Saturday, November 8, 2014

Three Guarantees in Life: Death, Taxes, and Ostracism of Anyone who Points this Out.

Remarks commonly made when something goes wrong:

That's life.

Such is life.

No one ever says THAT'S LIFE when great things happen. They're much more likely to utter something like "For once in this life something went my way!"

This should make us examine how we look at pessimists. If we all subconsciously accept that life is more tragedy than triumph, to the point where the word life is common shorthand for negativity,
we're being rather inconsistent when we reflexively accuse folks of being "glass half empty" people simply because they highlight life's non-stop struggles.

We're all legal experts when it comes to Murphy's Law. As a consequence most of us seek affirmation, which is why there are legions of calendars, greeting cards, and self-help books, to reassure us that somehow it's all gonna be okay. Seems to me the person who buys such a calendar is already admitting the pessimist's point. The pessimist doesn't need a calendar to remind him life is a downer. All he has to do is wake up in the morning.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Death has a funny way of improving musicians

Any time an artist "dies too soon" - Amy Winehouse, Tupac Shakur, Jimi Hendrix - everyone assumes the artist would have gotten better. There is always the assumption of something great on the horizon: "He died at his peak." "He died just as he was truly finding his voice."

How come no one ever assumes they would have gotten worse? Why doesn't anyone proclaim that artistic burnout was just around the bend? Think about it, when people discuss musicians, they almost always say:

"I liked his early stuff better."

"They had that one good album..."

The common term for a disappointing album is a "sophomore slump," not a "seventh album slump."

With all the examples of artists who had one or two good records and then a lifetime of failing to replicate them, does it really make sense to always give dead young artists the benefit of the doubt?

Plus the posthumous stuff is nearly always a mixed bag (at best). Granted, the work may be unfinished or edited in ways the artist wouldn't have chosen. But still...if we're so assured that genius was just around the bend, why isn't the proof ever in the pudding?

What's funny is that we're just as forceful in our ridicule of artists who do keep going! How many times have the Rolling Stones had to answer for wanting to do another tour? Apparently they never learned the marketing lesson of dying early to keep folks pining for what could have been (not that Keith Richards didn't try).

If Axl Rose had died in '92, we would have been saved the cornrows. If Dylan had died at the release party for Blood on the Tracks, we wouldn't have had to suffer through his "Christian period."

Almost no one artist gets better with age, so it seems like a hell of a coincidence that every single artist whose "fire burned out too soon" was just about to give us a triple album of gold. In his farewell letter, Kurt Cobain apparently quoted Neil Young: "It's better to burn out than to fade away." By burning out, Cobain probably saved us the agony of watching him muddle through a twenty-year "experimental phase."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Too many films are now up to snuff

In our enlightened age, "damsels in distress" are supposed to be a thing of the past. Well, they are: because now we have damsels in pieces. Concurrent with the wails for better cinematic portrayals of women is a trend towards quasi-vivisections on screen. Each director seems determined to keep upping the ante for dismemberment. It's an arms race involving the removal of arms.

I recently saw A Walk Among the Tombstones, Liam Neeson's latest movie. It makes Taken look like an obtuse art film. I won't give away any plot points (first there would have to be a plot), but a woman ends up duct-taped in the back of a van as two sadists with blades contemplate how they're going to slice her. Any time two knife-wielding psychos are hovering above a kidnapped woman wearing nothing but duct tape we can pretty much assume she won't be writing a Yelp review of her evening.

But that wasn't enough for this director: he also has the two knife wielding psychos call her a cunt! Being a serial killer is pretty bad, but a serial killer who sneers out the c word? Now you're really a monster! 50 years ago if you wanted to convey that a film character was sinister, you had him not shave. Today he has to be a Holocaust-denying pedophile who eats puppies for breakfast and doesn't recycle.

The two knife-wielding psychos also gratuitously explain to the victim (and the audience) the anatomical reorganization they're planning to perform on her. Evidently the director thought the audience needed to be told that knife-wielding psychos who kidnap women have been known to use the knives to cut their kidnapped women.*

Later in the film, even after we have learned this woman's fate, the film unnecessarily flashes back to the repulsive images in the van, once again putting the victim's imperiled countenance squarely on camera. This is putatively done to build suspense; the jeopardized woman shown earlier in the film is shown again to remind us that other characters are in if we'd forgotten that these killers, you know, kill and stuff. Of course this doesn't build suspense. At all; it just makes the film a gross-out endurance test** (exactly like those much condemned '80s slasher films that an esteemed thespian like Neeson wouldn't have been caught dead appearing in). I wish they had told me ahead of time I was paying $16 to watch a Ginsu infomercial.

