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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Horse meat

There's been a minor brouhaha over the fact that some horse meat recently found its way into iKEA meatballs in Europe.

In America, because people get attached to their horses and dogs, there is a stigma against eating the meat of both. When we think of horses, we think of My Friend Flicka, or Black Beauty, or Seattle Slew. Eating one of those magnificent creatures -- or their brethren -- would seem almost sacrilegious.

Likewise, when we think of dogs, we think of Balto, or Lassie, or Rin Tin Tin, or our personal pets. Repaying the loyalty of man's best friend by consuming him would feel wrong. So we refrain.

India has its sacred cows; we have our sacred dogs and sacred horses. Are we being just as shortsighted as India? We eat cows, which are lovable creatures in their own way (think Elsie). And we eat venison (think Bambi). Once upon a time we slaughtered buffalo just for their tongues.

We eat sheep, which are sorta cute. We eat pigs, which are even cuter, at least when they're young. And we not only eat calves, we raise them in small pens so their meat is more tender.

We don't eat cats, partly because they're pets, but also because they're not supposed to be tasty and they don't provide much meat anyway. But dogs are reportedly delicious. (Just ask Barack.)

Horse meat, according to Wikipedia, is slightly sweet, tender, and low in fat. Sounds yummy.

We tend to shy away from eating animals we consider intelligent, like dolphins and chimpanzees. And those other brainiacs, elephants and whales, are endangered (despite their high IQ's).

(Question: if an mammal is more intelligent, should that exempt it from consumption? Are less intelligent creatures, like cows and sheep, less sensitive to pain than dolphins and chimps? Do they have fewer nerve endings along with their less advanced cognition? And if this is a relevant criterion, why do we eat pigs, which are more intelligent than dogs?)

We eat all sorts of birds, though we don't eat eagles. But eagles, though once endangered, are now plentiful, and the population currently numbers over 100,000 in this country. They were traditionally a game bird, and there was even a bounty on their heads in Alaska from 1917 to 1952. So why not? Because it would be unpatriotic? Turkeys are still plentiful, but a Thanksgiving bald eagle would be a feast to remember.

These taboos have always struck me as a little silly.

For you pet owners who object, think about it: what better way is there for you to honor your departed pet than to eat it? Your horse or dog will actually become part of you. How could you be any closer than that? (In fact, much horse meat is not healthy because of the medications they're given over their lifetimes; but I am talking theoretically, about "organic" horses.)

If you prefer to bury your pet in the backyard, be assured that it will just gradually rot and be eaten by worms.

It's time to reconsider.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Are Aspies not responsible for their own behavior?

Any fair-minded person would agree that no one should be blamed for what they are (their race, gender, sexual orientation, looks, etc.), but that people should be held responsible for what they do.

But what if people are somehow impaired? Should they then still be held responsible for their behavior? One of the saner criticisms I got for my post on Aspergers was from someone named Cory Riesen:

"You point out a lot of truths about aspergers syndrome. However, your tone is pretty offensive. One major problem I had is that you imply or assume aspergers is "wrong" or "bad". And you seem to put the blame on the people with the this disorder for not "trying" hard enough. I realize you did not say these directly! BUT it is clear you hold these views. Especially if we take into account your replies to many of the comments on this post. You accuse people of being "typical" aspergers or showing traits... As if that is an argument? I mean it is a real disorder that they have to deal with on a daily basis. Would you write an article about how you have to wait for someone in a wheelchair to take the long way around instead of using the stairs?"

Riesen has a point: it is true that Aspies do not choose to have their syndrome. So should I be more patient with them? Should I show them a forbearance that I wouldn't show to most people?

It's an interesting philosophical question. A corollary: dumb people can't help but be dumb, either. Should they be given more leeway for their behavior? They are certainly less able to think clearly and logically, and it's not their fault that they were born with subpar brains. So should we hold them less responsible for their behavior?

The NY Times will occasionally inveigh against the death penalty being applied to some murderer whose IQ has been tested at 65 or 70 (70 is considered the cutoff point for retardation). The idea is that the murderer didn't fully comprehend what he was doing.

