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Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Couldn't stay awake for the Oscars the other night, but had sort of been hoping to catch a glimpse of Berenice Bejo, star of The Artist:

Every time I saw that trailer with her winking at the camera, I found myself taken not only with her beauty, but with the illusion engendered by the wink: that she has a playful sense of humor.

It seems to me that when I went to Seville in 1999 I saw a lot of women who looked like her. (It made me want to study Spanish.) You'd see them on the street, behind shop counters, at the outdoor restaurants, and on motor scooters. There seems to be a law in Spain that you're not allowed to purchase a motor scooter unless you pass a certain standard of beauty.

They all smoked, which wasn't a plus. (I don't think the Europeans have discovered the causal relationship with cancer yet.) On the other hand, they don't seem to have discovered plastic surgery yet, either, which is mostly a plus. If Berenice were American she'd be sporting twin torpedoes and lips puffed beyond recognition.

She evidently showed up at the Oscars looking like this:

(A little artifice is nice, as long as it can be washed off afterward.)

Berenice was actually born in Argentina, and her family moved to France when she was three. But she'd look right at home riding a motor scooter on the streets of Seville.

Consistency, a stock reporting service, quoted Oscar Wilde this morning: "Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."

It's similar to another oft-quoted line, "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." (This is actually a misquotation of a Ralph Waldo Emerson's "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.") 

Emerson lived from 1803 to 1882, whereas Wilde lived from 1854 to 1900, so Wilde may have been cribbing. 

In any case, you may find it as annoying as I do to hear someone hide behind that quote. 

If so, the next time just reply, "And reciting a cliche like that is the hobgoblin of people who can't think for themselves."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Man Who Would Be King

Sean Connery made only three really great movies in his life: Robin and Marian, The Wind and the Lion, and The Man Who Would Be King. All three came out in 1975 and 1976. (The first four Bond movies are culturally iconic, but they were really more cool than great.)

The Man Who Would Be King is on at 8PM on TCM this evening. It's based on the story by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling was certainly not politically correct by today's standards, and the movie cleaves fairly closely to the story. But Kipling also deals skillfully with timeless notions like courage, ingenuity, ego, and hubris, which resonate in any era.

By 1975, Connery was no longer the young panther he was in the early Bond movies, but he still looked great, and he was perfect in the role of an adventurer whose ego gets the better of him. (Later in his career he was cast as a wise man several times, but he was never convincing in those roles.) Connery's romantic interest was played by Shakira Caine, the wife of his co-star Michael.

At 10PM, you can turn to FX and watch Justified, another great boys' adventure story. This one was created by Elmore Leonard, who deals with similar timeless themes.

So people should still be enjoying him in another hundred years as well.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Why the Lin-sanity?

Everybody knows the story by now: Jeremy Lin went unrecruited by all the big time basketball schools, including Stanford, even though he was from Palo Alto. He was cut by two NBA teams. And he was only given playing time by the Knicks as a last resort by the coach when other point guards were unavailable. Since then, he's led the Knicks to a 8-2 record.

The whole thing is reminiscent of one of those sports movies where the walk-on becomes the starting quarterback at a big time football school, or where the 40 year old family man breaks into the major leagues as a pitcher.

It's a classic underdog story, but that doesn't quite explain the cultural phenomenon Lin has become.

That has more to do with how Lin is the anti-Lebron.

Lebron James embodies the popular conception of what an NBA player is. Here's Lebron signing huge endorsement contracts with Nike, Sprite, McDonald's, and State Farm. There he is blowing powder up into the air and referring to himself King James. Here's Lebron ordering organizers to confiscate a CBS videotape of a college player dunking on him at the Nike Lebron James Skills Academy. There's Lebron reserving a special TV show for his announcement that he's going to leave his hometown team for greener pastures in Miami. Here he is in Las Vegas ordering Cristal champagne. And there's Lebron at a fancy nightclub in Manhattan....

Lebron has never done anything truly bad. But because of his general air of entitlement he's been ranked among the six least popular sports personalities in both 2010 and 2012.

Lin, on the other hand, is the opposite of the typical spoiled NBA player. There's Jeremy asking a chaplain to pray that he won't be cut a third time. Here's Jeremy saying that he's gotten too much credit for the recent victories and that his teammates deserve more. There he is saying that he's looking forward to Carmelo Anthony's return. Here's Jeremy blaming himself for the loss to the Hornets and saying he needs to get better. There's Jeremy out celebrating in Manhattan -- with his parents. Here he is at a team party, spending the entire night nursing one beer. And there's Jeremy saying he doesn't deserve to be included in the All Star festivities.

If the Eastern Conference finals come down to the Knicks and the Heat, it won't be hard to figure out whom the majority of Americans will be rooting for. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Exactly what does "diversity" mean?

An Ivy League college is considering two applicants. One is an upper middle class black boy from Fairfield County, Connecticut. He played on his high school basketball team and ran track in the spring. His older brother goes to a different Ivy League college. The other is a middle class white boy who grew upon a farm in Idaho. He was an Eagle Scout, and wrestled on his high school team. His older brother is in the Marines. Let's say they got A minus averages and 1950 on their SATs, and both are decent but not great athletes.

We don't really have to ask which kid would get in ahead of the other.

But which one would bring more actual diversity to an Ivy League college? Which one has a background which would be rarer in those environs? Which one would be more of a breath of fresh air at, say, Yale? Which one could expose his classmates to a truly different background, and set of attitudes?

