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Friday, December 31, 2010

Here's to you

For some reason, probably because New Year's Eve was approaching, I thought of Auld Lang Syne the other day, and played it on Youtube. It's a nice piece of music, but it always sounds better on New Year's Eve.  

The reason for that, of course, is because you're drunk. Drinking has that effect. Women seem more attractive, your acquaintances seem cleverer, and music sounds better. Plus you get more sentimental, which makes it the perfect occasion for a song like Auld Lang Syne.

Drinking does make the world a better place. 

But if you've ever hung out with people who've gotten progressively drunker while you remained stone cold, you know what a sorry spectacle it is. Each cocktail seems to lower the drinker's IQ roughly seven points. (Make a rough guess of each person's starting point, do the math, and you'll see what I mean.) By the end of the evening you're hanging out people who are, for all practical purposes, retarded.

(When was the last time, while sober, you ran into a stumbling drunk and were wowed by his wit and intelligence?)

Dorothy Parker is credited as the originator of the line, "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy." It's a great line, and she did capture the essence of drinking perfectly: the former is simply a temporary version of the latter. 

When sober, I feel disgust around drunks, but also envy. How wonderful it must be to be able to find someone else's vomiting hilariously entertaining. How wonderful it must be to have your pool of potential sexual prospects increase roughly threefold.

It's no coincidence that alcohol and alchemy start with the same three letters. Alcohol magically transforms the lame into the clever, the repellent into the attractive.

So go ahead and toss a few down this evening. The world may find you less delightful, but you will find it more so.

And that's really not such a bad trade.

Addendum, same day: Looking back on this a few hours later, I get the impression that what I was really trying to do was ruin your fun tonight. (There's really no joy equal to killing someone else's.) But don't worry: I'm sure I won't succeed.

Why do men fixate on one body part?

While it is common to hear a man describe himself as an "ass man" or a "tit man," one never hears a woman describe herself similarly. 

Women tend to have what Freud described as a "polymorphously perverse" sexuality that can accommodate more variation: their sexuality can seemingly adapt to the desires of their partner. They care more about the personality of their mate, which is -- speaking evolutionarily -- at it should be. And they do not limit their attractions to one body part. I have yet to overhear a woman say, "I gotta admit, I'm pretty much of an ass woman," or, "I'd have to call myself a dick girl."

As women will tell you, theirs is the more humane, more humanitarian approach to mate selection. (They don't focus on something superficial like a body part; they just want a man with money.)

Men, on the other hand, tend to reduce women to their body parts. And they tend to get fixated. Rex Ryan, the New York Jets coach, suffered some embarrassing publicity last week when it became obvious from a film he had taken of his wife (in which he focused on her feet, and asked to touch them) that he is a foot fetishist. This particular fetish is probably rarer than it once was. It used to be that during the Victorian era, when women's feet were the one exposed part of their bodies, men would thrill to the sight of them and thus get fixated.

There was no voluntary component to this; men just become fixated with all the foresight and planning that a baby duck employs when it becomes fixated on its mother. Nor is there any morality involved: none of us has any control over whom or what we are attracted to.

I have a friend who is an obvious breast man. He focuses on that one feature to the point where all else is essentially irrelevant. I once said to him, "I could hang a pair of double D's on the back of your Mercedes and you'd probably do the tailpipe." He snorted in grudging acknowledgment. (He and I liked distinctly different types, which made him an ideal companion way back when.)

But why would evolution have made us this way? There doesn't seem to be any benefit. A man less finicky about having that one body part meet his standards would have more reproductive success. Similarly, a man attracted to a wide variety of women would seemingly have more options available. Yet almost all men have a certain type they are most attracted to, be that blonde or brunette, thin or voluptuous.

I haven't yet been able to come up with a good evolutionary reason as to why this should be so. For men to have one type -- and then to have certain standards for one aspect of that one type, further decreasing their pool of eligible prospects -- would seem self-defeating.

If you can think of a good reason why nature would have constructed us this way, please let me know.

Obama's dog

Back in September, in one of his always entertaining un-Teleprompted moments, President Obama said about his political opponents that "they talk about me like a dog":

Michael Vick, as we all know, has a history of cruelty to dogs. He tortured and even killed his if they didn't perform well in the fights he and his friends staged.

This didn't seem to bother Obama too much. Otherwise he would probably not have made that congratulatory phone call to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie for having hired Vick. That call seems even stranger in light of the fact that the Obama family pet, Bo, is a Portuguese water dog. 

Obama does seem to have a thing about dogs, though.

I certainly wouldn't want to be the one to start a rumor that Obama is actually training Bo for a dogfight.

But he sure does seem to be running him hard.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Conversational ADD

Ten days ago this blog had a post about the evolutionary benefits of Attention Deficit Disorder. It got me to thinking: almost all conversations are actually a testament to ADD, even if neither party has been officially diagnosed with it. Think of the way most conversations with your friends go: you just jump from one subject to another, with no discernible thread.

Your friend mentions something that sparks a thought you want to share. So you tell him, then your friend makes a joke about it. Laughing causes you to lose your train of thought, but then you think of something that happened earlier in the day which you think he would find amusing, so you recount that; he then tells you about a similar experience. His story reminds you of someone you detest, so you take the opportunity to vent about that person. Then he tells you about someone he knows who acted the same way, who used to cheat at his sport. Then the conversation turns to sports....and so it goes.

Whatever subject you started off discussing has long since been shrouded in the mists of time -- from five minutes ago.

Next time you get off the phone with a friend, try retracing the conversation. It's almost comical. If you were to draw a diagram of it, it would look like one of those crazy webs woven by a spider who had been given LSD. (And who was it, by the way, who came up with the idea for that experiment?)

Most conversations just meander along like a mountain stream, following a seemingly random path. The only consistent pattern is that a stream will always go downhill. (I'll make the obvious joke here: as do many conversations.)

This is why stream of consciousness monologues are funny -- it's reassuring to see that other peoples' thought patterns are as disorganized as our own. The brain is just a big labyrinth, from which there is no escape.

President Nixon once said that Mikhail Gorbachev was the most impressive head of state he'd ever met. (And Nixon had met a lot of them.) Nixon said that Gorbachev would never let a train of thought get away from him, and would always steer the conversation back in the direction he wanted it to go. The takeaway here is that even most world leaders can not keep their minds on one subject. So if heads of state cannot exhibit linear thinking even when meeting other heads of state, everyday people can hardly be blamed for letting their conversations wander.

Autistic people are different, of course. They have the ability to focus on just one thing -- like memorizing the telephone book.

In a way, having ADD-like symptoms could be viewed as the opposite of autism. Count your blessings, I guess.


Yesterday I took a workout at the local pool with a guy named George, who is 6'2" and 220 pounds of solid muscle. His brother, also a former swimmer, was staying with him for Christmas, and worked out with us. At one point while chatting with his brother, I pointed at George and said, "Alpha male." Then I gestured at myself and said, "Beta male."

I realized later that saying this had actually made me feel good, not because it was the right (diplomatic) thing to say, but because it was....liberating. Such an admission is in fact a free pass not to have to constantly live up to some ridiculous macho standard.

Fellows: Try it, you may find it works that way for you, too. What I sometimes say is, "Hey, you're the alpha male around here, I'm just happy to be your sidekick." When I say that, I never feel as if I've put actually myself in a subservient position. I feel as if all I've done is establish that I have all the upside and whoever I've said it to has all the downside. Plus it allows the luxury of an inward chuckle ("Think what you will, my friend, but the truth is I'm about twice as tough as you and I've had about four times as many babes.")

Honestly, that was the feeling my comment instilled in me. Don't be surprised if that's the feeling you get afterwards, too.

I also thought some more about that recent post about how I'm a beta male, and it occurred to me that admitting you're a beta male is actually sorta.....alpha.


I'm so alpha I don't even care about being alpha.

(Those are the kinds of thoughts that endorphins give you.)

Then again, maybe I'm like that little boy my son used to play with when he was nine. They would play a lot of games, as kids that age do, but whenever this boy would lose at anything, he would inevitably announce that that was a stupid game, and insist they play something else.

I think I prefer the first interpretation though.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Deborah Kerr

Two weeks ago in the post about Richard Rodgers I had mentioned that Deborah Kerr (1921 - 2007) was one of the all time great beauties of the screen. These pictures are -- or were -- an attempt to back that statement up.

She was certainly beautiful. But now, examining her face feature by feature, she seems no more beautiful than any number of models you see in the advertisements in Vanity Fair. So what was it that made her so incredibly appealing? (And what was it that left that impression of otherworldly beauty?)

It was partly her elegance and femininity, and partly her ability to express unrequited longing. (Put the two together and it's a devastating combination.) She was quite adept at embodying the well bred, tremulous refinement which directors -- and moviegoers -- favored back in the 40's and 50's, long before the advent of female buttkickers like Lucy Lawless and Angelina Jolie.

(Around fifteen or twenty years ago, Hollywood decided that one of the ways in which they would be politically correct was to show that women could be tough too. They did this by having women who were built like Angelina Jolie -- all breasts, with skinny arms and legs -- singlehandedly take on entire gangs of thugs, most of whom looked something like Vitali Klitschko, and send them flying with their punches and kicks. I'm as happy to suspend disbelief as the next fellow, but pleeeease.) 

As a guy, whom would you rather be with, an elegant feminine type like Kerr or some snarling (fake) tigress who is always on the edge of violence?

It seems an easy choice.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Eleanor Roosevelt quote

I stumbled across this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt earlier today:

"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."

Doesn't the above quote actually make her a hypocrite? (She is discussing people.)

This small-minded blog is written more in the spirit of her cousin Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who so famously said, "If you can't say something good about someone, come sit next to me."

Hugh Hefner


In the 1960's, Hugh Hefner was the envy of virtually every man in the country for his money, fame, and most of all, lifestyle.

In the 1970's, as the women's movement heated up, Playboy Magazine became a prime target. But the Playboy empire continued to flourish nonetheless. If Hefner, safely ensconced in his mansion in Los Angeles, was bothered by the flack, he didn't show any outward signs.

By the 1980's, both the Playboy Clubs and those curious ears-and-tails outfits the bunnies wore seemed a little antiquated. The Sexual Revolution had occurred two decades before and had long since stopped being news. And Hefner himself didn't seem to be on the radar screen that much. But his magazine continued to thrive.

In the 1990's, most of the Playboy Clubs closed, and in the second half of the decade the magazine started to feel the pressure of competition from the internet. But Hefner himself had lasted long enough to become an icon, celebrated not only for his business acumen but also for his championing of civil rights in the 50's and 60's (back when civil rights actually meant equal rights). An invitation to one of his parties at the Playboy mansion was still one of the hottest tickets in town. And Hef still presided over his empire with a benevolent grin, devoting as much personal attention as ever to the selection of the Playmates of the Month.

Bob Guccione, who owned rival Penthouse Magazine, never inspired the same sort of affection or admiration. There was always something a little darker about Guccione; he came across more like a sleazy pimp. The one movie he produced, Caligula, seemed to embody something about Guccione that people just couldn't warm up to. Hefner's role models were Sigmund Freud and Alfred Kinsey and Martin Luther King; Guccione's was Caligula. And Guccione never smiled. Every photograph showed him staring at the camera with that reptilian gaze, unblinking and seemingly unfeeling. The only message he ever seemed to convey was, "This is all mine." Hef, on the other hand, never completely lost that kid-in-a-candy-store aspect to his personality; he always seemed as if he couldn't quite believe his good fortune.

By the 2000's, even as the Playboy empire was cratering, Hefner's own status as an American icon remained undiminished. Celebrities still flocked to his house and declared him their hero. But there was a strong whiff of nostalgia to the way so many people seemed to feel affectionate towards Hefner. And by now something else had happened: Hefner had gotten awfully old.

This was apparent from that recent TV show The Girls Next Door. (Please don't try to tell me you never watched the show for at least a few minutes while channel surfing.) Those three gold diggers who looked -- and for the most part acted -- like Barbie dolls seemed wholesome enough (if you can swallow the concept of a wholesome gold digger). And they treated Hef with apparent affection. But it wasn't really the way women treat their boyfriends. It was more the way young women might treat their favorite grandfather -- you know, the rich one they're hoping will remember them in his will.

The one inescapable thought which had to have gone through the minds of everybody who saw the show was, what was the nature of their sex life? How often was he actually doing it with each of them? Did he actually go to bed with all three of them at the same time? How much Viagra did he have to use? It was hard to avoid the impression that Hefner looked just a little bit.....overmatched.

In October 2008 all three girls left the Playboy mansion. (Why all at the same time?)

Yesterday, it was announced that Hefner, 84, had gotten engaged to Crystal Harris, 24:

Harris reportedly cried when Hef popped the question. Was she crying because all her financial dreams had come true, or was she crying because she knew that was the appropriate response for the occasion? (People who can cry on command are usually sociopaths.) Yes, this blog does use the word "sociopath" a lot, but what kind of 24 year old woman marries a rich guy who looks like the Crypt Keeper?

Harris must feel the same way about Hefner that the 26 year old Anna Nicole Smith felt about 89-year-old oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall when she married him in 1994.

Still, what is Hefner's alternative? If you were 84 and had the opportunity to marry a 24 year old, would you turn it down so you could play Bingo with all the other geezers? Hefner now looks as if he belongs in an old age home; but if you had your choice of old age homes, wouldn't you pick the Playboy mansion?

Most women will probably react to this news of Hefner's engagement by expressing disgust of some sort. (In fact, since writing that line I have already heard one refer to him as a "disgusting creep.")

Most men will probably react a bit more indulgently: you gotta to hand it to him, even at 84 the ol' rascal is still up to his old ways.

I side with the guys.

