Monday, August 25, 2008

McCain to fax VP announcement

Breaking: This just in from St. Paul, Minnesota, the McCain camp has announced it will fax McCain's VP choice to GOP party members when announced.

"This is an exciting time for the party and for our country," said Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager. "Our faxing of senator McCain's vice presidential choice matches the mood perfectly."

The announcement comes just days after Democratic candidate Barack Obama notified party members via mobile phone text message that Joe Biden (D, Del) was going to be his vice presidential pick. Obama's move was chided by some pundits
as fluff

"The democrats used text message, and that's OK if you're in range of a cell phone tower, or if you own one of those fancy iPhones, but we believe in the fax," Davis explained. "The fax is reliable, it's traditional, it's working-class. You could say it's a lot like senator McCain."

Republican party campaign workers plan on scouring database files for the fax numbers of party members. If the operation works correctly, fax machines across the country should all print out the announcement at 6:00 PM Eastern Standard Time.

"Imagine, millions of fax machines receiving the signal at the same time, printing out the name, families reading it over the dinner table, it has a certain Edwin R. Murrow feel to it," said one Republican strategist, in reference to the famous World War Two London correspondent.

Other modes of communication debated within Republican National Headquarters were the telegraph, carrier pigeon, smoke signals, Morse code, whistle stop, or pony express. In the end the facsimile, or fax, won out. McCain was reportedly very excited about the idea when shown a demo of how the fax machine works.

"This little device is amazing, and a testimony to American ingenuity," McCain said, waving the test fax in his hand. "It's at least twice as fast as the telegraph, and four times as fun!"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Anna Karenina principle of dating

I had a small breakthrough today while talking to a good friend about dating; specifically my newfound reluctance to dating. I tried to explain my phobia by pointing out that there are many more ways to fail in a relationship than there are to succeed, a small detail I had somehow managed to overlook over the last sixteen years of relationships.

This point has been much more succinctly stated by Tolstoy in his book Anna Karenina, which begins:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Jared Diamond turned this famous line into a full-blown principle in his book Guns, Germs and Steel to describe a system in which a deficiency in one or more elements dooms it to failure. But on the other hand, a successful system is one where every one of those failures is avoided.

Diamond uses the principle to illustrate why so few wild animals have been successfully domesticated: because the animal fails domestication on one or more elements. Domestication occurs not because of the presence of some positive attribute, but rather the lack of any negative ones. In other words, successfully domesticated animals are all alike (in the sense that they pass all the tests), unsuccesful animals are different in their own ways. Some are too skittish, some are too independent, some are too mean.

Diamond's usage aisde, Tolstoy's was illustrating how an interpersonal relationship, such as a family, can break down and be "unhappy" in any number of ways, but a happy family passes all the required tests. This isn't to say that happy families are perfect, or the same, but the necessary elements for happiness are all within acceptable range.

In modern dating the elements of communication, intimacy, respect, security, time, all need to be present to have a "happy" relationship. You can do very well at many of them, but fail at one of them and the system begins to falter. This is daunting enough without acknowledging that external forces such as finances, health, family pressures, and even death in a family, can undermine an otherwise successful relationship.

So, it seems that finding a partner, and having a happy relationship, is somewhat akin to domesticating a wild animal. Some of the typical factors that have ruined an animal's chance at domestication are picky diet, size, problems with breeding in captivity, nasty disposition, tendency to panic, and independence. Interestingly, I've found that if even one of these six elements fails while dating then the entire relationship veers dangerously into the realm of failure.

Have you ever tried dating someone who hated most types of food? It's hellishly annoying. Have you ever dated someone with the disposition of a mongoose? Or have you tried to build something with a lone, independent person who thinks they want to be in a relationship but really they have no business even trying?

