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On a New System for MMA Scoring: An Audacious Proposal

After watching the Robbie Lawler-Carlos Condit welterweight brawl at UFC 195 on January 2nd, 2016, I was left with mixed emotions. Yes, it was a great fight, with round 5 coming down as one of the most thrilling in recent memory. The round was a maelstrom of murderous intent as both guys swung for the knockout with literally every punch and kick, elbow and knee. The tide turned several times with heart-wrenching violence, and when it was over, both combatants were completely spent. They could only lean next to each other on the cage, too exhausted to celebrate the end of their riveting encounter.

conditLawlerFight

I am a big fan of the champion Robbie Lawler and was glad he defended his title by split decision. But I had scored the fight 3 rounds to 2 in favor of Condit.

LawlerCondit

According to Fightmetric.com, Condit seemed to dominate the fight. He out-landed the champion in significant strikes 176 to 92. His significant strike attempts dwarfed those of the champion as well, 495 to 177. Condit’s total strike output was similarly dominant. In average significant strike accuracy, Lawler had a less dramatic edge: 48.7% to 34.7%. He also scored the fight’s only knockdown. The fact that over 99% of the total strikes landed by both fighters were deemed “significant” by Fightmetric reveals exactly how apocalyptic this fight really was.

The decision was, however, quite controversial, with fans and fighters alike erupting over social media about how Condit deserved the nod. UFC commentator Joe Rogan and many others were calling for an “upgrade” in the current scoring system. On this account, I would like to offer a not-so-modest proposal.

After watching the Robbie Lawler-Carlos Condit welterweight brawl at UFC 195 on January 2nd, 2016, I was left with mixed emotions. Yes, it was a great fight, with round 5 coming down as one of the most thrilling in recent memory. The round was a maelstrom of murderous intent as both guys swung for the knockout with literally every punch and kick, elbow and knee. The tide turned several times with heart-wrenching violence, and when it was over, both combatants were completely spent. They could only lean next to each other on the cage, too exhausted to celebrate the end of their riveting encounter.

conditLawlerFight

I am a big fan of the champion Robbie Lawler and was glad he defended his title by split decision. But I had scored the fight 3 rounds to 2 in favor of Condit.

LawlerCondit
The champion Robbie Lawler, left, after winning by split decision against Carlos Condit, right

According to Fightmetric.com, Condit seemed to dominate the fight. He out-landed the champion in significant strikes 176 to 92. His significant strike attempts dwarfed those of the champion as well, 495 to 177. Condit’s total strike output was similarly dominant. In average significant strike accuracy, Lawler had a less dramatic edge: 48.7% to 34.7%. He also scored the fight’s only knockdown. The fact that over 99% of the total strikes landed by both fighters were deemed “significant” by Fightmetric reveals exactly how apocalyptic this fight really was.

The decision was, however, quite controversial, with fans and fighters alike erupting over social media about how Condit deserved the nod. UFC commentator Joe Rogan and many others were calling for an “upgrade” in the current scoring system. On this account, I would like to offer a not-so-modest proposal.

I will describe my new scoring system briefly in case readers wish to take the idea and bounce their own thoughts off of it. Afterwards, I will attempt to explain every decision that went into constructing this new system.

The New MMA Scoring System: The Four Rules

So, in a nutshell, MMA fight scoring should consist of the following rules:

1. Use the 10 point must system, but rounds can only be scored 10-10 or 10-9 unless the referee deducts points.
2. Make the final round worth double. So a 10-9 score for round 5 becomes 20-18.
3. Employ only 2 human judges.
4. Make the third “judge” a computerized scoring system employing a standard and public algorithm.

Rule 4 above requires that the computerized scoring system award fighters Category Points per round when they exceed their opponent in certain scoring categories. The fighter with the most Category Points for a round gets the 10 and wins the round. This, of course, will all be under the hood, with the computer rendering its decision as seamlessly as its human counterparts.

My proposal includes 12 Fight Categories (6 Primary Fight Categories, each worth 2 Category Points, and 6 Secondary Fight Categories, each worth 1 Category Point) and 1 Foul Category, worth -1 Category Point. They are:

Primary Fight Categories
1. Most Significant Strikes (+2)
2. Most Knockdowns (+2)
3. Most Submission Attempts (+2)
4. Most Slams (+2)
5. Most Mount Positions Achieved (+2)
6. Most Back-Taking Achieved (+2)
Secondary Fight Categories:
1. Most Strikes (+1)
2. Most Significant Strikes Attempted (+1)
3. Highest Significant Strike Accuracy (+1)
4. Most Takedowns (+1)
5. Longest Time in Dominant Position (+1)
6. Most Takedowns Defended (+1)
Foul Category:
1. Most Unpenalized Deliberate Fouls or Repeated Accidental Fouls (-1)

In case of a tie for any category, no Category Point is awarded or deducted. Any points deducted by a referee will be deducted after the above metric is used to award a round to a particular fighter. Note that a point deduction is not a warning and so will not count as part of the Foul Category above. Note also that Category Points are not to be confused with the points awarded in the 10-point must system. This is why, for the remainder of the post, we will refer to 10-point must points as TPM points.

In the case that a fight ends as a draw, a tie-break system will be employed. This will essentially be using the above algorithm to produce stats for the entire fight, regardless of round. So someone who wins big in two rounds while losing three close ones will likely come out on top if brought to a tie break. Note that the tie-break scoring will adhere to Rule 1 above: the only scores possible before referee deductions are 10-9 or 10-10.

The tie-break system will also subtract one TPM point for every round in which a TPM point was deducted by the referee. So if a fighter achieves a 10-9 advantage in the tie break, but was deducted points in rounds 1 and 2, then that fighter loses the tie break 8-9.

What follows is my rationale for each decision going into this new scoring system:

Rule 1: The Ten Point Must System

I included this since most people are accustomed to it through boxing. As any MMA fan will tell you, MMA inherited much from boxing in terms of terminology and culture. For example, a fighter has “corner men” even though most cages are circular and the corners in the UFC’s octagon are much more obtuse than in a boxing ring. MMA also employs rounds as in boxing (it didn’t always) and continues to have 1-minute breaks between them, just like in boxing, even though MMA rounds are longer than boxing rounds (5 minutes to 3).

Also, the 10-point must system makes sense in that any other system other than a simple round-by-round tally would be harder to add. You win 5 rounds, you get 50 TPM points. Simple. Also, the advantage over a round-by-round approach becomes apparent when TPM points are deducted for fouls. Suppose a fighter wins a fight 3 rounds to 2 but get a point taken away for fouls in two of those rounds? Clearly, we need a system that awards more than one point per round.

The decision to prohibit 10-8 or 10-7 rounds was made simply because MMA fights typically have so few rounds (3 or 5 versus 8, 10, or 12 for most nationally televised boxing matches). Losing a round by a 10-8 margin puts an MMA fighter in a much deeper point-hole than it would a boxer.

In boxing, it is customary for a judge to score a 10-8 round if the referee rules that one fighter suffered an official knockdown, regardless of whether the referee is correct. For example, if a fighter slips to the canvas but the referee incorrectly calls it a knockdown, the judges most likely will score the round 10-8. In MMA, referees are not required to make such decisions, therefore there is no official rubric for judges to follow vis-à-vis 10-8 rounds. As it stands now, an MMA judge relies on subjective criteria to do this. Banning the 10-8 and 10-7 rounds is a way to minimize this.

Also, it is a way to keep out corruption.

In the 2001 boxing fight of the year, Micky Ward defeated Emmanuel Augustus by unanimous decision. Certainly, it was a close, thrilling fight. But according to ESPN, Augustus out-landed Ward 421-320 in overall punches, 386-314 in power punches, and had a 46% to 27% edge in punch accuracy. In hindsight, Augustus deserved the W. Yet Ward got the nod, partially because he scored the fight’s only knockdown in round 9, but also because one of the judges awarded him a very competitive first round by a 10-7 margin.

10-7 margin.

Yeah, something shady was going on there, wouldn’t you say? Watch the round yourself below if you don’t agree.

Rule 2: Double-Weighted Final Rounds

This essentially gives a nod to the fighter who ends best. It’s as if to say that the fighter who wins the final round would most likely emerge victorious if the fight were to go on indefinitely, even if he lost every round up until the final round. A fighter deserves credit for that.

Take for example, the chaotic end to the Scott LeDoux-Ken Norton fight from 1979. Norton, slick and talented boxer that he was, outboxed LeDoux for most of the fight but took a nasty shellacking in the 10th and final round. In fact, the fight ended with Norton semi-conscious leaning face-first over the ropes. Yet the fight was considered a draw. It should not have been considered a draw. I say this because by ending with such dramatic and unequivocal dominance, LeDoux proved he was the better man that night. Had they gone out for round 11, he most likely would have put Norton away.

Here’s round 10 of their fight:

Here is how Norton looked immediately after the 10th round, slumped over the ropes:

LedeuxNorton

This idea also is a way to help prevent coasting. If a fighter feels he has a commanding lead going into the final round, he might be tempted to stall or adopt less risky tactics since he already has the decision in the bag. This is fighting not to lose rather than fighting to win, and often leads to anti-climactic endings. Fans hate this. Double-weighted rounds would be a great way to convince a fighter not to indulge in this sort of thing.

The inspiration for this idea first came to me when watching Sugar Ray Leonard skirt around Marvin Hagler during round 12 of their disappointing 1987 title fight. Leonard clearly threw the round and, halfway through it, after landing a flurry, danced around Hagler trying to eat up the clock. He should have been penalized for that.

In collegiate and Olympic wrestling, if referee calls you for stalling, your opponent is awarded a point. Leonard was effectively stalling in that 12th round against Hagler, but why wasn’t he penalized for it? A final round worth double the TPM points certainly would have done that, or it would have convinced Leonard that he needed to fight until the end, thereby giving the fans the fight they had paid for and Hagler more opportunity for the knockout he craved.

Rule 3: Employing Only Two Human Judges

The logic behind this is fairly straightforward. Humans can judge the intangibles of a fight better than a computer can. However, since judging intangibles often involves subjective factors such as personal preference and opinion, it is probably best to limit human scoring and have two human judges rather than three.

