Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sometimes an extinguished match is just an extinguished match

When an artist dies young, it is typical to hear analyses like, "He was just too smart for this world."

You know the cliches: He was like a comet who shot across the sky for a moment and disappeared. The brightest stars burn out fastest. How could someone so brilliant endure such a mediocre world?

This begs the question, should brilliant people be expected to die young?

Einstein lived into his 70s
Bohr - 77
Newton lived into his 80s
Tesla, who neglected to invent any health-boosting smoothies, survived until 86. (once again beating Marconi, who despite his own burdensome brilliance managed to live into his 60s)
Edison - 84
Aristotle - 60s
Galileo - 77
Confucius - 70s
al-Khwarizmi - 70
Curie - 66 (the radioactivity her brilliance allowed her to study did her in, and she still lived more than six decades)
Schopenhauer - 72
Copernicus - 70
Buddha - 80ish
Kepler - almost 60

The people who figured out what comets are managed to live long and prosper, but not the people that are compared to comets? Speaking of burning, the inventor of the Bunsen burner died at 88.

Am I clouding matters by not focusing exclusively on artists? No problem, let's focus on those sensitive folks with the artistic temperament. After all, we know they're destined to flame out early.

Michelangelo saw 88
Frank Lloyd Wright saw his 90s
Matisse - 80s
Kurosawa - 88
Michelangelo - 88
Rembrandt - 60s
Tolstoy - 82
Franz Liszt, who lived like a rock star before there were rock stars, lived into his 70s.
Da Vinci - 60s
Picasso hit 91
Miles Davis - 65
Dante - 56
Donatello...79 or 80
Dumas - 68

Many of these people lived in eras where life expectancy was well lower than it is today, and they still lived far beyond what could be called their youth. Several dynamos who died youngish, Austen, Mozart, Chopin, Raphael, died of natural causes. Inconveniently, Mozart was not found dead in a whorehouse surrounded by opium and quill-penned suicide notes. Chopin didn't throw himself in front of a horse-drawn carriage because some asshole in a bar failed to "get" him. The evidence shows these gone-too-soons wanted to carry on.

Pythagoras dulled his brain enough to make it to 75, but Sid Vicious, a man so untalented the band stopped plugging in his bass, burned too brightly? Goethe suppressed his genius enough to fight through 30,000 days, but James Dean, a Keebler Elf who plodded through all of three movies, was too special to cut it in this world? Plato resisted the temptation to hang himself with his toga and died at 80, but Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose paintings are indistinguishable from a infant's bib after a spoonful of Gerber, had no choice but to call it a day at 27? Sounds a little fishy to this genius.

The average age at which Nobel Laureates receive their awards is 59. There is no 27 Club in the Nobel club (even if Nobel Laureates did die young, they still wouldn't leave good looking corpses).

The "brilliant people die young" idea seems a very rock 'n' roll, youth culture idea. We take for granted how much easier it is to survive nowadays, making early death more romantic. As recently as the 19th Century, an open window during the wrong season could snuff one out. When staying alive isn't a given, a person who dies at 27 is just an unlucky stiff, not an automatic Canon Enhancer.

It is poetic to quote Lao Tzu, "The flame that burns twice as bright lasts half as long," (Lao Tzu lived to be 74, by the way), but the myth doesn't hold up under scrutiny. The famously dead weren't too brilliant to endure. They were too damaged to endure. Not all damaged people are brilliant. If that were true, Mensa and Alcoholics Anonymous would simply merge.

"Hi, I'm Fred."

Hi Fred!

"I'm an alcoholic. And my IQ is 152."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Biggest Conspiracy Theory of My Lifetime? Saddam has WMDs

The New York Times is bemoaning "conspiracy theories" generated by the Internet Age. It is true that technology makes it easy and cheap to spread the fraudulent and the half-baked. Trouble is, the NYT and other establishment media spreads steady misinformation too, and even uses the Internet to do it (Tom Friedman has a Twitter account, need I say more?).

The Iraq Invasion was built on conspiracy theories promulgated by esteemed outlets like the NYT (plus WaPo, WSJ, the Economist, etc.). Did the NYT's Tom Friedman, Bill Keller, and David Brooks or WaPo's Richard Cohen, or any of the other conspiracy spreaders get fired once everything they said was proven untrue? No. Other than the NYT's Judith Miller, no one took a fall. 

