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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Here's to you"

A post I wrote three years ago today, which is still appropriate for tonight.

American Hustle

American Hustle is about a pair of small time grifters who get caught up in an FBI sting modeled after Abscam, which ensnared a Senator and several Congressmen in the 1970's. The movie was well written, well plotted, and captured the late 70's perfectly, without being condescending to a decade toward which condescension is almost de rigueur. But the most striking thing about it was how good the acting is.

Amy Adams, as one of the grifters, was nothing at all like the fairy tale princess she played in Enchanted, nothing like Lois Lane, nothing like boxer Micky Ward's lower middle class girlfriend. Here she went from frustrated to (fake) elegant to ecstatic to scared to manipulative to desperate to angry to bitter to adoring, and she was convincing throughout.

Christian Bale played the other small time grifter. He has been heroic in 3:10 to Yuma, Batman Begins, and Terminator Salvation. He's been glossily evil in American Psycho, pathetically addicted in The Fighter, and tortured in The Machinist. In American Hustle he was nebbishy and sleazy and brilliant, all at the same time.

Jennifer Lawrence was fantastic in a role that called for her to be aggressively, passionately stupid. She is an absolutely fearless actress, and plays raw like no one else. Judging from her recent public comments, playing stupid may not be a stretch, but she still puts it all on the screen with great courage.

In the last two decades Robert Deniro has been reduced to a mockery of a shell of his former self. But he was downright scary as a Mafia chief here, and exuded a hardness that was a reminder of how great he used to be.

Jeremy Renner has played tough in The Town, stoic in The Bourne Legacy, and fearless in The Hurt Locker. Here he was great as the expansive New Jersey politician who gets caught up in the bribery scandal for mostly noble reasons.

Louie CK was believable as the put-upon mid-level FBI manager who must navigate between an ambitious underling and an ambitious boss.

Bradley Cooper was good as the ambitious underling. He seems somewhat overrated as an actor -- somehow, in every role, he's always recognizably Bradley Cooper, trying gamely to portray every emotion he's supposed to -- but he's still good.

There seems to be an almost direct inverse correlation between acting ability and vanity. Note how Angelina Jolie (at least since 2000, when she was excellent in Girl, Interrupted) has concentrated on playing glamorous. She is never photographed in light less than flattering and never has a hair out of place. And as a result, her roles have been limited to, cool heroine.

The actors of American Hustle on the other hand, exhibit no such vanity. Smeared makeup, black eyes, ridiculous hairstyles, fat, and baldness are all on ample display, along with the great acting.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Updating "going postal"

UncleBob's Treehouse, Bob Wallace's excellent blog, mentioned recently that there have been over 80 public school shootings in the past decade as a result of people "going postal."

That phrase originated after a series of five incidents involving postal workers between 1986 and 1993. But it occurs to me that with the far greater number of shootings involving students, it's time for the expression to be updated.

I propose a new phrase for unbalanced people who go berserk: "going scholastic."

You could say that the Columbine killers "went academic."

You could say that Adam Lanza "went scholarly." You might even say that Lanza, given the extremely horrific nature of his crime, "went Phi Beta Kappa."

If you're particularly frustrated with a situation or filled with rage for some reason, you could express your emotions by muttering ominously, "Man, I'm about to go to school."

Or, "I fucking feel like going to college."

Or, "If that jerk pushes me any further, I swear, I'm gonna get studious on his ass."

The change in our language is really long overdue, given that the new phraseology is far more warranted than "going postal" ever was.

When you think about it, the new expressions would work on more than one level. To become scholarly at most colleges these days is to gain a patina of political correctness, which basically translates as factual incorrectness. And since the traditional definition of insanity is to be divorced from reality, the new expressions would be doubly appropriate.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sociopath alert: L. Ron Hubbard

I've always been vaguely aware of Scientology as a religion, though I've never paid it close attention. I knew of its cult-like reputation. I knew that it had attracted a couple of prominent Hollywood stars who were supposed to be closeted gays, and I'd heard something to the effect that the church had claimed it could "cure" homosexuality. I'd heard that the church had gotten into bitter disputes with former members.

And I also knew --- vaguely -- that it was somehow based on the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer. But for all I knew, some people had decided to base a religion on his writings, perhaps the same way, say, a group of people might decide to base a new religion on the Dune series by Frank Herbert.

When a commenter ("Remnant") recently asked if I was aware of how L. Ron Hubbard was a sociopath, I looked into it. The fairly extensive Wikipedia article about Hubbard makes it apparent that he was.

Scientology, of course, presents an idealized version of Hubbard's life, some of it exaggeration, some outright lies. For instance, according to Wikipedia:

Biographical accounts published by the Church of Scientology [say that Hubbard] was brought up on his grandfather's "large cattle ranch in Montana" where he spent his days "riding, breaking broncos, hunting coyote and taking his first steps as an explorer". His grandfather is described as a "wealthy Western cattleman" from whom Hubbard "inherited his fortune and family interests in America, Southern Africa, etc." Scientology claims that Hubbard became a 'blood brother" of the Native American Blackfeet tribe at the age of six through his friendship with a Blackfeet medicine man.

However, contemporary records show that his grandfather, Lafayette Waterbury, was a veterinarian, not a rancher, and was not wealthy. Hubbard was actually raised in a townhouse in the center of Helena. According to his aunt, his family did not own a ranch but did own one cow and four or five horses on a few acres of land outside the city. Hubbard lived over a hundred miles from the Blackfeet reservation. The tribe did not practice blood brotherhood and no evidence has been found that he had ever been a Blackfeet blood brother.

All this is hardly evidence of sociopathy: the lies and half-truths may well have come from Scientologists who later tried to romanticize his life, and not from Hubbard himself. (If some group later decides to start a religion based on this blog, and worships me as its god, then claims that I got "millions of readers daily," that lie could hardly be attributed to me.)

Nonetheless, Hubbard told plenty of lies about himself on his own, and if you look at his life through the prism of sociopathy, there is a pattern of dishonesty, disloyalty, and fraud that is unmistakeable.

Hubbard claimed to be a "graduate engineer." In fact, he dropped out of George Washington University after less than two years there. He also claimed to have studied nuclear physics; records indicate that he took one course in the field, for which he received an "F."

Hubbard, who was born in 1911, married his first wife Margaret "Polly" Grubb in 1933, and started to write science fiction to support himself shortly thereafter.

In 1941, Hubbard was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Naval Reserve. He claimed to have seen combat repeatedly. Official Naval records show that he never saw combat and that his performance was judged as substandard. According to Wiki:

After Hubbard reported that the PC-815 had attacked and crippled or sunk two Japanese submarines off Oregon in May 1943, his claim was rejected by the commander of the Northwest Sea Frontier. Hubbard and Thomas Moulton, his second in command on the PC-815, later said the Navy wanted to avoid panic on the mainland. A month later Hubbard unwittingly sailed the PC-815 into Mexican territorial waters and conducted gunnery practice off the Coronado Islands, in the belief that they were uninhabited and belonged to the United States. The Mexican government complained and Hubbard was relieved of command. A fitness report written after the incident rated Hubbard as unsuitable for independent duties and "lacking in the essential qualities of judgment, leadership and cooperation."

(Sociopaths tend to lack judgment and cooperation, though they can be skillful at a twisted form of leadership.)

In 1945 Hubbard moved into the house of Jack Parsons, a fellow occultist, and befriended him. Shortly after, he stole Parsons' girlfriend, Sara "Betty" Northrup. Shortly after that Hubbard convinced Parsons to invest his life savings in a company whose ostensible purpose was to buy yachts in Miami and sail them to the West Coast where they could be sold for a profit. In the meantime, Hubbard tried to leave the country with one of the yacht, intending to take a world cruise with girlfriend Northrup. Parsons was ruined financially by this venture and subsequently had to sell his house to make ends meet.

According to Wikipedia:

Hubbard's fellow writers were well aware of what had happened between him and Parsons. L. Sprague de Camp wrote to Isaac Asimov on August 27, 1946, to tell him:

"The more complete story of Hubbard is that he is now in Fla. living on his yacht with a man-eating tigress named Betty-alias-Sarah, another of the same kind ... He will probably soon thereafter arrive in these parts with Betty-Sarah, broke, working the poor-wounded-veteran racket for all its worth, and looking for another easy mark. Don't say you haven't been warned. Bob [Robert Heinlein] thinks Ron went to pieces morally as a result of the war. I think that's fertilizer, that he always was that way, but when he wanted to conciliate or get something from somebody he could put on a good charm act. What the war did was to wear him down to where he no longer bothers with the act."

In August of 1946 Hubbard married Northrup, despite still being married to Polly.

In 1951, according to Wikipedia:

Hubbard and two Foundation staff seized Sara and his year-old daughter Alexis and forcibly took them to San Bernardino, California, where he attempted unsuccessfully to find a doctor to examine Sara and declare her insane. He let Sara go but took Alexis to Havana, Cuba. Sara filed a divorce suit on April 23, 1951, that accused him of marrying her bigamously and subjecting her to sleep deprivation, beatings, strangulation, kidnapping and exhortations to commit suicide.

In 1952 Hubbard, then 41, married 18-year-old Mary Sue Whipp, and moved to Phoenix to set up Scientology.

During Hubbard's lifetime, Scientology had more than its share of controversies. In 1958 the FDA seized thousands of pills that Hubbard had been marketing as "radiation cures."

In the early 1960's, Scientology was banned in parts of Australia. In 1972, France charged Scientology and Hubbard with fraud and customs violations. Scientology's fleet of boats, known as Sea Org, were banned from various ports around the world.

Hubbard "invented" a device called the "E-meter," which he climbed could read a person's innermost thoughts. (Sociopaths are good at reading people; this is an ability that helps fortunetellers and other con artists. The idea that there was a device that could do this is, of course, ridiculous.)

Scientology is well known for its extremely aggressive approach towards anyone who criticizes the religion. According to Wikipedia:

[Hubbard] told Scientologists: "If attacked on some vulnerable point by anyone or anything or any organization, always find or manufacture enough threat against them to cause them to sue for peace ... Don't ever defend, always attack." 

(Vindictveness -- and being on both sides of a lot of lawsuits -- is another hallmark of sociopaths.)

Here's a character testimonial from Hubbard's own son, L. Ron Hubbard Jr, from an interview with Penthouse Magazine in 1983:

Hubbard: Well, he didn't really want people killed, because how could you really destroy them if you just killed them? What he wanted to do was to destroy their lives, their families, their reputations, their jobs, their money, everything. My father was the type of person who, when it came to destruction, wanted to keep you alive for as long as possible, to torture you, punish you. If he chose to destroy you, he would love to see you lying in the gutter, strung out on booze and drugs, rolling in your own vomit, with your wife and children gone forever: no job, no money. He'd enjoy walking by and kicking you and saying to other people, "Look what I did to this man!" He's the kind of man who would pull the wings off flies and watch them stumble around. You see, this fits in with his Scientology beliefs, also. He felt that if you just died, your spirit would go out and get another body to live in. By destroying an enemy that way, you'd be doing him a favor. You were letting him out from under the thumb of L. Ron. Hubbard, you see?

Wikipedia also cited a telling opinion about Hubbard, this one from Judge Paul G. Breckenridge, who in 1984 ruled in favor of a former Scientology member, Gerry Armstrong, who was disillusioned when he found out that much of what he had been told about Hubbard was lies:

The evidence portrays a man [Hubbard] who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background and achievements. The writings and documents in evidence additionally reflect his egoism, greed, avarice, lust for power, and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile. At the same time it appears that he is charismatic and highly capable of motivating, organizing, controlling, manipulating and inspiring his adherents. He has been referred to during the trial as a "genius," a "revered person," a man who was "viewed by his followers in awe." Obviously, he is and has been a very complex person and that complexity is further reflected in his alter ego, the Church of Scientology.

Judge Breckenridge has given us a textbook description of a sociopath.

I came across this clip of Tom Cruise talking about Scientology on Youtube. He has some interesting things to say. Two quotes:

"A Scientologist has the ability to create new and better realities." (Is this not what sociopaths do with their lies?)

"We are the authorities on getting people off drugs. We are the authorities on the mind….We can rehabilitate criminals…We can bring peace and unite cultures…" (Sociopaths tend to believe in their own omnipotence.)

I'm not saying Tom Cruise is a sociopath. He comes off more as a True Believer: dim and/or crazy. (It occurred to me while watching that clip that he may have Asperger Syndrome as well. People with Asperger's are far more likely to join an organization which will do their thinking for them.) But the religion itself, and its tenets, is obviously the outgrowth of a sociopathic mind.

Adherents must cut off all contact with family and friends who are judged to be unsympathetic to Scientology. (Sociopaths tend to be very controlling personalities.)

Hubbard first organized Scientology into franchises, with all of the local franchises expected to pass along ten percent of their income to headquarters. (This is not entirely unlike an old-fashioned chain letter, or what is now known as multi-level marketing, or pyramid selling. The people who start such schemes tend to be con men.)

Hubbard himself was called a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur. He was also called, a con man and a pathological liar, back in an era where people weren't as familiar with the concept of sociopathy. An extremely narcissistic personality would, rather than take any sort of "blame" himself, simply reject such labels. Hence, Scientology abjures all conventional psychology.

During Hubbard's time, low level adherents to Scientology aboard his fleet of ships were treated abusively, and that tradition has reportedly continued more recently. (This is consistent with how a sociopath treats others.)

The vindictiveness of Scientology towards its former members is also reflective of Hubbard's personality.

Hubbard himself was unquestionably a sociopath, and his fingerprints are all over Scientology.

(Now, I can only hope they don't notice this obscure little blog.)

Friday, December 13, 2013

President Klitschko?

The most divisive issue facing the Ukraine right now is whether to join the European Union, or remain more closely allied with Russia. Vladimir Putin is currently threatening to disrupt their natural gas supplies if they opt to become members of the EU.

Current heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, is now evidently the leader of the opposition to President Yanukovych, who wants to remain in Russia's orbit. Klitschko is now seen as a potential leader of his nation. Klitschko also favors greater transparency for government, a crackdown on corruption, and lower taxes.

At age 42, Klitschko is reaching the end of his boxing career. (His last fight was on September 8, 2012, but he is still the reigning WBC titleholder.) It is nonetheless surprising that he can juggle both roles. Apparently if this political thing doesn't work out, he wants to have a trade to fall back on.

This seems to be a surprisingly common career path for former Eastern Bloc athletes. Alexander Karelin, the great wrestler who won the super heavyweight gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling in three successive Olympics, is now a member of Russia's Duma, or parliament, as a member of the United Russia Party:

Here is a more recent picture of Karelin:

Nikolai Valuev, the recent heavyweight boxing champion, is also a member of the Duma, and also a member of the United Russia party:

(The acromegalic Valuev is seven feet tall and weighs 331 pounds.) Here he is in the Duma:

Even Manny Pacquiao, who has been a world champion boxer in eight different divisions, is now a Congressman in the Philipine House of Representatives:

Strangely, this progression doesn't seem to happen in the US. You never see a Senator Mayweather or Congressman Holyfield.

One has to wonder about the wisdom of voting in as political leaders men whose livelihood has entailed getting their brains battered for the past decade or longer. But, evidently, they don't worry about that in places like Russia and the Ukraine and the Philippines.

Humans were hunters and gatherers, i.e., "cavemen," for roughly four million years. Agriculture came into existence about ten thousand years ago, and technology three hundred years ago. So we humans spent the vast majority of our evolutionary development being selected for traits which would enhance our hunting and gathering abilities. Throughout all that time, the natural leader of any tribe was the man who could best lead the effort to take down a woolly mammoth, or to beat the opposing tribe with which they were constantly at war. And the man best suited to doing those things was often the strongest and most aggressive man.

We no longer hunt mammoths, and wars now tend to be high tech affairs, but our primitive instincts remain with us.

Vitaly Klitschko, at a well muscled six foot seven inches, is a natural leader of men. (There is one caveat to that "natural": he tested positive for steroids in 1996, at the end of his amateur career, but has tested clean since.)

Klitschko recently announced that he intends to run in the 2015 Ukrainian Presidential election. I would recommend this as his campaign poster:

The picture would, in a way, lend credibility to whatever caption he chose:

"I will crush our enemies!"

"I will stamp out corruption!"

"This is what I will do to inflation!"

"I will fight for the people of the Ukraine!"

Or, ironically:

"Vitaly Klitschko -- the candidate of peace!"

(Klitschko does in fact favor greater Ukraine-NATO cooperation, and he and his brother have worked for UNESCO.)

In any case, whatever Klitschko promised, that picture would send the message that he is not just another hack politician making empty promises, but a man who backs up his words with action.

I'm joking, of course, but if he actually did use it, it would likely get him some votes. It would appeal to atavistic notions of what a leader should be. Plus he has that every-man-wants-to-be-him-and-every woman-wants-to-do-him sort of appeal.

As for the steroids, when I mentioned this to my son, he suggested that all national leaders be required to take steroids, "just to help them make the right decisions…..well, the more manly decisions, anyway."

Charlemagne was said to have been six feet six inches, which made him even more of an anomaly in a day when the average man stood five foot six inches tall. There's nothing like towering over other men -- and embodying the implicit threat of physical violence -- to give one a commanding presence.

It's really not all that different in spirit from Californians having electing Arnold Schwarzenegger their Governor. Of course, he was only a fake warrior, whereas Vitaly is a real one. But, he was a real movie star. And more to the point of this post, he was a commanding physical presence. Ultimately, the Governator was unable to muscle his agenda through the state legislature, and ended up bogged down by the minutiae of politics. But that didn't mean that a big part of his constituency didn't secretly long for Schwarzenegger to exert his will Conan the Barbarian-style.

Vladimir Putin is evidently a huge fan of Fedor Emelianenko, the mixed martial artist. It would be interesting to see what his reaction would be to a President Klitschko. My guess is, he will instinctively have a more visceral regard for him, perhaps even to the point of not following through with his threats to cut off those natural gas supplies.

Klitschko's younger brother, 6' 6" Wladimir, is the current WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight champion. There must be a place for him in a Klitschko administration. Perhaps Vitaly could appoint him Attorney General, the same way John F. Kennedy appointed his brother Bobby to that position. Or better yet, name him as his Vice President. This would ensure a virile image for the country for years to come.

Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing the US turn in a similar direction. As my son said back when he was in high school, "As long as we're going to have a black President, why couldn't we get someone exciting, like Mike Tyson?"