Here's what is behind a lot of this: If you make cartoonishly violent action films, long on explosions, cardboard villains, and impersonal body counts, you're classed as a crappy action director. If you personalize the violence and make it "realistic," even surgical, and make the people committing it cartoonishly shuddersome, you can still pass yourself off as some kind of artist (see all the people fooled by Drive). But these supposedly more artful vivisection films are just as manipulative and cynical as the basest Schwarzenegger flick. Actually, their pretenses make them worse. At least True Lies knew it was just a big dumb action movie.

Remember those William Castle film gimmicks -  Smell-O-Vision, theater seats connected to electric buzzers? I anticipate a resurgence in cheap film gimmicks: Splatter-Vision! The Anato-Cam! Instead of a skeleton flying over the audience, how about a small intestine? Or we could have a Gallagher-style smashing of full bladders and stomachs onto filmgoers. Or let's do away with 3-D glasses and just issue specs whose lenses are made from pulled human skin! The great schlock artists of the past died too soon; we're braced for a new Golden Age!

The word rapey has entered the lexicon. It's time to add snuffy.

*Part of me also thinks the more unlikable we make the villains, the more we're able to rationalize the broader violence of the film. 

**When feature films are this graphic, how much different are they than violent porn? Not much...the main difference is that people will admit to watching movies like A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A nation of suits

Everyone derides generic execs with hackneyed answers as "suits." Then an exec talks with a little spice and they take to Twitter to demand his firing. Case in point:

Ted Bishop, co-owner of The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, was ousted as president of the PGA of America over a tweet and Facebook post comparing golfer Ian Poulter to a little girl.

The TwitterSphere is now the ultimate "suit;" monitoring, policing, and destroying anyone who dares budge an inch from the ever shrinking lilypad of acceptable speech. You can't both bemoan boring suit talk while zealously enforcing a code of speech that leaves people with no option but to use suit talk.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

No Man is an Island...unless he's a quarterback seeking recognition

When it comes to how an athlete's legacy is judged, the degree to which championship wins are factored in varies widely by sport. In baseball, being a no-ring stat god alone, e.g., Ted Williams, is usually more than enough to be considered an all time great. Not so in basketball or football; especially if you're a quarterback. When it comes to quarterbacks, Shannon Sharpe will tell you: "You don't even get to get in this discussion if you don't have a championship."

Dan Marino, who once held nearly ever passing record, "never won a Super Bowl," and this is mentioned frequently as a serious mark against him. Meanwhile Joe Namath, a pretty mediocre quarterback, is a legend only thanks to a Super Bowl victory.

In football, this YOU AREN'T GREAT WITHOUT A RING criterion is especially goofy. No sport, not even baseball, has as much specialization as football. In basketball, the players play both defense and offense. Same with baseball; you field and hit (unless you're a DH/AL pitcher). In football however, you are literally one or the other. Eleven entirely different men get on the field when it is time to play defense. Dan Marino was never responsible for a single defensive play; in other words, he didn't participate in 50% of the game, but somehow he will never live down not winning a Super Bowl while playing on just one side of the ball. The very fact that Marino could break that many records and still not win a Super Bowl shows how impossible it is to do it alone. Given how many moving parts there are in every single football play - defense or offense - effectively pinning it all on one player seems a bit absurd.

Maybe in the days when football players played on both sides of the ball this criticism was more valid. But pretty much no one has done that since 1962. It might be time to move on.

This whole line of thinking can be smashed quite easily: tomorrow you're starting your own football franchise with your own dough on the line. Who you do want at quarterback: Dan Marino, or Jim Plunkett? Don't give yourself a hernia trying to remember who Jim Plunkett even was...

As for why basketball greats like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley get more abuse for not winning the big one than Ted Williams or Ken Griffey Jr., well, I think part of it is simply that basketball is now a much more beloved/discussed sport than baseball, mainly because of a guy named Jordan. And when people think Jordan, they think championships; six, in fact. His Airness remade the game, and others' judgments of the game, in his image.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Income gaps mean class warfare. Brain gaps mean classroom warfare

Much is made of Einstein's poor academic record. The future scientific giant was a hopeless student, and his even more hopeless teachers failed to recognize his brilliance! This well-worn narrative is a tad exaggerated; when taking his college entrance exam Einstein knocked it out of the park in math and physics. Nevertheless, the Einstein example of classroom failure and subsequent success has been used to offer hope to academic laggards since at least the days of my youth.

