Daily Archives: 30 Mar 2013

Great Long-Distance Runners

Usain BoltI got the following information from an article in Popular Mechanics, The Animal Kingdom’s Top Marathoners. It lists the six fastest long distance running species. What I find most interesting is the comparison between the speed of these animals in the short and long distance categories. For the animals that run long distances at the same speed humans do, their short distance speeds blow us away. When it comes to short distance running, we kind of suck—even Usain Bolt.

The reason this is interesting is that our ability to run long distances quickly is how we’ve survived the last million years or so. We can barely catch any animal in the short distance, but we can chase down just about any animal over the course of a day. We tend to think of human survival depending upon our being smart. But we’ve survived as much because we can sweat as anything else.

Speed (mph)
 Animal    Short Dist       Long Dist   
 Ostrich 50 30
 Pronghorn Antelope 55 30
 Camels 40 25
 Humans 27 13
 Dogs[1] 45 10
 Horses 54 10

[1] The article provides a speed of 20 mph for long distance sled dog speeds. Looking elsewhere, this number seems to be wrong and so I put down 10 mph. It is also difficult to know which numbers to use for the short distance speed. Greyhounds can run up to 45 mph, but sled dogs can’t. With humans, we present the fastest short distance runner and the fastest long distance runner. The best short-distance runners are large and the best long-distance runners are small. So to be consistent I put the Greyhound speed in there.

The Gorgeous Mask of Zorro

The Mask of ZorroThere are certain men who define different kinds of ideals of male beauty. Cary Grant and George Clooney are one kind. Another kind of ideal is represented by Antonio Banderas. In addition to being just plain gorgeous, he has a quiet confidence that is irresistible. Like most people, I first noticed him in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and I’ve come to like him more since then. So I generally enjoy watching any movie that he is in, as long as it doesn’t go out of its way to annoy me. And so it was with some hope that I sat down to watch The Mask of Zorro.

The Mask of Zorro is a superhero film. But unlike most films in that genre, it is actually quite good. The opening fight sequence sets the mood for the whole film. It shows that while Zorro fights for the people, the people also fight for Zorro. Repeatedly, we see that Zorro would be killed if this or that peasant hadn’t prevented it. So his most important trait is the love and commitment of the people he defends. This is just the opposite of most superheroes, where the people are just bystanders. What is particularly bad about this portrayal is that if the superhero turned on the people, there is nothing that could be done. With Zorro, he simply wouldn’t be a superhero if he turned against the people.

In addition to getting to stare at the handsome Mr. Banderas for two hours, we also get to watch the gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones. In fact, I had forgotten just what a beautiful woman she is. Those two actors light up the screen when they are together. In particular, there are two very sexy scenes: one a very provocative dance and the other a playful sword fight. Of course, none of this is very serious, which is the best part of the film: it doesn’t take itself very seriously.

While watching The Mask of Zorro, I was really struck by how much it felt like the Pirates of the Caribbean films. I brushed this off as having to do with all the sword play. There are parts of the film that hearken back to Samurai films as well. But when the film was over, I saw there was more than just this that connected the films. Both were written by the screenwriting team Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. Although I don’t think of them as great screenwriters, they create wonderful, fun films. What’s more: they have a good sense of humor. One thing I hate in action films are the “clever” comments by the hero. Example: as the hero pushes the bad guy off a roof, he says, “Drop in on somebody else!” Pathetic. Elliott and Rossio don’t do that much. Instead, they provide genuinely funny bits and dialog. And this is seen throughout The Mask of Zorro. It is a funny and often silly film.

In addition to the plot, the film is beautiful to look up. The director, Martin Campbell, is mostly known for directing standard (uninteresting) action films. But he manages to do a good job here. Each shot is pretty enough that you want to climb into it. All the departments are working at peak form: costumes, sets, crowd control, lighting. Unlike most two plus hour long films, I wasn’t bored at all. I wanted it to continue on and on.

When it comes to straight Hollywood entertainment, you can’t do better than The Mask of Zorro. I highly recommend watching it if you are looking for a fun action film that will appeal to both woman and men.

Afterword

Yes, in this article, I am being an ombudsman. And there is nothing wrong with that. The problem is with ombudsmen thinking that they are art critics.

Idiotic “Freedom” Map

Freedom Map

Regular readers know where I stand on libertarianism. I understand its appeal, but it is a silly philosophy and does not hold up to even a cursory examination. And nothing is quite so silly as the professional libertarian. Enter William P. Ruger and Jason Sorens of the Mercatus Center and their idiotic (I do not use that word lightly!) “freedom rankings” of the 50 United States.

These guys have put together a list of things that make us free and then tabulated them to see which states are the most free and which states are the least free. Can you say “setting up a model so it provides the outcome you want”? I sure can! Before we look at their criteria, let’s look at their results. The freest states in the union? North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plains. The least free states in the union? New York, California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Rhode Island.

Wow! Blue states are unfree and red states are free! How do you suppose that happened? And this brings up one of my biggest complaints about libertarians: when you push them for details, they always end up with conservative policies because they are conservatives, they just don’t like the moniker. Let’s look at one notable missing element to their list of policies: reproductive rights. They aren’t on the list at all, because the authors claim that you can’t distinguish between the rights of the mother and the rights of the fetus. But Matt Yglesias notes an interesting inconsistency: after a fetus has been born, they have no rights at all. At birth, suddenly all the rights are with the parents. That’s not very libertarian, that’s more, oh, what do you call it, social conservatism.