Obviously, the kid from Idaho. Yet any of the Ivies would, for their purposes, consider the upper middle class black kid from Fairfield County more "diverse."

The implication of this view of diversity is that blacks and whites are diverse purely because of their races. But if we're diverse, where exactly do we diverge?

What are the differences? Could our diverse DNA possibly express itself in differences in average IQ, testosterone level, propensity to violence, sprinting ability, or ability to create and maintain a civilization?

That's not possible, you say?

But if you don't care to acknowledge any divergences, isn't the very concept of diversity rendered meaningless?

Also, aren't the benefits of "diversity" usually touted most strongly by the same people who claim that "race is only skin deep," or, alternatively, "there is no such thing as race?"

Isn't that a contradiction?

Perhaps some college administrator would care to elucidate.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The benefits of diversity

An abbreviated version of a story that appeared on Yahoo News yesterday: 

White House wary of new affirmative action Supreme Court case
By Oliver Knox | The Ticket

The White House reacted cautiously to word Tuesday that the Supreme Court will take up an affirmative action case -- may potentially hear arguments on the volatile issue in the waning months of the presidential campaign.

President Barack Obama's chief spokesman, Jay Carney, told reporters at his daily briefing that he would not comment "on the Supreme Court's decision to take up a case, or not take up a case."

It's not uncommon for an administration to beg off when asked about the high court's doings, especially when it is not a party to the case, in order to avoid the appearance that it is improperly putting its thumb on the scales of justice.

But Carney then waded into the issue in general terms, saying, "I think, as the Supreme Court has recognized in the past, diversity in the classroom has learning benefits for students, campuses and schools."

Everyone talks about the benefits of diversity, but no one ever spells out exactly what they are. It's one of those things that no one seems to want to look at too closely.

Let's analyze Carney's last sentence. Ignore for the moment his poor syntax (campuses and schools are inanimate, and can't learn), and focus on diversity's "learning benefits" for students. How exactly does that work?

Let's say you're a ninth grader trying to master algebra. You're given the following problem: Solve for x if 2x + 5 =  5x - 13. You rack your brains, but you're stymied. Then you look over to the other side of the classroom and see Jose, a recent immigrant, puzzling over the same question. Suddenly the answer hits you -- because Jose was in the classroom!

Is that how it works?

You're attending a majority Hispanic high school in Laredo, Texas. You're trying to remember the date of the Norman Conquest, but you're drawing a blank. Then you look up and see the back of Billy Bob Hardison's head, and you remember -- 1066!

If you're a recent immigrant from Asia, will continual exposure to Ebonics help you score higher on the verbal portion of the SAT?

Frankly, I don't understand how being in the presence of someone of a different ethnicity helps you learn better. 

Perhaps at a future press conference someone could ask Jay Carney to explain exactly how those "learning benefits" are achieved.

Cuddly Mike's latest project

Right on cue, this item just came out this morning:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The rehabilitation of Mike Tyson

It's seems like ancient history now, but once upon a time, before the advent of mixed martial arts, Mike Tyson was regarded as the baddest man on the planet. His knockout power was such that huge black men like Trevor Berbick and Pinklon Thomas cowered in fear when they entered the ring with him. It was said that most of his opponents were already beaten before the fight started.

Tyson's fearsome reputation was exacerbated by his early history of juvenile delinquency and his pronouncements about what he was going to do to his opponents ("drive the bone from his nose up into his brain," "eat his children," etc.). Some of this was done to drum up interest in the fight, but some came from a seemingly inexhaustible supply of rage. At one press conference, a spectator yelled, "Put him in a strait jacket." Here is Tyson's reaction.

(As best I can tell, he wasn't acting.)

As a result of both his boxing prowess and his raw image, Tyson got more publicity than any heavyweight since Muhammad Ali. Much of the press coverage he got was understandably negative, and many took pains to disparage his feral nature. But Tyson, unlike Don King and Robin Givens, never struck me as a sociopath.

Tyson's reign as champ lasted only four years. After his original manager Cus d'Amato died, Tyson hired a couple of childhood friends who knew little about boxing to be his trainers. He got out of shape, started drinking (partly to emulate the old time boxers), and married Robin Givens. None of these things had a positive effect on his boxing, and by 1990 he was a shadow of the boxer he had been in 1986.

But the out of control lifestyle didn't stop. There were the auto accidents, the pet tiger, the nonstop partying, the rape conviction, the ear biting incident, and the preflight scuffle with Lennox Lewis. Then, the inevitable bankruptcy. And then, you didn't hear much about him for a while. 

But all of a sudden, in the past couple years, Tyson has popped back into public view -- as a lovable teddy bear.

There he was in The Hangover, playing himself to comedic effect.

Here he is telling a magazine interviewer that he is now a vegetarian. (Which must mean he's given up eating his opponents' children.)

He showed up at Comedy Central's Charlie Sheen roast, delivering his own speech, then doubling over with laughter as he in turn was savaged by the other comedians. At one point Jeffrey Ross told him, "Mike, when I was listening to you I wanted to chew my own ears off." Tyson laughed as if it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard.

Here's what Amy Schumer had to say to him, as well as his reaction to her insults. (Contrast this reaction to his earlier reaction linked above.)

When Patrice O'Neal got his turn at the podium, he captured the moment perfectly by saying, "You know, I'm not so sure I like the way white people are so....comfortable with Mike Tyson these days."

