Search Box

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A well rounded person

Yesterday Steve Sailer posted a review of a new book about Robert Heinlein by William H. Patterson, Jr. In his review, Sailer focused on how Heinlein, though his books were essentially nerd magnets, was not a nerd himself, but was in fact just the opposite:

Sailer quotes what was evidently a famous saying (I had never heard it before) by Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn [steer] a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

It's a wonderful quote, and anybody who could do all those things would have to be a wonderful human being. It's essentially a more vivid way of saying a human being should be smart, resourceful, decent, independent, adaptable, romantic, practical, modest, and brave.

I don't know anyone who could do all those things, but one thought that occurs is that the Greatest Generation always seemed much more capable that way than we Baby Boomers are.

My father, who is now 83, could speak six languages, and knew chemistry, zoology, philosophy, and history. He held an NCAA freshman record in the 200 yard breaststroke, was a fourth degree black belt at judo, and could walk on his hands across a room. He was an Eagle Scout, with all the skills that entailed. He could ski, sail, fish, and pitch a tent. He has flown an airplane, and wanted to be a paratrooper in the Army, but after they tested his IQ they put him in cryptography instead. He spent his career as a professor of history at Harvard. But he could also pave a driveway, do carpentry, and even do minor repairs on a car. He has been an astute stock market investor over the years. He has also tried his hand at art -- which, in my estimation, he stunk at. But he was at least moderately capable at all the other things listed here, and was quite good at some of them.

I, by comparison, am a newly hatched chicklet, unable to fend for myself in practically any situation you can think of. This makes me a somewhat typical Baby Boomer.

I'm not sure the character of the WW II generation was all that much better than that of the Baby Boomers -- after all, the former raised the latter, and children do tend to reflect their parents. But those who grew up in the Depression knew that getting something fixed meant doing it yourself rather than looking for the appropriate repairman in the Yellow Pages.

Which certainly made them seem a lot less spoiled, and a lot more capable.

My children, of course, mock me for not being able to negotiate the ins and outs of a computer as handily as they. I guess I look bad from either angle.

My favorite Heinlein book, by the way, was Time Enough For Love. Reading the quote above makes me want to take another look.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Character study

Guy Davis sent the following article, an object lesson about the kind of aggressiveness it takes to get into an Ivy League college these days:

If you really want something -- like an Ivy League education -- you've got to have the will to just take it. No one is simply going to hand you anything in life. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

The male disease

Testosterone is known to increase muscle size and sex drive, but there's another equally powerful, but less well documented effect: it increases egotism.

Think about it. The average man thinks he's much better-looking than he is, whereas the average woman thinks she is less so. How many times have you heard some guy say, "Everybody tells me how good-looking I am," or words to that effect? And how many times have you met a pretty woman who seems to focus only on her own flaws? Both men and women who are at the extremes of the looks scale usually know it; it's with the people in the middle of the scale that the difference in attitude is most apparent. A woman who is a 5 will often be a self-effacing wallflower, whereas a man who is a 5, if he has sufficient testosterone on the brain, will see himself as exuding an irresistible animal magnetism.

Men always seem to think they're smarter than they are, whereas women tend to lack intellectual self-confidence. The classic example is how men will never ask for directions, but the difference manifests itself elsewhere as well. Men seem to outnumber women roughly two to one in Jeopardy (and at the tryouts as well, from what I saw.) Men are more likely to boast about their SATs, IQs, insights, and wit. And men always seem to think they should be running things.

Men take a different sort of pride in their athleticism. When Muhammad Ali first raised his arms and yelled "I am the greatest of all time!" his confidence may have been justified, but he was also giving voice to a quintessentially male self-regard. Look at the difference between Olympic swimming champions. When men win a gold medal, they tend to pump their fists and punch the water, or let out a primal yell. When women win, they tend to gape at the scoreboard in wide-eyed and ecstatic disbelief, then hug the girl in the next lane. I've never seen a woman -- even the ones on steroids -- hammer fist the water in exultation.

When an Olympic men's team wins, they tend to chant, "USA! USA! USA!" When a collegiate men's team wins the NCAA championships, they tend to chant, "We're number one! We're number one!" When a women's team wins, they tend to jump up and down and squeal with delight.

After having sex for the first time with a new partner, a woman's instinct is to cuddle. A man's instinct is to place his foot on the woman's chest and let out a Tarzan yell, then use her bedside phone to call his buddies and tell them he's scored. (Most men know better than to act on those instincts.)

Men swagger. Men exult. Men boast. Men bluster. These are not verbs one tends to associate with women.

You never hear a female cry out, "I'm the woman!"

For most women, the ideal life would consist of an endless group hug. For most men, it would be a nonstop end zone dance.

A certain amount of egotism can be beneficial -- you need some to have the confidence to attempt various things. The meek may inherit the earth, but only after the grotesquely egotistical have run roughshod over them and proclaimed their right to it first.

Testosterone seems to spur the brain into indulging in egotistical reveries. Estrogen seems to spark the thought, I really need that pair of shoes.

Hard to figure out which is worse.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cobra on the loose

The following article appeared in today's NY Daily News:

It's about an adolescent cobra which escaped from its cage at the Bronx Zoo. It's only 20" long, but that's more than long enough to inflict a poisonous bite. Upon the discovery of its being missing, the Reptile House was closed immediately. Zookeepers have been looking for it; as of this afternoon it hadn't yet been found.

Imagine having that job. You have to poke around in a dark room, hoping to find an extremely poisonous snake before it finds you. You would certainly exercise extreme caution. But in that situation, how much caution is enough?

Such a job is no worse -- and actually, probably much better -- than working in a rice paddy in India. Of the 60,000 people who die of snakebite every year, over 50,000 of them live in South Asia. (On average, there are only 12 deaths from snakebite yearly in the US.) It must be hard to work on a tea plantation, or in a rice paddy, knowing that cobras and Russell's Vipers abound.