The rankings get even more nutty when you look at the criterion. For example, people are more free if they can get less education. Apparently, they would be most free if 5-year-olds could just decide they don’t want to go to school at all. Oh, I’m sorry; not 5-year-olds; they don’t have any rights after they are born; their parents decide. So the most free place in terms of education is Afghanistan where religious fanatics can decide that girls don’t need an education.

There are three broad categories of freedom: fiscal, regulatory, and personal. In other words, freedom for these bozos is heavily tilted toward what businesses can do. Fiscal is the largest single category and it includes: Tax Burden (28.6%), Government Employment (2.8%), Government Spending (1.9%), Government Debt (1.2%), and Fiscal Decentralization (0.9%). You can forget everything but “tax burden,” even though the rest make precious little sense. It is all about taxes. But as usual with conservatives, there is no sense in which the programs that the taxes pay for increase freedom. Are we more free because of public roads, libraries, a judicial system? I think so. But for the liberty boys, paying taxes just reduces freedom. That alone delegitimizes their their rankings, but I will move on.

Regulatory is probably the most perverse category. It includes: Freedom from Tort Abuse (11.5%), Property Right Protection (7.6%), Health Insurance Freedom (5.4%), Labor Market Freedom (3.8%), Occupational Licensing Freedom (1.7%), Miscellaneous Regulatory Freedom (1.3%), and Cable and Telecom Freedom (0.8%). Pretty great, huh? Freedom from tort abuse. Tort abuse is, in case you don’t know, what companies who are getting sue call any lawsuit. Again: there’s no plus side: reducing individuals’ ability to sue has no down side. I’m sure you can figure out what “property rights protection” is. But what about “health insurance freedom”? That’s the freedom of businesses to not provide health insurance to their employees.

“Labor market freedom” is “right to work” legislation. As I’ve written before, Right-to-Work Limits Employer Freedom. Libertarians always claim that people ought to be able to make any contracts they like. But the moment those contracts give power to workers, libertarians pretend like contracts are a bad thing. This is a great example of how libertarians are not pro-liberty and not pro-individual; they are pro-business, and when it comes to it, pro-big-business over small business. In other words, they’re just conservatives. Moving on.

The Personal category includes: Victimless Crime Freedom (9.8%), Gun Control Freedom (6.6%), Tobacco Freedom (4.1%), Alcohol Freedom (2.8%), Marriage Freedom (2.1%), Marijuana and Salvia Freedom (2.1%), Gambling Freedom (2.0%), Education Policy (1.9%), Civil Liberties (0.6%), Travel Freedom (0.5%), Asset Forfeiture Freedom (0.1%), and Campaign Finance Freedom (0.02%). I don’t have a problem with “victimless crime freedom” although I would think that ought to be even more important. Paying someone to have sex with you can result in you being put in a cage for a long time. Unlike the “freedom” to pay less in taxes, this is a real issue of freedom. But I’m glad they highlight it. (Note, however, that being able to sue is a bigger threat to freedom than victimless crime laws.)

“Gun control freedom,” of course, is the usual 2nd Amendment loon complaint: any restriction on my ability to build an army is tyranny! Again, no thought is giving to the other side: the freedom not to be murdered by a nutjob or angry family member. And then there is “alcohol freedom.” This is the freedom not to pay alcohol taxes. And it is more important to the liberty boys than the government disallowing same sex couples to marry.

By far the biggest problem with these rankings is that they don’t provide any freedom value from government programs. This is ridiculous. A libertarian could make the argument that the decrease in freedom from taxes is greater than the increase in freedom from, say, Social Security. But they absolutely cannot make the argument that Social Security adds no freedom. As a result of this, these rankings are worse than meaningless. All they demonstrate are the prejudices of the men who put this “study” together.

Afterword

As a former scientist myself, I think the presentation of their data is poor. If I had done it, I would certainly have provided a table that showed the actual numbers. Also, there is no way to reproduce these results. I don’t suppose this too much matters, because this isn’t actual research. It is just a couple of libertarian idiots throwing out some slapdash notions of freedom and judging states based upon them. Anyone who wanted to do this work seriously would just start over; there is nothing in the work done here that is worth saving.

Oy Vey, Goya Day

Courtyard With LunaticsThe Italian composer Tommaso Traetta was born on this day way back in 1727. Vincent van Gogh was born in 1853. I’m fond enough of him, but I really don’t understand his stature among art collectors. Could it be as simple as, “Pretty colors!”? There are remarkable aspects of his painting. I especially like how he deals with light and shadow. But I find him wanting in terms of design. However, it is always a pleasure to see his actual paintings, as I did recently at the Getty Center.

Warren Beatty is 76 today. Fine but overrated guitarist Eric Clapton is 68. Robbie Coltrane is 63. And that is enough of a reason to present his brilliant performance of “The Stone Golem”:

Alaska Senator Mark Begich is 51. Normally, I don’t mention politicians, but Begich has a great idea for Social Security reform—real reform, not benefit cuts. MC Hammer is also 51. The thing about Mr. Hammer is that I really don’t know who he is. I’ve listened to a few of his songs and they were well done, but I’d never heard them before. Oh well. Tracy Chapman is 49. Most of my friends have an attitude towards her, but I rather like her work. Piers Morgan doesn’t even deserve mention. And beautiful Israeli actress Mili Avital is 41.

With all my mixed feelings about van Gogh, you may still be wondering, “Who beats him as birthday champ today?” The answer is every Kafka fan’s favorite painter: Francisco Goya. He was born on this date back in 1746. Now there’s an artist who understood design! But the reason I’m so fond of his work is that he painted interesting subjects like Courtyard with Lunatics above.

Happy birthday old man! Here’s Tommaso Traetta’s Overture in D-Major to celebrate: