Sunday, January 29, 2006

Put the Blame Where the Blame Belongs

Iranian President Ahmadinejad expressing support and loyalty to the Iranian "supreme" leader Kahmanei
Source: Wikipedia, photographer un-attributed

Yesterday the following article by Hossein Derekhshan, Democracy's Double Standard appeared in the Op-Ed section of the NY Times. Derekhshan essentially wants to lay part of the blame for the election of Ahmadinejad on George Bush, an interesting notion to say the least, and one more attuned, it seems to me, to trying to divert blame for the Ahmadinejad election from where it should be squarely laid, on the shoulders of Iranian reformists. It's funny in a way, as Derekhshan's piece reminds me of other things I've read where Iranian writers blame the U.S. for many of their historical ails, blowing U.S. involvement out of proportion and conveniently ignoring Iranian complicity in their own problems.

For as much as I'd love to blame Ahmadinejad's election on Bush, Derekhshan overlooks a truism which, if memory serves me well, was famously expressed here in the U.S. by the former leader of the House of Representatives, congressman Tip O'Neil, to wit: "All politics is local"; I'd hazard to guess that this is equally as true in Tehran, Isfahan, Tabriz, or anywhere else in Iran. Did Bush have some sort of influence on the Iranian election? Who knows, really? Maybe, I'll even generously concede possibly a few percentage points worth, though I mean really, Iranians, in Iran no less, being told what to do by any American president, but much less THIS American president - right, that's realistic.

Without likely knowing it, Derekhshan hits the problem with the last Iranian presidential election right on the head with the following observation in his article:

" ... the philosophy-loving moderate, Mohammad Khatami, was replaced as president by a radical militant, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — a former military
commander who presides over one of the most extreme governments post-revolutionary Iran has yet had."

It does seem that the philosophy-loving moderate was a bit too much in the clouds for most of his 8 years in power, whereas the radical militant, et al., a man whose survival depended on knowing his constituency and what was going on in the street, was telling the people more of what they wanted to hear.

I think the Iranian reformists need to look more closely at how poorly they provided for their constituents, how out of touch they were with those people they were counting to get votes from, and how little they had managed to do in the time they were in power, which was 8 years and therefore no small stretch of time (a lifetime in politics), leaving many average Iranians without a job, healthcare, or much hope into the future in a country where petro-dollars flow, flow and flow, but no one quite seems to know where they go, go, go ... Ahmadinejad ran as a man of the people, and given his past track record and his history of being "clean" in a society and political system where corruption is rampant, this made him very appealing to many, especially when he made a point of appealing very directly to a voting populace of the majority of the disaffected in Iranian society. In the final choice the Iranian people rejected the moderate candidate supported by the reformists because the reformist out-going president Khatami, while possibly a good philosopher president, was a failed president for the people. This left the Iranian people to chose between Ahmadinejad and an old Iranian favorite, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a man cloaked in corruption, duplicity, self-serving machinations of every flavor, and a long list of failed peoples' hopes, and we're supposed to be surprised that a radical militant who promised people jobs and food on the table won? Better yet, we're to blame George Bush for this?

The Palestinian elections were, as near as I can tell, fully democratic and the people had had it with the Fatah Party, rightfully so. It was the voice of the people talking, in as democratic a fashion as I can think of. The Bush administration cannot have a complaint with the process, merely, and to a large degree rightfully so, with the result. Now it's a matter of whether or not the Palestinians can actually make this work for themselves, with a transformation of Hamas that befits a recognition of the meaning of politics and minimizing the harm to the Palestinian people, as the EU and the U.S. both threaten to cut off aid while Hamas vows to stick to its oft and clearly stated goal of eliminating Israel.

In Iran democracy is more at the leisure of the supreme leader and the governing council, and in any true sense of the word "democratic" the process is only as democratic as the cronies at the top feel they need to make it to minimally keep the people happy, and no one doubts that they very definitely control the strings. To look askance at "democracy" in Iran is legitimate enough, and of course in doing so any meaning may be extracted from that, to include thinking that a boycott is what's being suggested. The Bush administration didn't endorse a boycott in Iran, it questioned, legitimately, a process that claims to be a democratic one but isn't. The Iranian people had their own reasons to not vote, ones they may regret now and hopefully will correct for in the coming three years, but George Bush had little to do with planting those reasons there.

