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Five People Who Never Gave A F***

We all like to say it (with varying levels of profanity).  We all like to believe that we’re independent people who don’t care what others think.  And to some extent, I’m sure most of us are.  But to a similar extent, I’m sure most of us aren’t.  These five honorees are different.  They really don’t give a f***.  This is not to say that they are not admirable people.  Some of them are very admirable, others not so much.  Nonetheless, they are all largely indifferent to others’ opinions of them.

A quick note: Originally, this list had seven people.  But after thinking about it, I chose to omit Jim Brown and Gaetan Dugas, the Canadian flight attendant often referred to as Patient Zero for AIDS in America.  In Brown’s case, it was too complicated to justify his inclusion on the list.  While he didn’t care what society thought of him, he cared deeply about a lot of things.  So rather than writing a long explaination as to why this person who devoted much of his life to helping others still belonged on this list, I left Brown off completely.  Dugas lived it up in bathhouses across America long after discovering that he had AIDS.  Reportedly, he would even show sexual partners his sores and joke about how they might now have “gay cancer.”  Yeah, I know, really funny.  But on the other hand, the guy was dying.  It’s difficult to say whether this was his natural personality or some misguided coping mechanism.  So I decided that “Never Gave A F***” was a little harsh and left him off too.

The Criteria

  1. A person.  This eliminates the honey badger.
  2. The person did not care about society’s opinions of him/her or his/her own safety.  All of the listees had their passions.  It’s just that a good reputation was not one of them.
  3. The person is not simply crazy.  This is a judgment call.  None of the listees are exactly normal.  But in my judgment, they don’t cross the line into crazy.  Serial killers, homicidal dictators and people like Mike Tyson or Brittney Spears do cross that line.

With no further explanation needed, here are the five people who never gave a f***:

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Bernie Goetz, New York City Subway Vigilante

In 1980s New York, crime broke through the levees, pouring over the streets and past neighborhood borders, until it soaked the entire city.  People were getting mugged on Park Avenue, beaten in Central Park, shot in front of their homes and set on fire just about everywhere.  Still, no place exemplified the city’s lawlessness like the subway.  The Geneva Conventions didn’t even apply on the subway.  Packs of thugs beat old ladies for fun on the subway.  Yuppies got stabbed during rush hour on the subway – by other yuppies.  It was anarchy.  And then, amid the chaos, a hero emerged: a geeky electronics salesman named Bernard Goetz.  Goetz was shaped like a lamppost, with the narrow, bespectacled face and irritated demeanor of the loner in everyone’s building who always complains that tenants are violating the by-laws.  In 1981, fed up with an entire city that was violating the by-laws, Goetz bought a .38 Smith & Wesson.  This gun was with him on a late December afternoon three years later, when Goetz boarded a subway train at Manhattan’s 14th Street Station.  After taking a seat in a sparsely-populated section of the car, Goetz caught the eye of four young, African-American males.  All had criminal records and admitted later that they were on their way to steal coins out of video game machines (I’m serious).  Obviously, Goetz knew all of this the moment he saw them.  The four toughs blocked Goetz off from the rest of the car.  Then one of them “asked” him for $5.  In the years that followed, the young man would claim that he was only panhandling, which I guess is not as hard to believe as, say, that he was Scuba diving.  Over the next few minutes, the teens’ behavior got too aggressive for Bernie Goetz.  So he pulled his .38 and planted one bullet in each of them.  As the young men lay incapacitated on the floor, Goetz escaped the train and then the city, eventually landing in rural New Hampshire.  He would turn himself in three days later.  From that point forward, candor overcame him.  It began with Goetz’ decision to waive his right to counsel and offload a two hour monologue that must rank among the ten most honest statements in the history of American criminal justice.  The highlights: “The problem was that I ran out of bullets.” “My intention, you know, and I know this sounds horrible, but my intention was to murder them, to hurt them, to make them suffer as much as possible.” “I was gonna gouge one of their eyes out with my keys afterward.”  “I ran back to the first two, to make sure…that they’d been taken care of, and they had…”  At trial, Goetz’s lawyer kept him far away from the witness stand (though the jury did hear Goetz’s taped confession).  The deck was already stacked in Goetz’s favor.  In a city riddled with crime, eight of the twelve jurors had been victims themselves.  None of the four toughs testified.  So after a 6 week trial, the jury acquitted its beloved subway vigilante of attempted murder and assault, while reluctantly convicting him of gun possession.  Goetz served nine months in Rikers, where he really took to prison life.  Apparently, he made a friend that he only referred to as “Joe.”  Joe had nearly 100 documented assaults in New York jails alone.  According to Goetz, Joe was “quite intelligent,” and the two of them discussed astronomy and played chess.  Joe also protected Goetz.  It’s pretty clear that Goetz was Joe’s bitch.  A civil suit by Darrell Cabey, one of the injured teens, awaited Goetz on the outside.  This time Goetz had to testify.  He did not disappoint, answering all the basic questions with his trademark honesty.  Was he “being vicious” in the subway that day?  “Uh, yes.”  Now why did he think the victim (who was in court in a wheelchair) deserved to die?  “Because he was acting like an a*****e.”  But wait, Goetz didn’t actually think people deserved to die just for being a*****es, did he?  “Well, in many cases it would make the world a better place.”  The courtroom broke out in laughter, which didn’t affect Goetz one way or another.  He barely shrugged when the jury awarded Cabey $43 million.  Why not $100 million?  Goetz wasn’t going to pay any of it, and to this day, he hasn’t.  Today, the subway vigilante still lives in the same Manhattan neighborhood that spawned his midday shootout over 25 years ago.  He doesn’t go by an assumed name, and he doesn’t hide his address.  A few years ago, TMZ caught him walking to get something to eat, probably with a gun.  But the fact remains that no one, whether it’s TMZ, CMT or Seal Team 6, should go near Bernie Goetz.  We’re talking about a guy who will shoot four teenagers in the middle of Manhattan, tell the whole world every detail, call a guy in a wheelchair an a*****e in open court, shrug off a $43 million judgment and happily accept jail as an opportunity to play board games.  Get on the subway and go somewhere far away from him.

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Robert Bork, U.S. Supreme Court Nominee

In 1987, moments after President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork to the United States Supreme Court, Senator Ted Kennedy marched to the podium on the Senate floor and offered this even-tempered assessment:

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens. 

I certainly wouldn’t want someone like this on the Supreme Court, and I doubt Robert Bork would either.  And of course, that was the point of Kennedy’s speech. For the next three months, Democrats and liberal interest groups unleashed a public relations onslaught that painted Bork as Mussolini with less charisma.  While in its day, such a campaign was unprecedented, it has now become standard practice for Supreme Court nominations.  What has not become standard practice is Bork’s response.  Armed with his scraggly beard and demonic stare, Bork used his confirmation hearings to expose the senators’ intellectual shortcomings.  And of course, that was not the point of the hearings.  When a senator couldn’t understand an issue that Bork had clearly explained, Bork groaned and tried to correct him.  When a senator asked a dumb question, Bork sighed into the microphone.  Most of the questions were dumb, so there were a lot of sighs.  Sometimes, Bork laughed at the Senators or talked over them.  Other times, he belittled them.  In the following example, then-Senator Joe Biden cuts Bork off as Bork explains that a law banning advice about contraceptives would never be enforced:

BIDEN: [The police could get a warrant] if they had evidence a crime that a crime was being committed –

BORK:  How are they going to get evidence that a couple is using contraceptives?