Joe Scarborough was on MSNBC then, is still there now, and is probably a bigger celebrity today than he was when he was spreading conspiracies about Iraq's weapons program. The list of misinformers is long enough to fill six Wikipedias. I think Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert owe much of their success to the spectacular failure of the "respectable" media with respect to Iraq.

The legacy media loved social media and the Internet in '08 when it helped their candidate win. The very idea that Obama was an "outsider" organically foisted to prominence via grassroots Internet support is itself misinformation spread by outlets like the Times

The mostly imaginary "Arab Spring," with its goofy narrative of a grassroots, democratic Mideast revolution largely ignited by social media - was another Internet-focused conspiracy theory spread by the establishment press. I am not aware of any establishment hacks getting the boot for promoting that turkey-on-wheels.

Amazingly (but unsurprisingly), the traditional press was too clueless to recognize that the same tools they claimed were behind their preferred brand of popular movement could also be used to abet popular movements anathema to them. Such anopia might help explain why so many of them have been unprofitable for years.

On Twitter: @greatmikepayne

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

History repeats, historians are parrots

A historical work of any value should have more question marks than periods. Even then, its scope will be overstated.

Historians, who not coincidentally are often wannabe fiction writers, speak with bottomless confidence about figures who died centuries ago in countries that no longer exist. If historians stuck to recreating the simple, everyday details of those distant, sparsely chronicled lives, it would be daunting enough. That challenge isn't enough for them, however. They seem more driven by a desire to credential themselves as all-knowing psychiatrists, affording them license to assert the precise motivations, impulses, and fetishes of every King Tom, Queen Dick, and Emperor Harry.

With many historical figures, we can't even piece together all the bits of their outer lives (birth dates, birth places, burial spots, etc.), yet historians speak with clinical certainty about their inner lives. A historian will confidently gives us 500 straight pages on Columbus's innermost thoughts, meanwhile, we're not even sure about the color of Columbus's hair (possibly ginger, poor sod - he probably hoped he'd fall off the edge of the Earth). If these goofy suppositions stayed within the circular Hell of tenured hackdom, the collateral damage would be minimal. Alas, this all too assuredly composed historical half-fiction not only gets repeated by other hacks; it trickles down to the masses, sometimes helping shape contemporary opinion on how modern situations - allegedly analogous to past ones - should be handled.

Today some polls show just 6% of Americans trust the media. People don't even trust those reporting in real time on contemporary events. Why then do they trust the reporting on events of foregone millennia?

How many times have you met someone seemingly mousy and tame who said, "You should have seen me in my twenties! I was partying hard, living on the edge, I'm lucky to be here!"

Assuming that person, let's call him Sir John Doe, is telling the truth, had he died in his 20s while partying, a historian would likely profile him as a wild man, then look for clues from his youth about what led to his being a "wild man." If obvious, measurable clues were absent, the historian would simply infer wild leanings from Sir John's Doe's otherwise ordinary behavior.

Assume Sir John Doe survived to become that mousy 30-something and never told anyone about his wild days. Without photographs or arrest records documenting them, what would even cause a historian to dig for evidence of wild days? Unless he stumbled onto folks who knew Sir John Doe then and were forthcoming about his hi-jinks, that wild period would go unreported. The historian would search for other motives for whatever actions Sir John Doe took in his 20s. If Sir John seemed aimless during that time, the historian might assume lack of confidence (after all, he ended up mousy!), when in fact that aimlessness had more to due with being too hungover to accomplish much.

Consider how many different people you've been in your life. Are all those phases equally documented?

When Hillary takes office, the first thing she should do is make it illegal to release a historical film that isn't animated. At least then the viewer might realize the "historical record" is fantasy.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Most Sanctimonious Game

I have never shot an animal, which is too bad, because there are many humans I'd like to kill. This means I've never hunted, despite being a meat eater.

I have encountered meat eaters who upon hearing the word "hunt" quiver with more feigned outrage than a white politician running for office in the inner city. In a certain respect, hunters are more honest meat eaters than the rest of us. They're willing to do the dirty work we can't stomach. Not only do we outsource the killing of those tasty vermin, we sometimes throw away meat without even cooking it. "You know, I bought all this chicken, but I just wasn't feeling it this week."

Thanks to your ADD palate, an animal died without even fulfilling the purpose of feeding someone. Talk about senseless violence.

