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Monday, January 31, 2011

John Barry


John Barry, the great composer of film music, died yesterday. He is most famous for having composed the music for several James Bond movies, including the title tracks Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, and Moonraker. I wrote a post about Shirley Bassey, with links to those songs, earlier:

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2010/05/moonraker-one-of-worst-of-bond-movies.htm

Bassey may have been the voice behind the music, but Barry was the brains. He must have had an exceptional brain to create such powerful music. After all these years I still can't listen to Goldfinger without feeling just a bit more.....virile. Listening to that glorious, brassy sound is like receiving an injection of testosterone.

I realize how incredibly stupid this makes me sound, but the best way I can describe my reaction to the song is to say that it makes me feel as if I look like the 34-year-old Sean Connery.

Barry composed the music for many other movies. I challenge you not to be moved by these themes.

Here's Midnight Cowboy (try not to feel wistful):

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

Body Heat (try not to feel sultry):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrDX1hgDkzE

Thunderball (try not to feel grandiose): 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmOnKmtiiH0

You Only Live Twice (try not to feel any yearning):

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

See? You lost.

Thank you John Barry, for enhancing my mood on so many occasions.

Rest in peace.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Norman Rockwell

  


If Richard Rodgers has an equivalent in another field, it would be Norman Rockwell. They were contemporaries (Rockwell lived from 1894 to 1978 and Rodgers from 1902 to 1979). Both men celebrated Americana with unabashed enthusiasm. (Rockwell celebrated it directly; Rodgers more indirectly, through his lyricists.) Both men were extremely prolific. Both Rodgers and Rockwell trafficked heavily in sentimentality, that emotion so beloved by the masses and despised by the critics. And both were master craftsmen.

Rodgers, however, never suffered the same level of critical disdain that Rockwell did. For a long time the critics absolutely loathed Rockwell. All of the self-styled sophisticates in the art world made a big show of looking down on him. He was dismissed as an illustrator rather than a painter. The more Saturday Evening Post covers he drew (he ended up doing 322), the more his fans loved him. And the more they loved him, the more his critics hated him. (There was something of a causal relationship there.)

Some of what the critics said was true: Rockwell's art was sentimental; it bordered on kitschy; much of it wasn't "serious"; and he pushed peoples' buttons too directly. But in a sense, that was also what was great about him: it takes far more skill than most people realize to get someone to feel something.

While looking at Rockwell paintings, I have succumbed to that warm gooey feeling that sophisticated people never admit to. But there have been far many more occasions in my life where I was supposed to feel emotion, and didn't. Most art -- and, frankly, much of life -- simply doesn't stir me.

Looking at Jasper Johns "art" has never moved me in the slightest, unless you call wonder at others' credulity an emotion.

Ditto for music: most has no effect. So bravo for Rodgers.

I am not in awe of Rockwell's talent quite the same way I am of Rodgers'. I can at least imagine laboring over a canvas all my life and learning how to finally capture facial expressions with some subtlety. (It's way harder than you think -- try it.) I can't even imagine creating beautiful music.

But Rockwell did have one thing Rodgers lacked, or at least never exhibited publicly: a sense of humor. Much of Rockwell's work has a sly humor which is almost as enjoyable as the sentiment.

Rockwell has been "rehabilitated" over the past fifteen years or so, in much the same manner that the old communist regimes would occasionally "rehabilitate" some party functionary who had fallen into disfavor.

The difference is that even in the heyday of Stalin, those regimes were never nearly as oppressive -- or wrongheaded -- as the art critics.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Toughness

A neighbor of ours is about to have her second baby. Her husband just told us a story about her first delivery. Her water evidently broke at 11PM one night, so at that point they went to the hospital. The doctor gave her an epidural anesthetic when she got there, but for various reasons the baby was not born until 7 PM the next day.

When the doctor was sewing her back up after the delivery, he asked her if she could feel anything. She replied yes. The doctor then asked the nurse to check her epidural status; it turned out that her anesthetic had worn off around midday, roughly seven hours before. But she had never said a thing.

The next day the nurse told her, "I've been doing this for thirty years, and this is only the second time I've helped deliver a baby to a woman with those post birth complications who had absolutely no anesthetic. And of those two, you're the one who didn't complain. I just want you to know, I'm coming in here on my day off to tell you this just because what you did was so impressive."

If you met my neighbor, you would never think, wow, that is one tough woman. She gives off none of those vibes. She's not a princess, but neither does she come across like any kind of daredevil.

She's just soft-spoken and polite.

You never know what size or shape toughness is going to arrive in.

Getting pumped

Back before Joe Rogan was a commentator for UFC, before he became famous for creating Fear Factor, he was a comedian. I first heard this bit on the Howard Stern Show. If you're offended by raunch, don't listen, because this is extremely off-color:

 http://gettingpumped.ytmnd.com/

Rogan's exaggerated Boston accent and portrayal of a macho guy in denial are near perfect.

Next time you hear Rogan announcing a fight, think of this. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Practical College

My brother, who is also considering retirement somewhat purgatorial, recently suggested we consider starting a company together. One of my ideas was for a new kind of school: The Practical College. The basic idea is from this previous post about the uselessness of a nontechnical college education.

But my brother wasn't enthusiastic about the idea of such a school. He felt it would be hard to make much money from it, and it might be hard to attract students who had already paid for college. Plus starting a new school would be incredibly complicated. He's right; perhaps the answer would be to just approach an existing four year college and suggest they rebrand. I  don't know.

But I still think that such a school would be a success -- and more importantly, its students would be successful. Here is the little mission statement I wrote up to give my brother its flavor:


The Practical College

Every year more than a million and a half newly minted college graduates emerge from their ivory towers with no discernible practical skills. They’ve studied what they were interested in, be that sociology or philosophy or medieval literature or Romantic poetry. They’ve worked hard to get good grades. Yet all the knowledge they have gained in those fields has close to zero value in terms of helping them get ahead in the real world.

Spanish literature, the Classics, and European History are all interesting, and fine things to study. Rowing, football, theater, and glee club are all fine pursuits as well. But none of these activities will actually help you get ahead in your career. Academic types like to pontificate about how people who don’t understand history are condemned to repeat it, and coaches like to talk about life lessons learned from sport. But those are lessons that can only be used in the most oblique, roundabout ways.

The truth is, most college students are without a clue as to what is facing them when they graduate, and as defenseless as newborn kittens.

The Practical College is an intense, one year school designed to give its students the kinds of useful knowledge and interpersonal skills which will help them succeed in whatever field they choose. Regular colleges would consider the courses we teach insufficiently academic, possibly even morally reprehensible. But what we teach is far more useful than anything you’d learn at other schools.

At most colleges, you could learn 99% of what they teach by just reading the books assigned for the course curriculum. At The Practical College, we focus on who you are: we take a hard look at you and determine your strengths and weaknesses. We help you figure out how to change or at least work around weaknesses. And we help you figure out how to capitalize on your strengths.

Most schools today do their best to instill “self esteem.” But self esteem of the type which is automatically given to everybody simply because they exist is in fact self-defeating. The prevailing ethic -- that you’re perfect just the way you are -- is simply a path to complacency. The Practical College will provide you with the tools to succeed in whatever field you choose; that is the path to real self-esteem.

One such tool is charm. Charm can stop feuds, create friendships, and move you forward in your career. It’s what makes people laugh and want to be around you. Charm breaks down into five main components: flattery, empathy, self-deprecation, humor, and calmness. The Practical College teaches how to use all of these, and tailor them to fit your particular persona.

Most colleges have a tendency to turn their students into misty-eyed idealists. Good intentions are admirable, but they can sometimes blind you to the fact that others have bad intentions. You will undoubtedly run into at least a few sociopaths -- those creatures utterly without conscience -- in your lifetime. Since sociopaths can poison whatever atmosphere they’re in, and even ruin peoples’ lives, it’s best to know about them. The Practical College teaches you how to recognize and deal with them.  