It's a nice yarn, but on further analysis, it probably isn't the best story to share with kids who struggle academically. Underlining that the man with the greatest mind since Isaac Newton eventually managed to bring attention to his brilliance doesn't give the struggling student with the middle-of-the-road brain much to hope for: "So even though the strain of pre-algebra has me popping Ritalin like Tic-Tacs, all I have to do to overcome this is prove I understand space and time better than any mortal before me? Uh, what kind of GPA do you need to be accepted into the Crips?"

The subtext to the Einstein example is that grades aren't everything, and by extension, upsetting measurements like SAT aren't everything. The Einstein tale is part of the popular modern "wisdom" that we're all an equally skilled ball of clay waiting to be molded into excellence. The SAT just measures your test-taking ability, not innate cognitive skill, right? Good students are just kids who work harder thanks to the village's loving embrace. Careful teacher: your worst student might be contemplating a sequel to relativity!

Einstein aside, many of the brilliant, accomplished, visionary folks DID have their brilliance recognized by conventional means. It WAS able to be measured in some capacity.

Francis Crick attended Cambridge. Watson attended University of Chicago.

Stephen Hawking studied at Oxford and Cambridge.

Alan Turing...Cambridge.

William Shockley attended MIT and Caltech.

Tesla completed his four years in three years.

Marvin Minsky went to Harvard and Princeton.

Brin and Page met at Stanford.

Bill Gates did drop out of college...but it was Harvard. And he got a perfect score on the math part of the SAT.

Salk attended a high school for the gifted.

Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard. In prep school he won academic prizes.

Jobs dropped out of Reed College; a virtual Rhodes Scholar factory. Wozniak failed to finish at Berkeley...

Because most people's measurements aren't stellar, they reflexively proclaim that measurements either don't matter or don't measure everything. Well no shit they don't measure everything. But if you look at a list of great achievers, you'll see that A LOT of them had at least some of their talent measured and recognized before their ultimate breakthrough. Einstein was very much the exception. John Q. Average is going to need a hell of a lot of intangibles to outrun Zuckerberg's tangibles (not to mention Zuckerberg's intangibles). And P.S.: Mark Zuckerberg also knows how to work hard.

An Einstein example in athletics - where every nook and cranny is measured to analyze a player's chances at success - is Jerry Rice. You routinely hear that Rice ran a poor (for a receiver) 4,71 time in the 40-yard dash. Great, but here are the times of some other dominant receivers: Randy Moss: 4:25, Terrell Owens: 4:45, Calvin Johnson: 4:35, Steve Smith: 4.39, Marvin Harrison: 4:38. Jerry Rice's "slow" time is a rarity. Most dominant receivers show much more speed in the NFL Combine and Rice's incredible success doesn't alter that. Pointing to the "slow" receiver to give hope to a kid who should probably consider another position (or sport) isn't doing the kid any favors.

This is just as true in school. You can tell a kid to dream without telling him to hallucinate. If he has no grip on calculus, make his dream to be an electrician; better yet, an electrician in business for himself. Incidentally, that will earn him a better living than many of the liberal arts hallucinaters outscoring him in class.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fashionable Superstitions: Food Allergies

Have you noticed all the new food "allergies" sprouting up; nuts, gluten, wheat. "Allergy" warnings on food packaging are becoming ever more verbose. I just ate some bread that came with a warning that it had spent time in the same hemisphere as tree nuts.

I'm going to be sensitivity-allergic and submit that maybe all these new food allergies shouldn't be classified as allergies. When you eat something, your body does indeed react. Red meat is generally harder to digest than chicken. Some folks are more bloated after yogurt than others. These are reactions that can be unpleasant. But of those two, only dairy is something people claim a distinct allergy to*. You don't hear much about red meat allergies. Given how the slightest unpleasant reaction is now called an allergy, perhaps that should change. Perhaps we should be warning people about foods whose name includes the letter C, O, or W.

If the slightest unpleasant reaction (sometimes imagined) is now termed an allergy, what isn't an allergy?

