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Monday, March 31, 2014

Workouts as windows to personality

My son recently mentioned something he'd just read: that you can tell everything you need to know about someone from watching him work out. I thought about it, and realized it's true.

Working out is something you generally do purely of your own volition. It's not like the Army, or even a corporation, where you're expected to conform. So you can find out a lot about someone's personality from watching him work out.

Does he work hard at it? Does he break a sweat? There are those, mostly women, who don't even break a sweat on the treadmill.

Does he know what he's doing? Does he work his entire body, or just his upper body? (Any guy who works only his upper body is almost guaranteed to have an IQ below 110.)

Does he do exercises which utilize his entire body, or does he isolate the Hollywood muscles? (One guy can move well, the other generally can't; there's an IQ correlation here as well.)

Does a woman work her upper body as well, or just her legs and tummy and tush? If the latter, she is doing it purely for sex appeal, and has zero interest in athleticism. 

Does he look in the mirror a lot? Does he seem to like what he sees? You can get a good read on the ego-meter from that.

Can he work out by himself or does he need workout buddies to keep him motivated? (Is he a peer pressure-type or does he actually have any will power?)

Does he prefer exercise classes? (Sheep alert! Or, possibly, voyeur alert.)

Does he vary his effort depending on whether someone else is watching? (If so, don't expect honesty in other regards.)

Does he/she spend a lot of money on his/her workout outfit? (There's an imperfect but generally inverse correlation between the expensiveness of the outfit and the seriousness of the workout.)

Does he/she read a book while he works out? If so, he's not putting much effort into it. And you probably won't want to have lunch with him, because he'll be spending most of his time staring at his cellphone.

Is he more into lifting or cardio? One kind of guy wants to be more manly, the other wants to live forever, and each will probably express that dynamic in every other facet of his life. (Marathoners don't drive Ford 150 pickups, and power lifters don't drive Volvos.)

Is he the type who talks about his workout plan but always finds an excuse not to stick to it? (Don't expect him to stick to anything else either.)

How neurotic is he? If he misses an exercise, will it really bother him? (If so, don't expect him to be flexible in other regards.)

Does he use good form? Does he bridle if you suggest a change? (That's his whole personality right there.)

Is he willing to share whichever machine he's using? (A hog is a hog everywhere.)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bad hair days for all

A recent article in the NY Post said that Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, had ordered all the men in his country to get his haircut:

If you knew absolutely nothing else about North Korea, that one little fact is all you'd really need to pretty much understand what kind of country it is.

Just as a brief snapshot of someone's personality can sometimes give you all the information you need to make an informed judgment about him (for instance, that he treats waiters badly), so too can a snapshot of a country suffice.

It's not that North Korea hasn't given us plenty of similar snippets before. During the reign of Kim Jong Il, the current leader's father, the North Korean press announced -- with a straight face -- that he "regularly" hit four or five holes-in-one during each round of golf that he played.

Like father, like son.

It's tempting for a libertarian to attribute all this ridiculousness to communism, but in fact, while North Korea calls itself a communist country, it's really just another tin pot dictatorship run by a dangerous megalomaniac. North Korea could call itself a socialist paradise, or a capitalist empire, or even Eden, and it would all be equally meaningless: it would still be the same thing, Kim Jong Un's personal fiefdom.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

How to succeed in journalism without really trying

Former television anchor Willow Bay has just been appointed director of USC's journalism school. She was until recently a senior editor at the Huffington Post, and has hosted Good Morning America and NBA Inside Stuff as well as other shows. She started her career as a Ford model.

She also happens to be the wife of Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Co. (They are pictured above.)

Bay went to Andover, Penn, and NYU's Stern School of Business, so for all I know she has an IQ of 150.

But there are plenty of others with her academic credentials who never achieved a fraction of her success. Most of them got stuck writing about local news for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch or the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Their problem was, they just weren't good-looking enough. I'm not sure exactly how a pleasing facial physiognomy helps one craft more insightful editorials, but evidently it does.

This blog has previously discussed men who've parlayed their bodies into success in fields where their physicality should theoretically not matter.

