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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Montecito (Part II)

I'm about to leave Montecito, and I realize what makes me uncomfortable about this town: it's very much divided by class. It's not that I've suddenly become a socialist; it's just that it's uncomfortable to be in a place where the divide between haves and have nots is so stark. (It's a little like Latin America or the Hamptons that way.)

My hometown in Connecticut is mostly upper middle class. There are a few very wealthy people there, and also some who are struggling. But for the most part, it is upper middle class. The biggest social activities tend to center around childrens' sports, and people drive their own kids around town. You see some nice cars and houses, but most do not scream money.

In Montecito, in the brief time I was in the hillside shopping center, I saw an Aston Martin Vanguard and two Ferraris. But it's not just the cars that are flashy. It's the mansions secluded behind tall hedges, the arty little shops, the beachside Coral Casino, and the ultraluxurious Biltmore. There are also the ever present servants. By "servants" I mean those whose jobs it is to cater to the rich in one way or another. There are guards at gated compounds, valets, and doormen, as well as lots of gardeners.

In my hometown there are people whose job it is to work on houses in various capacities. But there are no gated compounds, and people park their own cars.

Personally, I'm just not comfortable around "servants." It simply means more people to be polite to. For instance, I've never understood the appeal of a chauffeur. I'd rather drive my own car and not have one more person with whom I have to exchange forced pleasantries, someone who's going to know more about me than I'm comfortable with. It's simply more relaxing to be by yourself in your own car.

There seem to be a fair number of rich people who are very comfortable being surrounded by paid assistants. I can't help but suspect that some of that comfort derives from not really thinking of those assistants as fully human, and not feeling any need to be polite to them. Which says something about those rich people.

People who become upper middle class tend to get that way by being quietly responsible, intelligent, competent, and hard working. (Think doctors, small town lawyers, middle management types, engineers and teachers.)

People who become super wealthy sometimes get that way by being brilliant, but far more often they arrive by being aggressive, backstabbing, entitled, and even corrupt. (Think of hedge fund managers, Hollywood producers, corporate CEOs, and real estate moguls.) And once they become rich, they become even more entrenched in their narcissism.

I tend to get along with the former. I often end up despising the latter.

That said, I don't usually enjoy the company of poor people either. They are more likely to be irresponsible, chemically addled, not particularly intelligent, and resentful. Sometimes, they're even dangerous.

There are certainly both rich and poor people who are perfectly pleasant, as well as plenty of noxious members of the middle class. But the general correlations hold.

Anyway, today I say good-bye to this striated enclave -- heavenly as the scenery and weather are -- and head back to my middle class town, where I'm more comfortable.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sociopath alert: Christine Quinn

The other day the NY Times wrote an extremely unflattering -- but evidently accurate -- portrait of Christine Quinn, the Democratic New York City mayoral candidate who is the frontrunner at this point.

She is a classic sociopath. She yells, she screams, she bullies, she threatens to cut off the genitals of those who disagree with her, she is extremely vindictive, she seems to have little self control, and she shows absolutely no embarrassment about her behavior. ("I am who I am," she says unapologetically.)

The sad thing is, she has probably gotten as far as she has because of her sociopathy: people are instinctively afraid to cross her, so let her have her way.

(I wonder what Quinn's official stance is on the issue of bullying in schools. How does she feel we should deal with this issue?)

The comments after the article are telling too, in describing her corruption, which the article did not delve into.

It's a little surprising that the Times would run this piece considering how they usually turn a blind eye to the personalities of left-leaning sociopaths. But good for them that they did not in this case. I hope it helps derail her candidacy.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


I'm staying for a week in Montecito, which is part of the city of Santa Barbara. The climate is nice to the point of seeming a little unreal. The temperature gets down to the low 50's at night, and rises up to the high 60's during the day. It's foggy early in the morning, then the fog burns off and it's sunny for the rest of the day.

The condo I'm staying at smells of bougainvillea and various other flowers whose names I don't know. Even the parking garage here smells like the eucalyptus trees which surround it. There is a gentle breeze which comes in from the sea. After several days I have yet to notice a single insect. (The flowers must get pollinated magically.)

The town is rich, even ritzy. (I'm just a scraggly visitor.) Rich people seem willing to spend inordinate amounts to be close to the ocean. A two bedroom condo on the beach (but facing the mountains) will go for maybe $1.5 million. On the other side of the building, if you're facing he ocean, the same unit will cost twice that. Four bedroom houses on the ocean cost $16 million. And there are a couple houses on the bluff which are upwards of $40 million.

