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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Confessions of a Beta Male Part III: Shame

The ease with which I can come up with examples of my own beta status grows ever more embarrassing. At the same time, the more I delve into the subject, the clearer it becomes that being an alpha is often a matter of having a narcissistic personality. 

When I was younger, if some girl found out that I had an unrequited crush on her, I would be absolutely mortified. Alphas never get "crushes," they merely rank girls in order of how badly they want to do them.

When I was young man, I found being turned down by a girl absolutely devastating.  I didn't just feel rejected, I acquired a new identity -- as a reject. A rejected alpha simply concludes, well whaddaya know -- a rug muncher!

If an alpha is unable to perform sexually with a woman, he thinks to himself, mildly disgruntled, how am I suppose to get excited about that fat ass anyway? Stupid bitch oughta spend more time on a treadmill. (If he's really alpha, he'll give voice to that thought.) When I am unable, I think, Oh my god, I'm turning gay!

An alpha male never has trouble urinating in front of others. I breathe a silent sigh of relief when I walk into a restroom and see those barriers between the urinals.

An alpha male just farts when he feels like it, thinking that since it doesn't smell so bad to him it can't be that bad for others. And if it does smell bad to them, so what? I hold mine in until I get a stomachache, then walk to another room to let it out, praying I can do so silently.

An alpha male feeling a burp coming on will try to make it as loud and drawn out as possible. Afterward he may inhale air in effort to duplicate the first one. If I burp, I cravenly beg for forgiveness.

If an alpha shows up to some function dressed inappropriately, it doesn't faze him in the least. If I do, I spend the rest of the evening feeling like a sore thumb.

If someone has the impression an alpha is better than he is at something, he feels no need to clarify the issue. He just basks in their admiration. I always feel obliged to list the various asterisks attached to my accomplishment in dreary detail.

When an alpha feels schadenfreude, it doesn't even occur to him that that's what he's feeling. He simply exults in his acquaintance's failure. When I feel schadenfreude, the joy is immediately tempered by the sobering realization that I am not a nice person.

When an alpha gets caught in a lie, he will just come up with another lie to cover it up. If he gets caught in a lie he cannot possibly get out of, he may say something like, "I hang my head in shame," exuding a sincerity he does not feel. I actually hang my head in shame.

If I insult someone, whether intentionally or unintentionally, I feel bad and spend the next few weeks trying to make up for it. An alpha just forgets what he said, then wonders why other guy is acting so sore.

If an alpha says something stupid, he tends to defend his statement, no matter how lamely. If I say something stupid, I feel stupid.

If an alpha loses his temper, he always feels self-righteous about it afterward: "Hey, I care." My thought the next day is usually: what in the world got into me?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fine lines

The previous post raises a few philosophical questions about some other laws governing sex.

Why is it that in some states, such as Connecticut, 16 is the age of consent, whereas in most others, it's 18? Do girls in Connecticut mature more quickly? Theoretically, a 50 year old man could have consensual sex with a girl on her 16th birthday here and be within the law. But if that same man has sex with a girl in Massachusetts the day before her 18th birthday, he is committing statutory rape. Does that seem right?

Everybody disapproves of someone who has sex with a retarded person. Back in 1989, four high school boys from Glen Ridge, NJ, got into big trouble when they had sex with a retarded girl. The cutoff for retardation is generally considered to be an IQ of 70. But how about someone with a score of 75, or 85? People with those IQs are generally not able to make intelligent decisions either. Is it okay to have sex with them?

In the same way that it's considered worse for a 50 year old man to have sex with a 15 year old girl than it is for an 18-year-old to do the same, is it worse for a man with an IQ of 150 to seduce a woman with a low IQ than for a man with an IQ of 90 to do so?

Of course, any time a line is drawn, anyone can use similar logic to point out the absurdity of its location. I am pro-choice. But I once heard someone point out that if you abort a baby the minute before it's born, you've done something perfectly legal, yet if you kill it the minute after it's born, you've committed murder. I had to admit, the distinction did seem awfully arbitrary.

Lines are by definition fine. And exactly where they get drawn is always going to be a judgment call. I certainly believe that 14-year-olds should be off limits to adults for sex. And also that 21-year-olds ought to be allowed to make their own decisions -- and mistakes. But the precise location of any such line will inevitably ignore human differences in wisdom and maturity.

After all, even intelligent, experienced 84-year-olds can make stupid decisions in that regard.

Just ask Hef.

Selective disapproval

There is a large contingent of people who disapprove of gay marriage, and a smaller group who disapprove of gays in general. This latter position seems particularly ludicrous, given that gays can't help but be gay. Many liberal supporters of gay marriage are vociferous in their disapproval of people who disapprove of gay marriage.