Everybody who reads this blog should be thankful they don't have to work in such a place. Or, at least for the moment, in the Bronx Zoo.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

If someone told you that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo featured Nazis, corporate titans, spies, graphic sex, gory violence, beautiful scenery, serial killers, incest, a car chase scene, and a dysfunctional family, you'd probably think that it was a mishmosh of every cliched Hollywood plot device, all thrown together into one big stew pot of a derivative movie.

But the movie actually fit all those elements into a seamless, coherent blend.

It rang true psychologically. It had intelligent protagonists (and villains). The protagonists solved the mystery through a combination of shoe leather and intelligence. The former, surprisingly enough, never got boring, and the latter was always dazzling. Everything made sense at the finish, and the movie had a viscerally satisfying ending.

Even the four or five subplots had gratifying endings.

Here's how good the movie was: after a while I didn't even notice that I was reading subtitles.  

Noomi Rapace was perfect as Lisbeth Salander, the antiheroine. She plays an abused girl who has developed an outsize sense of justice, and who has learned to fend for herself -- and effectively dispense some of that justice. Her toughness seems real. When she is assaulted by a bunch of hoodlums in a Swedish train station, she holds her own, not through any intricately choreographed martial arts moves, but simply because of her ferocity.

The movie did merit its R rating, but both the sex and violence were realistic, and not glamourized.

Rapace has a feral, intense look which is exactly right for the part. If she doesn't look entirely Swedish, it's because she's half Spanish, and her Spanish half is actually Gypsy. There does seem to be a certain mythic aspect to Swedish women. Most of the guys I know who've been to Sweden go there expecting to meet the Swedish bikini team, but come back reporting that most of the women look more like the Bryn Mawr debate team. (Did these guys deserve any better?)

Nonetheless, there are a couple of women in the movie who look as if they might have been part of that bikini team a couple decades back. (To my eyes they're still worthy of a tryout.)

The men are similarly well cast, though none are handsome. The hero, played by Michael Nykvist, instead merely has a weathered look, which substitutes surprisingly well. (Dolph Lundgren would have looked out of place anyway.)

Most reviewers use a four or five star scale for ranking movies. I prefer the Stanford-Binet scale: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo had an IQ of 170.

It's available on DVD, or through your cable provider. See it.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Yahoo News ran the following article about a 95-year-old WWII vet, Leeland Davidson, who has recently discovered that because of a technicality he might not be a US citizen. Evidently his parents, who were from Iowa, were visiting British Columbia at the time of his birth in 1916, and may have failed to register him as a US citizen when he got back.

Davidson wants to get the matter squared away before he dies, but the local passport office has informed him that if he pushes it, he could risk possible deportation or loss of his Social Security benefits.

There are, as of this writing, 21,939 comments following the article. I've read about 80 of them. The comments are unanimous in their outrage. The idea that this American hero would have to put up with this at this stage of his life, especially when this country gives so many benefits to illegal aliens, has sparked a rare -- and wonderful -- consensus.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Highbrow = boring

When I was young, I always assumed I would gradually move on to high brow interests, like my parents had. They like classical music, read the New Yorker, watch Masterpiece Theater, etc.

But it never happened. I got stuck at middle brow, and never graduated.

I've read the highbrow authors. My parents paid a lot of money so that I could go to a private school where I was forced to read Eudora Welty, William Styron, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and James Baldwin. The one lasting lesson I learned from that school was that I never wanted to open another book by any of those authors. Every last one of them was just bone dry. And it wasn't as if I was at an age where I couldn't appreciate books. I used to devour Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Heinlein, and Tom Wolfe at that age.

Maybe if I hadn't been forced to read the "great" authors for English class, I might have liked them better. Maybe if I opened those books up now, I could appreciate them more. But that will never happen.

I've been to the theater a number of times, and never liked it. The actors invariably overact, the sets are limiting, and the plots usually seem contrived. And for some reason the audience at every play I've ever been to seems to feel obliged to laugh at every lame joke, just like the twits in a college classroom who will titter at every precious joke a professor makes. I've always gotten the impression that people in these milieus laugh to show that they're in on a joke, rather than because they actually find them funny. When the audience in a darkened movie theater laughs, it's more of a natural response.

I appreciate intelligence, especially when it's employed honestly. Anyone who can make me think, "Aah, that's so true"  is always welcome in my world. Anyone who can make me laugh is also welcome. I just don't appreciate situations where I'm expected to laugh. (Established medical fact: every forced laugh you make takes five minutes off your life, whereas every genuine laugh adds five minutes.)

I've never been to the ballet, but have seen it on TV. I find its stilted, unnatural movements unappealing. All those dancers striking artful poses and making such a big effort to stay on their tippy toes. All I can ever think is, big deal. (And aren't those guys a little embarrassed to make those effeminate gestures?) I am not immune to the beauty of movement. I used to love watching Sugar Ray Leonard box: his coordination, speed, timing, and power were wonderful to behold. And I love watching a great swimmer glide powerfully and gracefully up and down a pool. Maybe it's just that movement for its own sake (as opposed to knocking out an opponent or getting across a pool quickly) seems pointless.

It has always seemed to me that the higher brow the music, the less passion and joy it contains. One of my least fond memories -- not quite so bad that it could be considered traumatic, but close enough -- is of having to sit through another student's piano recital. We were all supposed to appreciate her artistry. I wanted more than anything else to leave, but the audience was so small it would have been extremely rude to do so. (I almost did anyway.) The worst part was looking around at everyone else to see if they were as bored and distracted as I was, and seeing the expressions of sublime bliss on their faces.

I've never felt lonelier.

Another high brow activity is schlepping over to a museum to look at art. I've been forced to do this a few times, and my main memory is of how stiff and tired I feel after an afternoon of standing. It's the same feeling I get after having to wait in line for a long time. I confess to an occasional sense of wonder at the skill or effort involved while looking at a painting. But the fact is, I'm just not that curious about what a vase of flowers or a basket of fruit or a nude fat woman look like.