Bay is part of an even larger tradition of women who have parlayed their looks into power and prestige.

It's highly doubtful she would ever have been hired as a television anchor had it not been for the physical attributes that helped her as a Ford model. It's also doubtful that Bob Iger would have married her if not for those same attributes. (I think I can make both those statements with great certainty.)

And once she had those things on her resume, all sorts of other doors opened for her. Including those at USC.

There are undoubtedly some people at the school -- grumpy old profs who see journalism as a sacred calling -- who are muttering similar sentiments right now.

But USC in fact made a commonsensical decision. Most heads of academic institutions are primarily glad-handers and fundraisers for their schools. And frankly, whom would you rather shake hands with, some bitter, cynical old rummy who takes his craft seriously, or a beauty like Bay?

Bay's connections will certainly not hurt. Think some money from her former employers at the networks will find its way into USC's endowment? Think any Disney money might possibly wend its way there?

Of course, nobody associated with the school will admit to any of this publicly. All of their talk will be about journalistic integrity, reporting the news in unbiased fashion, the duty of the press in a free society, and so on.

Bay herself will undoubtedly participate in this charade. Who knows, she may even teach a course or two herself. They'll probably have titles like Television Journalism in the Age of the Internet and The Role of Media as Watchdog.

But in fact the courses she is best qualified to teach aspiring journalists would be:

How to shed those pesky pounds around your tummy and thighs

How to find the best plastic surgeon

How to appear perky on TV

How to snag a rich and influential husband

And the best advice she can give those students is, "If you want to be successful, be good-looking. Very good-looking. Then everything else will just fall into place."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Naked and Afraid"

The TV show Naked and Afraid is an intriguing concept: putting two people into the jungle and seeing if they can survive for 21 days and reach a certain destination point. (I think many of us have wondered how we'd fare in similar circumstances.)

The show is also marketed well: though it has nothing to do with sex, its title implies that it does, and it's always a man paired with a woman, who meet each other for the first time in a remote location, stark naked (they are strategically blurred onscreen).

All of the people who volunteer for the show are always self-styled survivalists, or wilderness experts. But a lot of them in fact seem to be no such thing. A fair number of them, especially the women, seem to rely on their partner to do most of the work.

The show is most interesting as a study in psychological endurance: how long will people go sleep-deprived and food-deprived before they give up, or at least become dispirited. (It doesn't take long.) While it's not clear how much real danger the cast members are in, they are inevitably tested to the limits of their endurance, and all lose weight during the 21 days.

Watching the show, it's hard not to wonder how the human race survived the Stone Age.

A more accurate name for the show would have been Tired and Hungry and Dirty. But that wouldn't have had the allure of Naked and Afraid.

It's hard not to wonder what the sexual dynamic is, at least at first, between the two castmates. Surprisingly, it's almost nonexistent, at least after the first hour or so. The presence of the cameramen must quash whatever friskiness they might have initially felt, then, soon enough, they're basically starving, filthy, and covered with mosquito bites, none of which exactly encourage romance.

On top of that, the man and woman sometimes end up resenting each other.

But by the standards of reality shows, it seems quite real, and that's what makes it interesting. The cast members' discouragement doesn't seem faked, and you don't get the impression that the cameramen are feeding them MetRx bars on the side, or that they're sleeping in posh hotels when the cameras aren't rolling (as Bear Grylls evidently did in Man vs. Wild).

That original "reality" show, Survivor, was summer camp by comparison.

The show is worth a watch, just don't expect titillation. It's more about the soft porn of watching other human beings break down.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Evander Holyfield and steroids

I remember watching the Holyfield-Tyson fights of 1996 and 1997, and thinking how magnificent they looked. Both men entered the ring superbly muscled, each looking like testosterone personified. With Tyson, it was natural; he had been an abnormally thickly-muscled specimen from the time he was 13.

With Holyfield, in retrospect, it was not. He had been the Olympic bronze medalist in the light heavyweight (178 pound) division in 1984, at age 21. He then turned pro, campaigning first as a light heavyweight (175 pounds in the pro ranks), then as a cruiserweight (190 pounds). He won the cruiserweight title at age 24, in 1986. In 1988 he announced that he was moving up to heavyweight.