Intangibles are also not always so subjective but would still be very difficult for computers to evaluate. How does one program for “affective aggression” or “octagon control”? How does a computer factor in how much damage one fighter does to another? A significant strike is a significant strike for a computer, regardless if it bounces harmlessly off of one fighter’s skull and sends the other reeling across the cage. In such an instance, a computer would call the round even despite the obvious superiority of one fighter over the other. In essence, a human can tell if one fighter’s significant strikes are doing more damage than the other’s.

A human can also evaluate if a fighter is dictating the tempo of a fight. In most cases, the aggressor is the one controlling the fight, but not always. Take, for example, the Ronda Rousey-Holly Holm title fight from UFC 193 on November 12, 2015. In that fight, Rousey was clearly the aggressor, but Holm was controlling the fight by making Rousey miss and landing accurate lead lefts and counters. At one point, Holm even ducked under a Rousey punch and sent Rousey crashing into the cage.

RouseyHolm

The story of a fight can often be told between the strikes, takedowns, and other tangible moments. It takes a human observer to see that.

Rule 4: Making the Computer the Third Judge

The obvious advantage computers have over humans is the ability to process data, calculate, and mostly, to remember. If a fighter dominates the first three quarters of a round in solid if unspectacular fashion and then gets dramatically dominated for the last quarter, will the human judges, in their state of excitement, be able to remember that? Will they be able to keep track of all the blows thrown and landed? Will they keep a running tally in their heads of how many takedowns and submission attempts there were?

Where humans may get lost in the intangibles or, even worse, succumb to bias, the computer is there to remind us of what really happened. But even a computer must interpret the data it gets. Not all strikes are equal, of course, and criteria can be standardized in such a way to impartially evaluate the dominance of both fighters. Just as human judges must adhere to official judging criteria, so should the computer. And this is where the Fight Categories come into play.

Keep in mind that while the standardized algorithms going into each of these categories may not always be simple or easy to remember, they will all remain under the hood, so to speak, when the computer renders its instantaneous decisions after each round.

To see how FightMetric scored the Lawler-Condit fight, click here.

Primary Fight Categories

In all cases, a fighter is awarded two points in a Primary Fight Category if he can achieve unequivocal dominance during in the round for that particular category. This is more than a mere technical edge in striking or demonstrating more talent. Essentially, Primary Fight Categories award fighters who do more to achieve a finish.

Primary Fight Category 1: Most Significant Strikes (+2)

Obvious choice here. A fighter is awarded 2 Category Points towards his overall round count if he lands more significant strikes than his opponent. However, there is a slight wrinkle. What to do if significant strike counts in a round are very close and many significant strikes landed? For example, one fighter lands 31 significant strikes, and the other 29. Is it right to give the first fighter a 2-point advantage over the other? And who’s to say that if the round went another 5 seconds, the second fighter wouldn’t have evened or surpassed his opponent’s count?

This is why I propose, as part of the computer algorithm, to only award the 2 Category Points if a fighter lands more significant strikes than his opponent plus 5% of the total significant strikes landed from both fighters. In the case above, there were 60 significant strikes landed. 5% of 60 is 3. So neither fighter would be awarded points for this category. A fighter would have to land 32 significant strikes to his opponent’s 28 to get the 2 Category Points.

Why did I choose 5%? Because a two-strike advantage will win the round if fewer than 40 strikes land. Anything more than that, and a 2-punch edge won’t cut it, which, I think, is fair. Further, to be honest, since I am not a mathematician, 5% is an easy number to calculate. I could be persuaded to change this figure by someone who understands MMA and statistics better than I do.

Primary Fight Category 2: Most Knockdowns (+2)

Maybe this was grandfathered in from boxing where a fighter is usually deducted a point if he gets knocked down by a punch. In boxing, a knockdown temporarily takes a fighter out of the fight where he is protected by the rules (no hitting a man while he is down). This is decidedly not the case in MMA wherein a fighter can pounce on a fallen fighter with few restrictions. Therefore, in boxing a knockdown necessarily means something. Not so in MMA. By awarding a fighter 2 Category Points for a knockdown, we are making it mean something in MMA as well.

Why do this? For 2 reasons: because a knockdown is an undeniable display of dominance and because fans love it. A fighter who is bested 20 to 5 in significant strikes in a round but manages to knock his opponent down with one of those 5 strikes deserves to be even with his opponent for that round as far as the Significant Strikes and Knockdown categories are concerned. This should be the case even if the knockdown is a flash knockdown and does little to turn the tide of the round. A fighter who can knock his opponent off his feet deserves credit simply for the thrill he gives a crowd. This is what people pay to see when they watch MMA.

A case in point is the 2011 Nate Diaz-Donald Cerrone fight from UFC 141. Diaz beat Cerrone from pillar to post for 3 rounds, but Cerrone landed multiple leg kicks which put Diaz repeatedly on the seat of his pants. Diaz probably would have won the fight regardless, but Cerrone’s knockdowns should have made the fight a lot closer than it was.

cerronediaz

Of course, judging what is and isn’t a knockdown can get a little tricky, and a human being must make that decision before entering it into a computer. In boxing, a referee may mistakenly interpret a slip as a knockdown or vice versa. This can happen in MMA as well. Therefore, we will need to define what a knockdown is and isn’t.

A knockdown should simply be any time a fighter is knocked off his feet because of a strike. In boxing, a knockdown occurs when a fighter’s glove touches the canvas or if he is on his way down and falls into the ropes. But since knockdowns are less meaningful in MMA than in boxing, it makes sense not to adhere to the same definition. I say that a fighter should be given credit (i.e., not be penalized) if he can keep his balance after a blow, even if it means he has to place his hands on the canvas or the cage to do so. Therefore, only a strike which knocks a fighter to the canvas in such a way that he not supported by both feet is a knockdown.

Primary Fight Category 3: Most Submission Attempts (+2)

Just as thrilling as the knockout in MMA is the submission. When one fighter capitulates, there can be no doubt who the winner is. All MMA fans will remember a 180lb Royce Gracie locking in a triangle choke on 260lb Olympic alternate wrestler Dan Severn in 1994. After dominating Gracie the entire fight, Severn was forced to tap. This is the moment that made American wrestlers and other martial artists realize that they needed to learn some ju-jitsu if they wanted to compete in this new sport.

Just as powerful are submissions in which a fighter either passes out cold or screams in agony. Picture Josh Burkman standing over an incapacitated John Fitch after their 2013 World Series of Fighting fight…

BurkmanFitch

or Bellator bantamweight champ Joe Warren screaming as he was knee-barred by Marcos Galvao.

WarrenGalvao

Rarely does a deliberate tap out lead to a controversial ending of a fight.

(This does happen, though. In June 2007, lightweight Rob Emerson tapped out after Gray Maynard slammed him to the canvas in their UFC Ultimate Fighter 5 Finale bout. But Gray knocked himself out with the slam and was unconscious when the tap occurred. The fight was ruled a no contest.)

MMA fans crave the submission as much as they do a knockout, and a fighter who attempts submissions deserves credit for that. Of course, there are dozens of different kinds of submissions, and the data entry people must be familiar with all of them. Further, the attempt has to be a credible attempt. Often fighters will grab their opponent’s head while being taken down, and to the uninitiated, this may seem like a submission attempt, but if the angle isn’t right or if there is only one arm around the neck, then it really isn’t one. Fighters will also attempt knee bars or heel hooks without securing enough of their opponent’s extremities to offer a real submission threat. These are also not real submission attempts.

For a move to qualify as a submission attempt, it must be fully executed, held in place for at least 3 seconds and must force an opponent to defend against the submission.

Primary Fight Category 4: Most Slams (+2)

Ask any MMA fan about the greatest MMA slam of all time, and they will probably tell you about how at Pride Critical Countdown 2004 in June of that year, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson lifted Ricardo Arona up over his head while in Arona’s guard and powerbombed him into unconsciousness. In fact, Arona’s head bounced off the canvas with such violence that it met Rampage’s as it was still coming down. It was, in effect, the brute force refutation against crafty Brazilian ju-jitsu. Arona had been attempting a fancy triangle choke, for all the good it did him. Truly, a chilling, unforgettable moment.

Where credit for the knockdown is grandfathered in from boxing, credit for the slam is grandfathered in from professional wrestling. Fans love to see combatants literally toss each other into the air, and the slam is closest thing combat sports have to that. Quite often it’s an instant fight-ender. And if not, then the fighter deserves credit for trying to end matters with a dramatic splat.

Primary Fight Category 5: Most Mount Positions Achieved (+2)

Another undeniably dominant position in MMA is called the mount. This is when a fighter has an opponent on his back and literally sits on his chest or abdomen. The mount is especially dangerous for the bottom competitor because he can’t easily use his legs for defense, he can’t threaten any submissions, and he can’t strike with any power. Further, the man on top is ideally situated to rain powerful blows down on his opponent’s head and neck. And if the bottom fighter tries to turn away from the punishment, he opens himself up to a variety of chokes. To achieve the mount is to achieve dominance, and quite often violence or submission attempts follow.

Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva famously used the mount to break down and defeat Russian heavyweight great Fedor Emelianenko in their February 2011 Strikeforce fight.

BigfootFedor

As with submission attempts, a fighter must maintain the mount position for at least 3 seconds to gain credit in this category.

Primary Fight Category 6: Most Back Taking Achieved (+2)

Just as dangerous as the mount is when a fighter takes the back of his opponent. This occurs when a fighter gets behind his opponent and holds him in place by wrapping his arms and legs around him in various ways. Of course, the fighter taking the back can land blows almost at will if his hands are free. He can also threaten a number of submissions, the most common of which would be the rear naked choke. If a fighter’s back is taken, he is automatically placed in a defensive position and must maintain wrist control in order to prevent strikes or submissions. To take someone’s back is an unequivocal achievement of dominance in MMA, and it can very easily lead to fight-ending submissions.

Here Josh Koschek finishes off Anthony Johnson with a rear naked choke in their November 2009 UFC fight.

JohnsonKoschek

As with submission attempts and mount positions, a fighter must keep the back of his opponent for at least 3 seconds to gain credit in this category.

Secondary Fight Categories

A fighter is awarded a Category Point in a Secondary Fight Category if he can demonstrate some kind of superiority in the round. In general, superiority differs from dominance in that, unlike dominance, it usually does not threaten to end the fight. Judging superiority often takes into consideration more aesthetic concerns such as skill or heart. With all else being equal, the fighter with the most photogenic game will get the edge in the Secondary Fight Categories.

