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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Economy just fine

Shoppers in Valley Stream, Long Island, trampled a Wal-Mart worker to death shortly after the store opened on Black Friday. The unruly crowd had grown impatient when the store did not open exactly at 5AM as advertised, and burst through the doors, literally crumpling them on their metal hinges. Employees who tried to reach the stricken employee were also also trampled, though none of the other cases were fatal. When the police arrived, they, too, were unable to reach the employee at first because of the unruly crowd.

Some employees had to jump up on soda vending machines to avoid the onrush. When they tried to close the store because of the death, several shoppers grew irate and refused to leave until they had finished their shopping.

Gotta get those Blu-Rays.

Who says personal consumption has fallen off a cliff?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Bradley Effect, personalized

During the run-up to the Presidential election, much was made of the Bradley Effect, named after Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles, who ran for governor of California in 1982 but was soundly defeated by Pete Wilson despite having been ahead in the polls by up to five points. The theory is that white people told pollsters they intended to vote for Bradley, a black man, in order not to appear racist, but that when they got into the privacy of the voting booth, they pulled the lever for Wilson, a white man.

The Bradley Effect did not materialize during the recent election, as Obama won by approximately the same amount that he had been ahead in the polls.

But let's think about the Bradley Effect for a moment. Why should white people feel compelled to tell an anonymous pollster that they intended to vote for the black man when they didn't? Is it "racist" to vote for a white man? And why would white people care what an anonymous pollster (most polls are conducted over the phone) thinks of them?

There is no reverse Bradley Effect, to my knowledge: blacks in general certainly don't feel obliged to tell pollsters that they intend to vote for a white man. What does this say about race relations, and intimidation, and what is considered acceptable?

This got me to thinking, if the Bradley Effect influenced whites who talked to anonymous pollsters, how many whites in this past election felt obliged to lie to their black friends or acquaintances and tell them that they intended to vote for Obama when they didn't?

I would feel complete and utter disgust for this phenomenon except for one thing.....I actually feel this tug myself.

I started off this cycle intending to vote for Obama, since he started off as the peace candidate, but the more I found out about his history, and the more he flip flopped, the more undecided I became. In the end I voted for neither candidate. I never lied to anybody about my thinking as it evolved, but I did notice a subtle shift in my own reactions to telling people, especially blacks, where I stood. At the beginning, if the subject came up, and I told a black acquaintance that I was voting for Obama, I would actually find myself feeling ever so slightly virtuous about it. (How pathetic is that?) Towards the end, whenever I discussed my intentions, and the fact that I wouldn't necessarily vote for Obama, I always felt obliged to defend my thinking. (Why?)

You read and hear a lot about guilty white liberals, and I always think, how incredibly stupid they are. But, as I said, I actually feel that tug myself. But why should I feel guilty? I wasn't even around during the Jim Crow Era (I was born fourteen days before Brown vs. Board of Education was decided -- should I feel guilty about those fourteen days?), I never "oppressed" a black, and I always try to judge people as individuals. Yet....I still feel that need to prove I'm not racist. (I fight it, but I do feel it.)

But why? Have I been brainwashed like everyone else? Why should I feel that slight compulsion when talking to a black to show that I'm not racist? When I see white people who try so desperately hard to be politically correct, I'm disgusted by them. But when I gauge my own reactions honestly, I find that I'm one of them. Sorta.

All I can do is promise to continue to fight those feelings. And I don't think I'm alone in having them.

One phenomenon I've noticed which does work the other way is that I will meet, not infrequently, blacks (usually older ones) who are extra polite and extra friendly, in places like hospitals or YMCAs. I often think, ah, those poor things, they feel they have to go the extra mile to make up for all the rude young blacks whom they know white people encounter on the subway and so on. And I feel for them, I honestly do. It's certainly not their fault that some people misbehave. (It's possible I'm misreading this situation, but that's my take.)

Another thing I've noticed is that my intelligent black friends often feel obliged to make more of an effort to show whites that they're smart. They're almost always smarter than the whites they're dealing with, but they still have to act like performing fleas. I always think, how wearying that must be. (I'm pretty sure I'm not misreading this situation.)

Our diversity is our awkwardness.

The Bradley Effect reminds me a little of a group of young guys, who, when they see an attractive young woman, all feel obliged to make lustful comments in order to prove their heterosexuality.

I was always more impressed by the guy who could find it in himself to say, "Ah....she doesn't do that much for me."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Behavioral differences

When the World Trade Organization met in Seattle, they were met by leftist protesters who vandalized local stores, threw stink bombs, and taunted police.

There were no similar protests from rightists at the UN Convention on Climate Change which produced the Kyoto Protocol.

Earth First regularly vandalizes construction sites. PETA members splash paint on wearers of fur coats.

To the best of my knowledge, plastics manufacturers don't disrupt Sierra Club meetings.