Beyond those houses is a large graveyard, roughly a half mile by a mile, which sits on a hill next to the ocean. That land has to be worth in the billions. If Santa Barbara ever runs into financial problems, they should just sell the graveyard. (I doubt its current residents would much mind being relocated.)

LIke the rest of southern California, Santa Barbara has a beach culture. I've never quite gotten the appeal of going to the beach, whatever part of the world you're in. The nearest bathroom is usually a ten minute walk away, the water is usually too cold to swim in, there are horseflies (on the East Coast), and sand gets in everything. It's hard to read in the glare and if you try to eat, the wind just blows sand in your food. What's the point? To get your skin to wrinkle faster?

If you surf, at least you're doing something. But the Channel Islands, which protect Santa Barbara against catastrophic tsunamis, also make for mediocre surfing.

The surfers are part of the beach culture here. But in Montecito, there are also a fair number of people taking their morning stroll on the walkway above the beach. It's fairly easy to tell which group they belong to. You see a fair number of Easterners, who are staying at the Biltmore; they are pale, and usually bundled up against the 60 degree chill.

Then there are the locals, who are as likely to be jogging or bicycling. Their skin may be a bit more leathery, but they also look healthier. Many of the local women just look like money. You can tell, the most important thing they've ever done in their lives is just look good. You see some near the beach, and more in the shopping center up the hill.

The weirdest thing about this place is that beautiful women will actually walk past you on the sidewalk, smile, and say hello. (What planet is this?) I, of course, at first had the normal guy reaction: finally, a group of women who appreciate me! (It doesn't take much to put my ego in fourth gear.)

On the East Coast, if an attractive woman smiles at you on the street, it might translate as, "Let's do it." Of course, it could also translate as "I'd like to separate you from your money." Or, maybe, "I'm insane."

But in Montecito, it translates as, "I'm a Californian -- isn't it a nice day today?" That's it, nothing more. Read anything into it and you're just taking your ego out for a spin.

(It may have been my imagination, but it also seemed as if there was a faint echo of, "Isn't it grand to be rich?" to their friendly hellos.)

Good-looking women usually accompany expensive real estate. Centimillionaires don't marry plain women; they may have married them and subsequently gotten rich, but that's different. Show me a centimillionaire who makes his money and then marries a plain woman and I'll show you a genuinely nice guy. Hmm. Right, not too many of those around.

Conversely, show me a gorgeous woman who marries a poor-and-not-particularly-handsome man, and I'll show you a truly nice girl. Okay, not too many of those either.

But at least in Montecito it all looks -- and smells -- good.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Faux pas

Liz Pelton, a girl who started out on the local swim team with my children, has gone on to become a world class swimmer, and I have kept in sporadic touch with her father Greg.

Liz is now a freshman at Cal, and just competed in her first NCAA championships. On the first day of the three day meet, she got second place in the 200 yard individual medley, behind teammate Caitlin Leverenz, the record holder in that event. This was not unexpected; in fact some thought that Liz might pull an upset.

On the second day, Liz did her best time by almost two seconds in the 200 free, which was unexpected. She went a 1:42.1, which earned her another second place finish, this time to Alison Schmidt, who won the 200 meter free at the Olympics last summer. Schmidt went a 1:41.8, so Liz was surprisingly close.

On the third day Liz was slated to swim her best event, the 200 yard backstroke. She had already set the American record earlier in the year with a 1:48.39 (but had missed the US Open record of 1:48.34, set by Gemma Spofforth, a British citizen, during the tech suit era).

After seeing Liz do her best time by so much in the 200 freestyle, I got excited and sent her father the following note:

Wow!! Nice swim, almost took the Olympic champ down. And it bodes awfully well for tomorrow night. I predict something ridiculous, like a 1:46.9.

Liz won the 200 backstroke by over two seconds, an extraordinarily wide margin of victory for a national championship, with a new NCAA, American, and US Open record of 1:47.84. That made her a full half second faster than any other woman in history (including Missy Franklin, the Olympic champion in both backstrokes, whose best time, set a month ago, is a 1:48.4). 

However, by my exacting standards -- which I was kind enough to share with her father -- Liz is nothing but a failure.

Note to self: next time keep mouth shut. 

(Postscript: Her father sent a gracious reply, saying among other things that he too had thought she might go a 1:46. But I still felt like sort of a jerk.)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

UFC fighters on testosterone replacement therapy

A recent article in the Orange County Register described how several UFC stars have gotten doctors' prescriptions for "testosterone replacement therapy" on the grounds that their own natural levels were low.

