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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Making Muammar look good

Nine days ago I proposed the theory that the success of a new government is inversely correlated to the extent that its victorious army celebrates by firing guns into the air.

Guy Davis just sent the following article, which doesn't bode well for the future of Libya:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Freddie Mercury

There was a documentary about Queen, the British rock band, on the Biography channel last night. It was fun to see clips of some of the band's performances from the 80's.

What I hadn't realized before watching the show last night was that Freddie Mercury, their flamboyant singer, was also their primary songwriter. He wrote Bohemian Rhapsody, their signature number. Production for the song was so complicated that it took place at five studios, and the other band members had no idea how the finished product would sound.

Mercury also penned Killer Queen, Somebody to Love, Don't Stop Me Now, We are the Champions, and Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

Wikipedia also had a surprise about Mercury. His birth name was Farrokh Bulsara, and he was born in Zanzibar (now Tanzania) to Parsi parents from the Gujarat region of India. He grew up mostly in Bombay, where he learned to play the piano.

Mercury's natural speaking voice was evidently a baritone, but he sang mostly as a tenor. Remarkably, his range extended from low bass to high soprano.

Mercury was, in his own words, "as gay as a daffodil." I've certainly never seen a gayer -- i.e., more exuberant -- gay man. He was a spectacularly ebullient performer, but had the saving grace of always seeming to be making fun of himself at the same time. He would prance around on the stage wearing ridiculous outfits, and dance and posture like a madman, but it never seemed to affect the quality of his singing.

All of the songs linked here, in particular Bohemian Rhapsody, show evidence of his genius. A couple demonstrate his showmanship as well.

Man bites dog story

Monday, August 29, 2011

An impressive pair

I have a 49-year-old friend who is still recovering from a serious operation on his arm. His doctor has told him not to engage in any strenuous activities for a while, and to limit his exercise to walking.

However, after learning that Hurricane Irene was going to make its way up most of the East Coast, my friend drove down from his home in New Hampshire to Rhode Island this past weekend so he could surf at Narragansett Beach. (The storm surge did not have had the same power north of Cape Cod.)

"I know I wasn't supposed to, and my hands were shaking by the end of the day. But you don't get to surf ten foot waves very often," he explained.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sport lying

The following article appeared in yesterday's NY Post: 

Madoff's nose growing with untruths

Even a 150-year prison sentence hasn’t convinced Ponzi king Bernie Madoff to tell the truth.

The convicted fraudster’s latest whoppers include a story that he is working with Harvard Business School on “building an entrepreneurial course” that will focus on his long-forgotten accomplishments, such as his role in paving the way for electronic market-making.

“I have been approached by a number of other business schools but have only committed to Harvard,” Madoff boasts in an interview with Fox Business Network.

“The entire matter is not true,” a spokesman for the school told FBN’s Charlie Gasparino.

In a series of telephone and e-mail chats with Gasparino, the 73-year felon also claims that hedge fund honcho Steve Cohen, of SAC Capital Management, is “the worst kept secret” when it comes to illegal trading.

Asked how he knows this, Madoff tells Gasparino that he was once forced to call the SAC founder to tell him “to stop his managers from approaching my traders with their offer to give them info if we let SAC execute our commission business.”

While SAC has been caught up in the federal probe into insider trading, Madoff carried out his $65 billion fraud without much trading.

“Steven Cohen has never met or spoken with Bernard Madoff and any assertion otherwise is absolutely false,” an SAC spokesman said, adding that SAC “does not execute trades for other firms.”

One of the most telling differences between sociopaths and the rest of us is that they will lie even when they have no compelling reason to do so. They'll lie even when the only thing they have to gain is someone's (very) temporary respect. Even when they know they'll eventually be caught, they just concoct tall tales anyway.

No one forced Madoff into his Ponzi scheme, but once he was neck deep, he pretty much had no choice: he either had to continue with the big lie, or go to jail. But in the exchange with Gasparino described above, he seemed to lie just for the hell of it.

This is called sport lying. (And the people who do it are sometimes known as "pathological liars.") The incentives are twofold.

First, the sociopath enjoys the admiration he gets for his false claims to glory. He knows that when he is caught in the lie, the other person will be disgusted with him. But that doesn't matter to him, since a sociopath lives entirely in the moment. I remember reading about a psychology experiment in which a group of people were told they were going to be given an electric shock, and asked whether they wanted to receive it at that moment, or put it off. All of the nonsociopaths opted to get it over with, whereas all of the sociopaths asked to delay it. Lying about one's accomplishments is merely the flip side of that same coin. A sociopath just wants to bask in the admiration of the moment; he doesn't care about the future reckoning.

The other incentive for sport lying is that it makes him feel smart. Even if he only gets away with the lie temporarily, by fooling you he has proven that he is smarter than you. That is how a sociopath's psyche works: he actually takes egotistical satisfaction from things that most of us would be embarrassed about.

If you ever meet anybody who tells a lot of tall tales, beware. 

Whatever you do, don't invest your money with him.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


I've recently decided to learn how to use a gun. I've never been a gun nut, in fact have always found them vaguely off-putting. But my son has managed to convince me that my masculinity is lacking if I don't get one.

Johnny recommended a semi-automatic called the FN Five-seven (pictured above). He says it's powerful, accurate, and appropriate for me because it has less recoil.

