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Monday, May 30, 2011

Parlay that body

It is ridiculous that athletic ability plays such a large role in college acceptances. Institutes of higher learning are supposed to be about higher learning, not physical culture. But whether or not you can get up and down a pool in 20.7 seconds rather than 21.7 seconds can make the difference between getting an Ivy League education or not.

Then, once you've gotten that education and degree, your career path will likely be different than it would have been otherwise. 

But there are even more extreme instances of people parlaying their bodies into roles that they might not have originally seemed destined for. The most obvious example is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He grew up the son of a policeman in Austria. At age 14, he became obsessed with bodybuilding, and to that end worked out for several hours a day. That led to Muscle Beach in California, then to his first Mr. Olympia title (with a little pharmaceutical help) in 1970. The Mr. Olympia title led to a starring role in the documentary Pumping Iron, and from there to a Hollywood career. The money from that led to a business career (Planet Hollywood, and countless real estate investments that paid off handsomely). And the movie stardom also led to the Governor's mansion in California. It's pretty obvious that if his biceps and triceps hadn't bulged just so, he would never have become Governor.

So for those of you with gubernatorial ambitions, don't waste your time going to college and studying political science -- lift weights instead! (And juice.)

Think of Bill Bradley, who traded off his basketball ability to get himself into Princeton despite a 490 score on his verbal SAT. While at Princeton he won an Olympic gold medal as part of the US basketball team in 1964, and was named NCAA Player of the Year in 1965. Partly because of his basketball fame, he got a Rhodes Scholarship when he graduated in 1965. After two years at Oxford, he spent ten years with the New York Knicks. He ran for Senator from New Jersey the year after retiring from the Knicks in 1977, and won thanks to his name recognition. He stayed in the Senate until 1997, and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for President in 2000.

Once again, the message is clear: if you want to be a US Senator, don't spend years getting bogged down in the swamp of local politics. Practice your jump shot instead.

Think of the countless women who have traded off their looks not only to marry rich, but then, once divorced or widowed, use their inherited wealth to buy themselves respectability and occasionally even power. Would Teresa Heinz ever have become so prominent without having married Senator John Heinz? After he died in a plane crash in 1991, she became chairman of the Heinz Endowments and the Heinz Family Philanthropies. Because of those roles, she has received twelve honorary doctorates. (And she gained a further measure of fame by marrying Senator John Kerry.)

Look at her history closely, and ask yourself, what is it that earned her all those doctorate degrees -- her brain or her vagina?

It seems more of a stretch to say that Hillary Clinton capitalized on her looks, but she did trade off what must have started off as a sexual relationship to become First Lady of Arkansas, then of the United States, then a US Senator, and now Secretary of State. If it hadn't been for the existence of Barack Obama, she might even have become President.

The message here is slightly different: if you want to soar high, hitch your wagon to a sociopath.

What were Sharon Stone's main qualifications to become Global Fundraising Chairman for amfAR? A beautiful face, and a willingness to cross and uncross her legs in a movie.

Ronald Reagan followed a route to power which is actually more common among women: he traded off his good looks. He started off as a radio sports announcer, but then a screen test led to a seven year contract with Warner Brothers, which led to movie stardom. That visibility allowed him to become Governor of California, and from there, President.

What are the odds that Reagan would have become President had his facial features been arranged in a less pleasing manner?

This is the way some peoples' careers go - one thing leads to another, and it all starts with something physical. Think of Jesse Ventura. Or Jack Kemp. Had Charlemagne not been 6' 6," would he have been viewed as such a leader of men?

For some, it all starts with a hot bod.

The larger question is, were these people any better or worse at their jobs than those who followed more traditional routes to power? Schwarzenegger's popularity as Governor fluctuated more than most; he came in as a conservative determined to bring fiscal discipline to a notoriously undisciplined state, and was immediately stymied by the Democratic legislature. Bill Bradley was by most accounts a solid Senator. Kemp was respectable enough as a Congressman to be a perennial dark horse Presidential candidate. Jesse Ventura had a Schwazenegger-like term as Governor, coming in on a tide of enthusiasm for budget balancing which was quickly checked by the Democrats in the Statehouse. And at least half the country feels that Ronald Reagan was a great President. Sharon Stone was, for a while at least, an effective fundraiser for amfAR, even if her histrionics ended up embarrassing the organization. And Hillary Clinton, while a slippery politician, has at least proven to be the kind who does her homework.

It seems that traditional qualifications -- a college degree, a law degree, an entire career immersed in the minutiae of political matters -- make little difference in the long run. It all boils down to charisma, personal popularity, a cooperative legislature, circumstance, and luck.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Who would you rather be?

I've broached the subject before of people whose lives I wouldn't have minded trading my own for.

Right now, on paper at least, the Winkelvoss twins, who had the original idea for Facebook, seem to be leading awfully good lives.

I envy Mark Zuckerberg, but I wouldn't really want to be him; he may have Aspergers Syndrome, he's pale, unathletic, and weak-looking, and he's been with the same plain girlfriend for the past several years. Not to mention that he seems a somewhat scurrilous character. His money excites envy; but he doesn't.

The Winkelvoss twins are another matter. What could be better than to be 29 years old, have 60 million (and possibly much more) in the bank, and be a 6'4", good-looking, Olympic rower who trains during the day and goes clubbing at night? Plus having a twin has to be sort of neat. (Wouldn't you want your own clone?)

I'd settle for any two of those things. Okay, one.

Of course, human nature being what it is, those two probably spend 23 hours of every day gnashing their teeth over how they let Facebook get away.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

It stays with you

When I was a senior in college, I was ready to do a fast 100 fly. But at my conference championship I blew all three turns very badly (this was in the days before swimmers wore goggles, and I was very nearsighted before I had LASIKS). So I did my best time by only a few hundredths of a second, when I should have gone two seconds faster. To this day -- 34 years later -- it still galls me that I blew my opportunity like that.