Here are some of the fighters who are trying to supplement their own measly supply.

Dan Henderson:

Shane Roller (at right):

Chael Sonnen (at right, and below):

Todd Duffee:

And Vitor Belfort:

The idea that these guys need testosterone replacement therapy is as ludicrous as the concept of "medical marijuana." (Personally, I think marijuana should be legalized, if only to put some of the cartels out of business and provide a new source of tax revenue. But in the meantime, the idea that it has a legitimate medical value seems questionable.)

And it seems to me that there are a few doctors who need to lose their licenses.

Then again, I haven't been feeling very happy recently. I wonder if there are any doctors who'll give me a prescription for some medical Ecstasy or medical cocaine.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Books on CD

For my drive across the country, I took several books on CD:

The first was A Cat o' NIne Tales, short stories from Jeffery Archer. They were okay, but not great.

The second was The Afghan, by Frederick Forsyth. It was both educational and exciting. The main character, Mike Martin, is an Elmore Leonard-style, taciturn, no frills kind of action hero. He never speaks when he doesn't need to, never boasts, is cool under pressure, and gets the job done. The book reminded me of why Forsyth has always been one of my heroes.

The third was The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett. I hadn't read Hammett in at least 30 years, and wanted to reacquaint myself. But the actor who read the book was a nasal tenor who sounded like a self-satisfied preppie trying to evoke W.C. Fields, and obviously felt that he, not Hammett, was the star of the show. I could only take about two minutes of his voice.

The fourth book was The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, which had come highly recommended. But the subject (an elderly woman trying to cope with a husband who's suffering from the early stages of dementia) was just too depressing. It was very well written, but I feel the same way about such books that I feel about well done but depressing movies: no thanks.

So I listened to The Afghan for a second time.

Driving across the country

I was in a little bit of a hurry to get from Connecticut to Santa Barbara, so didn't really have time to stop to really observe some of the natural wonders of our country. But on the way back, I intend to fully appreciate such phenomena as:

The world's largest rocking chair. I want to see it up close, to take in its wondrous dimensions from only a few feet away, and think about how big someone would have to be to do it justice.

The world's biggest saddle discounter. I don't have a horse or anything, but still, once I get inside the store, I'm sure some of those deals will be hard to resist.

A "Cherokee trading post" with "100,000 gifts and novelties." Out of that many, there surely must be at least a few hundred that I would be interested in.

On the New Mexico/Arizona border, a Navajo trading post offered blankets for $4.99. Hmm. I know people will be expecting gifts when I return to Connecticut; I wonder if any of them would like a blanket.

I searched hard for evidence of cultural differences across the land. I did notice that the motel in Wytheville, Virginia served Raisin Bran for breakfast, whereas the motel in Maumelle, Arkansas, only offered Frosted Flakes. (Aha! That explains regional differences in body build.)

I also noticed that west of the Mississippi most gas stations don't offer 93 octane. So while the humans get supercharged (and super sized), the cars are put on a diet.

Speaking of the Mississippi, one of the most impressive things I saw -- on a more serious note -- was the power of the river. I had to drive close to a hundred miles west of it before I saw anything even remotely resembling a hill. This means that in the past, the floods have been so powerful that they have simply flattened everything in their path.

On an even more serious note, you see a lot of real poverty from the highway. In the past, I've driven through Compton, California, known as a poor area, and been struck by how nice many of the smallish -- but not tiny -- houses were. I've also driven though poor sections of Detroit, and while some of the areas are rundown, the houses themselves were obviously nice middle class homes once upon a time. I've also seen plenty of inner city housing projects, and structurally at least, they just look like every other large apartment building.

But driving through Oklahoma and New Mexico and Arizona, you see a lot of houses that look like tarpaper shacks. Some of them have the look of places which have been long since abandoned, and it's only the car parked outside or laundry hanging on a line next to it that makes you realize that they are occupied. The most extreme example of this was probably Henryetta, Oklahoma (not to be confused with Henrietta, Georgia).

Henryetta advertises itself as the hometown of Troy Aikman, former quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. Anyone who grew up in the crowded shantytown that I saw (and admittedly, nobody who can afford to live elsewhere will live near a highway) could only have developed a throwing arm by tossing the football back and forth across the interstate.

If Ivy League colleges were truly interested in helping the disadvantaged, or in true diversity, they would recruit American Indian students from places like this. But they never seem to.

The other interesting thing I saw -- and I seem to be the only person who finds this interesting -- was watching how the temperature changes as the altitude changes. The coldest place I drove through on the trip was Arizona (I-40 passes through Flagstaff, altitude 7000 feet). Sometimes you can see the temperature drop (from the reading on the dashboard) as you go up a mountain.

