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Monday, August 29, 2016

Trump's latest poorly phrased tweet

Donald Trump's basic platform is a commonsensical one. He doesn't want us to get involved in endless wars of attrition in the Middle East. He wants better relations with Russia (which is what Hillary advocated early on as Secretary of State, though she's trying to demonize Trump for advocating the same right now). He wants to cut back on illegal immigration, and strenuously vet legal immigrants from countries with a history of terrorism. He wants to stop exporting American jobs abroad, and he wants American companies to stop reincorporating abroad.

These are all policies which would benefit the country, and in particular, the middle class.

The problem is not the message, but the messenger. Trump is the most tone deaf, vain, thin-skinned, insulting, inarticulate candidate imaginable. Witness his Tweet after NBA player Dwyane Wade's cousin was shot dead on the streets of Chicago recently:

"Just what I have been saying. African Americans will VOTE TRUMP!"

It's insensitive, ill-timed, and incoherent. If you take it literally, it means that Trump was predicting that Wade's cousin would be killed -- and that somehow because of the murder, blacks will vote for Trump. (Obviously, this isn't what he meant, but that's a tribute to his inarticulateness.)

Note that Trump didn't bother with any condolences, and instead just immediately seized on the murder to make political hay. Hours later, his camp released another Tweet, "My condolences to Dwyane Wade and his family, on the loss of Nykea Aldridge. They are in my thoughts and prayers." But this standard boilerplate was obviously just damage control after the first Tweet.

And making political hay so soon after a murder makes Trump as exploitative and shameless as Obama, who starts talking gun control within 24 hours of every mass shooting.

The Trump campaign Tweets on a regular basis. Some of the Tweets come from his staff, some from the candidate himself. You can almost always tell the two sets apart because the latter are usually awkwardly phrased and often boorish.

What Trump undoubtedly meant with his Tweet was that if you're a resident of the inner city, and you want to stop these senseless murders, you should vote for the candidate who favors law and order, not the one who favors the BLM movement. And, of course, he's right about that: the police kill far, far fewer blacks than are killed by other blacks. But, somehow, he couldn't manage to convey that.

It's almost as if Trump has a mild case of ADHD, with a touch of Tourette's.

A lot of people automatically assume Trump must be brilliant because he's a billionaire. But the truth is, he inherited a real estate empire (despite what he says) and moved into Manhattan real estate as he was coming of age, in just the right era, the 1970's, when real estate was set to skyrocket.

A number of people have analyzed Trump by saying that he's slyly Machiavellian, and he knows exactly how to tar his opponents so that they look like losers. And it's true that once you've called an opponent, say, "low energy," or "ugly," people tend to see them in that light. But this may be giving him too much credit: what comes out of his mouth are just the uninhibited insults of a narcissist. I've known other narcissists who were the same way, and they weren't necessarily smart.

Trump obviously hasn't done his homework on foreign policy, and seemingly has no intention of doing it. Half the time when someone asks him what he's going to do about a particular problem, he just talks about what a great job he's going to do solving it, without explaining how. And a lot of people have fallen for it, because he's Donald Trump, billionaire.

Trump isn't dumb. He has good instincts, and a realistic handle on what's ailing this country. But, it really doesn't take a genius to figure that out, and he just doesn't give off high IQ vibes.

I'm going to vote for him, and I recommend you do the same. But in the remote chance he gets elected, expect to spend the next four years defending your choice from constant, well-deserved attacks against his personality.  (The best defense: hey, I never liked the guy personally, but his policies are better for America than another four years of Obama would have been.)

Hopefully, you'll be right.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Burkini flap

You've probably heard by now that after the truck massacre in Nice six weeks ago, a few French towns on the Mediterranean decided to strike back by banning burkinis on the beach. (And that after the resulting outcry, the statute has been rescinded.)

It seemed from the start to be a ridiculous, and ridiculously ineffective, way to strike back against Islamic terrorism.

First, if a woman wants to wear a more modest outfit on the beach, that should be her prerogative. Forcing Muslim women to wear traditional Western bathing suits in public makes many of them feel as uncomfortable as it would American female tourists if they were forced to go topless on French beaches since that's the local custom.

Secondly, clamping down on Muslim women is a little misdirected, since it's Muslim men who commit the vast majority of terrorist acts.

Thirdly -- and most importantly -- if you want to stop Islamic terrorism, there's only one way to do it: stop Muslims from immigrating. The vast majority of Muslims want Sharia law, and when they reach a critical mass in the West, they're going to start demanding it. And the vast majority of Muslims feel far more loyalty to their fellow Muslims and to their country of origin than they do to the Western country they emigrate to.

Exhibit A: more Muslims in Great Britain have joined ISIS than have joined the British military.