And it does seem reasonable that if two human beings really love each other -- if they're soulmates -- it shouldn't make any difference that both have penises or vaginas. (As in, "I fell in love with a person who just happens to be a man.")

Yet many of those same liberals disapprove of another type of love: that between an older man and a younger woman. I've heard many liberal middle-aged women who approve of gay marriage speak absolutely scathingly about older men who date younger women. But why is that wrong? After all, if two people are soulmates, what difference does it make if one has more wrinkles than the other? What kind of person would be so narrow-minded as to divide people up along such superficial lines?

(To be fair, I've never heard a liberal woman suggest that marriage between older men and younger women be made illegal, which is perhaps the more appropriate comparison here; but at the same time, I've certainly never heard one speak approvingly of such a union.)

Even more ironic, many of those with whom the concept of a "dirty old man" has great currency take a "You go girl" attitude towards cougars.

Such selective disapproval, as always, indicates a double standard.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Billy Bulger

William Bulger had a remarkable career, particularly in light of his brother Whitey's criminal history. Billy was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1961, then to the State Senate in 1970, and served as President of the Massachusetts Senate from 1978 to 1996. In 1996, he was appointed President of the University of Massachusetts/Boston by then-Governor William Weld.

That Whitey Bulger is a sociopath goes without saying. He was extremely treacherous, and played people off against each other, betrayed partners, and almost certainly committed at least 19 murders.

Character tends to run in families. So did the same character traits which helped Whitey climb to the top of the criminal heap in Boston help propel Billy in his rise to the top of the Massachusetts Senate? Did he, like Whitey, curry the right contacts, foment discord, and betray people whenever it would benefit him?

To what extent did Whitey himself actually help Billy's career? Billy was continually reelected from South Boston, the base of his brother's criminal empire. It's not hard to imagine Whitey helping the turnout for Billy the same way Mayor Daley did for John F. Kennedy in Cook County in 1960.

And to what extent did Billy aid his brother when Whitey was on the lam? Billy eventually admitted to speaking to his brother on a pay phone once, an act for which then-governor Mitt Romney forced him from his Presidency of the University of Massachusetts. But it's not hard to imagine that the contacts -- and the aid -- far exceeded that one call.

When they were young, Whitey took to the streets, while Billy gravitated to more bookish pursuits. Billy certainly can't be blamed for Whitey's criminal career. Nor would I blame him for aiding his fugitive brother. (It would, in my opinion, be more sociopathic to turn in one's own brother than to aid him, even if he his a criminal.)

But the more interesting question is, did the same personal traits which helped Whitey rise to the top of the criminal world help propel Billy in his political career? It would, of course, be impossible to give any sort of rigorous quantitative answer to that.

But my guess is, yes.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Corporate workshops

It's hard to imagine a bigger waste of time and money than the typical corporate retreat. Some weasel with an IQ of 110 dreams up an idea which sounds good, and which makes him sound like a go-getter, and everyone else has to go along with it or risk looking like a foot dragger.

The department at the investment bank where I used to work had such retreats now and then. One was a workshop on communications -- because, "hey, we're in the communications business." (What business isn't, at one level or another?) But even though we all knew perfectly well that nothing would come of it, anybody who questioned the value of such a conference would have looked like less than an enthusiastic team player, the kiss of death for anyone's career.

So, we had a weekend workshop on improving information flow. Yes, the department would have run more efficiently had every player access to every piece of information every minute. But that, by its nature, is impossible. This, of course, didn't stop people from paying lip service to the concept all weekend long.

For the next couple weeks at work I scrutinized everyone's behavior to see if anyone was making an effort to communicate better. I couldn't see one change in behavior from a single person on the trading floor. (You'd think that people would have at least made some pro forma attempt, but I could see none.)

It reminded me of all the times the partners would pontificate about how we had to have better cooperation, and teamwork, and less interdepartmental infighting -- as if that was going to change anybody's behavior. Or as if backbiting and taking all of the credit but none of the blame was not how they had risen to the top.

One of the problems with these retreats is, they are almost always led by people who speak in cliches. And the problem with that is, people who speak in cliches tend to think in them too. Which means that they are unable to think for themselves, and thus have nothing original to add. Does it really do anybody any good to hear that we've got to be proactive, not reactive? That we can't fall asleep at the wheel?  That we've got to learn to multitask? That we have to leverage our strengths? That there's no "I" in team? That we've got to be self starters? That we're a value added company? That we have to think outside the box?

And it always seems to be the people who are most guilty of falling asleep at the wheel, etc, who are most vociferous about others not doing so.

The worst movie I've ever seen was probably Uptown Girls. My daughter wanted to see it when she was six, so I dutifully took her, despite its one star rating. Even at that age, my daughter sensed that it wasn't a very good movie (and this was an age at which she loved Baby Geniuses).

I would rather sit through five consecutive showings of Uptown Girls than have to attend another corporate retreat.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


New York approved gay marriage last night.