Then last week there was Tyson at Madison Square Garden, participating in Lin-mania. When interviewer Jill Martin asked him somewhat pointed questions about his biggest regrets, he responded laughingly.

So it's now official: Mike Tyson is a cuddly mascot.

This type of rehabilitation has happened to only one other boxing champ: George Foreman. Foreman was also regarded as a sullen force of nature early in his career, though his main role was to play the heavy to Muhammad Ali in the famous Rumble in the Jungle. Foreman boxed for three more years after that fight, then faded into obscurity for a decade or so, working as a preacher at a rundown church in Texas. Eventually he made a comeback in the late 1980's that culminated in a piece of the heavyweight title. By this point he was the old man in the game, and also had enough nostalgia value so that people rooted for him. He subsequently made a fortune promoting cooking grills thanks to his newly jovial persona.

But other than Foreman, there's no one in recent memory who has undergone the image transformation Tyson has. Certainly not Sonny Liston, the glowering man who was dethroned by the young Cassius Clay. Liston was widely reputed to be mobbed up, and also a heroin user. He died under questionable circumstances in Las Vegas years later, mourned by few. The public has never warmed up to Larry Holmes. During his reign he was said to have suffered by being the successor to Ali, but Holmes would have been considered charisma-free in any era.

Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano were heroes from start to finish; their images never changed.

Muhammad Ali is, of course, an icon. But he always was, so there was no rehab involved there, either. These days Ali gets trotted out on various public occasions, and each time we get to see the long term aftereffects of all those Pyrrhic victories over Frazier, Foreman, Norton, and Shavers.

Iron Mike, despite his moniker, did not have the iron jaw Ali did, and so was knocked out by Buster Douglas and Lennox Lewis rather than having his brains battered for round after round. As a result he is now getting to enjoy his post-boxing incarnation as Cuddly Mike.

I'm glad he's enjoying the last laugh over Robin Givens and Don King.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The sociopathy scale

Sociopaths tend to be dishonest, disloyal, parasitic, narcissistic, easily bored, impulsive, manipulative, irresponsible, callous, hypocritical, and incapable of feeling either love or shame.

But sociopaths can also be charming and, especially at first, electrifying to be around. They are full of witty asides, clever ripostes, and amusingly cutting comments. They are also natural performers, seemingly impervious to any sort of performance anxiety.

When you go to a party, the first person you're going to feel drawn to is the sociopath, who is often the life of the party. Because he gets bored easily, and has a constant need for stimulation, those around him are rarely bored. In fact, you'll often find yourself either admiring his nerve or tickled by his seeming lack of concern for social propriety.

People like that can be fun, for an evening -- if you keep your distance.

Conversely, the nicest people are often the most boring. They have a stiff, inhibited way of letting the truth stand in the way of a good story. And they are susceptible to nerves.

(The one element which complicates both sides of the equation is intelligence, which can add spice to the full range of personality types. An intelligent nice person can be more entertaining -- or at least more interesting -- to be around than a dumb sociopath.)

But intelligence being even, the sociopath is far more likely to make a splashy first impression.

You could almost grade people mathematically, by where they rank on the sociopathy scale. At one end are the sociopaths, at the other decent folk. Sociopaths spend their lives filled with the negative emotions: hatred, envy, schadenfreude, etc. They are also charming, but employ that charm to nefarious ends.

Decent folk are filled with the entire range of emotions, from hatred to love, but almost always let their consciences override their impulses -- which tends to make them dull and boring.

Be aware that where someone ranks on any one of those personality measures is a pretty good predictor of where he will rank on the others.

Being bored is a small price to pay for reliability. And being charmed in the short run is small recompense for ending up bitter, as you will inevitably be if you stay in a sociopath's orbit long enough.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What it's like to have Aspergers

Imagine that whenever you speak to others, you can only do so from the other side of a sheet of opaque glass, so that you can't really interpret their facial expressions.

In addition, whoever you're speaking to is using one of those voice changers that make his voice sound like a robot's, so you can't glean any emotions from his intonations.

Then imagine that you had to conduct your every conversation in a foreign language which you'd studied for only two years, so that you have no feel for idiom, and take everything literally.

But at the same time, you are constitutionally incapable of admitting you're wrong, so whenever people correct you, you must insist you're right.

Then imagine that you have a set of very rigidly held beliefs, and every time someone disagreed with you, you become furious, like a devout Muslim shown a disparaging cartoon of Muhammad.

It would be a tough way to have to go through life.

Of course, spending time around someone like that must not be any picnic either.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lauren Redfern

This Huffpost article appeared on AOL today:

It's about Laura Redfern, a 25-year-old teacher who was arrested for having sex with a 17-year-old boy from her high school. At the moment, Redfern is being held without bond at the Eagle County Detention Center in Colorado.

Here's Laura:

I know that teachers aren't supposed to have sex with their students. I realize that some of these women have issues, and some are trying to relive their high school years. And I know that if men are prosecuted for doing this, then it's only fair that women be too.

I also think that grownups who molest 10-year-olds should be fried.

But yet...somehow....I just can't work up a whole lotta outrage about Redfern's crime.

Do you think the 17-year-old she had sex with is now permanently traumatized? Is he ashamed of himself, or do you think that maybe he boasted about it to a few friends? Do those friends feel pity for him, or envy? And how exactly will word of this liaison affect his social standing at the high school?

Go ahead, take a wild guess.

