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Author: Briggs

June 14, 2009 | 4 Comments

Derek Jeter’s Tailor in trouble with the law

The story is confusing, but Derek Jeter’s tailor is having legal difficulties.

Derek Jeter suit

Either Ramchandani, who is the tailor, or one of his ex-pupils is having immigration troubles. Judging by the picture, I am not surprised.


I am off to Cornell for two weeks to teach. Postings will be somewhat slow in appearing during this time.

June 11, 2009 | 46 Comments

On tolerance

Conversation was thick at the Cigar Inn today. Mostly over lunatic James W. von Brunnm who walked into Washington, D.C.’s Holocaust museum and murdered guard Stephen T. Johns, who had the bad luck to be on duty. von Brunn was shot, but unfortunately he is still alive. Word is that he is in critical condition, so there is still a chance for justice to take place.

Irv Levine (we call him Lefty because he always grips his butts with his left thumb and pinkie) was holding forth, as usual, but with special passion today, as you might imagine. He raised his Cohiba to his lips, which engulfed the cigar. He was so near apoplexy that he forgot to light it.

“What galls me is that it happened in a place whose entire purpose is to teach tolerance and acceptance of other people’s views.”

“You mean,” I chimed in, “that we should tolerate and respect beliefs other than ours?”

“Exactly. Especially if they’re different.”

“What if those beliefs include the thought that all Jews are evil and should be shot inside museums?”

Lefty didn’t answer and silently chewed on his cigar, glowering.

Finally Bob Greene laughed. “He’s got you, Lefty. All that tobacco smoke has had its way with your noodle. You’re not thinking straight.” Greene didn’t smoke, but the Cigar Inn was close to his corner on 72nd street, where he distributed literature and tried to win converts for The Earth is Doomed. When the action was light, he wandered in and vainly warned us of the dangers of smoking.

“You just never understood, Lefty. Some opinions are so wrong that they just can’t be tolerated.” He waved some non-existent smoke from his face. “You should know that better than anybody.”

“You heard about this “Insolent Braggart” guy, Greene? A blogger who said that people who don’t believe that global warming will be that harmful should be jailed or executed.”

“Global warming is serious business. The Earth is in peril and if we don’t do something now, the end could be near.”

“Maybe so. But I heard Dr. X and others are bandying about words like ‘treason’ and ‘traitorous’ for anyone holding a skeptical view. That the way you see it?”


“And traitors should certainly be jailed, maybe even executed, right?”

“I wouldn’t say…”

Lefty chimed in, “Hey, Greene, how about gassing the skeptics? That outta teach ’em.” He had his cigar lit by this time and blew a choking blue ring towards Greene.

While this was happening, Lefty’s wife Dorothy came in, as she frequently did, to let him know it was time to leave. Lefty refused to carry a cell phone, but he was found easily, as he was either here or at Finnegan’s Wake soaking up a beer.

“Now just you start being nice,” she said. “You shouldn’t talk like that.”

Lefty mumbled a barely audible, “He started it.” Then louder, “I’m not ready” holding up his cigar to show it had barely burned. Dorothy rolled her eyes and looked at her watch.

The TV was on a news channel and a picture of Sarah Palin appeared. Dorothy, already primed to be upset, said, “I can’t stand that woman!”

“I don’t know,” I said, “she’s pretty hot for a governor.”

Greene, whose eyes were tearing from the smoke, added, “She’s evil.”

I said, “I heard that David Letterman made a joke about one of the Obamas’ kid, one of the little girls. They brought the girls when they visited the city last week. Letterman said, ‘One awkward moment for Michelle Obama at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.'”

“WHAT!” Dorothy screamed, “THERE IS NO WAY HE SAID THAT!” She stood over my chair and thrust her finger right at my head. Dorothy was a big Obama supporter and active in women’s rights.

“Yeah, statutory rape is hilarious isn’t it?”

But before she could jump down my throat, I held up my hands and said, “No, you’re right. Just kidding. Letterman actually said it about Sarah Palin’s 14-year old daughter.”

Lefty smiled but kept quiet. Dorothy looked like she had just been asked an algebra question and had her foot stepped on at the same time.

“I think Letterman was irked that Palin wouldn’t come on his show so he could make fun of her in person.”

“Wait a minute,” said Greene. “I heard about this. Letterman later said he meant Palin’s 18-year old daughter and not her 14-year old daughter.”

“Oh, that makes a big difference,” said Lefty.

“Letterman lied,” I countered. “The man’s entire career has been devoted to inane chitchat with half-rate actors and actresses. There can’t be much left upstairs. What else could he think of saying?”

Dorothy had recovered her composure. “Let’s go, Irv. Right now.”

As she was picking up his raincoat, I said, “Slutty flight attendant.”

Luckily, Lefty had stood up to put out his cigar and was able to stop Dorothy from gouging out my eyes.

“Not you. Letterman also said Palin looked like a ‘slutty flight attendant.'”

“NOW, Irv.” Lefty put on his coat. Dorothy marched out the store, Greene trailing behind her, late for his shift. Lefty took another glance at the television and said, “She don’t look bad at that.”

I nodded. “That’s tolerance what is all about.”

June 9, 2009 | 16 Comments

Reasons the Apocalypse is not near

For reasons that are obvious to all, I have have been studying the imminent arrival of the apocalypse. Whether you are a Christian millenarian, or you thought the Mayans were on to something with 2012, or you are a Buddhist awaiting Maitreya, most indications are that we are going to hell in a handbasket.