So I signed up to take a gun course in early September. As a prerequisite I have to read a short primer on guns and complete a brief quiz.

While reading this booklet, it occurred to me what a wonderful prop a gun could be if you were single. Just leave it where your date would see it, perhaps in an open drawer. (The booklet emphasizes that you should store your gun in a safe place accessible only to you.)

She would of course ask why you have a gun. You could answer in several ways, each designed to not be credible:

"I don't have a gun.....Hey, you're not supposed to be looking in there."

"Oh that? Uh, a friend just asked me to keep it for him for a while."

[If you have a serious-looking semi-automatic, like the one pictured above]: "That's not a real gun, it's just a starter's pistol. I, uh, help out at the local track meets from time to time."

Or, as if this renders its very existence meaningless, "Oh....well, it's not loaded right now."

All of these answers would make you appear more of a badass than you actually are.

So....while my 19-year-old son puts his life on the line on a daily basis in Afghanistan, I, at age 57, am indulging in fantasies more befitting a 14-year-old.

There's something very, very wrong here.

And not with my son.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

No redemption for Son

There was an article on yesterday about how David Berkowitz, the infamous Son of Sam serial killer, will not seek parole when his next hearing comes up next year.

Gee, and he seemed like such a good bet to be released, too.

Okay, so this is not exactly big news. But people are always interested in hearing about famous monsters, and Berkowitz definitely fits that bill.

At the time Berkowitz was arrested, there was a lot of publicity about the fact that he claimed a dog (named "Sam") ordered him to kill people. That always struck me as a smokescreen, a setup for a possible insanity defense. He wasn't crazy, he was simply evil, which is why he took such pleasure in killing six people and wounding seven with a .44 handgun in 1976 and 1977.

I saw Berkowitz interviewed from prison on a TV show once. It was a shock to see him middle-aged and florid, but he spoke with complete confidence, like a glib salesman, and didn't seem crazy at all. In fact, he came across just like some investment bankers I've known.

Berkowitz wrote a two page letter to Fox News about how he had found salvation through Jesus Christ. It's always fascinating to me when sociopaths like Berkowitz claim to have found redemption. Yes, he has stopped killing people (though who knows what he'd be doing if he still had the opportunity). And he has found religion. But his basic psychology is the same: a sociopath simply never stops being a sociopath. (You are as likely to grow another head after the age of ten as you are to grow a conscience.)

So what we have here is a perfectly controlled experiment: a man whose sociopathy is not in doubt, but who claims to be a changed person now. (Sociopaths are always going on about they've turned over a new leaf.) So how does Berkowitz's sociopathy manifest itself nowadays?

Berkowitz writes:

"My job assignments are 'Mobility Guide' for inmates who are legally blind, and as an 'Inmate Program Aid' [sic] for the men who are mentally challenged. I also help out in the facility's chapel, where I assist in overseeing our Sunday services plus other services and Bible studies. My main activities are sharing my story of redemption and hope with those on the outside, as well as writing a monthly journal which can be viewed at I'm a hyperactive, always 'on the go' type person. But I've often been told that I do not take enough time for myself."

Okay, Dave, we get it: you're just too nice for your own good. (This is another sociopathic quirk, always telling you how good they are.) Note, too, that he now sees himself as a role model, an inspiration to others.

Berkowitz also said that he has found salvation because he knows that "Jesus Christ has already forgiven and pardoned me, and I believe this." But how does Berkowitz know this? How does he know that Christ is not in fact repelled by his self-righteous conversion? Does Berkowitz somehow have a direct pipeline to Christ?  

Would the Son of God forgive the Son of Sam? It seems far more likely that Christ, or at least St. Peter, is planning to send him to Hell. (If Berkowitz isn't headed there, then hell doesn't exist, which means that much of Christianity is a sham.)

Berkowitz's religiosity is a little reminiscent of some televangelists who also claim to have a direct pipeline to God. (And yes, I've always suspected them of being sociopaths as well.) Many of them, while claiming to be filled with religious fervor, seem to exist in a state of feverish self-love, exuding pride at their own goodness. True goodness, of course, does not manifest itself with self-adoration. That is simply ordinary narcissism, a component of every sociopath's psyche.

Berkowitz has gone from sociopath-in-serial-killer mode to sociopath-as-man-of-God mode. Before he was giddy with his power (the power to kill people); now he is giddy with his own "goodness." The two kinds of giddiness are not as different as they might at first seem.

It is often said that patriotism is the last bastion of the scoundrel. If patriotism is the sociopath's last bastion, religion may be his first. 

Berkowitz's character is probably best illustrated by his behavior at his trial, which was attended by Mrs. Moskowitz, the mother of Stacy Moskowitz, one of his shooting victims. Mrs. Moskowitz had stated publicly that she thought Berkowitz ought to be given the death penalty. Berkowitz's response was to continuously chant, just loudly enough for Mrs. Moskowitz to hear, "Stacy was a whore, Stacy was a whore."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Confessions of a beta male VIII: When someone yells at you

One of the clearest divides between personality types is illustrated by how they react to being yelled at. People always react instinctively in this situation; when someone yells at you, you are definitely in the moment.

One of the telling differences here is not just between alphas and betas, but between alphas and guys who think of themselves as alphas. Guys who like to think of themselves as alphas are generally just narcissistic personalities, and narcissists inevitably become angry when criticized. When actually yelled at, they become filled with rage and yell back.