I have sometimes contemplated visiting a farm to slaughter an animal, so that I can at least say I did the dirty work once. I never have, and likely never will, because I love meat and seeing the killing up close would probably turn me off to it forever. So I continue to ignore the means by which that delicious lamb reaches my plate. Pure trophy hunting may be indecent, but otherwise, it is embarrassing for a meat eater to act like hunting is some unfathomable pursuit. Frankly, a deer being hunted in the woods has a much better chance to escape than a captive farm pig grown specifically to complement your mash potatoes.

If you're a meat eater, hunting is not only more honest; it is better sportsmanship.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The only blog you need to read about Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick isn't standing for the national anthem before football games. You know the story, you have heard the arguments, you have watched the TV pundits faint at the "outrageous!!!!!" comments of whichever fellow time-filler happens to be babbling alongside them on the panel.

Some are upset that he is making a political statement by not standing for the anthem. Guess what: Standing for the anthem is also a political statement. The anthem represents a country, and by saluting it, you are embracing that country on some level. If the act of saluting has no connection to the country and therefore to politics, should American athletes also salute the anthems of other countries? If they did, I bet those hounding Kaepernick would be furious.

Some are upset that someone who is "just" an athlete is making such a statement. "No one looks to Colin Kaepernick for social commentary," that sort of thing. I too sometimes roll my eyes at "commentary" from celebrities. I love DiCaprio as an actor, but scamper for the remote when he is interviewed so I won't witness his puerility.

That said, those standing for the anthem are also *just* athletes making a political statement. If statements are wrong when the come from those who are "only" athletes, then athletes hailing the anthem - a political statement - is also problematic. One could credibly say, "Who are we to trivialize what the military does by incorporating it into a mere football game?"

When athletes raise money for military or police charities, no one says, "Shut up! You're just an athlete."

I have heard complaints that Kaepernick shouldn't talk as he does because he makes mega money. What does his salary have to do with it? If he was sitting to protest being underpaid, it'd be one thing. But he isn't - he is sitting because he feels elements of society are unjust. He didn't bring money into it, his critics did.

On a sidenote, I expect Blaine Gabbert to start sitting too. Not during the anthem, during the game, because he is, well, Blaine Gabbert.

On Twitter: @greatmikepayne

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Should Trump have his orange finger on the red button?

An alleged discussion on nukes attracted new criticism for Trump: Trump asks why US can't use nukes.

In the 2008 debates, Romney, Giuliani, and Duncan Hunter all stated that using tactical nukes was an option. Duncan Hunter even endorsed preemptive nuclear strikes. Not only weren't they called madmen; Romney survived to become the nominee in 2012 and the presumed #NeverTrump candidate in 2016.

In 2008 John "Fit for the White House" McCain sang a song parody: "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." He has also said we could stay in Iraq for 100 years, has antagonized multiple world leaders, and has championed nearly every military intervention of the last 25 years (including Iraq, the biggest catastrophe of them all). He was almost the GOP nominee twice.

Mainstream GOP foreign policy has been rabid and unhinged for years. Trump's mistake on nukes is saying the "right" thing the "wrong" way. After Trump's defeat, the 2020 Republican hopefuls will continue the same fanged rhetoric without attracting the slightest notice.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Five Reasons #NeverHillary Won't Succeed

1) You know all those Sanders supporters vowing to stay home if Hillary wins the nomination? Plenty won't make good on their promise. With all the "Trump's a fascist" hysteria being ginned up, a significant number will be guilt-tripped into hitting the polls. "Social Justice" being today's religious fundamentalism, these folks will line up so they can proudly tell Facebook they "stopped fascism."

Clinton did extremely well in critical states like PA and OH. There is no scenario where Trump takes California, so even if Sanders wins there, it means nothing. Sanders' leaving might tip West Virginia to Trump, but that's about it.

Bernie's fans will not vote Green or Libertarian or any other spoiler parties. The Nader in 2000 narrative will be sprayed around like mace at a Trump rally. Any third-party protest vote will more likely come from aggrieved Republicans, denting Trump (albeit only slightly).