I support gay marriage for the same reason I'm against affirmative action: because I'm for equal rights.

A black kid from the inner city ought to have a leg up when it comes to college admissions, but so should a white kid from Appalachia. And a middle class black kid ought not to have an advantage over a middle class white kid.

Equality is a fairly straightforward concept.

Yet most who support gay marriage also support affirmative action. And most of those against affirmative action are also against gay marriage.

Isn't each of set of opinions contradictory?

Whether, in some distant bedroom, someone else's penis is entering a vagina or an anus is of no great moment to me. As long as it doesn't cost me any money, I don't care.

I doubt the Libertarian Party will adopt that as their motto.

(But it actually wouldn't make a bad one.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011


It's a little weird that Whitey Bulger has been caught so soon after Osama bin Laden was killed. The two men were at the top of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list for well over ten years (bin Laden's tenure began right after the U.S. Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998). You couldn't walk into a post office without seeing a poster with both of their pictures prominently displayed. (I always found those posters far more interesting than the displays of stamp designs.)

Bulger was finally arrested yesterday with longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig, after having been on the run since 1995. It had long been speculated that the two were in Europe somewhere, as Bulger was reported to have deposited cash and jewelry in safety deposit boxes all over the Continent. But it turns out they had been hiding in plain sight for fifteen years in a apartment complex three blocks from the beach in Santa Monica.

It will be interesting, when the photographs of the two come out, to see whether they had had as much plastic surgery as they were rumored to have had.

Bulger is charged with 19 murders; it's a fairly safe bet that he is guilty of many more. Reading his biography on Wikipedia is a fascinating trip through the 20th century crime. He was first arrested in 1943, at age 14, and was involved in crime for pretty much the rest of his life, except for the four years he spent in the Air Force, from 1948 to 1952. (He spent time in the stockade after committing numerous assaults, and was also arrested for going AWOL, but still managed to obtain an honorable discharge.) After being convicted of armed robbery in 1956, Bulger was actually incarcerated for a while at Alcatraz, when it was still a federal penitentiary.

After being released from prison in 1965, Bulger rose rapidly through the ranks of organized crime in South Boston, mostly by killing his rivals -- as well as some of his allies -- but also by informing on many of them to the FBI. Eventually he rose to become head of the Winter Hill Gang, a much feared crime group in South Boston.

The Jack Nicholson character in The Departed, Frank Costello, was based on Bulger.

Still, hearing about Bulger being arrested now feels a little like it felt to hear that bin Laden had been killed: it's a little surreal. It's just been so long since Bulger was anything but a disembodied face on a wanted poster that it's almost like hearing about a fictional character coming to life.

Bulger is 81, and evidently in poor health now. Bulger has now been remanded to Massachusetts, a state without the death penalty. But given the average amount of time that the average prisoner spends on death row, it's highly unlikely he ever would have been executed anyway.

In The Departed, Costello was shot dead while still in his prime. Given the number of people he killed, that would have been a more appropriate ending for Bulger as well.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Gender Differences, Part XII: Haircuts

With men, a trip to the barber's registers somewhere between a trip to the dentist and a stop at the gas station on the enthusiasm meter. For women, a trip to the hair salon tends to be a much larger, all encompassing experience. They will actually look forward to their appointment.

You never hear a man say that he feels better about himself after a haircut.

No man brings a picture of his favorite movie star to the barber shop and says, "Make me look like him." Women sometimes think that a better version of themselves is that easily attainable.

The percentage of men who dye their hair at age 50 is probably less than ten. For women, it's closer to ninety.

No man ever goes home and eagerly asks his wife, "So what do you think of my new haircut?"

Men often ask for the same barber, but rarely get to really know him. Women develop a personal relationship with their hairstylists.

Barbers rarely have to double as psychotherapists.

A man will have his hair cut when it starts to get a little shaggy. A woman will have her hair done -- has to have it done -- right before an important event.

If a man is not happy with his haircut, he will rarely go back to have his hair done again.

Most men just go to the cheapest place in town. A woman sees a trip to the salon as an investment.

Barbershops tend to be unpretentious places. There are expensive barbers for men -- think John Edwards and his four hundred dollar haircut. But only a very small percentage of men go to those.

Hair salons can be extremely pretentious, however. Just look at the names of some of the more famous hairdressers,with their middle names included, or their hyphenated last names. Even worse, they sometimes go by just one name: Garren of New York. Oribe. Cristophe.

At fancy restaurants, often, the more you pay for a meal, the less food you actually get. Salons are not dissimilar: the more you pay for a cut, the more it seems as if they are doing you a favor by deigning to touch your hair.

