The Internet Is For . . . Sociopaths

He's out there.

In my fifty years, I have encountered only one person whom I have deliberately, unequivocally, and publicly cut out of my life.

That person then completely (and blessedly) vanished from my personal radar for eighteen years.

Some of my fellow Brainiacs, and some of our visitors, will recall this individual as well – or will after I describe him. Thought he was gone, didn’t you?

Well, thanks to the Internet, he’s back. So this is the latest and greatest reason why I don’t like the Internet. (Oh, sure, I use it. Here I am using it right now. However, as I’ve noted before: I don’t like cars, but I know how to drive. And I don’t like guns, but I know how to shoot. Life in the modern world often requires unpleasant compromises.)

What was the deal with this guy? And why did you shun him so utterly? many of you are wondering.

I’ll attempt to explain.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (as quoted on Wikipedia – a dubious source, but since it’s on the g***amn Internet, an appropriate reference point), a person must display three out of the following seven criteria to be diagnosed with “antisocial personality disorder” (that is, to be considered what a layman such as myself would call a “sociopath”):

1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;

2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;

3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;

4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;

5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others;

6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;

7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

The only one of these characteristics that this guy didn’t clearly display (from my admittedly non-professional vantage point) was Number 4.

But as for the rest – you better believe it. Six out of seven.

Add in a pretty high level of insidious personal charm, and you’ve got Poison.

Continue reading

Disillusionment No. 18,612

Blackburn (2007 edition) 

From Publishers Weekly online, May 12, 2008 (“Picador Works the Trade“): 

One way the imprint is getting sales reps excited about older titles is through an initiative called “The Best Books You’ve Never Read.” The idea, Farrell said, grew out of a conversation with Augusten Burroughs. Burroughs, who is published by Picador, was talking with staffers at the house last year about some of the gems on the imprint’s backlist. He sang the praises of one title in particular, Blackburn by Bradley Denton. . . .  With that endorsement, Picador republished the book in April 2007, with a glowing cover quote from Burroughs, and the Best Books program was born. (Though Farrell said the title “wasn’t a blockbuster,” it sold well enough to entice Picador to continue the program.)



“wasn’t a blockbuster” ??

Dang.  My mother lied to me.


We Like It Stupid…

In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, there was an article titled: What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?

In the course of the article, it was revealed that, in Finland, there’s no mandatory testing for kids, little rote learning, and that, for the most part, the Finns prefer to let their teenagers be teenagers.

But buried in the middle of the article was an obvious reason the Finns are creating such bright kids: They actually believe in being smart.

For instance, the Finns are big readers.  They even have libraries attached to their shopping malls.  I’m pretty sure if there was a library attached to Barton Creek Mall here in Austin, the hoi polloi would beat a path through it to Starbucks and The GAP.

And even though the pay for teachers in Finland is roughly the same as what it is in the U.S., it’s a prestigious job there. Applicants for teaching positions in Finland must hold a master’s degree.  There are usually more than 40 applicants for every opening.  But here was another secret: Teachers have more freedom in the way they teach than American educators do.

The other interesting facet is that Finnish teenagers are better at deductive reasoning than their counterparts in other counties.

We don’t do smart here in the grand old U.S. of A.  In fact, we’re a country that despises smart people.  The smarter you are, the more you’re distrusted.  There’s been an anti-intellectual bent to our makeup since the early 1800s.

Our presidential picks are the most pronounced manifestation of this part of the American psyche.  Eisenhower over Stevenson.  Bush over Gore.  (Does anyone remember the sturm und drang over Gore’s “eye rolling” during debates with Dubya?  Yes, being dumbfounded by dumbness is a crime in this country.)

Continue reading

WooWoo Con

On Sunday morning Sarcasm Girl and I flew down to LA for a Drama Department interview with Ithaca College. For her, of course. I already did my college interviews, thanks. The interviews (and auditions for the BFA candidates) were being held at the LAX Hilton in a sort of gang-bang operation where fifteen or twenty different college performace programs took over a part of the hotel and auditioned and interviewed from dawn to dusk. The interview went very well, we think. And there was the amusement–or bemusement–value of sitting around looking at dozens of high school senior dance students in almost identically idiosyncratic practice outfits sitting on the floor of the hallway stretching before their auditions. And, as Sarcasm Girl noted after hearing various of the vocal auditions from behind closed doors, “If I hear ‘Defying Gravity’ one more time I’ll have to kill someone.” It was like being on the studio lot where Fame was shot.

But the really cool, bizarro part of the day was that the Unified Auditions (as they were called) were not the only big deal in the LAX Hilton that day. Continue reading

¡Ya Voté!

Stupidity, or the Law of Unintended Consequences?

My first official shot at voting was in 1972, when I was a sophomore in college. It was an exciting, scary time to be voting, particularly if you were one of the newly franchised under-21 crowd. It was also an exciting, scary time to be a machine politician with an influx of passionate new voters. And so the pols of New London, Connecticut (where my college was located and where I registered to vote), worried that all the damned college kids would vote for people they didn’t want voted for, particularly in the local election. Now, to the best of my recollection, I didn’t much care about the local politics; anything below congress was pretty much lost on me. But the pols weren’t about to take a chance on me and the thousand or so new voters at my college. A few months before the actual election they challenged our registrations on grounds of residency. And stirred up a hornet’s nest.

Many people who had a passionate interest in the presidential election but had not much cared, up to that point, about the local scene, got interested Real Fast. Meetings were held. Lawyers for the group were found. At least one faculty member, as I recall, ran for local office after the challenge. I was one of a bunch of people who went door to door in New London, imploring people to vote for the new progressive slate that had not existed before the challenge. We organized rides. We countered the fearful protests of people who said they were afraid if they didn’t vote the “right” way they’d lose their public housing. We were, briefly, on fire.

And all because someone tried to take away our newly minted franchise. So here’s something I have in common with my Suffragist fore-mothers: I take voting seriously. Even when the cause seems lost or the choice of candidates sucks rocks, I savor the action itself, the pushing of toggles and levers (in New York) or the marking and scanning of my ballot (in California). When they were small, I took the girls with me to vote, so they’d know how important it was. It’s my annual shot at letting the world know how I think things should be run.

California is expecting a record turnout today: 56%. As records go, hardly impressive. As with so much in the Land of My Birth, we could do a hell of a lot better. If you’re in a Super Tuesday state, go swell the numbers. Vote. Bump it up to 57% or 59% or even 60%. Change the world.


Via Pacific Views, a great, short post from blogger Wandering Ink entitled “How to Prevent Another Leonardo da Vinci” that plays off Michael Gelb’s book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. The post describes how to squelch students’ creativity, drive, and critical thinking. Here’s a sampling:

This is how we kill each trait that may yield another Da Vinci:

1. Curiosita (from “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”)
What? Intense and insatiable curiosity; constantly learning due to a desire to ask and answer questions
The Murder: In schools, for the most part, students learn only what the teacher decides they will learn. Student questions will often go unanswered if they lead away from the material (go off-topic), or if there are time constraints on what must be learned that leave no time for these questions in class.

Snap! It’s almost like somebody took the how-to-prevent-a-da-vinci list from Wandering Ink’s blog and used it as the design specs for our educational system. The post was nominated for the 2007 EduBlog post of the year.


Union Made


Right after graduating from high school in the spring of 1976, I went to work at Beech Aircraft Corporation (now Hawker Beechcraft) in Wichita, Kansas. My father was a Beechcrafter, a factory-line sheet-metal worker – and he had learned that the company had a policy of hiring college-bound kids of employees for summer work. So there was really no question of whether or not I would do it. I needed cash for school, and no other summer job would pay as well.

This is how I became a member, for three consecutive summers, of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (the IAMAW, or simply IAM).

I remember the hire-on procedure quite well, especially the first time: I filled out a long application form, then sat at a desk across from a necktied Company representative who scowled at the form and asked me the same questions to which I had already written answers. Then, once the Company man verified that I was the son of a twenty-year factory employee and that I wasn’t a goddamn hippie drug addict (yes, he asked, although not quite in those words), I was told that I was hired . . . and sent around a corner to the Union desk.

Continue reading

Visiting Major Cities of the World*

Barb and I are continuing our world* tour this week . . . and so far, the only mystery is how a postcard can receive an Oklahoma City postmark when it was mailed from the post office in Prague:

Dobrý den!

Oh, well.  Here’s hoping for better luck in St. Louis:

Gateway to the West -- Well, West of Tulsa



*If by “World” you mean that long stretch between Austin and Kansas City.

College Life Today

Anthropology professor Michael Wesch:

This video was created by myself and the 200 students enrolled in ANTH 200: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, Spring 2007. It began as a brainstorming exercise, thinking about how students learn, what they need to learn for their future, and how our current educational system fits in. We created a Google Document to facilitate the brainstorming exercise, which began with the following instructions:

“… the basic idea is to create a 3 minute video highlighting the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. We already know some things from previous research (and if you know of any interesting statistics, please list them along with the source). Others we will need to find out by doing a class survey. Please add whatever you want to know or present.”

My favorite factoids from the statistical average student in the video:

“I will read 8 books this year, 2300 web pages, 1281 Facebook profiles. I will write 42 pages for class this semester and over 500 pages of email.”