Spicy food can cause heartburn. Should that now be called an allergy?

Plenty of folks now claim to have celiac disease, obviously unaware of how serious actual celiac can be. Some people are more sensitive to sugar than others; imagine if everyone who couldn't handle intense desserts went around advertising their "diabetes."

What about alcohol? Alcohol is the one ingestible where people gladly look past all the side effects (and unlike many of the foods they do avoid, alcohol has little nutritional value). After consuming booze, even in moderation, people experience headaches, stomach aches, sensitivity to light, etc. Yet no one talks about having a booze allergy. They will however say they can't have beer because of the gluten...

The way popular usage has warped the word allergy, having a hangover should now be classified as a serious allergic reaction. Your body is telling you alcohol doesn't sit well with you. The side effects are much easier to measure than the supposed impacts of many of the foods people are now swearing off.

Everyone has different sensitivities, but as with all things, magnitude matters. Someone who sneezes slightly after spending a day in a dog kennel shouldn't be classed with the same word as someone who can't breath after a few minutes around a poodle. Unfortunately with food, that perspective has fled the stage. Given how perennially fat Americans seem to be, perhaps they are allergic to all that
"health food" they claim to be consuming. Or maybe the allergy labels are what's making us pudgy. There is as much science to that claim as there is to a lot of today's homespun "allergy" wisdom.

*Obviously, I'm not talking about genuine, harsh sensitivity to lactose, etc. Notice that those with that kind of hypersensitivity don't suddenly "discover" it after skimming an allergy article in Cosmo while eating an airport pizza.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why "not being ready for primetime" will soon be a selling point

Magic Johnson - has there ever been a smarter basketball player? Has a point guard ever been more deserving of the label "court general?"

Surprising then that Magic is such a subpar basketball commentator. The guy sits there awkwardly saying unbelievably generic things in unbelievably generic ways.

Not everyone who excels at something excels at discussing it. But I think there is something else sabotaging Magic; I smell hours of "broadcast training" courses on him. He has been turned into a human laugh track in an oversized six piece suit. If he were any more canned, his comments would come out shaped like Alpo.

Magic appears to be a smooth communicator when he is being himself. Check out this clip for a remarkable contrast between Canned Magic and Real Magic. In this clip you see Magic in front of a reporter's mic, sounding like an inarticulate substitute teacher. Then a fellow player walks by and the two interact - Magic's verbal dynamism quickly becomes apparent. It really does sound like two different people speaking.

Part of the reason Magic Johnson's talk show failed was because he couldn't talk. On The Magic Hour he was stiff, lost for words, futilely scrambling to end sentences smoothly. I'm sure this is because some hack trained him on "how to be a TV host" and in doing so rubbed away his natural speaking skills. What too many producers/managers don't understand - and I think podcasts are exposing this fact to the world - is that there is more than one way to be ready for primetime. If Magic had been encouraged to talk like he did in the locker room; if it had been the The Magic Shit-Talking Hour, it would have been a much better show.

And then there's Phil Simms, the out of tune, AW SHUCKS NFL analyst that no one can stand. The guy's chatter is more painful than a late hit, and I think the same forces are at work. Listen to the beginning of this clip; listen to how fluid his banter is with Dan Patrick when he isn't trying speak like a broadcaster.

No one likes radio announcers, no one likes paint-by-numbers TV why do we keep training them to be that way? Why have a color commentator if you're going to train him to be colorless? I have high hopes that the explosion of successful podcasts - complete with "unprofessional" modes of speech - will help put an end to this received "wisdom" about their being one "proper" way to speak on television. Ex-athletes are there to be ex-athletes, not Sotheby's auctioneers.

I don't know if Charles Barkley has had TV training classes. If he has, it doesn't show...which is why millions tune in to watch. I'm not saying Simms or Johnson would ever be that entertaining, but at least they wouldn't be wearing out mute buttons all over the country.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

All the football pads on Earth can't protect you from the demands of football fans

Football has supplanted Christianity as America's supreme religion. The games are even played on Sunday. But unlike priests and pastors, football players are extended little forgiveness by the congregation.

"Get out there and play!"