But let's take this argument a step further. What if a murderer has an IQ of 85? Does that make him a little less responsible for his actions, than, say, a fellow with an IQ of 100? And does someone with an IQ of 155 bear more responsibility for a crime than, say, someone with an IQ of 110 would have? (The former would theoretically be able foresee the consequences of his crime and the harm he would cause better than the latter.) 

Or how about an elderly person whose faculties are not what they once were? Does that render him less responsible for his bad behavior? 

There are those who feel that women are less logical than men. Are women therefore less guilty of their crimes than men are? (In fact, the death penalty is much more rarely given to women than to men.)

Should we give women a pass for being more emotional than men, especially when it's their time of month? (In fact, most people do, but should we?)

At yet another level, sociopaths can't help but be sociopaths. They turn out that way because they had no close bond with a nurturer at a very young age, or, more rarely, for organic frontal lobe-related reasons -- neither of which they are responsible for. And since no sociopath has ever been "cured," they have no choice but to be without conscience. Does this make them somehow less culpable for their conscienceless behavior? How long before we start seeing sociopath support groups?

("Hey -- you can't really blame him for having killed all those women. He's a sociopath, that's the way he's programmed.")

Ultimately, no one is responsible for his own family background. ("It's not my fault I exhibit such selfish behavior, my parents spoiled me rotten when I was a child.")

Or how about an otherwise sane person who is under the influence? ("Yes Your Honor, it was my own choice to drink, but you see, I didn't make the decision to get in my car and drive until after I was drunk, so by that point, I really was no longer responsible for my own actions. You have to understand, alcoholism is a disease, not a crime.")

No one would accept these ridiculous excuses.

But, at the same time, there's no question that a sociopath can't help but be the way he is. Any more than an Aspie can help be unreasonable and rigid, or a moron can help being stupid.

Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, had Aspergers Syndrome, which he couldn't help. That syndrome shaped his personality and undoubtedly contributed to his behavior on that fateful day. Had he not committed suicide, would his syndrome have absolved him from his murderous behavior in the eyes of a court of law?

There is such a thing as free will, and theoretically we all have it.

So, back to original question: should we -- or I, at least -- be more patient with those who have Aspergers Syndrome? I'd probably have more sympathy if advocates for Aspergers would at least admit that part of the syndrome is an intrinsic unreasonableness and rigidity which almost always lead to various forms of what most of us would call selfishness. But advocates instead constantly point out famous and successful people who have the syndrome, and talk about how Aspies are "differently abled" or some such nonsense. 

If Aspergers spokespeople would only say, we can't help the fact that even though we're very critical and judgmental ourselves we melt down if given criticism, and we can't help the fact that we can't take jokes and and that we're extremely rigid and very literal....Well, then I suspect I'd be more patient and sympathetic. But Aspergers advocates never admit to these things.

And if people with Aspergers are, as they claim, so sensitive and smart and see things that non-Aspies don't see, why can't they see their own hypocrisy? One would think that people who have meltdowns when criticized would be a little more circumspect with their own criticism. Should resentment against hypocrisy not be directed at Aspies? ("Oh, he's an Aspie, so it's perfectly okay if he's a hypocritical, rigid, self-righteous lame-o.")

I honestly don't know: it's one of those philosophical questions that doesn't have a perfectly right or wrong answer. (Although I guess it's apparent from the examples I've given that I lean towards the free will viewpoint.)

Anyway, here's my excuse: I can't help the fact that I am only human, so after repeated exposure to willful obtuseness and hypocrisy, my patience wears thin.

I have no choice. Really.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Responses to Aspergers post

One post which continues to get a lot of comments is the one from August 2011 on Aspergers Syndrome.

A few of the comments are from people who've had to deal with Aspies, and they are in complete agreement with the tone of the post. One or two seemed almost relieved that someone else had experienced the same things they had.

