Monday, January 30, 2012

Fun With Lists: Most Talented Sports Families

During my daily peregrinations through teh intertooooooobz, I came across this list of all-time great sports families, which I thought would amuse a buddy of mine at work. While I was in the process of laying out my own opinion of the choices for him, it occurred to me that they might also amuse my readers here (if any). So, without further ado...

A few thoughts of my own:
  • I object to the inclusion of fictional characters in this list, even if some of them were played by real-life hockey players.

  • I object to the inclusion of professional wrestlers… oh, wait, I already objected to the inclusion of fictional characters, didn’t I?

  • If we are going to have professional wrestlers, where are the Von Erichs? The Funks? Hell, where’s the McMahon family? (Don’t ask me how I knew about all those folks!)

  • I object to the inclusion of racehorses on this list, not for the usual “they’re not human, so it’s unfair to compare them to human athletes” reason that’s usually given for griping about horses on these sorts of lists (valid though that is), but because horse racing is all about bloodlines, so the whole notion of a “talented family” is kind of moot: With very few exceptions, every champion racehorse is part of a “talented family.”

  • If we are going to have racehorses, where’s the Man ‘o War/War Admiral/Affirmed lineage?

  • I object to the presence of MMA fighters: Human cockfighting… er, I mean MMA… is not a sport.

  • Including the Yao family is kind of a cheat: We only know about them because Yao Ming was an NBA star; how many other families in China… or all over the world… would also be on this list if it weren’t U.S.-centric. No doubt there’s some 5- or 6-generation family of cricketers who would be No. 1 on this list with a bullet, if only anyone in ‘Murrica had ever heard of them. I don’t object to the U.S. centrism, but it makes the Yaos a poor choice for inclusion, since only one of them has any presence in U.S. sports. (The Bulgarian soccer goalies probably don’t belong, either.)

  • Bob and Mike Bryan probably belong on the list, and Venus and Serena Williams certainly do, but where are John and Patrick McEnroe? John may be mostly remembered for his mercurial singles play and his volcanic temper, but he was also arguably the greatest doubles player of his era (and one of the greatest of all time), winning 9 Grand Slam titles in men's doubles and one in mixed doubles, and he was also possibly the greatest American Davis Cup player. Patrick was much less successful as a player (though he did win a Grand Slam title in doubles), but he's been a major contributor to tennis as a team captain (Davis Cup for 10 years, and the 2004 Olympics), a team owner (World Team Tennis), and a TV commentator/analyst.

  • How cool is the name Ignatius Gronkowski (great grandfather of Rob and his brothers)? And how cool is it that he was an Olympic cyclist in 1924 (aka the Chariots of Fire games)?

  • Leon Spinks has a grandson who’s a boxer? Dog, I feel old now!

  • Who knew that Jackie Robinson’s brother finished second to Jesse Owens in the Olympic 200m? Cool, eh?

  • Muhammad and Laila Ali? SRSLY? Muhammad Ali by himself belongs near the top of anyone’s list of all-time athletes, but are we really taking women’s boxing seriously enough for this to count as a top-ten sports family?1

  • I actually saw the three Howes play together for the Houston Aeros (the old WHA ones, not the current minor-league ones).

  • I know there’s not much space above No. 5, but shouldn’t the Andrettis be higher on this list?

  • No. 2 is a pair of identical-twin lacrosse players? Lacrosse?? I don’t care if they are the greatest players in the sport’s history… it’s frickin’ lacrosse. Yeah, Jim Brown yadda, yadda… it’s LACROSSE! Wilt Chamberlain played volleyball; that didn’t get a pair of volleyball twins on the list, never mind at No. 2! Dump these guys and move the Andrettis to their spot.

1 Anyone tempted to read this as me dissing women's sports would be wrong; this is me dissing boxing. I only just barely take men's boxing seriously, and only then because its long history means it's "grandfathered in." Starting up a whole new branch of the sport in the late 20th century was just silly... and the more we learn about the effects of head trauma in sports, the sillier it seems.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

If Only It Weren't Newt

The first thing you have to know is that I’m a huge space cadet myself. Born in the dawning years of the Space Age, I was a starry-eyed 9 year old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, watching every second of the televised EVA, and then immediately watching every second of the replay. I remember my dad — a NASA engineer — bringing home vacuum-formed relief maps of the Apollo landing sites, on which we would trace out moonwalkers’ progress in mechanical pencil. So you should know that there’s nothing I’d rather see than the achievement of the visionary space goals Newt Gingrich laid out in Florida on Wednesday: A permanent presence on the moon, accelerated human missions to Mars, breakthrough interplanetary propulsion technology….

