't wanted to acknowledge yet: "They're not going to give us a second look."

It was pure humiliation.

There are five stages you go through when this happens to you -- not entirely unlike Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's widely-cited five stages of grief.

The first is frustration. ("C'mon, I'm getting impatient just standing here.")

The second is disbelief. ("He must not have noticed me.")

Next is anger. ("Who does he think he is?")

Next is outrage combined with compensatory conceit. ("I'm smarter, richer, a better athlete than that loser. How dare he judge me!")

The fifth, and final step, is justification. ("Oh well, I'm leading a pretty good life and that lowlife is never going to be anything but a doorman.")

The problem is, the doorman has the last laugh, because your private thoughts regarding him remain private -- unless you're truly compulsive.

Of course, the best therapy is, as always, a really lousy memory.

The life I've lived, and the memory I'm cursed with, I could write an entire book on rejection. Maybe I should. It would probably sell.

Then again, it would probably just be rejected by the publishers like every other book I've written in the last ten years.


(above, Tyler Clementi; at right, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei)

The suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi after his roommate secretly recorded him having a gay tryst and then streamed that recording on the internet has attracted must attention recently. Some are demanding that Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi and his accomplice Molly Wei be charged with manslaughter and receive sentences of up to ten years.

There have been other similar cases recently: thirteen-year-old Seth Walsh, from Tehachapi, California, hung himself in his backyard after classmates teased him about his sexual orientation. Gay teenagers are evidently four times more likely to commit suicide; certainly there should be protections for the vulnerable against this kind of bullying.

But it's hard not to wonder about the nature of the punishment warranted here. What if Tyler Clementi had not committed suicide, but had merely laughed off this intrusion into his privacy? What would be the appropriate punishment for the other two be in that case? Explusion from school? There certainly wouldn't be any calls for ten year jail sentences. But had Clementi laughed them off, their crime would have been no different than it was: a grotesque invasion of his privacy. Ravi and Wei had no idea he was going to commit suicide after they exposed him. They thought they were playing an ordinary practical joke. It was certainly an insensitive and cruel joke, but it could have turned out relatively harmlessly had Clementi not reacted so dramatically.

Neither of the the two culprits looks like a prototypical bully. In fact, both look more like types more likely to be bullied themselves. But the internet has allowed technological skill to replace physical dominance as a vehicle for harassment. This raises the question of exactly what constitutes bullying. Is it bullying when someone makes fun of someone else? It would seem that one person's bullying is another person's well-deserved putdown. Do pretentious people not deserve to be put down? I recently made fun of artist Richard Serra in this blog. What if, Serra, in a depressive mood, happened to stumble across this blog and then committed suicide? Would I be guilty of bullying? Should I be charged with manslaughter? (Three guesses as to where I alight on this issue.) Making fun of some pretentious public person is a far cry from invading a closeted gay boy's privacy. But what of the classmates of the 13 year old boy who hanged himself in Tehachapi? They didn't invade his privacy, they merely mocked him; should they be charged with manslaughter?

What if, after seeing that his secret gay tryst had been exposed, Clementi had merely punched Ravi in the face? Wouldn't we all cheer this well-deserved comeuppance? But then of course Clementi would have been guilty of aggravated assault, and he would have been the one to be legally liable for what most of us would regard as a perfectly understandable outburst. And what if, when Clementi punched his roommate, his roommate had then run out of the room (without Clementi pursuing him), and in the process of doing so, slipped, broken his neck, and died? Then Clementi would be the villain of the piece, and would undoubtedly be incarcerated -- even though this would have been a direct outgrowth of a reaction we were all cheering for a moment ago.

Outcomes cannot always be predicted.

And what of Clementi's partner in that gay tryst? His name hasn't been aired, which is as it should be. But what has his reaction been? He is probably saddened by Tyler's death, outraged by the invasion of his privacy, and gratified that Ravi and Wei are now going to be punished severely. But he himself hasn't committed suicide; he evidently has a more sturdy temperament. Are Ravi and Wei less culpable in his case?