Secondary Fight Category 1: Most Strikes (+1)

Obvious call here. A fighter should get credit for strikes landed, regardless of whether they are significant. So, in this case, a flicking jab or leg kick counts just as much as a haymaker. This essentially rewards the busier fighter, the one most willing to fight and not bore the audience. It’s only worth 1 Category Point, of course, since landing more strikes does not necessarily translate into dominance. But it still should count for something.

The +5% edge that applies to the Significant Strike Category should apply here as well.

Secondary Fight Category 2: Most Significant Strikes Attempted (+1)

This category tallies all significant strikes that were attempted and did not land. And why should we reward fighters for not landing? Essentially because we want to encourage fighters to bring the heat. This is one of the things fans pay to see. Remember what ‘ABC’ stood for in Glengarry Glenn Ross? ‘Always Be Closing.’

abc

Well, in MMA and other combat sports, fighters should always be finishing. There’s a reason why fans loved to watch boxers like Arturo Gatti and Michael Katsidis fight. The same goes for all-action MMA brawlers like Diego Sanchez and Leonard Garcia. These guys fight with passion and they always bring it, even when they come up short. When all other factors are equal, the guys who always try to finish should always have an edge over the guys who don’t.

The +5% edge that applies to the Significant Strike Category should apply here as well.

Secondary Fight Category 3: Highest Significant Strike Accuracy (+1)

This category, quite simply, rewards skill over output. Often a fighter will exceed another in kicks and punches, but still be dominated because his opponent makes better use of the strikes he does throw. This category rewards a fighter for effective defense as well, either through blocking or evading strikes. Such displays of skill are also pleasing to watch. Take, for example, Anderson Silva with his hands down easily slipping bombs thrown by Forrest Griffin in their 2009 UFC 101 light-heavyweight encounter.

SilvaGrifin

The audience ate it up both times. Knowing when to strike and how to avoid being struck is an integral part of the fight game and is a clear sign of superiority.

The +5% edge that applies to the Significant Strike Category should apply here as well.

Secondary Fight Category 4: Most Takedowns (+1)

The same logic applying to knockdowns should apply to takedowns as well. Takedowns are most often a show of superiority and they get a crowd excited. However, a takedown itself does not necessarily benefit the fighter on top. Former NCAA All-American wrestler Cain Velasquez takes most of his opponents down. But when he took down Fabricio Verdum in their June 2015 UFC heavyweight title fight, he was immediately guillotined and forced to tap out (see bottom right, below). Sometimes fighters, especially those adept at Ju-Jitsu, want to be taken down. It’s part of their plan. This is why a takedown is worth only 1 Category Point as opposed to 2.

Takedowns work well for Cain Velasquez, except when they don't.
Take downs work well for Cain Velasquez, except when they don’t.

As with submission attempts, mount positions, and back-taking, a fighter must take his opponent down and keep him down for at least 3 seconds to gain credit in this category.

One caveat should apply, however. If the cage gets in the way of a clean takedown, then the takedown did not occur, even if the defensive fighter has a knee on the canvas.

Please note that reversals, such as when a fighter on bottom scrambles until he is on top, should also count as takedowns.

We should also note that knocking an opponent down with a strike and then achieving top position on the grounded opponent should count only as a knockdown, not a takedown. A takedown facilitated by blows which knock a fighter off his feet is not a takedown. In other words, a fighter should not simultaneously increase his count in both the Knockdown and Takedown categories. Every time a fighter hits the canvas, the data entry people should select one and go with it.

Secondary Fight Category 5: Longest Time in Dominant Position (+1)

This category goes hand-in-hand with the previous one, only it rewards a fighter who makes the most of his takedowns, regardless if he secures more of them in a round. Controlling an opponent from top position for most of a round with only 1 takedown should count the same as taking him down three times and keeping him there for all of 26 seconds. Unlike the previous category, however, this category should also apply if a fighter gains the top position as the result of a knockdown.

MMA rounds last 5 minutes, or 300 seconds. That is a lot of seconds, more than the typical number of strikes that can land in a high-action round. Do we really want to award the Category Point to a fighter who achieves top control for 131 seconds versus his opponent who keeps it for 129? This is why a +10% rule should apply for this category. To earn the Category Point, a fighter’s top position time must surpass his opponent’s plus 10% of the time the fight stays on the ground with either fighter in dominant position. So, if a fight spends 100 seconds on the ground in a round, then controlling the action for 55 of those seconds would not be enough for a Category Point, but 56 would.

Secondary Fight Category 6: Most Takedowns Defended (+1)

Nothing is more demoralizing to a fighter, especially one with a wrestling background, than having his takedown attempts continually stuffed. Fighter A wants to take the fight to the ground. Fighter A exerts tremendous energy trying the accomplish this. But Fighter B stays on his feet until Fighter A either gives up on the takedown or the referee separates them. This is a form of superiority. It undeniably thwarts the will of a fighter while wearing him down. If a fighter can get credit for taking his man down, he should also, in essence, lose credit if he tries and fails to take his man down.

Note that takedowns which last less than 3 seconds should not count in either case.

Foul Category: Most Unpenalized Deliberate Fouls or Repeated Accidental Fouls (-1)

Often a fighter will bend the rules in order to obtain an advantage. Sometimes this makes a difference in a fight’s outcome, and sometimes it does not. Sometimes it is spotted by the referee, and sometimes not. The purpose of this category is to penalize a fighter for attempting to use illegal conduct to change the outcome of the fight, which, of course, he shouldn’t do.

In this case, ‘illegal conduct’ should be defined as deliberate or accidental fouls that are not penalized by the referee but cause the referee to either issue a warning or temporarily halt the fight in order to let the fouled fighter recover.

So, a fighter will not be penalized if he simply grabs onto the cage to keep from falling and gets his hand slapped away by the referee. A fighter will be penalized however if he pokes his opponent in the eye or strikes him to the groin, forcing the referee to give his opponent time to recover.

Remember the grueling encounter between UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones and Glover Teixeira from April 2014. This was a one-sided and bloody, yet competitive and action-packed encounter which ended in a unanimous decision for Jones. But Jones accidentally poked Teixeira in the eye multiple times and was never penalized for it. Could this have made a difference in the fight’s outcome? Unlikely, but still possible.

Therefore, by using this system, the computer would have deducted a Category Point from Jones’ overall round count, thereby making it harder for him to win the rounds in which the eye pokes occurred.

Using the Computer

At the end of each round, the computer will do the following:

1. Tally the appropriate counts and times and make the necessary calculations
2. Award the right number of Category Points to each fighter
3. Determine who has the most Category Points.
4. Subtract 1 point per round per fighter in which the referee deducted a point.

At the end of each fight, the computer’s score will be tallied with the scores from the human judges to determine a winner. And, in the case of a draw, according to the rules of this new system, the tie-breaking decision will come from a macro-application of the above algorithm onto the fight as a whole.

An easy way to envision the difference here would be to look at the World Series as if each game were a round and there were only 5 games. If you win games 1, 3, and 5 by a score of 1-0, but lose games 2 and 4 by a score of 5-0, you still win the series, despite the fact that the opposing team outscored you by 7 runs in aggregate. The tie breaker count would essentially add up all the Category Points across the rounds to determine a winner in the same way you can add up all the runs scored in a World Series across games.

The Power of the Audit

The advantage of this system, particularly of using a computer as a third judge, is our ability to audit. Where the human judgments are final, the computer’s can not be. This is because fights can be replayed, data re-entered, and Category Points re-tallied. Therefore, computer decisions can be audited and potentially reversed.

Data entry personnel can and will make mistakes. They will misjudge takedowns and knockdowns and significant strikes. They will not see a strike land. They will not realize that a submission attempt is being made. They will get it wrong at some point. Count on it. This means that the computer may not always be correct, since it is only as good as the data humans feed it. In fights that go the distance, this won’t matter as long as the human judges, the masters of the intangibles, agree. However, when they don’t, and the computer is used to render a split decision, the losing fighter will always have the right to audit, in which case all data will be re-entered with the help of the video recording, and the round counts re-tallied by the computer.

Final Thoughts on the New Scoring System

Not Perfect, but perhaps better than what he have now. We need to introduce an element of statistical rigor into the business of fight scoring. While not enough by itself to offset human bias or error, it should make the difference if the intangibles are hard enough to grasp that the human judges disagree.

And as for how this new system would have scored the Lawler-Condit fight?

60-55 in favor of Condit. But, oddly enough, if the scoring were forced to go to tie break, the computer would have scored it a 10-10 draw, due mainly to Lawler’s takedown in round 2 and his subsequent top control. So perhaps there are some intangibles the computer can grasp after all?

ConditLawlerScoreSheet

Note that all calculations were done in Excel 2016. The Total Columns (Q and R are simple row sums, except for row 12 (Significant Strike Accuracy), which is a row average. Here are the algorithms for the Total Rows (21-23, and 27):

ComputerScoringFormula

Against Kubrick 11

Welcome to the final installment of my 11-part polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I began this series in October 2010, and it was one of the main reasons why I started this blog. I just had to get this off my chest.

If you wish to start at the beginning of my Against Kubrick series, you can follow these links:

From the beginning, I identified four great Kubrick films to investigate: Dr Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1972), and Full Metal Jacket (1987). As I said then:

These films are considered great (aside from their technical brilliance) because they ultimately represent things beyond themselves. Important things. Kubrick’s intellectual scope was as broad as history, and his films make us reflect on who we are, not only as inheritors of Western Civilization, but as human beings.

I felt his other films were either not worthy of their director’s genius or were not indicative of my main thesis, namely that Kubrick has a bitter grudge against humanity and that he was anything but a humanist.

Later, I included Barry Lyndon (1974) because I had finally seen it and decided it would make a worthy contribution to this series.

Now, I would like to close the series with a brief discussion on Kubrick’s one truly humanistic (and, in my opinion, greatest) film: Paths of Glory from 1957.

paths-of-glory_kirk-douglas

Welcome to the final installment of my 11-part polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I began this series in October 2010, and it was one of the main reasons why I started this blog. I just had to get this off my chest.

If you wish to start at the beginning of my Against Kubrick series, you can follow these links:

From the beginning, I identified four great Kubrick films to investigate: Dr Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1972), and Full Metal Jacket (1987). As I said then:

These films are considered great (aside from their technical brilliance) because they ultimately represent things beyond themselves. Important things. Kubrick’s intellectual scope was as broad as history, and his films make us reflect on who we are, not only as inheritors of Western Civilization, but as human beings.