But the sobering thing is that you can date someone who loves the same food as you, the same music, someone who is pleasant, who fits nicely next to you on the couch, someone who lights up a room, but if that person has the panic reflex of the North American deer, and bounds over the nearest fence every time something startles, the system will prove difficult to sustain. If that person can't communicate, or provide love or respect, if the system fails in one area, none of the other positive attributes can save it.

Faced with all of that, the quest is worth it. People are still out there trying to find other people. Go ahead, go to the park and sit on a bench and watch at the couples walk by. They're out there! For every hundreds of domesticated failures, there is one that has learned to play nice and provide. For every zebra and lion and their wild cousins, animals who have bit and mauled and carried off primitive man, there is the llama, the pack mule, and the chinchilla, animals which fail none of the required tests.

Happy relationships are all alike; but unhappy ones are unhappy in their own ways. For every successful relationship there are hundreds of attempts lying in the rubbish pile, smoldering like burning tires in a junkyard. Relationships that were tripped up by one or more failing attributes, or external attributes. Solid relationships full of excitement and fun but lacking honest communication; full of respect but lacking intimacy; full of stability but lacking time. The successful combine all the necessary requirements in the right way and make all the prior attempts worthwhile.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Harvard MBA's guide to complexity and uncertainty

Former journalist Philip Delves Broughton chronicles what a $170,000 got him in his new book "What They Teach you at Harvard Business School." The book investigates a two year experience which starts with a request to keep your guitar, your cynicism, and your history books at home, and instead bring "the diverse rest of you," while the school accrues a pool of like-minded, unimaginative students and fills their heads with mantras, power point presentations, and test cases.

In the end, as Christopher Hart of the Sunday Times writes, Harvard Business School "is pervaded with an oppressive atmosphere of unquestioning obedience and creepy religiosity." And for all its importance and reputation "you feel that HBS neither understands the complexity nor acknowledges the chaotic unpredictability of the world economy any better than anyone else."

It should not be surprising that graduates of the school--people now run the World Bank, the American Treasury, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, and have an alum as President of the United States--preside over a country, and an economy that often seems has haphazard and slapdash as a disorganized trip to the bathroom.

What did surprise me was that the HBS seems to attract conforming, religious types. But the reason now seems so simple: faced with the overwhelming task of assimilating disparate pieces of financial information in an overwhelmingly interconnected and chaotic financial world, the best defense mechanism is good old fashioned stubbornness and lack-of-imagination. Normal people would completely balk or be baffled at attempting to reconcile the world economy into power point presentations--students at HBS come wired to do exactly that.

In the same way, when faced with a vast, complex, uncontrolable universe, many people find religion's Cliff Note style answers wildly appealing. It takes a certain person to overlook the inconsistencies, the wild variances, the depth of injustice in the real world--things that break normal people down. I find it telling that the same virtue of unquestioning is rewarded at business school. After all, graduates have to stand in front of people and shepherd them through the maze of unknowns. But to do so they must be true believers.

I was once baffled that an institution as highly regarded as the Harvard Business School could churn out someone like George W. Bush. But it turns out he's just the type of person they're looking for. I'd rather just have them throw up their hands and admit they really have no idea and it would be a lot easier if we'd just go along for the ride without much complaint.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

W. Trailer Teaser

I saw the new trailer for Oliver Stone's upcoming movie W. a biopic on our beloved and troubled president. I'll admit, when I first heard about the film I was skeptical but after seeing the trailer, I'm not going to miss it.

I like what Stone has had to say about his motivation for making the film too:

I want a fair, true portrait of the man. How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world? It's like Frank Capra territory on one hand, but I'll also cover the demons in his private life, his bouts with his dad and his conversion to Christianity, which explains a lot of where he is coming from. It includes his belief that God personally chose him to be president of the United States, and his coming into his own with the stunning, preemptive attack on Iraq. It will contain surprises for Bush supporters and his detractors.