I had always assumed that my continuing  regret stems from my singularly obsessive personality. But I asked a friend yesterday if he still gnashed his teeth over having blown out his anterior cruciate ligament during college and having lost his potential shot at the NBA that way. He said yes, that he thinks about it frequently.

And I've heard enough guys express such frustrations to think this is a much more common phenomenon than most realize. In fact it probably deserves its own name in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders put out by the American Psychiatric Association. Perhaps the new edition, due out in 2013, could list it as an  official syndrome. Maybe they could call it athleticus neuroticus regretitis.

My nephew just graduated from Harvard, where he was the captain of the swimming team. This past spring was Harvard's first chance to beat Princeton in the Ivy championships since his freshman year, and the meet was held in Cambridge. On paper it looked as if Harvard could win. My nephew's parents flew in from Albuquerque, his brother came out from Michigan, and my wife and daughter drove up from Connecticut to watch him swim.

Right before the meet, my nephew got sick, and so scored maybe forty points less than he would have healthy. Harvard lost the meet to Princeton by five and a half points.

An Ivy League swimming championship means nothing to the sports world at large, and means almost nothing to anybody except those who are directly involved in it. But it meant a lot to my nephew. 

I was kind enough to inform my nephew that he would probably still be reliving that meet when he was fifty. (I said this partly in an effort to convince him that he ought to extend his swimming career -- and delay his regular career -- for a few more months after graduation, since he is eligible to compete in the Pan Am Games. I told him this would help wipe the bad taste of that last meet out of his mouth.)

But I suspect that even if he does continue to swim, and does well at Pan Ams, he'll always remember his last Harvard meet with chagrin.

I've used swimming examples here, because that's what I'm most familiar with. But I think it's true of virtually every serious -- not necessarily good, but serious -- athlete who ever fell short of his goals, or missed some crucial play. Which, by the way, is roughly 99.99% of them: if only I had caught that touchdown pass. If only I hadn't bobbled that grounder. If only I hadn't pulled my hamstring junior year....

I'm guessing at least 30% of the male population suffers from this disease, more than enough to warrant inclusion in the DSM.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Live for today

I'm about a week late with this, but just wanted to register an impressionistic impression of Harold Camping.

Back in the 1970's and 1980's, before the elite runners were given their own slightly earlier start at big marathons, there would always be a couple of clowns who would sprint out to an early lead at the beginning of the race in order to get on TV. It wasn't even as if they actually thought they would convince any real fans of the sport that they were serious contenders, they just wanted to be on TV and maybe fool a couple of the uninformed onlookers into thinking that they were world class runners. (The TV announcers would usually just express annoyance with them.) These runners knew they wouldn't be able to maintain such a fast pace for long, but they would keep going as fast as they could for a mile or so before they would get winded and have to settle back, exposed as the pretenders they were.

In a way this is a somewhat sociopathic mode of thinking. Sociopaths will tell you all sorts of self-aggrandizing lies. It doesn't seem to matter that much to them that they will eventually be caught in these lies. They simply enjoy the momentary (false) glory that accrues from their tall tales. They can actually enjoy basking in someone's admiration even when they know that admiration will soon be replaced by contempt.

Likewise, by predicting the end of the world last Saturday, Harold Camping was able to bask in the world's spotlight for a few weeks (even if much of the attention he got was derogatory). Anybody who is able to accumulate as much money and as many radio stations as he has can't be crazy. So he must have known that his doomsday prediction was a lot of malarkey, to use a term from his youth. And he must have known that after May 21st he would be fully exposed as a charlatan. Yet that didn't prevent him from enjoying his moment in the spotlight.

There's a common character thread running through each of the above described behaviors.

Perhaps the next time Camping, or someone like him, predicts the end of the world, we should ask him to give all of his money away before the date. After all, if he really believes that it's all ending, his money shouldn't make any difference to him. And if he doesn't give all of his money away, we'll know he's lying.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blofeld Jr.

Serbian authorities announced today that they had arrested war criminal Ratko Mladic, who was responsible for the siege of Sarajevo which killed 10,000 in 1995 and for massacre of 8000 Muslim men and boys at Srebenica the same year.

Mladic will most likely be tried at the International Criminal Tribune in The Hague.

I was wondering whom he reminded me of, and it hit me: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the archvillain who played such a prominent role in From Russia with Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds are Forever. He is portrayed by actor Charles Gray below:

Mladic is certainly an evil man, but he is a mere piker compared to Blofeld. In Thunderball, Blofeld stole some atomic bombs from NATO and threatened to incinerate a major American or British city (later revealed to be Miami) unless he was paid one hundred million pounds. In You Only Live Twice Blofeld kidnapped Soviet and American spacecraft in an effort to start a war between the two nations. And in Diamonds are Forever, Blofeld smuggled diamonds in order to build a giant laser satellite with which he could destroy nuclear weapons in the US and Soviet Union, then auction off nuclear supremacy to the highest bidder.

Luckily for us, James Bond thwarted him at each turn.

Still, hard to be impressed by Mladic when Blofeld dreamt on such a grander scale.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Poor Richard

Arnold Schwarzenegger's preference for plainer women because they were more grateful is reminiscent of what another famous womanizer once said about older women: that they were preferable because they were more grateful for the attention. 

A few excerpts from Benjamin Franklin's  Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress:

My dear Friend,

[I]f you persist in thinking a Commerce with the [female] Sex inevitable, then I repeat my former Advice, that in all your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones. You call this a Paradox, and demand my Reasons. They are these:

...Because when Women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their Influence over Men, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility.

...Because thro' more Experience, they are more prudent and discreet in conducting an Intrigue to prevent Suspicion. The Commerce with them is therefore safer with regard to your Reputation.

...[C]overing all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.

Lastly, They are so grateful!!