This might on the surface appear to be alpha behavior, but in fact a real alpha would be so sure of himself that he would be unaffected by someone else's criticism -- or histrionics. He might laugh, as most adults would at a five year old throwing a tantrum. Or he might just be quietly amused.

I, as a beta, do neither. When someone yells at me I tend to cower in fear, and wonder why they're so angry. Then I wonder what I can do to mollify them, and whether they will ever like me again.

Sometimes others' anger at me is justified, sometimes not. But I tend to react the same way: what did I do wrong?

Next time someone yells at you, don't give him the satisfaction of either getting angry yourself or being cowed. Just act completely unaffected instead. Pick up a nearby apple and start munching on it (no one eats while upset). Or laugh at him, as if they are being cute. Even better, look as if you are trying to stifle a laugh. Those are the most eloquent ways of letting him know his opinion means nothing to you.

It occurs to me that my previous posts on this subject -- alphas vs. betas -- conflated narcissists with real alphas. Their behavior does overlap sometimes; then again, so does that of alphas and betas.

Perhaps the best way to put it would be to describe how each type reacts to criticism, whether or not it's delivered with a lot of volume. A real alpha just calmly analyzes it, and decides based on facts whether it is warranted. A narcissist angrily dismisses it as untrue, whether or not it is. And a beta tends to assume it's true, whether or not it is.

Of course, much of how you react to yelling has to do with how used to it you are. If you are in a combative profession, and encounter unpleasantness on a daily basis, you will be less fazed by it, whatever type you are.

If you're the one who usually starts the unpleasantness, though, you're probably a narcissistic personality yourself.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nafissatou's sociopathy, confirmed

In this earlier post I'd pointed out Nafissatou Diallo's sociopathy, emphasizing her false emotionality, the way she cried as if reliving a trauma when in fact she was only lying about a made up event.

This morning the NY Post ran a fairly extensive article detailing many of her lies and the prosecution's language describing her utter lack of credibility. The prosecution seemed particularly struck by her phony emotionalism, and her histrionics when confronted about her lies.

Monday, August 22, 2011


The Libyan rebels have now marched into Tripoli and reportedly control 95% of the city. Their complete victory -- and the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi -- are all but assured. Newscasts of such events invariably feature pictures of hopeful young faces juxtaposed with pictures of the old dictator, his pockmarked face testimony to years of overeating and corruption. The Libyan rebels are now reportedly already celebrating by firing their rifles into the air.

Here is my theory: the future success of a government is inversely correlated to the extent that its victorious army celebrates by shooting guns into the air. You see, there is this little thing called gravity which pulls those bullets back to earth after they've reached their apogee, and when they descend from that great height they can easily pierce a skull. Those too dumb to figure this out -- or too reckless to care -- are unlikely to be able to effectively run a government for any length of time.

I do not recall hearing reports of George Washington and Sam Adams celebrating their victory by firing their muskets straight up into the air. Latin American and African rebels, on the other hand, regularly celebrate their victories this way.

I am not sorry to see Gaddafi go. He has oppressed his people for far too long. But the word "rebels" usually gives off a vaguely low-IQ vibe, and the current crop in Libya seem no exception.

The new Dolph

Conan the Barbarian opened to a measly $10 million this past weekend. So far the 6'5" Jason Momoa appears to be the 2011 version of the 1980's Dolph Lundgren: the handsomest action hero going, who also happens to be box office poison.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Goodwill tour

The NY Post ran this article about the tour of China the Georgetown basketball team has been on:

I've been trying to think of what I could add editorially, but I can't think of a thing. The story is perfect as is, especially Joe Biden's press secretary's statement:

"The team's two-week visit to China reflects an ongoing push to expand people-to-people exchanges between our two countries, as well as an effort to strengthen the US-China relationship through sport."

Aspergers Syndrome

Aspergers Syndrome -- the name for the mildest of the autism spectrum of disorders -- may be overdiagnosed these days. (Children with Aspergers are given extra time in school to finish their tests, and some parents will do anything to give their child a leg up.) But that doesn't mean the syndrome doesn't exist. This post will describe some of the symptoms. If you know people who exhibit these symptoms, understanding Aspergers will help you understand them.

The trait mostly widely associated with various sorts of autism is an inability to read other people. I don't know how -- or why -- the brain would get rewired so that someone becomes incapable of interpreting others' actions, but people with Aspergers have little insight into others. If you know someone who seems to have no clue about how others think, this could means Aspergers.

In my experience, people with Aspergers try to compensate by acting as if they know things they don't, especially about people. And they try to act as if they are in on the joke. When they see everyone else laugh, they will laugh along to show that they too are in on the humor.

This is what people with Aspergers generally do: try to pass as normal. But no one can keep such an act up forever, and when you get to really know them, their autism is unmistakable.

An autistic's inability to predict other party's feelings, thoughts, or reactions will result in frequent social faux pas. I knew one guy with Aspergers who worked in an office. When he would make an awkward attempt at a joke, his polite assistants would smile. The others would look away. The word people with  Aspergers often get labeled with is lame. This often applies to their senses of humor, their excuses, and their personalities.

People with Aspergers tend to be somewhat asocial. They are uncomfortable at parties, and often become panicky in social situations. They rarely keep in touch with others over the long term. And most of their "friendships" are often institutionally based.

