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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A quote from Marshall Mcluhan

Was just rereading parts of Hooking Up, Tom Wolfe's great collection of essays, published in 2000. On page 117, this quote, from Marshall McLuhan, really resonated.

"Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity."

Think of all the people you know who, when confronted with a "hate fact," sputter, "I find that really offensive!"

McLuhan had their intelligence gauged accurately.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fictional "sociopaths"

A friend recently pointed out that the fictional character Francis Underwood would have to be a sociopath to do the things he did in House of Cards.

I replied, yes, he would have to be a sociopath to do those things, but keep in mind he's a Hollywood sociopath, not a real one. Hollywood always tries to imbue their anti-hero semi-sociopaths with redeeming characteristics in order to make them more sympathetic. A screenwriter's job is to create a dramatic arc, with lots of tension and conflict -- including inner conflict. This always makes for a more entertaining story.

The problem is, sociopaths generally don't feel inner conflict. There is never any sort of battle between good and evil going on in within them, simply because there isn't any good.

Francis Underwood is actually one of the better fictional portrayals of a sociopath. He's all about gaining power, no matter what it takes. And he's a glib, accomplished manipulator and liar. But we're still supposed to believe that he cares about the issues, and that he wants to do good for the masses.

Think of The Sting, with those two lovable con men played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The problem there is that almost all con men, by definition, are sociopaths. People who make a living by pretending to be something they're not and by preying on others' gullibility and vulnerability are the very definition of sociopathy. But The Sting, of course, portrayed the Newman and Redford characters as loyal, loving paragons of decency.

I pointed out in June 2011 that Catch Me If You Can, which was based on Frank Abagnale's life, was a completely one-sided portrayal of sociopathy. We're supposed to exult along with Leo DiCaprio at his ability to fool people into thinking he was actually an airline pilot or a doctor: how cool that he could get away with that! What a charming rascal! But anybody who would actually do this -- and risk the damage incurred by these impersonations -- would have to be a sociopath, with all of the disloyalty and narcissism associated with such. But at the end of the movie we're supposed to be happy for the Abagnale/DiCaprio character that he has since become a respected security consultant.

One of the worst misrepresentations of a sociopath was The Iceman, based on serial killer (and hit man) Richard Kuklinski. If you know anything about Kuklinski, you know that he was a stone cold sociopath. He beat his wife mercilessly, breaking her bones on several occasions. And he said in one jailhouse interview that his one regret was that he didn't kill his own father. Yet while the movie doesn't shy away from his many murders, it also portrays him as a loving family man, and we are supposed to be left wondering, which is the real Kuklinski? In real life, there was no such doubt.

The list of Hollywood movies with unrealistic portrayals of characters who would pretty much have to be sociopaths goes on and on. In fact, most action heroes, who remain impossibly calm in the face of death and always have a witty line at hand, are portraying characters who would almost have to be sociopaths in order to be that recklessly cavalier about safety as well as glib. Yet the protagonists are always portrayed in a heroic light.

These action heroes are what we would like to be, if only we had the nerve. But in fact, you really don't want to be a sociopath, though you might admire his courage and coolness.

So it's best you don't learn about sociopaths from fictional characters. Read the headlines, examine the crime reports, and think about the worst person you ever knew personally, instead. There should be plenty of material there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Liberal thought, via Dixon Diaz

A friend forwarded this cartoon the other day:

It's by Dixon Diaz, whom I'm not familiar with. I don't know how much play this has gotten elsewhere, but thought it worth reposting.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Divorce announcements

Every Sunday the New York Times carries a long-than-usual wedding announcement, which incorporates a story about how the couple met and when they were initially attracted to each other, etc. These stories are inevitably reported in a sort of breathless tone.

An excerpt from Sunday's designated romance story, about Elizabeth and Reid Simon: Just Friends with Places to Go, in italics (my comments in parentheses):

“In the brief time that we spoke, I found her to be smart, sassy and very confident,” Mr. Simon said.

They soon realized that they lived a floor apart in the same dormitory. “It wasn’t really where the cool kids were,” Mr. Simon said. They became fast friends.