So why import more people who are almost certain to be Benedict Arnolds-in-spirit-if-not-in-deed?

Banning the burkini is like putting a band-aid on a broken bone.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Filial respect part X

I recently said to my son, "One thing I have to give myself credit for is that the entire time I had cancer, my personality never changed one whit. I never got temperamental, or started snapping at people, or acting as if I was under a huge amount of stress. Even when I was getting radiated, I acted just like I always have."

My son replied, "Yeah, but Dad, that's a real low bar. You're pretty much a neurotic, whiny asshole to begin with. You want to take credit for staying that way, great, go ahead."

Filial respect Part IX

My son mentioned that he had been getting compliments on his voice because it was so "deep and sexy."

I told him, "That's why you get mistaken for me on the phone all the time -- we have the same voice."

He replied, "Yeah, but in my case, it's appropriate. With you, it's misplaced. I mean, you're basically the inverse Mike Tyson."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Olympics, Part X: A matter of human rights?

One of the dumbest articles ever in favor of allowing intersex athletes to compete as woman just appeared on Yahoo: Caster Semenya delivers poignant message while savoring gold medal. It was full of cliches about dignity and inclusiveness, all meant to obscure the real issue.

The relevant excerpts (with my comments in parentheses): 

RIO DE JANEIRO – After she won an Olympic gold medal Saturday night, Caster Semenya was compared to Nelson Mandela. Semenya smirked at the reporter who did so. Mandela is one of the great men in modern history. Semenya is an 800-meter runner who Saturday won an Olympic gold medal. Beyond their South African roots, they share something else: a fight for what’s fair and what’s right and what a better world might look like.

(See? Semenya is another Mandela.)
Madiba, as South Africa fondly refers to Mandela, fought for racial equality. Semenya, still today, is fighting for sports to end their warfare on human biology that she has fought for seven years.

(Is "warfare on human biology" an accurate characterization of what "sports" are conducting?)

“Sports is meant to unite people, like Madiba said,” Semenya said. “I think that’s what we need to keep doing. It’s just fantastic. I think I make a difference. I mean a lot to my people. I’ve done well. They’re proud of me. That was the main focus. Doing it for my people and the people who support me.”

(Certainly no one can argue with any of those statements; the problem is, none of them address the issue that intersex competitors raise.)

Those people stuck by a woman whose career sent her into the jaws of stigmatization, questions of her gender, leaked results of the disgraceful sex testing she underwent. She reportedly has been forced to take drugs that changed who she has been since she was born because the ever-shifting definition of womanhood in international sports happened to settle on something that deemed her physiologically unfair.

And after all that, listen to what Caster Semenya thinks of the world, one that so often sought to bring her down.

(The world didn't seek to "bring her down," only to see if she was female, since she wanted to compete as a female. Though it does sound as if she barely escaped being eaten by the "jaws of stigmatization.")

“It’s all about loving one another,” she said. “It’s not about discriminating against people. It’s not about looking at people how they look, how they speak, how they run. It’s not about being masculine. It’s not about sports. When you walk out of your apartment, you think about performing. You do not think about how your opponent looks like. You just want to do better. So I think the advice to everybody is just go out there and have fun.”

(Again, cliches about loving one another and wanting to do better and having fun -- all of which are inarguable -- don't really address the issue at hand.)

Semenya had plenty of fun Saturday. She laid waste to the field in the women’s 800-meter race at the Rio Games. Some competitors argued she shouldn’t be allowed to compete because of hyperandrogenism, which means Semenya’s body produces an excessive amount of testosterone. Then she ran the race in 1 minute, 55.28 seconds, beat all seven opponents by at least a second and flexed as she crossed the finish line before breaking into a LeBron James-style Silencer.

(If I were Semenya's agent, I'd advise her against striking that arms flexed pose after her victories.)

Which is about right for all she has endured from the people who have called her a man and said she should not be allowed to compete in the Olympics because of a natural advantage. Not only is this argument morally repugnant and ethically flimsy, it runs in direct contrast to the charter that governs the Olympic Movement and makes clear that the rights of an athlete are beyond reproach.

(It always helps to paint a viewpoint you oppose as "morally repugnant and ethically flimsy." But if the rights of an athlete are "beyond reproach," why castigate dopers?)

The Olympic Charter was written to protect athletes like Caster Semenya. It outlines the seven central tenets of what the Olympics are supposed to mean. One in particular speaks specifically to Semenya, whose blessing and curse was to be born with a different anatomy than most.

On Page 12 of the Olympic Charter, principle No. 4 reads: “The practice of sport is a human right.”

(Do separate men's and women's competitions infringe on human rights?)