This is a metaphor I have never entirely understood, incidentally, because I have always pictured handbaskets as something one takes on a picnic or leisurely stroll. But we must respect our elders.

Riding the dreaded F train regularly is enough for anybody to think that The End Is Near, so I have tried to be careful to look for signs elsewhere to avoid bias. And, lo, there was no shortage. Wars and rumors of wars abound.

My new hat
But just when I was convinced that I should take to the hills, small signs began to appear that Gave Me Hope.

Here is my list. What’s yours?

  • I saw a young man (wearing jeans but had no TSD) reading an Alexander Kent novel. I spoke with him and, yes, he revered O’Brian. This young man will go far.
  • Reports are that several new gins are coming to market. As Stan the Man would quip, ’nuff said.
  • A confluence of flappers and zombies occurred this weekend at Governor’s Island, in the New York Harbor. This is true. I was there and saw it. And as I gazed, I consumed several St. Germaine cocktails and heard the best ever rendition of Red, Red Robin, a song I thought previously was for kids. Nelson Riddle was right: it’s all in the arrangement.
  • A juicy thunderstorm shot through Manhattan last night, and another is on its way.
  • Roger Scruton fights back! (from A&LD, ‘natch) “Only comparative judgments are acceptable [at university courses on music], and the comparison has to be between one piece of pop music and another. This is in fact an interesting exercise. You can learn a lot from comparing Peter Gabriel and the Kooks which you probably will not learn from comparing Bach and Vivaldi—a lot about the varied forms of self-indulgence in music, and the many ways of failing to make voice-led harmonies or melodies that are capable of prolongation. But you are not allowed to judge.”
  • My Montecristi Fedora from Panama Hats Direct will soon be here, direct from Ecuador. It will go beautifully with my new cream linen suit.
  • Bank robber falls and dies leaping from train platform in chase “He didn’t come close.”
June 8, 2009 | 28 Comments

The Noble Savage Altruistic Warrior

Constant Battles War Before Civilization

There is a charming myth among idealists that before industrialization and its accoutrements, such as patriarchy and pollution, mankind lived an entirely peaceful existence. That is, there was no war.

Man was a “noble savage” before the military-industrial complex reared its warheads. The mealy philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, while not originating the term, promulgated the belief that civilization corrupts. No cities, no swords.

Rousseau was a Christian and he had, had he not?, scriptural support for his view. But he never had history on his side. Nor do his modern contemporaries who claim that humans lived “in harmony” with nature, and were kind and tolerant of one another, and claimed no private property. To idealists, war is a modern invention purely the result of capitalism.

This view has always been nuts because there has never been evidence that mankind was ever peaceful. Idealists never tried refuting arguments against their position. The noble savage was simply true, and so obviously true that history need not be consulted. So history was ignored.

But not by Steven Le Blanc and Katherine Register who wrote Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage, and Lawrence Keeley who wrote War before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage (the subtitle trend says a lot). These authors took on the tedious and depressing job of showing that, yes, mankind has a recalcitrant violent streak and rarely passes an opportunity to bonk a perceived enemy on the head for even the slightest provocation.

The empirical fact of human belligerence, besides destroying communistic idealism, is also seemingly at war with altruism and the science of evolution. Why would a soldier fight and risk losing his selfish genes? Why would another leap onto a grenade? We know Rousseau’s (Christian) answer, but the evolutionist is in a pickle. He wants to say “altruism”, but then he knows altruism is a “problem”.

This is because strict Darwinian interpretations of human behavior dictate that there should be no altruism: no adoptions, no charity, no doctors, no soldiers, no voluntary celibacy (priests, monks, nuns), no pro bono. David Stove, in Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity, and Other Fables of Evolution points out that humans are obviously altruistic and shows why the strict theory of evolution in the case of humans is flawed (NOTE: in no way does Stove argue evolution is false—he accepts, as I do, evolution—he only argues that the theory, like many theories in science, is so far incomplete).
Darwinian Fairytales

The first theory to attempt to solve the “altruism problem” was Hamilton’s reciprocal altruism, a flawed—which is to say false—theory of the evolution of altruism. It is a mathematical model that mandates that if you have a choice between saving your own child or five first-cousins, you will choose the cousins because there is a larger share of your genes in those five people than in your son (I might have the math wrong: it could be seven second cousins; my summary, however, is correct; the theory says you’d also save a second cousin over a wife or an aged parent).

A somewhat more complicated extension of the reciprocity argument contends that war could never exist (note: not that it should not exist, but that it could not; think of all those enemy genes being destroyed, most of which are shared by you). There are other well known flaws, the most damning is that Hamilton’s theory does not say how altruism could have evolved in the first place (some argue that it can answer this). In any case, there is discontent with the theory.

Samuel Bowles, an evolutionary biologist, has a rival theory (story from the indispensable Arts & Letter Daily). As the human population grew, separate clans began to meet, occasions which were not always jolly and during which bloodshed occurred. Disputes arose over the most common things: access to food, water, and mates.

These battles forced people to coalesce in their groupings which naturally contained more shared genes than the folks on the other side of the river. One way to look at this puts human evolution in part on the social or group level and not entirely at the individual one because altruism is in part an instinctive behavior an not entirely culturally learned. Not everybody agrees with that idea, however.

But it’s not a ridiculous notion, either. For example, thinking along those lines makes explanations of the universal taboo against incest easier to explain (taboos that existed before genetics was known). What better way to propagate your selfish genes than by marrying your sister? The fact that we don’t, and the obvious existence of altruism and bizarre behavior like suicide, means the Darwinian picture is still a little blurred.