The traits most commonly associated with Aspergers are lack of insight and being asocial, but there are a host of other symptoms that go hand in hand with these. People with Aspergers hate having their routines disrupted. If you ask them something, they will respond by saying things like, "Uh, your timing is off!" or, "I'm doing something!"

They have a hard time dealing with criticism. They are similar to narcissistic personalities in that any criticism immediately fills them with rage. You can give them the gentlest, most constructive criticism, and they might respond by screaming, "Who are you to be telling me that I'm doing it wrong?!" And, as with narcissists, every time an Aspie errs, it's always somebody else's fault.

Or they may simply deny their errors. If an Aspie says something like, "Uh, you know, there was more freedom in the Soviet Union than there is in the US," and you point out why that statement is misguided, they may later simply deny ever having said it. I've seen Aspies deny having said something within a minute of having said it. Most people would be embarrassed to do this; but Aspies simply stonewall, sometimes without even realizing what they're doing.

And because autistics can never admit they're wrong, you will almost never hear them apologize.

People with Aspergers have a hard time identifying with other groups. A woman with Aspergers, for instance, might always stick up for women over men, no matter the circumstance, simply because she is a woman. Ironically, this is often the same type of woman who accuses men of being sexist. This might appear garden variety hypocrisy. But when it's exhibited by an Aspie, it is simply an outgrowth of their complete inability to see things from another point of view. (Which, when you think of it, is also not that dissimilar from ordinary narcissism.)

I knew one such woman with Aspergers who would scathingly refer to men as "pricks," but if anyone ever used the word "bitch," she would huff, "Uh, you know, that's a really gender-loaded word," or alternatively -- and awkwardly -- "You're insulting my sex!"

People with Aspergers are more likely to throw back accusations at the accuser, no matter how ridiculous that makes them sound. For instance, if Mike Tyson were to say, "You're a wimpy little white boy," an Aspie might respond, "No, you're a wimpy little white boy." (That's an exaggeration, but you get the idea.) A better example might be, if they're told they have Aspergers, they then tell the accuser that he has Aspergers, even if he has no symptoms.

People with Aspergers will often develop a reputation for having no common sense. (By definition, they also don't have enough common sense to realize that they have no common sense.)

They tend to have poor fine motor coordination. So they won't be good at things like typing, or dipping a knife into a honey jar and then twirling the knife so that the honey doesn't drip down the side of the jar. They are also more likely to get into minor fender benders.

They are rigid in their thinking, to the point where they must ignore facts. They generally only willingly expose themselves to one viewpoint. If you quote a fact which conflicts with their viewpoint, they may respond by saying something along the lines of, "Uh, what's your source on that?" or "You know, one person's reality is another person's fiction." Sources can certainly err, and some fields do involve perception. But an Aspie will hide behind statements like these all the time, even when a source is unimpeachable and a fact has no subjective element.

It was probably someone with Aspergers who inspired the saying, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own set of facts."

People with Aspergers tend to be germ phobic, and have other symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder.

They dislike bright lights and loud noises more than most.

They have a tendency to mangle words (e.g., "buxmous" rather than "buxom" and "insiduous" rather than "insidious").

People with Aspergers often have an intense focus on one interest; they may be fascinated by something like trains, or buses. Those people you read about who are fascinated by trains and who will pretend to be conductors just so they can take them for joyrides are usually autistic (They usually have a more serious form of autism than just Aspergers.) Likewise, every now and then you'll read about someone who just takes a city bus out for a spin. These people don't have evil intentions: they don't want to hurt anybody, or actually steal the bus. They are simply completely and utterly fascinated by the big moving vehicles.

As a result of their narrow focus, Aspies frequently use non sequiturs. No matter the subject being discussed, they will just start talking about whatever their interest is.

People with Aspergers tend to be very literal. For instance, they may think that sailfish just swim around on the surface of the ocean, getting propulsion from their giant dorsal fins via the wind. Because, after all, they are sailfish. When someone uses a metaphor, they may take it literally. (This is partly why they tend not to get jokes.)

Because all of these traits can obviously result in an inability to get along with others, people with Aspergers often prefer the company of animals to humans. (Pets never disagree with them, or criticize them, or laugh at them. And their pets need them, and give them uncritical love.) 

John Lucas and Scott Moore, who wrote the script for The Hangover, understood autistics perfectly. The Zach Galafianakis character is the brother of the girl that the Justin Bartha character is going to marry. At the beginning of the movie she thanks Justin for bringing her brother to Las Vegas with him for his bachelor party, and he reflexively replies, no problem, Zach is cool. The girl says no, Zach is not cool. We see little hints of Zach's personality early on. He says things that don't quite make sense. At one point, as they check into Caesar's Palace, he asks if Caesar slept there. The others look at each other, then ignore the comment and move on. Zach gradually grows more and more annoying with his malapropisms and inappropriate reactions and insistence that he is right, to the point of being infuriating. In the movie, he eventually he redeems himself by counting cards, the type of thing an autistic is more likely to be able to do, and after their adventure everybody ends up friends. (In real life, the other three would have put some distance between themselves and Zach as soon as it was decently possible to do so.)

