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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hollywood vs. Richard Matt, Part II

The NY Post ran a fairly lengthy article about the Dannemora prison escape today, with more colorful examples of Richard Matt's sociopathy. Some excerpts (with my comments in parentheses):

‘Ricky’ Matt

Even as a child, Richard Matt was menacing. “He would terrorize kids on the bus,” Randy Szukala, a former chief of police for North Tonawanda, told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “Friends of mine knew him. He would just terrorize people. Even in elementary, junior high, he had issues.”

(If you start terrorizing people in elementary school, your path in life is pretty well set early on. A lot of the psychology textbooks say you can't diagnose sociopathy before the age of 18; but character emerges pretty early on.)

Matt was arrested eight times, from 1985 to 1991, on everything from misdemeanor harassment to felony assault. “One time he beat up a girl pretty bad,” Tonawanda Police Capt. Frederic Foels told the paper….

(Hard to picture George Clooney beating the crap out of Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight; or Tim Robbins having actually beaten up his wife before being falsely convicted of murder.)

In 1993, Matt was back in prison for attempted burglary. He did three years, but violated parole once out and wasn’t released again until 1997. That year, Matt was hired by William Rickerson, a Tonawanda man who had a small business re-selling nearly expired food. Matt lasted just a few months before getting fired, and so one snowy night that December, he and ­accomplice Lee Bates attempted to rob Rickerson, then 76.

They bound Rickerson with duct tape and beat him repeatedly, even though he insisted he had no money stashed. The two men ate pepperoni pizza, drank wine and then, as Bates would later testify, Matt dumped the rest of the wine over Rickerson, who was dressed only in pajamas. Then Matt tore off Rickerson’s toupee, shoved it in his pocket and put him in their trunk.

(Exhibiting a normal appetite during the commission of a violent crime is a distinctly sociopathic trait. Most people in such a situation would be far too upset to even think about eating, but if you're utterly remorseless, even committing murder simply don't affect you.)

They drove for nearly 30 hours, crossing state lines. At one point, Matt opened the trunk and bent Rickerson’s fingers back until they broke. Eventually, Matt killed Rickerson with his bare hands, breaking the man’s neck. Then he dismembered the body with a hacksaw and threw the remains in the Niagara River.

(Try to imagine just bending a 76-year-old's fingers back until they break. What kind of person would have the stomach for that?)

A few weeks later, Rickerson’s remains washed up, and Matt told his half-brother, Wayne Schimpf, that he was in trouble and needed to leave town. “I remember his words,” Schimpf later testified. “ ‘I can do another seven years, but I can’t do life.’”

Matt asked for Schimpf’s car. Schimpf refused and would testify that Matt said: “You’re my brother. You’re my blood. I love you, but I’ll kill you.”

(A sociopath's definition of "love" is a little different from most people's.)

Matt took the car and made his way to Mexico where, in 1998, he was imprisoned for stabbing an American engineer to death in a bar. He spent nine years in prison there before his unexpected extradition to the United States in 2007. Mexican authorities simply put Matt on a plane.

(Previous accounts had merely said that Matt had killed a man in a bar fight; the fact that he pulled a knife is illuminative.)

“The United States had a deal with the Mexican government to extradite a drug-cartel kingpin,” veteran court reporter Rick Pfeiffer told the Democrat and Chronicle. “He was being flown back to Texas and . . . this second guy gets off the plane. It took federal marshals almost a day to figure out who this guy was. There had been no discussion with the American government. He had just been such a difficult prisoner — if you can imagine a guy who seemed too difficult to stay in a Mexican prison.”

(Mexican prisons have a reputation for being some of the harshest around; that they would just disgorge an American prisoner because they couldn't handle him is almost hard to believe.)

Matt returned with metal front teeth and a bullet wound — sustained, he said, while attempting yet another escape.

(Metal front teeth in and of themselves are no indication of character, but in Matt's case they did seem to add to his fearsomeness.)

His trial lasted one month, and it took the jury only four hours to find him guilty. He was sentenced to 25 years to life, which he had been serving at Clinton. “Of all the cases I’ve tried,” said prosecutor Joseph Mordino, who had 250 homicides behind him, “this would top my list for the death penalty.”

(Mardino's statement speaks for itself.)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hollywood vs. reality

As you've probably heard, Richard Matt, one of the two escaped killers from Dannemora Prison in upstate New York who have received so much publicity since, was shot and killed by police in the woods about 50 miles west of the prison.

Much of the initial coverage likened their escape to that of the Tim Robbins character in The Shawshank Redemption. Matt and David Sweat,  the other killer, had an accomplice on the inside. But even so, their escape took a lot of planning and ingenuity.