Nothing, that is, except a well-functioning, just, humane, and prosperous American society here on Earth, and that’s where I fall off Newt’s high-tech sled.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of Newt’s interest in this area: As Mother Jones reminds us, Newt’s fascination with “grandiose”1 space ideas isn’t new: As early as 1984 he sponsored a bill that would have “offered a path to statehood for future space colonies,” and the first of his many books, Window of Opportunity, focused in part on space exploration as a key to building a Gingrich-approved future. And I don’t doubt that the goals he sets out are possible: Notwithstanding the quixotically negative comments from space advocates on blogs and news stories, there’s no doubt in my mind that, given the political will and national commitment we displayed during Kennedy’s moon quest, we could, in fact, plant an initial permanent lunar base by 2020: We haven’t gotten stupider since the days of Apollo, and now we have a half century of spaceflight-related technology that wasn’t available to engineers and program managers in 1961, when JFK established an 8 ½ year deadline for the first lunar landing by humans.

What we don’t have is a world in which humans on the moon or Mars is — or should be — anywhere near anyone’s first priority. At the philosophical level, I’ve never bought the “why spend money in space when we have problems here on Earth” line of opposition to space exploration: A great nation has to be able to do more than one thing at once, and the life of a whole society shouldn’t be reduced to nothing but problem solving. But I do believe in establishing reasonable priorities, and I believe that committing large chunks of our shared resources to a project requires the project to be somehow integrated with the nation’s larger priorities. In the 50s and 60s, our priorities were, for good or ill, focused on the geopolitics of superpower competition, and the Apollo effort neatly served that priority.

But today our top priorities should… indeed, must… be focused on building a ethically and economically just society, and on rebuilding our beleaguered middle- and working-class economy… and I’m pretty sure that’s not what Gingrich has in mind. It’s possible to imagine an Apollo-level space exploration program structured in ways that would be relevant to those goals, but the very things that would make it relevant — public investment in dual-use technologies, multipurpose infrastructure, related job creation, and public education at all levels — are anathema to today’s Republicans. Gingrich might be a technocrat, but he’s a Tea-Party technocrat.

And even if Gingrich’s space proposals struck me as perfect, the fact is that everything else he stands for, and that the party he would lead into Washington stands for, would be disastrous, from my point of view. I can’t hope for a bad president just because he might be good on my one pet issue. In my previous (online) life, I used to be a regular reader/contributor at several space policy forums, and I recall my fellow regulars discussing whether Bush or Kerry would be better for advocates of space exploration. I couldn’t believe it was even a question: With war, terrorism, fundamental tax policy, and basic questions of civil liberties in the balance, I couldn’t believe that anyone, on either side, would even think of basing their vote on space policy. Show me a candidate who proposes the same space goals as Gingrich has within the framework of a humane, truly progressive agenda, and I’ll instantly vote for that candidate… but odds are good I’d’ve been voting for the humane, truly progressive agenda in any case.

And so should you.

1 Since he styles himself as an intellectual, Gingrich should know that grandiose isn’t really a compliment. Many of Gingrich’s pronouncements may in fact be grandiose, in the sense of “affectedly grand or important; pompous,” and many of his plans may be grandiose, in the sense of “more complicated or elaborate than necessary; overblown,” but… ”You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” And don’t even get me started on people who say simplistic when they mean simple!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Bad Week for Sex in the News

So does it surprise anybody that the Republican presidential nomination contest is focused on sex? Beyond the "guilt-by-association," slut-shaming stories about Karen Santorum's youthful affair with an abortion-friendly obstetrician (which I've already addressed), we've heard Newt Gingrich's third (and current) wife attacked as a "mistress" while his second wife is quoted as claiming Newt asked her for an "open marriage."

The problem with all this is not that it gives Republican candidates a bad name — they're pushing hateful, evil policy ideas based on a hateful, evil ideology, and they deserve as bad a name as they can get — nor that they are false: AFAIK, Karen Santorum did shack up with a much older doctor for years, and Callista Gingrich manifestly was Newt's long-time mistress, and while characterizing what Newt was asking for as open marriage is deeply problematical (just ask Dan Savage or JT Eberhard's co-blogger Christina), I have no doubt that conversation took place, no matter how vigorously Newt whines at being asked about it.

No, the problem is that all this Republican sex obsession is that it gives sex a bad name... and that really is undeserved. It's also indicative of something deeply troubled about our politics: The fact that they choose sexuality as the weapon with which they shame and attack each other reflects the sense — false, IMHO, but woven deeply into the fabric of our culture — that pleasure, and sexual pleasure in particular, is corrupt and immoral. This ultimately religious commitment to the idea of the innate depravity of the flesh contributes to the right's attacks on gay rights, women's reproductive right, and general freedom of sexual expression. More indirectly, I think it contributes to the broad meanness of right-wing policies.