Whenever I've pointed this out to passengers in the past, they react as if I'd just pointed out, "Wow -- it's exit 149!" or "Hey -- I just saw a sign for a Days Inn!" ("Dad, will you please shut up" seems to be one popular reaction.)

But there's nothing wrong with being able to keep yourself entertained.

In fact, if you're going to drive across the country, you sorta have to.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Was Iraq Worth It?"

A commonsensical look back from Pat Buchanan.

(More and more these days, I'm finding "commonsensical" to be my highest compliment.)

Saturday, March 16, 2013


I'm about to drive across the country and back. The trip across will follow a relatively straight route and only take four or five days. But after a week in California I plan to meander back, taking a circuitous route in order to see places I've never seen before.

It's a lot of fun looking at maps, plotting out your route. I've never seen the Sierra Nevadas up close, other than one brief excursion to Yosemite. I've never been to northern Nevada. The one state I've never visited is Utah.

All of these places look appealing on the map. The reality, of course, rarely lives up to the anticipation. As anyone who's ever driven across the counry knows, superhighways are an endless stretch of Ramada Inns, Holiday Inns, Motel 6's, Comfort Inns, McDonalds, Quiznos, Burger Kings, etc.

But driving in a car allows you to think. Nothing like endless highways to let your mind roam free. Of course, by the afternoon my mind is bleary, and I usually have "road hangover" as well as a stiff lower back.

But at least it's fun now, before it happens.

Grandiloquent titles

One pretty consistent rule I've noticed over the years is, the grander and more pretentious the title, the smaller and more undeserving the human being. 

For instance, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Is there any chance that any of them were actually real wizards, like the folks at Hogwarts? Or somehow related to an emperor? Then why call themselves that? It only makes them seem silly.

But some of the titles the world's dictators have bestowed upon themselves put that to shame. They are testament to delusions of grandeur and unchecked egotism. Like all such displays, they are actually quite funny in their own way. 

Mobutu took power in the Congo in a coup in 1965, after which he ordered that all foreign names be replaced by native ones. He changed the name of the country from Congo Republic to Zaire and his name from Joseph-Desire Mobutu to "Mobutu Sese Seko, Kuku Ngbendu wa Zabanga," The second part of his name roughly translates as "Savior of the Nation."

(Mobutu may have been the savior of his nation, but he was also the chief pillager of his nation: by the late 70's he had reportedly amassed a fortune of over five billion dollars, much of it siphoned off from foreign aid intended for the poor.)

Back in his day Idi Amin, the dictator of Uganda, was always good for a laugh, one of which was provided by his title: 

"His Excellency President for Life Field Marshall Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, King of Scotland Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in particular."

There was something almost cute about Amin's childlike grandiosity. But an utterly uninhibited man-child with unlimited power can be a very dangerous creature. Amin personally executed prisoners in the basement of his palace. He kept the heads of two of his enemies in his freezer, and every now and then would take them out to lecture them on their misdeeds. And when one of his wives, Kay, had an abortion, he had her killed, then had her arms and legs cut off and reattached to their opposite sockets. He then showed her disfigured corpse to his other children by her and told them, "See? This is what happens when you disobey Daddy."

Jean-Bedel Bokassa is the former French paratrooper who is most famous for having spent a third of the national treasury on his coronation ceremony. His full title: "His Imperial Majesty Bokassa I, Emperor of Central Africa by the will of the Central African people, united within the national political party, the MESAN."

The all-time champion of self-important titles has to be Kim Jong-il, the recently deceased dictator of North Korea. Wikipedia actually has an entire page devoted to his titles. Some of the better ones:

"Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have"

"Shining Star of Paektu Mountain"

"Guarantee of the Fatherland's Unification"

"Ever-Victorious, Iron-Willed Commander"

"The Great Sun of Life"

"Great Man, Who Descended From Heaven"

"Invincible and Ever-triumphant General"

"Guiding Star of the Twenty-First Century"

Did Jong-il never guess that he might be setting himself up for mockery? Or was the "approval" he received from his people so overwhelming that it just never occurred to him? How gratifying must it be to go through life so vainglorious yet with absolutely no one to rein you in?

This post is three parts mockery, but also four parts envy. 

By John Craig -- Writer of the Most Entertaining Blog in History, Shining Beacon of Truth and Logic, Center of the Universe in General and Single-handed Disprover of the Heliocentric Theory of the Solar System in Particular

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Celebrity baby names

An article on Yahoo News yesterday was headlined, "Holly Madison Defends Baby Name Choice: My Baby Won't Be 'Traumatized'."

