A reader remembers a classic demonstration of hathos from a Seinfeld episode called “The Letter.” In it, two people are looking at a portrait of Kramer. (Cross-cutting to other scenes has been cut.)
“(Nina’s studio. Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong are admiring Nina’s “Kramer.”)
MRS. A.: I sense great vulnerability. A land child crying out for love, an innocent orphan in the post-modern world.
MR. A.: I see a parasite.
MRS. A.: A sexually-depraved miscreant, who is seeking to gratify only his most basic and immediate urges. . .
MRS. A. : He is struggled, he is man-struggled. He lifts my spirit!
MR. A.: He is a loathsome, offensive brute, yet I can’t look away. . .
MRS. A.: He transcends time and space.
MR. A.: He sickens me.
MRS. A.: I love it.
MR. A.: Me too.”

STOP ABERCROMBIE NOW!: Well, we’ve had “Stop Dr. Laura.” Why not “Stop Abercrombie and Fitch?” Corinne Wood, lieutenant governor of Illinois was so shocked by the catalogue that brought William F. Buckley to an eloquent fit of elevated hathos that she has started a campaign against the company. Check out her website about it. I can’t help thinking of Sheila Broslovsky, of South Park fame, who launched the war against the corrupting influence of Canada in the South Park movie, “Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.” Classic Sheila lines: “It’s time that we say enough is enough. If you will join me in this renewed call for a boycott by signing our online petition, we can show A&F that we mean business.” Good to know that it isn’t just some gay activists who are intolerant hysterics. They have their counterparts in the heartland too.

CALIFORNIA DREAMING: P.J. O’Rourke has a smart and funny piece on how the California state government screwed up its energy policy for classically Californian reasons. And now they’re trying to blame Bush. I also liked software entrepreneur Peter Voss’s comments about true artificial intelligence in Reason magazine. He said he would know whether a system was super-intelligent when “it is strong enough to educate California politicians about the laws of supply and demand … [although] there probably is no intelligence that will be that strong.”

HIV INFECTION RATE DOWN – CDC: Remember those hysterical headlines only recently about an “explosion” of HIV infections among gay blacks and young gay men in general? (Check out my recent dissection of the data, an article the CDC hasn’t rebutted or even responded to yet.) Last week along comes the CDC’s annual report on HIV infections at public HIV-testing sites. Here’s the full report. The famous recent study included a total of around 2,500 people. This study includes data from over 2 million people tested in 1997 and over 2 million in 1998. Here’s the bottom line: “The number of HIV-positive test results peaked at 57,879 in 1991 and decreased to 30,473 in 1998. The percentage of overall HIV-positive test results declined from 3.8% in 1990 to 1.3% in 1998.” That 1.3 percent is the lowest recorded. Now check out the more solid AIDS deaths numbers. The cumulative number in June 2000 was 16,292. For June 2001, it was 15,380. More declines. Are there any indications in the study of a leap in infections? Well, you could look at other STDs, which facilitate HIV transmission. From 2000 to 2001, gonorrhea cases dropped from around 150,000 to 125,000. Syphilis cases dropped from 2,800 to 2,300. What about racial breakdown? The percentage of blacks in 1997 who turned out to be HIV-positive was 2.3 percent (with a sample size of over 700,000). In 1998, the percentage dropped to 2 percent (sample size close to 800,000). Now, these numbers may not reflect the real population. Many people who are infected do not seek testing or treatment. It’s possible that a leap in infections is occurring even though these numbers are reassuring. But the trend in these numbers is pretty clear. And the sample size is exponentially larger than the tiny study that made headlines in the New York Times and Washington Post. So where were the stories on this huge study showing HIV infection rates still falling? They went to that place where all non-p.c. news goes: the trash.