Here’s the reality: Caster Semenya doesn’t look like what a cisgendered society expects of a woman. Her hair is tightly braided to her head. Her breasts are small. Her muscles ripple. Her voice is deep. Her partner is a woman. Rather than the sports-bra-and-short-shorts uniform her competitors in the 800 wore, she prefers a full-body suit like the one used by male track runners....

(Again, that's not the issue: small-breasted, muscular lesbians with braided hair are welcome to compete as women at the Olympics. In fact, a substantial percentage of the female competitors can be described by one or more of those phrases. But having internal testes rather than ovaries is a different matter.)

Complicated though this issue may be, the fearmongering is reminiscent of all baseless propaganda perpetuated by frightened, exclusionary, ignorant people. Nobody wants men to compete in women’s sports. This is not opening the door for that.... 

(Get it? If you oppose allowing Semenya to compete against women, you're "frightened, exclusionary, and ignorant." You don't want to be those things, do you? Then get with the program!!)

Neither of these cases applies to Semenya. She is a woman, indubitably so, and because the IAAF has determined to view womanhood through the lens of a hormone more prevalent in men does not make her any less so and should not make her any less capable of competing against those with whom she shares a gender. Competitors who want to complain about it should take up the issue with their parents. Just like Semenya, that’s where they got their DNA and all other biological components.

("Indubitably?" Why? Because you say so? And the issue is not that she is "less capable" because of her condition, it's that she's more capable. But yeah, if you don't like it, go complain to your parents. Good suggestion. "Hey Mom and Dad, why couldn't you make me like Caster? I feel left out -- I wanna be a hermaphrodite too!")

Another piece of the Olympic Charter applies directly to Semenya. The second principle says: “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity...” 

(Again, useless platitudes that do nothing to address the question at hand.)

All Caster Semenya ever wanted was to run like she was born to, and CAS allowed her that. Once she got that, Semenya wanted the world to grow, to understand who she is, understand that she deserves, like everyone else, her dignity and the chance to compete. To unite people, as they should be.

(That's the real problem here: not that Semenya has an unfair advantage, but that the world has to grow.) 

It can't be emphasized enough, Semenya is not a cheater like those who take PEDs; she was simply born the way she is. But that doesn't settle the issue, which is, as long as you're going to have separate competitions for women and men, then you have to be clear about exactly how "female" is defined. Anybody born with a vagina, but with internal testes instead of ovaries, occupies a gray area in that regard. 

There's no easy solution. It's not fair for women to have to compete against the intersexed, but it's also not fair to demand the intersexed compete against men. It's certainly not the cut and dried, clearcut issue this simple-minded Yahoo article presents it as. And however this issue finally gets resolved, it's not going to be because one side occupied the moral high ground, as Yahoo would have it. 

If he were around today, Samuel Johnson would say that political correctness is the last bastion of the scoundrel.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

Olympics, Part IX: Women's 800 meters -- the triumph of diversity

The semifinals of the women's 800 meter run took place yesterday, and the differences between the competitors were striking. One of the finalists, Melissa Bishop of Canada, could be a model:

Finalist Kate Grace looks like the Yale graduate that she is:

Joanna Jozwik of Poland is 5' 6" and 117 pounds, a typical build for a middle distance runner:

But there are also some competitors who don't look quite as feminine. Caster Semenya has received a fair amount of publicity in the past. I've written about her before, here and here and here.

While Semenya's case has been well documented, finalist Margret Wambui of Kenya has gotten much less publicity:

It should be emphasized that neither Wambui and Semenya can help their appearance. They were born that way, and to my knowledge, neither has taken PEDs. This puts them, morally speaking, light years ahead of the runners who have doped. (And for all I know, one or more of the first three women shown in this post may be among that number.)

But, that still leaves the question of whether intersex athletes should be competing as women. Semenya, who was reportedly born with outward female genitalia but with internal testes instead of ovaries, obviously has a huge advantage over her rivals. In the past, she would not have been allowed to compete. The IOC now considers it overly intrusive to conduct such tests. In general, respecting peoples' privacy is a good thing; but in this case, it seems unfair to her competitors. They compete as women because they can't compete against men, who naturally have much higher testosterone levels. In the past, some of Semenya's competitors have said as much.

But the 800 has a long tradition of masculine, muscular women who dominate the event.

Here's Maria Mutola, of Mozambique, a ten time world champion at 800 meters who also won the gold in that event at the Sydney Olympics in 2000:

Here's Ana Quirot of Cuba, a two time world champion at 800 meters who also won silver in Atlanta in 1996:

And here is Jarmila Kratochvilova of Czechoslovakia, whose world record of 1:53.28 has stood since 1983:

Kratochvilova was said to be able to bench press 200 pounds.

