Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wrestling

My eldest son, who is 10, has become extremely intereted in professional wrestling.  This is bad for so many reasons.  Even the good guys on wrestling make terrible role models for the most part, especially the constant bragging and trash talk.  Even worse is the false idea of violence that wrestling gives.  I'm not opposed to violence in principle, but I don't want my son to think that you can hit someone over the head repeatedly with a blunt object and he will still be able to get back up a minute later to keep fighting.  I fear that such a false impression might cause someone to do permanent damage under the impression that he is just doing normal wrestling stuff.

I also enjoyed professional wrestling when I was 10.  It's understandable at that age.  But when the camera pans around the audience and shows normal-looking adults in the audience, it concerns me.  I'm not sure which is worse:  that they think the fighting is real, or that, thinking it real, they still want to watch it.  Even if you didn't know anything about how fighting actually works, there are so many tipoffs to the real nature of what is going on.  Does anyone ever wonder where there is never so much as a bloody nose in wrestling?  Why do MMA and UFC fighters, who do much less hitting during matches, look like abuse victims, while wrestlers look as pretty as actors?  In our lawsuit-crazed society, does it ever occur to any wrestling fans that the promoters would be getting sued left and right for injuries, especially those that occur outside of the ring?

I will have to say this for wrestling, though:  its promoters have created an enormously popular event.  Monday night wrestling is celebrating its position as the Longest running weekly episodic television series in historyEvery month or so, wrestling is able to convince a substantial number of fans to pay $45 for a three-hour pay-per-view show.  Can you imagine if football could charge that much for a single game for television access?  I'm not saying that wrestling is more popular than football, but it seems extraordinary to me that it can extract so much money from fans.

Part of the appeal of wrestling, I figure, is that it is so realistic in some respects.  Sure, those double-spin pile drivers off the turnstyles look as phony as they are, but wrestlers do an excellent job of pretending to be injured.  My wife, who already knew it was fake, thought that one guy might have been accidentally hurt.  The actors I admire the most, however, are the announcers.  They are not only completely deadpan in their delivery, but they sound exactly like regular sports announcers.  Perhaps, it just occurred to me, they don't even know what's going to happen, which would add authenticity to their surprise when unusual things happen.  They debate the relative merits of fighters, discuss upcoming matches, and feign indignity at various extracurricular activities just as though wrestling were a real sport.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Newspeak

One thing I look out for in politics is people saying something that makes no sense.  Okay, people say things that make no sense all the time, but I'm referring to an argument that becomes a stock political weapon in one side's arsenal.  To take an example, there is the idea that prohibiting gay marriage is contrary to the Constitution.

I want to make it clear one can make a strong argument in favour of homosexual marriage.  I'm against it, but I see an argument on the other side and I'm willing, even interested, to engage in debate about it.  But for a judge to rule, as Vaughn Walker did recently, that not allowing homosexual marriages is a violation of constitutional rights, is contrary to all reason.  Until recently, no state in America had ever recognized homosexual marriages.  Wouldn't that mean, by Judge Walker's logic, that the entire country has been in violation of the Constitution for the entire history of our nation?  Or at least since the 14th amendment was passed over a century ago?  Obviously, no one has understood the Constitution as requiring homosexual marriages until now, so it seems reasonable to me that it can't possibly have meant that.

It could be the case that a document might mean something that no one acknowledges, but it would have to be much more explicit.  Since there is nothing in the Constitution about marriage, the only way to make homosexual marriage a Constitutional right is to draw inferences, and if no one has ever drawn those inferences before, they clearly were not intended to be there.  One could also argue that standards have changed, and that what did not appear to be a right 200 years ago has become one now.  That kind of logic can make sense, but only if it is applied to obvious cases, e.g. if thumbscrews had been a common punishment in the 19th century, one could say that they are now "cruel and unusual punishment" because no one does it and the vast majority would find it cruel.  But to say that such a contentious issue as homosexual marriage has become a right by "evolving standards of decency" (in the notorious words of the majority Supreme Court opinion in Trop v. Dulles, 1958) is a way of depriving the Constitution of all meaning.  There clearly is no consensus on whether homosexual marriage is even permissible, much less a human right, so Judge Walker's ruling is nothing more than a judicial fiat that bears no relation either to the Constitution or to contemporary standards of decency.  Even if 80% of people thought that homosexual marriage should be a right, I would argue that it would still not count as such under the Constitution, but rather should be left for legislatures to decide.