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Obama's selfie

There's been a lot of talk in the press lately about the way Obama took a selfie with Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron at Nelson Mandela's memorial service recently:

Most of the commenters have criticized Obama for showing disrespect at what is supposed to be a solemn occasion. And many have noted Michelle Obama's disapproving expression while these shenanigans were going on.

Some have even said how hypocritical this seems, especially given that when Mandela died, Obama ordered all federal flags to be flown at half mast, something almost never done for a foreign leader.

But perhaps there is a different take on all this. Perhaps our Fearless Leader is merely showing courage in the face of what must be a devastating personal loss for him. Perhaps he is simply trying to cover up his grief.

Or perhaps not.

Whatever your interpretation, a picture of someone taking a picture of himself is worth a thousand words.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Those Russians are tough

There are subcultures of toughness in the US. Any criminal gang -- black, white, or Hispanic -- is going to esteem toughness. The military obviously does. And jailhouse culture is all about proving you're not a "punk."

Among whites, both Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans seem to have more than their share of self-proclaimed tough guys. In general, the Irish seem to pride themselves on being tougher than the English (both here and in the UK). It's a little the same way Norwegians pride themselves on being tougher than Swedes, both here and in Scandinavia. (Those Old World rivalries die hard.)

In today's America, though, much of the toughness is just Sylvester Stallone-ish posturing. (What is Stallone, after all, but a more intelligent and successful version of the Jersey Shore boys?) It's an ersatz, for-show version of toughness: take steroids, lift weights, strut around in a muscle shirt, try to look manly, and if you're lucky, have people film you. The Italian Mafia can be tough on other people -- but the ability to inflict pain on others is an altogether different quality than a willingness to undergo it yourself.

The Russians shine in both regards. They have a culture of toughness, and they seem to venerate the quality for its own sake.

It may have something to do with having being toughened by years of communism. But it goes beyond that. There are plenty of other places -- like most of Eastern Europe -- which suffered under years of communist rule, but which simply don't place the same premium upon stoicism and grit.

The prominence of combat sports can be a fair barometer of the character of a people (think tae kwon do in Korea), and Sambo (a form of grappling) is a popular sport in Russia. Fedor Emilianenko, considered by many to have been the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, was also a four time world sambo champion. He was known for his calm, businesslike demeanor while fighting. Here is a good example of that.

While Fedor was the greater MMA fighter, his brother Aleksandr Emilianenko, a three time world sambo champion, may be an even better embodiment of Russian toughness. Here is his brief fight against the pumped up, posturing James Thompson. Aleksandr somehow managed to look not only calm, but downright bored, not only before and after, but even during the fight. Aleksandr spent three and a half years in jail (in Russia, one doesn't get those kinds of tattoos, especially those stars on the front of the shoulders, without earning them). And Alexander reportedly goes bear hunting with just a pitchfork and a knife. (C'mon, it wouldn't be sporting if the bear didn't stand a chance.)

A man who had once visited some brothels in Prague told me that they employed Russian ex-military guys as security men there. He described these guys as "all muscle, arms covered with tattoos, probably in their thirties but with their crew cuts already going gray, with these incredibly hard faces which looked as if they hadn't smiled in about ten years."

A recent article in the NY Times about training Russian flight attendants explained that the biggest hurdle seemed to be to get them to smile. (A culture which venerates toughness does not engender smiley face, have-a-nice-day personalities.)

Prison shows are a staple on various cable channels these days. Most emphasize the harshness and brutality of life behind bars. There was a show about a Russian prison recently; it made even the American supermax jails look like summer camp.

Consider how the national character of our two countries is reflected by our leaders. There's no doubting Vladimir Putin's no-nonsense, realpolitik attitudes. Our President, on the other hand, is Barack Obama.

We could wish for a more formidable leader like Putin, but do we deserve one? As long as enough of us are willing to be brainwashed by the mainstream media, we probably deserve a President who is the embodiment of political correctness.

Others who've had firsthand experience with Russians tend to agree.

Last year my daughter was a freshman in college. She was assigned a roommate from Moscow, who came to stay with us over Thanksgiving. This girl was intelligent, well-mannered, good-natured, and extremely enamored of the US. At one point I asked her who she thought was tougher, Russians or Americans. I knew beforehand what her answer would be, but was curious as to exactly how she'd say it. She didn't hesitate: "Oh, Russians."

This past summer when I was in London, I chatted for a while with a South African woman, a former ballerina studying to be a midwife. She was a Boer, and back home she had helped her uncle illegally poach game. (She could still skin a sheep with a knife.) The Boers are a plain-spoken lot; she mentioned that her father had told her she was "pretty from far, but far from pretty," meaning that she wasn't good-looking up close -- not the kind of thing most American fathers would say. She herself had gotten her ten-year-old son over his fear of the ocean by forcing him to swim out alone beyond the breakers; this, too, is not the usual American way. In any case, at one point I asked her what the Russians in London were like. She immediately responded with a shudder, "Oh those Russians, they're tough."

(If you haven't clicked yet on the link to Aleksandr Emelianenko's fight, it's worth a look; he is the quintessential Russian.)

Monday, December 9, 2013

The really deadly sins

The seven deadly sins -- wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, gluttony, and envy -- are really nothing more than a basic description of human nature. All of those sins are committed by everybody, and on a daily basis. The only danger is in letting any one of those basic human instincts gain too much control over your life.

The only really unforgivable sins are:

1. An inability to admit fault.

2. Hypocrisy.

3. Habitual dishonesty.

Funny how these three truly deadly sins always cluster.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Shakespeare receives ultimate compliment

A recent NY Post article quoted rapper Kanye West as saying, “I’m standing up, and I’m telling you, I am Warhol. I am the No. 1 most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh.”

How happy the Bard would have been to have known of this comparison!

From the same article:

Kanye told radio station Power 105 that his daughter “is in a position of a level of royalty like the Prince and Princess in London,” appearing to refer to Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, who was pregnant at the same time as Kardashian.

A sampling of other Kanye West quotes:

Regarding not being nominated for Album of the Year: "You know, if Michael Jordan can scream at the refs, me as Kanye West, as the Michael Jordan of music, can go and say, 'This is wrong.'"

On his cultural significance: "I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump."

On grabbing the MTV award from Taylor Swift: “It only led me to complete awesomeness at all times. It only led me to awesome truth and awesomeness ... That’s all it is.”

“I am so credible and so influential and so relevant, I will change things. So when the next little girl that wants to be, you know, a musician and ... to express her talent ... that thing is more fair because I was there.”

“I am the number one person in music. That means any person that’s living or breathing is number two.”

“I’m doing pretty good as far as geniuses go….The Bible had 20, 30, 40 characters in it. You don’t think that I would be one of the characters of today’s modern Bible?”

“My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.”

“Kim doesn’t understand what a blessing I am to her.”

“I’m like a tree. I feed the branches of the people.”

Some might say West is suffering from an extreme narcissistic personality disorder, or perhaps delusions of grandeur.

I say, they're just jealous.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sociopath alert: Joe Arpaio

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio calls himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," and he may actually be that. He's famous for having set up "Tent City," an extension of the Maricopa jail system, which he described as a concentration camp. It is an outdoor facility where Arpaio himself once measured the temperature at 145 degrees. (Most of the inmates at Tent City have not been convicted of any crime, but are merely awaiting trial.)

Arpaio is also known for limiting meals to two a day, and for serving inmates surplus food, sometimes consisting of moldy bread and rotten fruit.

In 1995, he re-instituted chain gangs, and in 1996 started female volunteer chain gangs.

Arpaio's sociopathic aura stems not so much from the fact that he thinks that prisons are too lenient; many agree with him on that. (Prisons can be hell, but that is usually mostly a function of the other prisoners.) It is more the gleeful vindictiveness with which he institutes these reforms, his self-righteousness, the way he publicizes them, and the way he expects the public to love him for his actions.

Arpaio even forced prisoners to wear pink underwear. According to Wikipedia:

Arpaio subsequently started to sell customized pink boxers (with the Maricopa County Sheriff's logo and "Go Joe") as a fund-raiser for Sheriff's Posse Association. Despite allegations of misuse of funds received from these sales, Arpaio declined to provide an accounting for the money.

(Sociopaths working in law enforcement never seem to feel that laws apply to them.)

Arpaio has claimed to average 200 television appearances a month. (Sociopaths can never get enough airtime.)

While immigration laws should be enforced -- I personally believe in deportation -- illegal immigrants are not evil. They're mostly just ordinary people looking for a better life. Arpaio treats them with ill-disguised contempt, as if they're child molesters or worse.

Meanwhile, for some strange reason, Arpaio and his office have ignored real child molesters. According to Wiki:

During a three-year period ending in 2007, more than 400 sex-crimes reported to Arpaio's office were inadequately investigated, or not investigated at all. While providing police services for El Mirage, Arizona, the [Maricopa County Sheriff's Office] under Arpaio failed to follow-through on at least 32 reported child molestations, even though the suspects were known in all but six cases. Many of the victims were children of illegal immigrants.

Violent crime in general has soared under Arpaio's watch. But Arpaio seems to prefer concentrating on highly publicized illegal immigrant sweeps.

This type of selective law enforcement, especially when it involves ignoring more serious crimes in order to aggressively pursue a lesser but more politicized crime, smacks of the sort of posturing which often characterizes sociopaths.