Again, Semenya and Wambui aren't -- to my knowledge -- taking PED's, so deserve no censure. Nonetheless, it will be visually jarring to watch the 800 final on Saturday evening. It will appear at first glance -- and second -- to be a race between men and women.

And it opens up a host of touchy issues which most people prefer not to delve into.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Olympics, Part VIII: What a bunch of morons

The full story on Lochte and company seems to have emerged now. They went to a party, got drunk, had to pee, and went to a gas station (at 6AM), but the bathroom door was locked. One of them broke open the door, and was subsequently accosted by a security guard. The guard and the store owner demanded payment from the four swimmers, and the four swimmers paid up.

That would have been the end of the story (which we would likely never have heard about), except that the 32-year-old Lochte then felt obliged to lie to his mother about what had happened, and concocted a story about how they had been robbed at gunpoint. Lochte's mother then told the press about it, and Lochte ran with the lie. (What sort of 32-year-old needs to lie to his mother about why he's been out late?) And then the other three swimmers felt obliged to support Lochte's tale.

Maybe the worst part of the story was that Lochte claimed that when the men first pulled guns, the other three swimmers immediately got facedown on the ground but that he, knowing he had done nothing wrong, refused. It was only when someone held a gun to his head that he acquiesced. (How brave!)

Even non-swimming fans already had a vague sense of Lochte's personality. But even as a swimming fan, I had very little sense of the other three. I had read a Q and A with Jimmy Feigen on Reddit a week ago, and was surprised at how commonsensical and smart he sounded. My very superficial impression of Jack Conger was that he was reserved and modest. Gunnar Bentz I knew absolutely nothing about.

Lochte has always come across like an amiable dunce -- but not a liar. He had reputation -- unlike Michael Phelps -- for being willing to stick around at meets for hours afterward signing autographs for the kids. (In fairness to Phelps, I've heard that he can't go anywhere without everyone wanting selfies with and autographs from him.)

Lochte's taste in music, which runs to rap, and in clothes, which run to senselessly loud, speak for themselves. But not having a high IQ is not a crime. Until this incident, Lochte's worst sin had been to be 32-going-on-15.

The problem is, most 15-year-olds have no sense of the larger picture. And the eternal teenager has now set off an international incident, something he never intended. It's going to be made worse because there is no group of people more sensitive about their national reputation than Brazilians, as I wrote about here and here. All Brazilians will take Lochte's lie as a personal slight. From now on when Lochte, Feigen, Conger, and Bentz compete internationally, the Brazilian contingent will undoubtedly boo them.

The four swimmers were simply in search of a fun night, not thinking of themselves as four ambassadors of goodwill from the USA, which as Olympic athletes they effectively were. They're certainly going to need all of their diplomatic skills now. They'd better get on their knees now and bow and scrape and then bow even deeper.

You have to feel a little bad for Conger and Bentz, both of whom just went along with what the older superstar wanted. Their choice was either to publicly call Lochte a liar, or back him up. They went with team loyalty, misguided as it might have been this case, and they will pay the price for that for a long time. (Feigen, 26, I'm less sure about.)

As for Lochte, he'll be remembered for the lie which didn't have to be told, which he told anyway.

Olympics, Part VII: The enormity of the moment

Watching the semifinals of the 200 last night, it was hard not to be struck by Usain Bolt's demeanor towards the end of the race. He had been his usual loose, jokey self up until about twenty seconds before the start of the race, then got serious. By about 150 meters into the race, he had a comfortable lead, so started to ease up.

But Canadian Andre De Grasse had other ideas, and although he seemed to be safely in second place (a qualifying spot), kept pushing all the way, causing Bolt to have to speed up a little at the end. Bolt seemed to find this amusing, and gave De Grasse a big smile as they were crossing the finish line. As soon as they crossed Bolt gave him a jokingly admonishing finger wag, as if to say, "Naughty boy!"

Personally, I can't imagine being able to smile at the end of a hard, fairly pressure-packed 200 that close to a best time. For Bolt to be able to pull it off seems the epitome of cool.

It's hard not to see a racial difference here: blacks are simply less likely to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment and succumb to pressure, as I mentioned here.

What thoughts are going through Bolt's head when he is about to compete? I'd imagine they're something like the following:

"This is fun....Look at that cameraman, trying to hard to get a shot of me, I think I'll wink at him and make his day....It'd be sort of cute if I hid my face for a moment before they announce my name.....Listen to that roar -- they really adore me.....Okay, time to run.....Make the sign of the cross, the Lord has always been on my side....Okay, start strong....Don't the curve hard....Okay, things are good, these guys don't stand a chance against me, I can ease back now.....God I love this sport....What?? What does Andre think he's doing?! That little rascal!"