Lucas and Moore had to have known someone who was autistic in their lives; the Galafianakis character was just too well drawn to for them not to have personal familiarity with the syndrome. Bear in mind, not all people with Aspergers look like Zach Galafianakis. Some can be beautiful women, whose beauty may initially blind you to their lameness. The interesting thing, as with any syndrome, is to see all the little behaviors that betray that syndrome.

Galafianakis pretty much reprised that role in Due Date, a buddy movie he made with Robert Downey. There he showed the same exasperating inappropriate behavior, lack of common sense, and all-around cluelessness, this time employed in the service of driving Downey to distraction.

Autistics are far more likely to join a cult, or become immersed in a system of thinking which becomes a substitute for any personal sense of judgment. They feel far more comfortable when they can view everything from the perspective of a rigid ideology. They are more likely to join the military, with its rigid hierarchy and rules. Or they may become immersed in an all-consuming religion, perhaps one with rigid and restrictive rules regarding every aspect of personal behavior -- and which disapproves strongly of nonbelievers. Or they subscribe with an almost religious zeal to a particular school of thought like Marxism. All of these ideologies, or systems, or structures, are a substitute for having to think on their own.

Aspies are not bad people; they're not sociopaths. We should never hold anyone responsible for anything beyond their control; and nobody chose to have Aspergers. But if you have constant exposure to them, or are responsible for them in any way, they are inevitably infuriating. If you've been around one for any length of time, the phrase "willfully obtuse" will undoubtedly come to mind. Most people you can talk some sense into, but people with Aspergers are so rigid in their thinking there's never any budging them.

In any loosely knit social group, you'll see that people tend to gravitate away from those with the syndrome. People with Aspergers may be stiffly polite (what they think of as "social skills"), since the give and take of normal banter is beyond them. If you know someone who seems to make a great effort to remember all the social niceties, but does so in somewhat robotic fashion, think Aspergers. If that person seems lost if he has to go off-script, you can be surer of that diagnosis.

One of the problems with Aspergers is that it is impossible to self-diagnose. Sociopaths, when they get older, generally come to the realization that they're sociopaths. Neurotics certainly know they're neurotic, depressives know they're depressed, and everybody is aware of their own sexual peculiarities. But if you're clueless about human nature, how can you possibly realize that others are not equally so?

One thing people with Aspergers do have in common with normal people is that the accusations they level most frequently often reflect their own weaknesses. They'll say things along the lines of, "You're so far out of it you don't even realize you're out of it." Or, "You just don't get it, do you?" Or they'll call someone a jackass.

All perfect descriptions of Aspergers Syndrome.

Addendum, 3/11/13: If you found this post via Google, you might find this post on whether or not Aspies are responsible for their own behavior interesting. Or this one, on whether Aspies span the full range of morality.

Addendum, 1/7/14: As you can see below, this post has attracted a slew of comments. A few are from people who've dealt with Aspies and who agree with me, but most are from outraged Aspies -- or their relatives -- who can't believe how insensitive I am. They are welcome to use this forum the same way I sometimes do -- to vent. I will post their comments. But I don't have the energy or inclination to respond to all of them, especially since I've long since found myself saying the same things over and over. So please feel free to tell me what a horrible person I am; just don't expect a response. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Incredibly dumb idea

Yahoo News ran the following article from The Lookout today:

Silicon Valley billionaire funding creation of artificial libertarian islands
by Liz Goodwin

Seasteading Institute city design (Anthony Ling)

Pay Pal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel has given $1.25 million to an initiative to create floating libertarian countries in international waters, according to a profile of the billionaire in Details Magazine.

Thiel has been a big backer of the Seasteading Institute, which seeks to build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties. The idea is for these countries to start from scratch--free from the laws, regulations, and moral codes of any existing place. Details says the experiment would be "a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons."

"There are quite a lot of people who think it's not possible," Thiel said at a Seasteading Institute Conference in 2009, according to Details. (His first donation was in 2008, for $500,000.) "That's a good thing. We don't need to really worry about those people very much, because since they don't think it's possible they won't take us very seriously. And they will not actually try to stop us until it's too late."

The Seasteading Institute's Patri Friedman says the group plans to launch an office park off the San Francisco coast next year, with the first full-time settlements following seven years later.

Speaking as a libertarian, this sounds like one of the worst ideas ever. If you try to create a society on top of an oil derrick, it will by necessity be a socialist society, as much so as an extended family had to be during the caveman era. When you're that isolated, you have to depend on each other -- for pretty much everything. And how exactly could you afford to have looser building codes on an oil derrick? And no welfare? I doubt that any of the chronically unemployable or mentally ill will be invited onto these derricks in the first place. And who exactly is it who would be working at close to a minimum wage who would choose to move to a floating country in the first place? And no restrictions on weapons? So it's going to be the OK Corral on the oil derrick? 

Will those guns be enough to protect these floating countries when China decides to invade them? 

This has to be a joke.