I felt his other films were either not worthy of their director’s genius or were not indicative of my main thesis, namely that Kubrick has a bitter grudge against humanity and that he was anything but a humanist.

Later, I included Barry Lyndon (1974) because I had finally seen it and decided it would make a worthy contribution to this series.

Now, I would like to close the series with a brief discussion on Kubrick’s one truly humanistic (and, in my opinion, greatest) film: Paths of Glory from 1957.

paths-of-glory_kirk-douglas

With Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick is actually on the side of humanity. To many of his cynical and sophisticated fans, his humanism may seem corny or naïve. To me, however, it is gut-wrenching and life-affirming. We’re in the French army during World War I, and three innocent soldiers are selected to be shot for cowardice. They are being held up as an example for the entire army, you see. It’s up to the honorable Colonel Dax, played by Kirk Douglas, to save them.

That’s a heck of a plot hook, isn’t it?

In Paths of Glory, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s definitely a duck, despite what the duck may tell you. You can find much of the cynicism of Kubrick’s later films in Paths of Glory, sure. But here only characters suffused with hypocrisy and arrogance exhibit such cynicism. We despise these characters. Further, we sympathize plaintively with their victims and root for the honorable men fighting against them. Where in any other Kubrick film do we do that?

The first aspect of Kubrick’s humanism on display in Paths of Glory is his respect for the Truth (note the capital ‘T’). The audience is always acquainted with it and is never given reason to doubt it. General Mireau emphatically rejects the order to take the well-fortified German position known as the Anthill. It’s a suicide mission, he explains, and there would be terribly casualties. His attitude changes quickly however when his superior General Broulard waves a promotion in front of him. Clearly tempted, Mireau waxes on and on about his loyalty to his men and how important their safety is, but his pompous airs tell another story. Of course, he wastes no time in ordering his men to storm the Anthill.

This duality plays an important role in Paths of Glory. There’s what you say and what you do. There’s what happens and what doesn’t happen. There’s what should happen and what shouldn’t happen. And the audience is in on all of it.

Lieutenant Roget panics on patrol and needlessly hurls a grenade, killing one of his own men. But that’s not what he reports to Colonel Dax, of course. Corporal Paris sees the whole thing, but Roget blackmails him into keeping quiet. So Roget is basically a scoundrel. A lying, cowardly, hypocritical scoundrel. The audience sees that and hates him for it. In later Kubrick films, such a character would be the clever anti-hero (as in A Clockwork Orange) or the handsome protagonist (as in Barry Lyndon). Such a character would be likable. In Paths of Glory, however, he’s a straight up villain. Imagine that. A villain in a Stanley Kubrick film.

Out of frustration because some of his men were unable to leave their trenches, Mireau orders artillery to be fired on French positions. When Dax accuses him of this before Broulard, he denies it, of course, and walks off in a huff declaring himself an honest man. In Paths of Glory we despise the hypocrite because of the way he abuses the Truth. Is this not a humanistic perspective?

Kubrick’s sets further display this duality as well as provide a sense of what’s real versus what’s unreal. The film opens in a vast chateau with Mireau and Broulard chatting about art and carpets. Kubrick never lets us forget the vastness of the interior, its beauty, its elegance, its opulence and superfluity.

Chateau

Compare this to his brutal and relentless treatment of the trenches. He tracks through one like a rat in a subterranean maze for nearly one and a half minutes before making a cut.

trenches

Kubrick is not just contrasting the trenches with the chateau. He showing us how real wars are fought and where the price in blood is paid.

Another duality of Paths of Glory deals with the nature of humanity. What does it mean to be human? Are we mere animals? Or are we something more?

When inspecting the trenches, Broulard is told that there had been 29 casualties from the night before, and blames the men for grouping together on the battlefield thereby making them easier to hit. His smug subordinate Major Saint-Auban and Dax then have the following exchange:

Saint-Auban: Well, they never learn it seems. They get in a tight spot under heavy fire. Gang up every time. Herd instinct, I suppose. Kind of a lower animal kind of thing.

Dax: Or kind of a human sort of thing, it seems to me. Or don’t you make a distinction between the two, Major?

When Dax is brought to the Chateau after the Anthill fiasco, Mireau forces him to answer for the fact that a portion of his regiment never left the trenches.

Dax: They’re not cowards, so if some of them didn’t leave the trenches, it must have been because it was impossible.

Mireau: They were ordered to attack. It was their duty to obey that order. We can’t leave it up to the men to decide when an order is possible or not. If it was impossible, the only proof of that would be their dead bodies lying in the bottom of the trenches. They are scum, Colonel, the whole rotten regiment; a pack of sneaking, whining, tail-dragging curs.

Notice how blithely Mireau applies scientific scrutiny to human beings in war. So are we no better than lab rats now? Dax knows this isn’t true. More importantly, so does the audience. Also, the audience gets the chance to witness how Dax’s men were pinned down in their trenches by enemy fire. They witness Dax himself attempting a charge and failing. So we know what the truth is. We always know the Truth in Paths of Glory.

Perhaps Kubrick’s crowning achievement in this film is the courtroom sequence. The French army leadership, embarrassed by their failure to take the Anthill, decides to try and execute three men for cowardice. Colonel Dax then represents these men as council during the trial. Throughout, soldiers stand at attention, either hulking in the foreground as ominous shadows…

Courtroom2

…or in the background like the sculptures which festoon the great walls.

Courtroom1

Earlier, they had been marching like clockwork while the officers lounged in their upholstered chairs and divans. The dichotomy is purely cinematic and impossible to ignore. Throw in the superb performances of the actors (Kirk Douglas especially) and a tight, evocative script, and you have filmmaking at its very best.

Watch and behold…

During this scene, it becomes clear that this trial is little more than rigmarole. The French army will have its cowards and will make an example of them, truth be damned. There is no evidence that Dax can provide that the court will consider. So what’s the point?

While making his final statement, Colonel Dax says the following:

Gentlemen of the court, there are times when I am ashamed to be a member of the human race. And this is one such occasion.

Where’s the irony? Where’s the sarcasm? You can keep looking for it, but it isn’t there. Kubrick’s humanism wouldn’t allow it. Only a profoundly humanistic film could have a protagonist say such a line without the slightest hint of irony. The human race is a good thing, you see. Or, it’s supposed to be…despite the fact that many of its members are not very good, and are often very bad.

The end of Paths of Glory is certainly one of the most heart-wrenching moments in cinema. A captive German girl is dragged out on a stage to sing for French troops before they return to the front. As Colonel Dax watches, they react to her with lewdness and loud, coarse behavior. So this is what Dax had been fighting for? A humanity that can’t rise above its lower urges? Are we really no better than animals after all?

But then in a beautiful moment, the girl begins to sing, and the men become overcome with emotion and sing along with her. Faith in humanity is restored. Where in any other great Stanley Kubrick film can we say that? In fact, where in any other great Kubrick film are women so sympathetically portrayed? While the bad guys win in Paths of Glory, they don’t all come out unscathed. Yet the true victor, in the eyes of the audience as filtered through Colonel Dax, is humanity itself. Again, where in any other great Kubrick work does this happen?

girlsinging

Nowhere, that’s where.

During his final argument, Dax calls the trial “a mockery of all human justice.” And he’s right.

But this trial can also be viewed as a microcosm of the remainder of Stanley Kubrick’s directing career. What goes on during the trial that you cannot say doesn’t go on in his other great films? You have weak, hypocritical elites doing great harm, as in Dr. Strangelove. You have the idea that human life is not very consequential, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey. You have psychopathic killers who get away with murder, as in A Clockwork Orange. And you have a willful denial of Truth, as in Full Metal Jacket.

Don’t believe me?

In Dr. Strangelove after it’s too late to stop World War Three, President Muffley and General Jack Ripper are encouraged by the fact that the post-apocalyptic mineshafts they will soon inhabit will have a 10-to-1 female-to-male ratio and that women will be selected for their “sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.” This is a good thing, you see. Well, the ex-Nazi titular character seems to think so. So how is this not a “mockery of human justice” when the American leadership during the Cold War was absolutely nothing like this?

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick presents the death of humans in an extremely offhanded way. We get mere seconds of one astronaut dying in space. We get a few more when the ones in cryogenic sleep are killed. Oh, but when supercomputer HAL dies, well, we get to witness every single excruciating second of that, as if a computer singing a little ditty in its death throes were more meaningful than an innocent man suffocating in space. Is humanity worth so little to Kubrick? He portrays us either as robot-like, as with his dry, soulless astronauts, or as complete savages, like the ape men in the beginning of the film who learn to brain each other with clubs. And this is supposed to be a good thing. It represents then next step in our advancement of humans. So, the Sermon on the Mount, the Magna Carta, The Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, the Geneva Conventions…that stuff doesn’t matter. No, of course not. Braining people with clubs. That’s where it’s at when it comes to judging the advancement of humanity. That’s all that we humans are good for anyway. So why not waste a few of them to make an example for the rest of the French army? The point is to win the war, right? Would you rather be killed by the club, or be the one swinging it?

In A Clockwork Orange, a psychopath kills in cold blood and gets away with it by pretending to be a victim and then faking rehabilitation. He thinks this is a good thing as well. “I was cured all right,” he tells us. How are Generals Mireau and Broulard any different? They are victims too, you see. Their brilliant plan to storm the Anthill was foiled by a bunch of “sneaking, whining, tail-dragging curs” too cowardly to leave their trenches. Imagine how that will look to the politicians and newspapers editors who so unfairly judge them? So of course they need to waste three innocent men to prevent this from ever happening again. And, like the psychopath in A Clockwork Orange, they get away with it.

In Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick places the US Army and the whole Vietnam War effort on trial. And what do we get? No witnesses for the defense. No evidence for the defense.  And who would want to defend American GI’s anyway? They’re just a bunch whoring bullies who glorify killing and sing happy songs after wasting little girls, right? And the American troops, including our hero in the end, sees this is a good thing. Clearly the North Vietnamese were better. Only they weren’t. And most of the American soldiers were not like how Kubrick portrayed them at all. But that matters as much as the innocence of the three men executed in Paths of Glory. That matters as much as Truth to Kubrick. Which is not.