A more typical competitor might be more likely to have the following thoughts going through his head before his race:

"Okay, this is it. This is the race I've been training for all these years! Oh my god, there are probably two billion people watching me at this very moment! Don't blow it! I can't let my family and coach and friends down! And I'm here representing my entire country! I'll remember this for the rest of my life! This is so important for my future! Don't screw up, I'll really regret it if I do! Okay, here goes....My heart is beating so fast I can almost hear it! Boy, do I ever feel like puking! I'll be so relieved when it's all over."

The second competitor is having these thoughts partly in an effort to psych himself up. The irony is, athletes with Bolt's more easy-going attitude generally do better. They are relaxed, and a relaxed body performs better than a tense one. (Bolt understands this, and has said as much in interviews; but it's also just his nature to be that way.)

By contrast, the Japanese swimmers as a group have, over the past fifteen years or so, performed better at home than they have on the international stage. It's been hard to escape the conclusion that they've been done in by the pressure. (They tend to think like the second competitor, times two, and with the added pressure of not wanting to let their ancestors down.)

During the swimming events this year the Japanese all smiled as they came to the starting blocks. It's my guess that the Japanese sports psychologists trained the team to do this. They must have analyzed the situation and realized that forcing a smile actually relaxes you, which in turn aids performance. (It's not entirely unlike sex that way.)

In fact, knowing the Japanese, they probably actually practiced walking to the starting blocks and smiling. (The Japanese are good about obeying orders, whether their instructions are to smile or to crash one's airplane into an American destroyer.)

Anyway, their new attitude, forced or not, seemed to pay off in Rio, as they won two individual golds in swimming.

It's a pretty safe bet that Usain will benefit from his relaxation and win the 200 tonight, too.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Olympics, Part VI: Wayde van Niekirk

Last night the 400 meter dash was won by Wayde van Niekirk of South Africa in a new world record time of 43.03. He doesn't appear to be on steroids (three cheers). He also didn't celebrate his victory with the usual fist-pumping and chest-pounding (another three cheers). Instead, he just seemed quietly overwhelmed by the moment.

But what I found most intriguing about him was that I couldn't figure out exactly what his ethnicity is:

Van Niekirk is from South Africa, so the natural assumption is that he's "colored," that category into which all South Africans of mixed black and white ancestry used to be thrown. But his hair appears straight, and his skin is sallow rather than brown, which is not typical of people who are 50/50. Nor do his body or features (apart from his mouth) appear particularly black.

All of which made me wonder if van Niekirk isn't part San, or Bushman, rather than part Bantu. The San are considered a distinct ethnic group, separate from other Africans:

If I didn't know who he was and saw him walking down a street in this country, I might think he was Hispanic, or even Indonesian. But in South Africa, those ethnicities don't really enter the picture. And I'd never expect an Amerindian or Indonesian to run a 400 in 43.03. Then again, I'd never expect a guy who's five-eighths or three-quarters white to run that fast either. And, come to think of it, no black man had ever run that fast before, either.

I could be completely wrong on this: maybe van Niekirk's appearance is deceiving and he's just part Bantu. But who knows, maybe there's a lot of undiscovered track talent out there on the Kalahari. (The Bushmen are known for their incredible endurance.)

Whatever his ethnicity, I like van Niekirk's demeanor and apparent steroid-free status. I'll root for him in the future.

Olympics, Part V: Usain and Genzebe

I've written about Usain Bolt in the past, here and here and here and here; none of those opinions have changed.

And neither has Bolt. He's still the fastest man in the world. It's hard to watch him and not be amazed by the seeming ease with which he wins, and now, by his longevity as a sprinter. It's also amazing how loose he is, and how much he seems to be enjoying himself, even right before a pressure-packed final. He is just completely, uninhibitedly, happy and playful. I can't imagine any swimmer ever pulling that kind of act off at the Olympics.

By this point Bold is probably not only the greatest sprinter of all time, but greatest track and field athlete of all time.

The extent to which Bolt's career has paralleled Michael Phelps' is striking. Phelps' gold medal haul started four years before Bolt's did, in Athens in '04. But both were huge stars in Beijing, where Phelps peaked in '08. Bolt peaked a year later, in '09. Neither has set a world record since 2009. But both were so great that, even though no longer in peak form, they could continue to win.

Phelps is now 31, Bolt turns 30 this week, and both men are claiming this is their last Olympiad. I wouldn't necessarily believe either of them.

The women's 1500 semifinals were also run last night. The most striking thing about those, apart from Genzebe Dibaba's final 400 of 57 seconds to win her heat, was her beauty:

It's evidently considered bad form for an announcer to comment on an athlete's looks, but if they had said what many viewers were undoubtedly thinking, one of the commentators would probably have blurted out, "Goddamn is she beautiful!"