Here's hoping Hefner gets Harris to sign an ironclad prenup, then in three years dumps her for a younger model.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sociopath alert: Nelson Lewis

The NY Post ran the following item on page Six this morning (italics mine):

Many lies of DC impersonator

Washington social climber Nelson Lewis -- recently arrested for wearing a congressional pin while claiming to be Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston -- has tried other ruses before, sources told Page Six.

The 26-year-old former Fox News booker and "Laura Ingraham Show" producer was arrested by Capitol police on Nov. 17 wearing a congressional pin, which allows members to bypass security. Lewis could face up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Kingston said Lewis merely worked for him as an intern five years ago. Lewis is a Savannah, Ga., native who rubbed elbows with Washington's powerful for more than six years and once claimed to be related to ousted Bank of America honcho Ken Lewis.

Sociopaths often try to claim such relations in order to boost their status: note Clark "Rockefeller" and the "Six Degrees of Separation" con artist who claimed to be Sidney Poitier's nephew. The woman who first educated me about sociopathy (when I was 25) was named Hines; she falsely claimed to be a member of the Heinz (ketchup) family, saying that her father had changed his name because he had "wanted to make it on his own."

A source told us, "He would parade around parties, telling tall stories and bringing fake business cards. He's a 'Talented Mr. Ripley'-type, except he didn't kill anyone."

Patricia Highsmith's Mr. Ripley was one of the best portrayals of a sociopath in fiction.

Lewis also said he was a diplomat to the Bahamas but "he said he didn't have to be called his excellency," New York Social Diary columnist Carol Joynt told us.

That's a nice sociopathic touch -- he doesn't insist on being called his excellency. What a regular fella!

Lewis -- who once falsely told friends he was dating one of this column's reporters -- handed Joynt a business card with the title, "Minister Plenipotentiary for Artistic Endeavors at the Embassy of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas." The Bahamian Embassy denied any connection to Lewis. He also claimed to be a confidant of Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, who recently wrote on her blog that he "has a big problem with the truth."

That's another nice touch -- how many of us know what a "plenipotentiary" is -- and would have the nerve to argue with such a title? (It does sound as if Lewis has plenty o' potential to be pretentious though.)

The DC-based Friends of the Art Museum of the Americas last week asked Lewis to resign as a board member. "His grasp of reality is so flawed that his presence is a real liability," another board member said in an e-mail seen by Page Six.

This is a typical misinterpretation of sociopathy by someone unfamiliar with the syndrome. Nelson does not have a weak grasp on reality, he is simply extremely dishonest.

Lewis' friend, CNN regular Dr. Marty Makary, said, "There is some basis for some of the stuff . . . his uncle was a senator . . . it was his uncle's pins. I know he spends time in the Bahamas and he knows the embassy people." 

How appropriate that the one person quoted who would try to put a positive spin on Lewis would be a commentator at CNN -- which actually does have a weak grasp on reality.

Lewis' lawyer said, "No comment."

You know you're in real trouble when your own lawyer doesn't bother to try to defend you.

The evolutionary benefits of depression

Another syndrome so common that it must have served some evolutionary purpose is depression.

If you were immune from even situational depression back in the caveman days, you could have had barely enough food to eat, no decent shelter, and no mate -- and be fine with that. (In today's terms, you would be homeless.) This was obviously not a prescription for passing your genes along to the next generation. The lack of each of these things should be a downer, so that you will be more inclined to acquire them -- to avoid feeling depressed.

If everything is going well for you -- if you've hunted successfully, if your belly is full, if you have enough meat left over to share with others, and if you've devised a shelter which keeps you safe from predators, you're much more likely to find a mate -- and have offspring. On the other hand, if you're happy not to have those prerequisites for sex, or even sex itself, you will not pass along your genes. This is why the lack of a mate -- or, to put it in more romantic terms, unrequited love -- can be depressing. (It may also be why it's hard to be depressed right after getting laid -- at least if you're a guy.)

Another thing people tend to get depressed about is others not liking them: this is why we try so hard to fit in. This sounds like a character flaw, but in fact there is a good evolutionary reason for this. In the hunting and gathering era, popularity was a matter of life and death: if other people wouldn't help you hunt, or give you food, or share their shelter, you would die. And if they really disliked you, they might even try to kill you. (These are good reasons to be depressed.)

So the genes for depression are in fact adaptive; this is why we all have the capacity to be sad. People who suffer from chronic depression -- as opposed to situational depression -- are those who simply get too many of the genes which facilitate the capacity for sadness. Such chronic depression is, of course, not adaptive. (If you're depressed enough for no reason, the depression can prevent you from accomplishing anything, and eventually you'll have good reason to be depressed.)

There is a saying which may hold the key to another reason depression is adaptive: "Depressives are just those who see the world most clearly." (A saying which sounds as if it were coined by a depressive.) Taking realistic stock of a bleak situation is almost always the wise policy. Narcissists with their heads in the clouds are simply not going to survive as well. ("I can outrun that lion if I need to"/ "They admire me, they'll forgive me if I steal a little of their meat.")

Avoiding depression is a strong motivator: nature has programmed us to change, or at least avoid, whatever depresses us. We are all, more than we like to think, like B.F. Skinner's rats, mindlessly rushing around doing whatever it is that makes us feel good -- or at least prevents us from feeling bad.

Which isn't such a bad thing, evolutionarily speaking.

Manic depression, now referred to as bipolar disorder, may also have its benefits. In a manic phase, you feel as if you can do anything. In that mood, you are more likely to take on a large project such as building a sturdy shelter, or a fancy trap. In a depressive phase you would be more likely to regard these tasks as impossible. So mood swings allow you to simultaneously -- or almost simultaneously -- be ambitious and hard-working, intermixed with frequent doses of cold, brutal reality. In a way it's ideal.

Manic depression is also reportedly linked to creativity. Devising a more effective weapon would have obvious evolutionary benefits. (Again, of course, extreme manic depression is debilitating.)

So the next time you get depressed, remember, that is just your ancestors telling you to change your situation so that they will have more descendants. And the next time you're feeling manic, put that energy to constructive use.

The only problem with that advice is, the nature of depression is such that when you're down, you won't be able to put a positive spin on your depression. And when you're up, you're either going to be working hard or partying hard anyway, and not in the mood to take such a suggestion.

So let me instead offer some advice which I feel quite certain you will take: live your life the way you do already, and forget about this post.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Finally broke down

I finally broke down and added a photograph of myself to the "About Me" section on the sidebar of this blog.

I always like to see a photo of the author when I read an article; in a strange way the whole thing makes more sense when I can attach a face to the words. Back in the old days when I used to read books, I'd find myself gazing at the picture of the author on the back jacket from time to time, in a Hmm-all-this-stuff-is-coming-out-of-that-head sort of way. Now, hopefully, this blog will make more sense to you. ("No wonder he's so bitter -- look how ugly he is!")

When I was younger people used to tell me I looked angry. Now people tell me I look sad. Not that I don't have plenty of reason to be both, but when people say these things I am usually neither. But when I look at photos of myself, I can see why they say that.