The other problem with arguing that homosexual marriage is a Constitutional right without any historical framework is that it opens too many questions about what is really a right.  Judge Walker and his ilk justify the permissibility of homosexual marriage on the grounds that there is nothing necessary about marriage being defined as the union of a male with a female.  If you take a totally nihilist, ahistorical perspective, I suppose he is right:  I don't know that anyone has made a compelling moral argument for traditional marriage, and it would be difficult to convince everyone in any case.  But why stop there?  Why should a marriage be limited to two individuals?  There are plenty of people who would opt for polygamy if that were an option.  Or why limit it to adults?  Every state has a minimum legal age for marriage, usually around 16 with parental consent, 18 without.  Why should we prevent consenting children of age 14, or 12, or 10, or 8, from getting married?  Much of Hillary Clinton's policy thrust has been toward making children full legal actors, so it's not like this is an argument that would come only from people in the backwoods.  Why stop there?  Why not allow people to marry animals?  I'm sure there are a few nuts who would actually do that, and animals increasingly enjoy certain rights under the law anyway.

My point is not that homosexual marriage means we would have to allow polygamy or the marriage of children, only that there is no compelling reason why, once we declare "marriage" a generic term for a certain legal status between individuals, that we should limit the newly-minted right to get married to homosexuals.  There is, therefore, no basis for inferring a right to homosexual marriage where it has never previously existed.  Contrary to Judge Walker's logic, marriage is implicitly between one male and one female until someone makes a compelling argument that it is not -- and unless 99% of people agree with the argument, the only convincing way to create a new right is to pass a law, or a Constitutional amendment, that declares it.  That's what a democracy is all about, after all.  Not that the majority gets to oppress the minority, but that a group of people have come together with certain established principles such as the right to free speech and the right to bear arms, and have left other principles to be decided by majority decision.  The majority is constitutionally limited not to violate those rights commonly agreed upon, but it is not required to respect rights that some group of people decide they are entitled to.

I want to emphasize again that my argument here has nothing to do with the merits of homosexual marriage as such; that's a totally separate issue.  This is about a judge pretending that the right to homosexual marriage exists in the Constitution when it plainly does not, and could not if our legal system is to make any sense.  It is important not to present every argument that one's opponents make as absurd prima facie, but it is also important to point out those arguments that make no sense and draw attention to their absurdity.  Then we can get down to discussing the real issues.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Democrat Hate Speech of the Week

Since Democrats frequently accuse Republicans of "hate," I thought it would be appropriate to have a regular feature highlighting examples of Democrats demonstrating hate speech.  The qualifications are that the speech must use the word "hate" or some synonym, resort to non-political name-calling (i.e., calling someone an extreme conservative doesn't count, but calling him a jackass does), or wishing someone dead, injured, or humiliated.

The first award goes to Democrat Keith Halloran, a candidate for New Hampshire's state assembly, for saying that he wished Sarah Palin was on board Ted Stevens's plane when it crashed.  To his credit, the state Democratic party leader denounced the comment and called on Halloran to apologize, which he apparently has not done as of this writing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The problem with talk radio

Since I was in elementary school, I have liked talk radio.  I can remember listening to sports talk radio as my dad drove me to school in 5th grade.  I was disappointed when the station announced that they were going to move to more music and less talk.  I do listen to music in the car sometimes, but I am drawn to talk, which engages me more directly.