BIDEN:  Wiretap.

BORK:  Wiretapping?

BIDEN:  Wiretap.

BORK:  You mean to say that a magistrate is going to authorize a wiretap to find out if a couple is going to use contraceptives?

BIDEN:  They could, could they not, under the law?

BORK:  [Laughs] Unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable…

This would not qualify as an attempt to win Biden’s confirmation vote.  It looks more like Bork trying to convince Biden that he has a dim mind, something the now-Vice President’s mind is still too dim to grasp.  The Senate rejected Bork’s nomination.  In fact, the real fight was over whether there would be a vote at all (never a good sign).  But defeat did not send the judge into hiding.  Three years later, Bork wrote a book outlining his conservative views on Constitutional law.  It concluded with three chapters where he took more shots at the senators who torpedoed his nomination.  In 1996, he wrote another book, delicately titled Slouching Toward Gomorrah, about the degradation of American culture.  The book begins with William Butler Yeats’ 1919 poem “The Second Coming,” about the approaching darkness of the next 2000 years and includes lines like this: “bored, affluent people in a society that no longer possesses the disciplinary tools of shame and stigma will indulge the most primitive human emotions.”  All of Bork’s books feature his infamous Lucifer-chic image, with the beard and the evil glare.  Bork has continued to criticize the Supreme Court and the nomination process.  Whenever a Republican president nominates someone to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, most of the television and print media turns to Bork for a comment.  His advice, which the nominees have followed for the most part, is to smile, tell some good-natured jokes and reveal as little about substantive legal issues as possible.  Inevitably, the reporter or commentator will ask why he thinks the nominee should depart so radically from the way Bork himself treated his hearings.  As if drunk on truth serum, Bork usually responds with something like, “Yes.  But the point now is just to get conservative judges confirmed.”


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R Kelly, Rapper

We pick up the R Kelly story in 2002, when he was 35 years old.  In February of that year, a home video surfaced showing Kelly having sex with and then urinating on a 14 year old girl.  The Cook County State’s Attorney was not aroused and charged Kelly with 21 crimes, including sex with a minor and child pornography.  While…Awaiting…Trial…the R wrote, produced and sang the following songs:

·         Playa’s Only

·         Girls Go Crazy

·         Hit it Til Mornin’

·         Sex Weed

·         (Sex) Love is What We Makin’

·         Get Dirty

·         Sex Planet

·         Crazy Night

·         Bangin’ the Headboard

·         Sex in the Kitchen (3 Versions)

So to recap, during this time, R Kelly devoted his professional life to bragging about acts that were ambiguously close to the ones that left him facing 15 years in prison.  It’s equivalent to O.J. Simpson doing infomercials for Jinsu Knives during his murder trial.  Of course the R got acquitted.  The jury had to think guilt was too obvious.  Most people would probably have trouble believing that a singer whose genre is best described as pornographic gospel would make a sex tape, in his own sauna, in his own house, with a 14 year old girl, and then consistently remind the public of it for the next six years.  Most defendants wouldn’t do that.  But then again, most defendants wouldn’t make this list. 

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Christopher Hitchens, English-American Writer/Political Commentator

Admittedly, Hitchens is an obscure choice.  But he is a deserved one.  As a writer, Hitchens’ style was biting, confrontational and drunk.  In addition to writing, his typical day consisted of a glass of Johnny Walker black in the late morning, at least half a bottle of red wine at lunch, and a mixture of the same at dinner.  Sometimes there was a “nightcap.”  Other times, Hitchens would return to his office and complete a piece of writing far beyond the talents of most sober people.  When asked why he drank so much, Hitchens replied, “People are too boring otherwise.”  “Boring” was an epithet no one ever heaved in Hitchens’ direction.  In print, he took swings at everybody.  Ronald Reagan was a “vile and stupid lizard.”  Howard Dean was a “raving lunatic.”  Hitchens’ own brother Peter, himself a noted writer, was “an idiot.”  Mother Teresa (Mother Teresa!) was a “fanatical, thieving Albanian dwarf.”  Politically, Hitchens’ views didn’t fit into standard categories, though he was fiercely loyal to his biases.  He hated religion, and he hated authoritarian governments.  Or as he might’ve described it, he hated religion because he hated authoritarian governments, going so far as to call God (God!) a “celestial North Korea.”  In fact, this distaste for the Almighty filled an entire one of Hitchens’ books, god is not Great.  The British royal family was another target.  When a BBC reporter covering Princess Diana’s PR tour of landmines commented “[Landmines] are easy to lay, but difficult and expensive to get rid of,” Hitchens quipped, “I can’t think of a better description of Prince Charles’ first wife.”  He opposed the Vietnam War but supported the Iraq War.  He cut down popular figures like Reagan and Bill Clinton, but praised unpopular ones like John Edwards and George W. Bush.  In 2007, Hitchens took on the entire female gender with his article “Why Aren’t Women Funny?”  While admitting that there were some decent female comedians, the article concluded that “most of them…when you come to review the situation, are hefty or dykey or Jewish or some combo of the three.”  This reckless spirit extended beyond the pages of Hitchens’ articles.  In the late 1980s, he hid author Salmon Rushdie in his apartment after the Ayatollah Khomeini ordered Rushdie’s death for his book The Satanic Verses.  Hitchens toured hell-holes like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and North Korea.  He even volunteered to be waterboarded.  It was a life lived without regard to the pitfalls.  But unfortunately, the pitfalls did come.  In June 2010, while giving a talk to promote his latest book, Hitchens excused himself, went behind the stage and began coughing up mounds of blood.  Later that day, doctors diagnosed him with Stage 4 esophageal cancer.  As Hitchens would later point out, “There is no Stage 5.”  Cancer ended his book tour (“I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus.  This advice seems persuasive to me.”).  But it did not end his writing.  During chemotherapy, he wrote a moving article on the experience called “The Topic of Cancer.”  Then after losing his voice, he added an article about the influence talking has on writing.  It should be required reading for every wannabe writer (and as a proud wannabe, I made sure to read it).  The ordeal lasted 18 months, until December 2011, when Hitchens finally got to stand before God and call him all those bad names to his face. 