So yes, it must feel nice to blame Bush, and God knows there's a lot to blame the man for, but the current government in Iran is not something I'd tie to him. We'll see how the Iranian people really feel in three years, which unfortunately is another lifetime, but maybe then the old guard in the upper reaches of the government will get a message from the Iranian people that they'll find hard to ignore, and we can be just as sure that whoever's the president here in the U.S. at that time will have as little to do with the choices made by a people who know full well how to make their own choices, for their own good reasons.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Well, Gee, Let's Invade Iran, Too!

Taken from

Ok, let me preface this up front with a disclosure: I'm married to an Iranian woman I adore, and by virtue of this I have family in Iran, so as you might imagine I'm highly prejudiced on this subject. That said, I'm also sick and fed up with people in DC talking tough so they can look like they have a pair of cujones, especially when their being "tough" means having to send out someone else's spouse or child to actually execute the toughness.

What got me on this subject was the following article in the Times, Lawmakers Push for More Action on Iranian Nuclear Standoff. From this we get the following:

As the Bush administration and its European allies pursue a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff, some top lawmakers from both parties pressed for a more vigorous approach today, including the option of military action.

"There's only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option," Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said, "and that is Iran having nuclear weapons."

We have Hillary Clinton telling us that the Bush administration is downplaying the Iranian threat - that amazes me, I mean the president of the U.S. has labeled Iran a member of the axis of evil and you can't get a penny into or out of that country without having to go through the U.S. Treasury Dept. So it would appear that what she means is that we should be doing more than throwing silly and counterproductive restrictions and club memberships at Iran. What might that something be? I guess invading or otherwise taking some non-specific military action would be the way to go.

Is there anything out there more dangerous than Iran having nuclear weapons? Well, yes, a true rogue nation like North Korean, which makes its money these days by counterfeiting American currency, drug running, selling rockets to various countries, and who would likely feel that selling nuclear warheads would be a neat get-rich-quick scheme in keeping with its other money making endeavors. Of course North Korea already claims to have nuclear warheads, but nary a democrat or republican seems to be howling to do anything militarily in that country, most likely because they know it would piss off the Chinese and the South Koreans, and the North Koreans would surely not be pushovers, with or without nukes to play with.

Of course Iran has a problem, it doesn't have friends quite like the North Koreans do, though China and Russia do seem to be more in its corner than not. But the Iranians share something with the North Koreans, they wouldn't be pushovers when it came to our doing anything in their country as they're every bit as fanatic as the Koreans are when it comes to the homeland. Anyone who has studied the Iran-Iraq War will know that the Iranians managed to prevent losing to an enemy who had better intelligence (thanks to the U.S.) and arms because they were willing to suffer incredible loses on the battlefield, and there's no reason to believe that this particular proclivity of the Iranians has changed. Doing anything militarily in Iran, short of bombing the place and that would not do a whole heck of a lot except sow hatred for us, would come at the cost of a huge number of American and combatant Iranians (which wouldn't necessarily be those in uniform) and noncombatants, and you don't have to think too very hard to figure how this would play with all the non-rightwing Iranians we've allegedly been trying to curry favor with and help. The Iranians would not roll over like the Iraqis did. Few Iraqis had any true love for Sadaam so they, on the whole, didn't mind losing him. While many Iranians aren't exactly in love with their present government they have no where near the hatred for it that the Iraqis had for theirs, and they are a proud people who would fight any invader with a passion - the Iranians represent an ancient culture and they're used to being alone and facing the world alone, and there's no question in any reasonable person's mind that the Iranian people will most assuredly stand up to any U.S. military action.

Military action in Iran will not work, and it will exacerbate exponentially all of the problems we've managed to bring upon ourselves with Iraq. We've already stretched our military too far and the idea of taking a tired Army and Marine Corps and sending them after the Iranians is the utmost of insanity, not to mention an extraordinary waste of human life.

Diplomacy has to be aggressively exerted, instead we have politicians in DC giving the Iranian government excuses for doing everything they can to come up with nuclear warheads, either by making them themselves or buying them from some willing seller (maybe the same North Koreans who sell them rockets.) Heck, look how well this has worked for the Koreans - they have nukes, or at least so they say, and we haven't invaded. Really, how much more plain a less can you find?