As far as nonrepresentational art, I spent too many years being nearsighted (before getting LASIKS) to not appreciate the superiority of a clean, crisp photograph over some pointillist's blurry vision of the world. And my vision would have to be even blurrier than it was for me to appreciate the likes of Richard Serra or Jasper Johns.

My theory is that nobody really likes highbrow stuff. They couldn't -- it's too boring. People only pretend to like stuff that's had all the life strangled out of it it to show how sophisticated and intelligent they are.

No thank you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Unfair world

A friend was at a party recently in New York City, and met a 52-year-old woman with whom he chatted for a while. He said it was quite obvious that she must have been a model at some point. She had the type of tall and lean body that makes clothes look good, and the kind of almost exaggerated facial beauty which photographs well. He said he was a little embarrassed to ask the question, because it sounded like such a line. But he did, and she confirmed that yes, she had modeled. 

A little while later the subject of royalty came up, and the woman mentioned that she had met King Juan Carlos of Spain. My friend asked how that had occurred. She said that one evening a couple decades ago she had been scheduled to go to a party on a boat at St. Tropez, but had gone to the wrong dock by accident. There was fairly heavy security there, but they just whisked her aboard the yacht without asking for any ID. Before she knew it she found herself in a receiving line to meet the king.

Spain has never been a hotbed of terrorism; the closest thing they have to a violent group are the Basque separatists, who are really too peaceable to be called terrorists. But Juan Carlos is fairly prominent, and always accompanied by bodyguards. That they would not even bother to ask this woman for an ID is an object lesson in human, especially male, nature.

You could say that she was probably dressed in such a way it was apparent she wasn't carrying any weapons. Or that she was so Anglo-looking that she didn't fit any terrorist profile. But really, had she been ordinary-looking, they would have at least asked her to show her invitation.

According to my friend, her explanation for this incident was, "Because I'm tall and look as if I know what I'm doing, even though I don't, people often give me the benefit of the doubt."

Translation: beautiful women have the world by the nuts. It's really quite ridiculous, and completely unfair.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Yahoo News ran the following AP article over the weekend:

Torture charges shatter Croatian's quiet Ky. life

by Bruce Schreiner and Brett Barrouquere

STANTON, KY -- If Azra Basic needed a place to run from the bloody aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia, her small-town Kentucky neighbors said she found it. The Croatian woman locals knew as "Issabella" settled years ago in this rural, hilly area and took jobs bathing elderly nursing home patients and working at a sandwich factory.

This week, acquaintances were shocked to hear the secret that Bosnian war crimes investigators said Basic has been hiding for two decades. As a soldier in the Croatian army, she killed a prisoner and tortured others by forcing them to drink human blood and gasoline, authorities said. She was arrested on Tuesday by federal agents.

"She's a lovely person, very diligent in her work," said 88-year-old Henrietta Kirchner, who was one of Basic's patients at the Stanton Nursing Center for about a week when she was recovering from a broken leg.

According to documents, the 52-year-old Basic (pronounced BOSH) is charged with fatally stabbing a prisoner in the neck in 1992 during the bloody conflict in Eastern Europe. Court documents accuse her of numerous other atrocities, including: setting a prisoner ablaze, pulling out prisoners' fingernails with pliers, ripping off a man's ear with pliers, and carving crosses and the letter "S" into another man's flesh.

The accusations were "very shocking" to 44-year-old former neighbor Brian Rice.

"She's a pretty nice person," said Rice, who lived near her for about two years until she moved in November. "If I was standing here right now and.....she drove by, she would throw her hand up and if the window was down, she would speak and say 'hi' by my name."

It's highly doubtful that any of your friendly neighbors are former war criminals. But the article does make you wonder which of your nice neighbors who wave and call your name would, in other circumstances, be equally glad to torture you.

The story is a little reminiscent of the infamous 1961 Milgram experiment, in which students at Yale University, under the instruction from the experimenter, willingly gave other students increasingly large electric shocks.

I suppose we should be grateful we were never forced to find out what our own limits are. 

(If you're not grateful, you're probably one of those who would have happily pulled others' fingernails out.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Those of you who watched the double feature Grindhouse a while back -- and, according to the box office take, there weren't many of you -- may remember the previews of coming attractions in between the two movies. Those previews were probably the best thing about the double feature, which was meant to evoke the sensationalistic, gory B-movies of the 1950's, which were often viewed at drive-ins. The two features were directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.

One of the previews was for a movie called Machete, about a former Mexican federale whose family is killed by a drug dealer, and who winds up as a day laborer in Texas, where he must do battle with corrupt politicians and vigilantes who are financed by that same drug dealer. Robert Rodriguez decided to do a movie based on that preview, which is a first in Hollywood -- a movie based on a fake preview. 

The plot is, of course, just a flimsy excuse for a lot of comic book violence and mayhem. The movie stars Danny Trejo, a one-time drug addict and armed robber, and later welterweight boxing champion of San Quentin. (These facts seem curiously to have been excised from his Wiki bio.) In any case, Trejo's badass credentials are well established. He now seems to be the go-to guy for tough guy roles, and appeared in 18 movies in 2010 alone. 

Robert Rodriguez is in fact Trejo's second cousin, a fact that they only discovered on location for another film. But Rodriguez is from the part of the family which grew up on the right side of the tracks (pictures of him reveal not a trace of Indian blood). Rodriguez is also a graduate of the University of Texas. When a middle class boy tries to establish his badass credentials, the results are usually ugly. Machete is a case in point. 

For this kind of movie to work, it must function effectively as both an adventure movie and as a spoof of old movies. Machete works semi-effectively as a spoof. But as a movie, it seems calculated to appeal solely to a certain kind of young male who would otherwise be reading comic books. ("Wow -- he sliced off the heads of three of his enemies with a single slash of his machete -- cool!!!!!!!!")