But at these places, you're not just paying for a cut. The women who go to fancy salons want an entire presentation. They want to be fussed over, with flair and flamboyance. They want that semi-hypnotic effect of having hands fluttering over their heads, trimming, patting, combing, massaging, teasing, eventually bringing them to a mental orgasm. (Everything their husbands don't do for them.)

And then, at the very end, they want to be unveiled, like Pygmalion's statue. If their hairdresser just said, matter-of-factly, "Ok, you're done," it would be supremely anticlimactic. They want someone to gush, "Oh, baby, you look gorgeous! Darling, you look absolutely fabulous!!" (It's worth the extra two hundred bucks to hear that.)

This is probably part of the reason straight men are never hairdressers: they wouldn't be able to pull that presentation off with the same emphasis and feeling.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Note to Hef

A few days ago it came out that your fiance, 25 year old Crystal Harris, walked out on you a week before the wedding.

Trust me, you're better off.

Some witches look the part. But some travel among us disguised as beautiful young women. Those are the most dangerous, because they can put us under an entirely different kind of spell, one which renders us stupid. And some of these are particularly skillful at separating men from their money.

Be thankful you held onto yours.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Anthony Weiner, deja vu

One of the most striking things about l'affaire Weiner is how quick the other Democrats were to throw him under the bus. When Bill Clinton was caught with Monica, the Democrats quickly rallied around  him and pooh-poohed the affair as "just sex." When Charlie Rangel, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was caught not paying his taxes, there were no big cries for his resignation from fellow Democrats. But when Anthony Weiner was caught with his pants down, nobody stood up for him. Not even those team players and consummate spin artists Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

One has to assume that this was in large part because of Weiner's abrasive personality. Those of us who knew him as a talking head on TV knew that it didn't take much to set him off. He always seemed to be on the verge of another fit of hysterical anger if anyone disagreed with him. He was reportedly this way behind the scenes as well, even with his fellow Democrats.

There was a guy on my swim team in college who looked a little like Weiner. This guy was constantly boasting, and always left nonswimmers with the impression that he was the best swimmer on the team, which was far from true. He had strong social climbing instincts, and always wanted to know what other students' parents did. He could be charming at times, and was skillful at flattery, though he would erupt in near-hysterical anger at the hint of a slight. But the most striking thing about him was that while he was capable of both compliments and insults to people to their faces, during the entire three years I knew him I never once heard him say a single good thing about anybody behind his back.

The resemblance to Weiner was more than physical.

To know such a narcissistic personality is to despise him. Which explains why nobody stood up for Weiner.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The evolution of demonstrations, 1960 - 2011

Think of all the recent widely publicized demonstrations. Students in London riot because they're being asked to pay for a larger share of their college educations. Greeks riot because of the austerity measures needed to save their extremely overextended country. Public employees in Wisconsin occupy the Statehouse because their pensions and benefits might be brought more into line with the private sector which pays for them.

Then think of the demonstrations which took place forty and fifty years ago. Students demonstrated against the Viet Nam War. Blacks marched to protest segregation.

A rally for true justice is more justifiable. Today's demonstrations are more often about hanging on to special privileges.

Years ago, Americans would have been embarrassed to riot about keeping their fat pensions. It would have felt greedy.

As recently as 2003 Americans marched en masse to protest the imminent invasion of Iraq -- to preserve peace and avoid bloodshed. But the trend in demonstrations seems to be more and more towards narrow self-interest.

It gets harder and harder to muster any sympathy for the protesters. Public employees now make more money than those in the private sector. The cause of civil rights has long since been turned on its head. A demonstration seem to be an excuse for indulging one's inner vandal rather than for protesting any real injustice.

That brings me to another telling point: the best way to judge a demonstration is by the amount of property damage and the trash generated by the demonstrators. It is almost always directly proportionate to the self-indulgence of the cause.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gender differences Part XI: Drinking styles

Drinking is another area where behavioral differences between the sexes just seems to occur naturally. Men and women aren't taught that they have to drink a certain way, nor is this a subject which feminists harp about as an area of discrimination. It's just that the sexes naturally gravitate towards different drinking styles.

Although several of the previous posts about gender differences, for example the piece on shopping, scoffed at women, females are generally much more civilized drinkers. Men can be just incredibly mindless and even self-destructive when it comes to alcohol.

Men frequently try to outdrink each other. (What exactly is the upside of proving you can imbibe more poison?) I've never heard a woman say, "I can drink you under the table," except in the movies. It happened at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, proving once again that if Hollywood believes in it, it isn't reality.

I've never seen a woman throw up, and then continue to drink.

When men get drunk, they tend to grow beer muscles, those phantom appendages which make them think they're more studly than they are. I've never seen a woman flex hers.

Women don't walk into bars with the vague intention of getting into a brawl. You never hear, "She's the kind of gal you want on your side in a bar fight."

I've never known of a woman who gets drunk and decides that mailbox baseball is a good idea. Nor that stealing street signs or traffic cones are clever things to do.