But many of the comments are from Aspies, and those are very critical. My favorite is from one guy who, among other things, stated, "I'm not here to be your bitch." (As if I somehow implied that he ought to be.) He also said I have an "entitlement problem" and am a "little dictator." This is typical Aspie behavior: instead of sticking to the subject and arguing about it calmly, they try to make it about the person they're arguing with.

The sheer volume of responses to the post is in fact telling, and almost comical. In the post I describe how awkward and rigid Aspies are, and also how they are unable to take any criticism. So the Aspies who read the post respond either by criticizing my character or accusing me of saying things I hadn't. But really, they are actually proving me right: Aspies melt down if they have to take any criticism.

One of the more interesting comments I've gotten was on the post about Al Gore and Aspergers Syndrome.

The commenter called me "an ignorant ass."

I can't help but wonder if I got that comment from the man himself. (I sure hope I did.)

This blog comes down much, much harder on sociopaths than on Aspies, but I never get comments from people defending sociopaths.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The David Duke of his day

Now that we're about to find out how many of those twelve nominations Lincoln has garnered will turn into actual Academy Awards, it seems an appropriate time to take a look at the real Lincoln -- not just the man who freed the slaves, but also the man who suspended habeas corpus and jailed his critics.

In Steven Spielberg's movie, there is a scene where his wife's maid asks Lincoln, "What is to become of us [blacks if slavery is abolished]?" Lincoln, with the demeanor of a kindly old college professor, gently replies that he does not know, since he cannot foretell the future.

This was misleading. In fact, if Lincoln had had his way, he would have exiled her and every other American black to other countries. (He was a lifelong proponent of the forced expatriation of blacks.)

Spielberg, in another ridiculous scene at the beginning of his movie, has a Union soldier recite the Gettysburg Address to Lincoln. (While the scene is silly, the speech itself was certainly beautifully written.)

But to get a complete picture of Lincoln, one must also hear this excerpt from the Lincoln-Douglas debate of September 18, 1858:

"I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality….I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race…I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with Negroes.”

A "physical difference"? Lincoln was evidently not just the David Duke of his day, but the Arthur Jensen as well.

That must be why they called him Honest Abe.

Of course, if Lincoln didn't actually believe the things he said at that debate, and was saying them purely for political expediency, that makes him just another dishonest politician who would say anything to get elected. 

It's one or the other. 

(Addendum, 5/1/13: I'm told by a Lincoln historian that he changed his mind about the expatriation of blacks in 1862, so I stand corrected about that.)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The best salesmen....

....are those who are completely cynical, unscrupulous users, yet manage to come across as guileless, wholesome idealists.

It's a scary combination.

It's what the most prolific serial killers have. It's how they put people off their guard before they kill them.

It's what the best politicians have. They come across as earnest and sincere, so people believe that they really have the public's best interests at heart.

Politicians and serial killers are the best salesmen there are.

Those other guys, who peddle stocks and bonds, or fancy cars, or luxury real estate, are just amateurs by comparison.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Oscar Pissed-off-at-us

Everybody has heard about Oscar Pistorius shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by now. When the news first came out, the angle that Pistorius had mistakenly shot at a suspected intruder got some play.

But then it turned out that he had been yelling at Steenkamp beforehand, and not only had she been shot four times but the side of her skull had been bashed in. A former girlfriend surfaced to say that Pistorius was "not the person the public thinks he is." And it turned out that he had kept a supply of injectable testosterone at his house.

There were rumors that Steenkamp was also seeing a rugby player, and that Oscar had shot her out of jealousy.

Pistorius's lawyers are sticking with the accidental shooting story, but that seems less and less likely. He had to have seen that Steenkamp wasn't in bed when he went to the bathroom. And what kind of intruder breaks in only to lock himself in the bathroom?

At his arraignment, Pistorius couldn't stop sobbing, and his family turned out in full force to support him -- not something you normally see with sociopaths.

But if he had a supportive family, what turned Oscar into the kind of person who would shoot a girlfriend out of jealousy?