There's one crucial difference between the the movie and the recent escape though. In Shawshank, the mild-mannered character played by Tim Robbins is innocent of the murder of his wife, for which he was convicted. Richard Matt and David Sweat, were far from innocent. Sweat was convicted, along with two others, of the murder of a New York State Trooper, and was serving life without parole.

Of the two men, however, Matt was definitely the scarier one. A few excerpts from the NY Times article about him which came out a couple weeks ago, A Convicted Murderer's Escape Alarms Investigators From His Past:

It was 1997, and when investigators identified the remains as those of William L. Rickerson, they zeroed in on Richard W. Matt, a former convict who had been hired by Mr. Rickerson, and whose name was familiar to law enforcement officials in and around this town north of Buffalo.

Eventually convicted of killing his boss, Mr. Matt is now at the center of the biggest manhunt in the nation after and he and another inmate, David Sweat, escaped from a maximum-security prison in Dannemora, on the northeastern edge of the state. Mr. Matt was serving a sentence of 25 years to life with no chance of parole before 2032.

For the authorities who investigated the murder of Mr. Rickerson, who was beaten and dismembered, news of the escape was an alarming reminder of Mr. Matt and his brazen efforts to elude the police.

In 1986, he had escaped from a jail in Erie County. About a decade later, after Mr. Rickerson’s death, Mr. Matt fled to Mexico, where he killed an American man at a bar and served several years in prison before being brought back in 2007 to stand trial here in Niagara County.

“You can never have enough security with him,” said Gabriel DiBernardo, a retired captain with the North Tonawanda Police Department who was the chief of detectives leading the investigation into Mr. Rickerson’s death. “You can never trust him. You can never turn your back on him.”

Mr. DiBernardo, who retired in 1998, offered a sentiment echoed by others in law enforcement here: “He is the most vicious, evil person I’ve ever come across in 38 years as a police officer….”

Mr. Matt was someone to be regarded as “extremely dangerous,” said one retired law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, not wishing to remind Mr. Matt of his name. “A lot of people get killed,” he said. “Not many killers take the time to dismember the body...”

When Mr. Matt returned to the United States to face trial in Mr. Rickerson’s death, officials took extraordinary security measures: A sniper watched over the outside of the courthouse. Double the usual number of deputies were posted inside the courtroom. The defendant was required to wear an electric stun belt.

And the glass that covered the wood counsel tables was removed, out of concern that Mr. Matt could break the glass and used the shards as weapons, according to the retired law enforcement official.

At the time, Mr. Matt’s lawyer argued that the security measures were excessive and would negatively influence the jury. But the precautions reflected just how wary he made the authorities. “It can never be overdone with Rick Matt,” Mr. DiBernardo, 78, said, pointing to Mr. Matt’s unusual physical and mental abilities. “He’s certainly not a dumb individual,” he said. “He’s a cunning individual, and a strong individual, physically strong. There’s no question he can handle himself.”

David Bentley, a retired detective who was with the City of Tonawanda Police Department for 29 years, said he had known Mr. Matt for nearly three decades. In the 1980s, he used him as a criminal informant, he said.

Mr. Matt had long been willing to flout the rules. Mr. Bentley recalled a story his informant had shared: When Mr. Matt was 14, he ran away from a youth home and stole a horse to make his escape. Over time, Mr. Bentley said he saw him spiral down, becoming more violent and unpredictable.

“I’m very concerned that people are going to get hurt the longer he’s out,” Mr. Bentley, 67, said. “I’ve seen him inflict wounds on himself, cut himself; break his collarbone and not seek any treatment. He’s just totally, totally fearless, and doesn’t respond to pain.”

Here is the picture the Times ran with the article: 

Here is his more recent, widely circulated mugshot: 

In both pictures he exudes a certain glowering malevolence. It goes without saying that Matt was a sociopath. There is much about him beyond the two murders that screamed sociopathy. For instance, that he didn't just kill Rickerson, but tortured him first

Matt he escaped from his "youth home" when he was 14 by stealing a horse. That sounds dramatic and daring -- like something out of a movie. And it shows the kind of resourcefulness and nerve that we like our cinematic protagonists to have. But in real life, the people who show that kind of recklessness are far more likely to be sociopathic.

A "youth home" can refer to either a foster home or a facility for juvenile delinquents. If it was the former, it means his own background was dysfunctional; if the latter, that he exhibited his criminal tendencies from a young age. 

The best criminal informants are, of course, people who are absolutely without loyalty -- sociopaths.