The NY Post ran the following article this afternoon about three thugs who beat up a 64-year-old man in the Bronx and made off with his Bible:

It's good to know that even in these godless times, there are at least a few young people who still take their religion seriously. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Wall Street personified

There was an article in the NY Post this morning about the divorce battle between John Duffy, the CEO of the Keefe, Bruyette & Woods investment bank, and his wife. The article focused on the gifts Duffy had lavished on his girlfriends. But what struck me most about the article were its pictures of Duffy. His face seemed to embody all of the arrogance, conceit, and piggishness that many associate with Wall Street:

We're not supposed to judge people by something so superficial as appearance, and perhaps the Post chose these pictures knowing how prejudicial they would be. But Duffy's expressions do give a very distinct impression of his personality.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Warren Jeffs

Stumbled across the following article which appeared in The Daily two days ago:

Jeffs' jail pleasures

Guard: Sex-starved sect leader indulged in self-play 15 times a day

  • Image

    By Sarah Ryley, Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    2011 - EL DORADO, Texas -- Warren Jeffs has been keeping busy in jail. According to one of his former jailers, the convicted child rapist masturbated more or less continuously while in custody. Rick Bradley, a guard at the county jail where Jeffs was kept in the weeks prior to his trial, told The Daily that the 55-year-old seemed to be suffering from sexual withdrawal and pleasured himself "a lot." What does that mean, exactly -- five times a day? More, Bradley said. Fifteen times? "Sometimes more than that," he told The Daily. The guard said that the prisoner -- who was not permitted conjugal visits -- often played solo in full view of his guards. "We could see him," Bradley said. 

    When Jeffs' trial began last month, he was transferred to a facility in the nearby town of San Angelo.

    The lurid details of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leader’s predatory sexual practices were revealed in his trial, which ended in a conviction and a sentence of life plus 20 years. Jeffs had dozens of under-aged wives whom he trained to meet his sexual needs. He also raped a 5-year-old boy, according to court testimony.

    But he preached a hard lineagainst masturbation. 

    One of Jeff's former students, Ezra Draper, testified that the cult leader told him that God was "offended" by masturbation.

    Jeffs maintained his vigorous onanistic pace despite barely eating"enough to stay alive," said Bradley. The self-proclaimed messiah rejected the hail's standard meals, choosing too consume only small quantities of bread, water, and peanut butter crackers.





I read once that the wife of Albert DeSalvo, the man thought by many to be the Boston Strangler, claimed that he would demand sex with her up to twelve times a day. My initial reaction to that was, DeSalvo must have had an incredible sex drive. But DeSalvo was relatively young at the time, and looking at pictures of him, he looked as if he had a lot of testosterone, so it might have been just physical.

But Jeffs looks like a skinny geek, not someone with an excess of testosterone. And at 55, his energy levels just can't be that high. So why the constant masturbation? And why the -- presumably -- constant sex with all those wives before he was incarcerated? 

Sociopaths tend to be much more promiscuous creatures. It's not necessarily a matter of excessive hormones; it can mean just a complete lack of inhibitions. Certainly masturbating in full view of the guards is indicative of a complete lack of shame and embarrassment. And a man who would inveigh against masturbation but then do it himself so openly shows a sociopathic level of hypocrisy.

But even most sociopaths would get sore, or bored after a while doing that. And even most sociopaths don't like to masturbate in front of others. There seems to be a much more compulsive element to Jeff's behavior.

I've heard that people who have autistic spectrum disorders will masturbate frequently just as a means of self stimulation, i.e., just so that they can feel something. It's not dissimilar in spirit to those who cut themselves in order to feel alive.

It's generally a safe assumption that most cult leaders are sociopaths. The ability to con and manipulate others into doing one's bidding is what sociopath are best at. Wanting complete control over others is sociopathic. And masquerading as a messiah is something that only a sociopath would feel comfortable with.

But upon closer examination Jeffs seems crazy as much as sociopathic.

Jeffs' father was the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints before him, and Warren Jeffs was one of the approximately 60 children his father had through 19 or 20 wives. (It's fairly safe to say that Jeffs wasn't suffocated by paternal attention.) Within a week of his father's death, Jeffs married all but two of his father's wives. (His mother was one of the two he didn't marry.)

Jeffs held the sole power within his church to perform marriages, and he also was the only one to assign wives to husbands. He also had the power to "reassign" a man's wives and children to another man.

All of this sounds like an ideal setup for a power-mad sociopath, which Jeffs almost undoubtedly was.  But was he crazy as well? Was he just a cunning con man masquerading as a messiah, or did he actually think himself one? Mental wards are -- or at least used to be, before the advent of drugs for schizophrenia -- full of psychotics who thought themselves Napoleon, or Jesus Christ. And masturbating fifteen times a day in full view of the guards makes him sound crazy.

I'm having a hard time classifying him. He could be a sociopath, or psychotic, or both. Or maybe he's autistic, though it would be hard for an autistic to be as manipulative as he evidently was. All I know is that if someone shows up claiming to be The Messiah, in order to convince me of that he's going to have to do more than jerk off fifteen times a day.

As impressive as that is.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tour Merrie Olde England!

There's no better time than summertime to come experience the many delights of London, England.

Marvel at the beautiful Tudor architecture, which dates back to 1485 and the reign of Henry Tudor, first King of the Tudor Dynasty.  

Enjoy the spectacle of English lords going a-fox hunting.

Go window shopping at our many fine stores.

Tour London in our famous doubledecker buses.

At nighttime, the London fog can be just as A. Conan Doyle described it: "thick as pea soup." Who knows, you might even run into Sherlock Holmes himself!

Watch the lads test their skill at the ancient Scottish sport of caber tossing....

....or the more recently imported sport of karate.

 If you're lucky, your stay in London will coincide with Guy Fawkes Day, with its attendant Bonfire Night. (Guy must be in there somewhere!)

