An Australian demographer has found a malady that makes some middle-aged men think they are more attractive to women than they actually are.
He calls it "hotness delusion syndrome."
I don't know if it's true, but it may help us to answer some bizarre questions on the recent political scene. Among them: Why would Rep. Anthony Weiner send Twitter photos of himself to young women that gave new meaning to the congressional term "distinguished member?"
The New York Democrat's woes involve "sexting," the text-messaging version of phone sex. He sent what he called "inappropriate messages" to six young women. These famously included a photo of his crotch bulging in underwear that he sent by Twitter to a female college student in Seattle, who he says he knew only by their exchanges of tweets.
They also included photos of him flexing his arms and bare chest that he sent to another of the six women he said he knew by Twitter, before and since his marriage last summer to Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
His macho-man photos are haunting not only for their goofiness but also because they so closely mimic the bare-chested self-portrait that brought an abrupt end to political career of Rep. Chris Lee earlier this year.
The New York Republican and married father posted his macho photo on Craigslist, passing himself off as a divorced lobbyist to an anonymous woman who was seeking a date. If anyone should have learned from Lee's experience it is Weiner.
Yet they were hardly the first prominent men to be tangled in allegations of reckless sexting. A more aggravated level of lewdness was claimed against retired pro football quarterback Brett Favre last year in an investigation of photos of his private parts he allegedly sent to Jenn Sterger, then 26, a sidelines reporter for the New York Jets.
In the pop music world, rap music star Kanye West is alleged by Radaronline.com to have sent photos of his family jewels to several women via MySpace. Fortunately for him, the social standard for rap stars is such that the photos actually may enhance his career.
The larger question is why this online age seems to turn otherwise sensible men into the cyber-equivalent of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund chief and one-time French presidential hopeful who New York police say behaved with a hotel maid like a bathrobe-dropping Pepe Le Pew?
We already know how the empowering anonymity of the Internet can make otherwise civil souls turn the online world into what Australian ethicist Clive Hamilton denounced as a "belligerent brutopia." I find evidence of that on a daily basis in my email bag.
A further clue into the dark reaches of the hyper-masculine cyber-soul might be found in the malady that another Australian, demographer Bernard Salt, has found in men in their 40s who think they are more attractive to women than women actually think they are.
He calls it "hotness delusion syndrome."
A shortage of eligible middle-aged bachelors in Australia is causing some single guys to overestimate how desirable they are to the opposite sex, says Salt, author of "The Big Tilt: What Happens When Boomers Bust and Xers and Ys Inherit the Earth."
I suspect a version of this malady may be showing up on this side of the Pacific, especially in men who think sane women can't wait to see twittered photos of their naughty bits.
Powerful Washington men may be particularly susceptible to delusions of their own hotness as they hear more respect and admiration than they experienced in, say, the high school debate team.
Wherever they may be, Salt advises men in their 40s to look in the mirror before they get too full of themselves and "discount their hotness by the proportion by which there are more women than men." Otherwise, fellas, you could be in for the rude revelation that that certain someone is not nearly as into you as you might have thought.
And if you really want to get a woman excited about you, my wife offers this suggestion: Take a picture of yourself cooking dinner. You can leave your clothes on.
I can take a hint.
(Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune. E-mail responses may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.)