The one time I ever took mescaline was when I was 17. During my "trip" (I'm not even sure it was real mescaline) I looked in the mirror and thought I looked like an insect. But most of the time, when I'm not tripping, I think I look like a monkey. A chimp, as I implied two posts ago. Now that there's a photo, you can probably see what I mean. (If you click on the photo you can see a slightly larger version: note the prominent brow ridge, the long upper lip, and the receding chin. All simian traits.)

Just so you know, I actually come from two high-IQ races: my father is Scottish and my mother is Japanese. I just look like a.....well, take your pick of any number of low-IQ ethnicities I resemble.

The photo was taken last week, in the dim lighting which is so much kinder to a gentleman of my years. It was shot in my bathroom, which is only appropriate, since that is the source of so much of my humor.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jeromie sentenced

Today's NY Post  has an article about the sentencing of Jeromie Cancel, the sociopathic murderer who smoked a cigarette and watched a DVD while strangling his victim. My blogpost about him from last month:

Evidently in court his behavior didn't change. According to the Post:

Jeromie Cancel, 24, did not respond to the taunt aloud, but paused to flash the dad [of murder victim Kevin Pravia] a wide, toothy grin as he was led out of Manhattan Supreme Court in cuffs to begin serving 25 years to life in prison.

Earlier, though, Cancel had a smarmy retort when Pravia's furious younger brother, Michael, rose from his seat during the proceeding, visibly outraged that the man who had killed his brother was chuckling out loud at the defense table.
"Ill f- - king kill you, mother-f- - ker!" the brother stood and shouted from the gallery, jabbing at the air with his index finger. "Yeah, laugh, mother-f- -ker! I'll end you!"
"Come see me on Rikers Island," the smirking psycho jeered as the brother was led from the courtroom by court officers.

Adding insult to an already horrifying tragedy were Cancel's antics from arrest to sentencing.

"Because I wanted to!" Cancel shouted to reporters during his "perp walk," when asked why he'd committed the murder. "You got a problem with that?" 

There's never any overestimating the shamelessness, lack of remorse, and viciousness of a sociopath. The only difference between Cancel and most sociopaths is Cancel doesn't bother to hide his character.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Confessions of a beta male

After having given the matter some honest thought, I have recently come to that most unwelcome of realizations: I am a beta male. I have a few alpha pretensions, but that's all they are --  pretensions. My instincts are entirely beta. I occasionally dream of being a silverback; but I am, at heart, a chimp.

The most humiliating part of this realization was the ease with which I was able to come up with examples of my beta-tude.

I have always displayed that most unmistakable of beta behaviors: I take no for an answer. (Even, sometimes, when it isn't given.)

As a former denizen of corporate America, I was never the type to pound my fist on the table and demand a better deal for myself. I just put my head down and hoped to keep my job.

I can't count the number of times I've buckled in the face of superior assertiveness.

When insulted, an alpha male lashes back, occasionally with his fists. I wonder whether the insult is true, and feel hurt.

An alpha male takes no crap from his wife. A beta just lets the hen peck away, in a vain effort to maintain the peace.

An alpha male responds, "Fuck you" to any number of situations. My response to most of those: "Well, okay, I guess."

An alpha doesn't even understand a lot of fears. I have the full complement.

Alpha males never need Dutch courage; I know in certain situations I will acquit myself better with drink.

I am strong for my size -- like a chimp -- but my muscles have been worked for. They didn't just pop out of their own volition, the way they do with some alphas. I am merely an ectomorph masquerading as a mesomorph.

Being a champion swimmer in college is alpha. Desperately hanging on for thirty more years to set a record for 55-year-olds is beta. 

An alpha stands on the blocks before a 200 fly, looks over at his opponent, and thinks, I really want to beat that guy, I hate him. A beta looks over and thinks, wow, that guy has big muscles, no wonder his best time is four seconds faster than mine.

An alpha never looks at the nutrition info on a packet of food. If it tastes good, he eats it. I pretty much have the nutritional content of most of my foods memorized.

An alpha finishes his beer and pretty much without thinking, says, "I'll have another." I think, hmm, alcohol kills brain cells, puts extra stress on the kidneys, it'll mean another trip to the bathroom, and I may have a headache tomorrow morning: "No thanks, I'm fine for now."

When you think about it, blogging is a beta activity. All this careful cataloging and analysis. An alpha would (rightly) think, what a silly waste of time. Why bother?

When somebody asks me if I am a man or a mouse, I never admit to the latter. But I know it's true.

And when some sociopath tells me to grow a pair of balls, a little voice inside me chimes in: you know, that actually wouldn't be such a terrible idea.

I suppose I should be grateful there are only two classifications. If there were enough, I'd be an omega male.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thanks Michael

The Swim Across America website displays the following quote from Michael Phelps:

"You can't put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get."

This is the kind of pablum that athletes typically spout when they think that the main reason for their own success is superior character. 

Nonsense like this actually does a disservice to the average youngster, because when that youngster falls short of his goals, he will feel all the more diminished.

The people most likely to listen to Phelps' advice are young swimmers. How likely is it that if only they dream more, they, too, will grow to be six feet three inches with a wingspan of six feet seven inches and a freakishly long torso, and have size fourteen feet, abnormally flexible ankles, loose muscles, large hands, and a high testosterone level?

Yep. A little more dreaming, that's all it takes.

This is not to disparage Phelps' work ethic: he worked extremely hard at swimming up until 2008. But there are plenty of other swimmers who worked equally hard, but had nowhere near the same success.

Phelps is young, and he probably figures that's the sort of thing he's expected to say to encourage young kids. To some extent, he's right. But there must be a way to encourage them that doesn't make you sound like Joel Osteen.

Liberalism personified ran the following article last week:

Evidently Columbia professor David Epstein was charged last week with having a "consensual" sexual relationship with his own daughter, 24, for three years.

Epstein, a leftist, specializes in American politics and voting rights. He has also taught at Harvard and Stanford.

In a fairly recent Huffington Post blog -- right before he was charged -- he accused Republicans of "taking hypocrisy in their personal lives to new levels of self-indulgent weirdness."


There are certain afflictions so common that one can't help but think they must have some evolutionary benefit. The most commonly cited example of this phenomenon is sickle cell anemia. When the gene for this disease is present only in recessive (heterozygotic) form, it provides protection against malaria. However, when the gene is inherited from both parents, the homozygotic condition results in the red blood cells assuming a sickle shape which can lead to all sorts of unhealthy complications.

There are other syndromes which are so common that one has to think they, in one way or other, must have conferred some evolutionary benefit.

Two such are Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. These are so widespread that one would think they must have some potential benefit. Otherwise they would have disappeared long ago.

(I sometimes think I suffer from it; in school I always had a hard time keeping my mind on whatever the professor was droning on about. I have that trouble in ordinary conversations now. And, come to think of it, this blog-without-a-unifying-theme may actually be ADD writ large.)

So -- when your attention races from one thing to another, what is the benefit?

After giving the matter some thought -- for as long as I could concentrate on the subject, anyway -- I've come to the conclusion that it's tied into alertness. If you concentrate too much on just one thing, you may be less likely to notice when a lion is sneaking up from behind to ambush you. You actually want your attention to be easily distracted by whatever is happening in your vicinity, whether that be a potential predator like a lion or potential prey like a careless deer.

Having ADD may also have helped one to be well-rounded in a way that would have helped you survive back in the hunting and gathering days. To thrive in that environment, you must be interested in finding out about all sorts of things: how to hunt, how to trap, how to avoid dangerous animals, which plants are edible, how to find a potable water source, how to make clothes out of animal skins, etc. These weren't fun hobbies, but necessities. If you were incredibly good at knowing which plants were edible, but at nothing else, you would not have lived to pass on your genes.

Being a specialist today can result in making a good living; in the old days it might have meant not living at all.

One of the most charming guys I know has a pretty obvious case of ADD. He knows a lot about a variety of subjects, and expresses great enthusiasm about many of them, which is part of his charm. A wide-ranging curiosity is supposed to correlate highly with intelligence; but he wasn't a particularly good student, undoubtedly because of his ADD. He once told me that he ranked towards the bottom of his engineering class; he said this in a mildly mournful way, as if this proved that he wasn't that smart. But one of the first things you notice about him is that he's always very much aware of whatever is going on around him, much more so than most people. I would be willing to bet that he has more general knowledge, and probably a higher IQ, than most of the students who ranked ahead of him. And survival at any time over the past four million years of human evolution -- right up until around two or three hundred years ago -- had less to do with getting all A's and more to do with familiarity with a wide range of survival skills.

The nature channels often show lion cubs gamboling about, play-fighting with each other, exploring, chasing after rodents, and so on. The narrator will usually point out that this is how the young animals learn and prepare themselves for their adulthood. The way these cubs are constantly on the move, you might almost say they had ADHD. But it's also clear how this benefits them: while curiosity may have killed the cat, a lack of curiosity might well eventually kill it too. In a real life situation, you actually learn and observe more by being active -- maybe even hyperactive.

Similarly, the instinct in young boys to be like the proverbial cat which wants to be on the other side of every door seems to be, well, instinctual. This is how young boys -- and to a lesser extent, young girls, who are diagnosed less often with ADD -- have always learned. At least up until the past few hundred years.

We didn't evolve for four million years to sit in a classroom for seven hours a day, five days a week. In fact, we evolved to do all sorts of things -- such as rape and murder and steal -- which aren't exactly condoned behaviors today. But when trying to explain human behavior, it's always more helpful to think in terms of the four million years we spent hunting and gathering rather than the few hundred years we've spent in an industrial/technological society.

Anyway, that's all the attention I can devote to that subject.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A yawning gap

When I was taking that informal poll I mentioned four posts ago about the greatest composer of the 20th century, I asked Jon Leaf, he of the tested 211 IQ:

I got this email back from him this morning:

I know who you're going to say as I think you alluded to it once before: Richard Rodgers. (Am I right?) 

This subject has interested me for a while because Stravinsky's name was often put in first place by critics, and, while he certainly wrote a few really excellent pieces, he wouldn't even make my top ten. My view: he wrote a very little very great music, and even that is mighty cold and lacking in both feeling and melody. Here's my list in a very approximate order: 

1. Richard Strauss
2. Gustav Mahler
3. Giacomo Puccini
4. Jean Sibelius
5. Sergei Prokofiev
6. Sergei Rachmaninoff
7. Edward Edgar
8. George Gershwin
9. Francois Poulenc
10. Eric Wolfgang Korngold (very underrated, I think)
11. Richard Rodgers
12. Aaron Copland

I'd also rate Debussy and Copland above Stravinsky with Walton, Kern, Berlin, Porter, Bernstein, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon on at least equal level and Roy Harris not much below.

There's no doubt that Rodgers was a genius, but I find a lot of his music to be willfully lacking in depth.

This one email illustrates the difference between a certified genius-level IQ like Leaf and a guy -- like me -- who just thinks he's smart. First, I don't even remember ever telling him that I liked Richard Rodgers (Leaf never forgets anything). Second, I'm not even familiar with half the guys on his list other than as names that sound vaguely familiar, and some I don't even know as that.

You may be thinking, well, Leaf is probably just a music guy, and really, how hard is it to come up with a top ten list in something you're interested in? After all, he did say in his email he's thought about the question.

But had I asked him who the greatest scientist of the twentieth century was, or greatest engineer, or greatest artist, or greatest basketball player, or greatest writer, or greatest history writer, or greatest poet, or greatest businessman, he could have given me a similar list.

Despite all the incredibly stupid things I've done in my life, I'm actually not measurably dumb: As a kid my IQ tested well above average -- but not up in the ether. So I am less than halfway from average to Leaf. Does this mean that Leaf feels the same way hanging around me that I feel hanging around someone who is subnormal?

Does he find me tedious, and unoriginal, and unimaginative? Does he find my opinions uninformed and illogical? Did he become acquainted with the limits of my repertoire awfully quickly? Does he wonder at my faulty memory? Is his every other thought, what a freaking idiot? Can he not wait to get away from me?

A disquieting thought.

Jon, as far as your analysis of Rodgers as being "willfully lacking in depth" goes, let me offer the following well-informed and logical rebuttal, which is fueled by and somewhat reflective of my IQ: Eff you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Sleeping Beauty Waltz

As long as this blog is on a music kick, let's include the Waltz from Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty ballet, another of the most beautiful pieces of music ever:

By most accounts Tchaikovsky led a somewhat tortured life; perhaps he was actually the thorn bird of myth.

"On the Street Where You Live"

In the comment section of the previous post Guy mentioned Nat King Cole. One of the most beautiful songs Cole ever recorded was from the musical My Fair Lady:

On the Street Where You live

(The music was by Frederick Loewe, but the lyricist deserves credit here too. Alan Jay Lerner, he of the six wives and longtime substance abuse problems, has captured the giddiness of young love perfectly.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Richard Rodgers

I've taken an informal poll over the last few days about who the greatest composer of the twentieth century is. The answers have ranged from George Gershwin (twice, the only composer to receive two votes) to Arvo Part (who's that?) to Stevie Wonder to Gustav Mahler (partially twentieth century) to Stravinsky to Aaron Copland to David Bowie to Philip Glass to a few others I can't remember.

My pick is Richard Rodgers.

The essence of good music is that it is moving. It doesn't have to move you in just one direction -- sentimentality -- but it does have to move you. As Tolstoy said, "Music is the shorthand of emotion."

Music can make us feel grandiose, sad, romantic, or exuberant. There's nothing intelligent about these feelings; then again, there's no such thing as an intelligent emotion. Anyway, what good is having a big brain if it can't make us feel?

Sophisticates like to look down on Rodgers and Hammerstein productions for being schmaltzy and overwrought. They may have been that, but they were also moving. And what made them that way were Richard Rodgers' tunes.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's biggest box-office hit was The Sound of Music. It takes a guy who's awfully secure in his masculinity -- and intellect -- to admit he likes this movie. So I'm not admitting anything. But I will say that it has some beautiful tunes, and some other decent ones if you can get past the cloyingly cutesy lyrics. One of the most beautiful songs is the title song, which is almost as lovely as the movie's background scenery.

Oklahoma was another big hit for the duo. It, too, it seems hokey now, but the tunes are still great. One of its most beautiful songs was People Will Say We're in Love:

(To us Baby Boomers who grew up thinking of Shirley Jones as the mother in The Partridge Family, it's a revelation to see and hear her as a young woman.)

The King and I was another big hit, which made a star of Yul Brynner. Shall We Dance and Hello Young Lovers are classics. Here's Getting to Know You:

(Deborah Kerr was one of the screen's all time great beauties, though it is not apparent from this clip.)

Carousel probably had the best music of all the Rodgers and Hammerstein productions: June is Bustin' Out All Over, What's the Use of Wond'rin, A Real Nice Clambake, and You'll Never Walk Alone. Again, with all of these songs you have to get past the lyrics (blame those on Oscar Hammerstein and the year 1945). The most famous song was probably If I Loved You:

If by this point you're in the mood for an instrumental, the Carousel Waltz is also beautiful:

South Pacific was another big hit. Its most well known song may have been Some Enchanted Evening:

One song from that musical, I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy, featured lyrics Hammerstein might as well have been writing about himself: "I'm as corny as Kansas in August, I'm as normal as blueberry pie. No more a smart little girl with no heart, I have found me a wonderful guy." 

The wonderful guy Hammerstein found was Rodgers, who wrote tunes that could make even corny lyrics sound profound. But before Hammerstein, Rodgers had teamed with Lorenz Hart. Hart was a more sophisticated lyricist, and his lyrics tended to be strictly about love, a more timeless topic, so they seem less dated. The average American is not familiar with most of the Rodgers/Hart musicals, most of which were originally produced in the '20's and '30's. But they included some classic songs I hadn't even realized that Rodgers had written.

One was Isn't it Romantic. Here is the Rod Stewart version:

Another was Where or When. It has been recorded by artists as diverse as Ella Fitzgerald, the Queen of Scat; Dion and the Belmonts, an early doowop group; and Rod Stewart in his classics phase. Lena Horne's version:

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered is a song you associate with sophisticated, sultry temptresses. It has been recorded by practically every major siren of the past eighty years: Ella, Lena, Cher, Barbra, Carly, Celine -- and those are just the ones identifiable by their first names. Here's Ella's version:

The Lady is a Tramp is not the kind of song you'd associate in any way with a production like The Sound of Music, any more than you could imagine Frank Sinatra as Captain von Trapp. But it was yet another Rodgers song, and here is Sinatra's version:

(This song is not moving, but is included just to illustrate Rodgers' range.)

There are many others songs (Rodgers composed over 900 in his lifetime), but this post has meandered long enough already. 

Looking at a list of the songs that Rodgers has composed is a little like reading a list of quotations from Shakespeare. All those common sayings you've heard so many times that you assume they're just part of the lexicon turn out to all be from one source. It's mind-boggling.

It may seem this post has given short shrift to the lyricists. But a good lyricist is basically just a clever wordsmith, a smart guy who works hard at his craft.

Being able to compose beautiful music, on the other hand, is a gift from the gods.

If you've read this entire post without listening to any of the songs, and you think you understand it, you're wrong. You can't possibly understand it without listening to the music. Now go back and click on each of those links.

Monday, December 13, 2010

All in the family

Sonja Kohn, at right, has just been slapped with a lawsuit by Irving Picard, the trustee for the Madoff victims, for having knowingly participated in Bernie Madoff's fraud. 

I can't be the only person struck by the resemblance. She looks as if she could be Bernie's younger sister. Or even Bernie himself dressed up in (not very convincing) drag.

Friday, December 10, 2010


I've always thought that being in a big time title fight must be one of the most nerve-wracking things a human being can possibly do. You've known it's going to happen for months, and when the time finally arrives, you enter the ring in front of thousands of screaming bloodthirsty fans, most of whom are hoping that one of you takes the other's head off.

Ernest Hemingway once defined guts as "grace under pressure." Humor under pressure is basically the same thing; it's hard not to admire anyone who shows it.

In the previous post I mentioned Jorge "Maromero" Paez, the Mexican boxer, who was able to pull off a clownish act in what most of us would consider extraordinarily tense circumstances. Just watch the first forty seconds of the following video (it's boring after that). And if you're offended by obscene dancing, don't watch it at all:

Tim McKee

Tim McKee (above) is most famous for having lost the gold medal in the 400 meter individual medley by two-thousandths of a second to Gunnar Larson of Sweden at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. After that race the IOC decided that henceforth all races would only be judged to the hundredth of a second. McKee also won the silver medal in the 200 IM at those Olympics. Four years later in Montreal McKee broke the existing world record in the 400 IM but had to settle for yet another silver.

I got to see McKee perform in person once, at the 1972 National AAU championships in Dallas. Back then, US Nationals were, apart from the Olympics, the biggest meet in swimming (the world championships didn't exist yet). Mark Spitz, who four months later would win seven gold medals in Munich, was there, as was every other American record holder of the time. A national title could be the culmination of an entire career, so everyone's nerves were on edge. 

McKee seemed to regard nationals differently -- he saw it as a big party. During warmups for finals he would do a clownish backstroke where after each stroke he would playfully pat the water at his side. (I tried imitating it later, but found it impossible.) Even when the swimmers marched out for finals, towels over their heads, McKee would play to the crowd, joking and waving. I was shocked to see he actually competed in the finals wearing a puka shell necklace.

McKee was basically David Lee Roth before Roth was. There are very few people who can pull off that kind of macho hotdogging while managing to stay cute and funny, and do it all with an undertone of self-mockery that allows them to get away with it. And McKee did it all fearlessly, on a stage where most people would be way too nervous to exhibit such uninhibited glee. Both McKee and Roth were fearless, muscular, acrobatic, and funny -- what every boy wants to be. 

Usain Bolt pulls it off. I've seen various boxers, most notably Jorge Paez, pull it off. But the vast majority of us would simply be way too nervous, klutzy, and inhibited to be able to do it.

A college teammate of mine once joked to me that when he would be at various AAU meets, he would lay down on a mat, ingest a little honey exactly a half hour before his races, try to stay warm, and get up to shake his muscles loose right before his event. Meanwhile he would see McKee and his Suburban Swim Club teammates running around like a pack of feral animals. They never bothered to put on their sweats, and would take turns putting their fists six inches from each other's arms, and then punching as hard as they could. They evidently found this a never-ending source of entertainment.

One of my coaches told me that when McKee was at the Pan American Games in Colombia in the summer of 1971, he led an expedition of swimmers into the seediest section of Cali to find a whorehouse. He was 17 years old at the time.

The Olympic training camp in 1972 was located at West Point. Word filtered back to the coaches that McKee smoked, so one of them took him aside and suggested he lay off the cigarettes. McKee looked the coach straight in the eye and said, "Oh no sir, I would never smoke cigarettes. Cigarettes are bad for you." Meanwhile, the coach couldn't help but notice the nicotine stains on McKee's fingers.

One day McKee started to climb the 10 meter diving platform at the pool. This was strictly off limits to anyone but the divers, so the Army guards told McKee to come down. McKee just ignored them and continued to climb, so the guards started to go up after him. McKee got to the top, and looked at the men coming after him. He waited until they were almost at the top, and then did a perfect one and a half somersault dive into the pool. (If you've never been to the top of a ten meter dive, it's thirty-three feet up but looks as if it's three hundred and thirty feet down.)

One of my college coaches had been a teammate of McKee's at the University of Florida. This coach told us that McKee trained hard, but would also party all night, every night. Every morning as the other Florida swimmers trudged down the corridor of their athletic dormitory for morning practice, they would see McKee poke his head out of his dorm room, usher a couple of girls out, and then join them. After practice, when the other swimmers would go to class, McKee would just go back to his dorm room and sleep all day until it was time for afternoon practice. 

At the time, I thought McKee the coolest thing I'd ever heard of. Looking back three and a half decades later, with the wisdom and (theoretical) maturity of my years.....he still seems awfully cool.

In 1971 A Clockwork Orange was released. It made Malcolm McDowell, who played Alex, the antihero of the movie, famous. Alex was bad, but in such a gleefully exuberant way that he made a certain brand of naughtiness -- or evil, if you prefer -- attractive. (And yes, I realize I'm describing the charm of a sociopath.)

Tim McKee was Alex come to life (minus, perhaps, the viciousness).

The "perhaps" is because the kind of unbridled confidence it takes to pull off such an act usually goes hand in hand with a narcissistic personality, and maybe even a sociopathic one. I never met McKee (he was about eight levels above me in swimming), and it's entirely possible that he was a difficult personality. On the other hand, I knew a fair number of people who had met him, and none of them ever expressed dislike. (Most simply expressed amusement, or more frequently, awe, at his antics.) So he gets the benefit of the doubt.

Last summer McKee was one of the swimming celebrities who took part in the Swim Across America (a cancer fund raiser), and I saw a picture of him. It's always a shock to see how anybody has aged after a long period of time. But somehow it's more of a shock to see someone who was immortalized at a young age, someone famous for having been a wild young man. (He is second from left, below.)

He was quoted recently, when asked about his near miss in Munich, as having replied, "You waste the present and the future when you dwell in the past."

No one could ever accuse McKee of having lived anywhere but in the present.

Addendum, 12/25/10 -- Just spoke to the aforementioned college teammate of mine who had described McKee running around like a feral animal at those AAU meets. My friend, who was a great swimmer in his own right, had gone on a foreign trip representing the US in Sweden with McKee in early 1976. He told me that McKee won both the 200 and 400 IM's at that meet -- without having even warmed up. I was a little incredulous at this. I asked, what do you mean he didn't warm up -- you mean he just took a short swim beforehand? My friend said, no, he literally never even got into the water before his events. He just stood on deck and shook his arms a little, then raced. (This is unheard of in swimming.)

My friend also said that all of the guys on the US team tried to get the attention of the Swedish girls at the meet, but that the girls only wanted to pay attention to McKee. My friend said he had heard a lot of McKee stories before this, but had never really believed any of them. After that trip, he believed all of them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A silly discussion

Steve Sailer ( put up a brief post yesterday about a table ranking various sports by their physical and mental requirements:

You don't have to bother to look at it, it's mostly a bunch of pseudoscientific criteria, i.e., someone's subjective judgment about which sports are the most difficult to perform. (And no, I didn't dislike this study because swimming was given short shrift; it was actually ranked in the middle on most criteria.)

These lists are always absurd. You'll hear these arguments from time to time; just last week I overheard some idiot at my local gym expounding on how cross country skiers were the best athletes. The only logical answer is that any sport's athletes are in the best shape -- for that sport.

Put a competitor from the World's Strongest Man Competition in the Tour de France and he wouldn't last a day. But put a Tour de France cyclist in the World's Strongest Man competition and he'd look like the weakling he is.

Twenty years ago Matt Biondi, the Olympic champion swimmer, participated in the Superstars competition. When he ran the 100 yard dash he looked like a big, ungainly stork, especially next to all the black NFL players (and, somewhat surprisingly, some of the black baseball players as well). But most of those NFL players looked as if they were drowning when they attempted the 50 yard freestyle.

What does all this mean? Nothing.

One similar discussion actually was resolved, about two decades ago. Back in the old days people used to argue about which was the most effective martial art. When the Ultimate Fighting Championships, the first large freestyle tournament, started back in 1993, that argument was definitively decided. Whenever a grappler got into the ring against a striker, he would inevitably render the striker helpless in very short order. End of argument. (These days a fighter has to have all the skills, because grapplers often neutralize each other's grappling techniques.) 

But when it comes to questions of comparing different athletes in different sports, and trying to determine who is better, comparisons are pointless, and a little ridiculous. It's equally pointless to argue about who was more dominant, Roger Federer in tennis or Michael Jordan in basketball.

It's basically like trying to argue about who was greater, Beethoven or Shakespeare.

Time to drop these discussions.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Studying the enemy

I got a call the other day from a friend of my son's. He is a college freshman and is taking a course on feminism, which, according to him, he pretty much has to take. The course is taught by a professor with exactly the kinds of attitudes you would expect. My son's friend had been assigned to write a paper on masculinity for the class and wanted to know if I had ever written anything on the topic. I said that although I'd skirted around the topic obliquely, I'd never addressed it directly. Then I remembered this post:

I suggested he say that masculinity was often associated with toughness, but that toughness was more than just acting macho, that it took many forms, and then use some of the examples from the post, which included a few women. I told him that his professor would like those examples.

(When my son found out that his friend had asked me for help on the paper, his response was, "Asking you for advice about masculinity is a little like asking a midget his opinion on height.")

During the course of our conversation my son's friend mentioned that he was actually enjoying the course because although he disagreed with much of what the professor said, it had forced him to think about those issues and had crystallized his thinking.

I thought this particularly perspicacious coming from an 18-year-old. It's true: if you don't expose yourself to different viewpoints, you'll never learn to think for yourself. There are too many people who can only recite the boilerplate from their own side, because all they ever do is listen to like-minded people. If you want to understand an issue -- and if you want to be able to really lacerate your opponents -- you have to really listen to what they have to say. Then you can analyze their arguments, and pick them apart.

One of the things that makes Ann Coulter funny is that she really listens to what the liberals say. Love her or hate her, she pays attention, which is something most people on both sides of the aisle don't do. This is why she can turn her commentary into humor whereas a Keith Olbermann can only vent his bile.