Fans complain when an injured player sits out. Then they complain when he plays hurt and doesn't overcome it. Fans whinge when a guy doesn't risk his ability to walk by playing with serious injury. The person who calls in sick to work with the sniffles is often the one who screams "Get out there and play!" Apparently the team physician who sees the players week in, week out knows less about their condition than the fan sitting in the upper deck watching the game behind a pillar. Do these humps not realize they sound like the ultimate slave-driving boss?

A football game has 60 minutes on the clock; a player crippled in his 20s or 30s has five or six decades of life he'll have to live with that handicap. The NFL is littered with casualties. A serious injury occurs every few weeks. Lots of ex-players have sued the NFL for being mislead about the seriousness of concussions. I know, I know, it's typical spoiled athlete behavior to not want Alzheimer's at 39. We cheer when someone plays in the Wheelchair Games We boo when someone tries to avoid becoming a candidate for the Wheelchair Games.

Fans complain about athletes being drug addicts; part of the reason players are hopped up on drugs is because they're expected to play hurt. Which do you want: Athletes who sit out more often or athletes carrying duffel bags full of pain pills? A little Oxycontin can mean a lot more yards per carry. Life has trade-offs.

Athletes get reproached for leaving college early; it's bad for them as people, sets a bad example for the kids, blah blah blah. Ask yourself: Would YOU leave all that money on the table? An athlete - particularly a football player - can have his career ended rather easily, but you want him to play another year or two of high risk college football to fulfill your idea of what a "well-rounded young man" should be?

The whole reason people get degrees is to help them prosper. A touted college athlete can leave after his sophomore year and prosper beyond the dreams of 99% of people who graduate. But you're right, he should stay in school (where he will likely be majoring in something useless like sociology) and blow out a knee instead.

Interesting, isn't it, the way the ideals of the labor movement scurry away when it comes to sports? A janitor shouldn't have come to work with a sprained ankle, but a guy whose (literal) survival on the field depends on mobility should? College athletes shouldn't be paid despite generating millions for the colleges while putting their health in serious jeopardy? Somehow it isn't exploitation when the name tag is on the back of the uniform instead of the front.

The irony is that because football is considered such a manly sport, you're given less slack when you sit out with injury (How ironic that there is a football play called a safety?) from the world's first or second most dangerous sport. When a tennis player cramps up and plays through it, it makes the news. Cramps may be painful, but how many people do you know who have been paralyzed by cramps? Djokovic cramping up would be a lot more dramatic if Nadal were allowed to hop over the net and tackle him.

Playing football under optimal conditions can lead to permanent disability. Imagine playing with part of your body already compromised. NBA champion Willis Reed is famous for playing hurt, Every time a basketball player plays hurt, they mention Willis Reed. The pain he played through, a torn thigh muscle, though severe for basketball, would be less noteworthy in the NFL. But that hasn't stopped Reed from becoming one of the most famous symbols in all of sports for playing through pain.

Contrast that with NFL legend Ronnie Lott, who had his pinkie finger amputated to avoid being sidelined by the necessary surgery. The NFL triggers enough perverse sacrifices to keep Lott's sacrifice from being the go-to reference for player toughness. Remember that the next time you strain your back getting off the sofa to change the channel during a bad Sunday for your team.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why do articles about diversity lack diversity?

New York asks: What's the Matter with Connecticut?

Well, New York says Connecticut is an unequal place. Plus it apparently still suffers from a dreaded WASP plague (not to be confused with the locust kind). From the article:

Representing the R half of the equation is Fairfield County, home to an extraordinary concentration of money-management businesses and many of Connecticut’s one percenters. It’s a pretty, Waspy place, Wall Street’s buttoned-up suburb.

As we all know from years of hackneyed articles like this, WASPy is always shorthand for buttoned-up. When you see WASP in an article, it only has one implication: Those fair-skinned Episcopalians just don't know how to cut loose! It sucks when DEAD WHITE MEN aren't dead.

But predictable anti-WASP inferences aside, let's examine the demographics of Fairfield County. From Wikipedia, here are the demographics of its five most populous towns:


Bridgeport is less than 1/2 white. Hispanics comprise at least 1/5 of the population in four of these towns. And there seems to be a fair bit of OTHER.

Pieces like this also forget or just ignore that the P in WASP stands for Protestant. Yeah, about that: of the Fairfield residents with a religious affiliation, 70% identify as Catholic, which is, you know, sort of what Protestants were protesting by becoming Protestants. 

“Connecticut ranks among the highest, and possibly the highest, in total unfunded pensions and retiree health care per taxpayer in the nation.” 

