Saturday, February 27, 2010

Q: How Do I Avoid Natural Disasters?

A: Don't be poor. Don't even live in a poor country.

The earthquake in Chile was a magnitude 8.8, as opposed to the 7.0 quake in Haiti. This means it was 500 times bigger. (The calculation, for those curious, is 10 to the (8.8 - 7.0) x 3/2 power, or 10 to the 2.7 power). But the death toll appears be 500 to 1000 times smaller. Something similar happens consistently in earthquakes, hurricanes, and other "natural" disasters-- the event is natural, the disaster is not.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Envying Canada

It's unseemly for an American to envy Canada. True, they have universal health care and a functioning national legislature, but someday we will too. And crime in our major cities is way, way down. Nothing against Neil Young or Alex Trebek, but, you know, it's Canada.

Yesterday, however, when Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were getting their gold medals, and the loudspeakers were playing "O Canada," the camera showed the winners, and they were singing along. Not only that, but when the camera moved to their families, they were singing along too! Brian Williams reported that out on the streets of Vancouver, crowds spontaneously began singing the national anthem.

I was envious. How many Americans did you see at the Olympics singing along to "The Star Spangled Banner"? How about at a ball game? How about spontaneously?

We're just as patriotic as Canadians, and three times as jingoistic. The reason we don't sing along is because we can't. It's a really hard song to sing. In the United States, the accepted custom is to listen while a professional vocalist sings the national anthem. The melody was written for the Anacreontic Society, a club of amateur musicians. A good show-off piece.

The difficulties of changing the national anthem to something more singable are many. First, there are the people who will accuse you of being unpatriotic. Can you imagine a bill to change the national anthem making it through Congress? Then, there turn out to be problems with all the alternatives: hard to sing (America the Beautiful), melody already in use by someone else (America), pedestrian (God Bless America), no connection to America in the lyrics (Battle Hymn of the Republic).

The only workable option I can see is to keep the song and make marginal changes to the melody. For example, starting at "And the rockets' red glare" the tune can be shifted down nine half-steps, I think it is (really not my department), and sound very much the same. Still not easy, but a lot more achievable. And who ever said that patriotism was easy?

I just haven't figured out what would be required to make this happen. Who controls the organists at ballparks?

By the way, if you're thinking of making a melodrama with a heroine named Tessa Virtue, it would be hard to find a better name for the villain than Massimo Scali.

One more comment on the Olympics: The Russians (including Putin) get the gold medal in childishness and petulance. Believing you should win the gold because you did a quadruple toe loop and the other guy didn't reminds me, unfairly, of their old belief that the way to win the Cold War is by building a bigger H-bomb than anyone else. You're still not strong on finesse, druzja.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Only Interesting Thing About Tiger Woods's Private Life

As always, the only interesting thing about Tiger Woods's private life is the reaction to it of the media and the public. It appears that Tiger did not meet the current standard for public apology, which requires crying as a mark of sincerity. Thus the criticism of him for being "affectless" and "robotic." He was also criticized because his speech was "scripted," which apparently means he didn't have it memorized and kept looking at the paper. (He's a golfer, for crying out loud.)

Maybe I'm biased in Tiger's favor because he said "between Elin and me" and not "between Elin and I." (Hooray for scripting.) But all this clucking about whether he was really sincere or not is just dumb. If someone gets in front of TV cameras and says, "I am a loathsome worm" (I'm paraphrasing), it seems beside the point to argue about whether he really, really means it or not.

The larger issue here is people's unshakable belief that they can judge other people's character by watching them on TV. I recall someone saying to me quite seriously that Gary Hart was not honest because he didn't look you in the eye, and people had trouble doing that when they were lying. It didn't occur to her that (a) what this really meant was that he didn't look directly at the TV camera, and it's hard to say what that signifies, (b) the better liars have no trouble at all looking you in the eye. (This is a somewhat touchy issue for me, because I have always had trouble looking people in the eye-- it feels aggressive to me-- and I consider myself more honest than average.) Conversely, someone I know watched the candidates debate and came away convinced of John Edwards's integrity and honesty, which turned out to be a less than accurate judgment.

Get over it, people. Actions speak louder, or at least truer, than a good drama coach. In fact, words speak louder than a good drama coach. If you're not careful, you'll end up with an actor as President.

(Oh, and two btws: Why did the Fox News clip on the Internet cut out Tiger's reference to Buddhism, after Fox broadcast Brit Hume's slighting reference? And what's with pronouncing "Elin" with a long E? That's so unScandinavian.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hypocrisy Watch Update

If J.D. Hayworth, "the consistent conservative," is successful in his primary challenge to John McCain, then (if nothing else changes) it will leave the Senate with six combat veterans, all of whom are Democrats. Two senators were fortunate enough to get into the National Guard during Vietnam and so saw no combat. Guess which party they belong to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hey! Watch it!

It's happened again; the New York Times columnists are stealing ideas from my postings. This time it's Paul Krugman. (I did like the line about going straight for the capillaries, though.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Stench of Hypocrisy (Armed Services Division)

You think it's easy being a lone crusader for truth? Sometimes the miasma of hypocrisy gets so thick you need a gas mask to breathe.

In the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Sen. Saxby Chambliss really did ask, if we allow gays in the military, won't we then have to allow adultery and body art? Saxby Chambliss! What is he even doing on the Armed Services Committee (besides steering defense contracts to Georgia)? Apparently he's got more of an interest in the military than he did during Vietnam, when he had five student deferments, plus one medical deferment for a football injury.

None of this abashed him at all when he first ran for the Senate. He defeated the incumbent, Max Cleland, who got a Bronze Star and a Silver Star and lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam, by showing pictures of Cleland with pictures of Osama Bin Laden. Hmmm... someone with endless student deferments beating someone with a Bronze Star and a Silver Star from Vietnam, by claiming to be tough on terrorism. Why does that sound familiar?

Oh gee, that's just like Mr. Tough Guy himself, Dick Cheney, the leader of the pack, or rather flock, of Republican chickenhawks. Why does no one ever call the Republicans on their pieties about the military?

John McCain, of course, does have military experience, could even be called a war hero. But his highly developed sense of honor apparently is losing out to his desire for survival in the Republican Party. Yes, he did say this about Don't Ask Don't Tell in 2006: "... the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, Senator, we ought to change the policy, then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to."  But it appears he was bluffing; how could anyone know they'd really do it? He was hiding behind the uniforms, just like his chickenhawk friends. Hand me my gas mask.