The College also offers a course on how to detect everyday liars (and, by extension, how to lie yourself if necessary).

From the time we’re young, we’re taught to downplay and look beyond appearance. The reason so much emphasis is put on this is because our instincts push us so hard in the other direction. The importance of your appearance when it comes to being hired, getting ahead in business, and of course being successful in romance, cannot be overemphasized. The Practical College will bring in a reputable cosmetic surgeon to make recommendations -- but will put absolutely no pressure on you to act on those. Major changes tend to turn out poorly, so we suggest only subtle changes. But a minor touch up can be a great investment in your future. Age 22 or 23 is generally a transitional period, a good age at which to have such work done. You’ll be able to enjoy its benefits for your entire life, and your friends will be less likely to notice the change. There is still a slight stigma attached to cosmetic surgery; we will discuss that as well, and explain why you shouldn’t let it get in your way.  

We will also give each student a brief course in dressing. Another consultant will determine what colors and styles will look good on you. This consultant is not a wild-eyed designer who wants to make a fashion statement. He is just someone with common sense who understands clothes and colors and what suits different individuals best.

At most colleges, getting drunk is an almost mandatory extracurricular activity. But after college, alcohol is a tool which, if you know how to wield it, can be used to great effect. Many business meetings, social gatherings, and private dinners involve alcohol. We will teach a course about different drinks, and the statements they make. (One’s choice of drink can give away more than you think.) This course will teach you how to encourage others to drink while not getting drunk yourself.

Students ordinarily spend their four years of college grinding for grades, thinking it will help them get a good job. But those four years are probably less important than the half hour they spend interviewing for a job they want. An admissions officer at a grad school looks at your transcript; an interviewer looks at you. If the interviewer doesn’t take to you, or doesn’t remember you, a perfect GPA matters little. The interviewing process is much more akin to speed dating than to anything academic. The foremost question in the interviewer’s mind (whether he realizes it or not) is, would I want to spend more time with this person? It’s all about chemistry – and chemistry can be manufactured. To our knowledge, no regular college offers a course on how to interview. We do. We will explain the kind of impression you want to make and how to be memorable. You will learn the types of things interviewers want to hear, how to appear hard-working, and how important it is to show that you really want to work at that firm. We will even tell you what to say about the two years you’ve spent at The Practical College.

The Practical College will teach a brief course on effective martial arts. This is not about how to perform elaborate moves or jumping spin kicks. It’s about the quickest, most effective things to do if you ever find yourself threatened.

We will encourage you to learn how to use a weapon. For legal reasons, we will not teach this course ourselves, but will arrange for a group class at a nearby gallery. We hope you never have to use a firearm; but it is better to know how than not. Sometimes just that knowledge can be psychologically reassuring.  

The Practical College will teach the basics of seduction. These are somewhat different skills for men and women, but we will have a brief course for both.

Too many people go to the altar with stars in their eyes, with no idea about the real nature of marriage. We will teach a brief course on why -- and how -- you should get married with your eyes open. We will offer a marriage checklist, and discuss prenuptial agreements.

The Practical College offers a very brief course on investing. We will explain the nature of different financial instruments.  

We will teach you about the nature of the corporate ladder, and your relationships with your boss and coworkers. We will explain why it is in a boss’s interest to encourage teamwork, and why it is in your interest to pay lip service to it, but also why it is in your interest to step outside that concept whenever you can.

Salesmanship is a far more important part of your life than you realize, even if you don’t work in a sales department. As a freshly minted college graduate you may not realize it, but you’ll be selling your ideas, your company, your product, and yourself for your entire life. The Practical College will teach a course on salesmanship.

We will teach you about body language: how to read someone else’s and how to use your own. It will cover when and how to look at someone, how to stand, how to walk, and how to shake hands.

If you’re a parent who feels your child is a little na├»ve, and would prefer that he enter the corporate jungle as a carnivore, and not a herbivore, send him here.   

To some extent, The Practical College will teach Machiavellianism. There are certain people – often sociopaths -- to whom this comes naturally. They don’t need this program, and, frankly, we don’t want them. The people this school will help most are those who do not have those instincts naturally. 

The Practical College is, in essence, a finishing school. When you hear the term “finishing school,” you think of young ladies getting ready for their debutante ball. This, of course, is not what we are about. We will provide young men and women with tools they hadn’t even realized that they would need to succeed in life.

This is not a school where the students can pick and choose courses, or select a major. Everybody goes through the same classes. There are also no grades assigned here. Grades are traditionally a mechanism to get students to learn; they will not be needed to maintain student interest here, as the real world value of the curriculum will be quite apparent.

If you think you detect a strong whiff of cynicism here, you are correct. But our view is that the cynical view is often the realistic one. And bear in mind, you can always use cynical means to idealistic ends. You may also be put off by the superficiality of some of the ways we would “improve” you. It’s true, we do suggest a certain amount of superficiality. But no one is immune to the effects of looks, charm, and poise. If you have these weapons in your arsenal, you will be better equipped to face the world.

Very few of us past the age of forty have never had the thought, "Ah, if only I'd known back then what I know now." This college is a way to impart much of that knowledge to 23-year-olds. It will teach many of the insights and social skills that many of us stumble upon, through trial and error, by age forty. But by age forty, many options have already been closed off to us. If you learn these things when you're starting out, you'll enjoy a far wider array of opportunities in life. 

As I said, we will probably not pursue this. But I wish such a school had been around when I was 22, and I had been sent there. God knows I could have used the education. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Manners

Was chatting with a guy at the gym the other day about exercise routines when he pointed out that the woman who had just left was particularly fit. I mentioned that I had once lost a leg lift contest to her, and added, "And I'm the kind of guy who never challenges anybody to anything unless I'm absolutely sure I'm going to win."

He responded, with a bemused glint, "Compete with her? Heck, she'd be nice to....be married to."

I've head that general sentiment expressed by any number of guys, in any number of ways, about any number of women. But that was probably the most gentlemanly way I've ever heard it phrased.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I've turned over a new leaf, honestly I have

Back in December of '09, I wrote about Karla Faye Tucker, who became a cause celebre on Death Row after she found God:

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2009/12/cause-celebres.html

I never bought her conversion. Nor do I buy the false repentance of other criminals who want parole boards to think they've become a different people since their crimes. If someone has a strong motive to claim he's changed, that is all the less reason to believe his "conversion."

People don't suddenly grow consciences, their IQ's don't miraculously expand, and their facial features don't suddenly change (without surgery). And when you hear someone say he's turned over a new leaf, the best policy is to keep your hand on your wallet.

Likewise, people don't suddenly change their political outlooks between the ages of 47 and 49. They may have reason to pretend to -- like wanting reelection -- but they don't really change.

Bear this in mind as you listen to the the new jobs-loving, regulation-hating, deficit-reducing, bipartisan Obama address Congress tonight.

Actions speak louder than State of the Union speeches. If someone pushes a stimulus bill which is nothing but earmarks, then says he wants no more earmarks, that reeks of hypocrisy -- especially if he said he would not abide any earmarks when he first campaigned for office. If a politician says he wants to "invest in jobs," that's just another way of saying he wants more government spending. And if a President has pushed federal spending to record levels, then says he wants to freeze most of those expenditures at those levels, that simply means he wants he wants to preserve his expansion.

I believe Obama would give up basketball, smoking, and golf before I'd believe he would give up redistribution of wealth as his guiding principle.

Addendum, next morning: Listening to Obama talk about reducing the deficit last night reminded me of nothing so much as a fat girl who has a second and then third slice of chocolate cake, but washes it all down with a Diet Coke because she is on a "diet."

Monday, January 24, 2011

What else is new?