Marches on Washington are inevitably the bailiwick of leftists, whether it is an antiwar protest or a Million Man March.

Even when the far left and far right agree, for example on the war in Iraq (true conservatives, as opposed to neocons, were against it), they object in different fashion. The left marches and carries placards vilifying George W. Bush. The right contents itself by grumbling to each other about what a moron Bush is and voting for Ron Paul.

Pat Buchanan has reported that he was told by a black preacher that if Obama were defeated, to expect civil disobedience (read: riots). After Obama's victory, Republican riots were thankfully held to a minimum.

When a conservative speaker comes to a college, he is often met by histrionic protesters who try to shout him down and prevent him from speaking. The protesters may even throw a pie in his face as a political statement. ("Civil" disobedience is rarely so.)

Liberal speakers on campus are never shouted down.

When Proposition 8 (the anti-gay-marriage amendment) passed in California recently, protesters picketed at Mormon temples all over the state. They even invaded some churches and threw condoms at the parishioners.

It's hard to imagine Mormons picketing on Castro Street had the proposition not passed.

Protests over violence run one way as well. When blacks are perceived to be the victims of injustice, leftists Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson will often show up to lead protest marches. This happened with Tawana Brawley, the Duke lacrosse team, and the Jena Six, among other instances.

A white being killed by a black never seems to lead to conservative protest marches through the ghetto.

Whenever a murderer is put to death, there is inevitably a candlelight vigil outside the execution chamber by people against the death penalty. (To be fair, these demonstrators are often met by pro-death penalty counterdemonstrators.)

At many protests, the participants chant inane couplets, repeating them over and over again in mantra-like fashion. ("Hell no, we won't go"; "Hey hey ho ho, Western civ[ilization] has got to go"; "No justice, no peace.") The purpose of a mantra in transcendental meditation is to empty the mind of thought; it may serve that purpose here as well.

Union activists will often picket, blocking the way of others who want to work -- or shop -- at a nonunion establishment. (This is the type of intimidation the unions hope to continue with the abolition of the secret ballot.) To my knowledge, conservatives have never picketed union shops.

Why do people take part in marches and demonstrations? Because it feels good in the same way it always feels good to let off steam. If you don't like something, then yell (or chant) about it. You'll feel better. If you're unable to see both sides of an issue, being absolutely convinced of your righteousness is a great feeling.

There is also a certain strength in numbers. If much of the evidence in your life thus far has indicated that you are not possessed of a particularly keen intelligence, it's always reassuring to know that other people have come to the same conclusion about an issue that you have. So protesting en masse gives you a sort of intellectual confidence you might not otherwise have had: those thousands of people who showed up to the rally couldn't all be wrong.

In all fairness, right-wingers have been known to march too. The American Nazi Party once held a well-publicized march in Skokie, Illinois. They were outnumbered by counterdemonstrators, but they did march. And anti-abortion activists regularly picket abortion clinics. But the vast majority of demonstrators are leftists. Chanting, marching, picketing, rioting, and looting just aren't activities one normally associates with conservatives.

There are also political differences in style of argument.

The left tends to resort to calling people names (racist, sexist, homophobic, Nazi); the right does this less. The left also likes to accuse the other side of being "haters" and "intolerant," although jeering, chanting, and rioting demonstrators would seem to be exhibiting exactly those qualities.

Liberals write books with titles like "Rush Limbaugh is a big Fat Idiot." As of yet no conservative has written a book entitled, "Al Franken is an Ugly Obnoxious Dwarf."

Democrats tend to be regularly "offended" during political discussions. This is a tactic normally used to stop any intelligent and dispassionate analysis of a subject. I've never heard a Repubican claim offense this way.

Most of the Republicans I know tend to pick positions from both sides of the aisle. Many are pro-choice and also fairly strong environmentalists. The Democrats I know rarely stray from the party line.

When a Republican -- like George W. Bush -- does a poor job, the Republicans I know don't reflexively jump to his defense, refusing to admit any wrongdoing. They'll just say, yep, he screwed up. Democrats, on the other hand, are generally less willing to admit fault on the part of their elected officials; if such is brought up, they will often respond by saying, "Oh, well what about [such and such a Republican official]?"

White liberals tend to posture in order to prove something about themselves, i.e., to show that they're "good" people, that they come down on the politically correct side of the fence, which means that they're "enlightened" and "hip." They tend to look pleased with themselves after they express an opinion, as if they expect a pat on the back. Conservatives on the other hand tend to take on a George Will-like demeanor, as if they know their position is unpopular, but they're going to say it anyway.

The Republicans I know never consider someone's political affiliation to be a bar to friendship. I regularly hear Democrats say things like, oh, I could never have a relationship with someone who wasn't a Democrat. ("Tolerance" at its finest.)

Please note that this essay is not about political positions per se. I'm against the Iraq War, I'm against whaling, I'm pro-environment, I'm pro-gay marriage, and I agree that the Republicans bear a lot of responsibility for the current economic mess. This is about the nature of protests and the people who engage in them.

This post isn't even a condemnation of all protests. The Boston Tea Party was a protest that turned into a riot with lots of vandalization, even if those terms are never applied to it. If you remember your elementary school reading, that riot was looked upon kindly by the history books. (My first reaction upon reading about it as an nine year old was, what a waste of tea; why not just take it for themselves rather than dump it in the harbor?)

Who knows, maybe it takes obstreperous and destructive people to change history. Even if you like Sam Adams beer, Adams himself -- a well known hothead -- was probably not the sort of fellow you'd have wanted to have a beer with.

When I was a teenager (during the Viet Nam war) I found it strangely contradictory that liberals tended to be impulsive, obnoxious, immature people who espoused good causes, whereas conservatives tended to be nice, polite, well-behaved types who were on the wrong side.

I've changed my mind on some of the issues.

I haven't changed my mind about the people.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bad Marketing

In India, the most successful beggars are those with the most pitiful deformities: lepers, cripples, the blind, and those missing limbs. When parents have a child who evokes sympathy this way, they often put him to work in the streets.

In this country as well, the most successful panhandlers are amputees or people with some other condition which sparks pity.

It turns out that the CEOs of the Big Three automakers, all of whom came to Washington D.C. with their hands out, each arrived via private jet.

This produces a reaction similar to the one you might have if a freshly manicured fellow in an expensive suit asked you for some spare change -- while leaning against his Mercedes. Rather than sympathy, he would provoke outrage, doubt about his judgment, and wonder at his nerve.

Which is pretty much the response the CEOs got from Congress.

Never mind the oversized cars with poor gas mileage, the bloated management ranks, or the overly powerful unions. It was the private jets that got everybody's attention.

Yes, it is common practice for CEOs of large companies to fly in private aircraft and enjoy all manner of other perks. But couldn't they have made the sacrifice of flying commercial for just this one trip? The taxpayers whose money they want certainly fly that way.

The moral of the story: if you're going to be a beggar, try to at least look as if you deserve some sympathy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Transition almost complete

President-elect Obama has appointed Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff.

He has appointed Bill Clinton's last Chief of Staff, John Podesta, as co-chair of his transition team.

Obama's economic advisers include Bob Rubin, and he is said to be strongly considering Larry Summers for Secretary of the Treasury.

Now comes word that the only thing standing between Hillary and State is a review of her husband's financial records.

The only thing left to do is fire Joe Biden, appoint Bill Clinton in his place, and then commit suicide.

Friday, November 14, 2008

No habla espanol

To become a citizen of Switzerland, you must reside there legally for twelve years. At the end of those twelve years, if you are able to make your way through the torturous and expensive application process, the Swiss authorities will then ask your neighbors what sort of citizen you would make.

To become a citizen of the United States, you must sneak across the border.

There are Americans who think this is a wonderful policy. The question they never seem to ask themselves, the vital question which must be asked, is: do we want the U.S. to be more like Mexico? For make no mistake: a people create a culture, and the culture in turn nurtures and shapes them. To see what culture our new citizens will be importing, a trip to Mexico can be most instructive.

I'm not suggesting a trip to Acapulco, or Cancun, or one of the other resort towns which Americans usually visit, which feature smiling hotel staff, friendly waiters, and eager to please mariachi bands in colorful native garb.

I'm suggesting something much less expensive: a trip to a border town like, say, Tijuana.

Stroll the streets. Absorb the atmosphere. Marvel at the building codes. Take in a cockfight or two, or a dogfight if that is your fancy. If you're feeling festive, go see the Juicy Lucy show. Say hello to some of the many pimps or prostitutes who openly ply their trade. Watch some of the federales help protect the local drug overlord. If you're lucky, you may get to witness a gunfight.

Then come back home. Ponder on what you have seen. Our borders may suddenly seem very long and porous to you.

But that's not fair, you say. Border towns are notoriously squalid and unsavory places and it's unfair to judge Mexico by them. After all, the Mexicans had two great civilizations, the Mayan and the Aztec.

True enough. To see how much the U.S. will benefit from these great cultures, take a trip to any barrio in the U.S. and see how much of those great civilizations the Mexicans have brought with them. What you'll probably see are a lot of Mexican men, as many as twenty to a house, but no pyramids.

But, you say, these are all hard working men who are just trying to provide for their families back home in Mexico. Can you blame them for that?

Of course not. If I were Mexican, and poor, I would do the same thing. I'm not castigating the Mexicans who are trying to make a better life for themselves. That's what everybody does. I am saying that American policy is supposed to be formulated for the benefit of United States citizens, not foreign citizens.

It is true that mexican immigrants are hard working, willing to take on jobs which most Americans aren't, and willing to work for lower wages. But this is not true of the second and third generations. They tend to go to community colleges and join La Raza and resent white Americans for being richer than they are. Or they join gangs. And it is the second generation and beyond who will be the Mexicans' lasting legacy in this country.

If Americans continue to sell their citizenship so cheaply, sooner or later it will not be worth having.

Secret ballots

Barack Obama is in favor of abolishing secret balloting when it comes to unionization. This is akin to making it necessary for voters to publicly declare their votes for President of the United States. This is what you'd expect from a banana repubic whose dictator instructs his goons to show up at the balloting places and intimidate any opposition supporters.

The bullying wouldn't necessarily come just from the unions. Imagine that after a heated battle between a company and a union shop, the union is barely defeated. Does anyone believe there won't be any repercussions for the workers who voted for unionization? That the bosses wouldn't take those votes into account when it comes to promotions, or who gets assigned which shift? If not, it would defy every known law of human nature.

Of course, the side which wants to abolish the right to secret balloting is the unions, not the corporations. This gives us a tiny little clue as to which side intends to use bullying and strongarm tactics.

Either way, the workers lose.

Why would Obama support this? Maybe, just maybe, he wanted the support of the unions. Let's hope he flip flops on this the way he has on so many other issues.

Freedom of speech is not freedom of advertising

No sooner do I praise Barack Obama for saying there was no place for lobbyists in his administration than I hear that he has "softened" his ban on lobbyists. ("Softened" is a soft way of saying "rescinded.")

But Obama's honeymoon with the media is still on (it's lasted four years thus far), so no major news outlet has labelled him a flip flopper. He wasn't even called that when he opted out of the public financing system (which he was once strongly in favor of) when it turned out that he could raise much more money (a record $750 million) by ignoring those limits. Where did he get all that money? It's not clear. But some of it obviously came from special interests.

Any lobby -- rich or poor -- has the right to be heard. But no lobby should be allowed to compromise the integrity of a politician by paying him. As it stands right now Congress (and to a lesser extent, the Presidency) are for sale.

The solution is staring us in the face. Just ban all campaign contributions and substitute public financing.

Is this unrealistic to hope for? Yes. What Congressman would willingly vote for a bill to cut off his own supply of campaign funds, and all the other perks that go along with being courted by special interests? Congress is about as likely to vote for imposing a draconian system of eugenics.

But that doesn't mean it's not the best solution. Fundraising takes up an inordinate portion of every politician's time, time which would be better spent working in the public interest. The need for cash also tends to make Congress, especially the Senate, a rich man's club. Instead, simply use public financing to pay local newspapers to print a concise list of each candidate's stances on the issues (concise enough so that the electorate might actually read it.) This would eliminate most of the legalized corruption from politics. (The illegal variety would doubtless continue to flourish, but that could be prosecuted, as with Ted Stevens.)

Some say that this abrogates freedom of speech. But freedom of speech simply means that you can state your beliefs and not be persecuted for it. It does not mean unlimited television and radio buys. (As Joe Biden might say, The Founding Fathers specifically said that freedom of speech did not entail the right to run a cheesy half hour television special on yourself on all the networks three nights before the election.)

If every candidate gets to list his stance on every issue, they still get their say. And all the candidates get an equal say. They could still run advertisements with public financing, just no more than the other fellow, and politics would become a contest of ideas rather than one of money.

On a related note, I keep hearing rumors that the Democrats, led by Obama and Pelosi, are going to mount an attempt to stifle conservative talk radio under the Fairness Doctrine, which states that any radio station which has a conservative talk show host will have to give equal time to a liberal talk show host. (The reason there are so few liberal talk show hosts now is because they attract such small audiences, and radio stations are, after all, in the business of attracting advertisers.) The Fairness Doctrine might seem in spirit to be similar to the public financing of campaigns, meaning equal time for both sides, but asking a business to make less money is not the same as asking a politician not to sell his office.

If the Fairness Doctrine is to be invoked, let it be applied to television stations as well. Right now Fox, despite its "fair and balanced" claim, in facts leans rightward (though they invite plenty of liberals on their shows to debate). But the other three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as cable outlet CNN, all lean left. Shall we balance them?

For that matter, extend the doctrine to newspapers: for every leftward editorial in the New York Times, there should be a right-leaning one as well. And by all means balance the newroom. The vast majority (roughly 90%) of reporters are Democrats. Fire 40% of the reporters who happen to be Democrats, and hire Republicans in their place. Would this be near impossible to implement? Of course. But if Obama and Pelosi intend to implement the Fairness Doctrine, be completely fair about it. Anything less would be hypocritical.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Divided loyalties

Two days ago President-elect Obama appointed Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff, a position less prestigious than Cabinet Secretary, but arguably more powerful. The Chief of Staff dictates access to the President, which certainly gives him far more influence over national policy than, say, Secretary of the Interior.

Emanuel was born with dual American and Israeli citizenship; at age eighteen he gave up his Israeli citizenship. But when the Gulf War broke out in 1991, rather than enlisting in the American military, Emanuel chose to become a civilian volunteer for the Israeli Defense Force, repairing truck brakes on one of Israel's northern bases. Rather than help his own country, he chose to work for a foreign government. There's nothing illegal about this, but it shows that his loyalties are, at best, divided.

If someone has a powerful position in the U.S. government, shouldn't their loyalties be strictly American?

This is not just a Democratic problem. I've heard about several powerful figures in the Bush administration who are supposed to have dual citizenship with Israel, though I haven't been able to confirm it. If so, it's certainly not a stretch to think that they might have had more than U.S interests in mind when they help mold Mideast policy.

Imagine for a moment that the U.S. government were filled with people who had dual citizenship with, say, Uganda. And then we just happened to invade Rwanda. Might there be a hue and cry about this? Of course. But anybody who questions the current situation is accused of anti-Semitism. When I first heard the term years ago, I associated it with the old line WASPy we-don't-want-those-obnoxious-people-in-our-country-club Caddyshack sort of snobbery. I've never belonged to a country club, I've enjoyed the company of Jewish people all my life, and I certainly have no brief for this sort of pettiness. But now the term encompasses anyone who wonders aloud how we came to our present Mideast policy. For this reason -- and because those on the lookout for anti-Semitism are ever vigilant -- the issue has become the Lord Voldemort of American politics: it must not be mentioned. (Only naive bumpkins like me tend to blurt it out.)

Obama said earlier that there would be no place for lobbyists in his administration; this shows good judgment as well as an admirable idealism. Anyone who has ever lobbied the U.S. government on behalf of another country or even a corporation has essentially shown that his true loyalties lie elsewhere -- whether that be with the other country, with a corporation, or just with his own pocketbook. Any sort of loyalty "test" is the type of thing which could easily be abused, and its primary effect would probably be to force a lot of people into dishonesty. But people who have clearly demonstrated divided loyalties -- whether through maintaining a dual citizenship or by putting some corporation's interests ahead of the U.S. -- should not be in our government.

Right now the law prevents a naturalized U.S. citizen from becoming President. But someone who wants to come to this country, who gives up his previous citizenship, is surely more patriotic than a native born citizen who then chooses to volunteer for another country's military, or who maintains dual citizenship.

Apart from the issue of his loyalty, Rahm Emanuel has demonstrated his character through his actions. Two examples. As a fundraiser for Clinton, he would get donors on the phone, tell them how much he thought they could afford to give, and if they balked, he would tell them how embarrassed he was by how little they were offering and hang up on them. They would usually phone back a little while later and agree to give whatever he had asked for. After Clinton was elected in 1992, Emanuel gave a little speech to a group where he named each of Clinton's enemies and would scream "Dead!" after each name. With each name he took a knife and stuck it into the table in front of him; by the end of his rant the table was thoroughly pockmarked.

Emanuel is also a hawk on the Iraq war.

Barack Obama has made a number of statesmanlike moves in the period since his election. Publicly thanking George and Laura Bush for inviting him to the White House was gracious. Proclaiming that there was only one administration in power at a time (the lame duck Bush administration) when asked about his plans was diplomatic. Phoning Nancy Reagan to apologize for his offhand crack about her seances was the right thing to do. Referring to himself as a mutt was a self-deprecatory touch.

But appointing Rahm Emanuel was a declaration of war against his domestic political enemies, and also a hint that the war in the Middle East may continue longer than some of us had hoped.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

If they want the misery of marriage....

The Republicans seem to be taking some small consolation from the fact that every Defense of Marriage referendum passed four days ago.

A few years back I was dead set against homosexuals' partners getting spousal privileges (such as company-sponsored medical care) since this would have given them all of the benefits of marriage without any of the concomitant obligations (divorce, splitting up of community property, alimony, child support, and so on). It seemed at the time that they could just declare any current lover such a "partner" without having to worry about getting it officially sanctioned, and change their "partner" at a whim, on a weekly basis if they so chose. But if they're willing to take the responsibilities as well as the rights, why not? It actually makes for a more stable society: community property for gays means fewer gays on the dole.

"Defense of marriage", like so many other political labels these days, seems a misnomer. Whose marriage is this act defending? If two fellas decide to make it official in Provincetown, how does that affect my marriage? I can't see how it possibly can. The only one I have to defend my marriage against is my wife (and no, she doesn't read this blog.)

The argument that marriage was originally intended to be between a man and a woman seems a bit dated. By this logic, blacks should still be slaves, since the Constitution wasn't originally intended for them, either. Equal rights means equal for everybody.

Frankly, it's a little surprising that gay men want this "privilege." (Gay women, traditionally much more monogamous, would seem more instinctively inclined towards this sort of arrangement.) It's always seemed to me that one of the benefits to being a gay man is that you can pretty much have as many lovers as you desire. It's men's nature to be promiscuous, and any survey of the average number of sex partners for gay men vs. gay women will confirm this. Maybe AIDS has changed the landscape, maybe it hasn't. But the concept of lifelong monogamy doesn't exactly square with the traditional gay men's lifestyle.

I've always had what I consider -- in my self-serving way -- to be the well-adjusted straight guy's attitude towards gays: I have no problem with them, I just don't want to be mistaken for one. (Okay, maybe not that well-adjusted.) I've known plenty of guys who express a basic hatred of them, and more often than not the guys who seem to hate them have issues themselves. I must admit, I was instinctively repulsed when first approached by a homosexual as a teenager. Of course, that was back when I was young and pretty; now that I'm old and not-so-pretty, I rejoice at any attention.

In any case, I've never understood the antipathy for gays as a group. They're generally productive. They (usually) don't reproduce and crowd the planet. They're good workers (no families to distract them). There's a certain not uncommon type of gay man who is very pleasant and helpful and a pleasure to be around. I've never been bullied by a gay (so far as I know). Many of them have a certain brand of humor (punny, campy, kitschy, bitchy) which can be quite amusing. And yes, I believe in stereotypes.

My attitude towards lesbians is also live and let love, though I seem to have met a fair number who have a chip on their shoulder. Quite a few of the ones I've known seem to be lesbians-by-default, meaning, they turned after finding that men ignored them, or after having bad experiences with men. (I have no idea how many I've "converted.") I've never understood why some guys fantasize about lesbians (do they have any idea how real lesbians feel about them?). In any case, lesbians certainly deserve the right to be married as well.

I'm guessing that after some harsh reality sets in -- with a few well-publicized ugly divorce cases -- that the gay desire for marriage will abate, at least among the men. But as long as these defense of marriage referendums pass, marriage will continue to hold that forbidden fruit appeal. No pun int.....never mind.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Radicals in office

I called Obama a far leftist the other day and a friend scoffed, saying he was a mainstream Democrat.

That Obama has voted for mainstream Democrat positions while in the Senate does not make him mainstream. He voted for these positions because that was the most liberal way he could possibly vote. If there were measures up for a vote which were to the left of mainstream Democrat thought, I suspect he would vote for them. But he doesn't because he can't.

As of yet there has been no bill debated by Congress which would turn this country into a Cuban style communist state, nor any measure calling for reparations for descendants of slaves. This doesn't mean that there are no members of Congress who would support such bills.

Take another example: Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda's ex, a member of the Chicago Seven. He was a U.S. congressman from California whom most would call a leftist. When in Congress he voted with the Democrats. This does not make him a mainstream Democrat; he simply voted that way because that was as far left as he could vote.

David Duke may be an even better example. When he ran for the Louisiana legislature, he did so as a Republican. His platform was anti-affirmative action (every state referendum around the country banning such has passed), workfare for welfare recipients (which Clinton himself recommended), and increased drug testing. While in the Louisiana legislature Duke voted with the Republicans on virtually every issue. This does not make him a mainstream Republican. Had there been a measure calling for segregation, I have no doubt Duke would have voted for it. But there was no such measure, so he couldn't.

Back to Obama. In college he, by his own admission, sought out Marxist professors. Later he attended Reverend Wright's church for seventeen years. And he befriended William Ayres, the unrepentant bomb thrower. These are not moderate people. The fact that they were his allies and friends speaks volumes. It is true that while in the Illinois legislature Obama had a reputation for being able to work with Republicans to get legislation passed. This just means he was pragmatic. He showed this pragmatism when it came to being elected President, rushing to the center as soon as he had beaten Hillary for the Democratic nomination and eschewing the public funding limitations. He even embraced AIPAC, giving them a speech which made him sound to the right of Netanyahu on Israel, when nothing in his past -- including his friendships with Rashid Khaliki and Edward Said -- would lead one to believe that he was anything but pro-Palestinian. Does his speech to AIPAC make him a Zionist? No, it merely makes him a guy who will say what he must to get elected.

One argument for Obama being mainstream was that in 2007 he voted for FISA, which allowed the government to wiretap phone calls from abroad to prevent terrorism. This is a measure which a fair number of Democrats opposed. Does this mean that Obama has had a change of heart and wants to rescind the privacy laws in order to go after the Muslims this country is at war with? I think the more realistic interpretation is that he knew he would be running for President and that one of his weaknesses would be that he would be perceived as soft on terrorism, so once again, he did what it took to get elected.

Now that he's in office, he'll move the country as far left as he can, which is as far as the mainstream Democrat majority in Congress will allow him. The mood of the country has shifted, and he definitely has a mandate. He'll probably end up with mainstream Democrat legislation. Again, that doesn't make him a mainstream Democrat.

Note that I'm not equating Obama with Duke, I'm merely making a point. Nor am I passing judgment here on his positions -- I have a sneaking sympathy for a few socialist positions, and I hope we withdraw as quickly as possible from Iraq -- I'm merely trying to get the description accurate. Obama is a good family man and liked by those who know him personally. He is also unquestionably a leftist, even if he pretended not to be during the campaign.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Couldn't bring myself to vote for either of them. So I just wrote in the name of my brother-in-law, who would actually make a better President than those two.

Everyone tells me that such a silly gesture is a complete waste, that if you want your vote to count you should at least pick the lesser of two evils. (They told me this after I voted for Nader in '04 as well.)

But I'm too selfish. I didn't want to take a chance of voting for the victorious candidate, in which case I would have to look at him for (at least) four years while thinking to myself, hmm, I helped elect that guy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A few observations about bumper stickers

You rarely see bumper stickers on expensive cars, or new cars of any sort. A bumper sticker on a Bentley is as out of place as a rattlesnake tattoo on a baby. And you rarely see bumper stickers on a car driven by a black, a Hispanic, or an Asian. It's very much a Caucasian thing.

Bumper stickers come in all varieties. Some advertise schools, or honor roll students. Some are humorous reactions to such stickers, such as "My child knocked up your honor roll student." You also see a fair number of stickers with the names of sports teams, or sometimes just sports. And sometimes a person wants to advertise his religion; the fish motif denoting Christianity is not uncommon.

But the most common bumper stickers are political ones. And those almost always express liberal/left viewpoints, often with lame puns. Examples:

"Dykes love Bush....Uh, not you George"
"No blood for oil"
"BUSH LIED. Thousands died."
"Bush and Dick. Four more years of getting screwed"
"Lick Bush. Kerry Edwards 2004."
"Doofuss" (with a picture of Bush)
"Gays against Bush"
"Why is there money for war but not for education?"
"You can't hug your child with nuclear arms"
"The religious right is fundamentally wrong"
"Straight but not narrow"
"Gay pride"
"Jail corporate crooks"

It's possible that part of the reason conservatives don't advertise their beliefs -- try counting the number of McCain/Palin vs. Obama/Biden stickers you see -- is that they are worried people who disagree might vandalize their car. (Liberals needn't worry because conservatives rarely consider vandalism a valid form of political expression.)

So why do people feel obliged to advertise their beliefs this way? It can't possibly be that they think that they're going to influence others by advertising their own beliefs. ("Well, I was going to vote for McCain, but ever since I saw that Obama/Biden bumper sticker on that car early this morning, I've decided to go the other way.")

For liberal Caucasians, it's all about showing the world what a good person you are.

When you think about it, every bumper sticker is a boast of some sort. "I brake for animals" is not an effective way to prevent tailgating; it's merely a way of advertising your moral goodness. Putting a religious-themed sticker on connotes a moral goodness of a different sort. Sticking the name of a prestigious university on your rear window is a way of advertising your intellectual superiority. "Proud parent of an honor roll student" even admits to the deadly sin. A wiseass answer to any of these bumper stickers is a way of showing off one's "wit," or at least of passing off someone else's wit as one's own.

So why more liberal stickers than conservative ones? Could it be that liberals tend to be the types who like to boast of their moral superiority? While neither party has a hammerlock on smug self-righteousness, one of the teams seems to have a fairly firm hold on the lead.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Stunted growth

Most parents want the best for their children, both academically and athletically. And many parents push their children, both in school and on the playing field. It is widely acknowledged that too much pushiness can backfire psychologically; what is less well known is that it can also backfire physically.

Ten years ago a boy on the local swimming team told me that his doctor told him that he was in the middle of his growth spurt, but that he wasn't growing it because he was expending so much energy in the pool. He ended up 5' 7". A child between the ages of 12 and 16, the prime growing years, who is constantly working out to the point of exhaustion, needs all his physical resources to merely recover from his workouts. So growth takes a back seat.

Part of the problem is that everyone knows that in most situations, hard work pays off. And most coaches believe in such athletic cliches as "no pain no gain" and "no guts no glory." To a certain extent, all of these are true. But if a little of something is good, a ton of it is not necessarily better.

This local swimming team is a case in point. I've noticed over the past twelve years that the boys who push themselves the hardest, the ones who rarely miss a practice between the ages of twelve and fifteen, often end up around 5' 6" or even less. There seems to be an effect with girls as well, though with them the effect seems less pronounced for some reason. This observation was recently confirmed by the New York Times, which stated that stress such as malnourishment stunts boys' growth more than girls'. (A child who is overtraining is effectively malnourished since so much of his protein and calories must go towards just recovering from workout.) This condition is exacerbated by the fact that the swimmers who train the hardest are the ones who get promoted to the next training squad, where their reward is to do even more yardage. The local team has a reputation for being a big yardage team. Over this past Christmas vacation, for instance, on one day the coach assigned his senior swimmers a set of thirty 400 yard individual medley's, a twelve thousand yard set, over the course of three hours. That's over six and a half miles in one three hour session. The next day, they swam for a total of four hours. The third day, assigned them sixty 200's, a set of the same distance. The day after that, they swam for four hours again.

What's worse is that the kids often miss valuable sleep time, getting up as early as 4:30AM to reach the 5:30 AM practices on time. If you're up late doing homework, say till 11PM, that means that a theoretically growing child will end up with only five and a half hours of sleep, and sleep is the only time that the body grows. The result? Of the boys on the highest level squad who had been on the team between the ages of twelve and fifteen, only one was as tall as his father.

About six years ago one of the boys' mothers told me that they used to joke that there was something in the water which prevented their boys from growing. In a way, they were right, but it had nothing to do with the pool's chemical content. It had to do with the amount of time the boys spent working out in it. I've met many of them, and they all seem like nice kids. This is part of the problem. When the coach pressures them to show up to more workouts, and swim harder during the workouts, they do what well brought up youngsters do: they defer to the elder in the position of authority, assuming he knows best.

Another effect of too much exercise is that it's hard to grow muscle. Of the boys on the squad who did reach normal height, most were abnormally skinny. When you're constantly tearing your muscle down and don't give your body a chance to recover, you'll end up looking malnourished no matter how much you eat.

The team does occasionally come up with very good swimmers. But when you look closely, these tend to be the kids who joined the team at age 15, already full grown, or kids who go to private boarding school and only swim with the team part time. There was one excellent swimmer who was purely a homegrown product, but the head coach used to complain about him that he skipped 45% of the practices. I'm not sure whether it was laziness or an instinct for self-preservation that caused him to do this, but if he had shown up to all the practices, he probably wouldn't have been nearly as fast.

Every coach wants to have a champion upon whom he can build his reputation. And everybody in swimming has heard stories of the incredibly long, tough sets that great distance swimmers have done. So coaches are wont to assume that if they have their swimmers do similar sets, that they will produce champions. The problem is that different people have different metabolisms. The ones who end up as champions are the one with the most naturally strong constitutions. Their stomachs, kidneys, liver, heart, and lungs just naturally produce more energy than most peoples'. And, just as importantly, they usually have more natural testosterone in their systems than others, so their bodies just tend to put on more muscle. (Some cheat by using steroids, but that's another matter.) Most children are just not naturally cut out to be champions. And when they try too hard, they pay a price, either by having their growth stunted or by ending up abnormally skinny. The situation bears a resemblance to Charles Dickens' England, where young children were made to get up early to work in the factories for eleven hours a day; they did not grow tall either. The difference is that those children were just being exploited, whereas the parents who push their children athletically want the best for them. The end result, however, is similar.

Ironically, overtraining doesn't even help kids swim fast. Being tall is a major advantage in swimming. (Every time a tall person takes a stroke with his long arms, he goes that much further.) You'll never see a short swimmer at the Olympics, except occasionally in the distance freestyles or in the breaststroke, and you'll see many exceptionally tall ones.

The real tragedy of this situation, of course, is not that the boys don't reach their full potential athletically. After all, a sport is just a sport. It's that these boys have to go through the rest of their lives short. There have been countless studies showing how height helps in various ways in our society, whether in terms of the amount of money you're paid or the way other people perceive you or the range of potential mates available.

It's not just the coaches who are responsible for this, though any coach who constantly works his charges to the bone without sufficient recovery time certainly bears a large responsibility. I've noticed parents who shuttle their kids from a practice in one sport to another in a different sport without even feeding them in between. These parents think that they're producing little supermen this way, but they're doing the exact opposite. Many of the cases I've seen where the children do two sports in one season result in the smallest children of all.

Another crucial factor is, of course, diet. Children who train very hard are frequently operating on a nutritional deficit, and must be fed constantly and well. Parents who don't pay attention to this are destined to have smaller children. Even worse is when a chubby 13-year-old decides to go on a strict diet at the same time that he overtrains; he is almost guaranteed to lose several inches of growth.

Most sports by themselves will not stunt growth. It's only the ones which require extremely high energy output, like swimming, or extremely long practice sessions, like gymnastics, which have this effect. A baseball player can do a number of wind sprints, toss the ball for a while, and do drills without having any effect on his growth. In fact, a little exercise is probably good for growth, as it stimulates the body's circulatory system. Swimming done in moderation is actually one of the safest sports, as there are no impact injuries (water is a very forgiving medium).

Some people were never destined to be giants, even with all the sleep and rest in the world. And there is of course no way of proving how much growth was lost due to overtraining in the case of each individual child. For that, you'd need to have two genetically identical versions of the same child, and have one overtrain while the other did more moderate workouts. Such an experiment would be extremely cruel and inhumane. But in fact it's being carried out daily by all sorts of ambitious coaches and parents.