A lot of scenes like that strung together are just not enough to sustain a movie. Especially when it seems the filmmakers couldn't decide if they wanted to do an homage to those old B-movies, or a satire of them.

The two female leads, Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba, also seem calculated to appeal to that same demographic, young men who love comic books. The two look almost like sisters, and prance around in similar high heels and come hither looks. When Rodriguez arrives for the final battle scene, she is dressed in skin tight jeans, high heels, and a bikini top -- or is that just a black bra?

Robert DeNiro appears as the corrupt Texas politician. Sometimes he speaks in a southern accent, sometimes in a New York accent. Even when he is in Southern mode, his accent goes back and forth between a Texas twang and the backwoods hillbilly accent he used in Cape Fear. But that's okay, none of the other characters -- or the director -- seemed to notice. Or was that by design, part of the spoof?

The best thing I can say for the movie was that I was never bored.

I wish I could also say I was never confused. But I could just never figure out if I was supposed to be laughing with the film or at it.

Men whose first love is comic books ought not be allowed to direct movies.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Owsley Stanley

Owsley Stanley, the famous manufacturer of LSD back in the 60's, died this week, and the sentimental accolades have been pouring in. This morning's editorial in the NY Times, Electric Kool-Aid Marketing Trip, was typical. An excerpt:

"Relatively clear-thinking entrepreneurs created some of the most enduring tropes of [the Sixties] -- not out of whole paisley cloth but from their astute feel for the culture and the marketplace. And no one was better at it than Augustus Owsley Stanley III.....The San Francisco Chronicle anointed him the 'LSD Millionaire'."

The article goes on to compare Stanley to Steve Jobs for his insistence on quality control. There is no mention of the bad trips or accidents his output may have facilitated. (His LSD probably inspired plenty of bad art, too, but that at least didn't make him criminally liable.)

I remember reading about him in Rolling Stone Magazine back in the 1960's, when he seemed like an exciting and integral part of the counterculture movement. He hung out with Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead, they dropped his acid, and Tom Wolfe wrote about him. Hearing his name, which I hadn't in at least three decades, took me back to my youth. 

I wasn't the only one to react that way. His name stimulated the nostalgia glands of a lot of obit writers. Yet ultimately, his fame did derive from being a drug dealer.

People do not recall Pablo Escobar with such fondness. (Escobar was the Colombian cocaine king who during the 1980's was thought to be one of the richest men in the world, and who was eventually sentenced by the Colombian authorities, but who dictated the terms of how his sentence should be served -- in his own house.) And I have yet to read any glowing tributes after the deaths of various drug kingpins in Ciudad Juarez and Acapulco.

Of course, Owsley did not decapitate his rivals and leave their heads in public plazas. And, in fairness to him, the drug he manufactured, lysergic acid, was not illegal when he started manufacturing it (though its subsequent criminalization did not stop him).

Perhaps more to the point, the nature of the LSD is entirely different from the drugs which dominate the illegal drug trade these days. It wasn't addictive like heroin or cocaine. It didn't generate violence or psychoses like crystal meth. And if it did make one temporarily insane, it usually did so in a gentle way. LSD was much more "Hey man this is really far out," as opposed to meth's "I'm the biggest badass ever and I'm going to rape and kill you." (And after extended use, meth's message tends to morph into, "Everybody wants to rape and kill me, so I better kill them first.")

No one ever rhapsodizes about the mind-expanding qualities of hard drugs. There is no Timothy Leary of heroin; there is no Carlos Castaneda of crystal meth. And the people who sold LSD did not do so through gangs which would guard their turf murderously.

Accidents did happen due to LSD: Art Linkletter's daughter jumped out of a window to her death because while tripping she thought she could fly. And doubtless there were others, less famous, who succumbed to their illusions while under the influence. But in general, the psychedelic drugs were gentle, and in their own rigor-free way, even intellectually stimulating.

No wonder Owsley Stanley brought on all that nostalgia. Times have changed, and not for the better.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Kids Are All Right

Finally saw it, but only because someone brought the DVD over to our house. (It had "not my kind of movie" written all over it.) As I've said elsewhere on this blog, I'm for gay marriage. But that doesn't mean I wanted to sit through a self-satisfied two hour advertisement for it. (I'd already seen Annette Bening, one of the stars, looking awfully pleased with herself at the Academy Awards, and that was enough.)

The movie turned out to be propaganda only to the extent that it did not focus on the politics of gay marriage, but merely accepted it as a given. It was instead a skillfully rendered, realistic portrayal of a family with normal types of problems.


The only reason it wasn't as boring as it sounds was because it was so excruciatingly painful to watch.

There seems to be an entire genre of comedy these days which specializes in creating the most awkward and embarrassing situations imaginable. These comedies tend to feature actors like Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston. Imagine those situations, but without the saving grace of humor, and you have The Kids Are All Right.

(I'm now wondering, would it have worked better as a comedy? Lesbian couple's marriage turns stale, kids look up sperm donor father, father meets lesbian couple, wacky hijinks ensue! Wild hilarity for all!)

If you feel you don't get enough bickering at home, then this movie is for you. If you feel starved for awkward, judgmental teenagers, or self-indulgent adults, watch it. If you enjoy watching someone with a drinking problem, get it. And if you savor the recriminations after someone gets caught cheating, then rush out to rent the DVD. 

None of the major characters are all good, or all bad: everybody is simply human. The best people were the two children, hence the title. They serve essentially as the Greek chorus, and we see everything through their more innocent, idealistic eyes.

(But I couldn't help but suspect that with those parents, they would eventually turn out to be equally self-indulgent as adults. We can only hope that they'll be the kind of kids who turn out to be a reaction against their parents.) 

Not a single character in the movie was particularly good-looking, or admirable, or witty. But they were recognizable, and real. If that's your definition of greatness, then this movie is a ten. Most critics seemed to feel that was the case.

I prefer escapism.