Yesterday a friend named Bill whom I know from the local Y asked how my son Johnny was doing. I gave a brief reply concerning his life at Ft. Wainwright, and said he was due to deploy in late April. Bill then slowly shook his head and said, "When he comes back from Afghanistan he's going to be ten times the man that any of us are."

I thought this a diplomatically perfect response from Bill: it was self-deprecatory, complimentary to Johnny, and he used the word "when" rather than "if."

So when we Skyped Johnny last night I passed the comment along.

Today I happened to see Bill at the Y again, and told him that I had told Johnny what he'd said. Bill nodded and asked how Johnny had responded.

I furrowed my brow. "He actually didn't say much of anything." I thought about it for another moment, then added, "To tell the truth, I think he just sort of assumes that anyway."

Given what he's volunteered to do, I can't really argue with his assumption, at least vis-a-vis me.

Jack Lalanne, RIP

As you've probably heard, Jack Lalanne, 96, died yesterday.

He was the heterosexual Richard Simmons, without all the issues. He looked almost as silly, in those curious short-sleeved shirts/long pants outfits he wore. But unlike Simmons, he was actually extremely fit himself. In 1956, at age 42, he set a world record by doing 1033 push ups in 22 minutes. In 1959, at age 45, he did 1000 jumping jacks and 1000 pull ups in an hour and 22 minutes on his TV show.

In later years, some of Lalanne's feats became a little gimmicky. In 1984, at age 70, while handcuffed and shackled and supposedly fighting strong winds and currents, he reportedly towed 70 rowboats, one with several guests, for one mile in Long Beach Harbor.

In any case, Lalanne was always a good advertisement for the healthy lifestyle he recommended.

Lalanne became a health nut in 1929, at age 15, but even by the 1950's and 60's, when he started becoming well known, people regarded adult fitness fanatics ("body builders") as weirdos, somewhat akin to vegetarians or nudists.

Lalanne himself didn't come across weird, though he may have been a bit obsessive. He was always happy, and upbeat, and always had a quip at the ready. When asked about sex, Lalanne's standard reply was, "Despite our years, my wife and I make love almost every night: almost on Monday, almost on Tuesday, almost on Wednesday..."

There was something so eager and innocent about Lalanne that it was hard not to like him. Lalanne was proud of his physique, and made no attempt to hide that pride. It may have been partly because he was short, but he always came across a little like a kid saying, "Look Ma, look how big my muscles got!"

I'm glad he lived as long as he did.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A plea

If you've been enjoying this blog, I beg you to forward it to three more people. Yes, it's a blog-without-a-theme, but on the other hand, it's got something for everyone:

Baby Boomers will identify with this post:

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2011/01/dark-ages.html

Advice for a shy young man:

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2011/01/advice-for-young-men.html

For anyone interested in gossip (that's everybody, whether they admit it or not):

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2011/01/portrait-of-happy-couple.html

For women who like to look down on men (i.e., women):

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-do-men-fixate-on-one-body-part.html

For any males fascinated by the concept of masculinity (i.e., all men):

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2010/12/confessions-of-beta-male.html

For those with a jaundiced view of Obama:

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2010/12/obama-phones-eagles.html

Thank you.

Addendum,1/26/11: I take it back. The blog does have a theme: human nature

If that's not pretentious enough for you, how about: the human condition?

Wait! I can do even better: la condition humaine.

Now you can send it to all your arty friends too.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Touche

The New York Post featured the following headline this morning: 

"MSNBC pulls plug on gasbag Olbermann."

A few excerpts from the first few paragraphs:

Broadcast blowhard Keither Olbermann's countdown has finally come to an end. The liberal lip of MSNBC was unceremoniously dumped by the peacock network last night....Sources said the network brass basically paid the pontificating pundit to scram...The garrulous gasbag will likely have to stay off the air at least until fall under the agreement. Last night the unemployed uberdork bid his farewell to fans in a long-winded segment....Olbermann then took his message a step further, painting himself as a sort of liberal Joan of Arc...After bidding adieu, the self-styled champion of the little guy was spotted dining late last night at the posh Gramercy Tavern on East 20th Street with four guests.

How appropriate that Olbermann's departure would be celebrated by the Post in an article showing all the balance and restraint that he himself demonstrated over the years.

Moral turpitude

It's hard to respect an irresponsible wastrel who lives so far beyond his means that he must eventually declare bankruptcy.

What is going through the mind of someone who buys a large house, a boat, two cars, and dines out at fancy restaurants, even when he doesn't have the money to pay for it?

In cases like these, it's hard not to suspect some sort of substance abuse at work. Or a stunning lack of brainpower.

Or both.

This sort of lifestyle also betrays a certain sociopathic mindset: enjoy it while you can, even if you know the whole house of cards is about to come tumbling down.

Either way, it's irresponsible behavior.

Many of our states and large cities exhibit the same behavior pattern, just on a much larger scale. They have borrowed and spent to the point where it looks as if they won't be able to meet their obligations. You could say these municipalities have exhibited the same low IQ, binging tendencies -- along with a somewhat sociopathic attitude.

California and New York and Illinois have long been run by corrupt pols who are in bed with the unions which helped get them elected. They have feasted at the public trough for years. But now it is becoming obvious that this lifestyle can no longer be sustained.

Their credit cards should have been taken away long ago.

Just as Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme only unraveled because of the larger financial crisis, so have these municipalities' financial shenanigans only become apparent in the wake of the current economy. (As Warren Buffett once said, "You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.") The taxpayers are finally revolting against their public "servants" enjoying benefits and pensions far more luxurious than they themselves get.

The worst thing that could happen at this point would be for the federal government to bail out the states. That would just kick the problem down the road. The only way the irresponsible politicians can be reined in is with effective bankruptcies.

What's worse is that the United States itself is going down the same road by running up unsustainable debt. Right now it looks as if the only way we can pay it off is by inflating our currency, which would wreak even worse havoc.

Weimar Republic here we come.

Triactin

Heard the following via Ed Gendreau and Guy Davis, whose masters team just recruited a world class swimmer from Auburn University, which has a legendary sprint program.

The new swimmer told Ed that whenever anyone on the team complained, they were told they "might try putting a little Triactin on that."

(As in, "Try actin' like a man for a change.")

Addendum, 11/23/11: I had been planning to steal that line for use at my local gym. But I just found out that this Auburn guy is now in training to be a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, one of those guys who jumps from a helicopter into stormy seas to rescue others. Now I sorta feel like I ought not to be using the line.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Refinement

At a recent masters swimming meet I chatted with a woman who had graduated from the Sorbonne. She had majored in philosophy, and had read many of the ancient philosophers in the original Greek and Latin. She spoke a total of six languages. She didn't boast about any of this; I coaxed it out of her. She was actually quite reserved. (At least that's how I preferred to interpret her iciness.)

There was something old-fashioned about her attitude which I found appealing: she was one of the few people I knew who still seemed to value learning for its own sake. It's a somewhat anachronistic attitude. These days even the most elite colleges tend to be looked at by their students as trade schools: how can I best leverage this education to get into med school, or get a job on Wall Street or at a consulting firm? You rarely meet people who still see an education as an end unto itself.

It's an attitude that bespeaks a certain refinement.

But it also occurred to me that the quality of refinement, which striving families used to put such a premium on, has much to do with how useless one's chosen activities are. (There is something grandly, gloriously useless about being able to read Plato in the ancient Greek, a language one can not even use on the streets of Athens today.)

My mother came from a family in Japan that was well to do, at least until WWII wiped them out. When she was young, she learned to play the piano and do calligraphy. She wasn't a good enough pianist to make money from it, but she was good enough so that whenever she would play, people would see that she was good. She never made any money off her calligraphy, either. But both skills are the kinds of things that an upper class family in old Japan would have valued, because they demonstrated that their daughter hadn't had to spend her youth working in a rice paddy. Both skills are, to use the old-fashioned term, "genteel."