Was it the testosterone supplements he was taking? Steroid rages are certainly a well documented phenomenon. Or was it something even more basic? If it wasn't his family background, was he filled with rage because of his handicap?

Obviously, no one is responsible for a congenital malady. And most of us feel sympathy for someone who is handicapped. But what did Pistorius himself feel? At a certain level, it would be impossible not to feel rage if one had been born without fibulas.

Pistorius certainly made the most out of his situation. And he certainly deserves credit for not having just given up on life. (His mother reportedly deserves a lot of credit for that as well.)

I'm glad we live in a world where a Paralympian can become an international star and get an endorsement contract from Nike (though, frankly, I never thought Pistorius should have been allowed to compete against normal runners with his carbon fiber blades, any more than a wheelchair athlete should be allowed to compete directly against able-bodied marathoners).

Put yourself in Pistorius's place for just a moment. You've achieved world fame, you've overcome your handicap to some extent, you've become rich and famous, and you've even gotten yourself a beautiful model girlfriend. But then she cheats on you with a rugby player with perfectly formed legs.

How would that make you feel?

It makes one think of some of the old time fictional villains, who were given handicaps to make them seem scarier. Think of Long John Silver, or Captain Hook, or Captain Ahab, or Dr. No. And it worked: there was less of them, but somehow that made them more scary.

(Reeva must certainly have found Oscar awfully scary at the end there.)

Or think of that more recent real life example who came to light, Richard III, with his severely curved spine. (Perhaps Shakespeare was unfair to him; perhaps not.)

The idea with all these characters was that their deformities had turned them into bitter, twisted, vengeful beings.

Such an assumption is of course completely unfair to the vast majority of people missing body parts, most of whom are perfectly fine human beings.

But I know if I'd had only stumps for legs from the time I was a year old, I would, at a certain level, be angry at the world. Extremely angry.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jesse Jr.'s purchases

Jesse Jackson Jr.'s has agreed to plead guilty to having misappropriated $750,000 in campaign funds for his personal use.

That by itself is not particularly interesting. Perhaps it's not even that surprising in light of the fact that his father, in whose political footsteps he followed, is a sociopath.

But Jackson didn't spend his money on the usual stuff: trips to the Caribbean, fancy meals, fine wines, cars, mistresses, gifts for friends, and bling. Well, other than a $43,350 Rolex. (A congressman has to be on time.)

Mostly, Jackson was a memorabilia buff.

He spent $5000 on a football which had been signed by four US Presidents. He bought two hats which had belonged to Michael Jackson, including a $4800 fedora. He spent over $8000 on Martin Luther King Jr. memorabilia and over $7000 on Bruce Lee memorabilia.

There's something a little primitive about the mentality of memorabilia collectors. It's almost as if they want a talisman to get some of the magic person's juju. (Practitioners of voodoo sometimes use a personal possession of their intended victim, such as a lock of his hair, to cast a spell. Not that Jackson wanted to cast any spells.)

Jackson's interest in Martin Luther King memorabilia is almost understandable, given that Jesse Sr. first gained fame by glomming onto the King bandwagon, then exploiting that connection.

But anybody with an IQ over 100 is supposed to grow out of his Bruce Lee stage by age 20. Jackson is now 47. You do the math.

Michael Jackson was an undeniably talented singer, dancer, and composer. But he was just as undeniably a serial child molester. As well as being sort of, well, undeniably insane. What sort of person is attracted to a loon? Perhaps another loon? I had always thought that Jesse Jackson Jr.'s extended stay in that mental health facility was a ploy to set up a temporary insanity defense. Maybe not.

Jackson also spent $5150 on furs, including a $1200 mink reversible parka and an $800 mink cape. I'd have paid $800 to see Jackson show up in Congress wearing that cape. If I knew how, I'd photoshop a picture of him wearing Michael Jackson's fedora and that mink cape.

Maybe it was a magician's cape. Jackson would certainly have to be a magician to mount any sort of political comeback after he gets out of jail. (Then again, black voters tend to be very forgiving of scandal involving their own: remember Marion Barry?)