The movie stars Josh Brolin as junior Bush, James Cromwell as the elder Bush, Ellyn Burstyn as Barbara Bush, Scott Glenn as Rummy, Rob Corddry as Ari Fleischer, and Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney. The thing could suck, but the acting list is solid and the trailer is great.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Baby, I love your MHC smell

It all comes down to the pill. Finally, a study has shed some light on why I wind up with the women I do. Apparently body odor is critical in selection of a long-term partner. Listen to your genes, friends. They know all. The body sends out aromatic scents that indicate genetic compatibility. Specifically Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes.

It turns out opposites really do attract. The best partners are those that have different MHC smells than you. But this new study shows that when women are on the pill they prefer guys with matching MHC odors. Past studies have shown that couples with dissimilar MHC genes are more satisfied and more likely to be faithful to their mate. Couples with matching MHC scents, historically, show less satisfaction and more infidelity.

"Not only could MHC-similarity in couples lead to fertility problems," said lead researcher Stewart Craig Roberts, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Newcastle in England, "but it could ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the contraceptive pill, as odor perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners."

So why does the pill change the woman's natural attraction for dissimilar MHC? Roberts suggests that since the pill imitates a hormonally pregnant state then subconsciously she is not seeking out a mate. The pill tricks her into thinking she is not looking for a mate, even though she could be.

"The pill is in effect mirroring a natural shift but at an inappropriate time," Roberts said.

So, what's the affect on you and me? It's both annoying and liberating to now know that so much of relational success is predetermined by MHC levels and what reactions they trigger in your brain. Of course we have no idea what MCH "scent" we are, and therefore what the opposite would be. But maybe you just have to trust your gut. If you find someone who trips your switches, trust your nose and run with it. Besides, what's love got to do with it?

Breakfast with Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps is the biggest name in American Olympic athletes since Carl Lewis. Competing in his third Olympics, Phelps has won eleven gold medals. In 2008 alone he is aiming for eight, and has won five in his first five races.

But how does this top swimmer fuel his drive for Olympic gold? Bob Costas and NBC recently revealed the swimmer's breakfast regimen which astonishingly includes:

Three fried-egg sandwiches
fried onions
an omelet
a bowl of grits
three slices of French toast with powdered sugar
half a dozen chocolate chip pancakes
a bag of oats
two whole cantaloupes
two bowls of colon blow cereal
a bowl of slow whipped ice cream covered in Magic Shell
1 liter of Gator-Ade
six strips of hickory smoked bacon
a jawbreaker
a handful of flaxseed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts
two slices of mom's left-over meatloaf
cold pizza
a few plantains
ants on a log
can of frosting
box of ego waffles topped with butter, whipped cream, and strawberry syrup
horse vitamins

All polished off with a cold glass of milk!

This high calorie, high carbohydrate, high fat, high protein diet has been genetically matched to Phelps' metabolism, to provide optimum calorie to energy ratio which allows him to maintain an absolute minimum of body fat, grow zero body hair on his back, torso, legs, fingers, toes, face, and ears, and evolve into some kind of half man half seal-like creature.

The huge front-loaded diet also allows Phelps to stay in the pool for 16 hours a day, never having to stop for a moment to replenish essential vitamins and minerals.

"When you're going for eight gold medals, against the fastest swimmers in the world, ever, every second of training counts," Phelps explains.

This high powered intake allows Phelps to run through a brutal daily training regimen involving such draconian methods as tying on heavy ankle weights while he swims and pulling pianos around through the water as he does his laps.

"Sometimes I'll swim a dozen laps or so just using my left pinky, or perhaps only wiggling my ears," Phelps explains. "In world class swimming, there are no useless muscles."

Just the other day Phelps not only eclipsed his best time in the 200 meter freestyle, but did it while helping his mom move out of her apartment, changing his own oil, and mountain biking with Lance Armstrong.