Unfortunately, there are two major problems with talk radio.  To become a talk show host, and spend hours every day telling people your opinion, you have to have a certain amount of ego.  (Arguably, this is true for blogging as well, but probably not to the same extent.)  Talk show hosts therefore tend to be insufferably self-centered.  I suppose that many people get into news because they, too, like to tell people what they think, but the dynamics aren't the same.  In news, you are basically paid to tell people what happened; you may do so in a very biased fashion, but you can't just give opinions without mentioning facts.  Besides, news is typically broken up into small segments, and one person is rarely talking for long about the same thing.  This brings up the second problem with talk radio:  repetition.  Because the host has to fill up several hours, he tends to repeat himself, and repeat himself, and repeat himself.  It's never enough to make a point and move on; he has to make a point, restate it, emphasize it, and then make it again several times.  This gets tedious very quickly.  Remember, a host is not only giving the audience the benefit of his opinion, but he is also often trying to stir up controversy to drive his ratings higher.  For instance, last week Jim Rome talked about Yoda as a mascot for the San Diego Padres.  He said Yoda was not worthy, because he was a coward.  Fine, he offended that part of his audience that cared, which is probably not many people.  But then he proceeded to expatiate on why Yoda was a coward and what he should have done for the next five minutes.  He seemed to forget that he was on a sports talk show, that this was really about the San Diego Padres.  Yoda might be worth a mention, but it is definitely not worth the trouble to hear a long discussion about his moral virtues or lack thereof.  At least, it wasn't worth it for me; I turned off the radio.

When there is a single host, as on Jim Rome's show, the egomania and repetition tend to take center stage.  I generally prefer shows with multiple hosts, because if one guy doesn't have something to say, he can be quiet for a while and let his partner talk.  Also, the differences of opinion between the hosts is often a source of insight for me.  I enjoy Mike and Mike, for instance, although Mike Greenberg often dominates the conversation so that they lose the benefit of having two hosts.  My favourite sports talk show host is Dan Patrick.  He came across as conceited on SportsCenter, but he is more likable on his radio show, and he doesn't exhibit the same ego as most hosts.  Also, even though he is the only host, he talks frequently with several other people in his studio, so one rarely has to listen to him drone on and on about some subject to fill up time.

I can't end this blog entry without mentioning political talk radio, specifically Rush Limbaugh.  I have to be honest:  I can't listen to Rush for long, for the reasons that are common to talk show hosts enumerated above.  I don't think he is particularly insightful.  On the other hand, I am grateful that Rush is broadcasting, because I am convinced that the so-called mainstream media is hopelessly, incredibly biased toward the left.  The only way to deny this is to compare American media to Swedish politics; compared to Sweden, a liberal might say, American media is really middle of the road.  Very well, but we are not in Sweden, and I see no reason for privileging Swedish politics (or those of any other country) over American; and the American media is undoubtedly far to the left of the American public on political matters.  Since newspapers and television stations seem intent on going bankrupt rather than changing their politics, Rush and his ilk are one of the only ways that conservative views get heard publically (outside of politicians, of course).  It's a lot better now because of the internet, but 15 years ago the situation was very different.  I am grateful that Rush has been carrying the conservative banner, and, even though I wish a more profound thinker occupied his position, I realize that such a thinker could probably never reach such a broad audience.

Ironically, now that there are liberal talk shows (chiefly in television), we have seen that Rush is not extraordinarily opinionated for a member of his profession.  In particular, Keith Olbermann is utterly insufferable as a loose cannon prone to the most absurd exaggerations and demonizing of anyone who disagrees with him.  I'm not surprised, since he was the same way as SportsCenter host (though thankfully with fewer opportunities to vent his opinions), and because it is endemic to the job.  I'll refrain from mentioning my favourite political talk show host  here; I'll save it for another time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Orientated

I went to company headquarters for my new company for orientation today.  Does that mean I got orientated?  No, I got oriented -- for some reason we add an extra -at- to the root word in this case.  Admittedly, "oriention" would sound weird; is that the only reason?