The practice of foot binding in China, so rightly regarded as crazy today, was a more direct manifestation of this drive. It was only done to upper class girls, and it was done to illustrate that the family was so upper class that their daughter did not even need to use her feet much, as she had servants to attend her every whim. Crippling one's daughter's as a way of showing off may seem particularly self-defeating, but that was why it was done.

When my mother's mother was young, she was actually carried around on a palanquin by four sumo wrestlers. That's pretty much the ultimate status ride -- way, way outdoing the fanciest Mercedes. A palanquin may not be as comfortable, or as fast, and it certainly doesn't have the same kind of amenities. But for pure cachet, it can't be beat.

I usually find refinement in women appealing (if it's unaccompanied by spoilage). If performed well, useless skills can be admirable. They can demonstrate dexterity, or will power, or intelligence. (What better way to demonstrate your intelligence than to speak six languages?) But it goes beyond that in some undefinable way. Maybe such skills say something about character as well; I'm not sure.

In our country today, there is still a class divide between the usefulness of things that girls do. Lower middle class girls learn to cook, sew, and do laundry (as well as get pregnant). Upper middle class girls go to Amnesty International meetings, raise awareness for fashionable causes, and go to field hockey practice.

The boys are no different. Lower middle class boys, at least from rural areas, grow up hunting and fishing; upper middle class boys go to lacrosse practice. Lower middle class boys learn to drive tractors, or trucks; rich boys learn to maneuver golf carts.

When you think about it, it's the lower middle class that performs all the necessary and difficult functions in our society: they drive the buses, grow the food, fight the fires, and form the backbone of the military. The upper middle class mostly does things to try to feel good about themselves (like write a blog).

Conclusion: lower middle class men are more admirable, but upper middle class women are still somehow more appealing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What did they expect?


There was a minor brouhaha recently over whether comedian Ricky Gervais, while hosting the Golden Globe Awards the other night, went too far by making jokes at the expense of the nominated stars.

I caught about ten minutes of the show, long enough to hear Gervais say about Robert Downey Jr., "Many of you in this room probably know him best from the Betty Ford Clinic and the Los Angeles County Jail."

After pointing out that it was a big year for 3D films, Gervais also said, "It seems like everything this year was three dimensional -- except the characters in The Tourist."

Many in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which selects the winners, were evidently offended by Gervais' jokes. (At one point he suggested that they took bribes.)

But if you hire a comedian, you hire him to poke fun. And the funniest jokes are always a little pointed, whether they're directed at yourself or someone else. (Show me a comedian who isn't daring and I'll show you a comedian who isn't funny.) So what did they expect?

Chris Rock had the exact same problem at the Oscars in 2005. He made jokes at the expense of the stars, then wasn't invited back because he wasn't respectful enough. This makes one wonder, had the people who selected him in the first place never listened to one of Rock's HBO specials? You don't hire Chris Rock to be Bob Hope -- you hire him to be Chris Rock. To expect otherwise is lunacy.

Kathy Griffin was hired recently to host a New Year's Eve show on CNN. Later on some at CNN complained that she had crossed the line with her risque jokes. Crossed the line? That's all Griffin ever does -- that's what makes her Kathy Griffin. Why hire her just to put a muzzle on her? Her mistake was to think that they had hired her to be herself, rather than Barbara Walters.

If you want balanced commentary, don't hire Keith Olbermann. If you want a subtle, nuanced performance, don't cast Jack Nicholson.

And if you want your awards show to be hosted the way the Miss America pageant is, don't hire an iconoclastic comedian.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Portrait of a happy couple?

I've heard from a couple sources recently that Will Smith and Jada Pinkett are both gay, and are in a show business marriage (i.e., it's just for show). I might not have been inclined to believe it, since Smith doesn't set my gaydar off. But then I thought of all the pictures I've seen of the two of them together, where they are inevitably intertwined and expressing some sort of passion.

Here are Will and Jada on the red carpet, posing for the photographers by sticking their tongues down each others' throats. Or here they are at home, obviously impatient for the photographer to go away so they can jump into bed like the eager lovebirds they are. Or here they are in front of a restaurant, practically tearing each others' clothes off. And there they are dressed up in evening wear, so overwhelmed by the passion of the moment that they just have to make out like a pair of tenth graders. Hey you two -- get a room!

They're trying way, way too hard.

While looking for these pictures, I ran across this recent article, from a publication called IndiaReport:

"The secret to Will Smith's happy marriage revealed

 Los Angeles, Jada Pinkett Smith has revealed the secret ingredient to a happy married life and that is plenty of sex.

Jada who has been married to Hollywood superstar Will Smith for more than 12 years, said that the key to a happy marriage is to find time for intimate moments despite the hectic schedule, reported Ace showbiz.

'My husband and I always make time for sex! Always! No matter how busy we are. And if I told you the places! You would not even believe. It's crazy the risks that we take, but that's what keeps it so much fun,' gushed Jada.

The pair, who have two children, 11-year-old Jaden Smith and 9-year-old Willow Smith, are considered the ideal couple in Hollywood circles.

At a certain level they are ideal: Jada pretty clearly doesn't have to worry about Will seeing another woman, and Will doesn't have to worry about Jada being with another man. (Not that either of them would care.)

This article is reminiscent of Tom Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah's couch to demonstrate his love for Katie Holmes.

Newsflash: real wives don't talk like that, especially not after twelve years of marriage. After twelve years, real married couples are sick to death of each other. Most marriages become battlegrounds, accumulations of petty resentments. By this point the prevailing emotion is neither lust nor affection, but rather anger. Sex, if it happens at all, is rare. (It is replaced by bickering.) And if their house is big enough, they may even move to separate bedrooms.

Had Jada Pinkett-Smith been in a real marriage to Smith, her thoughts would have run more as follows: "After twelve years of smelling his burps and farts, after twelve years of listening to his stupid jokes and his snoring, it turns my stomach to even be in the same room as the son of a bitch. I do everything I can to avoid sex with him, and when he insists on it, I basically just hold my nose and put up with it. I can't even recall the last time he gave me an orgasm." Now Pinkett-Smith might not have actually given voice to those thoughts -- but she wouldn't have sounded the way she did in that article, either.

I don't blame actors for hiding their gayness. When I see an actor I know is gay in a clinch with some actress on screen, I can't help but think, "Hmm...."

But good actors are supposed to study the people they're portraying and observe them closely. Had Smith and Pinkett ever taken a hard look at a real married couple, they would know better than to act so deliriously happy to be together.

I've long thought Smith somewhat underrated as an actor (he was perfect in Men in Black). But while he may not get enough credit for his work onscreen, he certainly doesn't deserve any Oscars for his over the top impersonation of a heterosexual male offscreen. (For that, he actually deserves a Razzie.)

This post, by the way, is not an indictment of gay people. I've known many and liked most. It is an indictment of people who have no idea how to wear their beards.

How many married couples do you know who -- after more than ten years together -- feel obliged to demonstrate their lasciviousness and passion every time a camera is nearby?

Smith might as well have posed for those photos with a penis in his mouth.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Radar screen

Some countries become familiar to us because of their political unrest, or their potential for hurting the vital interests of the US. Some we hear about because they produce nice products of some sort. Some because they are scenic vacation spots. Some because they produce good athletes. Still others because they have unique flora and fauna.

But until the last few days, Tunisia was not even on my radar screen. It was just a place on a map: "Oh yeah, Tunisia -- it's capital is Tunis, right?" (OK, I admit, I just looked that up.)

I'd never even heard of Ben Ali. From what I've read recently, the country is better off without him. Evidently he's been a corrupt dictator for well on twenty years now. And what's happened over the past week is a wonderful example of a peaceful revolution.

But the whole thing is a good example of how the media controls the discussion. If they don't want to mention something, it simply doesn't enter our consciousness. And I don't even blame them for this particular omission: as bad as Ben Ali was, there are others who are worse, in powerful countries with more potential for damage to our interests.

In any case, there is so much else to occupy us that our attention will be distracted by other places and people. And that's just the way our minds work.

At least it's the way mine does. Not once in the past twenty years did it ever occur to me, gee, I never hear about Tunisia these days. I wonder how things are going there.

Advice for young men

Two weeks ago I had a conversation with a younger guy I know at the local gym. The conversation turned to women, and he started talking about the rules he had for girls he wouldn't go after. As a 30 year old, he wouldn't go after any girl less than 21. And he wouldn't go after the friend of a former girlfriend. And he....

I interrupted him to say that his rules were silly. I said, go after any girl you feel like. When you're 70, you won't look back and regret the girls you got, believe me. You'll only regret the ones you missed.

Speaking as a 56-year-old, I can honestly say I don't regret chasing a single girl. I only regret the ones I was too shy and hesitant to pursue. This doesn't mean I didn't make a fool of myself on many occasions. I did. So what? Everybody has to go through that stage. (Although my awkward stage seemed to last an awfully long time.) I do mildly rue various awkward moments. But I bitterly regret the times I let my fear of appearing awkward keep me from trying.

There's a saying, that no man on his death bed regrets not having gone into the office more. I'm sure that no man on his death bed regrets the women he got, either.

My thoughts at 56 run along similar lines: why was I such an idiot? I could have had that girl! What was I thinking? Why was I such a wimp!?

Time does have wings. Sometimes it seems to me as if one day I was 23, then I blinked, and all of a sudden I was 56. And it makes my heart ache to think of the fun I could have had but didn't. 

Whether you're 15, 30, or even 45, it's a useful exercise to put yourself in the shoes of a 70 year old. Because when you're that age, past rejections will have long since lost their sting, and you'll see them as the irrelevancies they were. But the missed opportunities will haunt you.

Young men, bear that in mind.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Grassy knoll

Skyped with my son last night for the first time in a week. We chatted briefly about how the liberal pundits had blamed the "vitriol" of the Tea Partiers for the Tucson shootings. (I haven't discussed that here, as it has already been much analyzed elsewhere.)

At one point I said, "It's pretty clear to me that Sarah Palin phoned up Jared Loughner and told him whom to shoot. I think they should examine his phone records."

Johnny's response: "My theory is that Sarah Palin shot all those people herself -- and then framed that poor crazy bastard for the murders."

It's as credible as anything else the Lefties have offered this week.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A report you won't see in the NY Times

A friend forwarded the following link a couple days ago.

http://whitereference.blogspot.com/2009/07/blackboard-jungle-2009-christopher.html

It is a first person account from someone who taught at a majority black high school in the Southeast for several years. I can't vouch for the veracity of the account -- it was featured on a white nationalist website -- but it rings true. 

When I expressed surprise to my friend -- who takes positions from both sides of the aisle -- that he would frequent such a site, he replied,

"I don't exactly 'hang out' but I sometimes tiptoe around the dark side.

Actually I do like to shop for a wide range of views from across the political and ideological spectrum.  The internet is wonderful for unfiltered commentary, but the downside is that some of it is spiteful bile or uninformed c##p.

But when the terms of the mainstream debates on important questions, like health care or education, are so poorly framed and fail to cut to many core issues, one has to go a little off-piste to make any intellectual progress."

True enough. Take a look at the link, it's more entertaining than you'd think. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An open letter to John Boehner

Dear Mr. Speaker:

By now everybody in America knows that you have a tendency to cry at the most inopportune moments. There's no taking this back, so at this point there's only one thing for you to do: make light of it. This will take the sting out of other peoples' jibes, and will actually endear you to the American public.

One of Jimmy Carter's finest moments in office came when a reporter asked him if his daughter Amy boasted about the fact that her father was the President of the United States. Carter replied, "I think she apologizes for it."

I remember feeling a surge of warmth for the man when I read those words.

In 1984, when the 73-year-old Reagan ran for reelection against Walter Mondale, many questioned whether a man his age would be vigorous enough to serve four more years. During the second Presidential debate, a reporter confronted Reagan about the issue directly. Reagan replied, "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."

Some say Reagan sewed up his reelection at that moment. 

If you can make light of your own weakness, you will end up appearing even better than had you not exhibited it in the first place. So try some of these lines on for size; they should fit you well:

[If you can make it obvious you're joking]: "My press secretary told me I had to make myself appear more human. So I faked crying a few times. [Shrug.] Now he's telling me I've gone too far."

[Alternatively, if someone else raises the issue of your crying]: "I promise you this -- contrary to popular rumor, those were not crocodile tears. I was not faking it."

"I've been called the Weeper of the House. And I've been called a crybaby. And, well, that's what I am. But the real reason to cry would be if the will of the American people were ignored after this last election, and ObamaCare forced upon them....."

"I have to say, my getting choked up so easily hasn't exactly done wonders for my tough guy image. But I promise that I will be tough -- tough when it comes to fighting for the American people...."

[With a wink]: "I'm warning you, if you don't pass this bill I'm going to start crying again. And you know how uncomfortable that makes everybody. So do the right thing here...."

[In an interview]: "Don't worry, I'm not going to start crying -- I don't think."

Mr. Speaker, everybody cries, even if only in private. And all men are at least a little embarrassed by it, no matter what they say. If you can make light of your own crying, at a certain level you will set everyone else's fears at rest. And the public will love you for it.

All of these lines must be said with a rueful grin. Don't look sheepish -- but don't look as if you're particularly proud of these lines, either. If you can do this, and do it with a twinkle in your eye, you will once again appear in control.

This is your only possible course of action. If you don't make sport of yourself, the Republicans will tire of your tremulous leadership and will find some excuse to replace you. Mock yourself, and your popularity will make you one of the most effective leaders the House has ever had.

You may also find that if you make light of your tears, they will be less likely to emerge.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A man walks into a bar.....

Actually, make that out of a bar.

The first two paragraphs of a NY Post article from today:

A leopard terrorized the Indian town of Karad Sunday, attacking six people, including one man who it pinned to the ground before being shot by a police officer, according to reports.

The leopard pounced on Hanumant Mane as he walked out of a bar. Officer Vikas Dhas then rushed up and shot the animal at close range, the Mumbai Mirror reported.

Imagine the scene.  You've just gone to your local bar to relax and have a couple of beers. Now, with the pleasant buzz that alcohol brings, you step out out into the sunlight and.....a snarling leopard jumps on you.

That's gotta be a little bit of a buzz-killer.

It's hard to tell from the picture which part of the man the leopard grabbed onto, or whether the blood is from him or the leopard.

Either way, it's one more good argument against frequenting bars.

And yes, it's too bad for the leopard, but the policeman really had no choice.

What's your price?

The NY Post ran an article about the grisly recent midtown hotel slaying yesterday. The first few paragraphs (italics mine):

Before a gay Portuguese fashion journalist was beaten to death and castrated in a Times Square hotel room, his 20-year-old boy toy told him he was actually straight and only with him for the money, sources told The Post yesterday.

The two men got into a heated argument after the revelation, sources said.

Veteran newspaper reporter Carlos Castro, 65, wound up nude and dead -- his testicles hacked off -- on the floor of his ransacked room at the InterContinental hotel on Friday night.

Acquaintances of Renato Seabra, who recently won a modeling contract on a Portuguese TV show, said he was straight and only pretending to date Castro.

"Carlos Castro was a trampoline to rise in the fashion and social worlds," the source said.

I'm not sure I buy that Seabra was actually straight. But this incident does bring up the age old question.

I once asked it of a particularly macho guy I knew on Wall Street: "How much money would it take for you to blow another guy?"