CT may be the “most unequal state in the country,” but not because it’s a tax haven; CT has the third highest tax rates in America. Underfunding is the result of fantastical projections/promises made by sociopathic politicians and bureaucrats (some of whom, it turns out, aren't WASPs!). I wonder if the writer will bother reconsidering the premise that high taxation leads to broader distributions of wealth...

And though this isn't stated in the article, buttoned-up and WASP is typically shorthand for "conservative" (see the 1,000,000^15 articles scrutinizing Orange County's demographics). Probably worth pointing out that Fairfield hasn't gone Republican in a Presidential election since 1996. Connecticut hasn't gone to a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.

Nothing is stuffier and more button-up than articles decrying the perils of the now completely imaginary WASP elite.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Another pop psychology expression goes pop

Today every third woman under 30 talks like a Magic 8-Ball. Far from rebelling (never has rebellion been so necessary!) against the self-help foolishness their parents imbibed and their teachers espoused, they have absorbed it so completely that these Empowered Modern Women don't realize they sound like late '70s housewives.

One daytime talk show truism that seems to have penetrated everyone's IQ defenses: If you don't love yourself, how can you love someone else?

How screwy is it that the generation that has made government recognition of all forms of love the defining issue of their time, that has bravely taken to Twitter to battle "slut shaming," touts such rigid, one-size-fits-all dogma about love.

How can you love others if you don't love yourself is like a palindrome of confused thinking. Let's try some others.

Why not say to a solider: "If you can't kill yourself, how can you kill someone else?" I don't see this increasing enlistment stats.

How can you give someone an orgasm if you can't give yourself an orgasm?

Uh, how many frigid women have gone through life giving orgasms without ever achieving one themselves? The men they were with probably didn't forget how to orgasm in the wake of this climax famine.

How can you make other people laugh if you don't laugh yourself?

The "sad clown" thing has been discussed forever, well before Robin Williams' suicide. But as anyone in the humor business will tell you, comedians are the hardest people to make laugh. Many are dark, brooding buzzkills offstage. Yet they somehow manage to make others laugh...FOR A LIVING.

How can you teach someone else to sing if you can't teach yourself to sing?

Can you imagine how much different the music landscape would be if we actually took lines like this seriously? Same with sports coaching. In fact, we have long had much more accurate expressions for just this kind of scenario: Those who can't do, teach.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Guess you can't nurture foot speed

Just one white sprinter has broken the 10-second barrier in the 60 meters; France's Christophe Lemaitre. His analysis of the achievement:

"Of course, it was my goal to break it. One has to run under 10 seconds in order to be part of the world's best. I will be recognised as the first white man to do so, but today's achievement is mainly about making history for myself!...It is not about the color it is about hard work." 
Hard work...that old staple. I'm sure you've heard it too: you're having a late night conversation at the bar. The topic comes up (usually in a hushed voice): why don't all groups excel equally in sports?
Progressive "Nurture is Everything" Guy: The poor and disadvantaged excel in athletics because they don't have access to the other rungs of economic mobility.
Once or twice I've even seen a mote of sincerity in the eyes of these people. If they truly believe this, one can only conclude they are intellectually disadvantaged. Or blind.
I don't deny that economic status plays a factor. How many prep school kids take up serious boxing? How many trailer park residents become elite skiers? But economics alone don't come close to telling the whole (apparently uncomfortable) story.
Below is a list of the top 25 recorded times in the 100-meters. 10 countries are represented. Now Google Image these folks. Tell me if you notice they all have something in common; despite the number of different nations represented.
Spoiler alert: None of them resemble Rick Astley:

Wind (m/s)
9.58 WR
16 August 2009
 United States
20 September 2009
23 August 2012
2 September 2008
29 August 2010
 United States
16 June 1999
 United States
5 August 2012
4 June 2011
 Trinidad and Tobago
21 June 2014
27 July 1996
22 August 1999
 United States
6 July 1994
12 May 2006
 United States
4 June 2011
 United States
25 August 1991
3 July 1996
 Trinidad and Tobago
19 April 1998
22 August 2004
 Trinidad and Tobago
23 June 2012
 United Kingdom
15 August 1993
11 September 1998
 United States
19 June 2004
 United States
8 August 2010
 United States
29 August 2010
30 June 2011

Apart from Mr. Fredericks, everyone on this list is of predominantly West African descent. Mr. Lemaitre is the sole white man to break 10 seconds. No Asian sprinter has been recorded breaking 10 seconds.
If poverty is such a determinant factor, why don't we see any U.S. Hispanics on this list? There are estimates that perhaps 1/4 live in poverty. What about the poor South Asians who flock to the U.K.; why don't they become elite sprinters? Where are the poor Arabs from France? Why does just one "disadvantaged group" show up time and time again no matter the country? 

