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Friday, December 13, 2013

President Klitschko?

The most divisive issue facing the Ukraine right now is whether to join the European Union, or remain more closely allied with Russia. Vladimir Putin is currently threatening to disrupt their natural gas supplies if they opt to become members of the EU.

Current heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, is now evidently the leader of the opposition to President Yanukovych, who wants to remain in Russia's orbit. Klitschko is now seen as a potential leader of his nation. Klitschko also favors greater transparency for government, a crackdown on corruption, and lower taxes.

At age 42, Klitschko is reaching the end of his boxing career. (His last fight was on September 8, 2012, but he is still the reigning WBC titleholder.) It is nonetheless surprising that he can juggle both roles. Apparently if this political thing doesn't work out, he wants to have a trade to fall back on.

This seems to be a surprisingly common career path for former Eastern Bloc athletes. Alexander Karelin, the great wrestler who won the super heavyweight gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling in three successive Olympics, is now a member of Russia's Duma, or parliament, as a member of the United Russia Party:

Here is a more recent picture of Karelin:

Nikolai Valuev, the recent heavyweight boxing champion, is also a member of the Duma, and also a member of the United Russia party:

(The acromegalic Valuev is seven feet tall and weighs 331 pounds.) Here he is in the Duma:

Even Manny Pacquiao, who has been a world champion boxer in eight different divisions, is now a Congressman in the Philipine House of Representatives:

Strangely, this progression doesn't seem to happen in the US. You never see a Senator Mayweather or Congressman Holyfield.

One has to wonder about the wisdom of voting in as political leaders men whose livelihood has entailed getting their brains battered for the past decade or longer. But, evidently, they don't worry about that in places like Russia and the Ukraine and the Philippines.

Humans were hunters and gatherers, i.e., "cavemen," for roughly four million years. Agriculture came into existence about ten thousand years ago, and technology three hundred years ago. So we humans spent the vast majority of our evolutionary development being selected for traits which would enhance our hunting and gathering abilities. Throughout all that time, the natural leader of any tribe was the man who could best lead the effort to take down a woolly mammoth, or to beat the opposing tribe with which they were constantly at war. And the man best suited to doing those things was often the strongest and most aggressive man.

We no longer hunt mammoths, and wars now tend to be high tech affairs, but our primitive instincts remain with us.

Vitaly Klitschko, at a well muscled six foot seven inches, is a natural leader of men. (There is one caveat to that "natural": he tested positive for steroids in 1996, at the end of his amateur career, but has tested clean since.)

Klitschko recently announced that he intends to run in the 2015 Ukrainian Presidential election. I would recommend this as his campaign poster:

The picture would, in a way, lend credibility to whatever caption he chose:

"I will crush our enemies!"

"I will stamp out corruption!"

"This is what I will do to inflation!"

"I will fight for the people of the Ukraine!"

Or, ironically:

"Vitaly Klitschko -- the candidate of peace!"

(Klitschko does in fact favor greater Ukraine-NATO cooperation, and he and his brother have worked for UNESCO.)

In any case, whatever Klitschko promised, that picture would send the message that he is not just another hack politician making empty promises, but a man who backs up his words with action.

I'm joking, of course, but if he actually did use it, it would likely get him some votes. It would appeal to atavistic notions of what a leader should be. Plus he has that every-man-wants-to-be-him-and-every woman-wants-to-do-him sort of appeal.

As for the steroids, when I mentioned this to my son, he suggested that all national leaders be required to take steroids, "just to help them make the right decisions…..well, the more manly decisions, anyway."

Charlemagne was said to have been six feet six inches, which made him even more of an anomaly in a day when the average man stood five foot six inches tall. There's nothing like towering over other men -- and embodying the implicit threat of physical violence -- to give one a commanding presence.

It's really not all that different in spirit from Californians having electing Arnold Schwarzenegger their Governor. Of course, he was only a fake warrior, whereas Vitaly is a real one. But, he was a real movie star. And more to the point of this post, he was a commanding physical presence. Ultimately, the Governator was unable to muscle his agenda through the state legislature, and ended up bogged down by the minutiae of politics. But that didn't mean that a big part of his constituency didn't secretly long for Schwarzenegger to exert his will Conan the Barbarian-style.

Vladimir Putin is evidently a huge fan of Fedor Emelianenko, the mixed martial artist. It would be interesting to see what his reaction would be to a President Klitschko. My guess is, he will instinctively have a more visceral regard for him, perhaps even to the point of not following through with his threats to cut off those natural gas supplies.

Klitschko's younger brother, 6' 6" Wladimir, is the current WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight champion. There must be a place for him in a Klitschko administration. Perhaps Vitaly could appoint him Attorney General, the same way John F. Kennedy appointed his brother Bobby to that position. Or better yet, name him as his Vice President. This would ensure a virile image for the country for years to come.

Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing the US turn in a similar direction. As my son said back when he was in high school, "As long as we're going to have a black President, why couldn't we get someone exciting, like Mike Tyson?"


Glen Filthie said...

What a fine article to chew on. We tend to focus far too much on the jacknasties of the middle east and too little on what is happening in the former soviet bloc nations.

Those guys are fighters and showmen, John. I have grave reservations about their average intellect. A leader has to think too.

The Romans made mincemeat out of such men when they went up against them in biblical times simply because they could work as a team and think circles around their opponents. They were also more rounded athletes.

I would like to see men like Stormin' Norman in the Whitehouse. There is a difference between a warrior and a fighter...

John Craig said...

Glen --
Thank you. Yes, there is far more focus on the Mideast and not enough on the former Eastern Bloc. Then again, the Ukrainians haven't targeted Americans for terrorism.

I have no idea what sort of intellect these guys started off with, but it's well known that repeated blows to the head have both a cumulative and delayed effect on the brain. (Meaning, punch drunk fighters will continue to deteriorate years after their careers are over.)

Schwarzkopf did give off an air of competence, though I never flowed his career all that closely.

Spychiatrist said...

John, a very interesting read.

Hey...I'd like for you to give this link a read for me if you don't mind and maybe write about whether you think this has merit or not.

Here's the link: Strange Death of NYC and the Rebirth of Vegas.

Feel free to delete this if you wish. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

John--If I'm 2.7% Neanderthal that guy Nikolai Valuev must be 97.3% ape… I actually think Mike Tyson (the new Mike) would be an entertaining president for certain. But it probably won't happen-he's overqualified:) Brian

John Craig said...

Spychiatrist --
I think that Whiskey makes some good points -- crime will inevitably go up in NYC if stop and frisk is abandoned, and demography is unquestionably destiny. But I also think he's way overstating the case. Think of it this way: during the Dinkins era, from 1990 to 1993, which coincided with the height of the crack epidemic, did the businesses leave NYC? No, they didn't. Broadway, Wall Street, Madison Avenue (to use the locational shorthand for certain businesses) all stayed put. And I can't imagine that crime under a DeBlasio administration is going to reach the heights it reached during the Dinkins era. Keep in mind, NYC currently has the lowest murder rate of any large city in the country, and even with a slight rise it will remain one of the safer cities. The demographic group which has risen the most in the city, Asians, are not known for committing a lot of street crime.

Once a place has established itself as the Capital of the World, it would take a lot more than a slight spike in crime for it to lose that title.

John Craig said...

Brian --
Ha! You're probably right, he is overqualified. Not to mention too honest.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not coincidentally, Valuev himself is very interested in both the Alma (possible remaining neanderthal groups living near the Caucasus Mountains) and the yeti. When I was looking up pictures of him there were several of him in caves and other places on expeditions looking for evidence of those creatures.

Spychiatrist said...

Thanks for your opine John.

I value your well thought out critiques.

Anonymous said...

Glen: "Those guys are fighters and showmen, John. I have grave reservations about their average intellect."
Vitali has a PhD (in sports science, but still), and last year he played former world chess champion Vladimir Kramnik, and the match ended in a draw. I couldn't guess about Valuev's intellect, but Pacquiao doesn't seem overly bright.
John, while we won't have a Mayweather or Holyfield in Congress during our lifetimes, the future does look promising.

John Craig said...

Anon --
A tie with the world chess champion?!! That sounds a little hard to believe; I have to wonder if it wasn't some sort of pre-arranged publicity stunt. I'm willing to believe that Klitschko was a relatively smart guy to start off with, and maybe he's managed to retain most of his marbles, but still, especially now that he's been a boxer for roughly two decades, I have a hard time buying that tie.

The video you linked is hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Update: Vitali Klitschko vacated his WBC championship today.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you.

This wasn't entirely unexpected, I guess.

Pete said...

Klitschko actually has a Phd. Most of our boxers are dropouts and give off low class vibes. However, the ones from the east are somewhat of a different breed. Most are not just thugs who slug but are normal guys who consider boxing a legitimate sport. Lots of those who participate have fair levels of education. Last Saturday they had a Kazakh boxer on a cable boxing program who had been a lawyer back in his home country. He just liked the sport.

John Craig said...

Pete --
All true, although I think Klitschko's PhD is in Physical Education or something like that.

I'm not suggesting that these guys didn't start out smart, merely that a decade plus of boxing has to result in some sort of brain damage.

Anyway, the main point of the post was that these former Soviet bloc countries seem to subscribe to a more atavistic notion of what a leader should be. And I'm not entirely immune to that. I think I'd feel safer with a President Karelin at the helm.

Anonymous said...

Hi John--Sorry for the delay, I was away on vacation. Yeah, well, a picture tells a thousand words, and that guy looked like a dead ringer to an ape. No offense to those gentlemen who chose not to wax their back and arms! Brian

Anonymous said...

"Strangely, this progression doesn't seem to happen in the US. You never see a Senator Mayweather or Congressman Holyfield."

It happened fairly often in the 19th Century:

John Craig said...

Anon --
Interesting, thank you. The "gang leader" part of his resume is more jarring than the boxer part. But I suppose those were different days, and some of the gangs must have been for defensive as much as predatory purposes.

Steven said...

Glen, Vitali is an avid chess player, speaks four languages and has a phd in sports science.

If you meant the average intellect of eastern Europeans, I think its the same as other Europeans tho not sure. I do think eastern European men look tougher and stronger on average than other European men. Its something I've noticed anyway- more of them look tough. I know they have much colder, harder winters in eastern Europe than in western Europe so I think that might have something to do with it- stronger selection for toughness and strength.

Steven said...

I know of a few boxers late in their careers who seem very lucid and intelligent so I think its possible. Carl Froch has been in lots of battles and the clarity of his mind and how articulate he is always impresses me. David Haye is another one who seems to me like he could have made it as a lawyer if he wasn't a boxer. George Groves is only young but he seems very bright. I think in the old days when they fought a lot more and constantly sparred heavily, punch drunk old boxers were a lot more common.

By the way I found this article because I was reading another in which you mentioned the word 'acromegalic'. I instantly thought of Valuev, googled imaged him and the image I clicked on was from this article.

John Craig said...

Steven --
There are probably some boxers who have made it through their careers with their faculties relatively intact, but my guess is that there are many more who have suffered some minor brain damage, not enough to make them obvious cases of punch-drunkenness, but enough to slow them down a bit. (There is zero evidence that getting your brains rattled actually makes you smarter.)

Valuev actually strikes me as sort of a decent, unpretentious sort, but unfortunately acromegalics rarely live much past the age of 40 or 45.

Steven said...

I always noticed that Valuev never had much muscle definition and thought it was a shame he didn't develop his muscles more. Granted his arms were naturally huge but imagine how much more formidable he'd have looked/been if he developed his muscles like other boxers. any medical or physical reason that would be harder for him?

John Craig said...

Steven --
I'm not sure, to telly he truth. I'd always noticed how unathletic he looked as well. His arms were actually thinner than those of many of the men he fought (and dwarfed).

I assume Valuev trained hard. I remember Andre the Giant, the acromegalic wrestler, also had a particularly unathletic-looking body, though he was said to have been incredibly strong in his prime. maybe there is something about being acromegalic that prevents a normal type of fitness, I just don't know. It may be also be more a matter of appearance than reality; even at his size, Valuev couldn't have been any weakling to have been heavyweight champion.

Steven said...

Check out his wife. She's gorgeous. Bao Xishun, tallest living man, managed to get a wife too. I doubt the shortest living man has a normal height wife.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Wow. don't know thats I'd describe her as gorgeous, but she is cute. Certainly the two of them together give a Beauty and the Beast impression.

I agree, the shortest living man does not get a cute wife. (Of course, the shortest living man also probably does not earn what a heavyweight champion/DUMA member earns.)