To me, the funniest thing about the Huffpost article is the way they kept referring to the 17-year-old, who freely admitted to police that the four month long relationship was consensual, as "the victim."

But that may just be my twisted perspective.

Perhaps the residents of her hometown feel differently. Yep, they probably feel safer waking the streets knowing that Redfern is locked away.

Happy birthday Mom!

Always wondered what kind of people become taxidermists.....

"Wake insistent splendors of color which lie dormant beneath silent adulthood purpose."

The last in the series on requests for pen pals from Death Row inmates. Here's an excerpt from:

Nurturing life's little miracles on a path of faith often fraught with dilemma, Michael faces a fierce enemy that never sleeps, haunting his dreams and ripening him with age. "Time", is a cruel opponent.
With an indomitable and approachable spirit in his rehabilitative giving sense of community, Michael strives to wake insistent splendors of color which lie dormant beneath silent adulthood purpose.
Reflected in the power of choice while replacing mundane soil with courage to stare immense psychological pain dead in its eyes, meaningful growth occurs --- a rare gift which dare not be neglected....

Can anyone translate those three paragraphs into plain English for me? (It seems to be written in Obfuscatese, a language many sociopaths are fluent in.)
Flinner is on Death Row for having taken out a $500,000 life insurance policy on his 18-year-old fiancee, then contracting with someone to kill her. ("Time" may be "a cruel opponent," but it's still one that 18-year-old girl would undoubtedly have loved to have had the opportunity to face.)

Michael's son Johnathan, who believes in his father's innocence, is waging a campaign to have him freed. (Flinner himself is another inmate who has taken a principled stand against the death penalty.)

I might possibly have considered the slim possibility that Flinner was innocent. But after reading his letter, there's no way. Anybody who writes about himself in the third person is an incurable narcissist. And anybody who uses such flowery language to say absolutely nothing has obviously spent a lifetime bamboozling others.

Scratch a con man, find a sociopath. And a sociopath is always guilty until proven innocent.

If you have any doubts about Flinner's guilt, ask yourself this: what possible reason would a 36-year-old man have to take out a half million dollar insurance policy on his 18-year-old fiancee?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Day Stalker

Looking at pen pal requests from some of the more notorious Death Row inmates is a great way to study sociopathy. There's no doubt about their sociopathy, so you get to analyze their letters in that light, and see exactly what it is that betrays their sociopathy.

Here's another pen pal request, in case you're in the mood to correspond:


If you were able to place yourself in my present position filled with adversity, wouldn't you desire a connection with someone who just might provide you with moral support through regular correspondence---a way to help you maintain your mental health and stability, despite the darker sides and negative images that exist within the personalities beyond these myriad walls?
If so, please feel free to write to me so that we may exchange thoughts and some of our common interests, such as academics, politics, economics, reading novels, travel, family life, spirituality, sports, abolition of the death penalty, and various secular issues. With much Love and Appreciation, Franklin
Lynch demonstrates that peculiar sociopathic stylistic quirk, overuse of adjectives and adverbs: he wants to truly establish a meaningful friendship with someone willing to sincerely empathize with his unfortunate situation. (At one point he even gets adverbs and adjectives confused, when he speaks of his "unjustly conviction.")

Lynch, like the fellow in the previous post, has taken a moral stance against the death penalty. Note his use of the word "abolition," which vaguely equates his cause with Abolition. It's also nice to see that he has an interest in "family life" and "spirituality."

Note also that he says he wants to "maintain" his mental health and stability. He doesn't want to gain it, he merely wants to keep it in the hostile environs to which he has been unjustly confined. The implication is that he is currently mentally healthy and stable.

When he says "despite the darker sides and negative images that exist within the personalities beyond these myriad walls" he is of course trying to dissociate himself from all those bad guys who are in prison. ("Myriad" is evidently a word beloved by both high school poets and Death Row inmates.)

And look at Lynch's nice smile. Or is that more the gleefully devilish grin of a man impervious to remorse?

You should probably withhold judgment until you find out a little more about him.

Lynch was known for a while as "The Day Stalker," and terrorized the Bay Area during the mid-80's. He was convicted of robbing and killing three old ladies, and is suspected of at least a dozen other murders as well.

One 89-year-old woman, in a typical killing, was found with her hands tied behind her back, a blanket tied around her head, and numerous broken bones as well as a brain hemorrhage.

(When he talks about the "common interests" you might have, he omits beating little old ladies to death. Musta been an oversight.)

One quintessentially sociopathic characteristic is that they always assume they can fool you. This is not only true of sociopaths on the outside, but even of Death Row inmates who have been convicted of the most monstrous of crimes. A sociopath never stops being a sociopath, however, and the shame of it is that even after having been exposed for what they are they can almost always find more gullible people to con.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The anti-capital punishment crusader

This request for pen pals is from Death Row inmate Spencer Brasure:

His first paragraph:

My name is Spencer, I am a single God-Loving father of one, in my early 40's, writing to you as a co-founder of this very venue, encouraging your participation and membership as we push for reform, aggressively stimulating global opposition to capital punishment while working to dispel societal stigma.

There are plenty of very decent people who are against the death penalty, and some actively campaign toward that end. But for someone who's on Death Row to support the cause seems, well, a little self-serving. Especially since people don't usually end up on Death Row unless they've practiced a little capital punishment themselves.

Also, exactly what "societal stigma" is Brasure trying to dispel? The stigma against the types of crimes which land people on Death Row? Does anybody else believe it would be a good idea to de-stigmatize murder?