By the early 1990's Holyfield was a lean 215 pounds. People wondered how he had put on so much muscle so quickly. Holyfield attributed it to his revamped exercise and diet regimen under new trainer Mackie Shillstone.

Here's Holyfield after he had already put on 15 pounds to win the cruiserweight title:

And here here are two pictures of him as heavyweight champion:

You just don't put on that kind of muscle through sparring, hitting the bag, and roadwork. You don't even put it on through weight-lifting.

The dead giveaway with steroids is not just how much muscle you put on, but how it goes on. Steroids always seem to turn the trapezius muscles (which run from the shoulder to the neck) convex, and also give a weird emphasis to the definition between the pectoral muscles.

Here is what Wikipedia had to say about recent allegations that Holyfield had used steroids:

On February 28, 2007, Holyfield was anonymously linked to Applied Pharmacy Services, a pharmacy in Alabama that is currently under investigation for supplying athletes with illegal steroids and human growth hormone (HGH). He denies ever using performance enhancers.

Holyfield's name does not appear in the law enforcement documents reviewed. However, a patient by the name of "Evan Fields" caught investigators' attention. "Fields" shares the same birth date as Holyfield—October 19, 1962. The listed address for "Fields" was 794 Evander, Fairfield, Ga. 30213. Holyfield has a very similar address. When the phone number that, according to the documents, was associated with the "Fields" prescription, was dialed, Holyfield answered.

But we really didn't need all that to know. The only evidence we really needed was visual. 

I point this out because Holyfield is such a perfect example of what steroids do to you: they make you magnificent, in a slightly misshapen way.

None of this, by the way, is to suggest that Holyfield wasn't an extremely brave fighter. He never gave up against the larger, stronger Riddick Bowe, and he wasn't intimidated by Mike Tyson, the most feared fighter of the era. In interviews, he comes across likable and unpretentious. He was in many ways the epitome of a noble warrior; it's just that there was one way in which his nobility was tarnished. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Why opposites attract

Most people seem to have a "type" to whom they're physically attracted. And it is often said that opposites attract. It seems that quite often, a person's "type" will be someone with whose genes they might combine with their own to produce good-looking offspring.

Therefore, people will often desire partners who will offset their own aesthetic flaws. Someone with a weak chin will be attracted to people with stronger chins, someone with a bulbous nose will be attracted to people with sharper noses, skinny will be attracted to strong, etc.

It's quite possible for two opposites, neither of whom is particularly good-looking, to produce attractive offspring. You see that all the time.

It make evolutionary sense that such an instinct -- attraction to opposites -- would have been bred into us. Genetic fitness is not purely a matter of having a lot of offspring yourself, it's a matter of having enough offspring who have their own offspring.

Vacations and schadenfreude

A couple days ago I was talking to a friend from my hometown who's about to leave on vacation for Florida.

"It's going to be 80 degrees when we get there," he enthused.

I replied, "You shoulda gone two weeks ago, when it was 10 degrees here."

He said, somewhat glumly, "Yeah I know." Then he brightened up. "But it's supposed to get down to 30 here again on Monday."

I know exactly how he feels.

Whenever I'm on vacation, I like to check the weather back home, and I always find myself hoping it's miserable. I could say I'm hoping for that just so that I could feel I was getting my money's worth from my vacation. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to an element of schadenfreude.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

No more VJ Days

The news that the sailor in the iconic photo of VJ Day, Glenn McDuffie, 86, died a few days ago brought home the realization that it would no longer be possible for this country to have such a celebration.

The way our wars go these days, we no longer fight decisive battles which turn the tide. We go in, kill a few of the enemy, basically intimidate the rest into hiding through a show of superior force, occupy for a while, and eventually the war just sort of….peters out. Then, we withdraw so that the country can collapse into factionalism and even anarchy.

Somewhere along the line we started thinking that it was possible to "win hearts and minds" that are unwinnable and build nations which don't want to be built. Silly.

Had we just wanted to win, we would have easily bombed Iraq and Afghanistan into rubble, cut off their food and water and electricity, and forced them to their knees in a few days. (Not that we should have.)