Arpaio also carried on a long feud with the Maricopa Board of Supervisors and various judges:

Over the two years prior to September 2010, feuding between Arpaio and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas on one side, and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on the other side cost at least $5.6 million, most of which was paid to private attorneys. Arpaio and Thomas filed several lawsuits against the Board of Supervisors, including a federal civil-racketeering suit against the supervisors, four judges and attorneys who work with the county. Arpaio and Thomas lost every case, either by ruling of the courts, or by dropping the case.

In early 2010, Arpaio and Thomas sought to have a grand jury indict a number of Maricopa County Judges, Maricopa County Supervisors, and employees of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. The grand jury, in an unusual rebuke, ordered the investigation ended. This action has been described as meaning that "...the case is so bad, there's no further evidence that could be brought [to substantiate it]"...

Arpaio was sued in turn by most of the people he filed lawsuits against. Being on both sides of numerous lawsuits is another sociopathic specialty.

Arpaio has also been cited for election law violations, misuse of funds, and even a staged assassination plot:

In 1999, undercover MCSO deputies arrested James Saville, then 18 years old, and charged him with plotting to kill Arpaio with a pipe bomb. A local television station had been tipped off to the arrest by the MCSO, and broadcast footage of the arrest that evening. The MCSO held a news conference shortly after the arrest, and Arpaio appeared in interviews on local television stations, saying "If they think they are going to scare me away with bombs and everything else, it's not going to bother me."

After spending four years in jail awaiting trial, Saville was acquitted by a Maricopa County Superior Court jury, which found that Arpaio's detectives had helped buy the bomb parts themselves and had entrapped Saville as part of a publicity stunt. Saville filed suit against Arpaio and Maricopa County for wrongful arrest. In 2008, the suit was settled, with Maricopa County paying Saville $1.6 million.

Showing bravado in the face of a falsely claimed victimhood is a dead giveaway for sociopathy. Sociopaths often try to set up situations in which they appear the victim in an effort to evoke sympathy and admiration.

What we're talking about here is really a variant of Munchausen's Syndrome, though no one has applied that label to Arpaio's behavior.

Arpaio is a dishonest, vindictive, cruel, egotistical bully. For his many abuses of power he really deserves some time in his own Tent City.

Yet the most interesting thing about Arpaio is something he can't be blamed for, but which holds the key to his character. It can be found in the "Early Life" section of his Wiki bio: his mother died while giving birth to him.

Arpaio grew up never knowing a mother's love. This explains his personality perfectly.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I've never quite understood the Black Friday mass insanity. Whenever I look at the advertised prices, it usually seems there are better deals to be had later in the year, in the post-Christmas sales, or end-of-the-season sales for clothing.

The idea of braving the crowds in the stores and possibly getting into a tussle over a piece of merchandise which is on sale is about as appealing as joining a stampede off a cliff.

Or maybe it's just that after an entire day of being on their best behavior with their in-laws at Thanksgiving, people are actually that desperate to get out of their homes -- at midnight if need be. And maybe all that enforced good behavior puts them in such a bad mood they're spoiling for a fight the next day.

I can't think of any other explanation.

55 wives

I recently looked up Gary Gilmore, the first man executed by the US in 10 years (back in 1977), on Wikipedia. The most interesting part of most sociopaths' biographies is the "Early Life" section, where you can often find clues as to why the sociopath turned out the way he did.

Sure enough, Gilmore's father Frank was an alcoholic con man -- also a sociopath -- who "would often whip his sons Frank, Jr., Gary and Gaylen with a razor strap, whip or a belt for little or no reason. Less often, he would beat his wife."

Gary, despite an IQ tested at 133, dropped out of school in ninth grade and turned to a life of petty crime, which eventually led to armed robbery and then murder.

The Wiki account also said that Frank Gilmore would often anger his wife, a Mormon, by referring to church luminary Brigham Young as "Bring 'em Young."

I actually thought that a clever formulation -- despite the fact that it was probably not original with Frank -- given the Mormons' penchant for polygamy.

I then looked up Brigham Young, curious as to how many wives he'd actually had and what their ages were. Turns out he had a total of 55 wives. Nine of the brides he took while in his 40's were still teenagers.

Either Young was a strong personality, or he was the definition of henpecked. It seems likely that the man who led the Mormons to Deseret, the first Governor of Utah Territory, and the founder of the predecessors to both the University of Utah and Brigham Young University was the former. He undoubtedly earned the title his followers bestowed upon him, "The Lion of the Lord."

But he also deserved the nickname that Frank Gilmore used.

Friday, November 29, 2013

If you work in an office building….

Whenever you go to the restroom, say, every hour and a half or so, just sneak into the stairwell (usually located close to the restrooms in large office buildings) and go up and down five flights of stairs. It will take only a couple of minutes, and none of your coworkers will be the wiser.

Five flights is just enough to get your heart beating hard, but not enough to break a sweat, which you don't want to do at the office.

You'll go back to your desk refreshed, alert, and in a better mood. If you feel guilty about taking the extra two minute break, look at it from the corporate point of view: you'll probably be more productive this way.

Sitting for too long has negative health effects, and it may also give you the same kind of rump-itis you get on long distance drives. (Don't look for that disease in medical texts, you won't find it.)

It's also beneficial if you want to lose weight. A number of recent studies have shown that the most important factor in losing weight -- apart from avoiding sugars and starches -- is to keep your metabolism high. That's why short, intense bursts of exercise are actually better calorie-burners than long, slow jogs: they keep your system going for longer after you stop working out. The other way to keep the engine running is to stimulate it every couple of hours with a few flights of stairs.

Don't try to go two stairs at a time, or you'll end up hurting your knees.

Every big office building comes with its own built in StairMaster. Take advantage.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Parental and peer group influence

In response to the recent post, All political philosophies flow from this one piece of knowledge, a commenter named Rona said:

One thing I imagine [knowledge about the genetic basis of IQ] does is ease the concern parents have about "doing everything" for their children. Turns out reading to your kids, choosing a great preschool, playing Mozart etc. are irrelevant to their intelligence.

Now if parents could accept that their opinions, values and attitudes will never matter in significantly shaping their child's personality and values, they could relax and simply make sure that child's peer group espouses the sort of opinions and behaviours they want instilled.

I agree with the first part of Rona's statement. Genes do trump all but the most deprived environments when it comes to intelligence.

But I disagree with the second part.

My theory: a child will adopt a parents' tastes and values and outlook in inverse correlation with the narcissism of that parent. If a parent is a blowhard -- of high or low IQ -- who can never admit his mistakes, his child is likely to adopt an opposite outlook. And vice versa.

If a parent is too rigid in his or her thinking, the child will see that and instinctively go in an opposite direction. And if the parent is loathsome in his hypocrisy, that will also drive the child (or anyone else) away.

I also think that children react the same way to their peer groups. If they have friends who are attractively liberal or attractively conservative, a youngster will gravitate in that direction. But if the peer group is composed of self-righteous, pretentious twits, that effectively encourages a youngster to take an opposite stance.

In September of 1968, at age 14, I was sent to a private school of approximately 120 students in Boston. That fall, they took a poll as to whom they favored in that year's Presidential election, every student but one chose McGovern over Nixon.

The students (and teachers) there were all totally convinced of their own righteousness. Some would even talk about revolution (this was 1968). I remember looking at these soft, spoiled upper middle class kids (who wouldn't have been able to win a fistfight against most public school kids) and wondering how they thought they were going to beat the US Army.

The headmaster had imported a number of black students from Roxbury. They pretty much had the run of the place, and could say and do as they pleased, at least on a social level. Needless to say, they all saw themselves as the victims of oppression. All the white kids were absolutely terrified of being accused of being racist, the worst sin imaginable. (Meanwhile, I saw quite a bit of overt racism that went in the opposite direction.)

All of the students smoked marijuana and did other drugs. This was regarded as cool (at age 15, I was not immune to this particular form of thinking).

It was just assumed by most of the students at the school that conservatives were not only idiotic but also evil. Of course, most of the students didn't know any conservatives, but this didn't change their opinion.

And they all considered themselves very "open-minded."

Whenever anybody asked me my opinions in high school, I just said I was apolitical. But in the meantime, a lot of negative impressions of liberals were piling up.

Needless to say, I eventually went the other way.

I'm just one data point, but I've seen this opposite directional pattern many, many times.

(My parents, by the way, tend to be middle of the road. While I have reacted to them in many ways, my most vivid and off-putting impression of political types came from that private school.)

Think of the cliche of the preacher's daughter being the wildest girl in town. One good example of the product of a severe religious upbringing is "Star," Charlie Manson's new paramour, described four posts below.

The biggest exception I can think of to this rule is with members of ethnic groups which see themselves as separate and distinct minorities. Generally, members of these groups absorb their group's values.

That aside, I think the general rule holds: the more narcissistic the holder of certain positions, the more likely those close to him will end up with opposing positions. It's not a prefect correlation, but it's a positive one.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Say it ain't so, Charlie

While we're on the subject of Charlie Manson, another article appeared in the NY Post this afternoon headlined "Charles Manson: I'm bisexual, and I raped a man."

From the Post's excerpt from the Rolling Stone magazine article:

Charles Manson revealed that he’s bisexual and forced a man to have sex with him when he was 17.