Even Schwarzenegger never said that all women were the same in the dark, or that you might cover the top half of a woman with a basket (or even her head with a paper bag). So who's worse, Arnold or Ben? 

And just imagine how incorrigible Franklin would had been had he gone on steroids.

Had today's media been ascendant back then, Franklin would have been fired from his job as envoy to France due to his personal indiscretions. Had the New York Times had its way, Franklin's discovery of electricity would have probably been invalidated.

And Franklin wasn't the only Founding Father to have transgressed. If having an affair with a subordinate is considered abusive today, how abusive is it to have had an affair with one's slave, as Thomas Jefferson did?

Imagine what would have happened if those rascals had had access to campaign funds.

This blog is hardly the first place to point out that the Founding Fathers' behavior wouldn't have stood up to today's standards. But it is the first to proudly point out that given this unfortunate fact, there is only one moral course of action. 

We must repeal the Constitution now.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A narcissist, but probably not a sociopath

As more and more evidence surfaces about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, it becomes increasingly evident that he is what is called a sex addict. He made passes at two other hotel employees and an airline stewardess that same fateful weekend, and it turns out that he frequently used the same madame that Eliot Spitzer did. (One wonders, do sex addicts not know how to masturbate? Do they consider it beneath their dignity?) In any case, if Strauss-Kahn did use coercion, then he is now a rapist as well as an addict.

A number of articles out this past week have lumped Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger together, asking questions like, why do powerful men cheat? And the publicity surrounding the news of Arnold Schwarzenegger's love child has been just as lurid as that surrounding the Strauss-Kahn incident. But what Schwarzenegger did was just not as bad.  Basically, his crime was to have had an affair. According to the statistics, something like 60% of married people have affairs at some point during their marriages. (And that number would probably be a lot higher if the other 40% had more opportunities.) Did Schwarzenegger's "crime" become much worse because it resulted in a pregnancy?

Once he found out that Baena was pregnant, what was Schwarzenegger supposed to do? Convince Baena to have an abortion? By all accounts she had set her sights on him, and wanted the child. Was he supposed to divorce Maria and marry Baena? He had four children with Shriver and only one with Baena; should he have become a part time father to them so he could be a full time father to the one?

A lot of the bad publicity surrounding this affair revolves around the fact that Maria Shriver was kept in the dark for so long. But would most guys in that situation have gone to their wives and said, listen honey, just so you know, I'm having another kid with another woman?

The affair evidently transpired before Schwarzenegger became governor, back while Shriver was a busy career woman. Add to this equation the fact that Schwarzenegger has admitted using steroids, which will make your sexual needs overwhelming -- just ask Tiger. Schwarzenegger, like Bill Clinton, was a busy man, and made do with whomever was at hand. (Baena is pictured above.)

Schwarzenegger's early history as a body builder clearly shows he wasn't the nicest guy. He regularly sabotaged his opponents by giving them bad workout advice and also trying to psych them out. And it's hard to believe that he achieved all of his ambitions in Hollywood and elsewhere by being nice.

One interesting story that came to light over the past couple days was the private report which Anthony Pellicano compiled on Schwarzenegger, back when the gubernatorial run was first being considering. Pellicano uncovered lots of affairs, which is not surprising, but he also discovered one fact that was -- Schwarzenegger preferred plain women to beautiful ones because they allowed him to be the center of attention.

An excerpt from yesterday's NY Post:

LOS ANGELES -- He needs to be the prettiest face in the place! 

Disgraced ex-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reportedly picks unattractive women to bed because they fawn all over his muscle-bound bod -- and are grateful for the attention in a way gorgeous gals never are.

That revelation is one of dozens dished in a "dirty dossier" compiled by now-jailed Tinseltown gumshoe Anthony Pellicano, according to Britain's News of the World. 

"He sees himself as the dominant, beautiful one," reads the dossier, commissioned by Schwarzenegger's political backers during the buildup to his first run for office.
"The physical is most important to him and he does not want to be upstaged or lose the spotlight in company of a strikingly beautiful woman," the explosive report reads....

While filming the 1990 smash hit "Total Recall" in Mexico, Schwarzenegger allegedly had his longtime on-and-off lover Gigi Goyette flown onto the set for weekend romps. 

"The girls on set could not understand why he was bringing this plain girl down when they were all willing and able to help him commit adultery," according to the report. 

But another mistress knew why, according to the dossier. 

"She . . . confided that Schwarzenegger enjoys sex with plain women because they tend to demonstrate more admiration, adoration and excitement over his body."

This is a level of vanity which rivals that of Vinny Basciano, the mobster described seven posts ago. But Schwarzenegger doesn't have Basciano's murderous history. And he's not a rapist, which puts him a rung above Strauss-Kahn.

Schwarzenegger is obviously a narcissistic personality, in the layman's as well as strict psychological definition of the term. But I haven't seen anything to convince me that he is a sociopath.

Monday, May 23, 2011


A friend wrote last night, "It is hard to imagine that three people who were all very close to him [Lance Armstrong] are all lying." 

It is hard to imagine. It's even harder to imagine that all three men -- Floyd Landis, Frankie Andreu, and now Tyler Hamilton -- all of whom have confessed to their own doping, would have been doing that while their team leader Lance Armstrong remained clean. My guess is that had his teammates doped while Armstrong remained clean, he would have turned them in.

I said back in November that I'm convinced Lance Armstrong is a sociopath.

Again, what betrays Armstrong's sociopathy is not his willing participation in a dirty sport, it's the way he treats others and the way he presents himself.

Cycling is unquestionably the dirtiest of sports. While the article on Armstrong took up a complete half page of this morning's NY Times sports section, three pages later there was a tiny one and a half inch mention of how Albert Contador had "extended his commanding lead" in the Giro d'Italia. Contador tested positive for steroids earlier but claimed that was a result of having eaten tainted beef. He has also evidently failed a new test which shows that his blood was at one time stored in a plastic container (meaning he was blood doping).