If you think of drinking as one big game of Truth or Dare, men will usually take the dare, whereas the truth, after being strained through the sieve of their drunken egos, tends to become a bit fuzzy. Women tend to opt for the truth, or at least their own emotional truth as they perceive it.

Men tend to see drinking as a glorious activity, in keeping with their greater egotism. While they're drunk, their egos can soar, unfettered by the bonds of sober reality. Women see a drink as their friend, someone to comfort them and keep them company and make them feel warm inside.

Both sexes tend to find the other more attractive and likable when they're drunk. "Beer goggles" are generally thought of as male apparel, but women wear them too. 

Men drink because it's a blast to get shit-faced. Women sometimes drink because they feel they need to in order to fit in.

Women tend to like either sweet drinks, or drinks which make them look sophisticated. Women never drink to prove their femininity, whereas men do drink to prove their masculinity. "Manly" drinks include whiskey and a gin and tonic. (A man would have to be awfully confident in his masculinity to order a Brandy Alexander or a Manhattan.)

Public urination is more a male thing. That may have something to do with the mechanics involved, but it probably also is a function of the volume of liquid consumed while drinking beer, which is primarily a male beverage. (The ever present smell of stale urine in certain public places like the New York City subway system is enough to make one want to bring back Prohibition.)

Men tend to be more confident (and therefore more dangerous) drunk drivers.

Once you've been around enough drunks while sober, you begin to develop a real appreciation for inhibitions. Especially male inhibitions. It may be love that makes the world go round, but it's inhibitions that make it work.


Lizzie Grubman was in the news a couple days ago, for not paying her chauffeur and hairstylist. In 2001, Grubman was asked to move her Mercedes from a fire lane outside a Hamptons nightclub. She responded, "Fuck you, white trash" in a fit of drunken rage and drove it into a crowd of people outside the club. Sixteen people were injured.

The only other Lizzie I've ever heard of is Lizzie Borden, the turn of the century spinster who may -- or may not -- have given her father and stepmother forty whacks.

Apart from those two, there's only Lizzie Mcguire, who is fictional, and doesn't count.

So go ahead and name your daughter Elizabeth if you like. But just don't call her Lizzie if you don't want her to become notorious.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Black widow

This morning Yahoo ran a story about Betty Neumar, who died yesterday. She left behind a trail of dead husbands, all of whom died in mysterious circumstances:

The odds of having one's husband die in mysterious circumstances are pretty small. Let's just say for argument's sake they're one in a hundred (I'm pretty sure the odds are substantially less). That would make the odds of having all five husbands die in such circumstances .01 to the fifth power, or one in ten billion.

It makes one just a tad suspicious that ol' Betty might have had something to do with those deaths.

Here is her picture:

She doesn't look like a happy woman. And the fact is, sociopaths never have the sort of quiet contentment that others can have. They will always have something gnawing at them: some bitterness, or hatred, or resentment, or envy. They never know the quieter, happier, more peaceful emotions.

By the time we get to the ends of our lives, chances are we will have been burned, or at least singed, by at least one sociopath. (Had you married Ms. Neumar, she likely would have been the cause of that end.) But sociopaths' lack of anything even remotely resembling inner peace is one thing that we should keep in mind: for all the harm they've caused us, for all the damage they've wrought in the world, we're still happier than they are.

I personally have never felt that living well (or, at least, better than them) was sufficient revenge.

But it's certainly better than nothing.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Mini

Yesterday my wife competed in the NY Mini 10K race in Central Park. The race, which originated in 1972, is supposed to symbolize the progress that women have made in sport. Two months before that original Mini, women were allowed to run officially in the Boston Marathon for the first time. Three months after that Mini, President Nixon signed Title IX legislation, mandating that women be given equal funding for sports programs at any institution receiving federal aid.

So now every year women celebrate their equal rights with the NY Mini -- a race that excludes men.

That's progress.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sociopath alert: Frank Abagnale.

You may remember the movie Catch Me if You Can, which was released in 2002. Frank Abagnale is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, then still in his teen heartthrob phase (Titanic had been made just five years before). His chief pursuer from the FBI is Tom Hanks, who gamely plays the role of an incurable square, a mere foil to the brilliance of Abagnale/DeCaprio.

Abagnale is portrayed as a charming con man, and we delight in his cleverness as he gets away with various impersonations and scams: how quick he is on his feet! How clever he is! What nerve! The movie allows us to experience the delight a sociopath takes in fooling others. (When a sociopath fools you, that "proves" to him that he is smarter than you; and when he fools the world, that proves he must be the smartest man in the world.) Abagnale's cons are portrayed as relatively harmless youthful pranks.

This is life inside a sociopath's head.