The diplomatic pressure that needs to be exerted should be selective, not like the sanctions imposed on Iraq in toto which resulted in making the lives of innocent Iraqis miserable. The Iranian people in charge should be targeted very specifically and made to feel that they're being ostracized by the world at large, but we need to do whatever we can to not disenfranchise the Iranian people as a whole. Whatever we do must be in league with other nations, and at least so far we're on the right foot with being in the company of England, France, and Germany. Doing whatever is necessary to get China and Russia in line with this is crucial, and from there I believe the Iranian people will begin to get the message - or not, who really knows, but sending troops in or bombers with big bombs to hit ill-defined/located targets will not get the right message across. Sending the U.S. military into Iran is NOT the answer, will solve nothing, and will create more problems than are solved - if you think the Iraqis throw a great insurgency, just wait to see what would happen if we put boots to the ground on Iranian soil.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sending Them On Their Way


I was on a break between classes and I ran into the following article in the NY Times: More
Companies Ending Promises for Retirement
. The article was about the trend for businesses these days to move away from defined-benefits retirement or pensions plans, the traditional type of pension that many of us older types think of when we hear the word "pension", into 401(k) plans. What sparked the sudden interest in this trend was the recent announcement by IBM that it was freezing its current defined benefits pension plan and converting over to a 401(k). IBM used to be the standard bearer for a guaranteed job in the U.S., and for taking care of its employees up and through retirement, and now in both cases it's entered a bottom line world, with no job guarantees and you're on your own when it comes to getting ready for retirement.

U.S. News & World Report has an interesting article on baby boomers coming of age with the 401(k), Boomers are about to find out whether their 401(k)'s are such a sweet deal. The article had a few interesting points to make (if you're interested in your retirement you really should take the time to read this article):

"But older baby boomers, the first generation to have climbed the corporate ladder in the 401(k) ear, are just now turning 60. This means that boomers have only begun the long and anxious transition from work life to retirement. And since many boomers are expected to live well into their 80s, it's too early to say whether 401(k)'s have encouraged a sufficient level of saving to fund a full - and fulfilling - retirement.

"So far the news is decidedly mixed. While the vast majority of workers eligible for 401(k)'s contribute to these tax-deferred plans, a third of workers 60 and older aren't using them. Even among older boomers who are participating, nearly 20 percent don't take full advantage of their company matches."

So we can still look at the 401(k) as something of an experiment, we don't have the experience with it at this point to know if it's going to meet the needs of those soon to retire. But this is the way we're moving all retirement plans in the future, so the question in my mind was doesn't learning about this deserve as much attention for a kid in high school as my chemistry course? Let's face it, if the kid's going to be prepared for his or her eventual retirement they had better start saving for it now, as ridiculous as that may seem, because they can pretty much rest assured that they're going to be on their own in another fifty years when it comes to money to live on. However you cut it, students today are going to need to have some sort of handle on what's going on with regard to how to handle their money and prepare for the future, and on the whole I just don't see that happening.

After reading the article on IBM I took some time away from chemistry in my next class and asked my students, "How do you guys expect to prepare for retirement?" As you may guess given that this was a population high school juniors, with one or two seniors thrown in, i.e. 16 and 17 year olds, the response was interesting. One kid wanted to put his money in a savings account, someone else figured that he'd work for a company where he'd retire like his dad, another was at least somewhat on the right track when he said he'd invest in stocks and bonds, though on the whole most had no response at all, in fact I got this puzzled look which sort of shouted, "Retirement? Dude, I'm only 17 years old!" Yes, true, they're only 17 years old, and the unfortunate truth today is that they need to start preparing NOW if they're to be ready when they need to be.

So here's the thing, we're in a school where the motto is, "We make our students college ready" and it more and more hits me that on some level I'm sure they're going to be college ready, at least for those who actually go onto college, but they're clearly so not ready for so much else about life that will be facing them soon. Of course telling everyone that we're preparing kids for college is very politic, i.e. it feels good for a lot of parents and maybe some of the kids, but the reality is that a significant percentage of these kids aren't realistic college material. Moreover, while our school will proudly boast that 90% or better of our students will go to college, the reality is that if our school meets the general national trend only about 50% will stay the course through graduation. Of course few if any schools will tell you how many of their graduated students will actually graduate from college inasmuch as their job was only to prepare them, i.e. get them accepted into college; what happens when they get there is someone else's statistic to worry about, though that bad statistic will in part be written off to how poorly prepared the dropouts were by their high school.

