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Hey, it turns out Al Bush and George W. Gore are different after all.

It has nothing to do with their center-of-the road politics or
economic policies. And it’s not that Bush is a dumb spoiled brat and
Gore is, as someone much wittier than your favorite magazine columnist
has said, “a weirdo trying to pass himself off as a bore.”

It’s way, way, way more subtle.

It’s their eyebrows and mouths, stupid.

That’s what

Psychology Today
says anyway in “Election 2000: Gore & Bush on the Couch,” which sets out to employ “political psychology” to “decode the political language and political expressions of our candidates to make sure we are getting the leader we want.”

To a reader who is not conversant with psychobabble, Psychology Today’s Bush-Gore package seems, well, schizophrenic. Not to mention unintentionally humorous. Or bordering on psycho-parody.

The main piece is a serious bit of straight reporting about Gore and Bush’s positions on mental health issues.

To no one’s surprise, Gore, thanks to his heartfelt belief in nanny government and wife Tipper’s two degrees in psychology, is a good friend of mental health interests everywhere. He got an A- from the National Mental Health Association.

Bush got an F+ on his mental-health report card. But, after looking at his record as governor in Texas, Psychology Today writer Sara Blustain says Bush turns out not to be quite the heartless right-winger Gore’s troops would like you to believe.

This is all informative, fairly fair, competent but dull, good-for-you journalism. It is in Blustain’s two sidebars where things start get entertaining and nutty.

According to Blustain, scientists in the growing psychological field of “reading faces” have studied Bush and Gore’s facial expressions and drawn conclusions about their personalities from how each man works his eyebrows and mouth.

One expert with a Ph.D. in reading faces from Berkeley, Dacher Keltner, looked hard and long at Bush and Gore’s faces. Linking facial gestures to personality or states of mind is tricky business, he admits.

But, hey, this isn’t rocket science; it’s just psychology. Things don’t have to be proved, they can be inferred. His conclusive yet nevertheless speculative inferences: “Gore expresses dominance, Bush submissiveness. Gore shows concentration, Bush playfulness.”

Keltner shares a great deal of his clinical findings with Psycho Today’s readers (complete with “industry-agreed-upon numerical code for each expression” followed by official muscle names, in Latin).

As if you didn’t know, that “asymmetrical lip raise and lip corner tighten” on Bush’s puss equals “mockery, contempt and disdain.” And when Gore moves his “eyebrow down (AU4; Corrugator supercilii, depressor supercilii)” he is, of course, showing dominance.

The other sidebar is even more absurd. In an attempt to scientifically determine which candidate is more optimistic (and therefore more likely to win, according to historians), a pair of Ph.D.s used the CAVE technique (Content Analysis of Verbatim Explanations, you dolts).

Quantifying the content of what Bush and Gore have said in speeches and interviews, the duo came up with “event-explanation units” that were rated on 7-point scales according to things like composite pessimism-optimism, stability-instability and … zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Forget it. It’s too insane to go on.

It’s true we’re talking about serious scientific research that every conscientious voter should study before casting his or her presidential vote, etc. etc. (Buchanan, Nader and Browne, the Moe, Larry and Curly presidential candidates, did not get their facial expressions studied, for which they and America should be thankful.)

But looking critically/irreverently at this stuff, it’s hard to decide which is crazier: that anyone would engage in this kind of research or take it seriously; that any lay person would want to read about it; or that a professional magazine columnist would waste so much time on it.

Quick Reads
If it’s greater ideological diversity ye seek, try, of all places, Whole Earth magazine. If you’re the grandchild of a graying hippie, you know Whole Earth is the magazine/catalogue founded by Stewart Brand for people who don’t really want to be a part of modern civilization.

The richly rewarding contents of the summer issue, however, transcend lifestyle choices. Not only is there a package on the moral dilemmas surrounding organ transplants and futuristic medical procedures and drugs, there is an interview with the ageless and recently resurrected ’60s rocker Carlos Santana.

Whole Earth’s “Homesite Sewage” department is stopped up with tips on septic systems and items with headlines that say, “The Gas We Pass” and “Everybody Poops.” But the issue’s major feature is a fine special section on political alternatives called “Beyond Left & Right.”

It includes a dozen articles by or about Socialists, Greens and Libertarians — everything from conservative Bill Kauffman’s warm and fuzzy piece on Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic worker movement, to left-wing Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn’s recounting of the scary night he gave a speech at an anti-war conference sponsored by a rowdy crowd of libertarians in suits.

Turning to sports, that wild creature with the glinting gold teeth and crazy mane of curly hair on the cover of

ESPN the
Magazine
is not a character from a Hollywood horror flick. It’s Edgerrin James, the Indianapolis Colts $49 million superstar running back. Not only does James get to be the cover man for ESPN’s fat NFL 2000 preview issue, he gets to tell everyone his amazing life story.

Here — in his own words with lots of quiet help from Dan Le Batard — is a

a sample
paragraph
from a story about overcoming adversity that you don’t see too often in a sports magazine:

“I got no problems sharing my past with you. You ask the right questions and I’ll tell you straight-up, point-blank about how I had aunts and uncles addicted to crack. About how as a kid on food stamps, I never could celebrate Christmas or birthdays with gifts, except every once in a while when my uncle would show up with a bike or an Atari. About how that uncle was a drug dealer and my main male role model, but then he went to jail and my Christmas went to jail with him.”

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