Perhaps the scariest thing about Matt was how scared the law enforcement officers themselves seemed to be of him. Those extra security measures -- the snipers, that electronic stun belt, and the removal of glass from the tables -- were evocative of Hannibal Lecter. 

Matt was scary because he was, like Lecter, so capable. He was strong, crafty, and impervious to pain. A weak, dumb, fey little sociopath simply wouldn't inspire the same fear. 

According to a NY Post article about his accomplice:

Sources said the worker may have been wooed by one of the escaped cons, Richard Matt, 48, an infamous lady killer.

“He has a way with the ladies,” the source said.

Another source, retired Detective David Bentley, who helped put away Matt for the 1997 murder of a North Tonawanda businessman, added, “When [Matt’s] cleaned up, he’s very handsome and, in all frankness, very well endowed. He gets girlfriends any place he goes.”

Charm is, of course, another sociopathic trait. And it just makes Matt all the more scary. (A far as I know, penis size is independent of character.) 

But when he couldn't charm women, Matt was not averse to raping them, according to the Daily Mail, a crime for which he was also convicted.

He also attacked a nurse in 1991 with a knife.

Cool Hand Luke, played by Paul Newman, was a decorated Korean War vet who was arrested for cutting the heads off parking meters one drunken night. He never hurt anybody to get into jail, and once  there, he adhered to a strict code of honor.

Papillon (Steve McQueen) was framed for the murder of a pimp. 

When George Clooney escapes from the Glades prison in Out of Sight, he acts like a perfect gentleman to Jennifer Lopez even after semi-accidentally taking her hostage.

None of these movie characters is a truly bad guy, so we root for them to escape from their prisons, which are usually run by evil wardens. 

But that's Hollywood. Richard Matt was real life. Don't ever mistake the two.

Unless you're watching Silence of the Lambs.

All that said, I have to admit, I can't help but feel a certain admiration for Matt. He was strong, smart, charming, resourceful, and impervious to pain. The world is better off without him, but he was unquestionably a formidable guy. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ben Affleck's moral vanity

It was announced today that PBS has suspended the Finding Your Roots series because of Ben Affleck's having put undue pressure on Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., the show's host, to delete a reference to his slave-owning ancestors.

When I first heard about this controversy a year ago, it struck me as silly. Does something that happened in your family several generations ago reflect on you? No one is held responsible for his parents' sins, let alone his great great great grandparents'. And even those distant ancestors were merely creatures of their time.

The fact is, we're all swayed by whatever's currently fashionable to think. The Puritans, for instance, didn't just happen to be a bunch of people who all happened, just coincidentally, at the same time to have similar values. They were simply molded by the culture they grew up in to think of certain things -- such as premarital sex -- as sinful. And other things -- such as killing Indians -- as not. Had any of us grown up in that era, we would likely have felt the same.

People who claim that they would have had their current values had they grown up in another era are simply self-deluding. In fact, they tend to be the very types so heavily influenced by fashionable thought that they would have almost undoubtedly would have shown equally mindless acceptance of the status quo 100, or 300, years ago.

So, while slaveowners were participating in a system that was inherently unfair, mostly, they were merely creatures of their time. Their individual characters were expressed by how they treated their slaves, not whether they were for or against slavery.

In any case, my first reaction to hearing about Affleck's request was that he was evidently unable to see this, and had an overdeveloped sense of guilt. Why should he feel responsible for something he had absolutely no control over?

But then it hit me that it was probably more a matter of vanity. Affleck didn't want his otherwise impeccably liberal credentials to be tarnished by any association -- however remote -- with the institution of slavery.

The ironic thing, of course, is that by making a stink about it, Affleck drew far more attention to his slave-owning ancestors than he would have gotten had he merely let the program air. (How many people actually watch Finding Your Roots?)

When Affleck made his demand, Professor Gates was too intimidated by this huge Hollywood star to stick to his principles and face him down. So, he asked his producers at PBS for guidance; in the end, they acquiesced and deleted the reference.

Gates had no such doubts about how to behave with the Cambridge cop who arrested him for disorderly conduct back in 2009: he screamed at him hysterically.

It would have been far more appropriate if Gates had shown a little more forbearance with that Cambridge cop, and screamed at Affleck instead.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Wimps with guns

One striking thing about many of these recent mass shooters is that they seem to be very wimpy physical specimens. The latest in what is unfortunately a long line, Dylann Roof, is no exception:

He looks both short and slight, and has a somewhat girlish face.