Jackson must have grown up with a fair amount of privilege. Like many blacks who grow up well to do, he must have yearned for some real street cred. Perhaps dressing up like a pimp was his way of getting that.

In fairness to Jackson, he did reportedly try to buy himself that U.S. Senate seat former Illinois Governor Rod Blagoyevich tried to auction off. That was actually a use of campaign funds that Jackson's donors might have approved of.

And Jackson did spend $9800 on children's furniture. (Maybe we should just focus on what a good father he is.)

While Republicans are constantly accused of using their office to protect the rich, which is true enough, Democrats do seem more likely to use their office to get rich. Jackson is just one more piece of evidence.

Addendum, two days later: Turns out that it was Jackson's wife, Sandra, who bought that reversible mink parka and cape, not Jackson himself.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Side Effects

The movie starts out as a seemingly Matt Damon-style lecture on corporate malfeasance, but then turns into a first rate film noir. It stars Rooney Mara, whose evident depression sets the plot into motion:

And also Jude Law, who's still almost as pretty as Mara:

It also stars Channing Tatum, though "Magic Mike" doesn't get to strut his stuff much, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who gamely -- and effectively -- plays against type.

For those who look for such things, the movie provides commentary on big city living, corporate ethics, our legal system, materialism, and so on. But what makes it worthwhile is the commentary on good and evil. Scott Z. Burns, the writer, understands sociopathy well.

See it, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

More suggested changes for the Olympics

A lot of people like Dan Wetzel here have been bemoaning the elimination of wrestling from the 2020 Olympics in favor of golf.

But Wetzel and his ilk are misinformed: golf is in fact much more in keeping with the original spirit of the Games. If you don't think so, you are just woefully unfamiliar with Greek history.

Many's the time when Aristotle would unwind from writing Poetics with a round of golf at his favorite course. Aristophanes reportedly was inspired to write Lysistrata after being blackballed at Plato's Retreat, a private golf club.

Some historians feel that the eighth wonder of the ancient world was in fact the beautiful 18 hole course in the hills overlooking Athens and the Aegean. (The Parthenon was originally built as its clubhouse.)

All of which is not even to mention that golfers resemble those Greek statues much more than wrestlers do.

And that golf is a far more democratic sport. Only rich kids can wrestle with each other.

The motto for the modern Olympic Games is "Citius, Altius, Fortius," which is Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger." Obviously, a stock car is much faster than Usain Bolt. So let's make another improvement by eliminating track and field in favor of NASCAR.

Ever hear of a track meet with more than 20,000 in attendance? Virtually every NASCAR race draws in excess of 100,000 fans! (Plus, not that it matters, but those auto suppliers can put up some major sponsorship bucks.)

And, after all, Aeneas himself was said to have been quite fond of his GTO.

Likewise, let's eliminate swimming in favor of yachting. With real, America's Cup-style yachts, not those glorified Sunbirds they call "yachts" now. (Plus, not that this is important, but boat manufacturers have a lot more money than bathing suit companies.)

And, after all, Odysseus didn't swim to all his adventures -- he sailed!

Finally, we should dump gymnastics for a new sport: World's Richest Man. The gold medal would simply be awarded to whoever could give the largest personal check to each of the 105 IOC members.

The IOC members will undoubtedly find this in keeping with their attitude toward sport.

And, after all, Homer himself was said to be quite fond of money.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Oksana Baiul

Mentioning Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan in the previous post reminded me of Oksana Baiul. (This has become a stream of consciousness blog.)

I don't even watch the Winter Olympics anymore, and I've never been a dance fan. (The two most boring events I've ever attended were a piano recital and a modern dance performance.)

But I do remember being wowed by Baiul at the 1994 Olympics. Her figure skating had a willowy grace which far outshone the robotic performance of Nancy Kerrigan, the silver medalist. I enjoyed Baiul's ice dancing even more. Being able to perform this kind of euphoric dance while on skates is impressive. (The routine starts 40 seconds into the video.)