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Zsa Zsa Gabor, Actress and Socialite

This woman is terrible.  And I don’t even need much to show it.  I don’t need to mention that she slapped a police officer, or that she drove away from him because, as she claimed, the officer’s invitation for her to “fuck off” meant she was free to leave.  I can also ignore the time she had to be removed from a Delta Airlines flight because she insisted that her shih tsu’s be allowed to roam free in the first class cabin.  In the same vein, I can ignore the $10 Million lawsuit that followed.  Gabor alleged that Delta did not treat her in a “first class manner.”  All they did was remove her from a plane.  I can disregard Gabor’s eight marriages too.  I can also disregard the one that had to be annulled because she was still technically in another one at the time.  Her longest and most substantive marriage is her current one, to German-born goofball Prinz Von Anhalt, who bragged that he fathered Anna Nicole Smith’s child while married to Gabor (this was false).  Gabor’s serial adultery is an unnecessary subject.  So I don’t need to bring up the time a reporter asked her how many husbands she’d had and Gabor replied, “You mean other than my own?”  All of the above incidents are superfluous, window dressing, piling on.  To show how much Zsa Zsa Gabor really sucks, I only need this:  In 1983, while doing a show recreating a character from one of her old Broadway plays, Gabor told the theater staff she would stop performing unless they moved a group of 16 handicapped people from the seats near the stage.  The “parapletics,” as Gabor later called them, were wheeled out of the theater, with some crying, and Gabor returned to the stage.  Gabor herself is now in a wheelchair.  And I can think of a few former fans who’d love the chance to wheel her out of life.

Seven Worst Fathers

First of all, Happy Fathers Day to all the fathers out there, the good ones, the bad ones and the millions in between.  While Fathers Day and Mothers Day are inventions, they are great inventions.  We should take a day (at least) to honor all they’ve done for us - both the stuff we see and the stuff we don’t. 

The influence parents have on our lives is massive.  And for that reason, this list will examine those fathers who could’ve done a better job - a much better job.  I would advise new fathers to read carefully, but if this list teaches you anything about parenting that you didn’t already know, your kids are doomed.

The Criteria:

1) A father

2) His failure related to parenting.  A father doesn’t make the list just because he was a bad person who set a bad example for his kids.

3) The father did not kill his kids (at least not directly).  The list is about parenting, not murder.

4) The father and/or the child is well known.

So here it is, the Seven Worst Fathers:

 

Joe Jackson, Father of singers Michael and Janet Jackson

One night, Joe Jackson came home from his job at a Gary, Indiana steel mill to discover that his 9 year old son Tito had broken a string on Joe’s guitar.  Joe beat him.  But before sending his son to bed, Joe asked him to play a few chords.  Noticing that the child had talent, he decided to form a singing group consisting of Tito and his other four sons – Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon and the youngest, Michael.  He taught his children work ethic by imprisoning them in the studio and forcing them to practice for hours.  He taught them discipline by beating them.  He took them to amusement parks, teaching them that kids will never talk about abuse as long as you take them for a ride on a merry-go-round.  He also beat them.  As the Jackson Five began to fade, Joe got Michael hormone treatments to keep his voice from changing.  This was a phenomenal decision that couldn’t have had anything to do with Michael becoming a genderless circus clown.  Later, after his sons had cut him out, Joe turned to managing his daughters LaToya and Janet.  Both achieved some notoriety, but only after they ditched Joe.  Janet hit it big as a singer while LaToya posed in Playboy twice, about which Chris Rock once asked, “Twice?  What did you have the second time that we hadn’t seen before?”  Joe would say that he saved his kids from a life of crime, drugs and poverty in Gary.  But those who know better (that would be everyone) will tell you that his parenting merely exchanged one trauma for another.  In fact, Joe was a worse father than Michael, and that would’ve been true even if Michael had dropped that kid from the balcony.

Philander Rodman, Father of Basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman

During his Hall of Fame induction speech, Dennis Rodman sarcastically thanked his father who had, according to Dennis, fathered 47 children.  This was a vile smear.  In reality, the aptly named Philander Rodman had only fathered 29 children by 16 different women.  Philander left Dennis and his mother when Dennis was three and moved to the Philippines.  There he opened a small bar that he still manages.  Philander would like to make it clear that he “didn’t leave Dennis; [he] left his mother.”  Running with that distinction, Philander has left a lot of people’s mothers.  He brags that 12 of his offspring have played professional basketball, though that can’t be verified because Philander doesn’t remember all of their names.  Making matters worse, 8 of the 29 are named Philander or some variation thereof.  So naturally, differentiating them could be confusing.  But Philander does remember the name of his youngest child, Pina Marie.  She’s named after a nearby volcano called Pinatubo, that erupted a week before she was born.  Of that eruption, Philander remarked, “What a night of lovemaking.”  It seems Philander was always better at that than he was at love-giving.  (I know that was a corny finisher).

Antonio Cromartie, Cornerback for the New York Jets

Just watch the clip.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHe1AT-rk50


Saddam Hussein, Former President of Iraq

Remember “Take Your Kid to Work Day?”  Saddam loved this idea.  So when he became President of Iraq and decided to purge the government of anyone who might challenge his authority, Saddam took his kids to work that day.  In a surreal scene, Saddam sat on the stage before the entire Iraqi parliament as his assistant read the names of suspected traitors.  As each name was read, Saddam’s henchmen pulled the person out of the room and dragged him to a patch of dirt behind the building.  There, Saddam’s sons Uday, age 14, and Qusay, age 12, shot him.  This kicked off a three decade period where Uday and Qusay treated an entire country like a game of “Grand Theft Auto.”  And it all began with Saddam’s horrible decision to bring his kids to work.  

Mohammed Bin Laden,
Founder of Bin Laden Construction and father of terrorist Osama Bin Laden

In the world of radical Islam, men who father numerous children with many different wives and spend hardly any time with most of them are called pious.  In the western world, they’re called deadbeats.  Osama grew up the child of a single mother, with a father he barely knew.  Now the psychological damage reaped upon children (especially sons) with absent fathers has been well-documented.  In many cases, these children feel like social outcasts.  They lack confidence.  They scour their worlds in search of identities, often channeling their lives toward unsavory organizations or ideologies.  So here’s what happened to Osama: He grew up shy, introverted and socially-challenged.  He was academically average.  This led him on a search for identity and a place where he fit in.  That identity was radical Islam and that place was al Qaeda.  This is not much different than fatherless American teenagers who join gangs.  In fact, eventually, Bin Laden led a gang.  Like gangs in America, Bin Laden’s gang killed people, sold drugs and terrorized innocents in their neighborhoods.  And like most gang members, Bin Laden’s life ended with him getting shot.  Think of how much different the world might have been if Mohammed had just played catch or hunted a few falcons with his son.