Madison, formerly of The Girls Next Door, about Hugh Hefner's resident concubines, delivered a baby daughter on Tuesday and named her, "Aurora Rainbow."

A lot of celebrities seem to pick far out names for their offspring. The psychology behind this seems a little different than with the parents who give their children recognizably black names. With blacks, it seems to be three parts racial solidarity, two parts wanting their baby to have a unique name, and one part illiteracy.

With the celebs, it seems to be four parts egotism: they themselves are better than the hoi polloi, so why should they give their offspring hoi polloi names? And also two parts self-conscious whimsy: they want to show that they're too cool to take the whole child-rearing thing too seriously.

A few of my favorites:

Arthur Ashe and Jeanne Moutoussamy Ashe named their daughter "Camera." Didn't Andy Warhol already lay claim to that name?

Erykah Badu and Andre Benjamin named their son Seven Sirius. Bad news: Sirius (NASDAQ symbol: SIRI) is only trading at three dollars. Perhaps Erykah and Andre have a stake and are rooting the stock price up.

Erykah also had a daughter with Tracy Curry, whom they named Puma. At least when Puma turns 40, she can be grateful she wasn't named Cougar.

David and Victoria Beckham named their daughter Harper Seven. Sounds like a former Spice Girl is into numerology.

David Bowie and his first wife Angela named their son Duncan Zowie Heywood Jones -- even though "Zowie" doesn't rhyme with "Bowie."

Toni Braxton and Keri Lewis named their son Denim Cole. They must have found "Tweed" too pretentious.

Pierce Brosnan and Keely Shaye Smith named their son Dylan Thomas. As long as they were naming him after someone, why not "James Bond"?

Nicolas Cage and Alice Kim named their son Kal-el (Superman's birth name). Think maybe it's about time for Dad to grow up?

Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon named their son Moroccan Scott. If they have another son, they can name him Algerian Tony.

Sonny and Cher Bono named their daughter Chastity. She is now a he and calls himself Chaz. That original name seems almost a guarantee of maladjustment.

Bob Geldof and Paula Yates named their daughters Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom, and Little Pixie. How thoughtful of them to save their daughters the trouble of having to change their names when they become strippers.

Rachel Griffiths and Andrew Taylor named their son Banjo Patrick. They can call their next son Guitar Joe.

Lance and Mary Jane Henriksen have a daughter, Alcamy. She was originally named Alchemy, but somehow the spelling got magically transformed.

Helen Hunt and Matthew Carnahan named their daughter Makena'lei Gordon. She must have been conceived in Hawaii after her parents finished makin' a lei, while they were makin' a lay.

Michael Hutchence and Paula Yates named their daughter Heavenly Hirani Tiger Lily. Wanna bet that by eighth grade she'll just be introducing herself as "Lily"?

Penn Jillette and his wife Emily named their daughter Moxie Crimefighter. "Moxie" sounds almost like a name; there's no getting around "Crimefighter" though.

Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz named their son Egypt. I've never understood why the descendants of sub-Saharan Africans always try to claim the Pyramids as part of their cultural heritage.

John Cougar Mellencamp and Vicky Granucci named one of their daughters Justice. There is something poetic about that.

Mr. Mellencamp also had a son with Elaine Irwin whom he named Spec Wildhorse. (That name makes so little sense I can't even make fun of it.)

Chef Jamie Oliver and his wife Jools had two daughters, whom they named Poppy Honey and Daisy Boo. The hippie spirit does live on, though probably not in the daughters who were given those unfortunate names.

 David "Puck" Rainey and his wife Betty had two sons. They named the first Bogart Che Peyote. (How many cultural references could they fit into the poor kid's name? Why not add a "Brando" and a "Hashish" while they're at it?) His brother Rocco Kokopelli must be grateful that he got the normal name.

Ving Rhames and Deborah Reed named their daughter Reignbeau, which is actually sort of clever, though her appreciation of their wit will probably wear off a bit over her lifetime.

Robert Rodriguez and Elizabeth Avellan named their sons Rocket, Racer, Rebel, and Rogue. I suppose those are better than Rotgut, Rapist, Ripoff, and Repo.

Shannyn Sossamon and Dallas Clayton named their son Audio Science. I guess it was either that or Visual Arts. (How high were they when they came up with that name?)