Instead, we got involved with supporting one faction of a government, used Marquis of Queensberry rules to fight guerrillas who have no rules, and even worse, announce ahead of time that we would tie our own hands that way. We play the role of occupying force against guerillas. We never fight another country, we merely take sides within a country (and somehow, the side we support always seems to be corrupt.)

The idea that when the last soldier came home from Iraq a random serviceman might have grabbed a random nurse in Times Square and kissed her in celebration seems absurd. Apart from our evolving gender politics (he would have been clapped in jail for sexual assault), the fact is that there was really nothing to celebrate. Which is the ultimate proof that we should never have gone over there in the first place.

Glenn McDuffie, rest in peace.

Monday, March 17, 2014

DUI enforcement zones

When I was driving back from Bethesda on Sunday I noticed a number of prominent signs along the highway saying, "DUI Enforcement Zone." I couldn't help but wonder, where are the DUI non-enforcement zones? (Next time I feel like driving drunk, I'll be sure to go there.)

If you Google "DUI enforcement zone," you'll find that they are a feature peculiar to Maryland. An excerpt from a release from the Maryland State Police:

(Pikesville, MD) -- To remind motorists they are serious about drunk driving enforcement and as part of an ongoing statewide campaign called “Checkpoint Strikeforce,” police departments across Maryland will begin placing “Drunk Driving Enforcement Zone” banners on roadsides where sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols occur.

Isn't this a bit like putting up a sign saying, This is an area where we will arrest drug dealers? Wouldn't that just motivate dealers to ply their trade elsewhere? It's sort of the opposite of a sting, in that it mostly helps the lawbreakers escape.  

It also reminds me of all those signs proclaiming various areas as "gun free zones." As has been pointed out by many others, those are essentially open invitations for any gunman with mayhem in mind to go berserk without fear of armed resistance. It seems counterproductive.

I'm glad that the Maryland state troopers want to stop drunk driving, though. I only hope they make a similar effort to catch motorists who drive dangerously fast. My suggestion: erect large signs saying, Speed Trap Ahead!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

How not to prepare for a swim meet

I competed in a masters swimming meet this weekend in Bethesda, MD. I was going for the world record for 60-64 year olds in the 200 short course meter butterfly, which is a 2:29.4. I was confident I could go at least a 2:25.

(At age 55, I'd set the record for that age group with a 2:19.7, albeit with a tech suit; but that was still the equivalent of a 2:21+ without one.)

My daughter needed a ride back to her college in Pennsylvania, so when I drove down on Friday I dropped her off as well. We got lost at one point and took a fairly long detour. When we finally got to the restaurant where we were planning to have lunch, it was 3PM, so they would only give us takeout. I ended up eating a sushi meal without any water. After saying good bye to my daughter, I hit a couple of bad traffic jams. By the time I got to Bethesda I had spent eight hours in the car.

I usually don't eat much the morning of a meet, but the hotel's breakfast buffet looked inviting, so I opted for that. And tried to get my money's worth.

During my race, I felt strangely uncoordinated, and managed to blow every one of my turns. I was out in 1:10 at the 100, where I needed to be, and thought I was swimming easily, but at the 125 meter mark I was suddenly filled with lactic acid. My sixth lap felt the way an eighth lap is supposed to feel, and for the entire last 50 I couldn't quite get my arms out of the water. I've seen this happen to other flyers, but it had never happened to me before, certainly not like this. I've swum maybe ten or twelve other 200 short course meter fly's in the past 15 years, and I think the slowest last 50 I'd ever had before was a 38-low. My last 50 here was a 42.8; I ended up with a 2:31.5.

Dying this way is basically a dance of public humiliation. With the other strokes, all that happens if you die is that your cadence slows; it's not that dramatic. With fly, when you can't get your arms out of water, you can no longer do the stroke right, and you look as if you have no control over your own body.

I'm not sure exactly what to liken it to.

Maybe being at a fancy dinner party and vomiting on your plate.

Or maybe being on a first date with the girl of your dreams, and taking a dump in your pants.