There are evidently only two types of people pretentious enough to use "societal" rather than "social": college professors and Death Row inmates.

Not that I would say any of these things to his face. Brasure looks pretty scary in his photographs. He even manages to look threatening while cuddling his daughter, which is a real accomplishment.

At the end of his letter, Brasure writes:

Ponder this: "An eye for an eye, results in a blind society"

Okay, now ponder this excerpt from an LA Times article describing what Brasure did to his kidnap victim before dousing him with gasoline and burning him to death:

"Brasure burned Guest's face with a torch, stapled wood to his head and broke glass in his mouth. He also burned the man with a makeshift electrical device."

We know that Brasure has taken the humane anti-capital punishment position.

One has to wonder if he is now morally opposed to torture as well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Actions speak louder than inmate pen pal requests

Here's another request for a pen pal from a Death Row inmate:

There are three pictures shown of Eddie Morgan Jr. He's sort of good-looking in a somewhat aggressive way.

Mr. Morgan makes himself sound like an awfully nice guy: He loves animals. He comes from "a wonderful family." He adores his mother and two sisters. When his father passed away, it was "a very difficult time" for him. He loves Jesus with all his heart, and also loves to help people in any way he can. He is "positive and upbeat," "down-to-earth," and "honest."

Sounds like just the kind of guy you'd want your sister to marry.

Note also that he is looking for a "genuine friendship." Not just any old friendship mind you, but a genuine one.

Now check out this description of his crime:

Quite a contrast.

It's always the worst people who take the greatest pains to point out how nice they are.

Watch your lies, they become your reputation

One of my favorite inmate pen pal requests was written by one Daniel Lewis:

After explaining how he was convicted after his gun went off "accidentally," at the end of his letter he says:

P.S. Here's a little poem that I wrote.

Watch your thoughts, they become your words, They become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become your habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character,
It becomes your destiny.

Lewis obviously mashed the first and second lines together. Nonetheless, it's a clever poem, so I was a little suspicious about its provenance.

Sure enough, I Googled it and found that it's a well known poem. Here is the correct version:

Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

The poem is variously attributed to Lao Tsu, Charles Reade, and Anonymous.

No one attributes it to Daniel Lewis.

So Lewis's claim of authorship doesn't exactly lend credence to his statement that his gun discharged "accidentally."

From his picture, it's apparent that Lewis, a lifelong Alaska resident, is an Inuit. I read once a long time ago that the incidence of sociopathy among the Inuit was only 1 in 500, far less than among whites, and that when an obvious sociopath appeared in their midst, the other tribal members would simply push him off an ice floe into the Bering Sea.

I also remember how Amerindians in general felt that the white man spoke with a forked tongue.

In this case, it seems it's the Inuit/Amerindian who is not speaking the truth.

Mr. Lewis has been in jail for ten and a half years, so perhaps he doesn't realize how easy it is to look things up on the internet these days.

I have two pieces of advice for Mr. Lewis.

The first is, don't go near any ice floes.

The second is a little saying I wrote a few years back:

You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Looking for romance?

It's fascinating to look at the letters from prisoners seeking pen pals:

Many, naturally enough, say they are seeking friends who are "not judgmental." (Translation: have no sense of judgment.)

Virtually all either say they were convicted wrongly, or only admit to making a "mistake," without specifying what that mistake was. To most of us, a mistake might consist of a mathematical error, or a misspelling. Or perhaps losing our keys. The "mistake" these inmates refer to is something along the lines of having raped and murdered someone. (Oops .)

If any of these inmates strike you as nice guys, or if theirs is the type of patter you tend to fall for, I have one piece of advice for you:

Never, ever, set foot outside your front door.

(By the way, for those of you who don't know the writer of this blog -- which is basically a request for commenters if not friends -- I'm quite partial to long romantic walks on the beach. And I love puppies.)

Wanna be pen pals?

While looking up Wesley Shermantine, the serial killer pictured in the previous post, I stumbled across this advertisement from him on a website which tries to get pen pals for Death Row inmates:

It's a wonderfully revealing look at the mentality and methods of a sociopath.

You often hear that when you go to jail, the first thing you find out is that everyone claims to be innocent. Shermantine is no exception. In the first part of his letter he states:

Death Row Inmate Shermantine declined (refused) Attorney General offer of Life-Without-Parole on March 14, 2011. I've not murdered anyone, so what would compel me to accept a deal of any kind which had a "life" sentence attached to it? My heart aches for the Herzog's victim's family members. I really would like to help them all, but the A.G. and D.A. MUST present a far-better offer.

Since writing this, Shermantine has drawn up maps showing the locations where additional bodies can be found. He did this not out of guilt or a desire to bring closure to the victims' families, but in exchange for money with which to buy a TV and other creature comforts for his cell.

Note how his "heart aches" for the bereaved family members. This type of false emotionality is typical of sociopaths, who are forever striking such poses.

The straightforward protestation of innocence is also typical. It's easy to imagine Shermantine saying this while looking you straight in the eye, without a catch in his voice.

This is what he says about his previous marriage:

I've been here on Death Row since May of 2001. I'm currently single but previously married to a wonderful woman who blessed me with two beautiful sons (now grown men). She has since remarried.

Shermantine's wife testified at his trial that he constantly beat her, even while she was pregnant or holding the children in her arms.