“He was very kind and very smart, creative and inclusive,” Ms. Walsh said. “He had all the qualities you would want in a friend, especially when you’re trying to make other friends.”

In July 2009, he flew to visit her at her family’s home in Baton Rouge, where he stayed for three days, leading their families to “start becoming skeptical about our so-called friendship,” as Mr. Simon put it.

“I distinctly remember my mom being suspicious,” she said. “Moms just know.”

When she returned the favor by visiting his family for Thanksgiving, “nobody believed that we were just friends anymore,” Mr. Simon said.

By December, they were dating steadily, and were still dating in January 2011, when Ms. Walsh, now in her junior year, went on a five-month study-abroad program to Cape Town. In March, Mr. Simon boarded a plane for Cape Town.

“Getting together in South Africa was a sign of our deep commitment,” he said. “We were both very ambitious and very driven people who, by that time, felt very comfortable around each other.”

After graduation, both landed jobs in Washington, and last October, he proposed on a frigid, blustery day at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, where they went hiking. As they began their descent in the face of fierce, cold winds, Mr. Simon suddenly dropped to one knee and pulled out an engagement ring.

“He was so nervous about dropping the ring that he was not willing to let it out of his hands,” she said, laughing. “I had to kind of fight him for it, and I finally managed to take it away and slip it on my finger.”

Both Elizabeth and Reid are probably decent enough people. And falling in love is supposed to release oxytocin into your system, which causes euphoria. But there's something about the cloying way the Times describes young love that inevitably releases bile into mine.

How exactly does the Times expect us to react to these stories? ("Oh! That's so cool! That's so precious! True love is so moving!")

Are Elizabeth and Reid and every other couple featured thusly in the Times headed for the eternal bliss that seems to be the only possible outcome of such a perfect love match, at least as depicted in these articles?

For many couples, once the honeymoon is over, many of the adjectives they initially use to describe each other (kind, smart, creative, inclusive) tend to gradually devolve into other adjectives (selfish, stupid, lazy, conceited).

I'm not saying this is the case with Elizabeth and Reid; but marriages do tend to sour. Roughly half end in divorce. Given which, wouldn't it be more interesting -- and gratifying -- if, along with the wedding announcements, they had divorce announcements?

Honest ones, with full explanations for the split. From both parties.

The relevant information might include which party cheated first, and how they got caught. ("That little whore cheated on me with her last boyfriend from the minute we got married, though I didn't realize it until a few years later."/"That pig never had any intention of remaining faithful to me, I was just the little wifey to cook and clean for him, he always had something on the side.")

Also, what the money arguments were like. ("That bitch just couldn't stop spending money, even though she didn't bring a penny to the table herself."/"That cheap prick wouldn't even spring for a new Beamer for me, even though he drives around in a Mercedes.")

And an opinion about each other's intelligence. ("She's a fucking retard, I mean it, the only thing she's got going for her is she's good-looking. Or used to be."/"That dumbass thinks he's smart, but all he ever does is repeat other people's opinions and then look pleased with himself, like he came up with them himself.")

And if either party had an identifiable personality syndrome. ("She was so hot and cold I think she was bipolar. I really do."/"He's a sociopath. I swear.")

Also, odious personal habits. ("She'd leave used tampons in the bathroom waste can, where I could see them."/"Half the time when he'd take a dump he wouldn't even flush the toilet. And he'd fart all night long.")

And, what each was like in bed. ("You know, I never got head from her even once, during the entire marriage."/"All he'd do is stick it in and then roll off after a minute or so. He had no idea how to give a woman an orgasm. No fucking clue.")

And, finally, the fate they wish for each other. ("I hope she ends up in a mental ward. That's where she belongs."/"Burning in hell would be too good for that bastard. It really would.")

Now, wouldn't that be a lot more entertaining to read than those sappy wedding stories?

Monday, May 23, 2016

The quintessential gay expression

I was looking at the weddings section of the NY Times yesterday morning when I stumbled across this couple, Andrew Borchini (on the left), and John Scott Johnson:

The fellow on the left is wearing an expression that you simply never see on straight guys. It seems to say "I'm just overjoyed to be here!" and "It's so incredibly wonderful to see you!" He seems to have a wellspring of deep inner bliss, and his bedrock assumption about the world appears to be, "It's filled with amazing people and it's just so great to be alive!"