But I have to give credit for the well drawn portrait. And the two stars must be lauded for their lack of vanity. There are a lot of glamourpusses -- and both Bening and Julianne Moore used to be counted among them -- who would never consent to be filmed looking so unappealing.

(In fact, after watching the movie I had to watch a couple scenes from The Grifters on Youtube, just to make sure my memory hadn't played tricks on me, and that Annette Bening once really was as sexy as I recalled.)

My favorite character was Clay, the feckless quasi-bully who wanted to urinate on the head of a stray dog. He reminded me of a lot of guys I knew growing up. (I haven't known as many bickering lesbian couples, for which this movie has made me grateful.)

My son, who serves as the Greek chorus in our family, surprisingly made it through the entire film. Even more surprisingly, he said he didn't think it was that bad.

But he did point out that it might have been improved with a slightly different emphasis: "They should have had a little more action, and called it 'Naked Ninja Lesbians.' Oh yeah, and it should have starred Jamie Pressley and Keira Knightley instead of those two."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Public sex

When I was a sophomore in college, I used to hear the guys who lived in the adjoining suite, three football players, have gang bangs with girls from other local colleges. One of the guys was an obvious sociopath, but the other two seemed fairly normal. I never understood how these guys could have sex with various women in front of each other. It struck me as akin to having sex on a stage: how could anyone be uninhibited enough to do that? I certainly couldn't have.

Nor do I think most guys could.

Of course, I've even taken it a step further. There have been several occasions in my life when an audience of just one woman has been enough to unman me.

The problem with an erection is that worrying about whether you're going to get one or maintain one prevents such from occurring.

Animals certainly don't seem to have any problem with an audience. They rut in front of each other -- or in front of us -- with nary a hint of self-consciousness. A horny dog will even hump your leg.

What bring all this to mind is the recent case, mentioned two posts ago, of the eighteen guys who gang raped the 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas. Whenever I hear of a situation like that, I think, how could they just do it in front of all their friends like that?

Dennis Rodman once appeared on the Howard Stern TV show. Stern suggested he go over to where his associate Robin Givens was sitting and feel her up. Rodman did so, and actually started to get a visible erection. On national TV.

That's pretty much the definition of a barnyard animal.

I feel nothing but contempt for the sort of sociopathy and/or simple-mindedness which allows for that sort of lack of inhibition. But I also envy it. If I could choose how I'd live my life again, I'm not so sure I wouldn't rather do it as a human version of a barnyard animal.

Better that than a neurotic, inhibited wimp.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Adam and Eve, Part II

Sorry, but I can't not include a link to this article about a snake biting a stripper -- along with its accompanying video, which I challenge you not to look at:

Friday, March 11, 2011

Human growth hormone and cancer

(A 32-year-old man with Laron-type dwarfism and his 17-year-old wife)

There was an interesting article by Nicholas Wade in the New York Times on February 17th. The first two paragraphs:

"People living in remote villages in Ecuador have a mutation that some biologists say may throw light on human longevity and ways to increase it.

The villagers are very small, generally less than three and a half feet tall, and have a rare condition known as Laron syndrome, or Laron-type dwarfism. They're probably the descendants of conversos, Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal who were forced to convert to Christianity in the 1490s but were nonetheless persecuted in the Inquisition. They are almost completely free of two age-related diseases, cancer and diabetes."

The article goes on to describe how cancer is spread by fast-reproducing cells, and how a defect in the human growth hormone receptor -- the same mutation which causes this particular form of dwarfism -- prevents the cancer cells from spreading. The hormone which promotes growth, called insulinlike growth factor, or IGF1, also contributes to diabetes, so the dwarves are free of that disease as well. Evidently a little of the hormone is helpful in preventing heart disease, but lowering the amount somewhat could still be helpful once people are full grown. A drug which does exactly this is now available, and is used mostly to prevent acromegaly.

In fact the Ecuadorean villagers don't have a longevity rate much higher than normal, because they have a higher than average rate of accidents and alcoholism. But without those two factors, it appears that they would live longer.

What the article doesn't mention is how this knowledge might be used in treating cancer patients. If it's human growth hormone, IGF1 in particular, which causes cells to reproduce rapidly, then one would think that using the drug currently used to treat acromegaly -- Somavert -- would be helpful in treating cancer.

Usually cancer is treated by both radiation and chemotherapy. Radiation basically just zaps cancerous cells. Chemotherapy kills fast-reproducing cells. Both treatments have numerous of negative side effects. Would it not make sense to lower the level of IGF1, cutting off the agent which spreads cancer at its source, with fewer side effects? (This certainly wouldn't negate the need for radiation to kill existing cancer cells.)

I wouldn't be surprised if they start using Somavert as a cancer medication.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Will on Libya

Great article by George Will on why we should stay out of Libya:

It's almost impossible to find an article by Will that doesn't exude intelligence and common sense.

How many Charlies?

Before his recent spate of publicity, Charlie Sheen merely had a reputation as a fellow who liked to party with prostitutes. He was thought of as a wild and crazy guy -- but not in the sense of being truly crazy. The emphasis was more on wild. 

It's only with his recent interviews that we've gotten to know the real Charlie -- the insane one.

How long has he been this way without us knowing? 

It makes one wonder how many others there are out there whose craziness is covered up. There have to be many more than are visible to the naked eye. Far more craziness remains private than is aired publicly.

If my own experience is any indication, there are an awful lot of people who know how to present a misleading mask of sanity to the world.

Reminds me of that old saying about the definition of a normal family: one you don't know very well.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Biology is destiny

The NY Post ran the following article this morning:

It is about one Joseph Meldish, a hitman both for his own gang, the Purple Gang, and for the Luchese and Genovese crime families, who has finally been convicted of murder. He is thought to have killed up to 40 people. Here's Joseph:

Question: with a face like that, was there any chance he was going to end up a schoolteacher or doctor?