Or being possessed by the devil, like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. (Though, come to think of it, she didn't really seem all that embarrassed.)

Or having a grand mal epileptic seizure in your 11th grade homeroom.

Or having someone take off all your clothes, stick a poker up your rear, hoist you aloft by that, and then shake you so that you look like an insane marionette doing a jig.

What I guess I'm trying to say is, it just didn't feel all that dignified.

What made it worse was that I was supposed to inform the officials I was making an attempt at a WR, so they had to get some extra timers for my lane. And all those guys ended up standing around for nothing.

That night in the hotel room I was sitting at the desk looking at my computer, and tried to move forward on my chair (which had wheels). My left hamstring completely seized up, and at the same time, the upper left part of my stomach cramped up. I could actually feel the knot in my stomach with my hand, it actually looked (or at least felt) a little like that guy in Alien right before the monster bursts out of his stomach. It's hard to work out two cramps at the same time, but eventually I managed to.

Then, this morning when I got out of bed to open the curtains, I fainted. When I came to, the only thing that was hurting was my right elbow, which was evidently what I had landed on. (Luckily, I fell on a carpeted floor.)

But at least all that happened in the privacy of my hotel room, so there was no public humiliation.

Maybe it's time to admit I'm not a young man of 55 anymore.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The mystery of the missing Malaysian jet

Usually real life crimes, unlike the fictional kind, are fairly straightforward: there's an obvious suspect, an obvious motive, and not a lot of doubt about his guilt. But the saga of Flight MH370 has had more twists and red herrings than an Agatha Christie mystery.

At the moment it looks like a hijacking. But at first it was thought to be an accident, then terrorism. (Boeing management must have been relieved to find out it wasn't a mechanical failure, after all their recent problems with the Dreamliner.) The two men who boarded the airplane with false passports, especially the young Iranian, were the primary suspects at first; but now attention seems to be shifting to the two co-pilots. (Turning off the transponders and flying above and then below radar detection indicates a familiarity with aeronautics most hijackers would not have.)

The search has shifted, too, from right off the Vietnamese coast to a broader stretch of the South China Sea, and now to the Indian Ocean.

A couple people have casually asked my opinion on what happened. I haven't a clue, any more than I usually do while reading a Christie novel.

You wouldn't think there would be that many places a 777 could land both safely and undetected. One can only imagine the emotional roller coaster the relatives of the passengers have gone through. First they had to assume their loved ones were dead, now there seems to be a glimmer of hope.

It would certainly be a nice ending to the mystery if the 239 people aboard the jet turn up alive somewhere.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What kind of doctor would you be?

The young man from the previous post just recounted a recent conversation he'd had. He was talking to a college student who is thinking about applying to med school, and asked him what kind of doctor he wanted to be.

The student jokingly said he wanted to be a gynecologist.

The young man then told him, "Listen, the unicorn is a magical animal. But if you had to spend your entire day shoveling unicorn shit, would you still find them as enchanting? And do you really want to live in a world where unicorns have completely lost their appeal?"

The relative value of compliments

A young man, who is heterosexual, told me the other day that there's actually more flattery value in being told you're good-looking by another guy than by a woman. He said, "If a woman says that to you, it means you fall within the range of do-ability. But if a straight guy tells you that, it means he thinks you're exceptional."

This young man is also into working out. He said, "It's great to be complimented on your shoulders, or arms, or lats, or thighs. But the compliment I seem to get most is that I have good calf muscles. I never work on those, and couldn't care less about them." He added disdainfully, "I'd almost rather be told I'm smart." He practically spat out the words.

He then expounded further. "Being told you're smart by some dumb person is near worthless. I always want to say, 'Of course I'm smart compared to you, you're a moron. Compared to you, I'm a goddamn genius!'"

He added, somewhat grudgingly, "I guess being told you're smart, or at least clever, by a smart person, is okay."

I asked, "What if you're told you're smart by a girl?"

He replied, "How would a girl be able to tell? Women are generally only capable of received opinions. The only way they would come to the conclusion I'm smart is if they were told that by someone else."