The Grand Daddy of all these parents is of course Frank Zappa. Way back in the 70's he famously named his sons Dweezil and Ahmet Emuukha Rodan (sounds a little like Ahmet Ertegun) and his daughters Moon Unit and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen. Remarkably, all of the children now have careers and seem to be doing okay.

(Never let it be said that I pick on easy targets.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

"I am no longer that person"

From today's NY Times:

Hedge Fund Manager Found and Jailed in Fraud

Tom Solo/Picture Alliance, via DPA

FRANKFURT — Florian Homm, a flamboyant former hedge fund manager who spent the last five years in hiding, was arrested in Italy and faces extradition to the United States on securities fraud charges which could expose him to a lengthy prison sentence, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said.

The Italian police arrested Mr. Homm, a 53-year-old German who holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard University, on Friday at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the F.B.I. said. Mr. Homm is accused of defrauding investors of at least $200 million, the F.B.I. said. The most serious of the four felony charges carry maximum sentences of 25 years in prison...

Mr. Homm resigned as head of Absolute Capital in the middle of the night on Sept. 18, 2007. By his own account, he boarded a private plane in Majorca, his Calvin Klein underwear stuffed with cash, and made his way to Colombia, where he lived under an assumed name.

But Mr. Homm said he was never a fugitive. He said he dropped from view because he wanted to find himself, and also because some dubious people with whom he had done business were trying to kill him. Mr. Homm reappeared in November when he gave clandestine media interviews to promote a book he wrote, “Rogue Financier: The Adventures of an Estranged Capitalist.”

The book was intended as a cautionary tale, Mr. Homm said in a November telephone interview. “The pursuit of happiness is not correlated with the pursuit of money,” he said. In the book and interview, Mr. Homm insisted he was no longer the same person who once owned a stake in a Berlin brothel and lived in a $5 million residence on Majorca with a Russian table dancer. He said he prayed daily and was devoting his energy to charity work....

Whenever I hear that someone facing trial has been engaging in good works, I think, aha, he's trying to get the judge to show leniency.

But whenever someone claims that he is not the same person he was before, what I hear is, "I am a sociopath."

This is a frequent theme with sociopaths. They are forever claiming to have turned over a new leaf, to have reformed. And they always seem to expect people to believe them. 

But we are who we are. Our actions may change based on circumstance, but our basic psychology -- our reactions, if you will -- remain the same. (It's all pretty much set at a very early age.)

And a sociopath, which is what Mr. Homm would have to be given his extensive history of swindling, has about as much chance of shedding his sociopathy as he has of changing his ethnicity.

The next time you hear someone claim he's a changed man, beware.

The percent who get caught

An article in the NY Times yesterday described how Harvard hacked the emails of 20 professors in an effort to find out who'd been talking to the media about the cheating scandal. (Evidently "nearly half" of the 279 students who took a large government course at Harvard either collaborated or outright plagiarized, and eventually 70 students were suspended.)

When news of the scandal first broke, the world reacted with shock and dismay (and more than a little schadenfreude.)

But does anyone think that such cheating does not go on everywhere, all the time, and that the vast majority of students who cheat get away with it?

When General Petraeus was found to have had an affair with his biographer, it was a big scandal. Yet studies have shown that upwards of 60% of spouses stray at least once. Does anyone think that type of thing does not go on in Washington DC -- and everywhere else -- all the time?

My guess is that the 60% figure is low, and that those who don't stray abstain primarily because they lack the opportunity.

Whenever there's a prosecution for insider trading, it's a scandal. But does anyone really think that everyone on Wall Street -- and elsewhere -- does not use whatever inside edge they can get? Newsflash: people do whatever they can to make money.

My guess is, for every successful prosecution, there are over a hundred people who get away with it. Just look at the way practically every single stock of every single company which has ever been acquired seems to have gone up in the days before the announcement.

Saints are few and far between.

Whenever an athlete gets caught using steroids, it is a major scandal. We're all familiar with famous names who've been caught. But look at how many of those people got away with their juicing for years and years before getting caught. Or who never tested positive.

Does anyone think that the vast majority of juicers aren't going undetected?

Every now and then we read of income tax evaders. Technically, gambling earnings are subject to taxation at the earned income rate. How many people do you know who win their office pool and report those earnings to the IRS?

Tax evasion is a Continent-wide sport over in Europe. For example, over half of Greek doctors report an annual income of less than $14,000. (If that's what doctors actually make, why would anyone ever go to med school?)

Most of these types of cheating don't rise to the level of a sociopathic crime, i.e., you don't have to be a sociopath to do them. For instance, most of us couldn't imagine running a Ponzi scheme for years on end, and getting your friends to invest in it. We would, however, be tempted to act on a tip a friend gave us.