Marv Marinovich, Father of Former NFL Quarterback Todd Marinovich

Yeah, yeah, I saw the ESPN documentary.  I know he loves his son and his son loves him.  But he has to be on the list.  So I’ll stipulate that he was a well-intentioned failure rather than a self-centered ego-maniac.  For those who don’t know, Marv Marinovich was a former football player with a brief NFL career who turned himself into a strength and conditioning expert and his son Todd into a strength and conditioning lab rat.  Marv’s mission was to construct Todd into the next great quarterback.  It began shortly after birth, where Marv reached into Todd’s crib and stretched out his legs.  As Todd learned to walk, Marv forced him to go without a walker in order to improve his eye-hand coordination.  In high school, he kept Todd on a strict diet that excluded soft drinks, alcohol and famously, candy bars.  Along the way, Marv brought in countless experts to refine Todd’s throwing mechanics, understanding of defenses and footwork.  The plan nearly worked.  Todd Marinovich, known affectionately as the “Robo-QB,” became a high school All-American, two year starter at USC and a first round draft pick of the L.A. Raiders.  But he also became a drug addict.  It began in high school with pot.  In college, he added cocaine (out from under his father’s watch, Todd may have started eating candy bars too).  In the NFL, the Raiders tested him monthly for a long list of drugs.  But since the list didn’t include LSD or certain prescription meds, Todd did those.  He also did many of the drugs on the list. Two years and several failed tests later, the Raiders cut Todd, at which time he joined a band and began using heroin, more cocaine and different prescription meds.  Admirably, following jail and rehab, the “Robo-QB” got himself clean.  But the bumps along the way had to be painful.  And they didn’t exactly stem from a lack of parental supervision.

Joseph Kennedy, Sr.,
Former U.S. Ambassador and father of President John F. Kennedy, and Senators Bobby Kennedy and Ted Kennedy

When considering Joe Kennedy’s parenting, there’s a word that should keep bouncing into your mind: scars.  Sometimes, the scars were literal, as in the scars on daughter Rosemary’s head after Joe had her undergo a full-frontal lobotomy.  The surgery left her a vegetable for the remainder of her life.  But more often, the scars were figurative, like the damage from witnessing Joe’s serial adultery.  Joe’s roster of bedroom partners included actress Gloria Swanson, Joe’s personal secretary and on only nine occasions, Joe’s wife.  In some instances, Joe would take his nine children out to dinner with one of his mistresses while leaving their mother at home.  This spread a family tradition of infidelity down to the next generation, and eventually, the generation after that.  One of the Kennedy grandchildren even slept with his own kids’ babysitter.  And none of it would have been possible without Joe and his scars.

8 Early Peaks

To some degree, we all strive for improvement.  How many times have you heard a person say “I want to get better at ‘x’?”  Implicitly, this attitude is positive and hopeful.  To want to get better, we have to think it’s possible.  So by wanting to improve we’re deciding that our best days are in front of us, and all we need to do is find a way to reach them. 

But what if our best days aren’t in front of us?   What if we’ve reach our peaks?  While depressing, this stage is inevitable.  At some point we will be better at our jobs, the sports we play or just life in general, than we’re ever going to get.  It may happen the day before we die, or it may happen the day we’re born.  But it will happen.

The latest list honors those who peaked early.  This could be early in their careers or early in their lives.  The theme is that these honorees got good at something very early, only to watch their greatness escape back into the atmosphere.

Nonetheless, each listee had a wonderful period of awesomeness.  Here’s to hoping they enjoyed their best days.

Criteria

1.  A rapid rise to prominence.

2.  The rise occurred early in a time period, career, job or life.

3.  The rise in prominence was followed by a descent into oblivion, irrelevance, poor performance, ridicule, etc.

4.  The listee did not die while still prominent.  There has to be a fade.

5.  The listee was not a member of a boy band. That would be too easy and take up an entire list by itself.

6.  The same rule  applies to any person affiliated with the Mickey Mouse Club (Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, etc.), any reality TV star or any MTV VJ.

7.  The listee was not an athlete. I’d like to do a separate list just for athletes.

8.  The listee was in some way interesting. These are not necessarily the earliest peaks based on the sheer passage of time. They are early peaks that were striking.

So now you have it. In no particular order, here are 8 Early Peaks.

 

Spur Posse

For those unfamiliar, the Spur Posse was a clique of high school kids from a mall-centered California suburb, who bobbed into America’s sight line in 1993 when word got out that they used a point system to keep track of their sexual conquests.  The rules were basic: sleeping with a girl was one point.  Sleeping with her again was zero points.  Scores were discussed in code, where instead of telling a friend your point total, you would name an athlete who wore that number.  So for example, if you’d slept with 7 women you would say, “I’m John Elway,” who wore number 7.  While this makes the Spur Posse look like a bunch of cavemen, don’t be so narrow-minded as to think they were only about sex.  They explored topics like psychology (“I mean, look at us.  When we get dressed up, girls want it”), adolescent self-esteem (“I don’t think of myself as a normal person.  I think I’m a step above everyone else”) and marketing (“We’ve got a name.  That’s why you’re talking to us.  It’s all about brand names”).  Undoubtedly, this was what inspired Montel Williams, Jenny Jones and Maury Povich to book the Spurs.  As an aside, most of the group still holds a grudge against Povich, whom they claim lied by promising them 10 days in New York and two limos, gifts they admit Povich provided.  Of course, all this premarital sex incited roughly a million “What does this say about our values?” questions from the famously chaste American public.  But the Spurs stood their ground.  For example, when one of them was arrested for lewd conduct, his friends labeled the victim a “whore” and a “prostitute.”  She was 11.  The Spurs’ parents also came to their defense.  “These girls are trash!” one mother reasoned.  One father looked upon his shirtless sons with pride and said “aren’t they just virile young specimens?”  For a time, the Spurs popularity held up, and they continued to score points.  In high school, where the only thought in a guy’s brain is “sex” and the only thought in a girl’s brain is “I could maybe believe I’m an okay person,” this was not difficult.  But after graduation, the real world trounced the Spur Posse.  Virtually none of them went to college or worked steady jobs, and nearly a quarter have done time.  The coup de grace came a year after the story broke when Posse founder Dana Bellman was sentenced to 10 years in prison for burglary and fraud.  My guess is that Bellman didn’t realize how far he’d fallen until the cell doors opened after his first night in jail, and his cellmate stepped out into the hall and yelled “Now I’m Michael Irvin [#88]!” 

 

Knut the polar bear

This was the cutest, cuddliest bear in the whole world - a living, breathing stuffed animal.  As one observer noted, “Oh, he’s really cute.  He is a baby polar bear.  He’s very cute.”  People from almost every country dashed to the Berlin Zoo to see of this miracle polar bear, who was born in captivity, rejected by his mother, and nursed back to life by a zookeeper.  In those first few months of Knut, visitors numbered in the hundreds of thousands.  Knut merchandise sold so quickly that one had to think the shelves themselves were covered in a slick coat of ice.  The little bear even inspired a set of 25,000 commemorative coins from the German mint and several songs, including the chart-topper “Knut is Cute.”  Unfortunately, this yellow brick road of cuteness was headed for an immovable roadblock – Knut was a bear.  Bears grow up to become dangerous animals who don’t work well as pets – real or imagined.  After all, there is a reason zoos don’t let spectators walk into the polar bear enclosures.  So predictably, being cute and popular didn’t prevent Knut from growing into a giant, scary polar bear.  The fairy tale disintegrated shortly thereafter.  Knut became clumsy and aggressive and sometimes even got dirt on his soft white fur.  He also began to dislike human beings and his fellow polar bears.  He may have even disliked Noah Wylie.  Then, earlier this year, it all ended for good.  In front of a modest crowd of onlookers, Knut had a seizure and died.  In retrospect, this is probably what the public wishes would have happened back in 2006, when Knut still could have been converted into a reasonably-sized stuffed animal. 

