Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hard-easy: a lifestyle program

In his review of Play as if Your Life Depends on It, by Frank Forencich, Clarence Bass writes:
This hard-easy activity pattern is built into our genes. “[It] must have been repeated with variation millions of times throughout our history,” Forencich writes. It’s what we’re born to do. And it’s a proven formula for athletic success.
“An essential part of being a good animal is establishing a cycle of activity and rest that is appropriate for your species, your age and the conditions you live in,” Forencich writes. “From a coach’s point of view, the Paleolithic hunters and gatherers were following an ideal pattern for athletic excellence as well as general health.” When you train, train hard—and then take a few days off for rest and recovery.

As the fittest 70 year-old on the planet, Clarence's recommendations are worthy of attention by anyone interested in living long and well.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Walk the Line: Johnny Cash and the tie that binds...

I recently saw the movie, Walk the Line. I realize that I am late to this party, but, hey, I have young kids. before I saw the movie, I was aware of complaints from some religious viewers that the religious side of Johnny Cash was largely left out of the biopic. I must agree, but not with a qualification.

I knew that Johnny Cash was religious, and I also knew that he was a hell-raiser. This dichotomy is not too rare in the South. I didn't miss the religious element very much because the movie covered part of his life when Johnny was not very religiously inclined.

Right at the end, though, the movie did make it seem that June Carter and the Carter family were mostly to credit for his turnaround. In fact, there was a long, montagious shot where he is at the depths of despair that could have easily concluded at the Nickajack cave (which happened in late '67, just before the end of the period the movie covers.)

I googled Johnny Cash after the movie was over because I assumed that at some point he had a moment of embrace of religion. That's when I read about the Nickajack cave episode where Johnny went as his (first) marriage was dissolving and he intended to commit suicide by wandering into
the cave and getting irretrievably lost. In the cave, Cash says he had a vision of light and heard the voice of God say that He wasn't through with Cash yet. And then the way out of the cave was made clear to Cash by a light and wiff of air. He addressed this episode in detail in his autobiography. He wasn't a perfect religious man after this incident, but he clearly points to it as transformative. It would have fit easily into the movie. It seems to have been left out on purpose by the filmmakers to avoid the uncomfortable inclusion of religion.

That is unfortunate. To be honest, revelatory religions, such as Christianity, generally infuriate me. So I am no disgruntled Christianist, but it is pretty clear what Johnny Cash thought was important in his life, and his story is not complete without Nickajack Cave. The filmmakers were cowards, and probably not very good business men either, given The Passion of the Christ's billion dollar box office take. Again, unfortunate.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Obama by voice, McCain by phenotype

During a recent review of literature on nonverbal behavior, I ran across some interesting factoids that have implications for the presidential race.

Voters tend to prefer candidates that fall into the mesomorph phenotype. During the past fifty years, every time an ectomorph (tall, thin) has run against a mesomorph (proportional - not fat or thin) the mesomorph has won. Think John Kerry (ecto) against George Bush (meso). Researchers in numerous studies have improved upon Prof. Sheldon's initial work on phenotypes in the 1940's, and shown that while personality types do not necessarily match body types as he claimed, often people's perceptions of others are based on the other person's shape. Endos (fat, round) are perceived as jolly and contented, ectos are perceived as intellectual and aloof, while mesos are perceived as attractive, confident leaders.

This disadvantages Sen. Obama, who is clearly an ectomorph, while Sen. John McCain is a very proportional mesomorph. In fact, a lot of the recent criticism of Obama is in line with the common perceptions researchers have found people have about endomorphs: they are detached, aloof, reflective, cautious, sensitive, withdrawn. Many people are not connecting to Obama, and I'll bet they can't quite tell you why exactly, just a feeling that he is a bit of an intellectual snob. Of course some of this is racism, sure, and some of it is identity politics, but the subconscious assessment of body type and how it shapes people's perceptions should not be disregarded.

That said, however, Obama has a clear advantage in voice quality. It appears that in every matchup of the last forty years, the candidate who had the most resonant, deeper and more expressive voice, won. In 2002, researchers Gregory and Gallagher from Kent State University conducted audio-spectral analysis of 19 presidential debates including Kennedy/Nixon, Carter/Ford, Reagan/Carter, Reagan/Mondale, Bush/Dukakis, Clinton/Bush, Clinton/Dole, and Bush/Gore. They found that the candidate who registered a more dominant fundamental voice frequency in the debates won the popular vote (this means Gore in 2000). Since voters favor voices that convey power and leadership, this clearly favors Sen. Obama, whose voice is unparalleled in modern politics.