Here's James Holmes, the Aurora Colorado shooter from July of 2012:

Here is Elliot Rodger, the Santa Barbara shooter from May of 2014:

And here is Adam Lanza, of Newtown  CT fame:

What do they all have in common? They're small, even frail, and appear to have low testosterone levels. It's pretty obvious that before they took a bunch of lives, nobody took much notice of them except perhaps to note what losers they were. None were athletic, and most were probably virgins. They were all disappointments to their parents, and unpopular with their peers.

And, wimps that they were, they all needed guns as equalizers.

In a way it makes sense that these guys would turn out to be killers, because they had nothing to lose. And they were all resentful, so they wanted to take others with them. Roof's bitterness was focused on black people; but his basic psychology was undoubtedly the same.

I wrote a sample article once before, about Adam Lanza, as an example of what a responsible media would say about these guys: emphasize what dweebs and losers they are. If these potential killers knew beforehand that their actions would cause them to be held up to public ridicule, most would just take their own lives, and leave the rest of us alone.

The new $10 bill

News has just come out that Alexander Hamilton will be replaced as the figure on the $10 bill. The new bill will feature a woman. According to the NY Post:

Just which woman will wind up gracing the sawbuck will be decided later this year, after officials take input from citizens online and at local discussions.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew hailed the move.

“America’s currency is a way for our nation to make a statement about who we are and what we stand for,” he said.

Some might say that Lew has already accomplished that goal, merely by announcing that the next picture will be chosen on the basis of gender. But it will still be interesting to see who is eventually picked.

Harriet Tubman has been mentioned as a possibility. Susan B. Anthony may be another. Perhaps they'll consider Amelia Earhart, or Sally Ride.

My guess is they'll go with Tubman, since she's a twofer.

But since it hasn't been decided yet who the woman will be, I'd like to propose a few candidates, with an eye to Lew's statement about "who we are and what we stand for."

My first candidate is Kim Kardashian. Is there anybody who represents modern American culture better than her? She is rich, successful, and -- in some people's opinion -- beautiful.

My only hesitation in proposing Kardashian is that using her image on a mere ten dollar bill doesn't really do her justice, considering how she has been so successful at that uniquely American form of alchemy, transforming mere shamelessness into an empire worth millions.

My second candidate is Jackie Coakley, the woman behind the University of Virginia rape hoax. Is there a better example of political correctness run amok, the current atmosphere on campus, the power of the media, and crowd psychology? She, too, is a perfect symbol of who we have become and what we stand for.

My final -- and strongest -- candidate is a woman who started with none of the natural advantages that the other women did: Caitlyn Jenner. She is a groundbreaker in a way that none of the other women ever even dreamed of, having had to work for her femininity.

Think about her accomplishment this way: how many women do you know who could put a shot 15.35 meters, run 400 meters in 47.51 seconds, high jump 6' 8", pole vault 15' 8", throw a discus 169' 7" -- and then, 39 years later, look this glamorous?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Looks can be deceiving, but….

…..really, would you want to have to look at this face for four whole years?

Jeb Bush just looks too soft to be President. There ought to be, along with a threshold IQ requirement, some sort of toughness quotient that all Presidents have to meet. Maybe an oldster's version of a two week boot camp, something like that.

Jeb looks more as if he belongs at fat boy camp.

This just isn't a visage which would command fear or respect from our adversaries. Vladimir Putin would look at that Porky Pig Face and laugh.

I know, you can't judge a book by its cover, etc etc. And this is not an entirely serious post. And for all I know, Jeb Bush may be the toughest hombre around. ("Hombre" being the applicable word here, given that in 2009 Bush actually listed his ethnicity as Hispanic.)

But in truth, people do react to others' appearances. And Jeb looks like the kind of guy who would….actually enjoy attending a corporate retreat. The kind who'd bore you to tears at a party.

Michelle Malkin recently anointed Jeb the US Chamber of Commerce's Waterboy, which seems accurate. He certainly looks the part.

In fact, while writing this, I realized who Bush reminds me of: the Ned Beatty character in Deliverance:

Call me superficial, but Squeal-like-a-pig-boy with the eminently punchable face isn't getting my vote.

Fitness, now vs. then

You see a lot more people in their 20's and 30's who look fit than you did 40 years ago. It's not surprising, given the proliferation of various fitness routines.

There's CrossFit. Pilates. P90X "muscle confusion" workouts. Boxercise. Taebo. TRX suspension exercises. Kettlebells. Spinning. Yoga. Zumba and other "dancercise" classes. Various "boot camps." The Navy Seal workout (running interspersed with various calisthenics).

Triathletes have their own culture, as do runners and swimmers.