D.A.R.E.

In 1984, LAPD Chief Daryl Gates founded Drug Abuse Resistance Education or D.A.R.E.  Typically, Gates handled public relations with a leaden touch.  This included the time he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that casual drug users were committing treason and should be shot, or his decision to name a new policing effort in high crime neighborhoods CRASH, Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums.  But initially at least, Gates hit it big with DARE.  The drug prevention program was all the rage in the 80s, when high school kids were getting unexplained bloody noses, and the White House was pushing its Just Say No campaign (which was really the “Just say, ‘No, I honestly do like Nancy Reagan’” campaign).  DARE officers were in every school.  Kids wore t-shirts promoting their dedication to the program.  They got diplomas for “graduating” from DARE.  Some kids even snitched on their drug-using parents.  DARE was the “it” middle school scare tactic.  But that changed quickly when a series of studies showed that DARE was completely ineffective.  In fact, some studies showed that rates of drug use increased at a higher rate among DARE students than they did among similarly-situated non-DARE students.  By 1998, the program had lost its federal funding and was effectively dead.  For his part, Gates didn’t last nearly that long.  On the first day of the LA Riots, Gates assured the public that he had the situation under control.  He then left for a charity fundraiser.  Two months later, Gates, like DARE and large clumps of Los Angeles, was finished.  

 

Francis Ford Coppola

At the age of 30, Coppola was chosen to write the script for an upcoming biopic about General George S. Patton.  The first draft included what just about everyone who read it thought was a bizzare opening scene where Patton stands in front of an American flag and gives an intense speech to his troops.  Obviously, the scene made it into the movie and, eventually, American cinematic history.  Patton earned Coppola his first Academy Award, for Best Original Screenplay.  In 1972, Coppola directed The Godfather, arguably the finest three hours of film ever produced.  The movie earned him another Academy Award, this time for Best Adapted Screenplay.  Two years later, he may have equaled it with The Godfather Part II, to this day, the greatest sequel of all time.  For this, Coppola won two more Academy Awards – Best Director and his second for Original Screenplay.  Simultaneously, Coppola directed The Conversation, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.  Then in 1979, for good measure, Coppola wrote and directed Apocalypse Now, which was nominated for 8 Academy Awards.   This was a strong resume for a man who had just turned 40.  And Coppola has spent the rest of his career trying to water it down.  Over the next 17 years, Coppola’s production company went bankrupt, he cast his 5 out of 10 daughter Sofia as Andy Garcia’s incestuous love interest in The Godfather Part III, and he directed stinkers like Hammett, One From the Heart and Rumble Fish.  In 1996, Coppola directed Jack, with Robin Williams cast as a kid who grows at an accelerated pace, and ends up graduating from high school looking like a broad-shouldered Martin Landau.  The film was somewhat fitting for Coppola’s career.  Like the mythical Jack, it accelerated into adulthood before fading into the grave just as fast.  

 

Detroit

In 1908, when Henry Ford invented the Model T, Detroit’s population was 465,000.  Twenty years later, it was 1.5 million.  By then, Detroit had culture, great sports, music, plenty of jobs, and most importantly, no crack cocaine.  But slowly, Americans started to think funny names like Toyota and Nissan were regular English words.  And by the time that feeling solidified, Detroit’s population was hemorrhaging.  The 1950 Census reported Detroit with a population of 1.8 million.  In 1990, that number was barely over a million.  This coincided with the arrival of the Chambers brothers, a group of entrepreneurial twenty-somethings from Arkansas who moved north with this crazy idea that they could sell crack by making the customers come to people’s houses.  This wasn’t as novel as it sounds, considering suburban women had been doing the same thing with Tupperware for 10 years.  Nonetheless, the “Crack House” was a big seller in Detroit, so much so that the people who didn’t like it felt no need to live in the city anymore.  By 2010, the population had dropped another 300,000 and the city was drenched in crime.  All told, in 80 years, Detroit went from the nation’s 4th largest city to its 18th.  The free fall will likely continue until fittingly, Detroit has as few people as Arkansas.   

 

Macaulay Culkin

This list could not be written without including Macaulay Culkin.  Uncle Buck put him on the map.  A year later, Home Alone made him the biggest deal in Hollywood.  A year after that, he got to be the ring-bearer when Randy Macho Man Savage married Miss Elizabeth.  Then he hit puberty.  From that point on, Culkin was never the same.  He divorced his parents, starred in The Good Son (“If I let you go, do you think you could fly?”), tried to reignite his career with Party Monster, and slept in Michael Jackson’s bed on a near-weekly basis.  Culkin also had his inevitable drug bust, where he was caught with marijuana and two prescription drugs (that weren’t prescribed to him).  The sentence was eventually suspended, unlike his career, which simply cratered.  

 

 

J.D. Salinger

At 32, J.D. Sallinger published his first book, The Catcher in the Rye.  It was a colossal hit.  Today, it remains one of the few books that all high school freshmen are required to read yet actually like.  Over the next 15 years, Salinger published 4 more works, his last coming in 1965.  So after that, what happened to J.D. Sallinger?  Well, nothing.  In one of the few instances where a person was content with an early peak, Sallinger retired to New Hampshire and wrote for the fun of it.  Every day, as if working a job, he got up to write at the same time and wrote for the same amount of hours.  Salinger claimed to have finished two novels during this time, neither of which he shared with anyone.  Sometimes, he convinced attractive female college students to come live with him by writing them letters, which I actually think is pretty cool.  But for the most part, Salinger just lived by himself in New Hampshire and wrote because he liked to do it.  To be honest, he was kind of a weirdo.

 

Mikael Gorbachev

This guy is still alive by the way.  That means Gorbachev, who at 54, was “elected” president of the world’s biggest badass, the Soviet Union, has been anonymous for the past 20 years and counting.  This is a shame because Gorbachev is a remarkable historical figure.  He is the only Soviet President to have been born after the Russian Revolution.  Yet he was the only one with the foresight to realize Communism had to reform or die.  He turned on his background and risked his political career and possibly his life to dismantle the most violent example of the most violent ideology the world has even seen.  Without Gorbachev, who knows how the globe would look right now?  Would there still be a Soviet Union?  Would the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall and the Warsaw Pact still exist?  Maybe.  After all, Red China is still around, though it’s more of a burnt orange now.  But today, for all I know, Gorbachev could be a butcher or an insurance salesman. (I realize that I could look this up and find out for sure, but that’s not the point).  We should have known Gorbachev would fade like this.  After all, at the moment the Soviet Union was crumbling, he was under house arrest, overshadowed by Boris Yeltsin, a long time opponent with the blood alcohol level of an MIT Freshman on the first Friday of the semester.  This was a cruel fate for a man who made significant historical contributions by only drinking power in moderation.