But he cycles on.

At this point it looks as if the only way to clean up cycling would be to abolish the sport entirely.

That obviously won't happen. But in the meantime, it's looking more likely that Armstrong will be spending time in prison for fraud, conspiracy, drug trafficking, and money laundering.

We can only hope he gets caught lying to the grand jury as well.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gender Differences, Part X: Food

For men, food is basically nutrition.  For women, it is an all encompassing obsession with which they have an extremely complicated love/hate relationship.

A man's favorite meal is generally a steak. Or if he's feeling expansive, maybe surf and turf. (The sides don't really matter.) Women tend to prefer carbohydrate-heavy foods: French bread, pasta, cakes, etc.

Therein lies the problem. Carbohydrate-rich foods tend to add weight; steaks do not.

You almost never hear of men who become anorexic, or bulimic. (Interestingly, these diseases are extremely rare among blacks and Asians as well.)

Some of this is explainable by evolution, some is not. Men are visual creatures, and judge women mostly on the basis of their looks. For women, a man's looks are not quite so paramount. Therefore it is only natural that women would be more concerned with their appearance. But it's hard to believe that during most of the four million years of human evolution, it was an adaptive behavior to to stick your finger down your throat and throw up after a meal.

In the hunting and gathering era there were no refrigerators and preservatives, so overeating was generally not a problem. And people hadn't learned to refine sugar, either, so diabetes wasn't a problem, and either. When we had the opportunity, the smart thing to do was binge, for who knew when the next meal was coming?

There were also no modeling agencies. And if you did happen to get fat, there were no mirrors, so as far as you were concerned, the extra fat didn't reflect poorly on you.

But now, in the age of Wilhemina and ever present mirrors, some of the instincts acquired during those prehistoric years have more self destructive results.

A man is just as likely as a woman to take that first Dorito, intending to have only a few, and end up finishing the entire bag. But the aftereffect tends to differ. His reaction will be something along the lines of, "Ugh, I didn't mean to do that." Her reaction will be, "Oh my God! What have I done to myself?! I hate myself! I need to throw up right now!"

Men don't count calories, or join Weight Watchers, or buy diet books. Weight Watchers spokesmen are never men.

You never hear a man say, "I'm eating my feelings away." And you never hear a father admonish his son, "A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips."

Men generally don't cook, and for those who do, it's not a great sacramental rite.

And women are never proud of their beer bellies. (Back in my youth, there were actually guys who would proudly point out their bellies, as if to say, look what a badass I am!)

Al Qaeda has traditionally recruited suicide bombers by telling them that 72 virgins await them in paradise. Now that there are women suicide bombers (hurrah for feminism!), it's less clear how they are recruited. (The idea of 72 male virgins seems somehow less appealing.)

Perhaps al Qaeda promises women that Paradise is where they can have endless helpings of hummus, baba ghanoush, and baklava, without ever getting fat.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Confessions of a Beta Male, Part II

Back in December I wrote about how I had come to that most unwelcome of conclusions, that I am a beta male.

Further reflection has only reinforced that unpleasant realization:

During a conversation, an alpha male takes the measure of the other man, figuring out what makes him tick and how he can manipulate him. I worry about the kind of impression I'm making.  

An alpha male sitting next to another guy may put his arm around him, and let his leg rest against the other guy's, concerned neither with issues of personal space nor interpretation. I cross my arms and hold my legs together, careful not to touch.

An alpha shakes hands by holding his own hand close to his own body, so the other guy has to bend forward to shake, bowing slightly. The alpha then pulls the other guy forward by putting his arm around his neck in a faux-affectionate gesture. I'm usually that other guy.

When an alpha male sees a strange dog, be it a German Shepherd or Rottweiler, he squats down and massages its scalp in a rough, familiar way. I sort of turn sideways and hope it doesn't bite.

An alpha male occasionally succumbs to road rage. I'm more prone to road fear. ("I hope that guy doesn't get mad at me for cutting him off -- I didn't mean to.") If I hit my horn by accident, I wince and then shake my head at whoever might look, to let them know it was an unintentional honk.

An alpha never thinks about how much gas he is wasting by flooring the accelerator all the time. I drive like a parsimonious old lady.

When an alpha sees an attractive woman, his penis grows slightly and starts to drool. Mine shrinks as I wonder whether I'd be able to perform with her. Then I wonder how she'd react if I were unable.

Alphas never really listen to women; at most they just pretend to. I actually think about what they say, and weigh their words.

When women complain about how men are rough and egotistical and insensitive and uncouth, alpha males just think to themselves, women are so goddamn stupid. I find myself agreeing with some of those comments.

When an alpha male sees a weepie chick flick, he either falls asleep or finds it funny. I try to hide my tears.

An alpha male just loves the feel of a .357 in his hand. I find the loud report and recoil of a .22 unpleasant.

An alpha expresses his rage by throwing things, or breaking things. When I get really riled, I'll compose a sternly worded letter to the editor -- but then not send it.

When an alpha male sees a person of another race in his neighborhood, he gives him a malevolent stare, letting him know he's being watched. I try to make him feel welcome.

I console myself with the knowledge that the meek shall inherit the earth.

Recently, however, I've begun to doubt this.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 21st

(Harold Camping)

Yesterday I drove by one of those billboards which announced the end of the world this coming Saturday. Upon doing a little research on Harold Camping, I was relieved to find out that this coming Saturday, May 21st is merely Judgment Day, and that the actual end of the world is not coming until October 21st.

So we actually have five more months.

Now that I know it's all coming to an end, I have found a strange peace of mind. I just don't worry about things as much.

I no longer have to lie awake nights worrying about my son, who is now in Afghanistan. Since we're all going to perish at the same time anyway, I will be spared the pain of mourning him. 