The 79-year-old Manson – who plans to get married to a 25-year-old woman fan behind bars— told Rolling Stone: “Sex to me is like going to the toilet. Whether it’s a girl or not. It doesn’t matter. I don’t play that girl-guy s..t. I’m not hung up in that game.”

He said he asked for sex with a man in a shower they shared when he was 17. When the man refused, “I picked a razor blade up off the floor and said ‘If we get caught, I’ll tell them I made you do it.’” “So he let me do it,” Manson added. “Maybe he thought I was going to cut him.”

I have to admit, I was a little thrown by this. I'd just never figured the demonic killer with all those groupies for a true bisexual, even though he reportedly raped another boy when he was only 11. 

It makes sense, in a way. At age 35 he had already spent half his life behind bars; since then he has spent his entire life in jail, which means that at age 79 he has spent roughly four-fifths of his life incarcerated. This makes him a jailhouse bisexual, which is different from being a bisexual on the outside, when one has a choice. 

Still, why now? Could it be that Manson has decided to do the fashionable thing and come out, even at his advanced age? It would certainly be a little disappointing if he were doing this out of a sense of political correctness. 

But I don't think that's the case. And Charlie did stay true to his persona in two important respects. 

First, he didn't just have sex with that guy: he raped him. 

Secondly, like any self-respecting sociopath, his coming out was less a shame-faced admission of perversion, and more a declaration of his superiority. Note his words: "I don't play that girl-guy shit. I'm not hung up in that game." 

In other words, anybody who is straight is "hung up." So Charlie wins. 

That's the wonderful thing about being a sociopath: you never have to feel the slightest bit of embarrassment. 

Rejecting one cult, accepting another

There have been several articles on the web recently about how Charlie Manson may be getting married, to a 25-year-old woman whom he has dubbed "Star," who visits him for up to five hours each Saturday and Sunday.

The 79-year-old Manson actually looks pretty good for his age. The swastika on his forehead doesn't exactly add to his appearance, and I won't be asking for the name of his barber any time soon. But his face is unlined, and his eyes even have that taut, wide open look that can result after plastic surgery -- one amenity Corcoran State Prison undoubtedly does not provide.

So Charlie's one guy you can believe when he tells you that no, he hasn't had any work done. 

Even more telling, Charlie still looks feisty and full of juice, at an age when a lot of men have simply given up. He's not much of a physical specimen, in fact never was. But if he were my cellie, I'd still have a hard time falling asleep at night. 

The most interesting thing about any sociopath is his childhood. We already know all about Charlie's: how he was born to an unwed 16-year-old girl who may have been a prostitute and definitely was an alcoholic, how his uncle made him dress as a girl for his first day of kindergarten, his stint at a boys' reformatory, the fact that he first raped another boy when he was 11. 

But what of Star? There's nothing about her that quite spells sociopathy, but she is obviously off kilter. How did she get that way? The only clue in the Rolling Stone article is this:

In 2007, Star moved to Corcoran to be near Charlie, who she visits each Saturday and Sunday for up to five hours a day. "Yeah, well, people can think I'm crazy," she likes to say. "But they don't know. This is what's right for me. This is what I was born for." She grew up near St. Louis, where her deeply religious family feared she'd lost her way ("I was smoking marijuana, eating mushrooms, not wanted to go to church every Sunday," she explains), so they locked her in her room for much of her high school years. A friend passed her some of Manson's environmental writing, and she started corresponding with him. When she was 19, she took the $2,000 she'd saved up working in a retirement home kitchen and hopped a train to Corcoran. Manson named her Star. She recently cut an X onto her forehead.

"Deeply religious" is often synonymous with "somewhat disturbed." When you think about it, most religions are really nothing more than socially acceptable cults. It's just that it's easier to see with other religions than with one's own. For instance, it wouldn't be a stretch for most readers of this blog to see Islam as a sort of super-cult, whose members believe and do all sorts of crazy things. But the main difference between most Muslims and most Christians is that the Muslims tend to take their religion far more seriously. There are Christians, however, who take their religion extremely seriously as well. And they are often described as "deeply religious."

Star is normal in one respect, though: she is not above the usual human frailty of projection. Here's what she has to say about former Manson family member Susan Atkins:

"That bitch was fucking crazy," she tells RS. "She was a crazy fucking whore. 'Oh Charlie, I did this for you.' She didn't know what she was doing."

Star's parents -- as deeply religious as they are -- are probably thanking their lucky, well, stars, that their daughter's real name wasn't used in the article. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Medical costs in the US vs. elsewhere

A friend just sent along this chart of medical costs in the US vs. the rest of the world, an amazing disparity. This is why health care soaks up such a large percentage of household budgets in this country.


A friend sent this article from Men's Health magazine this morning with the subject title above. It's a "Special Report" (read: paid advertisement) on two products which will transform your body, adding 30 pounds of muscle while carving away most of your fat.

It's utterly ridiculous. No legitimate product can do this; the celebrities pictured are all obviously on the juice. Several have those telltale veins bulging out from the front of their shoulders, and none could have undergone such drastic metamorphoses without artificial help.

It's actually surprising how wimpy some (but not all) of these celebrities were before their miraculous transformations.

The "Comments" section below the article is hilarious. All of those are obviously plants as well. (I tried leaving a comment but it wouldn't take.)

"Extorting JP Morgan"

The NY Post confirms this blog's post from two weeks ago.

Eric Holder is the most purely political Attorney General in history.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The lament of the inhibited man

It's become clearer than ever that the gap between the way I'd like to be -- in order to enjoy life to its fullest -- and the way I am is just impossibly large.

I'd like to be a Jersey Shore type who can take steroids, look in the mirror admiringly, and strut around unself-consciously while telling people he's never juiced.

But all I do is sit my skinny body behind a computer and write resentfully about people like that.

I'd like to be the kind of guy who can get excited by a really cool car.

But I was taught as a youngster that that is superficial, so I can only look at a cool car longingly while repressing my inner hot-rodder.

I'd like to be -- or at least, to have been -- a guy whose biggest concern in life was getting laid, as frequently and with as many women as possible.

Somehow, I ended up as a jaded nerd. (It's unclear how I became jaded.)

I want to be a guy who doesn't think twice about anything, and always lives in the moment.

Instead I've spent a life wracked by indecision, paralyzed by potential consequences.

I want to be cool without even thinking about it.

What I do is ponder what "cool" really means, without in any way embodying it.

I'd like to be able to buy a lap dance, and when the stripper tells me I'm cute, believe her.

I don't even believe it when my mother tells me I was a cute baby.

I want to be a guy who, when insulted, is not reluctant to throw a punch.

What I do instead is stew about it for hours.

I want to be the type who just spends his money, and enjoys the spending, without worry.

I can't even enjoy a bottle of wine because I can't stop calculating how much each glass costs.

I want to be the type who cares more about clothes than about politics.

Well, I sorta am that.

I want to be the type who talks about himself too much and doesn't give a shit if others are bored.

What I do is talk about myself too much but then feel bad that I did so.

Sorta like I do right now after making you read this post. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"The Way, Way Back"

The Way, Way Back is now available for rental on I/O.

It's a coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old boy's summer vacation with his mother and mother's boyfriend at a beach community.

The writing is great, the acting is great, and there's never a false note. Steve Carell plays the mother's jerky boyfriend perfectly, and Toni Collette displays the proper amount of anguish as the mom. The movie is somewhat stolen by Sam Rockwell, the local water park manager who takes 14-year-old Liam James under his wing, and Alison Janney, the semi-alcoholic neighbor, who are given the movie's best lines.

The Way, Way Back is great the same way Mud is great: we feel the youngster's angst, because he's so realistic. Definitely worth seeing.

My son's results

My son wanted his analysis done too; he got his results back this past week:

19% Asia East.
2% Asia Central.
1% Asia South.
34% British Isles.
24% Ireland.
6% Scandinavia.
3% Europe West.
3% Iberia.
3% Finnish/Russian.
1% Europe East.
1% European Jewish.
1% Melanesia.
1% Near East.
1% Caucasus.

The biggest surprise was the 24% Irish. I turned out to be 4% Irish, so at most he could have gotten 4% of the Irish from me. Yet both sides of my wife's family supposedly go back to the Mayflower (though they also include some Dutch settlers). So was this a mistake?

Probably not, for a percentage that high. My wife is simply far more Irish than she thought. Obviously, there's a lot of admixture between neighboring countries. But still, if my son got 20% Irish from his mother, unless she gave him all her Irish genes, which is theoretically possible, though unlikely, that makes her roughly three-eighths Irish. (Which, by the way, came as a shock to her; in fact, her initial reaction was denial.)

What seems more likely is that takes Celtic DNA as evidence of Irish heritage, when in fact it's more complicated than that. The Celts were at one point all over northwestern Europe, though they later retreated back to the British Isles, mostly Ireland. So it's quite possible that the section of the Netherlands from which my wife's ancestors came were largely Celt.

There does seem to be a margin of error on the trace amount ethnicities.

I am 1% Central Asian; yet my son is 2%. Is it possible he inherited the extra 1% from his mother? Well, the Mongols made their way all the way to the Danube, and before them, the Huns ravaged Europe as well. So, yes, it's possible, if unlikely.

My son is evidently 1% European Jewish. European genes found their way into the Ashkenazi bloodline; undoubtedly this seepage worked the other way as well. So that's possible too.