At every Olympiad, I'm always struck by how athletes are basically just much better-looking than movie stars. Four years ago I compared the looks of Olympic swimmers to movie stars.

Here's the black version, athletes vs. movie stars:

Who's better-looking, Genzebe Dibaba --

or Angela Bassett --

or Jada Pinkett Smith:

This may not be a fair comparison, since these women are pictured at different ages, but also keep in mind that the two actresses were all dolled up, which Dibaba was in only one of her pictures.

Dibaba manages to look happy, playful, and fiery at the same time, a tough combination to beat. Bassett looks as if she's forcing a smile. And Smith looks bitter and high strung, as usual.

Who's better-looking, Usain Bolt --

-- or Denzel Washington:

Watching the Olympics is more fun than watching most movies anyway. It's the ultimate reality show: the contestants train for years, it's all unscripted, there's nationalism to spare, some people cheat, and emotions tend to run raw.

The better-looking contestants is just a side benefit.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Olympics, Part IV

Blood doping is one of the hardest forms of doping to detect. Athletes take their own blood out and store it for a period of time, and then, right before their competition, they inject it back in, giving themselves a high level of red blood cells, and thus, oxygen-carrying capacity.

It's hard to detect because it's your own blood, with your own DNA, and who's to tell whether it's "new" or "old" blood? I've heard that because it's often stored in plastic bags, that microscopic traces of plastic in the bloodstream indicate that the method was used. But wouldn't it be easy to store the blood in a glass container? And when was the last time you ever heard of an athlete who was barred from his sport because he had too much of his own blood?

Ye Shiwen, the Chinese girl who won the 400 meter individual medley at the 2012 Games, is thought to have blood doped. Before the start of the 400 IM, she and a trainer later found to have syringes went into a bathroom, locked it, then reemerged a few minutes later. (It's a safe bet they didn't go into the bathroom for a quickie right before the start of the race.)

What is preventing athletes from taking their own blood at intervals before the big event, extracting the testosterone from that, and then periodically reinjecting just the testosterone back into their own bloodstreams occasionally, resulting in occasionally extremely high levels of the hormone, which would have a strong muscle-building effect. It would be untraceable, as it would be your own testosterone with your own DNA markers.

It would wreak havoc with your endocrine system, but regular steroids do the same thing, and athletes certainly seem willing to use those.

I don't know whether this method would be feasible; I may be completely out to lunch here, and the amount of testosterone that can be recovered from one's own blood may be too small to be of any use. But I can't help but wonder if the idea hasn't already been tried by some of the countries with state-sanctioned doping programs.

Olympics, Part III: Swans

I couldn't help but notice that some of the swimmers in these Games have extraordinarily long necks:

Aliaksandra Herasimenia, the silver medalist in the 2012 Olympics in the 50 and 100 freestyles, and silver medalist in Rio in the 50 free:

Penny Oleksiak, the 16-year-old silver medalist in the 100 fly and gold medalist in the 100 free (on right):

Kevin Cordes, a finalist in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke:

Michael Phelps:

I have no idea whether a long neck is an advantage in swimming, and if so, how that advantage would work. But it seems more than just coincidence that some of the better swimmers are a little swanlike.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Olympics, Part II: Legends

It's fun to watch an athlete, knowing that he is one of the all time greats in his sport. Michael Phelps has long since surpassed Mark Spitz to become the greatest swimmer of all time. He may or may not win individual gold in Rio, but either way, his legacy is cemented.

Usain Bolt is the greatest sprinter of all time. No one else has ever won the Olympic double double, and Bolt has a slew of world championship titles as well. The margins by which Bolt broke the 100 and 200 world records were stunning, and it's hard to imagine anyone breaking those records any time soon. In any case, win or lose next week, Bolt's status is cemented.

Jesse Owens and Johnny Weissmuller qualify as legends because you've heard their names even if you're not a fan of their sport. (They "transcended" their sport, so to speak.) If you are a fan, names like these seem to acquire not just athletic significance, but almost historic significance.

Of course, Owens' name actually does have a historical tint to it, because he won in Berlin in 1936, where he was supposedly snubbed by Hitler. That turns out to be a complete myth, but it has stuck, because it has served an important propaganda purpose.

Johnny Weissmuller was probably more famous as the movie Tarzan than he was as a swimmer, but those two roles were inextricably entwined, and he is now a part of history.

Even in a sport like swimming, which doesn't have a big fan base in this country, there are names non-fans are at last vaguely familiar with: Duke Kahanamoku, Dawn Fraser, Don Schollander, Mark Spitz, Shane Gould, Janet Evans, and a few others. (This is a far, far smaller club than the official Swimming Hall of Fame.)