Also, there is another characteristic in Obama's favor. Research indicates there is statistically significant discrimination against persons of short stature. This bodes ill for John McCain. If he wins the Presidency, at 5' 7", he will be the shortest President in over a hundred years, since William McKinley. Barack Obama, at 6'1" is actually just a little taller than the average height for twentieth century presidents, 6' and 1/2".

McCain seems to have the biggest hurdles in the nonverbal perception arena. While Obama could conceivably start a weight program and eat more to fill out a bit, McCain can't hope to change his height or his voice.

The implications for campaign strategies are clear. If Obama's people are smart, they will try to place him right next to McCain as often as they can. Also, they could manipulate the video on his ads to widen him a bit and project a mesomorph image. McCain's staff will likely add resonance in the vocal channel on his ads and show him standing above people as often as possible. Look for these and other subtle nonverbal approaches to building these candidates images as we progress toward the election.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Darwinian conservative, with a small "c"

On the Darwinian Conservative blog, a rather astute commenter, Les Brunswick remarks Link here that scientists "have determined that human nature is not as bad as these people [religionists] claim," but also not as good as "utopian leftists" claim captures the fascinating implications of recent developments in understanding the brain and human nature. I find it interesting that many scientists, like Steven Pinker and E.O. Wilson, are politically left, while I read their works as confirming my traditionally conservative, "tragic" view of human nature. In other words, we are not blank slates, not perfectable, and subject to some 10-20 strong inherent drives that impel much of our behavior, with some modifications possible. This idea has implications across the fields of public policy that are only beginning to dawn on those who have stakes in the old party lines. Wait for the assault from both sides on these scientists, I am certain it is imminent.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Crisis of Responsibility

From frivolous lawsuits to an increase in laws designed to protect us from ourselves, few desire to take any responsibility for anything anymore.

The most recent example of this phenomenon is the cries for a bail out of those with mortgages in default. As someone with a young family, I would like to see house prices continue to fall so that I might be able to afford one. I have long considered these prices to be unreasonably inflated. Anyone who decries the inaction of government in this regard and considers those involved as victims should consider the real causes of this "crisis."

A higher degree in economics is not required to understand this. Many people simply bought houses they could not afford. Often, they purchased the houses not to live in, but as investments. According to statistics from Bloomberg.com, possibly as many as one-third of all homes purchased since 2000 were bought by speculators hoping for a quick profit. Many speculators were buying homes from other speculators, and even worse, construction companies built homes based on that false demand. There was never a market of people who actually wanted to live in these houses. To make these bad developments worse, lenders were granting loans to people who should never have qualified for them. The end result of all this is similar to the end of any common pyramid scheme: a few make big profits by selling out early and everyone else is left with nothing, or in debt.

The fact that people engage in this kind of reckless behavior should surprise no serious student of human nature. But, sadly, this appears to me to be just one more aspect of a larger trend that may be unavoidable.

As free, liberal societies have matured and enlarged, a crisis of responsibility has emerged within their people. Somehow the cornerstone of freedom, individual responsibility, is discarded as a weight too burdensome, replaced by a culture of blame and victimhood. He who most successfully ascribes his failings to another is the victor in this paradigm. How one arrests such a depressing trend in fellow citizens is a mystery.

The renowned psychologist and Holocaust survivor, Dr. Victor Frankl, suggested erecting a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast of the United States as a counterbalance to the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. He taught that these concepts were dependant on each other and a public acknowledgement of this truth was appropriate.

A link to the wikipedia article about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statue_of_Responsibility

A link to the Statue of Responsibility website here: http://www.sorfoundation.org/

Sadly, the effort to build the statue appears to be as stalled as the desire of free people to assume responsibility for their lives.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Nation birthed by the Enlightenment - not Judeo-Christian, whatever that means exactly

Whenever I hear that the United States is a Judeo-Christian nation, I try to refer the speaker to our first documents. Read Federalist No. 10, read the writings of the founders, hell, read the Constitution. Nowhere is this stated. These documents conspicuously do not refer to any religion as their source.
In fact, here is a great quote dug up by Andrew Sullivan from The Conservative Soul:

In 1797, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved the "Treaty of Tripoli," an attempt to deal with Muslim piracy and terrorism in the Mediterranean. One of its clauses read:
"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."
It is hard to think of a leading contemporary Republican insisting that American government "is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." In the early republic, not a single senator dissented.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Support Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I recently finished Ms. Ali's autobiography, Infidel. It is a somber and moving account of a girl born in third-world hopelessness who makes a daring dash for individual freedom when she sees a chance. I found it to be a powerful indictment of Islamic cultures that keep their women oppressed as virtual slaves.
Because she spoke out against these Islamists, she is hounded to this day. A Fatwa calling for her death was found stuck to the murdered body of Theo Van Gogh with a butcher's knife. The Dutch government no longer pays for her security as it did when she served in their parliament.
In my opinion she is a heroine and ally of all who support individual rights.
You can support her here:

Friday, May 2, 2008

Fitness for females

Here is a fantastic link for all you ladies who want to get in shape.
He blasts through all the crap you think you know about getting fit and gives the bottom line info.

Haiku - Death Poem

I periodically attempt a death poem - traditionally a haiku written by samurais who were anticipating death. The experience focuses one's creativity to answer the question: What is the statement with which I want to leave the world? What is my final observation on this life?

I have written maybe four in the past years. Remember Haiku calls for a three line poem with the syllable set of 5-7-5. The rules are quite complicated (see the wikipedia entry here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiku ) but I don't hold strictly to all of them.

Here is my latest effort:

Winds caress a child,
Yet, they are the same winds that
Wing flies to a corpse.

Feel free to post yours.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Response to Embargo, Shmembargo, It's All Greek to Me


This article comparing Cyprus to Cuba belies the author's ignorance of both situations. One government came into being as the result of armed insurrection, the other is the puppet state of an armed invader. There is a difference, in history and in view of international law.
First, my full disclosure: My wife is half-Greek Cypriot. My father-in-law spent a year and a half in a Turkish prison camp upon capture in the 1974 Turkish invasion. So, if you want to discount the following remarks, be my guest. However, I was posted to the US Embassy in Cyprus for two years, I have roamed every area of the island, and have found friends and admirable people on both sides of the divide. Suffice to say I am intimately familiar with the argument on both sides.
Indeed, in the midst of such contentiousness, it is surprising how many folks on both sides have substituted rage for resignation, and even acceptance. Even my father-in-law is surprisingly understanding of the Turkish Cypriot cause. And, ultimately, the realist in me understands that Greek Cypriots begged their fate by dancing with the ENOSIS devil and preparing insufficiently for Turkish military action.
Key lesson: if you are going to oppress an ethnic minority in your country, first make sure they don't have cousins forty miles away with a ferocious military. Or arm yourself appropriately. The Greek Cypriots did neither and suffered the fate of those who ignore the great axioms at their peril.
This does not, however, completely excuse the Turks' actions, during the invasion or, especially, since. Simply put, they deprived tens of thousands of private citizens of their property rights without compensation. They have not even attempted compensation, and they have redistributed the property with abandon while the Greek side has held every last bit of property owned by a Turkish Cypriot in readiness for their return.
The contention that if a "enough people, in a credible area, want independence enough to grab it, I reckon it's reasonable to agree, like the result or not" would condone the ethnic cleansing of the entire northern half of the island and permanently deprive residents on the south of their property and their options to "buy and sell, to borrow or lend, where they choose." If the Greek Cypriot refugees were allowed to return and vote, the TRNC would be dissolved with certainty.
Do you wonder why Greek Cypriots gave the "two-fingered salute" to the Annan Plan? Perhaps you can put yourself in their shoes. My wife's family owned six houses, three businesses, and a few hundred acres of land near Kyrenia. The Turkish government stripped them of this land and property. Everything was gone, including family photos and heirlooms. The Annan plan would have given those from the Kyrenia area no compensation and no right to even purchase their own land back. These facts do not preclude increased economic engagement of the TRNC, to include steps to diplomatic recognition, but they should not be dismissed out of hand as simple obstinance and a "two-fingered" salute. TRNC should be accepted and integrated in a way that will bolster the rule of law, not enrich a corrupt thugocracy.

A link to my posts at Slate's The Fray

A glimpse at part of my journey across the web. I post in all sorts of forums as PatricktheRogue. Here is a link to the Fray at Slate.com: