Monday, July 31, 2006

I knew Mel Gibson was an anti-Semite

A few years ago, I wrote a review of "The Passion" wherein I defended the movie, but not Mel Gibson, since his public -- public! -- comments evidenced an overt hostilities toward Jews. Nut paragraphs:

Despite having made a movie that I believe is entirely defensible as a work of art, Gibson’s public comments are utterly indefensible. Consider what’s he’s told Peggy Noonan, the conservative columnist for the Wall Street Journal. When asked if Gibson disagreed with his father, who denies the Holocaust, Gibson said that “My father never told me a lie.” When asked about his own beliefs about the Holocaust, he merely replied “A lot people died during World War II. No doubt many Jews were among them.”

These comments would be stunning in their callousness no matter when uttered, but to say them on the heels of releasing “The Passion” is, in a word, terrifying. Gibson is utterly indifferent or oblivious to the fact that a soldier dying – no matter how tragic – is incomparable to the herding of women, and children, to be systematically tortured in industrial death factories. For someone to make a movie exploring the depths of the suffering of Mary, Jesus, and God, yet fail to recognize the suffering in the Jews – and to even deny that such suffering occurred – is no mere mistake. That is anti-Semitism. And that makes Mel Gibson an anti-Semite.

Now we have further proof that Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite, at least according to second hand reports from the officers who arrested his drunken ass last week. Apparently, the officers heard Gibson go off on a rant about Jews starting all the wars in the world or some such nonsense. This guy needs help. And a good ass kicking.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Middle East Musings, round II

While waiting for the next installment of the Parallax View to arrive Monday, ponder this idea o' mine regarding the war in Lebanon:

1. Israel is losing militarily. By losing I mean that they have discovered that Hezbollah is well-armed, well-trained, and willing to employ henious but ingenious tactics (such as using UN bases to launch rockets).

2. The tide of the "Arab street" is turning against Israel and the US. Hezbollah's success -- and images of civilians being killed -- have created a groundswell of support for Hezbollah's actions. There is the wiff of Che Guevara to Hezbollah's leader.

3. The UN peacekeeping force that the US and Britain are now proposing isn't going to work. Not only are there no countries volunteering to participate, it's impossible to foresee how a UN force would be any better at controlling Hezbollah than, say, Israel.

Face with these three undisputable facts, what can the US do?

Here's an idea that will never happen: the US could demand that Israel respect the sovereign territorial integrity of Lebanon, and demand that Israel refrain from creating a 'buffer zone' in South Lebanon. Imagine what would happen:

1. The world would be stunned, and the Arab Street would be, momentarily, confused as hell -- without fuel to feed the fire of US-Israel conspiracy theories, there would be chaos in response.

2. Hezbollah's political surge would be momentarily halted. The US could demand, in return for its surprise sell-out of its ally, that Hezbollah return the kidnapped soldiers immediately and cease firing rockets into Israel. The world's attention would be refocused on why this war started, i.e., Hezbollah's act of terrorism.

3. Israel would be furious -- sort of. The government would freak out publicly, but privately, this might provide the cover needed to pull out of what appears to be a growing military disaster.

I'm sure there are many, many reasons this is a bad idea. But can you think of a better one? has lost its mind

Like all of you, from time to time I purchase books on Amazon. Every once in a while, the mysterious datamining technology Amazon used to "suggest" books I might enjoy, based on past purchases, throws me a complete curveball:

We've noticed that customers who have purchased The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen also purchased books by Hartmuth Arenhövel. For this reason, you might like to know that Hartmuth Arenhövel's Many Body Structure of Strongly Interacting Systems: Refereed and Selected Contributions of the Symposium "20 Years of Physics at the Mainz Microtron MAMI" will be released soon. You can pre-order your copy by following the link below.

Many Body Structure of Strongly Interacting Systems: Refereed and Selected Contributions of the Symposium "20 Years of Physics at the Mainz Microtron MAMI"Hartmuth Arenhövel (Editor), et al

$220.79(August 2006)

Book Description: This carefully edited proceedings volume provides an extensive review and analysis of the work carried out over the past 20 years at the Mainz Microtron (MAMI). Further, an outlook on the research with the forthcoming MAMI upgrade is given. This volume is an authoritative source of reference for everyone working in the field of the electroweak probing of hadronic structures.