Forrty years ago, most of these forms of exercise hadn't been dreamed up yet. Forty years ago, guys used to actually be proud of their beer bellies. You'd see a guy put his hand on his belly, say something about his beer consumption, and look as if he thought he'd done something manly.

(Young people will hear this with disbelief, but old people will remember.)

Forty years ago, anybody who worked on his physique was regarded as either abnormally macho or a likely homosexual.

Today, it's just normal.

Forty years ago, people would talk about becoming "musclebound" as if it meant being placed into a cage, never to be able to move freely again.

Today, people understand the correlation between strength and athletic performance.

Forty years ago, the jogging craze was just getting started. Triathlons hadn't yet been invented, and athletes who competed for their schools were expected to give up their sport the moment they graduated.

Today, every other adult you talk to has some athletic goal in mind.

Forty years ago, you could aspire to either be a freakish body builder, or a skinny runner.

Today, you have a plethora of choices.

Forty years ago, the YMCA was, as the Village People suggested in 1978, often just a place to hook up with other guys.

Today, young people hear the song and don't really get the reference.

Forty years ago, for the few guys who did pursue strength and fitness as a goal in itself, the standard measure of how good you were was your bench press. These days, you rarely hear one guy ask another, "How much you bench?"

Forty years ago, you never heard anyone talk about "core strength."

Today, people are far more sophisticated.

Of course, part of the reason you see more guys who are really jacked these days is because of the prevalence of steroids. Forty years ago, a lean, muscular physique was a marvel of nature. Today, if you see one, it's likely there's something unnatural involved.

But even without the steroids, fitness -- in some form or other -- is pretty much a universal goal these days. Forty years ago, that was definitely not the case.

Again, young people will have a hard time believing this, but this post is only a slight exaggeration.


It's just a silly comedy, but it's well done and surprisingly enjoyable. You won't regret seeing it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Why domestic violence is more common among lesbians

I mentioned on May 23rd that the rate of women who've been abused in lesbian households is 35.4%, compared to only 20.4% of those living with a male partner.

Women, in general, know that if they hit a man, it probably won't cause much damage, so develop fewer inhibitions about lashing out that way.

If a woman hits a man, it's simply not taken that seriously. A woman who, say, punches a man in the arm is probably not going to be strong enough to cause any real damage, even if she hits him as hard as she can. In fact, she's likely to be laughed at.

So if she does hit the man she lives with, chances are that act won't feed into the statistics on domestic violence. (If men did report such incidents, the statistics would look much different.)

On the other hand, if a man hits a woman, that is taken much more seriously. So normal men develop inhibitions against that sort of thing.

When two lesbians set up house, they will each have a lifetime of not being seen as physical threats, and therefore don't see themselves that way. Yet, eventually, they will get on each other's nerves just like any housemates do. And, when they do, they are less likely to have inhibitions about hitting each other. And sometimes hitting can escalate.

Thus, the higher rate of domestic violence among lesbians.

That's the only theory I can come up with, anyway.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Christine Jorgensen

The overwhelmingly positive reception Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner has gotten from her Vanity Fair photo spread has reminded me of Christine Jorgensen and the morbid curiosity which greeted her after her sex change operation.

Christine was born George Jorgensen in 1926 to a Danish-American carpenter and his wife in the Bronx. He was drafted into the US Army in 1945, attended a few schools, and felt increasingly uncomfortable with his male identity. In 1951, in Copenhagen, Jorgensen had an orchiectomy (had her testicles removed). In 1952, also in Copenhagen, Jorgensen had a penectomy (which is what it sounds like). And she later had a vaginoplasty in the US.

When the NY Daily News obtained a three page letter Christine had written her parents, and wrote a front page article on her in 1952, she became an instant celebrity. She later capitalized on this with a career as a singer and a nightclub act.

Here's George Jorgensen, circa 1951:

And here are two pictures of Christine in her later incarnation:

I have to admit, if I didn't know who she was, I'd have found her attractive, at least at first glance. And even if I didn't know who Caitlyn used to be, I would never have found her attractive.

The difference between the receptions each got was striking. All of the public pronouncements about Jenner have been supportive, even if much of the private commentary has not. Even President Obama weighed in by saying that Jenner showed "tremendous courage" in sharing her story.

Back in 1952, nobody felt obliged to be so supportive to Jorgensen. She was universally viewed as something sick, twisted, and unhealthy, an object of horrified fascination. She immediately became a cautionary tale, a walking punchline.

Are we a better society for welcoming -- or at least pretending to welcome -- Jenner with open arms?

I don't know.

One thing I do know: it took a lot more courage to be Christine Jorgensen than it took to be Caitlyn Jenner.