At least not since Paths of Glory, which is when he last exhibited extensive humanism in his art. Unfortunately for those of us who appreciate the genius of Stanley Kubrick, that is not a good thing. In fact, it is a bitter shame.

Lucifer’s Hammer

LucifersHammer

In the late 1970s, Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, became a bestseller. The novel still generates controversy today.

The plot is something we are all familiar with by now: a comet (known in the story as “The Hammer”) strikes Earth, destroys civilization, and forces the few surviving souls to fight to rebuild it. But it is whom they must fight, how, and especially why, that makes Lucifer’s Hammer such a great—and controversial—story. The comet swiftly drags humanity back to a state of nature where life is “nasty, brutish, and short,” to quote philosopher Thomas Hobbes. People are both elevated to do great things and condemned to cruel and beastly behavior.

One is struck by how familiar all this is. Where much speculative fiction looks forward and anticipates how people are going to change in the future (often based often on the ideological, religious, or self-serving inclinations of the author), Lucifer’s Hammer takes us back. Imagine Charles Martell checking the barbarian horde at the Battle of Tours in 732. Imagine the Donner Party scrounging for survival in the Sierra Nevada in 1846. Imagine the Titanic passengers fighting over the last open seats on the lifeboats. People in Lucifer’s Hammer are desperate and barely hanging on, just like they were in all pre-industrial societies where food was scarce, enemies and wild animals aplenty, and cities out of reach. The moment the carrying capacity of the planet plummets by two orders of magnitude, the educated, civilized people in our story revert to a pre-industrial mindset with astonishing speed. There is no transition period.

That is one thing I love about Lucifer’s Hammer.

LucifersHammer In the late 1970s, Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, became a bestseller. The novel still generates controversy today. The plot is something we are all familiar with by now: a comet (known in the story as “The Hammer”) strikes Earth, destroys civilization, and forces the few surviving souls to fight to rebuild it. But it is whom they must fight, how, and especially why, that makes Lucifer’s Hammer such a great—and controversial—story. The comet swiftly drags humanity back to a state of nature where life is “nasty, brutish, and short,” to quote philosopher Thomas Hobbes. People are both elevated to do great things and condemned to cruel and beastly behavior. One is struck by how familiar all this is. Where much speculative fiction looks forward and anticipates how people are going to change in the future (often based often on the ideological, religious, or self-serving inclinations of the author), Lucifer’s Hammer takes us back. Imagine Charles Martell checking the barbarian horde at the Battle of Tours in 732. Imagine the Donner Party scrounging for survival in the Sierra Nevada in 1846. Imagine the passengers of the Titanic fighting over available lifeboat space. People in Lucifer’s Hammer are desperate and barely hanging on, just like they were in all pre-industrial societies where food was scarce, enemies and wild animals aplenty, and cities out of reach. The moment the carrying capacity of the planet plummets by two orders of magnitude, the educated, civilized people in our story revert to a pre-industrial mindset with astonishing speed. There is no transition period. That is one thing I love about Lucifer’s Hammer. The authors structure the novel into four parts: 1. Pre-Hammerfall (several months) 2. Hammerfall (several hours) 3. Post-Hammerfall (several days) 4. Post-Post-Hammerfall (several weeks) They spread the story across dozens of characters, but concentrate mostly on three: television producer Harvey Randall, amateur astronomer and comet discoverer Timothy Hamner, and Senator Arthur Jellison who is a big booster of the American Space Program. Important minor characters include genius astrophysicist Dan Forrester, militant whitey-hatin’ Black Muslim Alim Nassor, and the four astronauts sent into space to observe the comet. This is a joint American-Soviet effort, and the astronauts get a unique, satellite-eye perspective on the end of the world. It’s a breathtaking view. But before getting to that, let’s first dispense with the novel’s fairly prominent flaws. The language of Lucifer’s’ Hammer, to put it bluntly, resembles that of a screenplay. Its purpose is nearly 100% utilitarian: it gets us from plot point A to plot point B in the literary equivalent of a dusty old 4-wheel-drive pickup. At its best it is mercifully brief. It seems the authors took no joy in its creation. There is certainly no joy in its rendering. The authors also end chapters with italicized passages describing the comet from the perspective of God. Here they take more literary chances, but it amounts to window dressing more than anything else. Then there’s the authors’ annoying habit of beginning each chapter with some obscure quote about the end of the world.

Okay, okay. I get it.
Okay, okay. I get it.
Characters are equally stock and uninteresting. Anyone familiar with mid-century Hollywood war movies and film noir will pretty much not be taken by surprise by the characters in Lucifer’s Hammer. There are some more modern touches (Alim Nassor: see any Blaxploitation flick. Biker Mark Czescu: see Easy Rider). But one can get away with imagining Harvey Randall being a classic Humphrey Bogart performance. Jellison: an older Marlon Brando or perhaps Rod Steiger. Hamner: Tony Curtis all the way. Astronaut Jimmy Baker: Paul Newman or Steve McQueen in space, take your pick. And the women in many ways are worse. Often (or at least until the Hammer hits), they are little more than men with breasts. Of note are Maureen Jellison, the Senator’s beautiful daughter, and Eileen Hancock, an assistant manager at a plumbing supply store. These two are quite masculine in their feminine qualities, and the reader quickly ascertains that, despite the authors’ efforts to develop them, they exist primarily as love interests of the men the authors really care about. Exceptions include Forrester, who is overweight, diabetic, and has a sick, geeky sense of humor. Marie Vance also sparkles. She’s a housewife who demonstrates keen resolve when searching for her lost son while still looking classy in her fashionable slacks.
Yeah. I'm ready for the end of the world. How about you?
Yeah. I’m ready for the end of the world. How about you?
And then there’s Leonilla Malik, Soviet Kosmonaut and medical doctor. She’s the only woman among the astronauts. I never quite figured her out, but the authors presented just enough of her without spilling the beans to make me want to read more whenever she was on the page. Like most genre authors, Niven and Pournelle dispense with the mystery that goes into a great character. And that’s okay. I have always held that science fiction places boring characters in interesting situations. Lucifer’s Hammer—although perhaps not strictly science fiction….It’s more science fact that anything else—comes through like blazes on this count. And what’s more interesting in a historical sense than a comet striking Earth? In such a crisis, who would pay attention to Holden Caulfield’s duel with decadence? So what if Raskolnikov bumped off his landlady because of a Napoleon complex? People are too busy finding food and not becoming food themselves to pay attention to such things. They can’t afford very many moral scruples, you see. As Senator Jellison points out, “every civilization has the morality and ethics it can afford.” Post-Hammerfall, men behave like men, women behave like women, and kids grow up fast. Or else they die. Really, it’s John Wayne heaven but with more comets. you-john-wayne-pilgrim-punch-demotivational-poster-1244186068 Anyone with a scintilla of critical thought can tell from the title and cover art that the comet will hit. (It would be a hell of a maguffin if it didn’t!) We learn of Hamner’s discovery on page two of Chapter One, and soon have a pretty good idea which characters will survive the impact and which ones won’t based on the amount of time the authors dedicate to developing them. But the characters don’t know this, so the authors must develop them as if the comet were not going to hit.
There. See? Comet.
There. See? Comet.
And without that interesting situation in the first part of the novel, all we have are boring characters. Imagine Niven and Pournelle writing in the tradition of Trollope who derives interesting situations from the mundane lives of mundane people who are not about to be struck by non-mundane comets. No thanks. Still, the authors move the plot along well enough in the first part. Especially interesting is Dan Forrester’s likening the comet to a hot fudge sundae (afterwards, the authors keep reminding us that Hammerfall came on a Tuesdae. Cute, right?). Also, when it dawns on folks that the comet most likely will hit, how they scurry to prepare gives us some gripping reading. In many ways, Lucifer’s Hammer is a lot like the film Titanic. Uneven before the critical event but absolutely virtuosic after. With so much action, CGI, survival tech, and well-researched science, there is little time to fret over language and character once the Hammer hits. Basically, we are watching civilization disintegrate, and it’s horrifying. Niven and Pournelle do very well to stay out of the way rather than poetically pontificate like Vlad Nabokov. Just as critically, the authors serve up a seven course meal of science. Want to know what will happen when a comet strikes Earth? Well, you can attend boring classes on geo-physics and meteorology. Or you could read the decidedly less boring Lucifer’s Hammer. From the widespread flooding, to the incessant rain, to the blackened, Krakatoa skies, to the advancing glaciers of the incipient ice age, it’s all there. History too. Did you know that one of the waves triggered by Krakatoa washed a Dutch gunboat on shore at an elevation of 200 feet? I will bet that you did not. KrakatoaKomik After the impact, the main characters race to the Senator’s ranch in the highlands north of Los Angeles. Randall comes with Czescu and Marie Vance, Hamner with Eileen Hancock. The astronauts decide to land in Southern California for the same reason. Forrester comes on foot and alone, carrying enough insulin to keep him alive and a copy of The Way Things Work Volume 2 by C. Van Amerogen. Forrester has an extensive library, you see. He saved it from destruction before he left. One day he will use it to rebuild civilization.
Quick. Buy. While there is still time.
Quick! Buy. While there is still time.
Once they occupy what’s known as the Stronghold, the valley surrounding the Senator’s ranch, they must contend with the Christophers, a family of heavily armed farmers which holds real local power. Burly, intimidating, and ultraconservative, these guys think nothing of the shrewdest, most cynical tactics to keep everyone in the Stronghold alive and everyone else the f***k out. For example, within a day of the impact, they blow up every road and bridge leading to the Stronghold in order to stem the tide of refugees. Anyone who arrives who isn’t a physician, scientist, or engineer they simply aim rifles at and send on their way…whether to death by starvation, drowning, or the bottom of a cannibal’s cooking pot is not their concern. They may not have enough food for themselves to last the winter, let alone for strangers. And everyone outside the Stronghold is a stranger. The Christophers, Second Amendment survivalists that they are, were only semi-civilized to begin with. So, transitioning back to a state of nature is less of a stretch for them than it is for others. Oh, and they’re not very keen on black people. Sure, the few already in the Stronghold can stay, but city blacks, the ones who constantly whine about equality and the like, never. The same goes for hippies. The Christophers will kept that kind out personally if they had to. This is one reason why the Christophers are so popular in the Stronghold. Opposing the Stronghold is the even more racist Alim Nassor, renegade army sergeant-turned-cannibal named Hooker (who is also black), and a radical environmentalist preacher named Armitage who believes God sent the comet to blast humanity back to its pre-industrial state of idyllic innocence. And it is Man’s duty to wipe out any pockets of industry not eradicated by the Hammer. These men lead a well-organized army towards the Stronghold, a thousand-plus and bound together by the shame of their not-entirely-ritualistic cannibalism. Truly, a barbaric group. Sure, the Christophers are harsh and unforgiving, but they work within the confines of the government set up by Jellison and can be reasoned with and even overruled. The same cannot be said about Nassor and his group. These people aim only to destroy and conquer and oppress. Prejudice aside, there is no doubt in the reader’s mind whom to root for. Once swords are drawn, the presence of a still semi-functional nuclear power plant raises the stakes considerably. Hooker and Nassor want to take over the Stronghold, but without the charismatic Armitage they won’t have the manpower. Armitage, crackerjack kook that he is, wants to destroy the power plant, but without Hooker and Nassor, he won’t have the weapons and explosives. So they compromise and go after both. Now, this raises an ethical question among the citizens of the Stronghold (and please note that their barbaric enemies never address ethical questions). Do they save only the Stronghold which is necessary for survival? Or do they risk additional lives and resources by saving the power plant which is not necessary for survival? The Stronghold represents civilization as it is. But the power plant represents civilization as it could be. In an amazing speech towards the end of the novel, Rick Delanty, one of the astronauts and the first black man in space, exhorts the Stronghold citizens to save the power plant. Sure, they could survive in the Stronghold, he tells them. But without the power plant they would survive only as peasants. He reminds them that Mankind is capable of so much more. We’ve controlled the lighting before, he proclaims, and we can do it again. Let’s give our children the lightning! Anyone who loves civilization and all the great things it has accomplished will have to choke back tears when reading that scene. Of course, we don’t know what we have until it is gone. With civilization on the brink as it hasn’t been since before the industrial revolution, people in Lucifer’s Hammer begin to realize that the old systems—the political, military, agricultural, and familial systems which seem so cruel and unfair today—existed back then for a reason. And that reason was survival. For example, Gordon Vance, Randall’s middle-aged neighbor, leads a group of boy scouts into the mountains on the day of Hammerfall. Shortly after, they meet up with a troop of girl scouts. Shortly after that, one of these girl scouts becomes Vance’s new wife. It ain’t statutory rape if there ain’t no government to call it that. Plus, he’s keeping over twenty kids alive during the apocalypse. That counts for something, doesn’t it? Another thing people discover: feminism dies nanoseconds after impact, and no one seems to miss it. Without men to do the heavy lifting and to call upon all their farming, engineering, and military expertise, the women—and everyone else—would die, plain as that. Sure women do what they can. Eileen Hancock is a talented driver and administrator. Marie Vance is good shot with a rifle. And then there’s Leonilla Malik, MD. But along with the terrifying risk men take as soldiers and the backbreaking work they must perform (cracking boulders into pieces and transporting them long distances, for example), comes their aggression and need for dominance. No one denies that this need exists and no one challenges it. It’s as real as the rain. The decision makers in the story are all men, except for Maureen Jellison who attains influence through her beauty and the fact she’s the Senator’s daughter—that is, through her feminine qualities. Irony of Ironies. I’m reminded of the Wife of Bath story from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. What do women want? Sovereignty over the husbands. And when they can’t get it, they love their husbands all the more. But that sure doesn’t stop them from trying. Note, it is not political power women seek. Instead, it is the ancient familial power women wield as wives and mothers that is their Holy Grail. And in the story didn’t one of King Arthur’s knights rape a girl and then pretty much get off Scott free? In fact, he gets rewarded with the love of a beautiful maiden in the end. It seems people in King Arthur’s day (and Chaucer’s) valued able-bodied knights more than mouthy broads who marry primarily for the sex. Another sacred cow that goes down is that of slavery. In our modern, or postmodern, age, we are all taught that slavery is a great evil, a repugnant institution, and so on. And is it really all that? Sure. But what do you do when 41 cannibals surrender after trying to kill you in an unprovoked attack organized by a force hell bent on death, destruction, and, coincidentally, more slavery? It’s been four weeks since Hammerfall. That’s four straight weeks of rain and floods. It’s what? July? Early August? Crops are ruined. Food is scarce. Livestock is dying. Disease is rampant. And it’s getting awful cold. Winter might come in October this year. You can actually see the snow advancing down the mountains, snow that won’t