I no longer worry about my investments. I'm not even going to bother to rewrite my will, since no one will be around to inherit what little I have. In fact, it will amount to exactly nothing anyway, since the world is going to end. (Happy thought for today: if the world explodes tomorrow, you and I will be worth the same as Bill Gates.)

I've always hated thought that I won't be able to find out what's going on after I'm dead. I now find solace in the knowledge that nothing will. 

Fortunately, my bucket list is rather short. And since it's composed mostly of things I think I ought to do -- like read more Shakespeare and Tolstoy -- I'm actually a little relieved that I won't have time to do it.

As far as all the women I've wanted to have sex with but never did, well, I'd already made peace with that long ago. And frankly, telling women that they ought to have sex with me because the world is ending anyway has never been a particularly successful line for me.

The last time I used this line was in 1994 -- which happened to be the last time Harold Camping predicted the end of the world. I must admit, I was a little embarrassed when those women sneered at me afterward, when the world didn't end.

Okay, I didn't actually use that line. But I've always wondered: how embarrassed was Camping himself? On the off chance that he might be wrong this time, how will he face his parishioners? What will he tell them? Will he just admit he was wrong?

Pat Robertson, a one time Presidential candidate, famously predicted the end of the world back in 1982. He has also predicted various other natural disasters, none of which have come to pass. He actually took credit for some of the misses, saying that his prayer had averted them.

Perhaps Camping can take a similar tack. It's doubtful that shame will stop him. That emotion rarely seems to affect people in the televangelism (or radio evangelism) business.

If Camping is capable of embarrassment, at least he won't have to feel it all that long: he is 89 years old. When you think about it, how many 89-year-olds do you know who can command this kind of attention:? Think of all the other people in their late 80's you know of. Even if they're ex-Presidents, ex-athletes, or ex-movie stars, you simply never hear about them. And the next time you can expect to is when their obituaries appear.

My own life has been such that I will not rate an obituary in the NY Times. But at least now I feel better about that, knowing as I do that after October 21st no one will get one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sammy Wanjiru, 1986 - 2011

You may remember Samuel Wanjiru from the 2008 Olympics, where he won the marathon in 2:06:32, an amazing time given the 80 degrees plus temperatures in Beijing that day. Wanjiru was the one who had lived and trained in Japan, and who spoke fluent Japanese, if that rings a bell. I remember his big smile after the race.

Away from his Olympic triumph, Wanjiru also won the Chicago and London marathons, had a personal best at the distance of 2:05:10, and set a world record in the half marathon with a 58:33. He was considered a leading candidate to break Haile Gebrselassie's world record of 2:03:58 in the marathon.

Three days ago Wanjiru's wife evidently came home to find him in bed with another woman, and locked the two of them in the bedroom. Wanjiru then jumped from the second floor balcony and died from injuries incurred in the fall. Police are investigating his death as a possible suicide.

This seems a highly unlikely suicide. First of all, young, healthy, tough, heterosexually active millionaires generally don't kill themselves. And secondly, I've never heard of anyone who's tried to commit suicide by jumping from the second floor of a house.

Note to the Kenyan police: this is pretty obviously an accident.

The Catholic church

An article on the front page of the NY Times this morning detailed a report the Catholic church had put out as to the causes of all the recent molestation incidents.

Usually when I see an article about the scandal in the Catholic church on the front page of the Times, my instinctive sympathies go to the church. The Times has had an obvious vendetta against the church ever since John Paul II came out for Palestinian rights and Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories. And whenever there is a scandal about a rabbi who molests children (and there have been several such), it never seems to make the front page of the Times.

But none of that negates the fact that a lot of priests are, in fact, child molesters. And that, frankly, will never change as long as priests are supposed to be unmarried and celibate.

The report just issued by the church today reportedly attributes the recent rash of molestations not to homosexuality within the priesthood nor to their celibacy, but rather to the backdrop of social upheaval in the 60's and 70's.

I hereby nominate that explanation as an entrant for the Lame Excuse Hall of Fame. It deserves to be enshrined next to that of the child molester who once said about a six year old girl, "Hey, she seduced me!"

There's nothing like an incredibly lame excuse to expose someone's -- or some institution's -- true character.

My feeling is that the Catholic church has always been a bastion of both homosexuality and child molestation (and no, I'm not confusing the two). What else could it possibly be given its strictures? The only difference is that the situation has become public recently in this media-driven, confessional age. There has also been a lot of publicity attendant on the fact that it is not a shameful thing to have been the victim of such when young, and this healthy development has encouraged a lot of victims to speak out.

The fact that the church has turned a blind eye to such molestation and has merely shuttled around the priests who have been caught makes one think that such predilections must reach high up into the organization. After all, the church hierarchy is composed of like-minded men, who have taken similar vows of abstinence and foregone marriage, and started out as regular priests. The only difference is, the higher ups have been more skilled at climbing the "corporate" ladder, which means they probably have even lower character.

Usually a Times article leaves me wanting to say, "Bless me Father, for I have sinned -- I have read the New York Times."

This morning's article makes me want to add, "But I don't think you're someone whose blessing I'd want."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Vanity, and vanity

The following article appeared in today's NY Post:

'Gorgeous' guilty, could be executed

Flamboyant Bonanno crime boss Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano could become the first head of a La Cosa Nostra crime family to get the death penalty, after being convicted yesterday of ordering a hit on a fellow hood.

The verdict in Brooklyn federal court capped a monthlong trial that exposed the violent -- but often zany -- underbelly of life in the 21st century New York mob.

And the trial made Mafia history when longtime Bonanno kingpin Joseph "Big Joe" Massino -- once dubbed The Last Don -- became the first boss to turn rat and spill his guts about family business.

Mobster Vincent 'Vinny Gorgeous' Basciano in his dapper days before his arrest. -
Mobster Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano in his dapper days before his arrest.