Prior to this tragedy occurring in my/our lives, I/we enjoyed simple things like fishing, hiking, hunting, horseback-riding, backing packing into the wilderness, water skiing, gold panning, playing in the winter snow, and just about anything to do with the great outdoors.

Shermantine reportedly boasted to his partner in crime, Loren Herzog, that he had killed a hunter in Utah. Evidently he used these wilderness jaunts to indulge his habit of killing strangers. (It's a lot easier to get away with murder when you're in a remote area far away from security cameras, etc.)

Never having been to prison before, I get by. There's a lot more to me than really meets the eye. I love music too, along with the unexplainable in life --- things we cannot see or even have a true understanding of.

Shermantine loves music and "the unexplainable in life" -- what a romantic!

Today, I seek genuine friendship from all walks of life, men and women whatever age, and people willing to tough out this rough patch in my life with me, those willing to take a chance on getting to know me while at the same time, learning how the justice system "really" functions, placing innocent people into prison while freeing the guilty.

A nonsociopath is much less likely to use the word "genuine," since he would just assume that any friendship is by its nature genuine. But a sociopath is forever spelling out his inner decency and goodness.

Next time you meet someone who sounds like this, make sure there are some security cameras around.

Thin lips III

The  following AP article appeared on Yahoos News this morning: 

It is about two men, Wesley Shermantine and Loren Herzog, known as the "Speed Freak Killers," who are thought to have killed as many as 15 people -- by some accounts more -- and dumped them in a well on an abandoned farm once owned by Shermantine's family. 

Shermantine is on Death Row, but Herzog's conviction was overturned when a judge found his confession to have been illegally obtained. However, he committed suicide a month ago when he found out that Shermantine was telling authorities about the well and two other locations. 

I'd never heard of these two before, so was curious as to what they looked like. Here's Shermantine: 

And here's Loren Herzog: 

Both men have the thin lips that seem to be so typical of Caucasian serial killers. I can't begin to explain it, or even come up with a theory as to why this might be. But it's hard not to notice the correlation. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

At last, an honest man

Diogenes would be pleased:

Confessions of a beta male XIV: Sex

An alpha about to go to bed with a new woman for the first time feels as if he's just stumbled onto a hidden treasure. A beta feels as if he is onstage, and must give the performance of his life.

A beta thinks, I better acquit myself well, otherwise she'll think I'm no good in bed. (This, of course, makes him less likely to perform well.) An alpha thinks, she better do everything I want and be good in bed.

During sex, a beta always worries about his performance. An alpha is about as self-conscious as a hungry dog with a t-bone that just fell off the grille.

A beta, if struck impotent, will be mortified, and think, what's wrong with me? On the rarer occasions when this happens to an alpha, he wonders, what's wrong with her? Hmm, guess she's not that attractive after all.

A beta tends to excel at foreplay. An alpha assumes that just being around him is such a turn on he needn't bother with preliminaries.

During the initial stages of a seduction, if a girl says no, a beta is likely to take her at her word. An alpha just acts as if he didn't hear her.

A beta is much more likely to perform oral sex. An alpha, to demand it.

A beta's ideal romp is one where he acquits himself well and feels confident that he's earned his return ticket. An alpha ideal date is one where his girlfriend gives him a massage, then a blow job, and then he rolls over and falls asleep.

A beta feels obliged to cuddle afterward, and pretend to be interested in what the woman has to say. An alpha either reaches for the remote to turn on the game, or pulls on his pants and walks out the door.

A beta wonders about the other guys a woman has been with, and how he compares, especially in the size department. As far as an alpha is concerned, every woman he's with was for all practical purposes a virgin to real men -- until she met him.

A beta much more likely to put a girl on a pedestal, and imagine he's fallen in love. An alpha never crosses the line from healthy desire to infatuation or obsession.

A beta assumes he is lucky to be with whatever woman he is with. (As in, "I'm hoping to get lucky tonight.") An alpha tends not to use that phrase, as he assumes any woman is lucky to be with him.

(I didn't write this one in first person only because it would have been too awkward to put everything in past tense. At my age, I can no longer claim to even be pathetic.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

The $900 trillion suit

There's been a fair amount of publicity recently about Faisat Ogunbayo's recently filed $900 trillion suit against the New York City Administration for Child Services for having taken her children away from her.

Much of the publicity has centered on Ogunbayo's reported mental illness. Little has focused on her greed. But perhaps if she had sued for a more reasonable amount, say, $750 trillion, people might not be mocking her.

So far Mayor Bloomberg has not commented; he is undoubtedly fearful that such a sum would bankrupt the city.

Ogunbayo's name sounds Nigerian. I know from personal experience that Nigerians think big, as I frequently get emails from princes from Nigeria offering to wire me mouth-wateringly large sums of money if only I will send them my bank account number. Much as I'd like to consort with royalty, however, I haven't, because it just wouldn't feel right to take advantage of their generosity.

Unlike her countrymen, however, Ms. Ogunbayo seems to be more taker than giver. But perhaps I misjudge her. Maybe she only wants the money to help others. It is mind-bogglilng to think of the good that Ms. Ogunbayo could accomplish with that kind of money, even assuming she has to settle for, say, $500 trillion.

She could pay off our national debt (several times over). Then she could pay off the debts of Greece, Spain, Ireland, Iceland, and Portugal, thereby alleviating the global financial crisis. Afterward she could fully fund some of her favorite charities. Perhaps she wants to help orphans. Or save the tigers. And even after all that, she would actually have plenty left over for some pretty nice bling.