Couple of comments. First, I purchased "The Corrections" more than four years ago. Second, can anyone explain why purchasers of "The Corrections" -- a novel about a family in the midwest -- would also be interested in Hartmuth Arenhovel edited symposium volumes that are the authority reference for everyone working in the dynamic and exciting field of electroprobing hadronic structures?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hot Christian Sex Toys

While searching for an image of a little kitten on Google images (honestly), I was directed to a website called "Covenant Spice, A Christ honoring sex and romance site for Christian couples." Sound weird? You have no idea. In their own words:

There are some limits in the bible on sexual behavior. However, these limits always speak to having sexual relations with somebody who is not your spouse (including prostitutes, homosexuality, orgies, and adultery). But nowhere is there anything that can be interpreted to mean that married couples cannot enjoy playing with toys, games, lotions, etc in the bedroom that enhance their lovemaking as a couple.

Wrong, Covenant Spice freaks! Clearly, you are forgetting Leviticus 23:12, which states:

Thou shalt not purchase weird kinky lotions as thou baketh thine bread, for the Lord thinketh it doth be creepy.

I urge you to peruse the Covenant Spice website -- don't worry, it's totally safe for work -- and explore more about Jesus, marriage, and Hold Tight Enhancer,which "induces intimate closeness by inducing a shrinking, contracting action in the vaginal walls for a 'tighter fit."

My Halloween costume, 1985

In keeping with the baseball card theme of this week's postings, I just thought I'd share the fact that, in 1985, at the tender age of 9, I was as a Dwight Gooden baseball card for Halloween. My parents labored for what I'm sure was many hours creating a huge, replica card for me to stick my head through. It was awesome.

Of course, you'll note that Dwight Gooden is black. To compensate for that problem, my parents also dressed me in blackface. Swear to God. Parents, feel free to chime in in the comments section about the reactions of the neighbors to my creative-but-vaguely-racist costume!


My dad just wrote me an email -- subject line: "Dwight was white" -- wherein he claims the following:

Hey, as best I recall, there was no blackface. I'm not being defensive, since it would have been more how "into" Dwight you were at the time.

I have pretty strong memories of that Halloween since it was a pretty cool (and original) costume at the time and I've never pictured it with you in blackface (nor do I know how we would have done it).

First, let me say, my Dad is correct: I was really, really "into" Dwight Gooden that year. Hell, the whole country was -- Gooden actually made the cover of Time magazine, so thrilling was he every time he took the mound. I also shared the same birthday as Gooden -- November 16 -- a fact that, when I discovered it while reading the statistics on the back of Gooden's 7-11 Magic Motion Slurpee Coin, nearly made orgasm and die at the same time.

Which is why, I must confess, I demanded that I be painted in blackface that year. I'm sure Dad resisted this ludicrous idea for awhile, but as some of you know, I can be a tad, er, headstrong, and I remember vividly that I couldn't imagine going as Dwight Gooden unless I looked like Dwight Gooden.

As to the logistics of the blackface: let's just say that I've always associated the smell of shoe polish with Mets pitching. Enough said.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Guest Blog: Special Forces Soldier

In the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting excerpts from a soldier-who-wishes-to-remain-anonymous's written account of his recent candidacy for the Army's Special Forces. It makes for riveting reading.

In the field, Special Forces are usually deployed in teams of 12 (i.e. ‘A-teams’) far out in the wilderness and a long way away from anyone else. Accordingly, the environment is ambiguous, uncertain, and unknown, and you have to solve the problems you encounter on your own, as well as have the mental strength and integrity to do the right thing when you are thousands of miles from home and no one is looking over your shoulder. From this, then, it follows that the Assessors (‘the cadre’) want to see how well you do in unstructured situations: when you don’t know what’s about to happen, how well do you work? Do you quit easily or get frustrated quickly? If so, they want to know, and they have tried to create an environment at SFAS where such personality characteristics will reveal themselves.