Take a ride on the London Eye, which affords panoramic views of all of London. Until 1999, it was the largest Ferris Wheel in the entire world.

We hope you make reservations soon. A good time will be had by all!

Diana Nyad

Diana Nyad just ended her second attempt to swim from Cuba to Key West. She attributed her stoppage to "wind conditions and less than ideal currents." Earlier reports had stated that she was suffering from asthma and shoulder problems, but she evidently preferred to mention only the extraneous factors.

I'm proud of the masters swimming records I've held -- which is bad enough. But some of the marathon swimmers I've known take egotism to an entirely different level. They tend to talk about their accomplishments nonstop, even to people who haven't the slightest interest in swimming. Even worse than that, they are so crazily conceited they can't even acknowledge that they are swimming for ego-driven reasons, and must justify their swims with noble-sounding causes (which they often ask you to contribute to).

Here is an excerpt from the AP article which came out an hour ago:

"Before the swim, Nyad told journalists she hoped her swim would inspire others her age to live active lives. She said she also hoped it could help improve understanding between Cold War rivals Cuba and the United States, even if just symbolically."

You have to have to be a pretty narcissistic personality to think of yourself as an inspiration to others. And you have to be awfully shameless to actually say that out loud. But you have to be downright insane to think that your swim will result in detente between two nations which have been longtime bitter enemies.

An honest rioter

The London riots ostensibly started as a protest against the questionable police shooting of Mark Duggan, 29, of Tottenham. If Duggan's supporters want to seek justice for him in the most effective way, they should raise money to hire a good lawyer, sue the police department, and alert the media.

Nah. That's too much work.

So they've rioted instead. These riots have taken on a life of their own, spreading from Tottenham across London all the way to Birmingham. Shops are being looted and torched, police cars attacked, and general mayhem has ensued.

At first, a few media outlets tried to portray these riots as protests against not only the Duggan shooting but also cuts in welfare and government jobs. However, in this morning's AP article, one rioter revealed their real motivation:

"...many appeared attracted simply by the opportunity for violence. 'Come join the fun!' shouted one youth in the east London suburb of Hackney, where shops were attacked and cars torched."


At last, an honest rioter. Diogenes would be happy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Being There

Being There was a 1979 film starring Peter Sellers. The premise of the film is that a near imbecilic gardener -- who is mistakenly called Chauncey Gardiner -- comes to be regarded as a genius by all the high-powered Washington D.C. types who meet him. Gardiner, who loses his job when his lifelong employer dies, replies to any questions that come his way with simple-minded statements about gardening. But whatever he says is interpreted as having a deeper, allegorical meaning by the power elite, who elevate him to a status far beyond his capabilities.

It would be unfair to compare our current President to Chauncey Gardiner. Obama is obviously not an imbecile. And yet....I can't help but be reminded. Obama at many levels seems to function as a sort of human Rorschach test, and has all sorts of abilities attributed to him that he doesn't seem to have.

He is routinely described as brilliant. But if he were really that brilliant, would he have spent $950,000 on lawyer's fees making sure that all of his academic records and test scores remain sealed? Certainly some extremely bright people drift through college without grubbing for grades; but even with them, their SATs and LSATs tend to betray their intelligence. In 2000 we were treated to all four of the major candidates' test scores. Neither Bush, nor McCain, nor Gore, nor Bradley had particularly good scores, yet none of them tried to cover them up. So why is Obama so secretive?

If Obama were so brilliant, would he need to rely on Teleprompters even for press conferences and meetings with businessmen inside the White House? He is routinely lauded for his ability to give great speeches. Yet without a Teleprompter he is unmasked as an actor without a script. And when he occasionally makes a blunder like "I've been to fifty-seven states, with I think one to go," it is routinely swept under the rug by a compliant media.

When Being There first came out, it seemed utterly implausible, even as satire. Now, a little less so.

Presidential birthday parties

I just Googled "biggest Presidential birthday parties" and came across an article in the August 4, 2009 issue of Time Magazine. They listed a few of the more notable parties that had occurred, basically listing them as a backdrop with which Obama's low key birthday celebration in 2009 could be compared favorably. The implicit message was obviously that Obama is a President who works hard and doesn't have time for any of that nonsense.

Obama's subsequent birthdays, both this year's and last, have contradicted that supposition. In fact, this week's celebration has made me wonder: has there ever been a President whose birthday has been a more festive occasion?

The Time article cited above listed a few. John F. Kennedy famously had Marilyn Monroe sing "Happy Birthday Mr. President" to him at his 45th. Bill Clinton's 50th was a large affair at Radio City Music Hall. FDR's 52nd was evidently a large production at NYC's Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

But I honestly can't recall any Presidential birthday celebrations which lasted more than one day or which involved as many show business people as the one this week. 

Friday, August 5, 2011


It's actually a little hard to get one's mind around a credit downgrade of the United States. The fact that the US was a AAA credit was always something you could count on without really thinking about it, like the earth beneath our feet or the fact that the sun would rise in the East every morning.

The world's one remaining superpower is not even a triple-A nation anymore?

Two days ago the New York Times ran an article on the front page of their business section in which they essentially pooh-poohed the importance of such a downgrade, likening it to a typical corporate downgrade from AAA to AA. They quoted one executive as saying it was "like going from a Rolls Royce to a Mercedes." Put in those terms, of course, it doesn't sound so bad. After all, Rolls Royces represent the kind of conspicuous consumption we're all taught is in bad taste. And who wouldn't be happy to drive a Mercedes?