The disadvantaged group doing the elite sprinting is in a better position economically than they were in, say, 1974. So why haven't the demographics shifted a bit to reflect this? The last white sprinter to win Olympic gold in the 100 meters was Allan Wells in 1980. Last white sprinter to win the 200: Pietro Mennea, 1980. Yes, Jeremy Wariner won gold in 2004 in the 400, but did you have a look at the rest of the field? Which one of these things is not like the other? In 2012, the aforementioned Lemaitre was just the fifth white sprinter since '84 to make the 200 meter final.
China and India make up more than 1/3 of the world's population. Why hasn't a single sprinter from either country, poor or otherwise, broken 10 seconds? They aren't capable of the same "hard work" as Lemaitre? None of them have enough interest to pursue sprinting with the same dedication?
Given that Mr. Lemaitre studied industrial engineering, I find it hard to believe he can't calculate how unlikely that is.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Organic Growth of Cthulhu

"The Raven" is unquestionably one of the most well-known slices of the macabre. Every kid in America gets a direct order from a teacher to read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven". References to the poem pop up frequently; TV, Halloween paraphernalia - and I would guess the majority of Americans know the poem well enough to recognize "Nevermore."

I write all this because I recently received a Cthulhu cookie-cutter as a gift (the benign, cute Cthulhu), and could only marvel at the improbable stature Lovecraft's creations have reached; all without official sanction from the education system. Except for specialized college courses, Lovecraft does not appear in classroom study.

Hollywood hasn't helped. There have been no blockbuster films* based on Lovecraft's works. Probably the most famous (and they weren't that famous) Lovecraft adaptations for television were on the '70s show Night Gallery, remembered mainly because Rod Serling hosted it. Meanwhile Edgar Allan Poe's name has been a selling point on several movies (including many high profile ones) since the beginning of film.

Yet Lovecraft's creations, Cthulhu in particular, seem not only to enjoy sprawling popularity, but also to inspire an unutterable number of homages.

Type "Cthulhu" into Google Images. In addition to many creepy and varied portraits of the monster itself, you will find a nameless array of clever parodies:

Keep in mind, this is without typing "Cthulhu funny" or "Cthulhu parody."

Typing "R'Lyeh" - the non-euclidean city from whence Cthulhu came - generates witty results like this:

Punch "non-euclidean" into Google Images; Lovecraft is the fourth entry. Even if you type "non-euclidean geometry buildings," you get at least as many Lovecraft references as you do serious ones.

The miscellany of Cthulhu merchandise that can be found online is enough to make someone flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. Try it for yourself; most any product you can (un)name has an effulgent variety of Cthulhu incarnations.


Typing "The Raven" into Google Images doesn't begin to produce comparable results. Other prominent fantasy staples like Lord of the Rings also don't appear to inspire a following quite as eclectic as Cthulhu's. And the ubiquitousness of Cthulhu was mostly achieved outside the standard avenues of pop culture immortalization.

All this humor linked to a man who was a bit of a stiff. All this affection for a tenebrous fellow who confessed to fellow writers: 

Of course, I am unfamiliar with amatory phenomena save through cursory reading.

Much like the writers who codified, continued, and spotlighted the Cthulhu Mythos (spotlighting Lovecraft himself along the way), thousands of others continue using H.P.'s motifs as inspiration. What had sunk has risen, and what has risen will continue rising.

*Ironically, Re-Animator, based on a tale Lovecraft probably composed as semi-parody, is so far the most commercially successful Lovecraft adaptation.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

People who are better than you

Athletes are dumb, right? And sure, doctors may be smart, but all they have is a very specialized intelligence. Am I right, people?

Of course these statements are sometimes quite true, but often I think we shout them to make ourselves feel better about not measuring up. Athletes ("jocks") and high IQ folks detonate our insecurities, so we remind ourselves they MUST be deficient in other areas. Conveniently, the "important" areas where we claim to excel. I mean, you can't be athletic AND smart. No way: every smart kid got picked last in gym class! Haven't you ever watched an A&E Biography?