Abagnale would have to have been a sociopath in order to want to, and be able to, pull all his scams off. So he may be charming, but he's also incurably impulsive, completely narcissistic, and untrustworthy -- as are all sociopaths. And even if the movie makes him seem lovable, well, rest assured he would never return that feeling.

A quick look at the rest of Abagnale's (real, not cinematic) life reveals plenty of other hints to his sociopathy. His parents divorced when he was 16, and he was the only one of the four children to be remanded to the custody of his father. However, his father was also his first scam victim. According to Wikipedia, "As Frank Jr. grew interested in women, he found that he could not stop spending money on them." (What kind of person has so little self-control that he cannot stop spending money?) Frank was given a credit card from his father with which to buy gasoline, then entered into an arrangement with various gas stations to false charge him, then split the profits with him.

Anybody who would scam his own father like that must would have to have a very weak parental bond, always a likely signifier of sociopathy.

Abagnale went on to a prolific career as a check forger and impersonator. Among the roles he claims to have played are airline pilot, teaching assistant, doctor, and attorney. (Think of the potential damage he could have caused as a "pilot" or "doctor.")

Abagnale later escaped federal custody twice, once from an airplane.

On top of this, it turns out that he may not even have pulled off the cons he claimed to. A later investigation into the veracity of his claims turned up no proof that he did any of them. Abagnale claimed that no one was willing to admit it because of the embarrassment involved. But his glorious history of nervy impersonations is, at best, murky. Either way he is a sociopath. Had he the nerve and lack of compunction to pull off all his scams, he would have to be a sociopath. And if he is enough of a pathological liar to weave a past which is entirely fiction, that is also sociopathic. (The surest sign of sociopathy is to be a serial killer; the second surest is to be a "pathological liar.")

Since Abagnale got out of jail, he has gone legitimate, and is now a consultant on fraud for banks, and even consults with the FBI. This is the kind of "character arc" that Hollywood loves: ah, see, he really was a good person beneath it all!

However, while one may change one's occupation, one may not change one's psychology.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


(A room in La Catedral, Pablo Escobar's "prison.")

The recent post about that Venezuelan prison reminded me of Pablo Escobar, the Colombian cocaine trafficker who was widely viewed as the richest criminal of all time. At his peak he was reportedly worth 25 billion dollars.

I am reminded of him because when the Colombian authorities got fed up with Escobar's hundreds of assassinations, in 1991, he turned himself in only on the condition that he be housed in a prison of his own design, in the cool hills overlooking his hometown of Medellin. He also agreed to be "incarcerated" there only if he could choose his own "guards" (his minions, of course). The Colombian authorities, rather than risk further killings (especially their own), agreed. The prison was widely viewed as a fortress designed to protect Escobar rather than incarcerate him.

(Escobar in an obvious publicity shot designed to show that he was actually "behind bars.")

The prison grounds included a soccer field, a giant doll house, a bar, a jacuzzi, and a waterfall.

(Escobar doing hard time in la Catedral with a lady friend and two other visitors.)

I'm guessing -- this is just a wild guess -- that Escobar didn't lay awake nights worrying about whether he would be raped by bigger, badder inmates.

Escobar continued to direct his operations from inside the prison, but the government's patience wore thin when he ordered his four top lieutenants to the prison, only to have them tortured and killed. When they announced that they were going to move him to another prison, Escobar simply walked out.

At that point he became a fugitive; a year later he was shot and killed, with the help of Delta Force operatives from the United States.

Other tidbits about Escobar:

At its peak the Medellin cartel was smuggling 15 tons of cocaine a day. Pablo and Roberto Escobar spent $2500 a month just for the rubber bands with which they wrapped the cash they had coming in. They had way too much to put in banks, so they stored the bills in warehouses, where rats would come in and nibble at them at night.

In addition to a flotilla of boats and a fleet of airplanes, Escobar had two small submarines which he used to transport cocaine.

Escobar had a fail safe policy for dealing with journalists and policemen and judges: either accept my bribes or die. Seems an easy choice, but there were a surprisingly number of people who refused to bend to his will, and as a result hundreds died. He had Presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan assassinated, and backed the 1985 storming of the Colombian Supreme Court. He tried to enter politics himself and at one point even offered to pay off Colombia's 10 billion dollar debt.

Escobar was hugely popular in his hometown of Medellin for building hospitals, schools, churches, soccer fields, and other sports facilities. The locals saw him as Robin Hood.

Escobar lived only one day past his 44th birthday. But until he died, he was living refutation of the adage that crime doesn't pay.

I'm 57 now, so if I had been him I'd have been dead for thirteen years now. But I'm still not sure I wouldn't rather have lived his life.

Yes, it would have meant being a bad guy. But I can't say being an average guy (morally speaking) has been all that rewarding.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Weiner on steroids?