They do this in an interesting way: the cadre do not yell or scream or shout: they simply leave instructions on an outdoor chalkboard concerning the next formation time and uniform –you never have any idea when an event is about to occur, and therefore cannot plan in advance (mentally or physically) for what is about to happen. Then, all they say is, “Candidates: you must run this course until the end. Do not stop or leave the trail until you reach the finish line and your time is recorded. Do the best that you can.” One key thing they have not mentioned is the distance of your run or ruck march –it could be 1 mile, or 6 miles, or 10 miles. So all you can do is start off and run your hardest not knowing how far or how long you will be running, and this obviously causes you to mentally stress about how you should be running –since most of us base our pace off of the supposed distance of the run. And once you finish, you are not given your time or any measure of how well you have done. Again, this is just a tool to add a little uncertainty and stress to a mundane activity like running or rucking. (One example: we once did a ruck march of 4 miles; later, we did another ruck march that seemed to be about 4 miles as we returned to Camp Mackall along the regular route; but instead of ending at Mackall, the path took us right through the camp and out the backside of the camp and into the woods again for –as it turned out—another two miles. A mildly sneaky strategy to demoralize the weak-minded).

The nighttime musings of Donald Rumsfeld

From a press conference yesteday with the Secretary of Defense:

Q Is the country [that would be Iraq] closer to a civil war?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know. You know, I thought about that last night, and just musing over the words, the phrase, and what constitutes it. If you think of our Civil War, this is really very different. If you think of civil wars in other countries, this is really quite different. There is -- there is a good deal of violence in Baghdad and two or three other provinces, and yet in 14 other provinces there's very little violence or numbers of incidents. So it's a -- it's a highly concentrated thing. It clearly is being stimulated by people who would like to have what could be characterized as a civil war and win it, but I'm not going to be the one to decide if, when or at all.

We're going to ignore for a moment, if we can, the sheer idiocy of Rumsfeld's metaphysical musings about the meaning of the words "civil war." Instead, let's focus on the breathtaking historical ignorance displayed by Rummy's remark. Rumsfeld seems to think, or certainly implies, that because the civil war in Iraq is confined to Baghdad "and two or three other provinces," it is "really very different" from the American Civil War (and some other civil wars he fails to identify). First, I will concede a general point: there are profound cultural, economic and political differences between the two wars. But this is not Rumsfeld's point at all. His view is based on geographic scope of the conflict. Not only is this a stupid way to compare civil wars, it's not even remotely connected to the reality of history. The American Civil War was fought "in or around Washington D.C. and other states." Yet in 25 other states, there was very little violence or incidents. So it was a --- highly concentrated thing.

Morons. We've got morons running the government.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Death of Baseball Cards

First, read this article on Slate about what's happened to baseball cards.

I made this discovery for myself the other day when I went online to investigate the price of a Roger Clemens rookie card. You know, Roger Clemens -- 325 game winner, seven time Cy Young winner , sure-to-be-first-ballot Hall of Famer, greatest pitcher of the 1980s AND 1990s AND 2000s.

I was sure it would be $500 plus. Actual price on Ebay: $7.

Seven fucking dollars?

As it turns out, this is an across the board phenomena. Barry Bonds' rookie card? Remember, this is the guy who owns the single season home run record, and may set the record for most home runs of all time! Must be at least $100, right? Even after the crash? No. Actual price -- about $10 to $20.

Sure, he's a huge prick, but so was Ty Cobb.

Incidentally, Ty Cobb cards are going for $1,000. Sure, that sounds steep, but in the late 1980s and early 1990s I'm pretty sure Ty Cobb cards were worth, like, a million dollars.

Mickey Mantle seems to be the exception: his rookie card is being offered for $10,000 "buy it now" on eBay. Of course, we'll see if anyone actually "buys it now."

Let this be a lesson. For everyone who thinks the price of homes can go nowhere but up, up, up, let the crash of the baseball cards serve as a reminder that markets can crash, and crash hard. (And yes, I know that homes have an inherent use value that baseball cards obviously do not. But when people are paying $500,000 for a one-bedroom flat in SF, I see visions of Wade Boggs's rookie card -- $5 -- dancing in my head.)

Israel is begging to lose me

In the last two days, Israel has bombed a Red Cross facility and now a UN peacekeeping force. They've apologized, but it seems increasingly clear Israel is simply bombing for bombing's sake, i.e., there is no rhyme or reason to Israel's strikes. And as many commentators have pointed out, there is a certain logical inconsistency in demanding that the Lebanese govt. crush Hezbollah while Israeli warplanes continue to hammer at Lebanese military targets.

It's depressing how unsolvable this crisis is. Get ready for the long, slow burn.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Postmodernism and 9/11

For many people, the word postmodernism conjures images of beret-wearing Frenchies denying the meaning of the word "and." And there's no doubt that many postmodernists have lost their minds, and use academic jargon to obscure the vacuousness of their non-ideas.