We're ostensibly preparing high school students for college, which is less expensive than preparing them for an equally important aspect of their post-high school lives, i.e. getting them ready to deal with life in a global-centric world and, lo and behold, for their retirement. Both goals should be a part of the curriculum, but truly preparing kids for life in the real world is clearly not as important (at least where I'm at), maybe because there's no immediate metric for measuring it (if it's accountable per NCLB why bother, right?) and far too many parents don't think that such prep is necessary because their little gem is going onto college with the 90% of the rest of his or her graduating class, and will go to an Ivy league school they actually graduate from, and will somehow be taken care of through the high-powered job they finagle after graduating from Harvard Business School, or maybe it's the medical school, or ... well, something like that. But then maybe it's not just cost-effectiveness and parental self-deception, indeed, how many of us are really in a position to teach personal fiscal responsibility and preparedness? We're a society with an extraordinary debt load and one that loves to live on its credit card, which is paid off by and large in expensive installments, but then that may be due to the fact most of today's teachers never got any real fiscal education either.

It's a harsh world out there, and it's becoming increasingly uncertain and user-unfriendly. Job stability is not something to be counted on as it once was, and expecting that somehow you'll be taken care of in retirement, while it was likely never true for the overwhelming majority, whatever truth to it there may have been is greatly diminished now. And what it comes down to is that it definitely seems that we're not preparing kids for what's out there and how to deal with it, but then I have to wonder if we ever really did.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococus Aureus

Taken from Mayo Clinic Proceedings, showing an external and internal S. aureus infection.

This is the second time I'm hitting on this subject, the last time was in Why Are We So Bent Over Bird Flu? where I wondered why it is we're so excited about bird flu, which even now has killed less than a couple of hundred folks world wide, yet so sanguine, apparently, about MRSA, the acronym for the title to this blog. In the Nov 3 issue of The Economist, specifically in MRSA : The struggle against superbugs we're informed about MSRA and that it kills about 90,000 Americans a year. This week you can read in U.S. News & World Report another article, Bugs behaving Badly: Antibiotics are aging, and bacteria are learning to fight them off about very much the same thing, in fact the 90,000 fatalities number is also given. U.S. News takes it a step further by telling us that it's more than Staph. a. that we need to be concerned about, indeed we can add to the list clostridium difficile, acinetobacter baumannii, and neisseria gonorrhoeae. These were all bacteria that were very treatable with general antibiotics in the past and are now resistant and, obviously, life threatening; the list is only going to grow. So in short, with S. aureus if it doesn't kill you it can do a serious number on your body and the list of deadly bacterial companions continues to grow (additional information specifically regarding MRSA can be obtained from Kent County Health Dept. Fact Sheet.)

With Stap. A. we have a bug that not only can kill you, and does so to the tune of 90,000 folks a year, but can disfigure as well, and there's no national program to address this issue, no major ruckus by our politicians to fund a program to educate the public and to provide incentives to drug companies to make it worth their time and money to actually focus on new antibiotics that could get ahead of drug resistant strains of common bacteria. Just as a reminder, S. aureus is quite common, having a preference for hanging out in mucous membranes so it's fairly commonly found in the nose, and even on our skin.

There are a few things that can be done to help ameliorate if not solve this problem:

1. As far as things to be done are concerned, what should top the list is the government providing monetary incentives to drug companies to come up with new antibiotics. It's not as if we can't come up with them, i.e. the bugs aren't getting beyond antibiotics in general, but rather that there's little money to be made in antibiotics and in turn few drug companies put much effort into them. So throwing some incentives at drug companies for new antibiotics and new strategies to fight these bugs would indeed be a public health service worthy of just about as much money as we're throwing at bird flu, or about a week's worth of occupation in Iraq. When the government looks to spends hundreds of millions on bird flu vaccines they're throwing money at drug companies to induce them to produce an equally low-profit item, doing so for MSRA and antibiotic resistance in general would be a definite public service.

2. Doctors need to stop over-prescribing antibiotics. I appreciate that a parent with a child that's screaming its head off from a viral infection wants something to fix the problem, but we all know (ok, we don't all know ...) that antibiotics don't work on viral infections and otherwise help to build up antibiotic resistance in the bugs that inhabit our body. Doctors more and more don't have the time to tell their patients this so it's easier to prescribe an antibiotic and be done with it, but this definitely fuels the problem and it needs to stop. A patient screaming for percodan shouldn't get them, why should someone screaming for antibiotics? Well, the fact is the doctor doesn't go to jail for over-prescribing antibiotics ...