The Five Most Illogical Rewards (and One Illogical Punishment)

During an Ethics class my junior year of high school, the teacher introduced us to the stages in a human being’s moral development.  I don’t remember every stage, but I do remember one of the early ones: “Reward and Punishment.”  This stage teaches us right from wrong by rewarding the right and punishing the wrong.  To use a very basic example, when a baby tries to drink the dishwasher detergent and gets a spanking, the punishment teaches him that drinking dishwasher detergent must be bad. 

In reality though, this “reward and punishment” stage isn’t one we ever outgrow.  At our jobs, there are formal reprimands for poor performance and bonuses for good performance.  Homeowners are rewarded with tax breaks, while smokers are punished with sales taxes.  Society rewards its most generous with good citizenship awards and punishes its most dangerous with jail (somehow John Wayne Gacy got both).

Since rewards and punishments play such a big role in our lives, they seemed worthy of a list.  So this week’s post will highlight those times when the system breaks down – when the rewards and punishments don’t make sense.

Criteria

1.   A reward or punishment (without having to make too big of a leap to fit into either category)

2.   It is illogical in some way.  The important factor is the absence of logic or the fact something about it doesn’t make sense.  An illogical reward may still be appealing, and an illogical punishment may still be brutal. 

3.   It is illogical from the perspective of those offering or receiving the reward or punishment.  This means that it can’t simply be something that most people would think is stupid.  So for example, the Green Jacket is not an illogical reward for winning the Masters just because you can buy a jacket that looks just as good at a local Nordstrom’s.  It means something to both the people vying for it and the people giving it out. 

With that overly complicated description out of the way, in no particular order, here are the 5 Most Illogical Rewards (and 1 Illogical Punishment): 

 

Terrorist “Martyrs” Get 72 Virgins

For years, this has been the carrot that Islamic terrorist organizations dangle in front of their followers – die killing the infidels and you will be transported to heaven, where 72 virgins await.  At best, this is a mixed message.  These organizations instruct their followers to lead clean, holy lives – no drinking, no premarital sex and, really, no fun of any kind.  In fact, these virtues are so important that true believers must kill anyone who doesn’t abide by them, especially the sinful westerners.  And once they’ve given their lives in this holiest of causes, God will reward them with…a wildly sinful orgy, consisting of fluffy clouds (not cloud-like pillows, but the real thing) and 72 women who are almost certainly underage.  Instantly, God has gone from divine moral teacher to one of those Russian oligarchs whose henchmen lure girls into the sex trade with promises of steady work at a Walgreens in Detroit.  Why does this fantasy stop with women?  Couldn’t we add drugs and maybe unhealthy food?  If the guy is already dead, what’s the risk?  Then there are the unanswered questions.  For example, if I martyr myself in Thailand, are the women even younger?  If the martyr is a woman, does she get a bunch of teenage boys with braces?  Or does she have to go girl-on-girl, in which case the male martyrs couldn’t possibly be restricted from watching?  This is heaven after all.  None of this makes any sense.  Regardless of one’s moral views, God has to be consistent.  He can’t run a convent one minute and a brothel the next.

 

Flag Duty in the Civil War

There’s a scene in the Civil War movie Glory where Matthew Broderick walks up to Denzel Washington and commends him for fighting bravely in the previous day’s battle.  To reward Washington’s heroism, Broderick offers him the honor of carrying the flag in the next battle.  Understandably skeptical, Denzel declines.  Why wouldn’t he decline?  The guy with the flag stands at the front of the formation.  He has no weapon, no one in front of him to shield the bullets and a big, arrogant flag taunting the enemy.  Basically, this “honor” turns the bravest soldier into a defenseless asshole, in the process, making him the most likely guy to get killed.  This isn’t just illogical from the soldier’s perspective.  By rewarding their bravery with flag duty, the army takes the gun out of its best soldiers’ hands.  This would be like the Packers rewarding Aaron Rodgers stellar quarterback play with the honor of letting him serve as the mascot for the playoffs.  Evidently, the military saw the folly in this tradition and quietly let it expire.

Marble in the Oatmeal, Drink from the Fire Hose.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXc5ltzKq3Y

Watch the link.  I can’t explain any part of this one.

 

Drown Your Sorrows

When people go through a rough time, they often decide to sweep their pain away with alcohol.  In other words, they’ve had a depressing day so they solve it with a depressant.  So when they wake up the morning after, they are more depressed and they’ve added a hangover.  We need to think about this.  If you’re grandmother dies, and you drink your ass off at the post-funeral reception, she’s still going to be dead when you sober up.  But you’ll be in a deeper emotional pit, with the added benefit of nausea.  The same applies to difficult moments in your own life.  Tomorrow morning, you will still be dumped, fired, the prime suspect in a string of armed robberies or whatever other misfortune you thought you drank away.  So do cocaine.  Do heroin.  Play with matches.  Just don’t drink.

 

Tips

Let me preface this by saying that, technically, tips are a logical reward.  If a waiter provides better service, theoretically, he will earn a better tip.  In turn, this will encourage further good service.  Sounds logical.  But in practice, the system has morphed into something different and entirely illogical.  Instead, each bill comes with an automatic 20% plus however many cents are needed to get to a round number and prevent the customer from seeming finicky.  Unless the waiter licks my food while glaring me in the eye just to make sure I know he did it deliberately, I’m going to leave 20% and probably a little more.  If the waiter seems inexperienced, and screws up because of it, I’m still going to leave 20% because I don’t want to be a jerk.  If the waiter is really, really good, I’m going to leave 20% because I won’t notice him that much and therefore, won’t think about whether I should leave more.  Why can’t the restaurant simply add 20% to every item on the menu and put the extra money into the server’s wages.  Tips don’t encourage anything except basic math skills from the customers.

 

Recess Detention (Punishment)

In most American grade schools, kids get roughly 20 minutes of recess a day – so about 10 minutes less than inmates at a Super Max prison.  Often, when a kid misbehaves - and this could mean he’s too exuberant, too violent, too disrespectful or a host of other things - teachers will slap him with recess detention.  Theoretically, the child will miss recess so much that he will think twice before misbehaving again.  This assumes kids are guided by rationality.  More likely, because these are kids, whatever excess energy or anger that led to the recess detention will have no outlet until it spills out again during class.  This will lead to another recess detention, probably followed by an after school detention, which will suppress even more of these child-like emotions and keep the vicious cycle turning.  I refuse to believe there is not a better way.

8 Things About the Penn State Scandal I Want to Discuss

With this week’s list, I’ve decided to address a serious subject – child sexual abuse.  Part of my reason is that approximately every other article I’ve read in the last 14 days assumes I don’t actually know this subject is serious.  But the other reason is that I have a serious side, and I like to let it out occasionally. [NOTE: In the future, you will be able to tell a post is serious because it won’t have pictures.]  