Mot of us couldn't imagine jumping out of the bushes and holding a knife to the throat of a strange woman so that we could rape her. We would, however, be tempted to have sex outside our marriages.

Most of us could not imagine cheating at cards in a game with friends. We would, however, be tempted not to declare our winnings to the IRS. (In fact, it would never even occur to most of us to declare those winnings.)

And most of us can imagine collaborating with friends on a take home test.

Whenever I hear people express outrage at the types of cheating to which most of us could succumb, I hear the unmistakable sound of envy and jealousy. The outrage is really more of the why-couldn't-I-have-gotten-that-opportunity variety than actual shock that a person would take advantage of the opportunity.

There are types of cheating -- like taking steroids -- which occupy more of a gray area. You don't have to be a sociopath to take steroids -- but a sociopath is far more likely to take them. It's more the body language around this particular form of cheating that betrays character. If you take them, then self-righteously declare that you would never do so, boast about the tests you've passed, and then bask in the false glory of your athletic "accomplishments" without the slightest trace of guilt, then, well, you're probably a sociopath.

In any case, the main point is, when it's a type of cheating that most people might succumb to, the limiting reagent tends to be opportunity, not character. And it's probably going on way, way more than we hear about.

So when you hear of various scandals involving the types of cheating listed above, please don't act shocked -- unless you're a saint.

And if you're a saint, of course, you'll be completely forgiving -- and not at all envious -- anyway.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Those who scream "racism" the loudest

One very consistent pattern I've noticed over the years is that the people who accuse others of racism the most frequently are inevitably themselves the biggest racists.

But before we analyze this, we should define "racism." Many seem to consider being empirically observant about racial differences "racist." But to equate familiarity with statistics to racism seems asinine. (In actuality, it's a roundabout acknowledgment that the facts themselves are "racist," which undermines many of the Left's arguments.)

Many would consider the previous post, in which I made fun of black names, to be "racist." But I enjoy mocking pretentiousness and stupidity wherever I find it -- whether it be with inmate penpal requests, flamboyant fashion designers, or perpetrators of dumb crimes. And I would have made fun of these names had they belonged to any other ethnic group.

To not make fun of those names because they are characteristic of one race and not another would in fact have been to change treatment purely for racial reasons. (Therefore, by making fun of blacks in the previous post, I proved I am not "racist." Got that?)

Today, of course, it's considered "racist" if you don't avert your eyes to such things if they are characteristic of certain groups. This is effectively the opposite of the old definition, which was to discriminate on the basis of race, and to show favoritism to one's own group at the expense of others.

I'm going to stick with the old definition.

The biggest racists are therefore the people who have the strongest sense of being on a certain team, of favoring their own team members over outsiders, and of promoting their own team's interests. In other words, it's a matter of "team spirit" -- a quality often lauded in other contexts. Such people always look for the good in their own team and the bad in others. They always give their teammates the benefit of the doubt, but don't extend that courtesy to members of other teams. Real racism is a matter of discrimination, not observation.

Probably the foremost practitioners of this kind of behavior are Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Both show up to root for the home team whenever race comes to the fore as an issue, no matter who is at fault. When whites attack blacks, both Sharpton and Jackson solemnly intone that it's open season on young black men, or some such tripe. If blacks misbehave, they show up to sympathize with the accused.

Think of the OJ Simpson trial, the Jena 6, the Duke lacrosse case, the Trayvon Martin case, the Crown Heights riot, or any number of other nationally publicized incidents dating back to the Tawana Brawley "rape."

Jesse and Al are advocates for their own race, period. Their uniformly one-sided viewpoint never varies. Yet they are the loudest voices accusing others of "racism."

It's the same with those who cry anti-Semitism the most loudly: they are invariably advocates for their own ethnic group. They favor their own, root for their own, and their lives revolve around promoting the interests of their own.

Think of Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League. He is quick to accuse others of anti-Semitism, yet his entire life has been spent promoting the interests of only one team, his own.

Psychology has a term for this mindset: projection. This refers to the fact that people always suspect others of what they themselves are guilty of. Sociopaths always suspect others of being dishonest and selfish. It's usually the biggest man-haters who accuse men of being women-haters. It's always people full of bitterness and enmity who accuse others of being "haters." It's always stupid people accusing others of being stupid. It's usually gays who most often suspect others of homosexuality.

And it's always those who show the most favoritism towards their own ethnic group who most stridently accuse others of the same.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A perfect world

Have you ever known someone who sparked the thought, if that guy knew someone just like himself, he'd hate him? Have you ever wished that that person would have to meet his spiritual doppelganger?

A truly just world would be one in which different personality types could only associate with others like themselves. All sociopaths would have to live in a community composed exclusively of sociopaths. All of these con men would find it near impossible to con or even manipulate each other, since they would all be onto each other's tricks. And that would be exactly what they deserve.

For all those affect hungry sociopaths who feed off others' affections (while offering only the ersatz variety themselves), they would get only the hollow claims of affection from others. And sociopaths -- those famously disloyal and hateful creatures -- would get only disloyalty and hate from everyone they came into contact with. Which is exactly what they deserve.

That would be justice.

Garden variety narcissists would have to live on an island populated only with other narcissists. None of them would ever admit they were wrong, and all of them would only want to talk about themselves. But nobody else would ever admit fault, either, and nobody would want to listen to them talk. Everybody would demand his own way, and nobody would acquiesce willingly.


People with Aspergers could live in a community with other Aspies. Each would rigidly demand his own way, deny to each other what they had just said, put words in each other's mouths, and only talk at, not with, each other. And they would all have to suffer through each other's melt downs.


And so on, for every personality type. This would be a world where everyone got exactly whom they deserved for company.

Frankly, I wouldn't even mind a world where people were segregated by IQ. (This would be similar to, but far more effective than, our current college system.) Smart people wouldn't have to put up with dumb people, and dumb people wouldn't have to be looked down upon. And everybody would be able to relate to each other much better.

And if, say by accident, someone were to nuke the Island of the Sociopaths, well, I wouldn't shed a tear.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Bruce Reynolds, RIP

From today's NY Times:

Bruce Reynolds, the chief architect of one of 20th-century Britain's most notorious crimes, the caper known as the Great Train Robbery, died on Thursday in England. He was 81.

His son, Nick, confirmed the death to The Associated Press. Sky News in Britain reported that Mr. Reynolds had died at his home in South London, a few months short of the robbery’s 50th anniversary.

In the early morning of Aug. 8, 1963, a gang of 15 men stopped a Glasgow-to-London mail train about 45 miles short of its destination by tampering with a signal. The train, which usually carried large quantities of money in the second car behind the locomotive, was loaded even more heavily than normal because of a just-completed bank holiday in Scotland, and the thieves escaped with about 120 bags of cash, mostly in small bills, totaling about £2.6 million, or about $7 million at the time — the equivalent of about $60.5 million today.

Mr. Reynolds, who was 31 at the time and known to the police as a burglar well-connected in the London underworld, had used insider information from the postal service to plan the heist, which he thought of as a painter would a masterpiece. Indeed, he referred to it in a 1996 interview as “my Sistine Chapel....”

“...We all have our benchmarks,” he wrote in The Guardian in 2008, speaking about professional aspirations in general and those of thieves in particular, “and for us the benchmark was the Brink’s robbery in Boston in 1950, which was the largest robbery in the United States at that time. We wanted to do something as spectacular as that. We wanted to draw our line in the sand. I was quite young at the time and I liked the challenge. I wanted to move in those circles. It’s insanity, of course, and we knew that we would be in the frame as soon as the robbery happened but it’s the same madness, I suppose, that drives people to bivouac on the north face of the Eiger.”

Maybe I've seen too many movies, but there is something about a crime like this that captures the imagination, even makes one root for the robber. Maybe it's the vision, and the intelligence that must go into the planning of such a caper. Maybe it's his daring, or his sense of adventure. Maybe it's that I'm an idiot. 

Whatever it is, as I was reading Reynolds' obituary this morning, I found myself hoping that he had gotten to enjoy the fruits of his crime for at least a little while. He did: he escaped via Belgium and Toronto to Mexico, where he lived the high life for five years, until 1968, when his money ran out. He then returned to England, planning another big score, but was promptly arrested and sentenced to ten years in jail, which he served. 

Reynolds did have a romantic streak. As a young man he had tried out for the Royal Navy, but had failed the eyesight exam. He had wanted to be a foreign correspondent, but was put in the accounts department of the Daily Mail, and quickly grew bored with that. And at one point he had wanted to be a professional bicycle racer and was part of a semi-pro team.

I'm not sure the extent to which Reynolds dined out on his crime later in life. He did write a well-received autobiography in the 1990's, and occasionally wrote for newspapers. But he was also arrested for dealing amphetamines in the 1980's, and never had much money after his release from jail. 

At least he made his mark before he died. 

That's why they call her Maxine Waters

Thanks to Guy Davis for forwarding this.