There are times you can make your point by merely repeating your opponents' words. One time on Fox News Coulter looked straight at the camera and calmly -- and unflinchingly -- suggested, "If you want to hear what my opponents have to say about me, just go to the website 'Ann Coulter is a cunt dot com'." That was all she said, and that was all she needed to say. The name of the website told you everything you needed to know about the character and snarkiness of the opposition.

If you want to make someone look foolish, first listen to him.  
I got an email from my son's friend yesterday saying that my advice had helped and that his project was well received.

I'm glad I was able to help him despite my lack of, uh, height.

Monday, December 6, 2010


An article in this morning's NY Post featured Penelope Zannikos, above, who evidently visits dying patients at various hospitals:

Penelope Zannikos, 44, charges $125 for hospital "transition sessions" with seriously ill people who want to know who's behind the white light.

"Sometimes the information surprises people -- it's not always who you think will be waiting for you," said Zannikos, who believes she inherited her gift from her Puerto Rican mother -- although it could also be from her dad, who was born in Romania to Greek parents.

Her father probably named Penelope after Odysseus's steadfast wife, who stayed true to him throughout his many travels. Judging from his daughter's occupation (and her exquisite looks), however, he might more appropriately have named her Cassandra, or Circe.

Zannikos does look the part she is playing. She's perhaps a bit too beautiful, a touch too light-skinned, and looks a few years too young. But with her straightened hair and generally exotic, Creole look, she is what a voodoo queen should look like. Actually, she looks a touch too healthy, especially at 44: someone with her claimed powers really ought to have a little more of a haunted, queen-of-the-undead look. ("An ordinary mortal like you has no idea what hell these demonic possession hangovers are.")

If they ever make a movie about Marie Laveau, the famous voodoo queen of New Orleans, they ought to cast Zannikos in the title role, even though there's no actual resemblance. This oil painting shows what Laveau actually looked like: 

As you can see, Laveau herself was a bit more matronly-looking, as befits someone who evidently had fifteen children. (No wonder so many claim to be a descendant.) Laveau lived to be 79, and it is unclear how old she was when this picture was painted.

What Laveau and Zannikos have in common is that both practice occupations that bespeak a certain charlatanism.

Personally, I've always believed in voodoo -- at least as far as its powers of suggestion go. For a true believer, voodoo, and that voodoo-ized form of Catholicism known as Santeria, can be very heady stuff. We've all heard stories about the supposed effects that hexes and curses can have. Call it the placebo effect if you wish, but they can work.

There are certainly times I wish I could believe that cutting the head off a chicken would solve my problems. If only it were that simple. For some people, it is.

When you think about it, Santeria is really not all that dissimilar from other religions. The people who believe in them are simpletons, and their leaders (priests, shamans and the like) are charlatans. I don't know enough to judge whether Zannikos is a sociopath; but what she is doing, which is essentially fortune-telling, is generally the province of con artists. And con artists are usually sociopaths.

Give Zannikos a little more time and her character should eventually emerge on her face.

It seems a pity, though, as she is still good-looking enough to cast a different kind of spell, albeit a more normal one.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In case you talk to a high schooler....


My sixteen year old daughter informed me today that Harry Potter fans really look down on Twilight fans. When I asked why, she explained, "Well, if you like Twilight, it's sort of like admitting that you're romantic and pathetic and you want to believe all that -- I don't know. It's just not cool, that's all."

I replied, "But isn't Harry Potter a little silly, with all that talk of Wizards and Muggles? I'm surprised high schoolers don't think it's beneath them."

My daughter replied, "Well, it's got magic too, but it's -- I don't know, it's different. And Twilight is getting sort of old."

"But Harry Potter has been around for even longer. And anyway, I thought you liked Twilight."

"Dad -- no! I didn't even read the last Twilight book!"

"And I thought you had a crush on Robert Pattinson."

"No!! Dad -- you're so stupid!"

This was a public service announcement for all adults not cool enough to know what's considered cool in high school these days.


(Julian Assange)

Most of us talk about other people behind their backs at least a little. And when we do so, we are generally confident that our opinions will not be passed along to whomever we're talking about. Sociopaths will often violate this trust. They love to tell people what others have said about them behind their backs. Many of the sociopaths I've known personally have taken great delight in sowing discord this way. They absolutely thrive on dissension.

Julian Assange of Wikileaks is essentially just doing this on a larger scale.

In a former post --

-- I said that he was "probably" a sociopath. Now that we can add "rapist" to his resume, that "probably" has morphed into "almost certainly."

Most Americans -- of every political stripe -- have reacted to the recent Wikileaks dumps with varying amounts of outrage. And understandably so: after all, the revelations have hurt the entire country.

But at a certain level, people should be responsible for their own words. When Barack Obama tells an effete San Francisco audience that the poor folks "cling to their guns and their religion and their dislike of people who aren't like them" he deserves to have those words exposed to the people he was talking about. Of course, that was said to an audience while he was campaigning for President, not in private to an aide; but it was still gratifying to see his words exposed to a wider audience.

When you think about it, wouldn't you want to know what others say about you behind your back? The answer to that question for most of us, is, of course, both yes and no. But if someone offered to tell us, we probably wouldn't turn it down.

None of this excuses Wikileaks. They are essentially doing what spies have done for ages: passing along secret information. The only difference is, instead of passing that information on to an enemy government, they are passing it along to the entire world. (That doesn't change the fact that they should be treated as spies, especially when you consider the fact that some Afghans have now likely been killed because their cooperation with us has been made public.)

The world basically wouldn't work if there were no such thing as secrets. (See the Jim Carrey movie Liar, Liar for reference.)

But imagine for a moment that the leaks were coming from the other side. Let's say Assange had access to al Qaeda's inner communications. Wouldn't it be gratifying to have them exposed? Wouldn't we appreciate the help? And wouldn't most of the domestic editorials be taking a different tone?

Or let's use an example involving someone we're not in direct confrontation with at the moment. Let's say Assange had access to all of the emails and cables -- and, for argument's sake, phone calls -- that passed between Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev. Wouldn't you want to see or hear them? The Soviet Union has disbanded, the Cold War is over, but Russia, while no longer our bitter enemy, is not exactly our friend. (And Putin spent his "formative years," if you will, growing up in the KGB; it's hard to imagine his instincts towards us have changed all that much.) Wouldn't it be interesting to know what Putin was really thinking when he sent troops into Chechnya? Or when he invaded Georgia? Or what he really thought of Bush, and Obama?

Or imagine WikiLeaks had access to all of the internal correspondence of the current White House. Wouldn't it be gratifying to find out exactly what discussions went on between Obama and Holder before Holder decided to drop the New Black Panther case? Or to hear what David Axelrod said to Obama after Obama called the Cambridge police stupid for having arrested Professor Henry Gates? Wouldn't it be illuminating to hear exactly what conversations took place between Nancy Pelosi and Henry Reid and Barack Obama as they twisted arms to get ObamaCare passed?

My sympathy for Assange has not increased one whit. And I continue to hope that WikiLeaks disappears. But I understand the glee with which some have greeted these exposures.