Here's my theory, which I can't prove, but which makes perfect sense: Anthony Weiner went on steroids. Maybe he thought it would make him look more dynamic when he ran for mayor of New York City; maybe he just got tired of being such a skinny geek. Weiner, an ex-hockey player, is not an active competitor, so it wasn't as if he wanted to cheat at his sport; he would have juiced more for aesthetic reasons, in the Jersey Shore spirit.

Check out the picture in the post below. Weiner has definition between his pectoral muscles, the way juicers do. And his arms look puffed up, plus he has visible trapezius muscles (the ones which run from the shoulder to the neck). These are both common effects of steroids. Yet his neck is still relatively thin; for some reason steroids tend not to affect the neck muscles as much.

And note how Weiner was so proud of his new found muscles that he shaved his chest, the better to show them off. 

By all accounts steroids give you an insatiable sex drive, along with a feeling of invulnerability. This combination can cause people to behave very indiscreetly. This is what happened to Tiger. And Lance. And Arnold. And now Anthony.

In the previous post, I complimented Weiner on his unexpected manliness. I should have realized it probably came from the inside of a vial.

Anthony Weiner

A few random impressions of Weinergate:

Sending dirty messages to young women (most of whom encouraged those messages) just doesn't seem that big a deal. Weiner didn't rape anybody, as Strauss-Kahn is alleged to have done. Nor did he break the law, as Eliot Spitzer did.

Everybody expresses their sexuality somehow. There's nothing dignified about sex, so when we get caught we tend to look foolish. And yes, it was stupid for so prominent a politician to expose himself (literally, evidently) on the internet. But sexting just doesn't seem particularly egregious. He never even met any of them in person. 

At a certain level, it's actually sorta impressive. Before all this started, had I ever bothered to ponder his sexuality, I might have guessed he was gay. But he's the opposite. And one wouldn't have expected much muscle on that skinny frame; but Weiner turns out to be a mini-Schwarzenegger. (He must be quite vain to shave his chest like a bodybuilder.) Of course, the fact that he never bothered to get together with any of these women knocks him down a few rungs on the machismo ladder.   

When did Weiner have time for all this? He reportedly had the highest rate of staff turnover of any Congressman on the Hill, partly because he drove them so hard. But he himself couldn't have been working that hard if he had time for all of this online tomfoolery. (That sort of double standard comes naturally to a Democratic attack dog.)

Whenever anybody marries as a function of his ambition, it makes him seem like a user. And out of all the nubile young women potentially available to him, Weiner chose Huma Abedin, who just happened to be Hillary Clinton's top aide. As far as his character goes, that's a definite tell.

Finally, although the majority of those blow-dried Congressmen probably have, or have had, their own indiscretions (haven't we all?), it's always entertaining to see them act holier-than-thou when one of their brethren gets caught with his pants down.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


An amazing story about a prison in Venezuela in yesterday's NY Times (featuring the photo above):

A few of the highlights: It is coed, and the sexes mingle freely. Visitors go there to get drugs. Whiskey is freely available. Visitors go there to party and bet on cockfights. There are huge numbers of weapons owned by the prisoners, including AK-47s, AR-15s, Uzis, and M-16s. And there are four swimming pools there.

How exactly would they film a Scared Straight down there?

It certainly renders all those expressions like "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time" a little meaningless.

For you and me, I suppose this prison would still be a scary place. But for the big time drug dealers who run the joint, it's basically a resort.

Mirror images

It's always the people who are most intolerant, who are the most intolerable.

It's always those most easily annoyed, who are in fact most annoying.

And it's always the most irritable, who are most irritating.

Think of the people you know who are most easily annoyed, or irritated. You'll find a certain symmetry.

It's a little like the way people always accuse others of their own faults: dumb people are always accusing others of being dumb. Liars are always accusing others of dishonesty. And so on.

Listen to someone talk about others long enough, and you'll know him.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Narcissistic personalities and political views

I'm certainly not shedding any tears over Anthony Weiner's woes. I've seen him interviewed several times, and he has always struck me as highly unpleasant. He seems to inevitably get into a screaming match with whomever he is talking to, and acts highly offended whenever anyone takes a view different from his. The overall impression is of a man easily given to violent hysteria. The fact that he has the highest turnover rate of staff on Capitol Hill seems to confirm this.

So it has actually been fun to watch him squirm this past week. (It's a pretty sure bet that the erection he sported for that picture was not present during those uncomfortable interviews.)

But Weinergate raises two larger issues. The first is, if a politician has a sexual indiscretion, should this disqualify him for higher office? The Europeans have always laughed at us for allowing the affairs of statesmen to distract us from affairs of state.

My own instinct is to agree with the Europeans, although I've always felt that how the affairs happen, and even more importantly, how they are denied, tend to be illuminating. (And when the man behind the mask is revealed as a narcissist or even a sociopath, that is worrisome.)