But what about:

Among self-declared Sanders supporters, 20 percent said they would support Trump over Clinton in a general election match-up, up from 10 percent who said so in a March poll. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, Clinton barely led Trump, by 45 to 42 percent, compared with a 64 to 25 percent lead in March.
Bernie fans won't flock to Trump in large numbers. Wait until Bernie is gone and it's just Trump vs. Clinton without any distractions. Wait until Trump starts launching daily zingers about the Webster Hubbell rumors, Whitewater, Lewinski, Bill's alleged lovechild, you name it. Bernie supporters will have nothing to focus on but Trump's antics. Their dislike of Trump will cancel their disdain for Hillary's anointment.

2) The rise of hard right parties in Europe will be used to heighten the "Trump is Hitler" panic and sway fence-straddlers to vote Hillary. The supposed rise of European fascism will embolden voters unable to even name the Heads of State of the countries where this alleged fascism is returning, because those voters JUST KNOW something they aren't supposed to like is happening someplace they've never even vacationed. Take that, party/politician/country I've never heard of!

Any gaffe, skirmish, scandal (sounds like a decent board game) from Front National, AfD, etc. will get manifestly more coverage stateside than would occur outside of Trump season, and the subtext to the coverage will be: "Don't let it happen here by electing The Donald."

3) When the Brexit vote fails, the West's "anti-establishment" wave will receive its first mortal blow. I think Brexit will fail by no fewer than five percentage points, pricking some of the air from the "We're taking back our country!" wave broiling in Western nations. You can be sure there will be a massive intellectual and legal crackdown following this failed vote to ensure nothing similar happens again.

When Scotland was supposedly going to vote out, suddenly you were hearing about breakaway movements in spots like Northern Italy and Catalonia. Once "Free Scotland" failed, you stopped hearing about "the fracturing of Europe." Brexit's flopping will have a similar cooling effect on American rages against the machine.

4) President Obama is leaving on a high note.

Unlike the 2014 elections, the President will be an asset - a major asset - this time around. Don't take my word for it:

But amid what has become a vicious 2016 campaign, the public is growing fonder of Obama. His approval ratings have been 50 percent or higher for 11 of the past 12 weeks, a level he hadn’t hit in more than three years. His current rating -- 51 percent for the week ended May 22 -- is two points higher than Ronald Reagan’s was at this phase of his presidency, according to Gallup data.
Going back to 1952, the incumbent party won the largest share of the popular vote in nine out of 10 elections in which the sitting president had an average job approval rating of at least 48 percent

Hillary is closely tied to the once again popular president, and he will almost certainly do a first-rate job of selling her. He will speak at the convention, and being the first black president, there will be an explicit narrative of: "In 2008 we made history, let's be sure we don't elect someone on the wrong side of history."

When he says those exact words at the convention, tell your friends you read them here first.

And a bonus...

5) Republican organization will remain spotty. Bill Kristol's "resistance" will be far less influential than his addled mind believes, but there will be enough disunity and sabotage within the party to disrupt Trump's "ground game." Ryan finally came around to "endorsing" Trump: it means nothing. Not only did it take forever, but Trump's buzz rests upon running against Washington hacks like Ryan.

Think about the convention. How many high-profile Republicans will risk their careers by speaking? Picture those who would accept such a socially incriminating invite, how much broad appeal will they likely possess? Carl Icahn won't do it, and if he did, imagine how poorly someone like him would go over in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Then there's Newt Gingrich...will that neutralize all the "Trump hates women" rumblings?

What kind of new all-time shocking quotes will emerge from Trumps's acceptance monologue? When the convention becomes a circus, the WHAT THE HELL WILL TRUMP's ADMINISTRATION LOOK LIKE question will be everywhere.

When faced with mayhem or mediocrity, eventually more than enough voters will choose mediocrity. Even without mayhem, the makeup of the electoral college now makes Democratic presidents all but inevitable. Just ask Tofu in a Tie.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Second Place is the First Loser

"Perhaps the cruelest thing ever said of Hubert Humphrey was that he had the soul of a vice president." - Susan Estrich

The VP choice has higher stakes for Trump than for Hillary. Ross Perot, the last outsider with a significant campaign, was seriously damaged by his choosing Stockdale. When running as an outsider without a political track record, your first political selection matters more than someone who has been in the system, particularly when you’re someone like Trump who is trying to convince lots of people he is serious.

That said, the presumption of electoral college gains from VP selections isn’t supported by much evidence; even in relatively close elections.

Ryan didn’t deliver Wisconsin for Romney.

Edwards didn’t deliver NC for Kerry.
Bentsen didn’t deliver TX for Dukakis.

Agnew didn’t deliver MD for Nixon.

Warren didn’t deliver CA for Dewey.

Kemp didn’t deliver NY for Dole.

The list goes on.

Shriver didn’t deliver MD for McGovern (which traditionally goes Democrat), and Ferraro couldn’t even deliver NY for a Democrat, which demonstrates the broader point: In terms of a VP choice having the power to buck the predominant voting trend, VPs aren’t that relevant.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Black and White Television in HD

Have you heard about that cool new show where the lead character isn't a sociopath indulging all of man's darkest compulsions? How about that hot new sitcom where the characters' social skills don't resemble the Elephant Man on a speed date? If you hear of such shows, please bring them to my attention.

Before "Seinfeld" and "The Sopranos", TV was saccharine in the extreme. Every episode of every sitcom ended with sensitive piano music, followed by someone learning a corny lesson. What flaws TV characters did possess were mostly goofy, and most storylines stayed in ultra benign territory. TV was so sanitized that when a storyline involved something nominally "serious," they advertised it as a "very special" episode. This week on a very special "Blossom", Joey discovers that muscle cars get poor gas mileage. Closeup of Joey saying; "From here to the gas station in is 9.4 seconds? Whoa!"

Now television is a race to the bottom of the ethics barrel. We have moved to the other extreme, where nearly every show is populated with neurotic, amoral losers. Today it wouldn't be "Who shot J.R.?" It'd be "Who sodomized J.R.'s corpse with the murder weapon?" It is fashionable to insist you don't like "black and white" characters. That's fine, except that now all characters are black. The storylines are also uniformly black. Television is as monochrome as ever.

A quick check of the 2015 Emmy Nominees:

Outstanding Drama Series

“Better Call Saul” - Shyster lawyer spin-off of "Breaking Bad", that show about America's favorite murdering, meth-cooking chemistry teacher (the one who became a criminal mastermind in very short order despite no criminal experience)

“Homeland” - "Political" "thriller" where everyone is such a haunted mess they shower by waterboarding themselves

“House of Cards” - Political show focused on nothing but how the political (blood) sausage is made

“Mad Men” - Cynical dispomania soap opera that recreates the Bad Old Days as imagined by someone who finds Bernie Sanders too capitalist. Justifies red meat sex scenes by pretending they are comments on old school infidelity

“Orange is the New Black” - Women's prison drama with episode titles like Tit Punch

“Game of Thrones” - The show most connected to reality on this list is the one with dragons. Still manages to work in rape

Five years from now, these will be the nominees:

"Cunt is the New Bitch"
"Scar Trek"
"The Real Housewives of Auschwitz"
"Coat Hanger, M.D."
"The Guy who Skins 12 People Alive Each Day and Uses Their Flesh for a Slip'N Slide but it's Cool 'Cause He's Gay-friendly"

Contemporary dramas may bulge with cartoon seediness, but at least some are entertaining. Not so with today's comedies. Ivy Leaguers have long dominated TV comedy writing, but they didn't always display a Revenge of the Nerds mentality. Big Nerd has seen to it that even when characters aren't jailbirds or kingpins they have the conversational skills of Robinson Crusoe. The awkward elite are presenting Social Anxiety Disorder as the whole of human discourse. You might say they're bullying us into adopting their worldview.

You know what would be refreshing? A sitcom full of people who don't see a Radiohead song in every aspect of work and dating. Diversity in entertainment is always in the news now; how about some shows written by and about people who can actually speak? Who am I kidding: America isn't ready for a sitcom with complete sentences. Compared to that electing the first black president was a baby step.

One might argue that television is bound to feature exaggerated, uncommon circumstances. The same argument could be made in defense of the exaggerated wholesomeness of yesterday's much scorned tube-tainment.

I expect the next Netflix show to take place in someone's colon. And when the producer is questioned, he'll put on his best Serious Face and declare: "Hey man, everyone has colons, I'm just holding up a mirror."

Friday, March 4, 2016

Mike Payne's Psychic Powers Can't Be Stopped!

If you want to know how this political race ends, listen to my (soon to be prophetic) appearance on JL Cauvin's podcast.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I appear in hard-hitting comedy documentary

I appear towards the end, but watch the whole thing to increase your understanding of where comedy went wrong.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016