Mr. Borchini looks like a genuinely nice person -- I'm not being sarcastic here -- the kind it would be pleasant to be around. He looks reasonable, accommodating, and gracious. (I'm also guessing -- obviously, everything I'm saying here is purely a guess -- that he might be just a touch naive.)

It's an expression you occasionally see at parties, maybe after someone has had a drink or two.

Coincidentally, yesterday's Times also had announcement for another pair of gay men, Christopher Beacham (left) and Adam Scott:

I was struck by Adam Scott's similar expression. Again, I know nothing about him, but he seems to exhibit similar qualities to Mr. Borchini.

Six years ago I said that the gay men I saw at Club Med seemed to come in "four main flavors." I'm guessing that Andrew Borchini and Adam Scott would fall into the "extremely helpful" category.

Here's what I said about that type at the time:

The third flavor might be described as "extremely helpful." It's impossible not to find these guys pleasant to be around. They're always cheerful, always polite, always friendly, and always understanding. While they tend to be a little effeminate, they're not drama queens or weird like transvestites. They're just....nice. They remind me of the vivacious hostess at a suburban party who's always making sure everyone is comfortable and has a fresh drink: a little phony maybe, but hard not to like.

I salute Mr. Borchini and Mr. Scott. The world definitely needs more people who are both better-natured and less critical than I am.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Leo Dicaprio, Environmental Warrior

Leo DiCaprio was in the news two days ago for having taken a private jet to fly from Cannes to New York and back in order to accept an award for his environmental activism from the Riverkeepers group.

A private jet burns as much fuel in an hour as the average car does in a year.

When DiCaprio accepted his Oscar for The Revenant in late February, he said in his acceptance speech, "Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating."

This weekend's private jet was bad enough, but it turned out that DiCaprio had taken twelve private jet flights from New York to Los Angeles and back over the course of six weeks in April and May of 2014.

Evidently Leo doesn't feel any great urgency, because he's still procrastinating. Here's a picture of the 450 foot yacht DiCaprio rented last year during the Cannes film festival:

Of course, when he's at home in Los Angeles, Leo drives around in a Prius to demonstrate what a noble eco-warrior he is. And every now and then he and one of his girlfriends will pedal around on bicycles just to show the rest of us how it's supposed to be done.

There seems to be an ironclad rule: you're not allowed to be a spokesman for the environment unless you're an environmental criminal yourself.

Al Gore, who won the Nobel Prize in 2007 for his effort to bring attention to global warming, is probably the most famous eco-blowhard of all. You probably remember how it turned out that his house in Nashville had a carbon footprint 20 times that of the average house. He had a fleet of SUV's, and traveled around in private jets.

Here's Al's new house in Montecito:

Barbra Streisand advises others to only turn their thermostats down to 78 degrees during the summer. But she regularly keeps her 16 room Manhattan triplex much cooler, even after she's taken a private jet to fly to one of her three houses in Malibu. Here's one of them:

John Travolta has lectured us on how we all have to do our bit for the environment. Yet he owns a fleet of five private jets. Here's his house (seriously):

The list of eco-hypocrites has certainly been well-publicized over time; given which, it's hard not to wonder how they expect others to take them seriously.

People are most likely to criticize in others what they themselves are guilty of. In a comment on this blog, an Aspie accused me of having Aspergers Syndrome. A gay guy accused me of being gay. A sociopath accused me of being a narcissist who gets a buzz from other's misfortunes. And so on. A woman who obviously saw herself as an authority on Aspergers accused me of seeing myself as a "shining authoritative light" on the subject.

We all project somewhat, and we just naturally assume that others think like us. This is why nice people tend to assume the best about others, and sociopaths often assume others are treacherous liars.

But it's the narcissistic who are most vocal with their criticisms.

For the rich and famous and self-indulgent to hector others about their environmentally wasteful lifestyles certainly fits that pattern.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Donald Trump's sins vs. Hillary Clinton's sins

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have high negative ratings from sizable percentages of the electorate. This is due to the various controversies which have beset each candidate.