3. Doctors and hospitals need to be clean freaks. In Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands the incidence of MRSA infections are much lower than in other countries, and the main difference seems to be cleanliness protocols. Doctors need to wash their hands before, after, and in between every patient, but really, who wants to be bothered with that with so little time?
Hospitals need to be scrupulously clean, but with HMOs looking for those cost saving measures where do you find the staff to keep things clean? Well we have to figure out how to up the priority on this as the number of people dying from resistant bugs bred in hospital environments such that it's hard to picture any possible justified cost-savings in not doing so, though cost-cutting mentalities are all too often stovepiped such that they don't see the potential harm done by being too niggardly when it comes to cleaning supplies.

4. Antibiotics are used in huge numbers in the livestock industry for a couple of reasons. First, and the one the industry will most often give as a reason, is to reduce infections in the livestock population. Now of course this flies in the face of the prophylactic use of antibiotics with humans where it's been found that the only thing it does is eventually build up a resistant strain of the bugs you're trying to avoid. Second, and the main reason antibiotics in animal feed is so attractive, is that for reasons I'm not clear on, I'm not sure anyone is, livestock bulk up on antibiotics up to 10%, so of course that cow in the feedlot is now worth 10% more if it has some antibiotic munchies in its corn feed. So we're fattening our cattle and helping to create antibiotic resistant strains of bugs that the cattle live with, and somehow that's supposed to be good us ... oh boy.

5. People in general, to include people who certainly should know better, need to understand and appreciate the difference between viral and bacterial infections. Of course I understand much this may be to expect for a country where so many have a hard time with evolution much less understanding the difference between viruses and bacteria, but we really need to try. The U.S. News article cited above has some a good article attached to it entitled Want to help? Just say "Whoa" which provides some good information on how not to abuse antibiotics and a number of good links, to include: 1. an animation from the U.S. FDA center for veterinary medicine explaining how bacteria becomes resistant (Animation of Antimicrobial Resistance), 2. some info from the CDC's Get Smart campaign, Spotlight: Snort. Sniffle. Sneeze. No Antibiotics, Please!, and finally we have 3. Tuft University's APUA: Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics which provides information for consumers & patients, healthcare providers, and researchers, as well as information on antibiotics in the ecology and the international problem with antibiotics.

Lastly, it always helps if you raise a stink with your local national representatives, by letter if possible (they tend to take letters a bit more seriously than simply emails, and they take calls even more seriously), to let them know that you think this is an issue you think the federal government should be doing more about. I'm not a believer in the government, any government having all the answers. But right now throwing some hundreds of millions of dollars at bird flu when we already have a catastrophe (really, how else would you describe 90,000 people dying from something every year?) running rampant through this country, is a ridiculous focus of resources (I won't even get into the war in Iraq) and does more to endanger Americans in the long term than just about anything else you can point a finger at.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Psychopaths Next Door


Part of my morning ritual everyday is to visit the two comics pages online and Foxtrot is one of them (the other is Doonesbury.) I've enjoyed Foxtrot for a number of years, though to be honest there are times when I wonder why as it doesn't really hit the issues like Doonesbury does, but then maybe that's why.

My last blog entry, Grizzly Man and Psychopaths, got me thinking about psychopaths and what it is that separates someone who anyone would look at and say, "God, that person's a psychopath", and the average person who for a multitude of possible reasons does things that are psychopathic in nature. Yesterday morning's cartoon rekindled this thinking, not only because it turned up here in Foxtrot, but I have heard kids at school talk about the videogame "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City", which Bill Amend is making fun of here in his comic strip. Here's a description of Grand Theft Auto (GTA):

The new GTA game is set in a fictional take on Miami, Florida, known as Vice City. The year is 1986, and Tommy Vercetti has just been released from prison after doing a 15-year stretch for the mob. The mob--more specifically, the Forelli family--appreciates Tommy's refusal to squeal in exchange for a lesser sentence, so they send him down to Vice City to establish some new operations. Tommy's first order of business in Vice City is to score a large amount of cocaine to work with. But Tommy's first drug deal goes sour, leaving him with no money, no cocaine, and no idea who wronged him. The mob is, of course, angry over the whole situation, and now Tommy has to make up for the loss before the gangsters come down from Liberty City to clean up the mess. As Tommy, you'll start the investigation, figure out who ripped you off, take care of business, and set up shop in Vice City in a big, big way. Oh, and you'll also drive taxis, get involved in a turf war between the Cubans and the Haitians, befriend a Scottish rock group named Love Fist, become a pizza delivery boy, smash up the local mall, demolish a building to lower real estate prices, hook up with a biker gang, run an adult film studio, take down a bank, and much, much more.