I don't agree with this last statement, but his larger point is true: all compliments, and complimenters, are not equal.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Albert Einstein on global warming

The following quote was on a financial website ( this morning:

"When the number of factors coming into play in a phenomenological complex is too large scientific method in most cases fails. One need only think of the weather, in which case the prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible." -- Albert Einstein

The quote was used as a lead-in to an article about how difficult it is to make financial predictions. But it applies just as well to global warming. The number of factors that play into weather patterns make them near impossible to predict.

Einstein died long before the climate change controversy started, but his statement is just as apropos now.

What happened to the WASPs?

A recent NY Times article about Kevin McCrary, the son of Tex McCrary and Jinx Falkenburgh, drove home what's happened to WASPS in this country. McCrary, born into social aristocracy, is now a hoarder, and, like all hoarders, completely unable to control his compulsion to accumulate bric a brac. (The article was mostly about how he has turned his apartment into a fire hazard, and is about to be evicted.)

That, in microcosm, is what's happened to the Anglos in this country: they've disappeared into a million little corners, surrounded by outdated knickknacks, bereft of power and, in some cases, their sanity.

Where did they all go?

They've become homosexuals, and disappeared into the homosexual ghetto. Or they immerse themselves in a sport, and that sport becomes their passion and life's calling. If you're not into that sport yourself, those types are basically invisible. They become hippies (or their modern day variants, New Agers.)

They go into blue collar professions -- policemen, firemen, ironworkers -- the backbone of this country. But as such, they become background noise to the chattering classes. Or they join the military -- the real backbone -- and become nothing but a collective symbol, the individuals rarely seen by anybody other than people in their branch of the service.

Or they become schizophrenic, or anorexic, or bulimic, or autistic, or bipolar. Or, they just let their neuroses get the better of them.

The WASPs have simply scattered off in a million different directions, having completely forgotten that they're part of a greater whole -- Europeans. As a race, they are dysfunctional.

Anglos help their children, and their close personal friends. But beyond that, they pretty much subscribe to an every-man-for-himself ethos. A nice Jewish lady once told me, when I was at a Club Med, "You probably think of yourself as a man first, then maybe after that as your occupation, then after that as your ethnicity. What you don't understand is that Jews think of themselves as Jews first, second, and third."

I wouldn't argue with that. The Jewish drive to power, both the personal and group varieties, has completely overtaken the hapless WASPs.

Think of the people you know. Jewish people with IQ's of 120 or higher tend to do things which will in some way, no matter how obliquely, help further Jewish influence. They become labor lawyers. Or corporate lawyers. Or criminal lawyers. Or they become doctors affiliated with hospitals where they can help set policy. Or they become newspapermen, or work for a network. They become aides to Congressmen and help write legislation. Or they work for a TV show, or go to work for a talent agency. In business, they start as middlemen, then find a way to leverage that into becoming owners. Or, they just go directly to Wall Street. They become academics, and teach pliable young college students how to think. Or they become economists.

Eventually, most of the Ivy League universities end up with Jewish Presidents, and most of the major sports leagues end up with Jewish commissioners, and half the talking heads you see on TV are Jewish, and most powerful Hollywood producers are Jewish, and all of the recent heads of the Federal Reserve Bank are Jewish. And after a while, it seems as if those positions are no longer even open to Anglos.

Jewish people succumb to mental illness, too. But if it's just an ordinary neurosis they have, instead of letting it cripple them, they always seem to somehow harness it to climb even further.

Now think of the Anglos you know with IQ's over 120. They tend to pursue more Quixotic callings.  They become ornithologists, or herpetologists, or zoologists of some sort, and strangely, develop an affection for those species. And they spend much of their lives in the field, practically invisible to other people. Or they get involved in environmental causes, which affect the balance of power between people and other creatures, but not between different peoples. Or they become engineers and work for companies which are ultimately bought and sold by Jewish financiers.

Or they do whatever will pay the bills, and live for their hobbies. Like fly fishing. Or mountaineering. Or building model trains. Or triathloning. Or bird watching. Or sailing.

Or, they slide into alcoholism. Which, as Jackie Mason used to point out, is a disease of Anglos. (Go to an AA meeting sometime and count the number of Jewish people you see.)