It's instructive to look at these controversies side by side.

Trump said that John McCain was not a war hero.

Between 1978 and 1979, Hillary Clinton, as First Lady of Arkansas, took a $1000 investment and quickly turned it into $100,000 from trading cattle futures. The two men who placed her trades at the exchange, James Blair and Robert "Red" Bone, were current and past employees of Tyson Chicken, which wanted Governor Clinton to lift various environmental restrictions on their business. Clinton denied receiving preferential treatment from the men, but economists from the University of North Florida and Auburn University later determined that the odds of anyone making that sort of return during that period were "at best one in 31 trillion."

Trump said, in reference to Carly Fiorina, “Look at that face -- would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”

Hillary fired the White House travel office personnel who had served seven Presidents in order for their Hollywood friends to get that lucrative business. The Clintons, under public pressure, were later forced to reinstate the personnel, who had been falsely accused of financial misdeeds.

Trump said Muslim immigration should be temporarily halted until we can better vet them to screen out potential terrorists.

Clinton lied and stonewalled when it came to producing documents about the Benghazi coverup.

Trump said that he would build a wall along our southern border to keep out illegal immigrants. He also said, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best….They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with them. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

According to SalonWhile Clinton was secretary of state, her department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors. That figure from Clinton’s three full fiscal years in office is almost double the value of arms sales to those countries during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term.

The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that gave to the Clinton Foundation. That was a 143 percent increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration. The 143 percent increase in U.S. arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors compares to an 80 percent increase in such sales to all countries over the same time period.

Trump said after one of the Republican debates that moderator Megyn Kelly was "bleeding from her eyes, bleeding from her wherever."

Algeria made a large contribution to the Clinton Foundation, and voila, it got taken off the State Department's terrorist watch list, thanks to Madame Secretary.

Trump imitated a NY Times reporter who had a physical disability.

Secretary of State Clinton used a personal email server for official business so that her emails would never have to become public, allowing the Russians and Chinese to spy on us.

Trump: called Senator Rubio "little Marco" and Senator Cruz "Lyin' Ted."

After Frank Giustra, a Canadian mining magnate, donated a total of $31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation, Hillary, as Secretary of State, signed off on a deal allowing Giustra to sell one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the US to the Russians.

It's hard not to notice a pattern. All of Trump's scandals are about rudeness. All of Hillary's are about dishonesty and corruption.

Our choice boils down to a big mouth vs. a bribe-taker.

A narcissistic braggart vs. a sociopathic crook.

It may not sound like a great choice, but it's an easy one.

Sticks and stones….

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How little I know

I was watching one of those survival shows on TV the other night. This one was set in Alaska, with a number of people placed in different coves trying to survive for a certain set period of time. They were trapping fish with gill nets, building fires, fending off predators, building shelters, that type of thing. It occurred to me that I don't have the skills to do any of those things.

Then it occurred to me what an incredible number of everyday things there are that I don't know, or don't know how to do. I don't know how to operate a motorcycle, or drive a truck.

I don't even know how to cook, beyond making scrambled eggs or frying a steak. I can follow the instruction on a package, but as far as assembling ingredients myself, forget it.

Rural guys usually have a whole range of skills I don't have. They know how to hunt, or fish. They know how to clean a fish, or get the meat from a dead deer. They can identify wild animals by the sounds they make. (I've been known to mistake a squirrel scampering through dry leaves as a grizzly bear.) They can load and shoot a rifle, or shotgun. And operate an ATV. I know none of these things.

Even weekend warriors have a range of skills I don't have. I can't mountain climb, or orient myself in the wilderness. I haven't tried to set up a tent since I was a kid, and couldn't now. I wouldn't know which plants are edible, and which are poisonous.

Guys who are handy around the house know a lot more than me. I don't know how to operate a power saw, or fix the plumbing, or rewire an electrical outlet. I don't know how to resurface the driveway.

All sorts of fields of intellectual endeavor where I know next to nothing.

I know little about the law, other than to hire a lawyer if I'm in trouble.

I know little of geology, about the earth's various layers, and so on.