Baiul wasn't classically beautiful, but she somehow managed to be incredibly attractive. Watch the video and see if you disagree.

Michelle and Tonya

Mentioning the Olympic champion Michelle Smith this past Wednesday made me curious as to what she was up to now, so I looked her up on Wikipedia. Turns out she's now a barrister in Ireland. (Her interest in the law was piqued during the hearings into her ban from swimming after having tampered with her urine sample.)

I was also curious to see what she looked like now, and saw this picture from her law school graduation:

I was struck by her resemblance to figure skater Tonya Harding, another disgraced Olympian from the 1990's:

Tonya, as you may recall, gained infamy when her boyfriend (presumably at her request) hired a thug to hit rival skater Nancy Kerrigan's kneecap with a tire iron. (Kerrigan, despite her injury, went on to win a silver medal behind Oksana Baiul at the '94 Games.)

Michelle was a more successful Olympian than Tonya, winning three golds and a bronze, whereas Tonya won no medals. And Michelle is more intelligent, as she has managed to stay out of trouble since, whereas Tonya's entire life story has been almost a parody of dysfunctionality.

But their resemblance is more than superficial. Both are the type who would do anything to win. Michelle would resort to performance enhancing drugs, then unashamedly tell the media that she was the most tested athlete in all of Ireland and that she had passed every drug test she had ever taken (shades of Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong). And Tonya would get her boyfriend to arrange a kneecapping, then profess disgust at the crime.

Too bad for Tonya she didn't compete in a sport where steroids could help.

Friday, February 8, 2013

"For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of WWII"

Another interesting article, courtesy of HBD Chick, about a Russian family which ended up isolated in Siberia.

It's a sad and somewhat affecting story. At first it seems hard to believe. But when you think about it, pre-history must be full of cases like this, where people for one reason or another ended up completely isolated in the wilderness.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The appropriate penalty for PED's

Performance enhancing drugs are never far from the headlines these days. A couple weeks ago Lance Armstrong was in the news for his "confession." Last week, A-Rod was linked to a shady doctor and journalists questioned Ray Lewis's remarkably speedy recovery from a torn triceps.

The past four decades are replete with dopers who never tested positive, no matter how flagrantly they cheated: Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Marion Jones, Michelle Smith, and many more. Over time the dopers have made the testing agencies look like the Keystone Kops. 

So what to do? 

Obviously, they need to tighten up the testing procedures, and take blood passports (samples to be tested in the future, when detection methods are more sophisticated). But the penalties also need to be increased. 

Right now the penalty stands at either a two or four year suspension, plus losing the medals from the whichever competition the athlete tested positive at. 

A more fitting penalty would be for the athlete to lose all of his previous medals and records, period. If an athlete tests positive, odds are he was doping long before that.

Think about it: why would anybody go on the juice after already becoming an Olympic champion or world record holder? Put yourself in the shoes of a clean athlete who has just won a gold medal. Would you think, okay, now I'll take PED's? Of course not. You're already the best without them. No, the only reason to cheat after this is because you've relied on doping in the past. 

Imagine you're Michael Phelps in 2010. You've won a total of sixteen Olympic medals, including a perfect set of eight golds in Beijing. Would you then think, okay, this time around I'm going on steroids? Can you imagine Phelps showing up in London with 30 pounds more muscle than he had in Beijing, looking almost like a different person? Is there any chance he would have risked tainting his legacy that way? 

Of course not. The only reason to cheat is because you need to in order to win -- which almost certainly means you always have. So if you get caught, you should have all of your previous titles and records expunged. 

The IOC recently stripped Lance Armstrong of his Olympic medal from 2000, and has also taken Marion Jones' medals from her. 

But there is a long list of athletes who were proven to be dopers later on who never had their medals taken away: all of the East Germans from the 70's and 80's, Michelle Smith from '96, Justin Gatlin from '04, and so on. Does anyone think that Michelle Smith was actually clean in '96? Or Gatlin in '04?