But it was the wacky day-to-day sideshows that gave the proceedings a circus-like atmosphere sure to become the stuff of wiseguy legend:

* Vinny gave the classic mob smooch the kiss of death, forbidding his crew from kissing each other on the cheek in case the feds were watching, a turncoat testified.

* Judge Nicholas Garaufis lent Vinny his own Brooks Brothers tie after prison brass refused delivery of the defendant's designer neckwear.

* A gangland-killer-turned-rat told the court how Vinny once tested his loyalty by having his gal pal try to seduce him. He passed the test.

* Vinny complained about the prison diet of cheap baloney sandwiches, so Garaufis came to the rescue again and Basciano noshed on a tasty chicken hero from the court cafeteria.

Basciano -- who refused to wear a headset for fear of messing up his perfectly-coifed 'do -- was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, murder in aid of racketeering, and an illegal gun charge. The jury will reconvene next week to decide whether he gets life in prison or execution by lethal injection. He's already serving a life sentence in prison for an earlier hit.

Several things jump out from this account. One is Nicholas Garaufis' behavior, which will be the subject of a future post. But one is just the monumental vanity of Vinny Basciano.

I am a vain man. I work out religiously, and I'm proud of having stayed fit to a relatively advanced age. Before I had LASIKS, I wore contact lenses. I often wear loafers even though running shoes feel better to walk in, and I used to wear tailored clothes.

But if I were on trial for my life, it would never even occur to me to refuse to show up in the courtroom if I couldn't wear the right tie. And it would never occur to me to not wear a headset in which I could listen to tapes relevant to my case because it might muss up my hair. This level of vanity is beyond mind-boggling. It could only be attained by an extremely narcissistic personality. (And in fact, given Basciano's murderous proclivities, it's safe to say sociopathic personality.)

Think of it this way. Basciano was a mob boss, which means no one was going to give him a nickname he didn't like. What kind of man chooses, or at least approves, the name "Gorgeous" for himself?

A man so vain he probably doesn't even think of himself as vain.

Tom Jones

In the late 60's, Tom Jones wasn't considered cool like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. He was a little too much old-fashioned crooner, a little too much like Frank and Dean and not enough like Mick.

But he was a huge star, and may have been most famous for all those concerts where the ladies in the audience would throw their panties and room keys onto the stage where he was performing. (This became a sort of tradition, more a way for them to celebrate the moment than serious invitation.)

Looking at him now on Youtube, his force-of-nature-presentation is quite evident:

His dancing seems curiously dated, and many of his moves are actually those of the go-go girls of the era, but he executes them with such masculine vigor that he gets away with them. It's also apparent how hard-working he was; his craft took a lot of energy.

But there's no mistaking the cocksure manner in which he carries himself, which was the key to his success. You can see how he became one of the great legendary womanizers.

It must have been fun living his life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

"The Great Seducer"

As you've undoubtedly heard by now, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund and the leading candidate to run on the Socialist Party ticket against Nicholas Sarkozy next year, has been accused of raping and sodomizing a hotel maid at the luxury Sofitel Hotel in New York City on Saturday.

The hotel maid has now picked Strauss-Kahn out of a police lineup.

This is a story which raises some interesting questions. First of all, why would a nominal socialist have to stay in a $3000 a night hotel room? Is a $600 a night hotel room not good enough for a man of the people? And was this a judicious use of an IMF expense account? (I can't figure out exactly what it is that a $3000 room offers that a $1000 room does not.)

Second, Strauss-Kahn's nickname was "The Great Seducer." Does this not seem a bit of a misnomer for a man who resorts to rape?

Third, Strauss-Kahn has evidently been accused of rape before (by Tristane Banon, a French journalist). Even if that accusation is not admissible in court, does this not make the current charges more credible?

Fourth, the woman he evidently raped on Saturday is a single mother from Ghana. If a conservative raped a black woman, would he not be accused of racism? Why are no such accusations being leveled against Strauss-Kahn?

And finally, fifth, is this what Whoopi Goldberg would consider "rape rape?"

(It's funny, by the way, how prior knowledge can influence one's views. Had I not known who Strauss-Kahn was, I would have said that the picture above looked like just another self-satisfied jerk. Now that this story has broken, I see.....the face of a rapist.)

Let's just hope the NY Times gives this story the same kind of continuing front page coverage they gave the Duke lacrosse "rape" case when that first broke.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A new job for the FBI profilers

The previous post about Coral Watts got me to thinking about the job of FBI profilers, and how hard it must have been to track down a serial killer who fit none of the usual patterns. But away from Watts, it's amazing how closely the FBI profilers can sometimes describe certain serial killers even before a specific suspect has emerged. the profilers can predict what kind of job the killer has, how he comes across in person, whether he's married, and what kind of social life he must have.

Law enforcement agencies have suspected for a while that the Long Island Ripper may be a cop himself, and today news came out that two NYPD cops have emerged as prime suspects in the case.

It would be interesting to see what the FBI would come up with if it were asked to provide a psychological profile of the typical man who decides to run for President. This would probably be a much easier job for them. Their profile would probably look something like this:

John Candidate grew up with a distant father, and had a weak bond with his mother. Neither of them had particularly deep feelings for him. As a result he has a strongly narcissistic personality, with delusions of grandeur, which he masks with frequent statements about how he only wants to help people and other falsely modest gestures.

Mr. Candidate is always well groomed, to the point of being fastidious about his personal appearance. He pays a great deal of attention to his wardrobe and is generally willing to spend large sums of money to look good.

He will generally say anything to please others, regardless of how little truth there is to his statements. This tendency along with a keen sense of what motivates others allows him to be quite effective at manipulating those around him. This accounts in large part for the success he has achieved so far.

He also makes promises quite readily; but even if at the time he has the vague intention of keeping them, later on he feels little need to actually make good on them.

Although Mr. Candidate is adept at spotting others weaknesses and motivations, he has a low level of insight into his own, and tends to believe his own superficial statements about his desire to serve. He is quite glib, and is skilled at lying with seeming sincerity.