It's interesting to speculate which names from the current era will enter that smaller, more exclusive club. Michael Phelps is obviously already a member; Ryan Lochte probably is, too.

Katie Ledecky seems set to join that club. She's already set twelve individual world records so far; she'll likely set another in the 800 free in a couple days.

It's gratifying to see her thrive. She's tough, enthusiastic, hard-working, and unpretentious. She's also obviously competing clean: her progression was rapid but steady, and she won her first Olympic gold as a 15-year-old. She's big and strong, but her body is obviously not molded by steroids. And she never had a sudden spike in performance in sync with a sudden, suspicious change in build.

Ledecky is a slight favorite to win the 200 tonight (Sarah Sjostrom could provide stiff competition), and she should easily win the 800 in three days. Ledecky's records should last a long time, possibly even longer than Janet Evans's 17 year run.

Today she's the young wunderkind; in twenty years, she'll be a legend. Even non-swimming fans will likely be at least vaguely familiar with her name.

Update, next day: three out of three commenters have now told me that they've never heard of most of those "legendary" swimmers. Looks like I'm dead wrong about them being household names. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Olympics, Part I

As a dumb swimming fan (I hadn't checked the schedule to see that the swimming events don't start till 9PM Eastern time), I sat through an hour of gymnastics before they started the swimming.

The best thing about watching the Olympics for me is seeing people do things with their bodies that I could never dream of doing; the gymnasts are a good example of that. I envy them their powerful shoulders, arms, and v-shaped torsos. They're wearing the right outfits though: sleeveless athletic tops with long pants. A lot of them seem to have disproportionately skinny little legs. Big legs would be a disadvantage for gymnasts the way huge arms would be for a distance runner: it would be superfluous weight which would prevent them from performing as well on the parallel bars, the pommel horse, and the rings. They do need to use their legs on the floor exercises and vault. But they still end up looking pretty lopsided.

Two things hit me yesterday that had never occurred to me before. The first was that a fair number of gymnasts must use steroids, since strength is obviously a big advantage in the sport. Some of the gymnasts had the telltale veins in the front of their shoulders, and the convex traps which often indicate juicing.

The second was, a fair number of the male gymnasts must be gay. Several of the guys last night seemed to have "gay face." They tended to be very huggy with one other after their routines. The expert commentator had "gay voice." And some of the gymnasts tended to get very emotional after their performances. This was particularly true of the Brazilian team, among whom tears are almost de rigueur, though that seems to be partly a cultural thing. (The top Brazilian swimmer of the past decade, Cesar Cielo, who doesn't appear to be gay, would invariably cry after each winning performance.) And gymnastics is a sport, like diving and figure skating, where you're scored on artistic merit.

I'm not making a moral judgment here, merely an observation. Nor am I saying all gymnasts are gay. Anyway, it's interesting I'd never noticed this before; I guess those big deltoids and triceps and biceps served as an effective disguise.

Swimming is a very formful sport, meaning, the swimmers generally perform as they're expected to. Kosuke Hagino was expected to win the 400 IM, and he did. Sarah Sjostrom in the 100 fly and Adam Peaty in the 100 breast were expected to have the fastest times in the heats and semifinals, and they did. And the Australian women won the 4 x 100 free relay, as expected.

Katinka Hosszu was expected to win the 400 IM, and she did, smashing the old world record. (This post got over 2000 hits in the past 24 hours; a lot of people evidently had the same thought after seeing the muscular Hosszu.) If they want to find out what vitamins she is taking, they ought to test her husband and coach (and Svengali), the volatile Shane Tusup, since he's likely taking the same ones:

Unexpected performances are the exception, not the rule, and so races expected to be close are generally keenly anticipated. One such was the men's 400 free, expected to be a close one between Mack Horton of Australia and Sun Yang of China.

To the delight of most swimming fans, Horton won. Yang had splashed Horton in the warmup pool the day before (not in a playful way), had gotten into a physical altercation with a female Brazilian swimmer at the World Championships last year, has served a suspension for doping, didn't bother to show up for a 1500 final at a world championship once, has been suspended by his national federation of not attending team training camps, and has spent a brief amount of time in jail for driving without a license in China.

In swimming, a relatively bland sport, it's rare to have the good guys and bad guys delineated so clearly.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Eating habits and political outlook

I wrote a post earlier (which I now can't find) about how you can tell a white person's political outlook from whether or not he likes modern art: liberals like it, conservatives don't. I've known a lot of people, and I can't think of any exceptions to this rule. (Blacks generally don't have the level of pretension necessary to like modern art.)

It takes a certain type of person to look at a Rothko painting --

-- and see great art.

(Basically, the same type of person who can look at biological gender and see a social construct.)