This is not to suggest that even if these athletes did give back their medals, justice would nearly be served. Being awarded a medal a decade or two after you rightfully won it is not the same as standing on the podium, seeing your country's flag raised, hearing the roar of the crowd, returning home a hero, being introduced as an Olympic champion for years afterward, and maybe getting some commercial endorsements. 

It's not even close.

Of course, neither is this to suggest that the second place athlete was necessarily clean himself, especially in a sport like cycling. 

But even if the second place finisher is equally undeserving, we still need more draconian penalties, if only for deterrence's sake.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What Lance teaches us about leadership

Looking at the dynamics inside Lance Armstrong's various bicycle teams gives us an interesting insight into the "leadership" style of a sociopath.

All of the reports which have emerged indicate that Lance bullied his teammates into doping themselves, whether or not they were initially inclined to, and threatened to ruin their lives if they ever reported him.

With Lance, everything was always about Lance. But that's not the way he would have framed his argument to each newcomer. He would have phrased it to make it sound as if anyone who was unwilling to dope was letting the team down, as if the team was what Armstrong cared about most. He would have made the newcomer feel guilty for not having enough team spirit if he was reluctant to dope.

Another thing Lance would have done was approach every newcomer individually, so that he could emphasize to each of them that if he didn't dope, he would be the only one who didn't, and that every other rider was fine with the program. He would have talked about how easy it was to fool the testers, and how all the other competitors were doping anyway -- so why would that newcomer want to put himself at a disadvantage?

Then, when he threatened anyone who would expose him, he would have couched that as a matter of being disloyal to the entire team -- and their spouses and children. Lance only cared about Lance, but he would have paid a lot of lip service to the team ethic.

Why would Armstrong's teammates put up with such transparent manipulation? Most likely, because they were afraid of him. Even if they didn't understand sociopathy, they knew instinctively that Armstrong was a guy they ought not to cross, since he would go to any lengths to succeed, and was completely uninhibited in his vindictiveness and viciousness.

They all saw what happened whenever anybody did cross Armstrong. He would use all of the public relations machinery at his disposal to destroy them. He brought lawsuits against journalists who dared to suggest that he might be doping, and he impugned the character of former teammates who told the truth about him.

When Emma O'Reilly, the team masseuse, spoke to journalist David Walsh about his doping, Armstrong not only sued her, but belittled her publicly as a "whore" and "an alcoholic." O'Reilly later said that she felt badly for the other riders, who weren't as "comfortable" with the doping as Armstrong was. This stands to reason, since qualms are not part of a sociopath's personality. The other riders, since they were capable of feeling guilt, were uncomfortable.

Betsy Andreu is the wife of Frankie Andreu, a former Armstrong teammate. She testified that she had heard Armstrong tell doctors at the Indiana hospital which treated him for cancer back in '96 that he had taken testosterone, EPO, growth hormone, and steroids. Armstrong then explained to the press she was "obsessed and vindictive," and also that she was a "crazy bitch." He tried to blackball her husband from work in cycling. They were telling the truth and he wasn't, but that didn't matter. He was Lance Armstrong, and they were nobodies.

Most of Armstrong's teammates knew that they were dealing from a similarly weak position. Armstrong was an American icon who had recovered from cancer to scale the French Alps and come back victorious. He had even started a foundation to help cancer patients -- what could be better proof of good character than that? Every teammate knew that it would be his word against Lance's (and Lance's phalanx of lawyers), which was not a winning hand.

They all knew that Armstrong's public image was the opposite of his real personality. But they were simply too intimidated by him to cross him. That was just the reality that they lived with.

They also knew that they were better off just going along with the program. After agreeing to Lance's demands that they dope if they wanted to be part of the team, they were now guilty as well. They earned more money by virtue of being on a winning team. And they would lose their livelihoods if they decided to come clean.

In the end, it was a pact with the devil not dissimilar to that of the Colombian journalists who crossed paths with cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar back in the 1980's. Escobar would offer them a stark choice: either take the $500,000 I offer you and stop writing bad things about me, or I will kill you and your family. Those journalists who took the money may not have been heroes (unlike their dead colleagues), but they were certainly not bad people, either. They were just normal people who had been subjected to abnormal pressure.