But I have a hard time believing that my son is actually 1% Melanesian. The only way that could have happened is if the Mayflower took the scenic route to Jamestown via New Guinea, so that the Puritan lasses could sport with headhunters.

The 1% South Asian genes also seem unlikely, unless my wife has a Gypsy fortuneteller in her family tree. (The Gypsies, or Roma, originated in India.)

Keep in mind, to be 1% anything is the equivalent of having a purebred ancestor of that ethnicity a mere seven generations back. (You shares 50% of your genes with each parent, 25% with each grandparent, then, going back, 12.5%, 6.25%, 3.12%, 1.56%, and .78%.)

Some of my purported ancestry may also be a mistake. I was parsed out as 1% Native American. Amerindians emigrated roughly 12,000 years ago from Asia, so confusing the DNA of those two groups would be an easy mistake.

It's actually more fun to believe that one has all these different groups as ancestors. It allows one a larger family, so to speak, a more extended sense of kinship. It's just that some of the 1 and 2% figures seem to fall into the margin of error.

And, even if the 1% figures are true, it's doubtful that any relatively pure specimens of those ethnicities would feel the same kinship with us.

For instance, even if my son is 1% Melanesian -- he did get a kick out of knowing he's distantly related to the last known surviving cannibal tribe (the Korowai of southeastern Papua) -- it seems unlikely that they would greet him as a long lost relative.

On the other hand, on an entirely different level, it is quite likely that should he ever visit the island, he would become part of the tribe.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Crack mayor denies oral sex with staffer in latest vulgar rant"

If Torontonians re-elect this guy they'll be no better than than the electorate of Washington DC was for having re-elected Mayor Marion Barry after his crack bust.

I have to admit, though, Mayor Ford does sound like a party. And he'd be a lot less boring than whoever his opponent turns out to be.

Naughty vs. evil

One thing I've noticed over time is that naughty people will say the wrong thing but usually do the right thing, whereas evil people will say the right thing but do the wrong thing.

Naughty types often likes to pose as bad, sometimes as a joke, sometimes because they're wannabe tough guys.

Evil people, on the other hand, seem to like to pose as noble, beneficent, and kind -- which is the opposite of what they really are.

All this is brought to mind by the recent case of Frank Incognito. At first he seemed like a stereotypical evil bully: he took pleasure in humiliating Jonathan Martin, to the point of driving him away from the Miami Dolphins. He had even threatened to gang rape Martin's sister.

Then it turned out that despite his use of the n-word, Incognito's black teammates, who considered him an "honorary brotha," refused to condemn him. And he and Martin had supposedly been friends, and Incognito had stuck up for him in several previous situations. At that point Incognito just looked like a dumb wigger who tried too hard.

But then I saw Incognito in an interview saying that everything he said to Martin "came from a place of love" -- which is exactly the kind of thing a sociopath would say. So I'm not sure what to think.

In any case, I've known a lot of nonsociopathic guys who liked to appear "badder" than they actually are. They may have prided themselves on their drinking ability, or bench press, or daredevil driving, or the number of girls they'd had. And they could be obstreperous, obnoxious, and even rude. But they weren't nasty by nature; they simply felt they had to live up to a certain macho standard.

This undoubtedly rings a bell; maybe you're even thinking, hey, that's most guys.

Now think of famous sociopaths, and the touchy-feely, compassionate image they often like to project.

Think of Bill Clinton saying, "I feel your pain."

Think of Karen Sypher going on and on about her devout Catholicism, her dying grandmother, and her misgivings about having had an abortion.

Think of Jack Kevorkian portraying himself as someone whose only motivation was allowing people to die with dignity.

Think of Lance Armstrong and his Livestrong foundation.

Think of Anna Benson saying, "I'm all about good, I'm all about love."

Think of all those murderous prison pen pals who talk about how empathetic and caring they are, and how much they love children and animals.

I've known one or two evil men who liked to pose as naughty to disguise the fact that they were truly evil. One Wall Street sociopath comes to mind. He would say something extremely insulting to someone, then turn away and wince, as if mortified by his own rudeness. But mortification was in fact not part of his emotional repertoire.

Still, for the most part, guys who like to pose as bad are not. And practically everyone who feels the need to appear compassionate and beneficent is the opposite.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sociopathy as an evolutionarily adaptive behavior

As long as only 3% of population is sociopathic, sociopathy may in fact be evolutionarily adaptive. And this may have been truer in the past -- before there were police with modern technology, and before birth control -- than it is now.

Sociopaths make great first impressions. They are exciting, dynamic, charming, even electrifying. No one is better at seduction than a sociopath. Back in the days before birth control, this meant that a sociopath was likely to spread his seed more widely.

To call people manipulative is to disparage them. But most successful manipulators are that way because people don't recognize them for what they are. And the ability to hide one's true natures is another sociopathic specialty.

Sociopaths are dishonest, disloyal, and treat others inhumanely. In the long run, these traits cause others to seek revenge. But a sociopath would be good at making his exit before his true nature was discovered, but after he had impregnated a few females.

(This is why so many serial killers have been characterized as "drifters." They leave places as soon as their acquaintances -- or marks -- catch on to their true character.)

Their percentage is key. If sociopaths were, say, 20% of the population, people would be more familiar with them, and be on their guard against them, perhaps to the extent of assuming everyone to be guilty until proven innocent (of being lying, conniving, backstabbing, irresponsible, hypocritical, and downright evil).

Another evolutionary benefit of sociopathy is narcissism. (All sociopath are narcissists, even if only a relatively small subset of narcissists are sociopaths.) Narcissism boosts confidence, which in turn can help performance. When it comes to swaying others, having the right body language is crucial, and having enough confidence can often make the difference.

For a man, there's little genetic payoff to being shy around women. (There is a benefit to being fearful in general, but that is a different quality.)

Sociopathy could be viewed as simply another evolutionary strategy. It's a high risk strategy, since people will want their revenge on you. But it's also high reward, since before others try to exact their revenge, you're more likely to have planted your seed widely.

Perhaps the fact that it is a more viable strategy for men than women (whose reproductive capacity is limited) accounts for the fact that the incidence of sociopathy is generally reported to be three times higher among men than women. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Someone just explained to me what Tinder is: an app through which you can hook up with women. What happens is you scroll through the Facebook pictures of everybody who signs up for the service, and you notate those women who strike your fancy. If any of those women like your picture, they do the same. Whenever two people both "like" each other, they are informed, and can get in touch, usually for some brief texting, then a hook up.

Evidently you specify beforehand how far of a radius you're willing to look within (twenty miles from your home, etc.)

It's a little like, except it's about sex, not relationships.

Evidently gay men have had a similar service for years, called Grindr.

One of the cool things about this is that you never really get rejected. You're only told about the women who fancy you. As far as you know, no other women even saw your picture.

Where was this service when I was young? When I was growing up it seems that all guys did was have crushes on girls they saw across a classroom, or in the lunch hall.

Well, that's all I did, anyway.

In my twenties, I had to go places to meet females. Sometimes this meant going to smoky bars. Or discos. It was obvious you were only there to look for a girl, which made it doubly awkward. And if they turned you down, you knew it. Which made the whole process excruciating for the faint of heart -- like me.

Now you just post your picture, with no chance of rejection. (Or if you are rejected, at least you don't know about it.)

Why did I have to grow up in the Dark Ages?

If you use any online service, of course, you're assuming the risk of misleading pictures. And it's always possible you might get together with someone whose personality can get in the way of even a one night stand.

Still, Tinder allows you keep all that icky human stuff to a minimum. No "dry" first and second dates so that the girl won't feel she's consigning herself to eternal whoredom or getting a bad reputation by sleeping with you too quickly. No having to pretend you have feelings for her that you don't (beside lust). No pretending you're "serious" about her (other than seriously wanting to get her into bed). And most importantly, no having to listen to her boring hive-mind opinions.

I was born forty years too early.

I don't think I'm being unreasonable when I say I'm actually quite angry with my parents about that.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Smells like a witch hunt

SAC Capital, the hedge fund run by Steven A. Cohen, just settled with the government on Monday. The government was unable to obtain an indictment against Cohen himself, but the $1.8 billion dollar settlement seemed justified given that Cohen's fund has always had a bad smell about it. The extraordinary number of insider trading cases involving it did not seem coincidental.

The way that Eric Holder's Department of Justice is going after JP Morgan, though, seems almost personal.

The biggest fine being levied against the bank is for their role in the mortgage debacle. But the mortgage mess had many authors. Bill Clinton's Community Reinvestment Act pressured the banks to make riskier loans with smaller down payments to people with shakier credit. George W. Bush pushed further in the same direction by declaring in 2002 that he wanted more minority families living in their own homes. FANNIE MAE and FREDDIE MAC both insisted that the mortgages they bought include a higher percentage of minority owners than had been the case in the past. Individual mortgage brokers encouraged people to buy more house than they could afford. And speculators took advantage by buying irresponsibly, knowing they didn't have the resources to pay off their mortgages, but figuring that rising home values would bail them out.

So who is the government going after? JP Morgan. This seems particularly unfair given that most of the mortgages in question were originated by Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns before they were acquired by JP Morgan, and that the government pressured JP Morgan to buy those two entities at the height of the financial crisis.