But if there's one postmodernist I always enjoy reading -- and usually agree with -- it's Prof. Stanley Fish, a law professor at Florida International University. Recently, Fish wrote an op-ed for the NY Times, explaning the difference between academic freedom (which allows academics to pursue any avenue of inquiry, no matter how controversial or bizarre) and academic proselytizing (wherein academics try to convert their students to their views). It's not a topic that particularly interests me, but you should read his piece nonetheless, if only to admire the clarity of his writing.

Oh, and if you do, the 9/11 reference will make more sense.

Friday, July 21, 2006

NSA Wiretaps -- media missing a story

Yesterday, Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California ruled that the lawsuit against AT&T for cooperating in the NSA warantless wiretap program could go forward. The ruling, which runs a healthy 72 pages, contains some interesting observations that I'm surprised the media hasn't picked up on. Essentially, Judge Walker hinted that he thinks the NSA wiretaps were a clearly illegal program (edited for clarity):

In Keith, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not permit warrantless wiretaps to track domestic threats to national security, reaffirmed the “necessity of obtaining a warrant in the surveillance of crimes unrelated to the national security interest,” and did not pass judgment “on the scope of the President’s surveillance power with respect to the activities of foreign powers, within or without this country.” Because the alleged dragnet here encompasses the communications of “all or substantially all of the communications transmitted through [AT&T’s] key domestic telecommunications facilities,” it cannot reasonably be said that the program as alleged is limited to tracking foreign powers. Accordingly, AT&T’s alleged actions here violate the constitutional rights clearly established in Keith. Moreover, because “the very action in question has previously been held unlawful,” AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the alleged domestic dragnet was legal.

At least one informed commentator thinks Walker is off his rocker. But I'm not so sure -- Walker is no lefty-liberal activist, and actually is one of the more creative, thoughtful guys on the Northern District bench. But even if the critics are right, why isn't this getting more play in the press? A federal judge has indicated that AT&T's actions, and by extension the NSA's, clearly violate constitutional rights! Hello? Anyone? Bueller?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lieberman struggling in Connecticut

Sen. Joe Lieberman is now in a stastical dead heat with his more "progressive" Democratic challenger, Ned Lamont. Yet, if Liebs were to run as an independent, he'd crush.

If that happens, get ready for a McCain-Lieberman independent ticket in 2008. And our first Independent President.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

George Bush in two words

Relentless. Exhausting.

Read about his veto of stem-cell research if you can keep from vomiting:

Luckily, this is one issue where the GOP just completely loses the mainstream of America. And the voters will remember, come November.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Today is my girlfriend's birthday

Her name is Nicki, she turned 24 today, she's the best, and I love her.

Bush blocks his own Justice Department

According to the AP, Attorney General Gonzales testified today that Bush personally blocked the Justice Department from investigating the legality of the NSA eavesdropping program:

The department's Office of Professional Responsibility announced earlier this year it could not pursue an investigation into the role of Justice lawyers in crafting the program, under which the National Security Agency intercepts some telephone calls and e-mail without court approval.

At the time, the office said it could not obtain security clearance to examine the classified program.

Under sharp questioning from Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, Gonzales said that Bush would not grant the access needed to allow the probe to move forward.

Protecting a vital national security interest, or covering his own ass Nixon-style? You be the judge.

Friday, July 14, 2006

What is happening in the Middle East

I don't profess to understand much about the Middle East, Israel, and the regional troubles. Frankly, I stopped reading Thomas Friedman six years ago, and of course, I can't read him now that he's behind the "Times Select" firewall, so my go-to source on the subject is gone. But here's my rough understanding of the situation:

1. Hezbollah, a half-terrorist, half-political organization backed by Iran and Syria, basically controls the southern part of Lebanon. The Lebanese government, despite repeated entreaties from the world community, has not taken measures to disarm Hezbollah. Also, George Clooney's character in Syriana is on good terms with them.

2. A few weeks ago, someone (I think Hamas) kidnapped an Israeli soldier. This provoked a strong military response from Israel, whose government is currently being run by non-generals and thus may have felt the need to emphasize Israel's military might moreso than, say, Ariel Sharon would have.

3. Despite this show of force, Hezbollah decided it would join the fun and also kidnap some Israeli soldiers.

4. Israel believes Hezbollah is acting with the backing of Syria and Iran. Because they are worried that their soldiers will be transported from Lebanon to one of these countries, they have basically sealed off Lebanon, bombing the airports and major highways out, and imposing a naval blockade.

5. Israel's demand for an end to hostilities: "The release of the two Israeli soldiers seized by Hezbollah in the cross-border raid on Wednesday that touched off the current fighting; a halt to rocket fire by Hezbollah; and a decision by the Lebanese government to implement a United Nations resolution calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah."

Israel's demands seem reasonable. But do they stand any chance of success? The future of the region hinges on the answer to that question.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bestiality, Marriage, and the NY Times

For the last two weeks, one article has dominated the NY Times "Most Emailed Article" list in Dan Brown like fashion. And for the last two weeks, I've studiously tried to avoid reading the article, . Today, I snapped, and read for the first time: "Modern Love: What Shamu [the whale] Taught Me About a Happy Marriage."

My extensive, exhaustive, absurdly long comments appear below.

Modern Love:
What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage

AS I wash dishes at the kitchen sink, my husband paces behind me, irritated. "Have you seen my keys?" he snarls, then huffs out a loud sigh and stomps from the room with our dog, Dixie, at his heels, anxious over her favorite human's upset.

Ok, so the Sutherland's don't own a dishwasher.

In the past I would have been right behind Dixie. I would have turned off the faucet and joined the hunt while trying to soothe my husband with bromides like, "Don't worry, they'll turn up." But that only made him angrier, and a simple case of missing keys soon would become a full-blown angst-ridden drama starring the two of us and our poor nervous dog.

This does not sound familiar AT ALL, as I'm sure my girlfriend would attest. We don't own a dog.

Now, I focus on the wet dish in my hands. I don't turn around. I don't say a word. I'm using a technique I learned from a dolphin trainer.

Later in the article, we'll discover this technique involves rewarding her husband with fishes when he finds his keys.

I love my husband. He's well read, adventurous and does a hysterical rendition of a northern Vermont accent that still cracks me up after 12 years of marriage.

In addition to not owning a dishwasher, we now know that the humor bar is set a bit low around the Sutherland marriage. Hilarious Vermont accent? I'm sorry, northern Vermont accent? So these were the people who made "Newhart" a hit.

But he also tends to be forgetful, and is often tardy and mercurial. He hovers around me in the kitchen asking if I read this or that piece in The New Yorker when I'm trying to concentrate on the simmering pans. He leaves wadded tissues in his wake. He suffers from serious bouts of spousal deafness but never fails to hear me when I mutter to myself on the other side of the house. "What did you say?" he'll shout.

One possible solution would be to whack husband with said simmering pan for being a mercurial, pretentious git who apparently has chronic nose bleeds. But Amy has different plans in mind.

These minor annoyances are not the stuff of separation and divorce, but in sum they began to dull my love for Scott. I wanted — needed — to nudge him a little closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less, who wouldn't keep me waiting at restaurants, a mate who would be easier to love.

Scott, at this point, probably has no clue that his wife is about to cut his balls off and serve them up in the nation's paper of record.

So, like many wives before me, I ignored a library of advice books and set about improving him. By nagging, of course, which only made his behavior worse: he'd drive faster instead of slower; shave less frequently, not more; and leave his reeking bike garb on the bedroom floor longer than ever.

"Reeking bike garb?" Do she mean "sweaty spandex shorts worn by my unshaven nose bleeder?" That is icky.

We went to a counselor to smooth the edges off our marriage. She didn't understand what we were doing there and complimented us repeatedly on how well we communicated. I gave up. I guessed she was right — our union was better than most — and resigned myself to stretches of slow-boil resentment and occasional sarcasm.

Then something magical happened. For a book I was writing about a school for exotic animal trainers, I started commuting from Maine to California, where I spent my days watching students do the seemingly impossible: teaching hyenas to pirouette on command, cougars to offer their paws for a nail clipping, and baboons to skateboard.

I'm sorry, before we get to the sick circus training you were observing, can we back up a second: you were commuting from Maine to California? I.e., approximately 3,500+ miles? No wonder Scott took the liberty of dumping his sweaty, er, "bike garb" on the floor, or letting a few days pass between shaves.

I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband.
The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.

No, you get a sea lion to balance a ball on its nose by, once again, feeding it raw fish. At this point, most women reading this article should be starting to think about loading up on sushi.

Back in Maine, I began thanking Scott if he threw one dirty shirt into the hamper. If he threw in two, I'd kiss him. Meanwhile, I would step over any soiled clothes on the floor without one sharp word, though I did sometimes kick them under the bed. But as he basked in my appreciation, the piles became smaller.

And if Scott threw his entire bike wardrobe into the hamper, like any normal sentient male, he got the blowjob of a lifetime.

I was using what trainers call "approximations," rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior. You can't expect a baboon to learn to flip on command in one session, just as you can't expect an American husband to begin regularly picking up his dirty socks by praising him once for picking up a single sock. With the baboon you first reward a hop, then a bigger hop, then an even bigger hop. With Scott the husband, I began to praise every small act every time: if he drove just a mile an hour slower, tossed one pair of shorts into the hamper, or was on time for anything.

At this point, we might start thinking about calling serious bullshit on Ms. Amy Sutherland and Ball-less Scott. She would praise him for driving just a mile an hour slower? What the hell? Can you picture the dialogue in the car?

Amy: "Scott, thank you!" [smooch]

Scott: "What for, baby?"

Amy: "You are only driving 29 miles per hour!"

Scott [slightly confused]: "Err....yes?"

Amy: "Usually you drive 30 through here!"

Scott [completely baffled, but willing to seize the moment]: "Does this mean I get road head?"

I also began to analyze my husband the way a trainer considers an exotic animal. Enlightened trainers learn all they can about a species, from anatomy to social structure, to understand how it thinks, what it likes and dislikes, what comes easily to it and what doesn't. For example, an elephant is a herd animal, so it responds to hierarchy. It cannot jump, but can stand on its head. It is a vegetarian.

The exotic animal known as Scott is a loner, but an alpha male. So hierarchy matters, but being in a group doesn't so much. He has the balance of a gymnast, but moves slowly, especially when getting dressed. Skiing comes naturally, but being on time does not. He's an omnivore, and what a trainer would call food-driven.

It's at this point we might pause to note that Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University, is one of the nation's leading experts on the functioning of animal minds. Prof. Grandin is also autistic, and the author of "Animals in Translation : Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior," a book that explains how animals see the world in stark abstracts, unable to contextualize themselves in their surroundings.

Ms. Sutherland is applying animal behavioral control techniques to Scott. Conclusion? She thinks Scott is autistic.

Once I started thinking this way, I couldn't stop. At the school in California, I'd be scribbling notes on how to walk an emu or have a wolf accept you as a pack member, but I'd be thinking, "I can't wait to try this on Scott."

The NY Times refused to publish the original version of this sentence, which read, "I'd be scribbling notes on how to shave the testicles of a walrus, or have an orgy with lemurs, but I'd be thinkings, 'I can't wait to ask Scott his thoughts on bestiality.'"

On a field trip with the students, I listened to a professional trainer describe how he had taught African crested cranes to stop landing on his head and shoulders. He did this by training the leggy birds to land on mats on the ground. This, he explained, is what is called an "incompatible behavior," a simple but brilliant concept.

Rather than teach the cranes to stop landing on him, the trainer taught the birds something else, a behavior that would make the undesirable behavior impossible. The birds couldn't alight on the mats and his head simultaneously.

At home, I came up with incompatible behaviors for Scott to keep him from crowding me while I cooked. To lure him away from the stove, I piled up parsley for him to chop or cheese for him to grate at the other end of the kitchen island. Or I'd set out a bowl of chips and salsa across the room. Soon I'd done it: no more Scott hovering around me while I cooked.

Meanwhile, Scott developed an addiction to condiments and Mexican food. Weird.

I followed the students to SeaWorld San Diego, where a dolphin trainer introduced me to least reinforcing syndrome (L. R. S.). When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn't respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

In the margins of my notes I wrote, "Try on Scott!"

It was only a matter of time before he was again tearing around the house searching for his keys, at which point I said nothing and kept at what I was doing. It took a lot of discipline to maintain my calm, but results were immediate and stunning. His temper fell far shy of its usual pitch and then waned like a fast-moving storm. I felt as if I should throw him a mackerel.

Now he's at it again; I hear him banging a closet door shut, rustling through papers on a chest in the front hall and thumping upstairs. At the sink, I hold steady. Then, sure enough, all goes quiet. A moment later, he walks into the kitchen, keys in hand, and says calmly, "Found them."

Alternatively, you could get one of those key rings that beeps when you clap. That, or start thinking of your husband as a raving, condiment-and-fish loving lunatic.

After two years of exotic animal training, my marriage is far smoother, my husband much easier to love. I used to take his faults personally; his dirty clothes on the floor were an affront, a symbol of how he didn't care enough about me. But thinking of my husband as an exotic species gave me the distance I needed to consider our differences more objectively.
I adopted the trainers' motto: "It's never the animal's fault." When my training attempts failed, I didn't blame Scott. Rather, I brainstormed new strategies, thought up more incompatible behaviors and used smaller approximations. I dissected my own behavior, considered how my actions might inadvertently fuel his. I also accepted that some behaviors were too entrenched, too instinctive to train away. You can't stop a badger from digging, and you can't stop my husband from losing his wallet and keys.

On the other hand, Amy has trained Scott to shit outside the house, even when it's raining! So you take the good with the bad.

PROFESSIONALS talk of animals that understand training so well they eventually use it back on the trainer. My animal did the same. When the training techniques worked so beautifully, I couldn't resist telling my husband what I was up to. He wasn't offended, just amused. As I explained the techniques and terminology, he soaked it up. Far more than I realized.

[Translation: the bestiality conversation went well.]

Last fall, firmly in middle age, I learned that I needed braces. They were not only humiliating, but also excruciating. For weeks my gums, teeth, jaw and sinuses throbbed. I complained frequently and loudly. Scott assured me that I would become used to all the metal in my mouth. I did not.

One morning, as I launched into yet another tirade about how uncomfortable I was, Scott just looked at me blankly. He didn't say a word or acknowledge my rant in any way, not even with a nod.

I quickly ran out of steam and started to walk away. Then I realized what was happening, and I turned and asked, "Are you giving me an L. R. S.?" Silence. "You are, aren't you?"
He finally smiled, but his L. R. S. has already done the trick. He'd begun to train me, the American wife.

Given the popularity of this article, men have just been given carte blanche to ignore their wives and girlfriends whenver they complain of being in pain, under the theory that they are "giving them an LRS."

Amy Sutherland is the author of "Kicked, Bitten and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers" (Viking, June 2006). She lives in Boston and in Portland, Me. She recently separated from her eunuch of a husband, Scott, and is now dating a porpoise.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The last World Cup post

So the World Cup ended with an appropriately controversial twist: Zinadine "Jesus Christ" Zidane's impressive surprise-attack head butt in extra time overshadowed an exciting, well-played football game, that deservedly went to the Italians.

Speaking of surprising endings in soccer games, do you know that guy who speaks in the thick accent for the Nike "Joge Bonita" soccer ads? His name is Eric Cantona, he used to play for France (and Manchester United), and here's a YouTube of him flying into the stands to kick a fan. Play beautifully!

Friday, July 07, 2006

How excited am I to see this movie?

Answer: very f***king excited.


Ok, maybe slightly less excited after seeing this...

Random thoughts

So the blogging's been light this week, due to my weekend excursion to the Russian River Valley to celebrate the 4th of July. Catching up on the events of the week:

1. The North Korean missile test actually relieved, rather than agitated, me. The NK missile program appears to be in decline -- further evidence that diplomatic weapon sanctions programs actually work much better than I would have though. (Q.E.D., Iraq.) This won't stop us from pretending to be worried, of course, and nor should it; NK must face consequences for saber rattling. But the chances these dipshits have the bomb just got halved.

2. The Nathan's Hot Dog eating contest -- the Super Bowl event in the MLE (Major League of Eating) -- made for compelling television. While most of the attention went to Kobayashi, the 53 3/4 hot dog eating champion who's only loss in the MLE in the last year was to a 1,083 Kodiak bear, I was more interested in the 95 pound Japanese woman who had the intensity of a kamikaze pilot. If you'll excuse the analogy.

3. England blew a good chance to win the World Cup by shanking three penalty kicks. Italy's defense continues to dominate (they've conceded one "own goal" throughout the tournament, to the USA), and Christian Ronaldo will never be able to play in Britain again. Prediction: France loses on Sunday, final score 1-0.

4. Ken Lay's death surely was hastened by the thought of spending his remaining years in prison. It's a shame that so many people associate his name (and Jeff Skilling) with the destruction of Enron, when the real culprit was CFO Andy Fastow (who cut a deal to testify against Lay and Skilling).