If you're concerned that this may be a bit over-the-top for your average teenager, be assured that GTA has its lighter side, too:

While Grand Theft Auto has always been a violent, mature-themed series, it has always balanced the violent crime with an equal amount of tongue-in-cheek humor and style. Vice City is no exception, presenting an exaggerated view of the 1980s that makes use of a number of the kitschy pop-culture stereotypes found in film and television from the decade. The drug-laced tale recalls such films as Scarface and television shows like Miami Vice. The humor comes mostly from the radio, which really drives home the sort of form-over-function mentality that most people associate with the '80s.

Now I have to ask myself, why is it that a game like this, and many others like it, is so popular with the average teenage boy? Now of course no one can really make the case that these games are turning kids into drug lords (well, at least not that I'm aware of anyway), but how is it that
something like this is so appealing to boys? They get to act like criminals, wantonly kill and maim, and indulge "form-over-function" mentalities - this is entertainment? I'm inclined to think that the reason this appeals is that it wouldn't take very much for a person to engage in this sort of thing in the real world were the circumstance right to induce such a thing, in other words it hits buttons in boys, and by and large it's boys who are playing these sorts of games, that are a basic part of their programming. So is there a thin line between our otherwise normally civilized selves and some psychopath self? I think that's true, but then maybe it's not so much a psychopath lurking in us as it is a high capacity for cruelty. The average human has a fair higher capacity for cruelty than they're otherwise inclined to think is the case, and maybe with a psychopath they're simply indulging cruelty without remorse - the rest of us, over time, will likely experience some measure of remorse, but they don't have that problem.

Well whatever the nature of psychopaths may be, there's us, the normal Jane and Joe, that we should be mindful of. Arnold Toynbee wrote a piece back in 1970 that you can find at Human Savagery Cracks Thin Veneer. He sums up what I've been thinking on this subject rather nicely:

There is a persistent vein of violence and cruelty in human nature. Man has often striven to rid himself of what he recognizes as being a hideous moral blemish, unworthy of human nature's better side. Sometimes man has fancied that he has succeed in civilizing himself.

Yes, indeed. We need to be sure that we don't kid ourselves about ourselves, like Timothy Treadwell in "Grizzly Man" kidded himself about the grizzlies and their relationship with him - we are cruel creatures, much of our actions throughout the world support this, even as do the videogames that our children play and enjoy.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Grizzly Man and Psychopaths

Above is Timothy Treadwell, a man who was an alcoholic and had he stayed the path of alcoholism he would have surely died from it. He gave up his addiction to ethyl alcohol, a.k.a. ethanol, a.k.a. liquor, and substituted it for another, which in his case was "protecting" grizzly bears. Interestingly enough he was killed by his addiction after all, though few would have ever
thought it would have been at the claws and fangs of a hungry grizzly - life's ironies are not always subtle. Werner Herzog brings us Timothy Treadwell in his movie Grizzly Man.

As for the movie itself, I didn't care for it, though I have to admit that I was caught in it - I knew the main character got killed in the end so it wasn't a matter of wanting to know so much what happened, but rather to get some clue why it happened. Herzog pieces together his movie from a vast collection of footage that Treadwell shot while he was out "protecting" grizzlies in Alaska. Inserted into this are interviews with various people who knew Treadwell, Treadwell's family, the coroner who received the bodies of Treadwell and his girlfriend, who comes across as a man who's been hanging out in the morgue on his own for far too much time, and a director of a local museum who was a native American (I would guess that this makes him an Eskimo) who hit what Treadwell was doing like a nail on the head - Treadwell was disrespecting the established and necessary boundaries between man and the grizzlies, and in effect was disrespecting the animals themselves. Treadwell was anthropomorphizing the animals to some degree, and on some level was using them to fit some pattern of life and the universe that worked for him, in spite of the fact that it ignored reality; of course that's what addiction is all about.