I can, however, visualize him -- with a shave and an expensive suit -- as a particularly aggressive investment banker. I seem to recall a lot of those guys wearing similar expressions.

Nah. He was probably too moral for that.

Jury duty

A few years ago I was called for jury duty. We were all shepherded into a room at the courthouse and told briefly about a civil case we might be chosen for. The plaintiff claimed he had gotten into an accident because he had been distracted by the bright lights of a store display, and was suing the store.

One by one the potential jurors were brought into a separate room with a lawyer for the plaintiff and a lawyer for the defendant. When it came my turn to be interviewed, one of the lawyers -- I'm not sure which -- gave me a beneficent smile and asked, "Well, what do you think of our legal system?"

I replied, "If you could narrow the scope of that question a bit, I could probably give you a more intelligent answer." I paused, wondering if he would narrow it. When he said nothing, I continued, "If you're asking if I think we live in an overly litigious society, the answer is yes. But if you're asking me do I still think I could judge this case fairly on its own merits, the answer is also yes."

I was being completely honest on both counts. Of course, I also knew that if I phrased it that way, the plaintiff's lawyer would not want me on the jury.

They then asked me to wait outside in the corridor for a moment. I sat there, completely confident that I would be disqualified, and practically chortling at my own slyness in escaping a boring trial.

Sure enough, a few minutes later one of the lawyers poked his head outside, and said, "It's okay, you're dismissed."

I recently received a notice for jury duty again, and was supposed to report this morning. I drove down to the Norwalk court house again, my mind awhirl with all the clever things I could say in order to get myself disqualified again. I went through security, and reported to the appropriate office. The clerk came up and told me that jury duty had been canceled that morning. I had driven all the way down there for nothing.

Evidently I was supposed to have phoned the courthouse the night before to see if our services were still required. No one else was there, which meant that everyone else had been smart enough to phone ahead of time; I was the only one who hadn't bothered to read the notice carefully.

You're never stupider than when you're preoccupied thinking about how clever you are.


The previous post has sparked a thought: 

From now on, I'm going to start pointing out, "I hold the world record for the 55-59 age group in the 200 meter short course butterfly. I don't have to specify men's record, since I actually hold the record for everybody -- it's only female record holders who have to specify which gender, since they hold the lesser record."

There. That should get a good reaction from the ladies.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Girls in boys' sports

There have been a number of online articles recently about girls who have competed in boys' sports leagues. There was a female wrestler who competed at the Iowa state wrestling championships, who won her initial bout in a forfeit after the boy she was scheduled to compete against refused to compete against her. There was a girl who actually won a state title in wrestling in Vermont, where there are few competitors in wrestling.

Then, this morning, there was an article on Yahoo Sports about two female pitchers who faced each other in a high school baseball tournament in Southern California. An excerpt:

Ghazaleh Sailors couldn’t believe what she was reading.

It was a story in the newspaper about a girl breaking barriers in the game of baseball.

A girl fighting to stay in the game past Little League -– when most are forced to make the transition to softball. A girl surviving and thriving on the pitcher’s mound –- using guts and guile to record outs, even strikeouts. A girl proving that baseball could be a co-ed sport.

It was the story of her life.

Except the story wasn’t about her.

Unbeknownst to Sailors, Marti Sementelli was growing up just a few hours away from her in Southern California, going through the same ups and downs.

“It was incredible to see it,” Sailors says. “We share the same story and have followed a similar path since childhood.”

The two connected on Facebook, then met in person for the first time last summer while playing on the U.S. Women’s National Baseball Team.

Saturday they made history.

When Sailors and her San Marcos High teammates traveled from Santa Barbara to Van Nuys to take on Sementelli and Birmingham High, it marked the first time that a varsity high school baseball game features two female starting pitchers.

Sementelli got the better of Sailors, throwing a complete game and allowing only five hits in a 6-1 win. 

But they blazed a trail together.

“I think we have a really cool story -– one a lot of girls don’t know about,” she says. “It’s something me and Ghaz share. But we want to spread the word and get it out and get more girls playing.”

The story goes on in similar breathless fashion to describe what brave pioneers these girls are. The stories about the female wrestlers, both of which -- unsurprisingly -- got a lot of play in the New York Times, had a similar ecstatic tone.

I'm sure all of the young women involved are perfectly fine people. I'm sure each loves her sport, is a dedicated athlete, and works hard to achieve whatever success she can. And I'm glad that each has been afforded the opportunity to compete in her chosen sport, since those particular sports were not otherwise available to them. (Most high schools have girls' softball teams rather than baseball teams, and no high schools have girls' wrestling.)

I'm certainly not the kind of guy who would suggest that those female wrestlers stick to mud wrestling. (Well, at least not on this blog.) And in the sports I follow most closely, swimming and track, I am as big a fan of the women as the men.

But I can't help but be annoyed by the implications of all these articles, which is that if girls were only afforded more opportunity in sports, they could compete on an equal basis with men across a wider range of sports -- and that only crusty old hidebound traditionalists unwilling to acknowledge any female athletic ability somehow prevent this from happening.

The articles do everything but cry out, "Women rule! Girl Power! Anything a man can do, a woman can do better!" Sure -- now that the floodgates have opened, girls will be dominating boys' sports team across the nation. 

This is just utter silliness. There's just a huge, yawning gap between the average girl's athletic ability and the average boy's. And that elephant in the room is always studiously ignored in these articles.

In fairness to the authors, none of them ever spelled out what they were implying. I doubt any of them actually believe their own implications, either. And a local sportswriter's job is essentially to be a hometown cheerleader. But talking about broken barriers is simply misleading. 

Are we supposed to think that Ghazaleh and Marti are somehow the equivalent of Jackie Robinson being allowed into the Major Leagues, or of Jesse Owens refuting theories of Aryan superiority in Berlin in 1936? As anyone with a modicum of common sense will admit, blacks are, at the top levels, simply better than whites at many sports. (Since the 1984 Olympics, to take one example, there have been exactly 56 finalists in the men's 100 meter dash; exactly zero of them have been any race other than black. Coincidence? You tell me.) In any case, the rules that held blacks back sixty years ago were unquestionably unfair.