Unfortunately for those who excel in nothing, these truisms ain't universal. Many people whose talents are in the 1% distinguish themselves in several domains.

David Robinson

Robinson scored a 1320 on the SAT (before you could use calculators), and entered the elite United States Naval Academy, where he majored in mathematics. He couldn't continue in the Navy because he grew too tall for ships and planes. No, really.

Oh...and that was before he joined the NBA, where he was a 10-time All Star and league MVP. In fact, one of the criticisms he faced during his career was that he lacked the psychopathic competitiveness of Jordan and Bird because his interests and talents outside of basketball were too wide-ranging.

You'll notice Tony Parker didn't seduce Robinson's wife. Probably afraid Robinson would trap him in a mad scientist torture device (No Mr. Parker, I expect you to die).

Eric Heiden

Won five speed skating gold medals at the 1980 Olympics...before he decided to attend medical school (to became an orthopedic surgeon). And just to keep himself busy after retiring from skating, he also won the U.S. Professional Cycling Championship. So not only did he dominate speed athletics; he dominated endurance athletics. And he became a doctor, a different kind of dream that many have but few can attain.

Heiden probably saves a lot on medical costs; how many athletes do you know who can operate on themselves?

Kris Kristofferson

After being a college athlete who got a mention in Sports Illustrated, Kristofferson became a Rhodes Scholar, and while at Oxford received a Blue award in boxing. Most would have stopped there and spent the rest of their life telling everyone at the local pub that they could beat them in bar trivia and bar brawls.

Not Kris. He joined the military, where he attended Ranger School and became a helicopter pilot.

He wasn't done embarrassing the rest of us.

He took up song writing; writing big hits like "Me and Bobby McGee" and "For the Good Times". Then he recorded some big hits for himself; becoming a heartthrob in the process. Then he became a respectable actor in some big time feature films.

We'd better hope Kristofferson never takes up artificial intelligence or we'll all be replaced by robots within six months.

Michael Crichton

Let's see, graduated summa cum laude from Harvard; later went to med school there. That alone supersedes the achievements of most everyone.

Begins writing novels; several become blockbuster bestsellers whose components - Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park - make their way into the vernacular.

Starts directing films. You know how everyone - actors, writers - talk about directing but it never happens or it happens and ends in tragedy? Crichton actually did it, and one of those films -Westworld (scripted by Crichton and the first feature with CGI) - was a critical and commercial hit that spawned a sequel and, four decades later, a much-watched TV series. Another film, Coma, this time an adapted workwas also a hot success.

In 1994, a TV show named ER hit the airwaves. Crichton created it. The Andromeda Strain was published in 1969. ER came 25 years a later, and was also a sensation. Not only did the man have mega success in print, film, and television; he managed to have mega success in multiple decades. Think about how different the entertainment landscape was in '69 vs. '94. Yet MC threaded the needle.

It's rare for a writer to stay relevant in publishing for many decades*, let alone relevant in several other mediums (did I mention Crichton also created a successful computer game). Anyone remember Peter Blatty? Peter Benchley? Apparently writers named Peter have short shelf-lives...

Crichton's only mistakes: getting married five times and collecting abstract art. I guess he had to do something wrong just to entertain himself.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Not just the most successful bodybuilder ever; the ONLY iconic bodybuilder. I rather doubt my mother has heard of Joe Weider.

Outside of iron pumping, Arnold becomes a prosperous entrepreneur in multiple fields.

Then he tries his hand at Hollywood acting, and becomes one of the biggest actors in the world and sustains it for a couple decades. He manages this despite a thick Austrian accent. How many blockbuster Hollywood actors can you name who have deep continental European accents? Austrian accents do not make people all warm and gooey inside the way British accents do (quite the opposite). So here you have someone with the most hated kind of accent ascending from bodybuilding to acting to...

...politics. He makes his first foray into politics and gets elected Governor of California, the 8th largest economy in the world, AS A REPUBLICAN! Everyone laughs about it...hahahaha, he's The Governator now. Guess what: Governator got reelected. Arnold was such an unstoppable force that the only thing that could stop him was himself.

*Stephen King has stayed relevant and exceptional. But when he tried to direct, the result was Maximum Overdrive; which he has repeatedly ridiculed.