Treadwell, as you may have guessed, irritated me - he'd proclaim being a samurai when he had to be if it was necessary to have to directly face up to the grizzlies, which for some reason put up with him for as many years as they did, or to those who allegedly threatened the bears. The fact is that there was never anything in the movie to indicate that Treadwell was protecting anything, much less any grizzlies. In one scene Treadwell cowers behind bushes, tearfully lamenting about how a bear he knows and, as with most things in his vidoes, loves, is being subjected to rocks thrown at it by photographers trying to keep it away from them. If he couldn't protect his wards of the wild from rocks, it begs one to wonder how much good he'd be against someone with a rifle, or even a sling shot for that matter.

Herzog's documentaries can be a bit tedious and overblown, though on the whole this was a bit more constrained than others I've seen. Herzog also makes what I thought was an interesting observation about Treadwell who in one scene in the movie laments the death of a baby fox by coyotes. Herzog believes that Treadwell wants everything to be idyllic, to fit some oddly conceived, albeit comforting to him, flow of existence. In Treadwell's world there's little appreciation for what Herzog sees the world and the universe to be, which are places where chaos, death, and murder are a natural part of the order of things. Herzog seems to subscribe to Camus' " ... benign indifference of the universe". And here is where we segue into the psychopath part of this post ...

My friend She Falters to Rise (SFTR for short) wrote a thought provoking post about psychopaths a few days ago, you can read it for yourself at She Falters To Rise: Blank Stare, and I encourage you to do so. The psychopath in question here was someone who doused someone they knew with lighter fluid and then threw a match at them resulting in the expected outcome. We need to get into a few definitions:

Psychopath: A person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse.

Antisocial personality disorder: A personality disorder characterized by chronic antisocial behavior and violation of the law and the rights of others.

I would guess that if you were to douse someone with lighter fluid and stand there and watch what happened without giving it much thought, other than possibly how interesting it was to see or how much satisfaction you got from the whole experience, you're a psychopath. But where does the line get drawn on this delineation? Ted Bundy was a psychopath, but what about Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz Angel of Death, or Adolf Eichmann, the head of Jewish Affairs for Hitler? Or the many thousands of Germans who helped to eliminate some 10 million people? What about the folks who torture other people? How do we draw a line between something horrific like lighter fluid dousing and Hutu's running through the Rwanda with machetes slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutus, not because they were a threat, no, they simply didn't like them, and frankly given how much slaughtering was done (nearly 1 million people were killed) the only possible conclusion one can come to is that these machete-wielding citizens were enjoying themselves?

I'm sure clinically there must be some fine differentiation between those defined as psychopaths and people like Mengele and a long list of others who commit crimes against humanity. My belief, though, is that what differentiates someone who likes to play with lighter fluid in deadly ways from someone who one day is a loving father and husband and the next is out committing genocide, is not very much. I think we live with many psychopaths, regardless of wherever we may be. If order breaks down, if the repercussions for psychopathic acts are eliminated, then psychopathic behavior becomes more common. I think the distinction between the ones we all can point to and say are psychopaths and those who we'd never guess could act like one is, that the latter are more sensitive to the repercussions, there's simply more self-awareness and outward awareness of consequences, but the desire is to act is there, simply waiting to be unleashed. The psychopaths amongst are in kept in check by society, so by definition they're not really psychopaths, but then history makes clear that it doesn't take a great deal for them to come out and indulge their lust. Why this is so makes me wonder, and maybe I'll do more reading into this at some point. But I don't kid myself into thinking that there aren't people whose paths I cross on a daily basis who, if given the chance, would love to hurt, maim, and kill, and the only time we may see an inkling of this is when they indulge some outrageous act of road rage, or when the society they live in, for whatever reason, removes the shackles of and negative consequences for their indulging their desires.

Like Treadwell, who wanted to believe all his animal buddies were actually some sort of Disney characters, we kid ourselves when we think that all people who live in civilized societies are actually civilized. What restrains a human's darker tendencies can easily be lifted given the right situation or societal calamity, but we often think that it can't happen here, or that it's only in special circumstances that this sort of thing actually happens. On the whole society strives to make sure that a human's darkest impulses are blunted, but they're still there, waiting for the right situation. How those impulses get there, whether it's due to something genetic or is simply inextricably tied to something about humans in general, I have no clue, but it's there, and in some of us they're stronger than in others. You can be sure you've met someone, likely many someones in different places, who given the chance would look upon you as something to exercise an impulse upon, and we can only hope that they're never given the chance.