I seem to know a lot of history buffs, but I can't myself as one of them. Half the people who write into this blog seem to know historical facts I'm unacquainted with.

As far as music, I know what I like. But I can't play any instruments, I can't read music, and I certainly can't write it.

I know next to nothing about art, or architecture.

I'm incredibly narrow when it comes to sports. I've made an effort to stay in shape, but never learned how to ski, or play tennis, or wind surf, or skate, or any number of other things. And when the talk turns to football, or basketball, or baseball, I just clam up, because I don't know anything about them.

I don't know how to dress a wound, or set a bone, or jump start a failing heart.

Most of the things mentioned above don't particularly interest me. What's worse is that I somehow never bothered to explore many of the things that do. I just let them slide, as I have so much else in my life.

Evolution was the one subject I studied in college which really set me on fire, and I always meant to pursue that further, but never really did.

I'm interested in zoology, but these days that passion gets indulged in the lowest brow, watching-animal-fights-on-Youtube sort of way.

My knowledge of science is sadly lacking. I always meant to take a look at physics, just to see if it was as difficult as people say, but never got around to it.

My knowledge of highbrow literature is spotty. I always meant to read some of the Great Books, but never got around to it.

Speaking of great books, I've always meant to take a close look at the Bible, but somehow never got around to that, either. My understanding of other religions is similarly lacking.

When you're younger, you can always sort of vaguely plan to do these things in the future. But at 62, I'm forced to be more realistic. These are all things I'll never learn.

Even the stuff I once knew I've forgotten, since I never used it. Calculus, for example. (I just never had the need to calculate the area under a curve in my everyday life.) I can't even speak my first language, Japanese, any more.

Cavemen had to be generalists. They had to know how to hunt, cook (to the extent they did that), make clothing, construct a shelter, travel by the stars, find water, know which plants were edible, etc.

As society has progressed we've all gotten narrower. The nature of modern society is that we all specialize, learn a trade, and rely on others to fill in the rest of our needs. And mostly, I'm just a creature of my time.

Still, I look at my range of interests and they seem particularly narrow. It's a little like the repertoire of someone with Aspergers.

I seem to know a fair number of people with a broader range of interests, and abilities.

I suppose the worst part is that I have no particular interest in changing.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The backgrounds of prominent feminists

The recent posts about Frances Lear, upon whom the television character Maude was based, and Susan Sarandon and her dysfunctional background, got me to thinking: how many feminists have come by their feminism by substituting a vague resentment of all men for a hatred of one? How many prominent feminists hated their fathers? How many were molested as children?

So I took a look at the "Early life" section of the Wikipedia bios of some of the other recent prominent feminists. What I found was that some had mothers who were crazy.

Gloria Steinem's parents divorced when she was 10, and her mother Ruth was "an invalid, trapped in delusional fantasies that occasionally turned violent." Ruth was in and out of mental institutions all her life, and couldn't concentrate long enough to finish reading a book, but Gloria chose to interpret Ruth's inability to hold a job as "evidence of a general hostility toward working women."

So, no abusive father there, but a crazy mother, whom Steinem identified with, and whose insanity Gloria chose to view in political terms.

Germaine Greer is the author of The Female Eunuch, a 1971 bestseller. She was born in Melbourne in 1939. As per Wiki: "According to Greer, her mother suffered from what was probably Asperger's Syndrome, and as a result they had a difficult relationship. Greer left home because of it when she was 18."

(Aha -- a pattern!)

Greer, by the way, was not the kind of rigid, doctrinaire thinker so many of today's feminists are. She lived an adventurous, open-minded life, was obviously intelligent, and -- this is what really sets her apart -- had a sense of humor. But, she was an early proponent of what was then called "women's liberation," and thus merits mention here.

Kate Millett was born in Minnesota in 1934; she is most famous for writing Sexual Politics in 1970. From Wiki: "According to Millett, she was afraid of her father, an engineer, who beat her. He was an alcoholic who abandoned the family when she was 14, 'consigning them to a life of genteel poverty'."

Okay, that time it was the father. (Millett herself, by the way, was bipolar, and in and out of mental institutions.)