And that brings us to the list.  As many of these scandals go, commentary on the Penn State Scandal has saturated the public with a few issues, while providing virtually nothing on several others.  Believing the media and the blogosphere can commit no greater sin than under-discussing an issue, I’ve devoted this week’s list to 8 aspects of the Penn State scandal that I wanted to hear more about.  Up front, you should all know that some of these comments will not have concrete evidence supporting them. 

Criteria

  1. I thought the issue was interesting, important or strange.
  2. I read less than 2 articles about it.

In no particular order, the 8 Things About the Penn State Scandal I Want to Discuss:

The Sickest Mile

To me, the vow of celibacy taken by Catholic priests offers too enticing an incentive for young men with sexual issues they’d like to bury.  A person could easily believe that celibacy removes his disturbing urges by eliminating sexuality altogether.  As the Church’s sex scandal has shown us, burying dangerous tenancies is bad enough.  Well, Jerry Sandusky fed his.  Knowing he was attracted to young boys, Sandusky essentially set up the Second Mile charity to recruit the most ideal victims.  For example, Second Mile worked with boys who lacked a strong male presence in their lives.  This allowed Sandusky to assume that role.  The charity also worked with boys from broken homes.  This made it less likely that an involved parent would spot signs of abuse.  It also made it less likely a victim would feel comfortable enough with his parents to go to them after being abused.  In fact, the two times Sandusky was investigated, it happened when the victims did appear to have an involved parent.  Sandusky’s Second Mile charity elevates him to a rare level of sickness, far beyond most pedophiles.

Red-Hair is the only thing Mike McQueary has in Common with the Devil

I’m assuming here that McQueary did nothing to stop the 2002 rape.  I take no position on whether that’s true because it has little to do with my point.  Ask anyone on the street whether they’d do whatever they could to break up the rape of a 10 year-old boy, and the ones who say no are being sarcastic.  Yet listening to some in the media (and the Pennsylvania Governor), one would think that, when confronted with this very event, McQueary was such a deviant that he shrugged his shoulders, grabbed his recruiting tapes and scurried out as if he’d just walked in on his roommate having sex with a freshman.  Or maybe this big former Penn State quarterback, who stood in the pocket against 300 pound defenders, simply chickened out, too afraid that a guy who wasn’t on the staff anymore would threaten his job.  I buy none of this.  It was 9:30 pm during the offseason when McQueary went to that building to get his recruiting tapes.  He did not expect to see even one person.  Instead, he encountered a Penn State coaching legend raping a 10 year-old boy.  That may rank as the very last thing he expected.  I direct you to ESPN’s article two days ago about McQueary. http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/7237700/in-penn-state-child-sexual-abuse-scandal-there-no-easy-answers-assistant-mike-mcquearyJane Turner, a former FBI psychological profiler and whistleblower herself, noted that the average person (thankfully) has never seen a grown man having sex with a boy, even in a picture.  Now, totally unprepared, McQueary encounters this in real life.  Turner tells us that, not surprisingly, when confronted with these kinds of situations, most people will go into shock.  Add to that the immediate and overwhelming disgust McQueary must have felt, and I can’t fault him if he froze, or passed out, or ran 10 miles away from the builidng and threw up. Look, if I’d been in McQueary’s shoes, I’d love to think I would have charged into the shower and beaten Sandusky into the ground.  But neither I nor anyone else can predict how we would’ve reacted.

A Picture Equals 999 More Words than an Actual Word

In 2002, when Mike McQueary came to Joe Paterno’s house to tell him what he had seen in the showers the night before, he may have told him that it was a rape.  Others claim McQueary said only that there was “fondling” or “touching” or “something inappropriate.”  Why should this matter?  According to McQueary, he did actually see Sandusky raping a 10 year-old boy, and regardless of the words he chose, his demeanor probably reflected that.  So despite having lost a step mentally, I think Paterno can still figure out that, when a disturbed graduate assistant makes a random appointment to see him in the offseason, the allegations are a big deal.  This sense of doom makes the actual words out of McQueary’s mouth irrelevant. 

Paterno Had to Have Known about the 1998 investigation

Joe Paterno is the most powerful person at Penn State and maybe in the entire county.  In 1998, his top assistant was accused of showering nude with a pre-teen boy in the Penn State Football Building.  The police conducted a thorough investigation.  How do we know it was thorough?  Because the lead investigator said he believed the kid was molested but couldn’t uncover enough evidence to prosecute.  I can’t imagine a detective believes a kid was sexually abused and doesn’t exhaust every possible source of information.  This would probably include interviewing the man in charge of the building where the kid was molested, right?  And even if it didn’t, how could the police conduct any investigation, thorough or otherwise, without interviewing people within the Penn State Football program?  So even if the police didn’t want to bother Paterno, at the least, they would need to interview other assistants and probably some players.  Think about it.  If I wanted to know if a kid was molested in the Penn State Football Building, wouldn’t I have to talk to people who are in the building every day and ask them if they’ve seen Sandusky in the locker room or the showers with an underage boy?  If I were looking for witnesses, wouldn’t I ask the players or coaches who are in the vicinity of the crime scene on a daily basis?  Undoubtedly, this would get back to Paterno.  In fact, keeping this from Paterno would require a town-wide conspiracy.  So in 2002, when McQueary ran to Paterno with new allegations that Sandusky was a pedophile, it couldn’t have been the first time Paterno heard something like that.

Smart Move that Won’t Make a Difference

In many instances, a lawyer would be taking a big risk letting a client facing serious accusations give a prime time interview on NBC.  But I almost think Sandusky’s lawyer, Joseph Amendola, had to do it.  From his perspective, he needed people to hear his client’s voice and see that his client was a human being.  Amendola also needed to discuss some of the evidence and witnesses he supposedly has to aid Sandusky’s defense.  Amendola obviously prepared his client well, and though Sandusky did not approach believable, he did come across as less of a demon than before he went on camera.  So caught in a tough spot, in a case where he will likely settle or lose, the lawyer made a good call.

I’m Hearing the Word “Horse” Way Too Much

Sandusky said “horse-play” or “horsing around” several times during his interview with Bob Costas.  I’ve heard this from others characterizing what McQueary told Paterno.  For some reason, these terms sound very dirty, and people need to stop using them.