And this raises the second issue: if someone is a narcissist, how much are his political opinions worth?

We all know narcissists: selfish people who have higher opinions of themselves than are warranted by the facts, and who will never admit they're wrong. (The lamer the excuse, the more narcissistic the personality.) With these people, their narcissism will inform every facet of their thinking. If someone can see things from only one point of view -- his own -- then he can never see both sides of an argument, which means he never develops a good sense of judgment. So he's not worth listening to, whether he's talking about himself or about politics. 

Weiner is an obvious narcissist whose political views have never been worth listening to.

Unfortunately, this hardly makes him a rarity.

I can say that with certitude.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sociopath alert: Jack Kevorkian

Jack Kevorkian died last night (without any assistance). I included a piece on Jack Kevorkian in a manuscript I once wrote on sociopathy:

I believe assisted suicide is a good cause: it's inhumane not to let the terminally ill end their suffering. But euthanasia's chief proponent, Jack Kevorkian, is simply a serial killer in disguise. He has hidden his sociopathy, and his lust to kill, under the cloak of humanitarianism. 

Before he became famous, Kevorkian, a coroner, lost several hospital jobs due to his erratic behavior. Among other transgressions, he would beg hospital administrators to let him know when people were about to die, because he liked to photograph them at the moment of death (this serves no medical purpose). This sounds suspiciously like the actions of someone who is a serial killer at heart but doesn't quite have the guts to do the dark deed himself.

It would be one thing if Kevorkian quietly performed euthanasia on terminally ill sufferers. But this is not enough for him. Kevorkian craves attention and publicity, just like an affect-hungry sociopath. He once went on a hunger strike just to protest the authorities' attempts to rein him in. He has publicly burned documents he had received from the authorities telling him to desist. He takes every opportunity to taunt his opponents. (One telling question about someone's character is, which is stronger, his affection for his allies or his hatred of his enemies?)

Kevorkian has dressed up for court appearances in colonial garb and white wig (to protest what he calls our antiquated justice system). Sometimes he shows up in shackles and chains. One time he put himself in stocks to conduct a press interview. Sometimes he is polite in court, sometimes rude. As one prosecutor said, "We never know which Jack Kevorkian is going to show up." (This volatility is often part of a sociopath's arsenal of tricks to keep his opponents off balance.) Kevorkian has carried on so loudly that judges have had to order him to restrain himself on several occasions. (He has been known to spontaneously yell sexual insults at his legal opponents.) These are not the actions of a man constrained by inhibition.

Kevorkian's grudges extend far beyond the ranks of mere prosecutors. He once left a corpse in the parking lot of a hospital he particularly disliked. He also once left a corpse near the Oakland County jail. These actions seem particularly hypocritical coming from a man who has publicly stated that he got into the euthanasia business in order to let people "die with dignity."

Kevorkian took his taunting to a new level when he provided a videotape of himself killing Thomas Youk to Sixty Minutes. This time he didn't just assist the man to commit suicide, he actually administered the hypodermic himself. (Taping the drooling, helpless, mute Youk in his wheelchair and then parading him on national TV is hardly the definition of "dignity.") At one point in the show, Kevorkian taunted prosecutors by  asking, "Do you have to dust for fingerprints?" At the end of the show, interviewer Mike Wallace asked him why he did what he did. Kevorkian answered, "I'm doing it for selfish reasons. I just hope that if I'm terminally ill, someone will be there to ease my suffering." Kevorkian was only being half honest. He was being selfish, but his selfishness consisted of indulging his own ghoulish fascination with death.

Kevorkian had actually hoped with this tape to be charged with first degree murder to spur a showdown with the authorities (he had been acquitted on previous counts.) He got his wish. Then, in the time honored tradition of sociopaths from Ted Bundy to Colin Ferguson, he insisted on representing himself at his trial. (He got more attention that way, and perhaps he actually felt he could do a better job than the lawyers who did this for a living.) Kevorkian frequently stumbled in his presentation, attempting to turn his trial from the question of whether he had violated the law into a question of whether the law was correct. But the judge was having none of it, and she would not allow his arguments. In his closing arguments, Kevorkian compared himself to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, but the jury convicted him anyway.

Kevorkian appears a supreme egotist. He has had a CD of his music pressed. He has held an exhibit of his paintings. One painting depicted a headless torso with plants growing out of its neck, holding a knife and fork, sitting at a dinner table, in front of a plate with a head on it. (Somehow his choice of subject material does not surprise.)

Kevorkian is less artist than exhibitionist, and less angel of mercy than angel of death. He seems to see himself as a martyr, but martyrdom is less convincing when the martyr has lobbied so hard for the role. Assisted suicide may be a good cause, but it would be more seemly if someone other than a serial killer-at-heart were doing the assisting.