Andrea Dworkin, the anti-pornography crusader, seemed to have trouble with the truth (she claimed to have been drugged and raped in a hotel at age 53, a point in her life at which she was grotesquely obese). But there was nothing mentioned about her family history which spelled out insanity.

I then took a look back at some of the more famous feminists of the past, expecting more family dysfunction. But most of them came from large, intact families, with parents with whom there seemed to be nothing wrong. What's more, many of their parents were liberal in their outlook, so many of these feminists were in fact not even rebelling all that much.

Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820 to a Quaker family which favored social reform, and which had strong Abolitionist leanings.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was introduced to activism by her father, who was a judge. She had ten siblings, but six of them died by the age of 20. (Her mother was "devastated by the loss of so many children, [and] fell into a depression, which kept her from being fully involved in the lives of her surviving children and left a maternal void in Stanton's childhood.") Okay, a little bit of dysfunction there, but being depressed about losing six of your children is understandable.

Carrie Chapman Catt, a suffragist, born in 1859, had a relatively normal upbringing.

Julia Ward Howe had a stable upbringing.

Lucy Stone, another prominent suffragist, also came from a stable home, though she resented her father's authority.

Alice Paul, another suffragist, came from a Quaker family and basically followed in her mother's footsteps in becoming an activist.

Simone de Beauvoir, famous for The Second Sex, published in 1949, grew up in a sort of genteel poverty. Her mother was a conventional thinker, and her father more of a rebel. But her father was proud of Simone's intellectualism, and Simone's feminism couldn't be described as a rebellion against her family.

So, what with all these early feminists coming from stable backgrounds, there went my theory.

But then it occurred to me that the causes these old time feminists were espoused were completely just. All they wanted was the opportunity to become doctors, or lawyers, and to control their own fates. And, they wanted to be able to vote.

Who can argue with those causes?

None of these old time feminists argued that women should be combat soldiers, or that men who looked at women the wrong way were guilty of sexual harassment. None proclaimed that everything a man could do, a woman could do better. None believed that a woman who later regretted having sex ought to bring rape charges, or that a woman who'd had just one drink was incapable of sexual consent.

They were merely arguing for equal rights. They were sane women, from sane families, arguing for a sane cause.

It's the more recent feminists who tend to come from dysfunctional families, and who argue for today's more loony feminist theories.

The women listed above are far from a big enough sample from which to draw any really solid conclusions. And no one is responsible for having a dysfunctional parent. But, parents are inevitably strong influences, for better or worse, and always have an effect on their children. And the intersection of psychology and political outlook is always fascinating.

You can tell a lot about a movement from the type of people it attracts.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Alcohol and alcoholics

I understand the romance of alcohol: the world is a more appealing place when you're drunk. Every drink you have may temporarily lower your IQ by roughly 7 points, but also raises your euphoria level commensurately.

You also become, in a way, more narcissistic. You'll feel yourself wittier, better-looking, and tougher than you are. (Who wouldn't want to be those things?)

Of course, when you're under the influence, other people can seem more charming and attractive too. (Who wouldn't want friends like that?)

People who drink are essentially making a deal: you become a less appealing person, but the world becomes a more appealing place. And that's not an entirely bad trade.

Occasionally people will comment on this blog when they're drunk. I can't know that for sure, of course, but they leave that impression. For instance, Mistie Johnson, who objected in strong terms to this post on "dime pieces" from 2013. It seemed to me that she entirely missed the point of the post, which was the effect that an incredibly beautiful woman can have on you.

Mistie made her comment at 12:37 AM on a Sunday morning. Out of curiosity, I Googled her, and it turns out she lives in southern California, which means she wrote in at 9:37 PM on a Saturday evening, a time when people are more likely to have imbibed. Again, I don't know that she had imbibed; but that was my impression.

A couple of drinks actually can make you seem "wittier" -- by virtue of your freshly-uninhibited tongue. But they really don't make you any smarter. And more than a couple will definitely make you dumber.

Think of the impression you get of drunks when you're stone cold sober.

They lean in close to you as if they have something significant to say, then recite some tired old cliche as if they're letting you in on the most fascinating secret of the universe. You look at them and nod, but inside, you're thinking, I can't wait to get away from this bore.