I am adopted, and when I was young I used to speak of the "adoptiation agency."  For some reason, it didn't occur to me that I could have said simply "adoption agency"; but why do we add -at- to orient but not adopt?  (Okay, I threw in -iat-, and, again, "adoptation" would not sound nearly as good.)

Another word that adds -at- is preventative.  At the oriention this morning, I noticed they used the word "preventive" to describe certain kinds of health care that we employees are eligible for, so I thought maybe preventative was just incorrect, along the lines of adoptiation.  But, no, it appears to be a legitimate alternative, sometimes with a slightly different meaning (preventative is a noun describing a procedure in preventive medicine), but sometimes with the identical meaning.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Censoring music

People get worked up when music albums have warning labels to indicate their suitability for children (Tipper Gore's crusade), but music gets censored regularly on the radio without comment.  It's not so much whole songs that get left out, but individual verses, or offending lyrics are subtly altered.  I have noticed the following in country music:
  • Garth Brooks, "The Thunder Rolls" -- this song about a woman who shoots her cheating husband is usually only played through two verses, when she finds out about the infidelity but before she shoots him.  I didn't even know there was a third verse for years.  The fact that I have heard the full song on the radio makes me curious about the source of censorship:  do radio stations voluntarily refrain from playing the third verse?  It also interests me because there is no shortage of country songs about killing unfaithful spouses, e.g. "The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia," "Independence Day," and Garth Brooks's own "Papa's In the Pen."  The only difference I can see with "The Thunder Rolls" is that it is more vivid and powerful than the other ones.
  • Taylor Swife, "Picture to Burn" -- This song contains the lines

    So go ahead, tell your friends
    I'm obsessive and crazy
    That's fine
    I'll tell mine
    That you're gay 
    First of all, this isn't even particularly insulting to gays – it's just intended as a tactic to keep the guy from getting dates with members of the opposite sex, which is the kind he wants. Second, pop in the latest Eminem cd and tell me if he doesn't insult a lot of groups of people explicitly, yet some of his songs – even ones with foul lyrics – get on the radio. There really is a special class of protected people (actually, several: women, blacks, Muslims, gays) that gets preferential treatment.
  • Zac Brown Band, "Toes" -- This song begins, "I've got my toes in the water, ass in the sand..."  Unlike the other songs I've listed here, I'm just as glad for this one to be censored.  Not because it is evil, but just because I don't care to hear the word "ass" in the first 5 seconds of a song.  If you're going to use that word, at least bury it somewhere in the middle where it is possible to overlook it.  It also seems completely arbitrary to use such a word as opposed to one that, say, I wouldn't mind my kids hearing.  I find it curious that when he recorded a new version, he didn't choose an innocuous synonym like "tail" to fill in, but instead repeated "toes":  "toes in the water, toes in the sand."  Obviously this is not a matter of FCC censorship, because obscene words get played all the time on the radio; presumably radio stations are just reacting to complaints from their audience.
  • Toby Keith, "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue" -- this song made quite a splash when it came out because ABC first invited, then disinvited Keith from performing it on a show about 9/11.  When I recently attended the Independence Day celebration sponsored by the Air Force Reserve in Warner Robins, Georgia, this was one of the songs that they played during the fireworks -- but without the second verse than ends, "'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American Way."  No doubt they were thinking the same thing that Peter Jennings did:  they didn't want to stir up too much anger.  The use of "ass" is not the key point here, although I will point out that it is entirely within the context of the song.  I'm still not thrilled about my kids' hearing it, but at least there is a good reason for him to use such a word, and it is far enough along in the song that I could turn it off if I wanted to.
I wish I knew more about the stories of these cases of censorship (probably mostly self-censorship).  In two cases, "Picture to Burn" and "Toes," the singers seem to have recorded new versions of the songs, although it's hard to tell if that was under pressure or voluntarily in response to listeners' concerns.  I know that Charlie Daniels recorded a new version of his song, "Long-haired country boy," removing references to getting high and toking because he didn't want to promote drug use.  I also wonder if rock music ever gets censored like this, because there is never any news about this quiet censorship.