But it's not just politics: Yesterday I read a sad little story about a woman who offered sex in return for a McDonalds drive-thru customer's order of Chicken McNuggets. The woman, Khadijah Baseer, described in reports as being "known as a local panhandler [emphasis added]," apparently was opening customers' car doors, I assume seeking food or cash. One man called the police and complained that she'd offered him sex (some sources say oral sex) in return for his chicken bits.

So the most parsimonious interpretation of a woman offering sex in return for a couple dollars worth of food is that she's desperately poor, right? Or starving, or mentally ill, or strung out on drugs, or perhaps some combination of all of the above? Certainly she requires some sort of assistance, right?

So what did the cops do? They arrested her on suspicion of prostitution. Because it seems so likely that an actual prostitute would take payment in processed chicken. And because this woman is so much more likely to be a threat to society than someone who needs society's help.

Or maybe it's just because any story that has sex in it has to have a slut. It makes me sad that we think this way.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Fact That I Despise Rick Santorum Doesn't Justify This

I think Rick Santorum is wrong — dangerously wrong — about almost everything. I think his ideas are authoritarian, reactionary, and deeply inhumane (to the point of being hateful), and I’m tempted to cheer anything that harms his ability to assert political or social power… but even so, I can’t help thinking this story, from Newsweek by way of The Daily Beast, is unfair, on several levels.

First, as eager as I am to catch Santorum out as a hypocrite, that he was (according to the details embedded in the text) less devout, and less committed to Catholic social doctrine, as a young man than he is now doesn’t automatically make him one, anymore than the fact that I voted for Reagan as a callow youth makes my current commitment to liberalism hypocritical. People change their minds, particularly over the span of decades, and there’s nothing wrong with, nor intellectually dishonest about, that. In general, the ability to modify one’s ideas and beliefs over time is a good thing… though it’s unfortunate (to put it mildly) that Santorum has apparently been busily changing his mind in the wrong direction.

But this story goes much further, into the realm of guilthypocrisy by association… by double association, actually: It seems that when Santorum’s wife Karen was a young, single woman, she dated a doctor who, among other things, provided abortions. Really? The fact that a politician’s wife’s ex-boyfriend from decades past had an occupation the politician now vehemently opposes is supposed to add something to the current debate? It’s sufficient that Santorum’s positions on reproductive rights are dangerous and hateful; who his wife used to sleep with is immaterial to the debate.

Ahh, who she used to sleep with; there’s the rub. Because even beyond the issue of hypocrisy by association, this story is troubling on a much deeper level: It’s red-letter slut shaming.

Even if you thought the old boyfriend’s abortion history was relevant to current politics, why would we need to know that this was a case of a young nursing student not just dating, but living with a much older doctor? Why add the vague whiff of symbolic incest by mentioning that he had actually delivered her as a baby? Why repeat his (likely self-congratulatory) memory that she came on to him, inventing (as he imagined it) a fear of the dark in order to move herself from a chaste basement apartment to his bedroom? Would any of this have been a story worth telling if it were the much-less-titillating tale of going on a couple dates with an obstetrician near her own age whom she met at school?

None of these details has a single thing to do with evaluating or criticizing Santorum’s stand on abortion; they have everything to do with the smug glee of tagging a sanctimonious moralist with a “slutty” wife. Much as I like to see sanctimonious moralists tagged as sexual hypocrites, this is unfair to him, and viciously unfair to his wife. Worse, shaming Karen Santorum for her past sexual activity partakes of the very same obsessive sexism and sex-negativity that is at the root of what’s hateful and awful about her husband’s politics, and that haunts our society.

We can’t fight this shit — and we must fight it — by indulging in it ourselves.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gay Marriage Kills Jobs? SRSLY??

Recently one of the Republican presidential candidates (Rick Santorum? They don’t pay me enough to keep up with which wacky idea goes with which awful candidate…) suggested that same-sex marriage was a job killer. Not that a position that ludicrous really requires any response, but I couldn’t help thinking of it when I read this story about a gay wedding expo in Brooklyn. Last I heard, holding a frickin’ trade show was not a sign that a particular activity is bad for business!

As Event Director Daniel Brooks explains, “It's a new niche for businesses [emphasis added] .” And would Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz sound like this…

I am thrilled that Brooklyn — proud home of everyone from everywhere, including one of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered populations and certainly the biggest lesbian community in the country — will be the location of the first ever major expo of its kind in New York City.

…if he thought same-sex marriage was killing jobs in his community?

It’s one thing if people on the right have what they believe to be principled objections to same-sex activities, based on their religious or philosophical beliefs… but anyone relying on desperate, transparently false arguments like this “job killing” business is not principled, but is either hateful enough to resort to any means to damage their enemies, or is willing to blatantly lie to grab political power (by, it must be said, pandering to hateful people).

Friday, January 06, 2012

Rollercoaster News Reading

My first reaction to this Huffington Post story, the front-page headline of which referenced only sex-shop purchases and not the issue of misspent taxpayer funds (at least it did when I first saw it; it's apparently not linked from the front page at all anymoree), was “so what if he bought something at a sex shop? People have sex, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Then I saw that the story was about a mayor improperly taking about $154 thousand in improper expense payments (he owes the town about $170 thousand, but that includes interest and investigative costs), and I thought, “well, there’s certainly something wrong with that.” Then I noticed that the sex-shop complaint only accounted for a relatively trivial $67 of the total (about 0.04 percent, if my cypherin’ is correct), but… OMG! It was at a gay sex shop, and, setting aside the misappropriation of public funds, there’s nothing wrong with shopping at a gay sex shop, per se.

Now, my own town is in the midst of a controversy regarding a former mayor who paid himself — improperly, many of us believe — a big chunk of self-determined extra compensation, so I’m far from sympathetic to mayors who dip into the public till. And while Jackson, Miss., mayor Greg Davis doesn’t need to apologize to anyone for being gay, he does need to apologize for hypocritically hiding behind the fa├žade of a straight (married) “conservative” lifestyle for purposes of getting elected (and, in 2008, running for Congress). He probably should resign, as it appears Jackson’s Board of Aldermen may ask him to do today. All that said, though, highlighting a $67 purchase at Priape (even briefly) as the headline, instead of the tiny, relatively unimportant detail is actually is, strikes me as pandering to both sex-negative and homophobic impulses.

Shame on you, HuffPo!

Quick Take: Odd Radio Jokes

Listening this morning to the podcast of last week's Car Talk, a stray thought occurred to me: The list of joke "staff" names they close the show with is really a very odd, inverted joke for radio, because it's essentially a visual trick.

How each name sounds is actually the punchline of the joke; how it looks is the setup. That is, their Customer Service Specialist has what looks like a perfectly cromulent name: Begonia Payne-Diaz. It's only when it's said aloud that you realize it's begone, you pain in the ass.

Except, of course, that the radio (and podcast) audience never sees the name, but only hears it. In effect, we get the punchline of the joke first, and then have to infer the setup. It's upside down.

And yet, somehow, it's hilarious (at least to me). The fact that this bit totally works on radio, even though it totally shouldn't, is almost as weird as the fact that Edgar Bergen became a star on radio... er, what's that? Who's Edgar Bergen? A great ventriloquist... y'all might know him as Candice Bergen's father... um, who's Candice Bergen?

Oy, it's hell getting old! Oh well, here... and here. ;^)

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Who Knew Matt Lauer Was So Shockable?

I'm a bit bemused at Matt Lauer's reaction to this story about private "suites" in First Class on Singapore Air's A380 jumbo jets. If the compartments are truly private, as both the headline and the story describes them, why shouldn't couples do what couples do? And why would they need "chaperones"?

Geez, Matt, you have "don' it wif' a lady" haven't you?

Call Off the Dogs!

Despite my somewhat dire expectations, my upgrades — from 1 to 3 Gb RAM and from Mac OSX 10.4.latest to 10.6.latest — went very smoothly; it's just Daily Life™ that seems to be tripping me up. Not that anything has gone off the rails in that regard, either, really; I'm just readapting to the post-holiday routine less efficiently than I'd hoped. Sad when it's only 4 January, and you're already a week behind on New Year's resolutions, eh?

Well, one way I hope to meet my goal of posting more often is relying on short postings and links instead of tl;dr essays1, so let me start by adding to my New Year's "intentions" a reboot of my long-dormant hobby astronomy, starting with observing as many of these events as I can.

I've already missed the Quantarid meteor shower (I did go outside last night at about the right time, but it was wicked cold, so I didn't stay long or see anything), and most of the eclipses are outside my geographic range (unless I win the lottery), but I'm going to shoot for as many of the others as I can, and I'm determined not to miss the transit of Venus.

And while I'm on space stuff, how cool is this?

1 Don't worry; I'm sure there'll be plenty of those, too!