He is a very outward-directed person: he tends to feel empty inside unless he has approval from others, and thus has a bottomless need for approval and validation. He is married, but regards his marriage and even his own children primarily as window dressing. In fact, all of his personal relationships are based on how others can benefit him. Friendship for its own sake is an alien concept to him.

John Candidate has an ordinary physical sex drive, but a very low level of inhibition, so has a tendency to get into a lot of sexually-motivated entanglements.

Sound familiar?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sociopath alert: Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich, who declared that he was running for President yesterday, is someone whose sociopathy I've always been unsure about. There was that one famous incident where he asked his first wife for a divorce when she was in the recovery room recuperating from a cancer operation. Marriage is difficult and many people end up getting divorced, but to ask your wife for a divorce while she's still in the hospital gives off the very distinct -- and malodorous -- scent of sociopathy. (That version of events has been disputed by Gingrich himself, and his daughter has said that it was her mother who originally suggested the divorce.)

But apart from that one possible incident, I hadn't heard much about him that broadcast sociopathy, and you can't draw such a conclusion from just one incident, especially if it may not have happened as reported. I did read once that one of the people who had worked for him had once said, "Well, he may be a sociopath, but he's our sociopath." That still was not enough to convince me; a lot of people use the word who don't necessarily have a good feel for the syndrome.

The "Early life" section of the Wikipedia entry on Gingrich doesn't have any glaring clues which foretell sociopathy, as is sometimes the case. His mother's marriage to his biological father reportedly fell apart within days, perhaps a small hint to a troubled background. But after that Gingrich was raised by his mother and stepfather in what seemed a relatively stable way.

But then this article by John Podhoretz appeared in this morning's NY Post:

Podhoretz hinted at Gingrich's out of control ego several times. But there was one quote that really jumped out: Gingrich explained his various infidelities by saying, "There's no question at times in my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."

The quote reminded me of Bill Clinton's explanation of his affair with Monica Lewinsky: "I've tried to do a good job taking care of this country, even when I haven't taken such good care of myself and my family and my obligations."

That was enough for me. 

Lots of people have affairs. But only sociopaths justify them as a byproduct of excessive patriotism and hard work.

(Here is Part II of the case for Gingrich's sociopathy.)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Where are all the death penalty opponents?

It has become increasingly apparent that Osama bin Laden was executed, rather than killed while "reaching for a gun," as the Obama administration initially claimed. And even if Barack himself didn't personally instruct Seal Team Six specifically to kill bin Laden, it's stretches credulity to think that this was not tacitly understood to be the aim of the mission all along.

Which brings up the question of the death penalty.

Death penalty opponents tend to pick their poster boys (and girls) very carefully. They try to publicize cases where there might be a modicum of doubt, or where the condemned person's comeliness might play upon the public's sympathies more effectively.

They have wisely chosen not to make bin Laden their poster boy to demonstrate the brutality and inherent unfairness of the death penalty. Admittedly, this was not the usual court-ordered, due process, three-decades-on-Death-Row scenario. And Seal Team Six is not Old Sparky.

Nonetheless, it is clear that bin Laden was executed.

And it was the Obama administration which originally wanted to try terrorists as civilians -- witness Eric Holder's long effort to have Khalid Sheik Mohammed tried in New York City as a common criminal, rather than in Guantanamo as an enemy combatant. Mohammed had a direct role in the 9/11 killings; if he is not an enemy combatant, then neither was Osama bin Laden. Both men were on the same team, guided by the same ideology, and involved in the same killings.

Yet bin Laden was put down as if he were a rabid dog.

And what do the death penalty opponents have to say about this? So far, nothing. There has only been the proverbial deafening silence.

Maybe Eric Holder, who is currently trying to prosecute the CIA operatives who were involved in the waterboarding which elicited the information which allowed the CIA to track down bin Laden, should now bring a wrongful death suit against the White House.

A belated movie review (from my son)

Johnny, with extra time on his hands before he leaves for Afghanistan, has been watching a lot of movies on his computer. Although I warned him not to, he recently saw Never Say Never Again, the James Bond film which Sean Connery returned to the series to make in 1983. (The movie's title was an inside joke based on the fact that Connery hard reportedly said after making Diamonds are Forever in 1971 that he would "never again" make another Bond film.)

This was my son's review: "Ugh! I mean, Uuuuggggghhhh!"

I couldn't agree more. 

I remember having looked forward to this movie so much after a decade of listless Roger Moore movies: finally, the real Bond was going to be back! But when I saw him on screen, the now unmistakeably middle-aged Connery seemed to be playing him

I felt like a Muslim looking at a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad.

Speaking as someone who feels that Sean Connery (Connery, not Bond) is the embodiment of all that is masculine and good in the world -- speaking as someone who will actually feel sad when he dies -- I still feel that for him to have taken part in such a travesty is almost deserving of a....fatwa. He profaned himself as much as anything else, but it was still sacrilegious.

Connery should have stuck with his original pronouncement.

And Johnny should have listened to my advice: Never see Never Say Never Again.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Gender Differences Part IX: Shopping

The basic difference when it comes to shopping is, women enjoy it and men don't. 

Being in a clothing store is an almost physical pleasure for women. And that feeling goes right down to the core of their souls. When a woman looks at a rack of designer dresses, she vibrates with an almost orgasmic excitement. To put up a "Sale" sign in front of such women is to wave a red flag in front of a bull.

For men, if a pair of pants fits comfortably, that's good enough. So they will mail order to save themselves the trouble of a trip to the store. For women, they must fit perfectly. And they like to look at things in person, try things on, feel them, and smell them.  

For a man, an outfit is a way to stay warm and pass minimal muster. For a woman, it is personal validation.

Most men have no clue what is in fashion from one year to the next. Women will be able to tell you whether your clothes are current, passe, or "retro."