But for those who like to imply that women are being held back similarly, I have a suggestion. From now on, let's practice full integration in sports -- sexual as well as racial. No more men's and women's teams -- let's just allow them to compete directly with each other in all sports.

That should make the feminists happy -- no more artificial barriers.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Charlie and me

Every time you open up another online news source, there's Charlie Sheen with yet another wildly quotable sound bite. The reaction of the media to his meltdown seems to be one of horrified fascination combined with a not insignificant amount of undisguised glee.

My reaction to Charlie is mostly envy. I just don't seem to stack up very well in comparison:

Charlie: "I'm on a quest to to claim absolute victory on every front."

Me: Just one victory, on any front, and I'd be happy.

Charlie: "I'm proud of what I created. Why shouldn't I be? I exposed people to magic. I exposed them to something that they otherwise would not see in their boring normal lives. And I gave that to them!"

Me: Most people don't really notice me.

Charlie: "Dying is for fools. Amateurs."

Me: The life I lead, it's as if I'm half-dead already.

Charlie: "[I was] bangin' 7-gram rocks [of cocaine] and finishing them because that's how I roll. I have one speed, one gear -- go."

Me: A life stuck in neutral.

Charlie: "I mean, what's not to love? Especially when you see how I party. Man, it was epic. The run I was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger, Richards all of 'em just look like droopy-eyed armless children."

Me: I'd give a year of my life just to lead one week of any of theirs.

Charlie: "'You borrow my brain for five seconds and just be like, 'Dude, can't handle it! Unplug this fires in a way that's not from this terrestrial realm'."

Me: Borrow my brain, you'll wonder, "Is this thing turned on yet? Is it not plugged in or something?"

Charlie: "I am on a drug. It's called 'Charlie Sheen.' It's not available 'cause if you try it once you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body."

Me: I am on a drug. It's called 'John Craig.' It actually works fairly well when you're having trouble sleeping.

Charlie: [In reference to his two "goddesses," Natalie Kenly and Rachel Oberlin] "They boil my tiger blood like a microwave on meth. They have this magical presence that makes you feel alive and focused. Jealous much, everybody?"

Me: When I see a beautiful woman, I feel a very faint stirring. Or maybe it's just the memory of a faint stirring, I'm not really sure.

Charlie: "[I have] Adonis DNA."

Me: Stuck with Quasimodo DNA.

Whose life would you rather be leading?

Bipolar disorder (and perhaps crack addiction) strike me as very small prices to pay for Charlie's kind of swagger.

Friday, March 4, 2011


The adjective "madman" seems to get appended to Muammar Kaddafi's name the way other names have "Mister" or "Senator" attached. To many, there is no other way to account for his idiosyncrasies. Kaddafi's fashion sense alone is enough to make one doubt his sanity. Imagine the reaction if you wore one of those purple or gold outfits into your next business meeting. And his all-female bodyguard contingent has also raised eyebrows.

Kadaffi's allies over the years have included such notables as Idi Amin, whose father-in-law he was at one point; Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who spent a third of the treasury of the Central African Empire on his coronation ceremony; Mengistu Haile Mariam, who was later convicted of genocide; Charles Taylor, who was later convicted of crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone; and Slobodan Milosevic, who made "ethnic cleansing" a household term.

He has also supported causes as varied as the IRA, the Red Army, and FARC in Colombia. Given the nature of the dictators and causes he has supported, it's hard not to conclude that Kaddafi is, like Julian Assange, basically just a nihilist at heart.

But he is not a nihilist in his own country. Kaddafi's domestic policies have actually been extremely shrewd -- for a dictator who wants to hold on to power by any means possible. There's an expression, "Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me." In Kaddafi's case, they have been out to get him for a long time, and his paranoia and repressive state machinery, which might seem like overkill to those of us who live in free countries, are exactly what has kept him in power.

Right after ousting of the absent King Idris in 1969, Gaddafi made sure that his government controlled all of the large companies in his country, in a system he referred to as "Islamic socialism." He instituted Sharia law. Kaddafi banned the teaching of foreign languages from school curriculums, and made it illegal to engage in any political conversation with a foreigner. In April 1980 he called for the assassination of all Libyan dissidents living outside the country. (According to Amnesty International, between 1980 and 1987, at least 25 of Libya's critics were killed around the world.) Much like East Germany did, Libya has vast numbers of informants whose job it is to report anybody who engages in any activity or talk which is considered counter-revolutionary. Reportedly as much as 10 to 20% of the population is employed doing this. Dissidents exposed this way are often executed publicly, with the executions rebroadcast on state networks.

The mercenaries hired by Gaddafi are a perfect example of his ruling style. He has hired soldiers from around the world to be part of his armed forces. It is in large part these soldiers who are now killing the Libyan protesters, since many Libyan soldiers have refused to do so. One Libyan pilot reportedly crashed his airplane into the sea rather than fire on his own people; the Serbian pilots have no such compunctions.

So the comedians can smirk and call him "Daffy Khadaffy," but Kaddafi has in fact demonstrated a very effective, if evil, form of sanity.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Had the President spoken his heart in that pre-Super Bowl interview....

Bill O'Reilly: Mr. President, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Barack Obama: Well, my aides felt I'd look more courageous going into the lion's den.

O'Reilly: No lion's den here Mr. President, you know me, I'm just a pussycat. Okay, recent polls have indicated that your approval ratings are on the rise. Your State of the Union speech, your repeal of the don't ask don't --

Obama: Bill, excuse me, I think I know what you're driving at. A lot of folks are saying I'm not going to be reelected next year. I think they're misguided. But just in case, I've been planning my next move, and I'm thinking I could have a career in the NBA. Listen, I'm not foolish, I don't think I can play center or anything. I'm a realist, I see myself as a point guard.