Heck, maybe we should root for her to win her suit. (If her lawyer can arrange a jury trial in the Bronx, she might actually be awarded that sum.)

Of course, she'll have to watch out for con men, who will pretend to love her just to get their hands on her money. (Faisat: I would love you for yourself, not your money, I promise.)

It is unfortunate that people like Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffett, none of whom are worth more than $50 billion, will have a collective attack of insecurity.

Though, speaking frankly, it's about time those guys were put in their place anyway.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why not invade North Korea?

There's been a lot of saber rattling when it comes to Iran recently. All of the Republican candidates except Ron Paul have said they would invade, or at the very least, bomb Iran to keep it from developing a nuclear bomb. President Obama has said that he is keeping "a close eye" on Iran.

Iran has talked tough, but doesn't seem to want war with the US. They talked about closing the Strait of Hormuz but have retreated from that threat. They have yet to take any sort of retaliation for the murder of their nuclear scientists.  And they don't seem to represent any sort of credible threat to the US.

But what about North Korea? They not only already have a nuclear bomb, but have said that they would consider using it against the US. They have conducted nuclear tests over the Pacific. They treat people who trespass -- even unwittingly -- onto their territory harshly. And they represent a threat to our allies Japan and Taiwan.

North Korea certainly fits the definition of a rogue state. The regime even starves its own people. They are effectively a militaristic kingdom masquerading as a communist dictatorship. (You know a government isn't exactly beneficent when it has to pretend to be a communist dictatorship in order to look better.)

Yet there is no sentiment here to dismantle North Korea the way there is Iran.

Gee. This is a hard one to figure out.

Guess it's time for the American-Japan Public Affairs Committee to kick into gear.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Beauty pageant, cont.

Two months ago I expressed dismay that Jennifer Aniston had been voted sexiest woman of all time, and listed eight other women I considered far more attractive. I was then criticized for listing only white women, and offered this rebuttal.

But there have actually been three recent nonwhite stars I might have included in the original list had I thought of them at the time. All three are included on the basis of merit, if looks can be termed such, not on the basis of inclusivity.

Frieda Pinto's breakthrough role came in Slumdog Millionaire. It was impossible to take your eyes off her in that movie. Her beauty made it easier to empathize with the hero's feelings for her, which actually gave the movie more dramatic intensity. (Should there be an Oscar for "Most Beautiful"?)

Pinto's close-set eyes don't make her look particularly intelligent, but there's no denying her beauty:


Thandie Newton was the epitome of cool in RocknRolla. Her father was English, her mother Zimbabwean. She has suffered from bulimia in the past, which makes her a rarity among women of African descent. (According to Wikipedia, bulimia is primarily a disease of white girls; Asians and Africans rarely get it.)

Newton turns 40 this year, which means that her Hollywood expiration date is coming up. But for the past decade she has provided some great viewing:

Zhang Ziyi's breakthrough role came in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There's something about her face which makes her appear to be the embodiment of steadfastness, purity, and all things good. (Imagine my dismay upon finding out that her fiance for the past several years had been a hedge fund billionaire.) She hasn't been in any big hits recently, but whenever she has appeared, she has always invested her roles with a certain nobility:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Writing samples

When conversing with another, you're bombarded with a host of impressions: his voice, his appearance, his facial expression, and his mannerisms. You're also usually formulating your next sentence. So you're generally not as analytical about what he says as you could be.

If you want a sense of how someone's brain works, take a look at something he's written. Without the other distractions, you can be alone with his thoughts.

In person, a forceful presentation can disguise a lack of originality or lack of logic. On paper, there's nothing to hide behind. It's just a brain and its thoughts, stripped down to their essences.

Also, since both reading and writing are solitary activities, neither you nor the writer will be influenced by self-consciousness, an emotion which can -- in certain circumstances -- lower IQs by up to 50 points. (Sociopaths, who don't suffer from self-consciousness, generally don't lose points thusly; shy types suffer the most precipitous drops.)

Some might say that writing is separate from other types of intelligence: it doesn't reflect mathematical ability, for example. And it is partly a function of practice. But this post is not about judging someone by his writing style, but rather by his logic and clarity of thought.

One thing writing definitely does not show is the ability to think fast on one's feet. Another argument against the writing-as-the-best-indicator theory is that some people don't bother to edit. A first draft with an apparent IQ of 100 can, after several rewritings, appear to have one of 150. Yet both can be by the same person.

Nonetheless, I've generally gotten a clearer sense of people from their writings than from their everyday conversation.

A parallel: if you find a beautiful woman witty and insightful, see if that impression holds up over an extended conversation on the phone. With the only physical distraction a plastic handset, you're sure to get a clearer picture.

Certain things, like figuring out if someone is a liar, are better done in person. Others, like peering at a brain, are sometimes best done from a distance.

Next time you're besotted, just ask for a writing sample. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Apologies to Abigail Van Buren, Part II

Dear Abby,

I'm a middle-aged man with a really big job. I can't tell you what it is, but trust me, it's big. The problem is, it's just not that much fun, and I really don't know if I want to re-up for another hitch.

The thing is, it comes with some incredible perks I'd just hate to give up. I get to fly around on this really cool jet. I get all these bodyguards, which makes me feel kind of badass. Whenever I enter a room, they play this one particular song that makes everybody stand up and cheer for me. It's really cool.

I even get to hang out with and play basketball with NBA stars. Believe it or not, I can score on them. My game actually seems to have improved since I took this job.