Or they become hoarders, like Kevin McCrary.

Yes, I know there are plenty of exceptions, on both sides. But the general tendencies still hold.

You used to hear about the East Coast Protestant establishment. You don't hear that phrase much anymore.

This blog has always been forthright about the effects of IQ on a given ethnic group's place in society, and it's true that Jews average higher than Anglos. But that alone does not account for the near complete social transformation which has taken place in a mere two generations. The fact that it could happen so quickly is testament not only to the average Jewish IQ, but to their ambition and cohesiveness as well.

The WASPs? They went in a million different directions, never once thinking themselves part of a greater whole. Jewish people never lose sight of their own tribe. WASPS can't even see theirs. Maybe they deserve to go the way of dodo bird.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Crimea, and self-determination

The State Department is now saying that what is going on Crimea is illegal, and that they can't just declare their independence from the Ukraine. But I find it hard to get too worked up over an invasion where not a single shot was fired and the local residents all cheered the Russian troops as they moved in.

When I first read of the protests in Maidan Square, I found myself siding with the protesters, and when I heard that President Yanukovych had fled the country, I felt gratified. Even if Yanukovych had been elected democratically, he was obviously corrupt, and the country was better off without him. Also, it seemed popular sentiment had shifted since the last election.

But why should popular sentiment not prevail in Crimea as well? Western Ukraine wants to be part of the European Union, and the Crimean want to be more closely allied with Russia. Why not let both have their way?

What's happening in Crimea is -- or at least feels like -- a far cry from the Soviet Union deposing Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Yes, it still constitutes foreign meddling; but "foreign" is a somewhat relative term when 60% of Crimean residents identify as Russian.

Ethnic ties are stronger than national boundaries -- our country is proof of that -- and if the Crimeans would prefer to be part of Russia, my instinct is to say, let them.

I suppose the other way to look at it would be to equate it with one of our states, say, New Mexico, wanting to declare its independence from the USA and become part of Mexico. They can't just have a referendum and declare themselves part of Mexico. Or, rather, they could, but I doubt the rest of the US would let them go without a fight. Especially if Mexico sent troops up to Albuquerque to insure protection for those of ethnic Mexican descent -- and even if the local Mexican-Americans cheered on the Mexican army as it arrived.

So, it's a complicated situation geopolitically. And I guess that's my point: it's so complicated that I just can't seem to work up a lot of outrage about it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Political outlook and modern art

Art is usually thought of as an arena separate from politics; but it's not, really.

It occurred to me the other day that people's attitudes toward modern art divide pretty cleanly along political lines. I've never heard anybody say they like modern art who isn't a liberal, and I've never heard anyone trash it who isn't by nature conservative.

It makes sense, in a way. Liberals like to put their own spin on things, to "interpret" them, so to speak. Conservatives prefer to see things as they are in reality, or, as they say in the art world, representationally.

I suppose the flip side of this is that liberals would say that  conservatives have no imagination.

My guess is that most modern artists themselves have liberal sensibilities. However, when I looked up Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol, I could find no references to their politics, other than a statement about how Warhol was determinedly apolitical.

The only modern artist I found whose political leanings were known was Mark Rothko, who lived from 1903 to 1970. He was a leftist. Here is one of his paintings:

(Most of his paintings were quite similar; they all seemed to involve horizontal lines separating different colors.)

Do you know anyone who isn't a liberal who would consider this great art?

I don't. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I don't know any.

There's a lesson here, somewhere. It all seems to boil down to your view of the world: whether you prefer reality or fantasy, your willingness to suspend your disbelief, how much tolerance for nonsense you have, and how badly you want to show that you're part of the "sophisticated" in crowd.

(The word "pretentious" does, after all, derive from "pretend.")

I'm going to take it a step further and say that modern art has a certain predictive value. Ask a 14-year-old, who has not yet formed his political opinions, what he thinks of the above painting. If he says he likes it, chances are he will eventually turn out to be a liberal. If he holds up his hands with an expression of slightly disgusted bafflement and asks, "Why is that considered great art?" he is a conservative-in-the-making.

If you don't believe me, think of all the people you know who have expressed an opinion on modern art. I bet they divide pretty cleanly along political lines.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Honey badgers: the ultimate badasses

When I started to do research for this post, I found that there is an entire meme on the internet devoted to the toughness of the honey badger. So, this will not be a particularly original post. Still, the creature's toughness is so admirable that I wanted to pay tribute.

Few animals rival the honey badger's incredible ferocity and toughness. Honey badgers will take on anybody, period.

When most creatures see a cobra, their first thought is not, "Ah -- lunch!" A honey badger's is.

If a honey badger does get bitten by a cobra or Gabon Viper while killing it, it will go into a sort of coma for up to twenty hours. Then it just gets up and goes about its business, including devouring the rest of the snake. (We all have to sleep off a bad hangover.)

They will brave a similar fate just to get honey (and bee larvae). Honey badgers have been known to take up to over 300 stings at a time for a meal.

Even hyenas, who are also famous for their ferocity, are reluctant to take on a honey badger one on one. A full grown hyena weighs up to 150 pounds pounds and has a bite strength of 1100 pounds per square inch, one of the highest in the animal kingdom. A full grown honey badger weighs, at most, 30 pounds.

Perhaps most impressively, honey badgers will face down lions. Not just one, but several. They hiss at the lions, walk backwards away from them, and, if attacked, bite the lions on their noses, which usually causes them to back off.

The honey badger's closest spiritual equivalent is the wolverine. (Fifty pound wolverines have been known to defend a carcass against a grizzly bear.)

The honey badger's teeth are sharp, but not nearly as large as those of a lion or hyena, and its bite strength does not compare. And it has sharp claws, but they are attached to arms less than a foot long.

What it does have more of than any other animal is courage.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Former druggies

I was flipping channels the other evening and stumbled across Charlie Sheen on a recent episode of Anger Management. He looked fine, and it occurred to me that that should have been a surprise.

It was only three years ago that he had that infamous, epic meltdown. He abused all sort of hard drugs, was arrested for domestic violence, had all those incidents with hookers, and lost custody of his children. Sheen got into a public spat with his boss on Two and a Half Men and even made public anti-Semitic comments, which is career suicide in Hollywood. It seemed he had a death wish. 

You probably remember the quotes about his "tiger blood" and his "two goddesses" (both of whom departed shortly thereafter). 

At the time, you could practically see the Grim Reaper with his scythe standing next to Charlie. 

But then, a few days ago, there was Charlie on Anger Management, looking none the worse for wear -- with a thriving career.

There seem to be plenty of other famous people who've abused cocaine and now seem fine. Barack Obama smoked crack, and look where he is now. His predecessor George W. Bush, a former alcoholic, was supposedly arrested for cocaine possession in 1972, although that record was expunged. And Bill Clinton at one point reportedly had a cocaine habit as well. None of these men exactly turned out to be cautionary tales.

So, a drug habit may lead to your nodding off in a back alley somewhere with your life completely in ruins, as we were told in high school. Or, it may lead right to the White House. 

Rush Limbaugh, at one point an Oxy-Contin addict, seems to be going as strong as ever.

The list of actors who have not abused drugs or alcohol is much shorter than those who have.

And show me the list of abstemious rock stars and I'll show you Ted Nugent.

Of course, there are people who've died from drugs: most recently, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brittany Murphy, and Heath Ledger. 

But all three of them died after ingesting lethal combinations of drugs. Hoffman died from mixing heroin, cocaine, and a couple of prescription drugs; Ledger and Murphy both from mixing various prescription drugs. 

So maybe the lesson is, go ahead and imbibe, but just don't combine. 

Also, stay away from the manmade stuff. Meth, a man made drug, will age you twenty years in the space of a year, bath salts will cause you to go insane in a relatively short period of time, and krokodil will actually rot the flesh from your bones. 

So, maybe, one organic drug at a time. 

But there are times when I suspect that some of the warnings I got in my youth -- which seemed to promise certain death -- may have been a tad overblown. 

Either that, or Charlie really does have tiger blood running through his veins. And I'll just have to stay jealous.

(My public service announcement for the day.)