Or they say something banal and think it's funny.

They throw up and think that's funny.

Think of rock stars who trash their hotel rooms. I've never quite gotten that: what's fun about breaking a lamp, or turning a bed upside down? I guess you have to be drunk to understand. This is how a one year old behaves: walking along a bookshelf, pulling out all the books. Or, maybe, how a not-yet-house-trained dog will.

There's nothing wrong with being in touch with one's inner child -- as long as the outer grownup is in charge.

The saddest cases are people who drink all the time, and effectively make themselves stupider on a more permanent basis.

I've never known an alcoholic who wasn't missing something upstairs. It's almost as if they want to be stupider. 

Think of the public embarrassments who are described as "a hot mess." They're usually alcoholic.

Think Lindsay Lohan. Mel Gibson. Tracy Morgan. Charlie Sheen. Joaquin Phoenix. David Hasselhoff.

Think of Boris Yeltsin, the ineffectual slob who presided over the handing over of formerly nationalized Soviet enterprises to the oligarchs:

If either his predecessor, Mikhail Gorbachev, or his successor, Vladimir Putin, had been in charge during that period, that wouldn't have happened, and Russia wouldn't be quite the vast criminal enterprise it is today.

Speaking of Putin, George W. Bush once said about him, "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul." When I heard that, all I could think was, that's an alcoholic talking. (Bush is a supposedly reformed alcoholic.)

Putin, knowing Bush was a reformed alcoholic -- and therefore vulnerable -- must have proposed a couple of toasts, knowing that Bush would accept from a sense of diplomatic obligation. And Putin, sly former KGB agent that he is, would have known that he would then have Bush at a disadvantage.

And sure enough, Putin then allowed Bush to gaze into his "soul."

Alcoholics talk, but don't listen. They don't fulfill their responsibilities. They usually can't stay married for long. And they walk around in a self-imposed fog. After a while, they start to act befuddled even when they haven't had anything to drink.

Alcoholics act as if they're you're best friend one minute (for no reason), then turn temperamental the next, both with equally little reason. They lose their inhibitions, and effectively turn into children. (Our inhibitions may be a burden to us, but they are a boon for those around us.)

And if you try to hang out with them, you'll find the day revolves around the imbibing of beverages.

They may have all the promise in the world, like the 21-year-old Johnny Manziel, but they casually just toss it away. And you always end up wondering, what exactly is going through their minds?

The answer is, alcohol.

This isn't even to mention the physical side effects. Their midsections grow larger as their arms and legs shrink. Their skin becomes papery, and their faces take on a slack look. These things are inevitable as we age, but why hurry the process along?

It's all about self-indulgence, and a lack of self-respect.

Some say that alcoholism isn't a vice, but a disease. Yes and no. It's a vice that, indulged often enough, becomes a disease.

Should I be more sympathetic? Maybe. But there are plenty of people far more deserving of sympathy: people with genetic disorders, or who catch a real disease, or who are exposed to toxins through no fault of their own.

I think I'll save my sympathy for them.

(I know, this sounds as if it could have been written by the Ladies' Temperance Union. Or maybe Ebeneezer Scrooge. But, it's still all true.)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Faux pas

I was talking to a friend the other evening. He explained to me that he turns 54 in June and is a year away from aging up for the Crash B's, the championships of ergometer rowing. I urged him to compete, with the goal of setting the world record for that age group. (He's got an outside shot.)

Then the subject changed and he asked after my parents. When I asked after his mother, he said that she had just moved into an assisted living facility. I asked, what is she now, 68, 69? (It was my vague impression that he had told me within the past couple years that she was 66.) He said, no, she's 75.

My friend is a nice guy, so didn't call me out on my math. It was only later that I realized what an incredibly stupid error I'd made.

I told this story to my daughter an hour or two later and she found it quite funny. Maybe a little too much so for my taste.

Anyway, your humble(d) correspondent is evidently not as smart as he thinks he is.

I actually get reminders of this quite frequently: I say dumb things all the time. I usually realize they're dumb the second they're out of my mouth, but by that point, it's too late. 

I just wish I had the same edit function in my personal life I have on this blog.