If you want to know what was in fashion thirty years ago, look at the clothes that 70-year-old men wear.

I've never heard of a guy who wears a suit once, then returns them to the store for a refund. And then repeats the process again, so he can look well-dressed.

What do you get when you tell a woman she has the national treasury of a country at her disposal? Imelda Marcos, with her 3000 pairs of shoes. Or Michelle Duvalier, with those roomfuls of expensive furs to keep her warm in Haiti. (Not that Ferdinand Marcos or Baby Doc Duvalier were any better.)

If a man buys something for the house, chances are that what he is replacing was broken. This is why you're likely to find men at Home Depot, or the local hardware store. If woman is shopping for something for the house, chances are that what she is replacing......just wasn't good enough. So you're more likely to find women at Crate and Barrel, or Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

After going to a foreign country, or just visiting a museum, women like to buy keepsakes. If they don't have a memento, to them it's as if the visit never happened. 

Women see shopping as a good way to spend an afternoon. Men see it as something to do on the way to something else, a chore.

Shopping simply doesn't stimulate the pleasure centers of men's brains; therefore it never occurs to them that they should deny that they enjoy it. Women, on the other hand, are forever maintaining that shopping is "hard work."

I once asked a woman where she was going, and she replied, "Shopping." When I asked what for, she said, "I'll know when I see it."

I've never heard a man say that.

"Shop, shop, shop till you drop" was not an expression coined for men.

Women justify shopping expenses by calculating how much they "saved" by not buying another item. This particular logic escapes most males. 

All of this is not to say that men don't waste money. They just tend to waste it all at once. On an expensive car. On a boat. At the race track. Or in a casino.

Not all men are like this; but not all women are as described above either.

Just the less intelligent members of each gender.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sociopath alert: William Melchert-Dinkel

An article about a particularly vile specimen of humanity appeared on Yahoo News this morning from the AP. The first several paragraphs: 

Man convicted of aiding suicides faces sentencing

MINNEAPOLIS – A former Minnesota nurse convicted of aiding suicides by trolling Internet chat rooms and encouraging depressed people to kill themselves could see little or no time behind bars when he is sentenced Wednesday.

William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, was convicted in March of two counts of aiding suicide in the deaths of an English man and a Canadian woman. Under state law, he faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine for each count, but worksheets prepared by probation officers as part of the pre-sentencing report point to much less — and presume that a prison sentence would be stayed.

Rice County District Court Judge Thomas Neuville, who convicted Melchert-Dinkel in March, will be the one who decides the sentence after reading the worksheets and hearing the recommendations of prosecutors and defense attorneys and any comments from the victims' families.

Prosecutors say Melchert-Dinkel was obsessed with suicide and hanging and sought out potential victims online. They say he posed as a suicidal female nurse to win his victims' trust, then entered false suicide pacts and offered detailed instructions on how people could take their own lives.

Court documents say Melchert-Dinkel, a former nurse from the southern Minnesota town of Fairbault, told police he did it for the "thrill of the chase." He acknowledged participating in online chats about suicide with up to 20 people and entering into fake suicide pacts with about 10 people, five of whom he believed killed themselves.

Melchert-Dinkel declined a jury trial, leaving Neuville to decide whether he was guilty. He was convicted in the death of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, who hanged himself in 2005; and in the death of Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario, who jumped into a frozen river in 2008.

If people, especially those suffering from incurable diseases, want to kill themselves, they ought to be allowed to do so as painlessly as possible and with some dignity. Unfortunately, the field of assisted suicide attracts the wrong kind of person. Jack Kevorkian was one case in point. William Melchert-Dinkel is another.

Melchert-Dinkel's motivation wasn't humanitarian, it was the opposite. As he confessed to police, he did it for "the thrill of the chase." He just wanted to see how many people he could get to kill themselves. He enjoyed tinkering with others' lives in as destructive a way as he could.

Which is generally a sociopath's favorite activity.

And after his first "success," rather than feel guilty about it, Melchert-Dinkel eagerly sought out more victims. And these victims weren't the terminally ill, but simply depressed people -- like 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji, who might otherwise have led a productive life.

Melchert-Dinkel, in typically sociopathic fashion, was dishonest to his core. After telling his victims that he was depressed too, he would then enter into a false suicide pact with them. He even lied about who he was, telling them he was a female.

For whatever reason, male nurses seem to be disproportionately represented among serial killers. And Melchert-Dinkel, even if he didn't lay a hand on his victims, was effectively a serial killer. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

The good news, and the really good news.

Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, has been found and killed.

Just in time to knock Wills and Kate off the front pages.

Big News!

Osama bin Laden was still alive two days ago!

I'm honestly not sure which to be more surprised about, the fact that we finally got him, or the fact that he was still thriving as of two days ago.

After all those reports of bin Laden possibly having been killed in the initial Tora Bora bombings, after all the stories about how he was on dialysis and had only a short time to live, after all that speculation about how those videos of him were actually fakes, it's a little surprising to find out that he was still breathing two days ago.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, in a distant land, there lived a young prince who wanted to marry a beautiful maiden. He did find a young lass, who, if not quite the fairest of them all, was good-looking enough. And he didn't have to slay any dragons or anything like that to win her hand, because, well, after all, he was a prince, and she wanted to be a princess.

So they got married in a big ceremony at the local abbey. And all the townspeople rejoiced. In fact, many more people than that rejoiced, because the wedding was actually seen by three billion people around the world, thanks to a special magical box which had been invented by wizards from across the ocean. 

And the prince and princess lived happily ever after.

Well, at least they did until the honeymoon was over. Then things got a bit more complicated. But that is another tale, which shall unfold later.

But the rest of the world's people, or at least the four billion who didn't bother to watch the ceremony on the magical box, did live happily ever after. 

For they no longer had to be bombarded with news of the impending nuptials.

(Apologies to the Brothers Grimm, but not to Wills and Kate.)