The modern art dichotomy, in terms of how it reveals political leanings, is thus easy to understand. You're either the type to think the emperor's new clothes are beautiful, or you aren't.

Food is a different matter. It's harder to understand why political opinions should fall along nutritional lines. But, they do, although the lines are a little blurrier than they are with modern art. People's eating habits usually reflect their politics.

Liberals tend to believe in the food pyramid, which emphasizes carbs over protein. Conservatives are more likely to believe in the paleo or zone diets, which tend to emphasize protein over carbs. A poll taken at a pasta restaurant would favor Hillary; at a steakhouse, Trump.

If you see someone eat an entire meal (either breakfast, lunch, or dinner, not just a snack) with no protein, or only a tiny bit of protein (say, the cheese on spinach pie), that person is more likely to be a liberal.

Most of the vegetarians I've known have been liberals. Both vegans I knew were liberals. And every vegetarian I've ever known who broadcast her moral superiority for being such was a liberal.

Liberals prefer organic food. Conservatives tend to be indifferent to the presence of pesticides, though more conservatives have switched to organic recently.

Liberals tend to hate genetically modified foods ("Frankenfoods"). Never mind that the molecular composition of these foods is similar and there's never been a single person harmed by eating them. Liberals tend to believe that eating these is basically the equivalent of filling your bathtub with Chernobyl wastewater.

Liberals are more likely to cut fats and salt from their diet. Conservatives, sugar.

Liberals are more likely to prefer sharp (smelly) cheeses. Conservatives are more likely to be happy with Swiss cheese or American brands.

If food is used as a way to show one's sophistication or signal status, you're likely dealing with a liberal. Liberals gravitate toward more pretentious, preferably foreign, foods. And they're more likely to be foodies, period.

In 2014 Gwyneth Paltrow held a Democratic fundraiser at her house attended by Barack Obama; she also has said, "I'd rather smoke crack than eat cheese from a tin." Coincidence? (I think not.)

Liberals are more likely to wash their food down with locally brewed, artisanal beers, which they insist are superior. (Any time you find yourself wanting nothing more than to give someone a blind taste test, you're probably dealing with a liberal.)

In some ways, it's easy to see the correlation with certain kinds of pretensions and political correctness (which is simply another kind). But in other cases, it's harder: why would liberals lean more toward carbs and conservatives toward meat?

I can't figure it out.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Trump's Achilles heel

We saw Donald Trump at his worst this past weekend, responding to Kizr Khan, that Muslim father of a slain American soldier who spoke at the DNC. Trump should have either ignored the speech, or responded by honoring that family's sacrifice, then simply said, but we have to stop allowing in more immigrants who hate this country and are potential terrorists.

Or, Trump might have said that he honored the family's sacrifice, then said, but we have to take a realistic look at the number of Muslims killed fighting for the US military vs. the number of US soldiers killed by American Muslims, in Ft. Hood and elsewhere. (I've been told the latter number is higher.)

Or, he could have said, if all Muslims were like the Khans and their heroic son, the thought of stopping immigration would never have even occurred to him. But unfortunately, too many are like Omar Mateen, or the Tsarnaevs, or Nidal Hasan (the Ft. Hood shooter), or like Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook (the San Bernadino shooters). And by the way, at the Republican National Convention we didn't think to feature the families of the victims of those attacks, because we don't exploit people the way the Democrats do.

Instead, Trump mocked the Muslim mother who didn't talk, then said something incredibly lame about how he too had sacrificed by "working hard to create jobs." To compare that "sacrifice" to that of parents who lost a child is downright obscene.

Trump's Achilles heel is that he is so thin-skinned that he'll lash out at anyone who has criticized him, in any way he can, without forethought.

Hillary's advisors must be licking their chops thinking of ways to bait him. The Hillary campaign is probably planning right now to get surrogates to call Trump fat, say his wife and daughter Ivanka have both had a lot of work done, and suggest that he inherited his wealth and how he's not worth nearly what he says.

Imagine the scene at a Trump press conference. Some plant gets the microphone and says to Trump, "You're never hesitant to criticize women for their looks, but doesn't that make you a hypocrite given that you're so overweight yourself?"

Trump will respond, indignantly, "What? That's -- that's ridiculous. I've been known as a good-looking man my entire life. I hear that from a lot of people. A lot of people. some of the top people, as a matter of fact. And hey -- have you ever taken a look at Hillary? Now she's really fat."

The headlines the next day will read, "Trump calls Hillary 'really fat'."

That will not win the women's vote. It may even do the impossible, and make people feel sympathy for Hillary.

If Trump is smart, he'll just laugh and respond, "Okay, do we have any serious questions?"

But his Achilles heel may not allow for that. If Trump doesn't learn to rein himself in, he has no chance of being elected.