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melt for centuries thanks to the darkened skies. You can almost feel the glaciers creeping south to crush everything you’ve built. So what do you do? Setting them free is out of the question since they will only rejoin the cannibals. Killing them all is even more repugnant than slavery. What’s left? Imprisonment? Rehabilitation? Who has the resources for that? And what about the families of the men they’ve slain? Are they not allowed justice? So the Stronghold leaders take a real close look at the only other option available: slavery. The protagonist in Lucifer’s Hammer, more than any single person, is civilization. Western Civilization, to be precise. It is a good thing. What makes Niven’s and Pournelle’s story so special however is the way in which it identifies the enemies of western civilization. These enemies spring from very recognizable elements of modern society, namely religious kooks, radical environmentalists, and thuggish Afro-centrists who shake down whitey in the name of racial justice but who are really only lining their own pockets and consolidating their power. Doesn’t this all sound familiar? The authors even liken the rapid rise of the cannibals to that of 7th century Islam. Talk about controversy. Talk about balls. The final battle between pro-civilization and anti-civilization forces reminds me of the Romans after being defeated by the Carthaginians at Cannae as described by Victor Davis Hansen in his inestimable book Carnage and Culture. You’d think Rome was done after Cannae, right? They lost 50,000 to 70,000 legionnaires in a single afternoon; Hannibal, military genius that he was, was on a bloody rampage throughout the Italian peninsula; and his army consisted of a “who’s who of the old tribal enemies of Rome.” But instead of surrendering or joining their enemies, Roman citizens opted to fight on. Why? Because they had more to fight for. Carthage could only offer its soldiers money and the promise of plunder and revenge. Rome, on the other hand, offered citizenship in a republic of laws and the right to govern one’s own affairs. Most importantly, Rome offered the promise a great future that only a great civilization can provide. It is precisely this future that Niven and Pournelle have in mind when the citizens of the Stronghold opt to save the power plant and give their children the lightning again.

Forbidden Music

FM

From the title, you’d think that a book called Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis would begin just before the rise of Hitler, but author Michael Haas takes us back much further than that. He begins in 1814 as Europe was reorganizing after the Napoleonic Wars and really gets going after the emancipation of Jews in Austria and Germany in 1867 and 1871. By giving us what is essentially the history of anti-Semitism in German classical music, Haas shows us how closely intertwined musical and political history really are.

FM

From the title, you’d think that a book called Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis would begin just before the rise of Hitler, but author Michael Haas takes us back much further than that. He begins in 1814 as Europe was reorganizing after the Napoleonic Wars and really gets going after the emancipation of Jews in Austria and Germany in 1867 and 1871. By giving us what is essentially the history of anti-Semitism in German classical music, Haas shows us how closely intertwined musical and political history really are.

Of course, Richard Wagner plays the heavy early on. The opera giant’s anti-Semitism is well known, and Haas describes Wagner’s impact not only on Jewish composers of his day, like Giacomo Meyerbeer and Ignaz Moscheles, but also on those of the 20th century.

Offsetting this was Johannes Brahms, who embraced emancipation and did what he could for rising Jewish star Gustav Mahler. No composer epitomized the fully assimilated Jewish composer more than Gustav Mahler. It was from his shadow that many young Jewish composers spent their careers escaping. These were Erich Korngold, Alexander Zemlinksy, Hans Gal, Ernst Toch, and many, many others. Indeed, the extent to which Jews dominated German music in the early 20th century is astounding…not just with composers, conductors and musicians, but with publishers, impressarios, and librettists too. They dominated the music-savvy public as well.

Contrary to stereotypes, these men were no followers of Arnold Schoenberg. They were modern yet tonal, and were keen not to indulge in the heady excesses of Romanticism. At the same time they struggled to remain sufficiently “German” and contribute to a cultural heritage they felt was theirs as much as anyone’s. Some of them were also immensely popular.

Of course, the Nazis took a cudgel to all this. It was brutal and swift. We all know what happened. Only, we don’t. Haas walks us through the messy and untold aftermath of the Holocaust and the war from a musical perspective…the desperate escapes, the grinding refugee life, the depression and the sorrow. He tells of the Theresienstadt Ghetto, the “model” concentration camp which held geniuses like Viktor Ullman and Gideon Klein before they were killed. He tells of brilliant musical minds churning out schmaltzy Hollywood scores for steady pay. He tells of great careers ruined by indifference abroad or by a postwar Europe that had no interest in reliving the past.

Not all of it was tragic. Remarkably, the composer Walter Braunfels managed somehow to avoid all of this. In 1937 he moved to a town near Switzerland called Uberlingen and stayed there completely unharmed throughout the war. He made his living as a school teacher and composed several major works there. Haas relates a quote from Braunfels explaining why he never emigrated. It is particularly telling:

…I was a stone in the dam that was keeping evil from flooding everything; but also I realized that should I decide to leave my homeland, I would be ripping out the most important roots to my own creativity.
Walter Braunfels: Yeah, I was pretty lucky.
Walter Braunfels: Yeah, I was pretty lucky.

One of these composers I have found particularly moving is Ernst Toch. I’m not one for string quartets, usually. But I found a CD of his String Quartets 12 and 15 at the incomparable Encore Records in Ann Arbor, MI. They were stirring and heart wrenching and reminded me so much of the ending of Shostakovitch’s 5th Symphony, which I love. I wish any description I could give would do them justice.

Ernst Toch: Smoking cigarettes before they were cool.
Ernst Toch: Smoking cigarettes before they were cool.
(As an aside, I love how the sense of discovery of classical music never goes away. You can study and enjoy the music for years and always have something new to discover. It’s wonderful.)

But if these composers are so brilliant, why are they virtually forgotten today? Haas offers a blunt and chilling response: because most of their public had been murdered. This is a hideous wrong he tries to set right with the excellent book Forbidden Music.