Every day for the last 16 years Phelps has been awakened from bed by the sound of a starting horn. The pitch and timbre perfectly match the ones used in the Olympic games. He immediately dives into a pool and begins swimming 48 laps. Meanwhile a team of scientists and chefs prepares his breakfast. The early morning swim is designed to warm Phelps up for the day while burning off any fat build up from the previous night's sleep.

Eight hours of sleeping, eight hours of inactivity, can increase your BMI by as much as a tenth of a percentage. Such numbers could mean the loss of a fraction of a second, the difference between a win or a loss in a swimming race.

When the 48 laps are completed, usually in or around five minutes, Phelps swims to a holding tank where he eats his massive breakfast while treading water.

Phelp's coach Bob Bowman also trains racehorses, and the approach he has taken with Phelps is similar. Racehorses need to get a feel for the track, in the same way Phelps must become completely acclimated and accustomed to the water. Thus he remains in the pool for 16 hours a day. Horses also must be raced alongside other horses, to get a taste of competition. The issue with Phelps was that no other human could match his speed or endurance in the pool.

"We brought in college swimmers as volunteers, just to put Michael through the paces," Bowman said. "We'd sub them out every two minutes or so. But they were leaving by ambulance exhausted."

After that Bowman switched from humans to a mammal better adapted to the water: the bottle nosed dolphin.

"We tried seals and sea lions," said Bowman, "But they couldn't hang with Michael long enough. Then we bought some dolphins and brought them in."

But this also proved problematic as the dolphins had to periodically come up for air, thus slowing their lap times and throwing Phelps off.

Desperate, Bowman hit on an idea.

"The mako shark is the fastest fish we could find," Bowman explained. "As a fish it doesn't have to come up for air. It knifes through the water at speeds of up to 60 mph. We let them chase Michael around for a few hours. That really develops his fast-twitch muscle fibers."

By the end of the day Phelps is allowed to emerge from the swimming pool, his body ripped and streamlined, every muscle honed to perfection, his skin now a rubbery water resistant material which literally slips through the pool. His sleep, like his stroke, is powerful yet effortless. He slides into bed, conked by a day in which he may have swam up to 30 miles at breathtaking speeds, shattered no less than a dozen records, and rewritten the laws of thermodynamics.

And tomorrow he'll do it all over again.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

RIP: Bernie Mac

I wanted your career to end...but not like this.

Mac died
Saturday morning of complications from pneumonia in a Chicago-area hospital, his publicist, Danica Smith, said in a statement from Los Angeles.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Edwards admits to affair

Son of mill worker got it on Hollywood style

Acknowledging a sex scandal he had dismissed as "tabloid trash" only last month, Edwards said he had told his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth long ago, but "hoped that it would never become public." The affair took place in 2006, as Edwards was preparing to run for president.

In his statement, Edwards said, "It is inadequate to say to the people who believed in me that I am sorry, as it is inadequate to say to the people who love me that I am sorry.

"In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic. If you want to beat me up feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need my help."

In her statement Friday, Elizabeth Edwards said it wasn't easy to find out about the extramarital affair in 2006. She called the affair a "terrible mistake" but said the healing process was "oddly made somewhat easier" after her diagnosis of breast cancer in March 2007.

Edwards confessed to the schtupping on ABC News and that he had lied repeatedly about the affair with 43-year-old Rielle Hunter. He admits to meeting with Hunter at the Beverly Hills Hilton last month.

Blatant editorializing

Holy shit, Batman! I always disliked and was suspicious of Edwards. But this? My god, man. Anyone who can schlep about poverty while living in a
HUGE house is pretty ego maniacal, but to hook up with your documentarian while preparing to run for president and enlisting the trust of thousands, if not potentially millions, of voters is just stupid and shameless.

I know a lot of his believers, drunk on the Two Americas Kool-Aid, will dismiss this as a private matter and irrelevant. But it does matter. He's a public figure. Integrity and honesty happen to matter when you're generating sympathy for yourself and your cause.

I've always been amazed by how many women feverishly defended Bill, after he subjected Hillary to public humiliation. It's unimaginable. And that was a case were the entire marriage could easily be imagined as sexless and calculated, run solely for ambition. Viewed in that light, I suppose both men and women could somehow find Bill's bathroom escapades with a young intern almost rote. Besides, Bill was so charming, powerful... it was inevitable.

But Edwards? He made his political name by stepping up to address poverty and becoming a voice for the powerless. He was someone they believed in and trusted. It's hard to imagine any of that in the same way when the guy cheats on his wife, who we all now remember campaigning by his side, defending him from smear attacks, all while being diagnosed with cancer. All of that while knowing he had cheated on her.

I know most politicians are just love-starved children who stray and cheat because they need another rush of power and affection. I can live with that. People enter politics for the same reason people have affairs--in the end they just love the attention too much. But when one is caught you can't help but wonder if he (it's almost always a man) has used all his followers in the same way--for the attention. What was Edward's poverty stuff all about anyway? Does he really believe it? Or is it just an itch he's happy to scratch while being applauded for doing so?

In the same way it doesn't surprise me when ministers have affairs. They too love the attention. When Ted Haggard was turned in my his male prostitute I wasn't too stunned. What stuns me is that ministers and politicians stand in front of people, bask in the glow, accept the adulation, dispense a vision, all while living a totally different type of life.

I never felt like Bill Clinton was really preaching at me. Sure, the guy had ideas, he had a vision, perhaps, for where he wanted the country to go, but he never preached at me. Edwards, sermonizes about the disparity in America, and butters his bread on the poverty issue. I find it that much harder to overlook the fact that while he's trying to do some major good, his own house is in such disorder. It's hard to reconsile how someone is trying to help the masses while humiliating his own wife. Physician heal thyself.

The only satisfaction I get out of this is it should be a dramatic and crippling end to a public career that was far more hype than substance. As a political figure Edwards has been overrated for years, wasting people's inane hero worship and devotion. And as a person he's no great shakes either. He's just another dog.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Americans tiring of Obama, but will always have Paris

According to a poll released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, 48 percent said they're hearing too much about Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Just 26 percent said the same about his Republican rival, John McCain.

Meanwhile Paris Hilton continues to capture the nation's attention and headlines. The McCain camp used her image in an add suggesting Obama is nothing more than a celebrity unfit to lead. Apparently to the McCain campaign, being popular in a general election is a negative thing. We'll see how well that strategy plays out in November.

Hilton responded immediately, posting an internet video on lampooning the ad, claiming she is "totally ready to lead." McCain's move further backfired when Hilton, showcasing her readiness, outlined a complex and comprehensive energy policy, something McCain has not done, and perhaps over-qualifying her for the Position of president of the United States.

While voters may be approaching Obama fatigue due to media over-exposure, McCain can hardly buy a headline. He may disdain her, but Hilton has lodged herself into the American psyche and has made it look incredibly easy. If you haven't noticed, she's kind of a big deal, but no one really knows why, and that is the genius of it all. Absent from the headlines for a few days, people can be found on the street mumbling "where's Paris?" "I wonder what Paris is up to?"

So pervasive is the Hilton media machine, the Associated Press once enacted a week-long ban of any and all Hilton related stories. (The boycott ended when Paris was ticketed for driving with a suspended license.) Her PR juggernaut is a model of efficiency. Never has more been done for someone contributing so little. In-fact, what she does contribute is utter garbage and still, some how, some way, she finds herself in the news, generating precious attention from the masses.

This spoof ad really hit the mark for me. It strikes at the ridiculous nature of most campaign ads. It makes foolish the self righteous stuffed shirts who run things into the ground. And it couldn't be much more irreverent. Political experts spend their entire life trying to create what Hilton seemingly does off-the-cuff. She is the brand! Meanwhile McCain is mired in...umm... where the hell is he today anyway?