The Department of Justice also insisted JP Morgan pay a fine for the bad trade engendered by the London Whale. They claimed that the controls JP Morgan had in place were not adequate, and that they didn't reveal the extent of the losses quickly enough. Wall Street banks do bad trades -- as well as good ones -- all the time; that's the nature of the game. And their controls are only as good as the people who oversee them. If every financial institution had to pay a penalty for every bad trade they did (as well as lose the money they lost on the trade), all would soon go out of business.

But it's only JP Morgan which is being prosecuted for this.

The Department of Justice is also looking into allegations that JP Morgan hired the sons and daughters of prominent Chinese politicians in order to gain business. Why not go after Goldman Sachs for the same thing? I've heard it's virtually impossible to get a job at the firm fresh out of college unless you have some sort of high-powered connection.

For that matter, why not go after Goldman for hiring influential former Fed governors? Why not go after lobbying firms in DC for hiring ex-politicians? Almost every major politician sells his connections in one way or another after leaving office.

Why not go after these other firms? Because they make nice with the current administration, and don't criticize them publicly.

Jamie Dimon's mistake was to speak out against Obama, and against Dodd-Frank. If he hadn't, this focus on JP Morgan would likely not have taken place.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"8.8 billion just-right planets in our galaxy"

The NY Post ran an AP article yesterday which raised the possibility of extraterrestrial life:

WASHINGTON — Space is vast, but it may not be so lonely after all: A study finds the Milky Way is teeming with billions of planets that are about the size of Earth, orbit stars just like our sun, and exist in the Goldilocks zone — not too hot and not too cold for life.

If there were 8800 planets in our galaxy which had the right conditions for life, it would be both amazing and thrilling. If there were 8.8 million, it would be mind-boggling. 

But 8.8 billion? It's hard to get one's mind around that number. 

Every now and then you hear people speak of how things would be in a "parallel universe." Well, we don't have to go to a parallel universe. We don't even have to go to another galaxy. Right here in our own Milky Way, there are 8.8 billion potential alternate realities. 

Now, most of those planets are obviously not going to have life. But out of that many, there must be some that do. If life evolved here, it can elsewhere, too.

One wonders: do the extraterrestrials look more like us, or more like those creatures in the Star Wars bar scene? Or perhaps like the extras in Men in Black

Or maybe they are little green men with large heads and big eyes who travel around in spaceships and want only to stick probes up our behinds.

Perhaps they can help us solve our problems. Maybe we can ask for an interstellar handout to balance our budget. (At the moment, that seems the most realistic solution.) Maybe we should ask extraterrestrials to referee at the Olympics so we don't have all that biased gymnastics judging. Maybe they can referee international disputes between country.

Maybe the aliens will end up being the ultimate Daddy figure. Or maybe they'll act more like querulous children. If they come here, it means they're far smarter than us, so the former seems more likely.

Maybe the extraterrestrials can tell us whether we're really causing global warming.

Maybe Al Gore is an alien and we should pay more attention to him. He does have a certain not-quite-comfortable-as-a-human quality about him.

All kidding aside, how many planets have plant life but no animal life? Or are those distinctions irrelevant on some of these other planets? How many have life forms which don't fall neatly into either the plant or animal categories? How many have sexual reproduction? How many are as silly about sex as we are?

How many have oxygen in an atmosphere that we could breathe? How many could we exploit? How many types of beings could wipe us out if they ever came to planet Earth? How many would?

Are any of the other planets like Pandora, that luscious planet in Avatar?

How nice to be able to speculate about this and think about how petty our own problems here on earth are. Or better yet, not think about those problems at all.

Addendum, three hours later: today the NY Times came out with its version of this news, but they reported that there were 40 billion planets which met the criteria; not sure why the discrepancy.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Overheard recently from a young Afghanistan vet:

"I hear a lot of soldiers say it really pisses them off when they hear about guys who've never even been in the military claim they've been to war. I think it's called stolen valor or something. Personally, I couldn't care less. I lie to girls all the time in order to get laid. If some idiot wants to claim he's had my stupid job in order to get laid, go right ahead. It doesn't bother me in the least."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Control vs. self control

One consistent theme I've noticed throughout my life is that the less self control people have, the more control they want over other people.

The lack of self control I refer to does not necessarily refer to indulging in all the seven deadly sins all the time; it is more a lack of emotional self control. Controlling types may be extremely disciplined in some ways; but inevitably there is a complete lack of self control in some basic way.

They may be able to get themselves down to the office every day, dress neatly, and keep their houses immaculate. They may keep their own eating and drinking under control. But they tend to become enraged at things that wouldn't bother most of us. And if they are not in a position to assert power over others, they try to do so indirectly through constant, carping disapproval.

We all get angry if someone does something which harms us directly. But we tend not to get angry if people do things which don't affect us personally. A certain type of person will talk about someone else's dress, or spending habits, or taste in paramours, as if it is a direct, personal affront to him.

It's a direct correlation: the less self control a person has, the more control he wants over others.

Sociopaths are the ultimate example of this, and serial killers are the ultimate sociopaths: they kill partly for the pleasure of being able to control their victims' destiny. It is often said serial killers will sometimes slow down the killing process just so they can draw out that pleasure.

I was reminded of this last night when I watched a show about Wichita's BTK ("Bind Torture Kill") Killer, Dennis Rader, who would start to strangle his victims, and then, just when they were about to die, loosen the ligature around their necks so that he could do it all over again.

When he wasn't killing women, Rader was a dogcatcher and supervisor in the Compliance Department in Park City. He was locally famous for his extremely strict enforcement of regulations, in one case having a dog euthanized for no good reason. 

Scratch an officious busybody, find a nasty control freak. 

Your average controlling personality acts more like Rader-the-dogcatcher than Rader-the-serial-killer; but the basic psychology is not dissimilar. 

I racked my brains trying to think of a single example to the contrary: either a decent person who constantly tried to exert his dominion over others, or a nasty type who didn't. But I couldn't. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Just saw Blackfish, the documentary about orcas kept in captivity. It makes its message convincingly, and leaves you feeling that we ought not to keep these creatures confined. The interviews with the former SeaWorld trainers are particularly effective.

Orca brains are not only larger than ours, but apparently have more highly developed limbic systems -- the part of the brain which governs emotion.

I was struck by how similar orcas are to elephants. Both creatures are huge, and also hugely intelligent. Both live in extended three generation family groups. Both grieve when their offspring die. Even the high pitched sounds they make when distressed sound somewhat similar. Elephants have better memories than we do; it is unclear whether orcas do.

It might prove impossible, but it would seem worth our while to have researchers attempt to follow these creatures in their natural environment and attempt to learn their "language" in some sort of Berlitz-with-the-aid-of-high-tech fashion. There's probably something to be gained.


Saw Gravity last night. It won't make you want to get up in a plane again, and it certainly won't make you want to get into a spaceship. The moviemakers basically took a half hour story and spun it out to an hour and a half, but it was never boring.

Sandra Bullock was better than usual: she didn't do her standard overacting job (since her role actually called for some histrionics). George Clooney got to act heroic, which he does well, and seems to enjoy doing.

The special effects will probably get some kind of Oscar.

I can't say the movie was enjoyable; it was almost too gripping for that.

But it certainly makes you forget about your own problems while you're in the theater. Which is all a movie is supposed to do anyway.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

George Will and Charles Krauthammer

The two smartest guys in Washington DC are now both on Fox News, and sometimes you can see them together on the 6 PM show.

George Will and Charles Krauthammer are both extremely analytical, commonsensical, eloquent, and incisive. Both have original insights. And maybe most impressively, both express those insights not just in complete sentences, but in complete paragraphs.

It just hit me last night what I love about listening to them most: both men speak more eloquently than I write.

I think I sound fairly smart on paper -- but there are many people, who, when given ample time for rewrites, can manage to do so. If you meet me in person, you won't be impressed -- I can pretty much guarantee that. I sound just like everyone else. And by "everyone else" I mean like half the teenage girls you know. I pepper my speech liberally with "like's" and "you know's" and plenty of swears.

So, maybe a teenage girl crossed with a truck driver.

On top of that, I'm just not quick on my feet. Give me ten minutes and I can come up with the perfect one line response. (If you want two lines, I'll need twenty minutes.) But I can almost never come up with the perfect response on the spur of the moment.

But Will and Krauthammer speak in polished essays. I can only hope -- after numerous revisions -- to write a sentence as well-constructed as the sentences they utter. (Will actually sounds as if he's reading one of his own essays when he speaks.)

I went to Harvard and worked at Goldman Sachs, so I've met a fair number of smart people in my life. And I've met far, far many more arrogant types who merely think they're smart. (As I said, I went to Harvard and worked at Goldman.)

But none of them, not even the few who actually were really smart, spoke in polished essay form.

There are no other talking heads who do it, not on Fox, nor on any of the other news channels. Not even Megyn Kelly, Fox's newest prime time host, who comes across smarter than O'Reilly and Hannity, does it. Only Will and Krauthammer can do it.

Both men are undoubtedly given the topics to be discussed ahead of time, and thus have some time to prepare their comments beforehand, which helps. Still, the other members of the panels are also afforded that opportunity, yet none come across nearly as eloquent as Will and Krauthammer. And many of Will and Krauthammer's comments are responses to the other panelists, which are by necessity ad libbed.

It's humbling to listen to them. My usual reaction: "That's so true….why couldn't I think of that?" (A rhetorical question.)