Nakamura’s Miracle

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the highest rated chess tournament in history. It was the Sinquefield Cup, held in St. Louis, MO from August 27 to September 6, 2014. It featured 6 of the top 10 players in the world, including the 23 year-old world champion Magnus Carlsen. Half of the field had ratings over 2800, and, indeed, the average rating of the players was just over 2801. To give some perspective, Garry Kasparov, widely considered the greatest chess player ever, had a peak rating of 2851. That is an astounding 21 points higher than anyone else until Magnus Carlsen. Only 3 active players in the world today have ratings over 2800, and all of them were in St. Louis for the Sinquefield Cup.

And one of these players was having the tournament of his life.

Fabiano Caruana, the world's number 2 chess player as of October 2014

Fabiano Caruana, an Italian player who is now the world’s number 2, was crushing everyone in the tournament. Things like this just don’t happen very often at the highest levels of chess. As chess fans are well aware, draws are the most likely outcome between players who may step out of book after as many as 20 or 25 moves (and yes, that is a lot of moves). In St. Louis, Caruana won his first seven games.

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the highest rated chess tournament in history. It was the Sinquefield Cup, held in St. Louis, MO from August 27 to September 6, 2014.

It featured 6 of the top 10 players in the world, including the 23 year-old world champion Magnus Carlsen. Half of the field had ratings over 2800, and, indeed, the average rating of the players was just over 2801. To give some perspective, Garry Kasparov, widely considered the greatest chess player ever, had a peak rating of 2851. That is an astounding 21 points higher than anyone else until Magnus Carlsen. Only 3 active players in the world today have ratings over 2800, and all of them were in St. Louis for the Sinquefield Cup. And one of these players was having the tournament of his life. Fabiano Caruana, the world's number 2 chess player as of October 2014 Fabiano Caruana, an Italian player who is now the world’s number 2, was crushing everyone in the tournament. Things like this just don’t happen very often at the highest levels of chess. As chess fans are well aware, draws are the most likely outcome between players who may step out of book after as many as 20 or 25 moves (and yes, that is a lot of moves). In St. Louis, Caruana won his first seven games. Seven games in a row against elite competition is such a rare accomplishment that you have to go back to Bobby Fischer to find a comparison. In 1971, Fischer won 13 games in a row leading up to the final candidates match to determine who would challenge for the world championship. His victims included top 20 grandmaster Mark Taimanov, top 10 grandmaster Bent Larsen, and former world champion Tigran Petrosian who was then number 3 in the world. From 1970 to 1972 Fischer won 39, drew 21, and lost only 5, all against the best in the world (and that includes game 2 of the world championship match, which Fischer forfeited). Unheard of. Simply unheard of.

Yeah, I never heard of it.
Yeah, I never heard of it.
Is Fabiano Caruana on such a similar hot streak? Who knows? Caruana is currently playing (and winning) at the European Chess Club Cup, but the competition there is not as consistently high. I can say with confidence that Fabiano Caruana’s 8.5/10 score is one of the greatest, if not the greatest tournament victory of all time. You’d have to go to former world champion Anatoly Karpov’s 11/13 performance at the Linares tournament in 1994 to find a comparison. But this post is not about Fabiano Caruana. It’s about the US champion Hikaru Nakamura who was basically having a crap tournament in St. Louis.
Hikaru Nakamura, the top rated player in the United States, October 2014
Hikaru Nakamura, the top rated player in the United States, October 2014
Languishing in last place, Nakamura had 4 draws and 4 losses going into the 9th round in which he was to meet Caruana. Caruana had just had his win streak snapped by Carlsen in the previous round with a draw. But it was a game Caruana probably should have won. So if there ever was a time when you’d expect a one-siding drubbing, this was it. I know from experience how losses can wear on your self-confidence. The anger, the disgust, the contempt…all aimed at yourself for this blunder or that miscalculation. When your head is swirling with putrid emotions, you really cannot play chess well, and getting clobbered over and over is just the thing to do that to you. Remember, chess can break your heart. Well, a one-sided drubbing it turned out to be. [Those unfamiliar with chess algebraic notation should reference this chessboard. Every square has a lower case letter and a number. Note the e4 square in the middle. Pieces are denoted by upper case letters: K=King, Q=Queen, N=Knight, B=Bishop, R=Rook. Pawns are not denoted by letters at all, just the squares to which they move.] algebraicNotation Here’s the game after move 28 for white (Caruana).
28. Kh3 ... Black to move
28. Kh3 … Black to move
According to Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian’s analysis from Chessbase.com, the position by move 28 is fairly even. But then Nakamura as black begins to find some inaccurate moves. First he plays 28…Rg6, followed by 29. c4 Ne7.
29... Ne7 (Yellow arrow). White is now threatening check along the white arrow.
29… Ne7 (Yellow arrow). White is now threatening check with his rook along the white arrow.
This last move basically allows a check on the back rank. This couldn’t have happened before since the king could have moved to e7 to threaten White’s rook and start blockading White’s passed pawn on e5. But now with his own knight occupying that square, Black has fewer options. Anyway, from that point on Caruana tortured Nakamura. He simply pressured his American opponent by advancing his pawns and his king, and by giving Black less and less breathing room with every move. At one point, Black had to sacrifice a pawn for nothing just to stave off imminent defeat. It got so bad that the commentators for the Sinquefield Cup were predicting Nakamura’s resignation. The computers were giving White an advantage of something like 4 points, which is crushing. No grandmaster should blow such a commanding lead. Indeed, by move 40, White had a forced win. It would involve a counter-intuitive yet elegant sacrifice that most amateurs would never see, let alone consider. Yet for chess grandmasters, finding such moves is their bread and butter. It’s elementary, actually. Here, see if you can find it.
40... Kg7 White to move and crush.
40… Kg7 White to move and crush.
No, I didn’t find it either. White captures the knight with his rook on g6, and then loses his rook when Black recaptures. This is called going down the exchange since a knight is less valuable than a rook, especially in an endgame. So why would White deliberately lose material like this? Well, because he can now march his pawn down the e file to the back rank where it can be promoted to a queen, and there is nothing short of sacrificing his own rook that Black can do to stop it. See for yourself. [pgn height=365 autoplayMode=none] [FEN “8/ppp3k1/r5nR/2p1PKP1/2P4B/8/P1P5/8 w – – 0 40”] 40. Rxg6+ Rxg6 41. e6 Kh7 {The king getting out of the rook’s way to let it defend. Going to the f file to blockade the pawn loses the rook} (41… Kf8 42. Kxg6) 42. e7 Rg8 43. Kf6 Rg6+ 44. Kf7 Rg7+ 45. Ke6 Rg8 46. Kd7 Rg7 47. Kd8 Rg8+ 48. e8Q Rxe8+ 49. Kxe8 {And Black is down a whole piece and completely busted.} [/pgn] At this point, Nakamura could have resigned. No one would have blamed him for it. His position was in shambles…again. Also, considering that he was playing a streaking wunderkind in the middle of a once-in-a-century rampage through the cream of the chess world, yeah…maybe he could have lived to fight another day. I’m sure by move 40 Nakamura was longing for the comforts of home. I’m sure whatever angst he was feeling about his impending defeat was nothing that some Ibuprofen, a tall glass of his favorite beverage, and a watching few Netflix reruns of Breaking Bad on a nice, comfy couch couldn’t cure. I mean, what’s one more loss after you’ve already been handed the big

goose egg 4 times in the same tournament? You get used to losing, really, and then after that it’s not so bad. And the guy who comes in last place still pockets $20,000. So there’s that. losingdemotivator But you see, Hikaru Nakamura didn’t resign. Wunderkind or no, if you’re gonna beat me, I am going to make you work for it every inch of the way. He must have been thinking something like this because he never once stopped fighting. Despite his previous sub-par performances, he never lost faith in himself. He never crumbled under the pressure. And sure enough, Fabiano Caruana missed his elementary win. Short on time, he played bishop to f2 instead, attacking Nakamura’s c pawn but at the same time taking his foot off the gas along the kingside. This allowed Black the time and space to mount sufficient defense to White’s attack. Black started with a check with the knight on e7, and then began threatening white’s pawns on the queenside with his rook.

40... Ne7+ 41. Ke4 Ra4 (Attacking 2 white pawns and pinning one of them to the white king.
40… Ne7+ 41. Ke4 Ra4 (Attacking both pawns and pinning one of them to the white king.
Despite White’s brutal onslaught on the king’s side (a rook, 2 pawns, and his king vs. Black’s undefended king), Nakamura was able to gobble up two pawns, exchange his knight for the bishop, and produce a passed pawn of his own along the d file. Most importantly, he was able to get his rook behind White’s king. From such a position, he could harass it at will.
50. Rd7 Rf3+
50. Rd7 Rf3+
From this point on, it was Nakamura’s game to lose. With constant pressure on the white king, if Caruana made the wrong move, Nakamura could actually win. He gave a check on the f file, and the white king moved out of the way along the g file. Note that Caruana had no other choice. Had he moved his king to the e file, it would have been trapped there. Black’s rook controls the f file, and moving the white king the d file would block his own rook and allow Black to eventually queen his pawn. And without king and rook for support, White’s pawn attack stalls. Meanwhile on the queenside, Nakamura’s 3-to-1 pawn advantage looks mighty menacing indeed. Not about to let the king out of his sites, Nakamura followed him to the g file and checked him there. Of course, White’s king had to return to his previous square on the f file. This happened again and again, and a draw was declared after the position repeated itself 3 times. They say that everyone loves a winner. But that’s not entirely true when it comes to chess. In chess everyone loves a fighter. Someone who never stops fighting for the win will always endear himself to the fans. Bobby Fischer once complained about many top players don’t try their best. They play for draws in order to protect their reputations rather than taking risks and playing for the win. “I play honestly and I play to win,” said Bobby. And people loved him for it. Some still do. In round 9 of the Sinquefield Cup, the greatest American player since Bobby Fischer never once stopped fighting for the win. And his near Phoenix-like resurrection from the brink was remarkable to behold. It really does serve as an inspiration for all of us. It ain’t over until the fat lady sings…over your grave. Until then, you fight for the win.

Obama vs Bush: Spending and the National Debt

A Facebook friend of mine proposed that I read this Doug Short article and reassess my disapproval of President Obama’s being on track to doubling our national debt. I believe my friend’s argument was twofold: that Obama inherited Bush’s policies and that he had wars to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. So these are the reasons why Obama had no choice but to let the national debt skyrocket.

Ehhh.