Catch Pedophilia Early

During this scandal, we’ve heard little about prevention.  And the little we have heard has been advice to third parties – parents, coaches, school officials – to report possible abuse when they see it.  This doesn’t get to the problem’s root – the molesters themselves.  We cannot expect the criminal justice system to act as a deterrent to pedophilia.  Pedophilia is a form of sexual attraction, and sooner or later, it will be expressed.  A person attracted to 10 year-old boys will eventually risk significant jail time to satisfy that urge.  Really consider whether jail time could make you give up your sexual attraction for life.  To me, any system of prevention must include early identification and treatment of pedophiles.  And by treatment, I’m talking about the most aggressive means necessary (within debatable ethical bounds), up to and including voluntary castration.  The message should be this: If you’re 25 and you notice you’re attracted to 10 year old boys, tell a therapist and get help.  If you don’t, and you act on that attraction, society will to be unforgiving

Surprisingly, Everyone Thinks Child Sexual Abuse is Bad

This reminds me of a law school class where everyone wanted to make clear how vehemently they opposed slavery.  The idea is to demonstrate your morality by using the harshest terms possible to condemn something the entire world thinks is immoral.  These past two weeks, I’ve learned that writers from every state and Canada believe that making football games a higher priority than child sexual abuse is wrong.  That’s a very tough moral stance, and yet another example of how many newspapers believe the best way out of their financial sinkholes is to produce brainless writing.

The Six Most Influential “Guys Behind The Guy”

Anyone who has seen enough Mafia films is familiar with the fabled “Guy Behind The Guy” - a man so powerful that he controls the entire organization without ever needing to show his face.  You thought the guy in the fancy suit with the ring everyone kisses was the biggest of the big shots?  Well, there’s actually someone more powerful than him who you’ll never even get to see.

This list honors the six most influential “Guys Behind The Guy.”  To be fair, one of them is a woman, but the title refers more to a position than a gender.  You may also notice that there are a few nice mustaches among the honorees.  The “Best Mustaches” list will be a later post.

  The criteria:

1.  A very influential role in a well-known organization and/or event.

2.  A lower profile than the perceived (or actual) leaders of that organization or event.

3.  Some kind of interesting quality.

So here goes.  In no particular order, the Six Most Influential “Guys Behind The Guy.”

    Todd Palin – Former “First Dude” of Alaska 

Known as the “Iron Dog,” Palin has run the state of Alaska and his wife’s media juggernaut from beneath his cover as a poker-faced steel worker and dogsledder.  My enduring image of the Iron Dog will be him looking down on his wife, calmly nodding as she gave her speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention.  His expression said, “You’re good so far, but don’t even think about going off-script.”  In 2010, Alaska released more than 12,000 emails from Palin to state officials addressing a wide swath of policy issues, including political appointees, the budget and oil and gas production.  The state withheld the remaining emails based on executive privilege, claiming Palin was an unpaid executive branch employee.  But while it is true the Iron Dog never earned a salary, his wealth of mind-control was payment enough.

        

Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti - Presidential Secretary to Sadaam Hussein

Mahmud is literally the guy behind the guy, as he often stood directly behind Sadaam Hussein in those grainy videos of Sadaam’s cabinet meetings.  If he did say anything, it was likely hidden behind his thick push-broom of a mustache.  Yet to many in the know, Mahmud was the person Sadaam trusted most, a position Sadaam’s son Uday abandoned in 1988 when he bludgeoned the family’s food taster to death in the middle of a crowded party (Ouch!).  Mahmud handled a lot: access to Sadaam, security for Sadaam, subjugation and torture of Iraqi citizens, and large portions of Iraq’s illicit weapons program.  This prolific career of thuggery earned him the ace of diamonds on the U.S. military’s playing cards following the 2003 invasion and, in October 2010, a death sentence from the Iraqi High Tribunal.  

    

Pol Pot - Former Dictator of Cambodia and Genocidal Monster

If Pol Pot had gotten his way, no one would have known he was ruling Cambodia.  When the Khmer Rouge gave press conferences during the early stages of its reign, Pot stood off to the speaker’s far right, blending in with the movements’ hangers-on and posers.  By 1976, Communist Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge’s only friend, told the deranged dictator what by then should have been obvious – this was absurd.  When I think about what the Vietnamese envoy said, I imagine the conversation went something like this: “Just stop it, okay?  It was a little funny the first time, but now it’s just stupid.”  Pot compromised.  He agreed to tell Cambodians he was their leader in exchange for getting to expel each and every person from Cambodia’s cities and eliminate all technological advancements from the previous 700 years in an attempt to return Cambodia to its golden age of the 13th Century.  This was a lop-sided deal.

     

Ruth Roper - Mike Tyson’s Ex-Mother-in-Law

When her daughter, Robin Givens, enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College, Roper said that she hoped Robin would “meet a rich man.”  So one can imagine how giddy Roper was in 1986 when her daughter met and married a wealthy 21 year-old socialite named Mike Tyson.  Though he had a fortune at the time, everyone knew that Tyson would be broke by 35.  And for two years, Roper ran neck-and-neck with Don King in the race to see who could do more to make that happen.  While Givens and Tyson were married, Roper treated Tyson with the type of love pimps usually reserve for their hookers.  According to a friend of Roper’s, she “spent her time bathing [Tyson], combing his hair, making sure he was dressed properly, making sure his shoes were tied.”  What she did not do was advise Tyson to sign a prenuptial agreement.  This ended up making a difference.  The series finale of Head of the Class marked a rocky period in Tyson and Givens relationship, which included spousal abuse and Tyson’s excessive use of the “c” word (the second part was justified by the way).  The resulting divorce earned Givens (and Roper) a $10 million settlement.  

   

Buddy Ryan - Defensive Coordinator 1985 Chicago Bears

If you think Mike Ditka led the ‘85 Bears to the Super Bowl title, you’re half-right.  When he was hired, Ryan reported directly to George Halas.  Ditka took the job with that understanding.  The story checks out.  Ditka once poked his head into a defensive meeting, only to have Ryan throw erasers and f-bombs at him until some of the defensive players escorted Ditka from the room.  Later in the year, when the Bears were throttling the Dallas Cowboys, Ditka told Ryan that the Bears were going to back off and not embarrass Ditka mentor and Dallas Head Coach Tom Landry.  Ryan said no.  Ditka told Ryan he was serious.  Ryan told Ditka to “fuck himself.”  The starters never came out, and the Bears mauled the Cowboys 44-0.  This was an iconic team’s first iconic win.  And it was made possible by a malcontent assistant coach with a recessive foot-fetish gene.  No one was surprised when the Bears carried both Ryan and Ditka off the field after winning Super Bowl XX.

   

Victor Conte - Owner and Founder of BALCO Lab

In the 16th Century, Ponce de Leon set out for America, hoping to find the fountain of youth.  He found Florida, which is sort of the opposite.  But nearly 400 years later, Victor Conte had better luck.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, drugs from Conte’s BALCO lab helped aging athletes like baseball slugger Barry Bonds, middle-distance runner Regina Jacobs and linebacker Bill Romanowski experience career Renaissances.  BALCO also turned mediocre sprinter Tim Montgomery into a world record holder and elite sprinter Marion Jones into the mother of Montgomery’s son.  The drugs went by cool names like the “Cream” and the “Clear.”  And they remained undetected until 2003, when now-disgraced track and field coach Trevor Graham anonymously sent a syringe to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.  Conte ended up doing time in prison and has now resurfaced as a reformed doper, training athletes to excel through clean methods.  But man, what a legacy!

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