And every time I give a speech to my supporters, I get a standing O. I swear, those are more addictive than crack. Trust me on that one.

Even my wife, who's a real shrew, likes me having this job. She'd never admit it though. She claims she hates being in the limelight and having all this extra shit she's expected to do. But my opinion, she's like one of those movie stars who say they hate being bothered by fans, but then when they go places and aren't recognized, they can't stand it.

Another thing, they shut down entire golf courses for me so I can play! Only problem with that is I only get to play once or twice a week. The rest of the time I'm supposed to be "working."

Anyway, my job itself is really dull. I have to meet with all these boring old white guys from other countries when I'd rather be hanging with my NBA buddies. And I've got to pretend like I'm interested in whatever dull crap they're talking about. Usually I just rely on my Teleprompter, but sometimes I actually have to pay attention. It sucks -- it's like being in school again.

Speaking of school, you know how most employers require a college transcript before they hire you? I had my record sealed, yet I still got the job. Pretty slick, huh?

Anyway, back to the job. I have to meet with my advisers all the time. You've never seen such a bunch of drips. The worst of the bunch may be the guy who's sort of like my chief assistant, who's supposed to take over in case anything happens to me. This guy just says whatever comes into his mind, and half the time it's not even true. I call him my insurance policy, and I'm not completely joking. But even if he's keeping me alive, when he's in the room I can't get out of there fast enough.

But the worst part of my job is how everybody blames me for the lousy economy. Like it's my fault they don't have jobs. I did what I could -- I handed out enough welfare and food stamps so that people don't need jobs. I sorta thought that was the whole point.

Then there's all these idiots bellyaching about our debt. I mean, who cares? Some of these loans we sell, that shit isn't coming due for decades.

Anyway, in the meantime we've been holding some great parties at my official residence. There was one where we were all doing the electric slide, you should have seen it, it was great!

Maybe the best part of the job itself is that I get to play War with real soldiers! Can you imagine?! There was this one real bad guy, and I gave the order to have him killed in this faraway land. So they did it, and then it was like I was the hero of the whole thing! It was so cool!

So I don't know what to do. A lot of people are telling me I could make tons of dough when I leave my job. I wouldn't even have to do all that boring shit. And I'd still get to keep my bodyguards.

Some people are actually saying I may not even be able to hang on to my job even if I want to. There's this rich handsome white guy who seems to want it real bad. The guy looks like a real dick to me though -- just the kind of guy I've hated all my life. I almost want to hang onto the job just to keep it from him.

So what should I do?

Dear Indecisive,
It's time you gave the job to someone who's harder-working. I don't know how you ever landed a job with such lavish perks in the first place, but it does sound to me as if you're one very lucky man. At the very least, you should develop a better work ethic and get serious about your career.

By the way, what kind of employer still hires you without asking for your college transcript? I've never heard of that before.

My advice is, stop acting like a self-indulgent moron and grow up.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

With apologies to Abigail van Buren

Dear Abby,
I'm in bit of a quandary. I ran for office in 2008, but failed to get my party's nomination for the particular position I desired. And when I say "desired," I mean I lusted after it with a passion you can't even begin to imagine. My husband had held this position before, and back then I was regarded as just an appendage. But trust me, with an undergraduate degree from a prestigious women's college and a law degree from a prominent Ivy League university, I'm not some little Loretta Lynn stand-by-your-man type.

To be honest, I'm actually more the Evita type.

So I figured it was my turn, and early on I was favored to win, but this brash young black man came out of nowhere to take the nomination away from me. This guy had less contact with black people during his childhood than I did growing up in a lily white Chicago suburb, but he played the race card like a violin. And even though blacks are only 12% of the population, they're a quarter of the electorate in my political party, so I lost the nomination. You know those darkies, they'll always vote for their own. Oops, did I actually just say that? (It does drive me crazy to think of how ungrateful they are, after all my husband and I had done for them!)

Anyway, it's been three years since this young man got elected, and the bloom is off the rose. People are finally seeing this phony for who he is -- a con man who knows nothing about economics, or foreign relations, or anything other than repeating his tired old mantra about how rich people have to pay more. And now all he does all day is watch ESPN and play golf. People are sick of him. I know I'm sick of him. As a matter of fact I often wake up in the middle of the night and all I can think about is how much I hate him. The fact is, I would have done a much, much better job than him.

So my question is, should I challenge him for our party's nomination this spring? Some consider it bad form to challenge the incumbent of your own party. But I actually think I'd have a better shot at defeating the other party's candidate for this particular position than the current officeholder would. The only problem is, I've actually been working for him these past three years. He appointed me to a fairly prominent position in what everybody said was a keep-your-friends-close-but-your-enemies-closer kind of way, but I'm still concerned that it might make me appear disloyal.

What do you think?
Puzzled in DC

Dear Puzzled in DC,
I think you should run. This guy sounds like a real loser, and if he's as you describe, people must be sick of him. And even though you worked for him, if he's as bad as you say, the electorate will realize that your close up view of the guy means that you know better than anyone else how incompetent he is.

But I also think you sound a little obsessive; you liken yourself to Evita, but you strike me as more the Lady MacBeth type. So whether or not you get the nomination, I think you should consider seeing a psychiatrist. A good shrink might do you a world of good, especially if you're waking up in the middle of the night obsessing about this current officeholder.

By the way, are you sure you're not sexually infatuated with him and that this is not just repressed lust you feel?