And what other factors may have led to Clementi's drastic action? He undoubtedly had a history that predisposed him to suicide. Is it possible that his father at some point communicated a visceral disgust for homosexuals and Tyler was afraid of coming out for that reason? Does his father bear some responsibility here? And what of the high school classmates who may have picked on Clementi for being a wimpy violin player? Did they contribute to his state of mind -- and thus this tragic outcome -- as well? If Ravi and Wei are to be charged with manslaughter, these others might as well be charged as accomplices.

Ravi and Wei should be expelled from Rutgers and charged with the applicable laws regarding invasion of privacy. And they richly deserve whatever social ostracism is coming their way. But they are not responsible for Clementi's fragile emotional state, and should not be charged with manslaughter.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


As just about everyone in the country knows by now, CNN host Rick Sanchez was fired after he made some controversial comments in a radio interview.

First, Sanchez said that he was automatically regarded as second tier by the "Northeast, establishment liberals" because of his Cuban background. Then he complained that Jon Stewart had picked on him because he was Hispanic. When it was pointed out to Sanchez that Stewart was also a minority because he was Jew, Sanchez replied with a laugh, "Very powerless people. He's such a minority, I mean, you know… Please, what are you kidding?…I'm telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they, the people in this country who are Jewish, are an oppressed minority? Yeah. I can't see someone not getting a job these days because they're Jewish."

So, because Sanchez had the temerity to voice that old anti-Semitic canard that Jewish people have a lot of power, some Jewish people proved what a liar he was by....having him immediately fired.

Wouldn't Jewish people be bettter off -- and in fact stir up less anti-Semitic feeling -- by not objecting quite so violently whenever anyone blurts out the truth about how much power they have? And, perhaps, by not wielding it quite so nakedly?

One further question: if it is considered anti-Semitic to talk about how much power Jewish people have, would it be considered pro-Semitic to say the opposite? Then let me be the first to establish my pro-Semitic credentials: Jewish people have absolutely no influence in this country. There is nary a Jewish person to be found in the media. AIPAC is a toothless organization. Jewish people never stick up for each other. And it is sad how they always seem to end up at the bottom of the economic ladder. 

There. I hope that puts me in the Anti-Defamation League's good graces.

Riddle #2

Guy just sent another riddle in response:

You have a fox, a chicken and a bag of corn.  You need to get them to the other side of the river.  You can only take one at a time.  If you leave the chicken alone with corn, he will eat the corn.  If you leave the fox alone with the chicken, he will eat the chicken.

How do you do it?

If you want the answer to this one, scroll down:

The key to this one is that you can bring any of them back as well as across the river. One answer would be to bring the chicken across the river, return to get the fox, drop the fox off and pick up the chicken, return with the chicken, then drop it off and pick up the corn, bring the corn across, and finally return to pick up the chicken.


Q: There are two Indian tribes in Montana. One is the Whitefeet, who always tell the truth. The other is the Blackfeet, who always lie. You are hiking, and come to a fork in the road. Down one path lies the treasure you've been looking for, and down the other, a man-eating grizzly and certain death. An Indian stands at the fork in the road, but you don't know which tribe he's from. You get to ask him one question to find out which path to take. What question do you ask him?

I pretty much ruined a dinner party the other night by posing this riddle. All conversation stopped and everybody spent the rest of their meal trying to get the answer.

If you want the answer, scroll down:

You ask the Indian, "If you were a member of the other tribe, and I were to ask you which is the safe path, what would you tell me?" Then, whichever path he indicates, take the other one. Because a Whitefoot would tell you the truth about a Blackfoot's lie, and a Blackfoot would lie about the Whitefoot's honest answer, so whichever tribe the fellow you're talking to is from, he'll give you the wrong answer.