Let me put it as I would if I were speaking to you in person: Will and Krauthammer are just, like, you know, fucking geniuses! I mean, shit!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Girl crawls out of grave after being raped, buried alive"

If they gave a Nobel Prize for Toughness, this Pakistani girl should be a nominee. The scene could have been straight out of Kill Bill Volume 2.

Local police didn't even want to investigate the incident at first. This is the type of thing feminists (and other) should focus their energies on -- not whether men in Western societies look at women the wrong way.

Monday, October 28, 2013

People who need distraction

One measure of a person's self-sufficiency -- and really, overall worth as a human being -- is how easily bored he gets. To what extent can he rely on his thoughts to entertain himself? How much distraction does he need?

We all need distraction; but the more frantic its pursuit, the higher the potential downside of the activity, and the less tolerance for a few moments of quiet reflection, the lower the quality of the person.

(Think fast cars, loud music, fireworks, games, guns, gambling, vandalism, alcohol, drugs, and ever-present smartphones.)

It's almost mathematical: the greater and more dramatic the distraction needed, the worse the person. (The "proof" of this theorem is that sociopaths are easily bored and will do anything to distract themselves.)

People who need loud music and drugs and the types of things that make one feel one is "out of one's mind" are making a tacit admission that, under normal conditions, their minds are not pleasant places to be. Which is another way of saying, they don't like themselves.

And if they can't stand themselves, why should you? If they spend much of their time essentially trying to crawl out of that hellhole of a brain, keep your distance.

How many times have you heard people say, "I drink to numb myself, to drown out the noise in my head," or words to that effect?

Spend enough time with that person and you'll eventually be "hearing" that noise, one way or another.

You probably won't find it a pleasant sound.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hypocrisy, small and large

One of the best ways to judge someone's character is to determine whether he would get along with himself. If he constantly criticizes others for things he does himself, then he wouldn't. And that means he is that lowest form of life, a hypocrite.

With someone like that, you should take everything he says with a grain of salt, and discount his opinions. You certainly don't want to befriend him.

Likewise, if you ever want to know which politicians are credible, look for the hypocrisy.

A politician who has taken both sides of an issue, depending on which happens to be politically convenient at the time, renounces his credibility.

Such a politician is nothing but a spin artist, no more credible as those campaign staffers who will always come out after a debate and opine that their man won.

Whenever there's a racial flare up, ask yourself what would have happened had the races had been reversed in that situation. Would the usual agitators have flown in to make hay out of the situation? Would they be saying the same thing?

Figure out who the hypocrites are, and it gives you a much better sense of the right and wrong of any situation.

For instance, if one side accuses the other of electoral fraud or intimidation, but ignores that which their own side encourages, that's all you need to know.

If one side accuses the other of being "haters," but seems to be much more spiteful and ill-mannered and gratuitously insulting themselves, that tells you everything about the "character" of that side.

Likewise, it's always illuminating to see what the media prefers to pay attention to. Which scandals are kept in public view and which are allowed to slip down the memory hole? Which types of crimes are given a lot of publicity and which are ignored?

If a newspaper or television station prefers to only give attention when the criminal is one race and the victim another, but studiously ignores crimes going in the other direction, that tells you everything you need to know about that media outlet, and their credibility.

People manifest their character through their hypocrisy, or lack thereof, and so do political parties and the media.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

My revised results

Back in July I reported that I had gotten my results and they had been as follows:

49% East Asian
22% British Isles
13% Central European
8% Finnish/Volga-Ural
8% uncertain

Yesterday I got an email from the company headlined:

"Come see your new results."

Below, the text read, "AncestryDNA has evolved. And the results are amazing." 

This is basically their Marketing Department's way of saying, "We screwed up the first time. Here are your more accurate, detailed results, with our apologies." 

Here are the new results they sent:


Africa  0%
Other Regions Tested:
Africa Southeastern Bantu  0%
Africa South-Central Hunter-Gatherers  0%
Senegal  0%
Africa North  0%
Ivory Coast/Ghana  0%
Benin/Togo  0%
Cameroon/Congo  0%
Mali  0%
Nigeria  0%

America  < 1%
Native American  < 1%

Asia  49%
Asia East  48%
Asia Central  < 1%
Asia South  0%

Europe  48%
Great Britain  15%
Iberian Peninsula  12%
Europe West  8%
Ireland  4%
Scandinavia  4%
Finnish/Northern Russia  2%
Italy/Greece  2%
Europe East  1%
European Jewish  0%

Pacific Islander  0%
Polynesia  0%
Melanesia  0%

West Asia 2%
Caucasus  < 1%
Near East  < 1%

There are two ways of looking at this. The first would be: geez, I'm even more of a mutt than I'd thought. The second would be to rejoice that I can claim kinship with so many different groups.

If diversity is indeed strength, then I must be truly powerful.

However, even the briefest glance at myself -- and my position in society -- puts the lie to that saying.

I'm almost -- almost -- a little disappointed not to be just a smidgen African. It would have provided a neat little defense every time someone accused me of racism: "What are you talking about? I'm part black myself!" -- spoken in a tone of injured wonderment at the unfairness of the accusation. 

It's surprising that one of the African sub-groups was described as "Africa South-Central Hunter-Gatherers." In this politically correct age, isn't that description considered a tad insensitive? Why was that the only group whose means of subsistence was mentioned? And, for that matter, in this country, doesn't "South Central" most commonly refer to that section of Los Angeles where the, uh, hunter-gatherers reside?

It turns out I do have some Native American blood, even if it's less than 1%. This is sort of ironic, considering I look somewhat like a Native American. Or, rather, Indian, as we prefer to be called. Personally, I don't even mind being called a "redskin" -- especially if it qualifies me to open up a casino.

The new results show that I'm 48% East Asian, and 1% Central Asian. I do try to overcome my Japanese heritage by being rude as often as possible. (This post is yet another attempt.)

I'll just assume the 1% Central Asian means that I'm a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. Expect me to emphasize that "fact" in the future -- especially when in my cups.

The 15% Great Britain is even less than the 22% in the original analysis I received in July, and that was far less than the roughly 50% I had believed all my life until a few months ago. 

The 12% Iberian Peninsula is the biggest surprise; the previous analysis had not mentioned that ethnicity at all, and I had no inkling that I had any Spanish blood. Again, it's sort of ironic, since I look vaguely "Hispanic." But Spaniards and Portuguese -- have little in common with the Central American Amerindians who are referred to as Hispanics in this country. And even though I look "Hispanic," I am part Iberian. So maybe I should learn to bullfight. Or rather, given my courage level, to do the flamenco.

Instead of being 13% Central European, I'm now 8% "Europe West" and 1% "Europe East." Europe West on the map includes Germany, France, Austria, and the Czech Republic, but nothing east of that. I could go crazy wondering whether I'm French or German, since they are such culturally opposite places. But given that my father thought he was part "Pennsylvania Dutch," which is in fact German, it's probably Heil Hitler for me.

Europe East, on the other hand, ranges from Latvia to Bulgaria, Poland to the Ukraine. That covers a lot of territory. But considering that only 1/100th of me comes from there, I'm not going to waste much time wondering which country.

I'm 4% Irish. I suppose it makes sense that I'm such a watered down bottle of Guinness, since I only feel as if I've kissed the Blarney Stone around 1/25th of the time. (The other 24/25ths, I'm tongue-tied.)

I'm 4% Scandinavian. Even if Hollywood is not breaking down the door attempting to cast me as Thor, it's nice to know I'm distantly related to the Swedish Bikini Team.

I'm now 2% -- and no longer 8% -- Finnish/Northern Russian. Come to think of it, Moscow did seem a pretty alien place when I visited back in 1968.

I'm 2% Italian/Greek, also a surprise. Evidently has not gotten to the point where they can separate those two ethnicities yet. And maybe, given the scope and dominance of both the Greek and Roman Empires, they'll never will.

Either way, it won't stop me from telling the Italians I know that I'm a paisan. Maybe I'll even start dressing a little flashier and hinting that I'm connected. ("You think you can talk that way to me? Hey -- I know people.") I draw the line at going full Jersey Shore, however.

And if a myopic person ever decides to tell me I'm built like a Greek God, I'll demur. But inside, of course, I'll be thinking: Ain't it the truth -- in more ways than one!

I'm roughly 1% "Caucasus." Given my ornery nature, that portion is probably Chechnyan. 

And while I'm 0% European Jewish, I am almost 1% "Near East." This means that while I have no Ashkenazi blood, there is a possibility of some Sephardic. So there's hope yet for a career in -- and positive coverage by -- the media. If my "Near East" is not Sephardic, I'll happily settle for being a member of the Saudi royal family.

I'm 0% Pacific Islander, which makes it a bit hard to explain my lifelong inchoate yearning for that part of the world.

Given my father's original belief that he was almost entirely British Isles-descended, my guess is that my Scandinavian blood came from the Vikings who invaded Scotland and Ireland, that the 2% Italian/Greek dated back to the Roman invasion of Britannia, and that the 12% Iberian was at least partly some form of "Black Irish" dating back to the Spanish Armada.

All of those groups demonstrated horribly bad manners with those invasions. But now that I know their blood runs in my veins, I find myself less inclined to castigate them.

Although I like to consider myself above such things, tribal identity does influence outlook.