Likewise, Armstrong's teammates weren't bad people. They simply got caught up in the maelstrom that a powerful sociopath inevitably creates around him. And, like all people who are thus manipulated, they ended up feeling used, and ended up full of resentment and bitterness.

This dynamic happens in schoolyards, on athletic teams, in corporations, in police departments, and even in criminal enterprises all the time: the sociopath takes control, manipulates, bullies, and compromises his associates until they acquiesce to his will. Then, once they are tainted too, the sociopath has complete control. And he leverages that control as much as he can. This is a form of "leadership" which is all too common.

No one -- unless they're terminally naive -- looks back at a sociopath with fondness. But by the time people realize how badly they've been used, the sociopath has gotten what he wanted and has moved on.

But that's leadership, sociopath-style.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Joe Biden as Wall Street salesman

I met a lot of guys who came across the way Joe Biden does when I was on Wall Street. I was in the bond business, and the guys like him were mostly salesmen. They were all slick, well dressed, nicely groomed, and never seemed at a loss for words. They wore nice aftershave lotion and expensive shoes.

Some of the older guys sometimes had had a little work done, possibly a facelift. Their teeth had been whitened. And a few had hair plugs. Sorta like Joe.

Most of these guys seemed to have many friendships, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, though the line between friendships and business relationships was blurry, at best. You got the sense that a fair number of these guys didn't really have any close friends though. Sorta like you do with Joe. 

Most had at least semi-respectable educational backgrounds. If they didn't, it seemed to be a point of pride. ("Hey, unlike the rest of these Ivy League hotshots, I came up the hard way, through CCNY.") I'm self-made, seemed to be the message.

Still, I got the impression that some of them lied about their educational pedigrees. Sorta like Joe.

Biden once told a reporter that his IQ was much higher than the reporter's, and that he had graduated from college with three degrees and from law school in the top half of his class. Only problem is, neither of those claims is true. Biden graduated from college with one degree, and graduated 76th in his class of 85 from law school. (Here is a video of Biden making those claims; note the unwavering certainty of his declaration.)

These salesmen always seemed happy to see you, had firm handshakes, and a ready smile. None of these guys were dumb; but none of them really seemed all that smart, either. They left you wondering if they were actually interested in anything they studied in college. But it also didn't seem as if any of them really cared about how smart they were; what they cared about was winning. Sorta like Joe.

None really had original thoughts, but all were glib. Many had canned lines that they could trot out for any occasion. These were often lines they had heard from someone else. But they had absolutely no compunctions about taking credit for them without giving attribution -- sorta like Joe.

Back in 1988, Biden gave a rousing speech about his grandfather, the coal miner from West Virginia. Only problem was, it turned out that the entire speech was plagiarized from British labor Leader Neil Kinnock's speech about his grandfather. Biden's grandfather never worked in the coal mines.

All of these salesmen seemed to have supreme confidence. In fact they projected such confidence that sometimes you felt yourself swept up by their certainty about whatever it was they were discussing. They would usually say the "right" thing for the moment, even if it wasn't technically accurate. But even if they didn't have all of their facts straight, it almost didn't matter, since they talked with such animation and forcefulness.

Sorta like Joe. During the Vice Presidential debate this past fall, at one point Biden said with great passion, in reference to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, "I was there. I knew we couldn't pay for them -- I voted against them." Only thing is, Senator Biden actually voted for both wars.

None of these Wall Street salesmen lived in a fishbowl, so their lies -- or mistakes, if you prefer -- usually got glossed over. Biden is in a fishbowl, so we can see his dishonesty, even if most of the media prefers not to report it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"The Bob Menendez 'Standard'"

Hadn't realized that Senator Bob Menendez had recommended that all of those Secret Service agents in the Colombia hooker scandal be fired.

All of a sudden his own scandal got that much more gratifying.