O'Reilly: (Laughs politely.) Mr. President, getting back to --

Obama: No, I'm serious. Since I've become President, I've played with some of those guys, like at my birthday party last summer. And I honestly think I can stick with them. They're just not as good as everybody thinks they are. I've scored on Carmelo, and I've even stolen the ball from Dwayne.

O'Reilly: Mr. President, I'm glad your job has afforded you the opportunity to actually play basketball with real NBA stars. But I think we should explain to our audience here that you're well aware that those guys were just handing the ball to you and letting you shoot because you're the President.

Obama: Bill, I can see why you think that, but that's actually not the case. Lebron told me that I'm as good a ball handler as  half the guys in the NBA. And Bill -- I think we can both agree that Lebron knows basketball.

O'Reilly: Uh, Mr. President, with all due respect, you couldn't make the starting five at Punahou. What makes you think you can make it in the NBA?

Obama: Listen, Bill, I've been practicing pretty hard recently. And I have some pretty good moves now. One time I even got past Joaquim Noah. Ever see how tall that guy is? You know, by the way, a lot of these guys, they're just not as tall as advertised. Every guy in the NBA who's six foot nine or over is listed at seven feet. Heck, when I get to the NBA they'll probably say I'm six-five!

O'Reilly: (laughing) You know, Mr. President, I think you're actually on to something. I see what you're getting at. Any team in the NBA would love to have you on their roster. Think about what your presence could do for ticket sales. And you'd actually be doing something you love.

Obama: (somewhat impatiently) Bill, you're really not getting me here. I think I could contribute to a team -- as a legitimate player.

O'Reilly: Okay, well, Mr. President, uh, on a different subject, do you think your administration is doing enough regarding the current tensions in Egypt --

Obama: I really don't think the American people want to get bogged down in another land war, do you? The American people....well, let's be honest, most folks are like me -- they'd rather watch sports.

O'Reilly: Well, you've got a point there. Mr. President, uh, which sport do you most enjoy watching?

Obama: Besides basketball? Golf. And you know, that's what I intend to do with my summers -- join the PGA tour.

O'Reilly: Mr. President, you know, this was supposed to be a serious interview --

Obama: I'm being serious! People don't think I'm a hard worker, but I am -- I'm dedicated, and my game has sharpened up recently. I'm not lazy like Bush, who gave up on golf just two and a half years into his first term. I practice at least once, maybe twice, every single week. You wouldn't believe how much I've improved in the last two years. Now I realize I'd have to start out on the satellite tour --

O'Reilly:  Mr. President, have you been on any medications recently?

Obama: Bill -- I've never felt better. Listen, forget about that duffer you saw two years ago who half the time would shank the ball way out into the rough. I'm a much, much better player than I was then. The other day I shot a 79. Now I know, they close the course down for me, and maybe it's a little different when you have all those spectators watching you. But I think I can do it. I've got pretty good nerves. Look at the way I lie with a straight face all the time. You know, I think I'd actually make a pretty good poker player....

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The King's Speech

I'd been reluctant to see this on the theory that nothing could be more boring than a movie about a stuttering royal, but finally gave in this past weekend.

It was as good as advertised.

Writer David Seidler evoked the humiliation of stuttering as only a former stutterer could.

Colin Firth made the Duke of York -- the future King George VI -- entirely sympathetic, without making him likable. And despite his immense pain, his pathos was restrained. (After delivering the movie's title speech, while waving to the crowd, Firth might as well have just brandished his Oscar right then and there.)

Geoffrey Rush was perfectly cast as the speech therapist, who is essentially the hero of the movie. Nobody would ever accuse Rush of being good-looking, but his face does have a certain ravaged nobility. Of course, it's easier to see him in that light since he was given most of the best lines.

(A movie with a hero must also have a villain; the microphone confronting the Duke served quite nicely in that role.)

Helena Bonham-Carter, as Queen Elizabeth (the mother of the current queen), played sympathetic perfectly. If her portrayal was accurate, the British public's affection for the Queen Mum is understandable.

Guy Pearce, who played Edward, Prince of Wales, has a face tailor-made for foppishness, and Eve Best bears a strong resemblance to Wallis Simpson. Both could have been made to look extremely unsympathetic, but were made only slightly so. 

The only one who really overacted was Timothy Spall, as Churchill. Spall, a jowly character actor whom you may recognize from his turn as the bad courtier in Enchanted, played Churchill almost as if satirizing him. But perhaps he can be excused given that Churchill usually overplayed himself.

The only thing about the movie you could call heavy-handed was its overall gloominess -- there wasn't a single ray of sunshine in the entire film. But you can't even blame the filmmakers for that -- it was shot in London.

To really appreciate how well done the movie was, you have to imagine what would have happened if it had been sponsored by a major Hollywood studio rather than the U.K. Film Council. The Duke of York might have been played by Matthew McConnaughey, who would have practiced his elocution lessons shirtless, and expressed his mental anguish by flexing.

His brother, the future King Edward, might have been played by Jason Statham -- you know, to give the movie that genuine British feel. When Statham mocked him, McConnaughey could have responded with a punch, and the two brothers could then have gone at it with an extended palace-wrecking fight demonstrating their martial arts expertise.

The Helena Bonham Carter role would probably have gone to Angelina Jolie, who would essentially have bribed the Duke out of his stammer with sexual favors. And the camera would undoubtedly have lingered lovingly on Jolie's breasts while she slipped in and out of an overdone British accent.

My only quibble was that the movie was so grimly realistic I didn't really enjoy it. Plus the entire time I was watching the movie I could never escape the feeling that I was supposed to be admiring it, which of course made it even less enjoyable.

In any case, many with higher brow tastes than I enjoy such movies. If you're one of them, and haven't yet, see it.

Those shiny new Oscars will undoubtedly cause it to linger in theaters a while longer.