But that analogy is ridiculous. Having the debt of this country downgraded has nothing to do with flashiness and everything to do with fiscal responsibility. No CEO in his right mind would borrow forty cents of every dollar he spent, with no plan to ever change that ratio. But that's what Congress and this President (and, to a slightly lesser extent, the previous President) have done. The basic problem is, a politician's main job is to get reelected, so he has no incentive to think more than two, or four, or six years in the future.

Certainly few people in the federal government right now seem to be thinking about the long term.

It's hard not to wonder if we haven't just taken the first step on the road to junk bond status, and by implication, junk nation status.

But hey -- that might  not be so bad. It's just a little like going from a Mercedes to a Corolla. And, really, Mercedes are so nouveau riche and flashy. Corollas are for people with good values.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Russian strongman

In April 2010 I wrote a post about Vladimir Putin and his almost comical machismo.

Well, he's been at it again. Yesterday's NY Post had an article about Putin. An excerpt:

Putin parades tough guy credentials with arm wrestling and pan crushing

MOSCOW -- Vladimir Putin tried to bend a frying pan with his bare hands and took part in an arm wrestling contest in his latest attempt to win over Russian voters with his action-man persona, Sky News reported Tuesday.

The Russian prime minister also climbed an artificial wall as he met young Russians at a pro-Kremlin youth camp, north of Moscow.

He has yet to declare whether he will make another run for the presidency but Putin's appearance Monday, coming as he controversially described the US as a "parasite" for accumulating debt, was designed to boost his party's popularity before a vote in December.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
It was the latest display of machismo from the Russian leader who is not shy of showing off.

The picture of Putin with that frying pan really made me wonder: either he is incredibly strong or some of his "feats" are faked. I'm guessing the latter. 

Still, I understand the impetus behind wanting to demonstrate his power this way.

If he actually could bend a typical iron skillet, that would be enough for me. I'd vote for the guy.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"I Am Number Four"

This past weekend we saw I Am Number Four at my daughter's behest.

It is about a child from another planet who is sent to earth along with eight other children when their home planet is destroyed by murderous aliens from the planet Mogador (sounds sorta like Mordor, doesn't it?).

This child is named "John Smith" by his guardian. The movie makes a joke out of the lack of originality of his name, but in fact virtually every other aspect of the movie was equally unoriginal.

There was the obligatory discovers-his-superpowers scene, straight out of Superman or Spiderman.

Then there was the obligatory sticks-up-for-the-school-nerd-to-show-what-a-decent-guy-he-is scene. (Just once I want to see a superhero who uses his powers to torment the school nerd instead.)

This was followed by the obligatory beats-up-the-bullies-after-he-is-pushed-too-far scene, which was followed by the obligatory feels-bad-about-having-used-his-superpowers-to-do-that scene.

This is of course witnessed by the high school beauty, so that the obligatory romance-with-a-human can follow. When this is followed by the obligatory she-discovers-his-superpowers scene, she in fact does not seem all that surprised.

Who knows, maybe this by-the-numbers movie was so predictable that she could just see it coming.

When another Lorien -- a beautiful girl -- appears at the end to help John Smith in the obligatory showdown-with-the-aliens scene, she announces, "I'm Number Six," in an Aussie accent. She is hotter than the main romantic interest, which leaves us feeling a little confused: wouldn't it be more appropriate for John Smith to have a romance with the other Lorien?

But we know that a romance between the two Loriens will not happen because John Smith has been told early on by his mentor that Loriens mate for life -- proving that this movie was made to appeal to a young female audience as much as a young male one.

Even the Mogadorians look pretty much human, as ugly as they are. They tend to run around 6' 8," look as if they weigh 270 pounds, and have preternaturally deep voices, which is only appropriate for villains, even alien ones. They also have scars on their faces, horrible teeth, and no eyebrows, just to emphasize their villainy. Of course, even with all that they are still identifiably Caucasian -- as bad guys should be. It's good to know that political correctness prevails even on other planets.

Actually, come to think of it, there wasn't a single black, Hispanic, or Asian in the entire movie. (Where's Jesse Jackson when you need him?) I guess the movie makers considered it confusing enough to have all those aliens from other planets without mucking up the cast even further with, you know, human aliens.

One of the more humorous aspects of the movie is the obvious age of the actors who are playing high school students. The main romantic interest is played by Dianna Agron, who was 24 -- a more appropriate age for a teacher -- when the movie was shot. Given all the recent publicity about teachers being prosecuted for pursuing romances with students, are the movie makers setting a good example here?

It's probably okay in Dianna's case, though, since John Smith is played by Alex Pettyfer, who was 20 when the movie was shot. (He wasn't quite as dumb -- he only got held back three grades.) So, while the movie may implicitly advocate plagiarism, at least it stops short of recommending statutory rape.

Timothy Olyphant, star of the FX series Justified, manages to look only slightly embarrassed that he is here. 

I Am Number Four is based on a book by James Frey, of A Million Little Pieces infamy. Which makes perfect sense. Anyone who would write an ostensible autobiography fashioned from whole cloth would certainly not hesitate to cobble together such a derivative work of fiction.

That's the last time I ever let my daughter choose what we watch.