He responded, "There's absolutely no fucking way I'd ever blow another guy, not for any amount of money, under any circumstances. Ever."

I persisted, "Would you do it for a hundred thousand dollars? Let's assume the guy has been tested for AIDS beforehand and you know he's clean. And you'd have a bottle of Listerine nearby so you could gargle right afterward."

He replied brusquely, "I told you, there's no way I'd ever do that."

I asked, "How about a million then?"

"No." 

I said, "Okay. Ten million."

He just stared off into space expressionlessly for a couple seconds. Then he slowly smiled. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Movie themes


I was on the subject of movie themes with my son recently and he mentioned that the music from Shane was quite good:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiYjHu5B6Nc

I listened to it, and found it stirring. (You may find it the same.) But I can't quite figure out why. Is it because the music itself is good? Is it because I associate it with the movie itself, which I liked? Is it because it reminds me of my youth, when I first saw the movie?

Or is it because I'm an idiot?

I honestly can't tell.

See if it moves you. If it does, maybe you can figure out why. If not, you can choose option four for me.

SATs


When I signed my son up for the SATs a couple years ago I somehow ended up on a mailing list from the Educational Testing Service. Every morning I get an email with a sample SAT question which I now forward to my daughter, a high school junior. Being the nerd that I am, I also do the question myself.

A few weeks ago, while talking to a friend --

http://justnotsaid.blogspot.com/2009/07/coolest-guy-i-ever-met_09.html

-- we discussed our daughters' test-taking, and he asked me to forward the questions to him as well, so he could pass them along to his daughter.

It now turns out that he has also been doing the questions, and has done well on them. So yesterday he emailed me, "We ought to take the SATs again, just for hoots, to see how we'd do."

"I will if you will," I replied (in true beta male fashion).

You're probably assuming that he wasn't serious, but -- trust me, I know him -- this is the kind of thing he would actually do. (And if a wager became part of the picture, as it often does with him, I would probably take him up on it.)

But when I mentioned the possibility to my daughter, she let out a moan of dismay: "Oh, no, Dad, not in our town. I know people here. And we'd be sitting right next to each other, because it's done alphabetically. Oh, god, no, please don't."

I have no idea whether the ETS would actually allow us to take the test (I suspect they would not). And if they did, I wouldn't subject my daughter to my presence at such an important event.

But that still leaves the question: how silly would a 56-year-old look sitting in an auditorium full of 16- and 17-year-olds taking that test?

And how much sillier would he look if he got beaten by his daughter?

Waterworks


The NY Post ran the following article two days ago (italics mine): 

New Speaker of House weeps as Republicans take control

The most powerful Republican in Washington blubbered uncontrollably yesterday as he relieved outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the huge gavel that comes with being the chamber's top dog.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), who became the new Speaker with tears in his eye, will lead the 112th Congress now that the GOP has control of the House.

Boehner is known for getting misty, weeping, or sometimes flat-out bawling -- especially when he talks about his rags-to-riches life story, children or even war funding.

He first got choked up yesterday as he made his way through a throng of colleagues on the House floor, shaking hands with each well-wisher en route to the rostrum.

Boehner then produced a handkerchief, wiped his eyes and blew his nose -- steadying himself before the ceremonial passing of the gavel.

When even the right-leaning NY Post mocks the new Republican Speaker, you know something is amiss. Boehner's tendency to cry is getting to be -- this has to be said -- a little embarrassing. It has actually gotten to point where it's painful to watch him. You sit there thinking, please don't start crying, please, please don't. And then, sure enough, Boehner gets all choked up and the waterworks start.

The weird thing is, Boehner is one of the last people you would have expected this from. He has a gravelly voice, a hard face, and a gruff, no-nonsense manner. Given that he obviously subscribes to the macho ethic himself, he has to find this tendency of his embarrassing. (Boehner also gives off the vibe that if he did not have this weakness himself, he might not be so understanding of it in others.)

One has to think that crying in public has become Boehner's biggest fear -- and this may actually be why it manifests itself so often. But he seems to deal with it, and just keeps plugging away. It doesn't seem to be hampering his role, at least not so far.

It has become customary for men to admit that they cry and to say that they're not ashamed of it. So, in that vein, let me confess that I cry too. The only thing is, I always am a little embarrassed by it. Which is why I generally don't do it in front of other people. These days the tears come when I think of what could happen to my son in Afghanistan. And I'm certainly not ashamed of that. But I still reserve them for private moments.

I wish Boehner would reserve his crying for those as well. I just don't want the new face of the Republican Party to be such a weeping willow -- I want him to be made of tougher stuff than I am. It's a little like having a leader who is incontinent. It wouldn't directly affect his job performance. And we shouldn't criticize someone for something beyond their control. But at the same time it wouldn't exactly inspire confidence. What happens if Boehner gets in a fight with the Democrats? Will he start crying then?

The Democrats have got to be chortling. Imagine how filled with glee the Republicans would be if every time Obama gave a speech pushing one of his redistributionist programs, mucus would slowly dribble out of his nose. Or if whenever Hillary Clinton gave one of her evasive answers she would let out a rip-roaring fart. So far the Democrats haven't said anything publicly. But they have to be laughing inwardly.

Lots of Republican voices have been heard saying things along the lines of, he's not a crybaby. But of course that only underscores the fact that he is. People would never put that much effort into denying something which isn't true.

At least we know Boehner is not shedding crocodile tears the way Bill Clinton used to. You might fake a tear or two in order to gain some sympathy, or to appear more compassionate; but no one is going to do it to the extent Boehner has just for show.

Still and all, it's probably a healthy development that men are now allowed to show their emotions in public without overt censure.

We've certainly come far since 1972, when Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine had his Presidential campaign derailed because of crying.

Maybe just a little too far.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sociopath alert: Heidi Jones

The weather reporter for WABC-TV, Heidi Jones, has been in the news recently for having filed a false police report about an alleged rape attempt. She claimed to police that she had been assaulted on September 24th, and then harassed again by the same Hispanic man on November 21st.

After police noticed discrepancies in her story, she confessed to them on December 13th that she had just concocted the entire story in a bid for sympathy.

According to the NY Post, she recently told the police, "I made it up for attention. I have so much stress at work, with my personal life and with my family. I know there is no justification for it."

Ordinarily I like to see some corroborating evidence before I say someone is a sociopath. I want to see more about their background, a consistent sociopathic bent to their behavior, a certain pattern to their relationships, and evidence of other dishonesty. I couldn't find anything like that for Jones, for whom there is no Wikipedia entry. But her hoax was something nonsociopaths simply wouldn't do.

Can you imagine yourself making up a story like that, and then taking it to the police, so that they would have to check out all the local videotapes, scour the area for eyewitnesses, and search for the suspect, all of which would take time away from their investigations of real crimes? Can you imagine basking in the sympathy of your coworkers for your "traumatic experience"?

An ordinary person wouldn't do that because her sense of shame, embarrassment, guilt, and fear of discovery would prevent her. Only one kind of person totally lacks those emotions.

Another giveaway of Jones's sociopathy is the transparently false excuse she used for her behavior: the "stress" occasioned by her work, personal life, and family. What did you do the last time you felt stressed out? Have a beer or two? Go for a three mile run? Confide your troubles to a friend? Or did you make up an elaborate story about an assault and take it to the police?

This is just not the way normal people react to stress. For normal people, excess stress results in a desire to withdraw, and to try to reduce the causes of that stress. For nonsociopaths, there would be nothing more stressful than filing a false police report.

Sociopaths simply don't feel stress the same way. The kinds of things which would terrify you and me because of their potential for public shaming simply don't matter a whit to them, because they don't feel shame. They don't worry about not living up to others' expectations, or about letting others down. They know they're supposed to, but they don't. Every now and then they lay claim to emotions they know they're supposed to have, so as to appear normal. But they usually give themselves away by wielding them falsely, as Jones just did.

The woman who educated me about sociopathy when I was 25 once told me a story about how she saw an old lady trying to cross the street, and it made her feel so guilty. As she said this, she tried to look very compassionate. At the time I didn't understand sociopathy, but I remember thinking, why should she feel guilty -- she had nothing to do with the old woman having gotten old. And if she felt guilty, why didn't she just help her? When I finally realized that the woman I knew was a sociopath, and that she didn't feel guilt, the story made sense to me in a different way: she was trying to appear a good person with a show of false emotion.

Another emotion sociopaths don't feel is affection. When I worked on Wall Street I knew a sociopath who absolutely hated a coworker of ours named Jerry. The sociopath once said, "I like Jerry, he's a family guy, but...." and then proceeded to eviscerate him. I thought about it later and realized that no one actually likes anyone else simply because he has a wife and a bunch of kids. But the sociopath wanted to disguise the fact that he was eviscerating Jerry out of pure hatred, so he tried to lay claim to "liking" him for completely bogus reasons. He didn't know any better, because he never actually liked anyone. If you listen closely, a sociopath will usually give himself away with his false emotionality.

Jones' actions sound a bit like Munchhausen's Syndrome. That is the syndrome under which people will fake illnesses just to receive attention and sympathy. It's regarded as a unique illness, but I've always thought it merely an offshoot of sociopathy. The sociopathic nature of the "illness" is never more apparent than in what the psychiatric community refers to as Munchhausen's by Proxy, a variation in which parents will make their children ill in order to be able to take them to the hospital in order to receive attention and sympathy themselves from the doctors. What kind of parent would make her child physically ill just to be able to get attention for herself? (A rhetorical question.)

The evidence on Jones is narrow but deep: she is a sociopath.

(Oh, by the way, I'm sorry this post was out so late today -- I want you to know, I feel incredibly guilty about that.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hopper and Warhol


Today's NY Post has an article about Dennis Hopper's art colllection being up for auction at Christie's next week. The first paragraph reads:

"Dennis Hopper shot two bullet holes through an Andy Warhol 'portrait' of Mao Zedong but instead of earning the wrath of the artist, Warhol called the 'Easy Rider' star a collaborator."

That was actually a very adroit response by Warhol. Rather than stamping his feet and coming across like a ninny, he managed to turn a potential humiliation into a grace note. But that doesn't change the fact that Warhol was basically just a scammer. (Whenever you the words "conceptual" and "artist" together, you can usually just eliminate the "-ceptual" and get a clearer picture of what the artist is about.)

From the time he first called a Campbell's soup can a work of art, Warhol has been tricking the gullible into believing that he was some kind of genius. In fact he was, but his genius was at trickery, not art.

He managed to sell his "silkscreen portraits" (i.e., colored in photographs) of various celebrities for vast sums of money. This was all the more amazing considering he rarely produced these himself, and just had the employees at his Factory do it for him.

You can't really blame him. If I could sell that kind of garbage for that kind of money, I'd do it too.

But since I can't -- and perhaps this is jealousy speaking -- whenever I do see a Warhol, I get the urge to do a little collaborating myself.

Plastic surgery before and after pictures

A couple evenings ago I saw a picture of an actress with "enhanced" lips (that's one operation that rarely seems to go right), and subsequently found myself wandering around the web looking at various sites detailing bad plastic surgery outcomes. I ended up wasting three -- yes, three -- hours just perusing those sites; I would now like to offer you the same opportunity:

http://www.awfulplasticsurgery.com/

Just keep clicking the "previous entries" icon at the bottom of each page. After looking at enough of these pictures, you'll never even consider going under the knife.

A more recent site has sprung up in seeming rebuttal to the proliferation of sites devoted to detailing bad outcomes:

http://www.goodplasticsurgery.com/

After looking at this site, you'll actually want to have a little work done.

What all the bad outcomes have in common is that too much was attempted. Plastic surgery is helpful for minor improvements, but it can't give you an entirely new face. Those who tried to get new faces -- Catwoman and Michael Jackson come to mind -- invariably ended up looking like freaks. But in small doses, it can be helpful. With those it helped the most, you would never have guessed they'd had it done.

Now go ahead, waste your time.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Dark Ages


To historians, "The Dark Ages" refers to the era which ran from the decline of the Roman Empire in the 5th century A.D. up to the beginning of the Enlightenment in the 15th century.

But from the vantage point of the internet age, my own childhood is looking more and more like the Dark Ages. 

For entertainment, we had black and white TV. The picture quality wasn't great, and sometimes the image on the screen would scroll up or down, which meant we had to adjust the "vert hold" dial. There was no such thing as a remote control, so to do that, or to change the channel, you had to get up, walk over to the TV, and turn a knob.

There was less motive to change the channel, though, as there were only three channels. This is why Hollywood can make nostalgic movies from old TV shows like Get Smart and The Wild, Wild West and Starsky and Hutch: everybody remembers them, because there wasn't much else to watch. In the future they will be far less likely to do a remake of, say, Hoarders, simply because audience shares are less due to the number of choices.

Cell phones did not exist. Each family had one land line, ensuring arguments over who got to use it when. I knew of only one family that had two phone lines back then, and it struck me as the height of self indulgence. And without call waiting, getting in touch with someone often meant endlessly dialing until you finally stopped getting a busy signal.

If you wanted to contact someone far away (long distance phone calls were expensive), you used snail mail, or, as it was called back then, mail.

There was no GPS, so if you went for a walk in the woods you had to orient yourself. And if you did get lost, there was no calling for help on a cell phone. (It's a wonder any of us Baby Boomers survived to adulthood.)

To go for that walk, you would most likely have put on a pair of Keds, since there were no running shoes. That didn't seem like such a hardship, though, since jogging hadn't caught on yet.

Cars usually didn't have seat belts in the back seats, and there was no such thing as a crumple zone. No one would have imagined such frivolities as heated seats, or a digital readout to tell you what the outside temperature was, or another to tell you how many miles per gallon your car had averaged for that tank of gas.

(What the cars did have back then were personalities so distinctive that from a hundred and fifty yards away you could tell a Caddy from a Mercedes from a Mustang from a GTO. Nowadays you often have to look at the logo on the back to identify the model.)

There were no video games, so people actually played board games. Some of the games, like chess, actually required some brainpower. (You never hear a parent boast, "Oh, my Joey is really smart -- he's a really good Call of Duty player.)

To type, you inserted a piece of paper in the typewriter and pecked away. There was nothing you could do about typos other than put on some White Out -- remember that? -- reinsert the piece of paper, painstakingly line it up, and retype. Electric typewriters seemed like a luxury since you didn't have to tap on the keys that hard.

To listen to music, you used a record player. You had to be careful not to scratch the record, as a scratch could make the needle bounce back and forth, causing an endless loop of two seconds of music. Ironically, as the equipment to play it has gotten ever more sophisticated, the music itself has gone steadily downhill. Today you can use your iPod to listen to....rap. 

Computers were huge machines with names like ENIAC that only people at places like IBM used, and frankly, at the time they seemed sort of pointless.

Without the internet, the reference of choice was the Enclopedia Britannica. (Remember how grand that sounded -- Britannica? To be educated back then was to be slightly Anglophilic.) The information got out of date from time to time, but the encyclopedia was still the ultimate authority on just about everything.

With no Facebook, we figured we were doing well to have just four or five friends.

And special friends -- the kind with privileges? If you wanted to advertise for them, you had to do it in the back of some sleazy publication. (Decent people did not do this.) Or you had to actually go places to possibly meet people, like the local bar, from which you would return smelling like secondhand smoke.

Kids must think of the 1960's the way we thought of the horse and buggy days.

What will they have forty years from now which will make today look like the Dark Ages?

Addendum, next morning: I had honestly intended to keep all sentimentality out of this post, and just emphasize how much better things are now. But I see that despite my intentions, a little bit did creep in.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta


You may have heard of Sal Giunta, the nation's first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Viet Nam War.

On October 25, 2007, Giunta's platoon was ambushed in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. When Staff Sgt. Erik Gallardo was hit by a bullet to his helmet, Giunta leapt up, exposing himself to enemy gunfire, and rushed over to help him. After rescuing Gallardo, Giunta saw that Sgt. Josh Brennan was missing. He then raced ahead and saw that two insurgents were carrying the wounded Brennan away. Giunta shot and killed one of the insurgents; the other ran away. Giunta then carried the mortally wounded Brennan back to cover.

Giunta has been interviewed countless times since he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He's always well spoken and down to earth. Each time he says pretty much the same thing: he doesn't deserve the medal any more than any other member of his platoon, and he doesn't deserve it as much as the two who died. He frequently mentions that he wasn't even the best soldier in his platoon, and was surrounded by others who were smarter, stronger, quicker, and braver.

Could there possibly be a better representative of the Medal of Honor, of the military, or, for that matter, of the United States?

Giunta has received many invitations in the past few months. Wherever he goes, whether it's a football game or a hockey game, the David Letterman Show or Times Square on New Year's Eve, he gets a standing ovation. This is as it should be.

At the same time, he's right about one thing. There are plenty of other people in the military who probably also deserve the award, but have not received similar recognition. That underscores the fact that every last person who signs up for a combat role in the armed forces is more of a hero than any sports star, movie star, or business tycoon.

I admit I'm biased now that I have a son in the military. But I wish they'd stop using the word "hero" to describe someone who's good at his sport. That word should be reserved for someone who puts his life on the line for others.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jenn Sterger et al

The NFL fined Brett Favre $50,000 this week for having been less than forthright during the investigation about whether he had sent pictures of his penis via cellphone to Jenn Sterger, pictured here. (They decided they couldn't prove that he had done so.)

My guess is that Favre did send those pictures. I would also guess that Sterger subtly encouraged him to. Google Image Sterger --

http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&source=imghp&biw=1263&bih=620&q=Jenn+Sterger&btnG=Search+Images&gbv=2&aq=f&aqi=g10&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=

-- and every single picture you'll see shows her trying to look as provocative as possible. She has evidently learned that this is the way she can best attract attention. If Sterger wants to present herself that way, fine, but it seems a little unbecoming for her to then be acting so offended that Favre presented himself back to her the same way (okay, even more so).

This may sound suspiciously like the old -- and faulty -- argument that defendants' lawyers used to use in rape trials: look at the way she was dressed, she was asking for it!

But Favre did not rape her; he was accused of sending her pictures of himself that were slightly more graphic than the pictures she has posed for (for instance, in Playboy). Favre is a big name in professional football. When Sterger met him, she undoubtedly acted the way that she normally does to get attention. Maybe at some point she stopped encouraging him. If she did tell him to stop sending those pictures, or stop phoning her at all, and he continued, then he is guilty of harassment. But if all she did was act flirtatious, then see a chance to cry foul and make some money, he is guilty of nothing other than carelessness.

Favre has undoubtedly become somewhat sloppy in his approach over the years simply because he is used to getting his way with women. It's probably not even the first time he's ever sent pictures of his penis to a woman. (The approach, boorish as it is, has probably worked for him in the past, simply because he's Brett Favre.) But if Diane Sawyer -- or even Katie Couric -- interviewed him, I doubt that he would send such photos to them.

The last woman who complained of being sexually harassed by professional football players was Ines Sainz, a Mexican TV reporter, who said that she was subject to catcalls in the Jets locker room. (Isn't a locker room where men parade around naked? She was not offended by that, but was offended by the catcalls?) Google Image Sainz and this is what you see:

http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&expIds=17259,27617,28033&sugexp=ldymls&xhr=t&q=ines+sainz&cp=3&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&biw=1263&bih=620

Both of these women are nominally reporters. (What journalism school did Sterger graduate from? Or was it her extensive knowledge of football strategy that got her hired?) There's something anomalous about the fact that the two women who would complain about being treated as sex objects are the two who tried the hardest to come across that way.

This is not to excuse a slob like Favre. But the odor of hypocrisy around these two women lies heavy in the air. Even heavier than the perfume they probably wore.

Even the feminists haven't taken up Sterger's cause. They know that Google Image's rebuttal to their case would be far more eloquent than anything they could say.

Addendum -- There's nothing I find less sexy than a dumb woman with fake boobs who tries really hard to be sexy. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Male self-image

I'm not a Facebook denizen, but evidently there's a place where you're supposed to put a photo of yourself. My son has put this photo of "himself" up on his page:



Johnny wasn't seriously trying to convince people that he is as strong and ferocious as that tiger. It was just a sort of metaphorical statement. But the picture does speak volumes about his self-image. Young men tend to be like this. They're full of testosterone, they feel tough and exuberant, and they want the world to know it.

It's all part of growing up. Young men are still in the process of figuring out who they are and what their place in the world is. A good father will encourage his son, and help him be comfortable with himself.

So Johnny -- I'm glad you see yourself as a tiger.

But if you don't want to be accused of false advertising, I suggest you put up this more realistic representation of yourself instead:

Blue Moon

In the post on Richard Rodgers from a couple weeks ago I forgot to include "Blue Moon," one of his great songs from the Rodgers/Hart era, which you're undoubtedly familiar with, but probably hadn't realized was composed by him.

The list of artists who have recorded it pretty much reads like a Who's Who of twentieth century singers: Mel Torme, Billie Holliday, Dizzie Gillespie, Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke, The Marcels, Frank Sinatra, The Ventures, Dean Martin, Bobby Vinton, Sha Na Na, Bob Dylan, The Supremes, Tony Bennett, and many others. Here's Rod Stewart's version:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxpnPKxEA1o&feature=related

Richard Rodgers wasn't just Julie Andrews and Shirley Jones. He was Billie Holliday, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan.....

Growltiger's Last Stand

One of my son's and my favorite songs -- as much for the lyrics as the music -- from Cats. Part I:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmSp73HVpcA&feature=related

And Part II, which must be listened to for the whole thing to make sense:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lG3AeLNf1Xo&feature=related

Andrew Lloyd Webber's music and T.S. Eliot's poetry is a hard combo to beat. The music is operatic, but overdone enough to seemingly be mocking itself at the same time. Either way, it's fun.

Die Moritat von Mackie Messer

You've undoubtedly heard the Bobby Darin standard, Mack the Knife, any number of times:

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

The song was originally composed by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, for their Threepenny Opera. In the opera, Mackie Messer was evil, a robber, rapist, murderer, and arsonist. In Darin's version, the lyrics don't quite make sense, and you just get the vague impression that Mack is a badass who is popular with the ladies.

Lotte Lenya is best known to Americans as the evil Rosa Klebb in From Russian With Love. (Klebb was the woman who kicked at Sean Connery/James Bond with those shoes with the poisoned blades coming out of them.) Lenya was also Kurt Weil's widow, and starred in both the 1928 German and 1954 Broadway productions of the Threepenny Opera. Here is her version of the song, originally titled Die Moritat von Mackie Messer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPG9GcykPIY&feature=fvsr

Lenya's is a much more stripped down version, with a sadder undertone. It features the barrel organ more prominently in the background, as Weil had intended. Lenya sings it in the original German; it's fashionable to say that German is a harsh, guttural language, but I find it quite appealing.

Servio Tulio looks like a schoolteacher, but he seems to be telling the story well, accompanied by just a piano:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0HZsiFNxN0

Finally, a sexed up 1950's or 60's Euro-video version featuring Broadway-style dancers in the background:  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDU_8hnWcbE&feature=related

What all these versions have in common is that they make you want to run out and get a switchblade.