Here is why these arguments don’t hold up. Firstly, in 2009 federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Ah, but this was Bush’s fault, wasn’t it? As my friend pointed out in a recent FB post, “Every debt increase is essentially time-shifted as each president inherits the policies of the previous administration”.

Well, not so fast.

A Facebook friend of mine proposed that I read this Doug Short article and reassess my disapproval of President Obama’s being on track to doubling our national debt. I believe my friend’s argument was twofold: that Obama inherited Bush’s policies and that he had wars to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. So these are the reasons why Obama had no choice but to let the national debt skyrocket.

Ehhh.

Here is why these arguments don’t hold up. Firstly, in 2009 federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Ah, but this was Bush’s fault, wasn’t it? As my friend pointed out in a recent FB post, “Every debt increase is essentially time-shifted as each president inherits the policies of the previous administration”.

Well, not so fast.

As Peter Ferrara writes in Forbes:

But for fiscal year 2009, President Bush in February, 2008 proposed a budget with just a 3% spending increase over the prior year. Fiscal year 2009 ran from October 1, 2008 until September 30, 2009. President Obama’s term began on January 20, 2009.

Recall, however, that in 2008 Congress was controlled by Democrat majorities, with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, and the restless Senator Obama already running for President, just four years removed from his glorious career as a state Senator in the Illinois legislature. As Hans Bader reported on May 26 for the Washington Examiner, the budget approved and implemented by Pelosi, Obama and the rest of the Congressional Democrat majorities provided for a 17.9 percent increase in spending for fiscal 2009!

I know this might come to a surprise to some Obama supporters who believe that Obama has slowed the rate of federal spending. And it would be true if you exclude 2009 altogether. That’s what Rex Nutting argues. He pulls this sleight of hand by claiming that since 2009 was the last year of Bush’s presidency, you can’t blame Obama for that 17.9% increase. Really? According to Nutting, Obama has outspent the 2008 version of Bush by about a half trillion per year since he has been in office. Try to spin that one.

Second, there is the stimulus. $787 billion. And for what? Remember the famous graph that exposed Obama’s unemployment rate projections as completely wrong?

UEgraph

It predicted that by the summer of 2009, the stimulus would cause unemployment to decrease steadily from its peak at 8%. Further, without the stimulus Obama predicted that the unemployment rate would peak at 9% by the start of 2010 and then steadily decline. What the stimulus gave us instead was a unemployment peak at 10% in the fall of 2009 and a very rocky road after that in which it continues to be just below 8%. Obama’s projected goal for this was supposed to be 5%. You think that $787 billion was well spent? With all the waste, and fraud, and foolish speculative investments?

Finally, there is Obamacare. Clearly, we are going to be increasing federal spending for this. ask siri . Charles Blahous of George Mason University predicts that Obamacare will add as much as $530 billion to federal deficits while increasing spending by more than $1.15 trillion. And this expectation is repeated by the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the CBO. Are they all wrong?

So, if Obama were concerned about reducing the national debt, he could have done so and kept up the good fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has outspent the 2008 George Bush by about 2.5 trillion in total. He blew close to a trillion with the stimulus. And plans on blowing a whole lot more with Obamacare. The money is there. It’s just that Obama would rather spend it on failed and foolish initiatives than getting us out of hock.

As a side note, I thought the Short article was sneaky in that it showed our real national debt on a logarithmic scale. That way the increase in debt from the 1980s seems nice and gradual, which it most certainly wasn’t. Follow the red arrows below to see what I mean.

federal-debt-tax-brackets2

Further, I don’t see anything in it that indicates that Obama’s “time-shift” away from the Bush administration should last 5 years. Obama has had 5 years to reduce debt and has done just the opposite. Remember also that we have not been in Iraq since 2011. That’s 2 years of savings that could have gone to the debt but didn’t. Finally, Short tries to make Reagan look bad showing a very marked increase in national-debt-as-percentage-of-GDP during Reagan’s tenure. Yeah, well, Reagan had something to show for that: low unemployment rates and the fall of the Soviet Union, one of the most murderous and oppressive regimes in history. What does Obama have to show for all his debt, except, of course, for more debt?

Against Kubrick 10

This is part 10 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, with this post being the second to focus on…

Full Metal Jacket.

In the beginning of the Vietnam chapter of Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick states his intentions quite clearly by focusing on the backside of a sauntering Vietnamese prostitute just before she haggles with two American GIs over sex. In broad daylight. This isn’t a film about the military anymore. And it’s not a film about war, either. It’s a film about vice. Warfare, the military, Vietnam, all of it, are just umbrella’d in beneath this repulsive yet fascinating thing.

hooker

Where Kubrick essentially gave us a protracted and rude introduction to military life in part one, in part two, he endeavors to show how jaded, cynical, psychotic, or sex-obsessed American soldiers were in Vietnam. And in the end he almost doesn’t do this.

This is part 10 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, with this post being the second to focus on… Full Metal Jacket. In the beginning of the Vietnam chapter of Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick states his intentions quite clearly by focusing on the backside of a sauntering Vietnamese prostitute just before she haggles with two American GIs over sex. In broad daylight. This isn’t a film about the military anymore. And it’s not a film about war, either. It’s a film about vice. Warfare, the military, Vietnam, all of it, are just umbrella’d in beneath this repulsive yet fascinating thing. hooker Where Kubrick essentially gave us a protracted and rude introduction to military life in part one, in part two, he endeavors to show how jaded, cynical, psychotic, or sex-obsessed American soldiers were in Vietnam. And in the end he almost doesn’t do this. Quite ironically, the second chapter of Full Metal Jacket, while not particularly memorable from a cinematic standpoint, offers a glimpse of the man’s humanist side. Death becomes tragedy in Vietnam. The pain is real. It has real consequences, and these consequences are not always dashed by non-sequiturial pop songs like they were in part one. Further, the characters churn quite naturally under pressure, revealing unexpected strengths and hidden powers. Because, you know, they are human

beings, and that’s what human beings do. When since Paths of Glory in 1957 have we seen this in a Kubrick film? I don’t count Spartacus since Kubrick disowned it. 2001 shows mere hints of such humanism but not nearly enough. Of course, so does The Shining, but that’s more due to the expectations of the horror genre at the time (some 25 years before the advent of torture porn) and the fact that the two characters in danger at the end were a mother and child. Now let me make one thing clear: when I say Stanley Kubrick is not a humanist, I am only talking about him as an artist, not as a man. As a man, by all accounts, he was decent and honest and left many behind who loved him, and not just for his genius. Had he enticed us to dance on the grave of young Danny Torrance however, like he did with Sergeant Hartman and Private Pyle, I would certainly reverse this opinion. Judging Humanity harshly in art is not the same as treating human beings harshly in real life. And Kubrick never did that. We don’t get these humanist glimpses until the end however. Up until then, Kubrick sticks with the formula he used in the Parris Island chapter, that is, using outrageous and memorable dialogue to offset a shortage (for him) of visionary cinematic ideas. Consider:

“Me so horny! Me love you long time!” “Soul brother too beaucoup! Too beaucoup!” “Thank God for the sickle cell.” “This baby looks like she can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch.” “I wanted to see exotic Vietnam, the jewel of Southeast Asia. I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture…and kill them.”

Now, I didn’t see Full Metal Jacket until a few years after its release in 1987, but I was already aware of these lines just from being tuned into popular culture. And this is to say nothing of the film’s use of racial epithets such as “gook” and the N word, which, thanks to pervasive political correctness, would have been toxic in any polite conversations even as far back as 1987. But for Kubrick, it was shocking (in a good way) since I don’t think anyone doubts that those words were used quite a lot by American GIs of all races back then. There are a couple instances in which Kubrick really delivers cinematically in the Vietnam chapter of Full Metal Jacket. One in particular stands out, not only as a homage to earlier Kubrick movies, but also as a tacit admission to the fact that the North Vietnamese may have committed their share of war crimes as well. When Joker finds a platoon commander, he says, “We heard some scuttlebutt, sir, about the NVA executing a lot of gook civilians.” “That’s affirmative,” the man replies. “I saw some bodies about a half a click this side of Phu Cam Canal!” This little dialogue leads to this iconic image from Full Metal Jacket: Joker1 From which Kubrick tracks back to this. Joker2 Coincidentally, this is also one of Kubrick’s humanistic moments in Full Metal Jacket. The look of resigned horror on Joker’s face says it all. This was a ghastly mass murder of innocent civilians which Kubrick treats with respect and aplomb. Aside from this, however, Kubrick treats many of the American soldiers in Vietnam with contempt. He starts with the machine gunner who murders innocent Vietnamese from the safety of his helicopter while laughing and shouting “Get some! Get some!” gunner

“I’ve done got me one hundred and fifty seven dead gooks killed!” he exults. “And fifty water buffalos too! Them are all certified!” “Any women and children?” Joker asks. “Sometimes!” “How can you shoot women and children?” Joker asks, pretending to be amused. “Easy! You just don’t lead ’em so much! Hahaha! Ain’t war hell?”

From such a barbaric and nihilistic character Kubrick takes Joker and a Stars and Stripes photographer named Rafterman to the mass burial scene shown above. This is where a colonel makes the following ridiculous and contradictory announcement:

“Son, all I have ever asked of my marines is for them to obey my orders as if they would the word of God. We are here to help the Vietnamese because inside every gook there is an American trying to get out. It’s a hardball world, son. We’ve gotta try to keep our heads until this peace craze blows over!”

From here, Joker and Rafterman head to a platoon in the field where Joker reunites with Cowboy, a friend from Parris Island. Within minutes he meets the brutish and hulking Animal Mother, who nearly picks a fight with him, and then discovers that the platoon (self-dubbed the “Lusthog Squad”) finds it amusing that they have propped a dead NVA soldier onto a lawn chair. deadnva “These are great days we’re living, bros!” gloats one oddly reflective grunt. “We’re jolly green giants walking the Earth…with guns! These people we wasted here today…are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world we’re gonna miss not having anyone around who’s worth shooting.” After a victory at Hue City (where two soldiers are killed) Kubrick inappropriately blasts “Surfin’ Bird” by the Trashmen, another exuberant, albeit somewhat whacky, mid-1960s pop hit. He treats us to nearly the entire song. And the eulogy for the dead soldiers? After a few kind words, Animal Mother says, “Better you than me” to the dead men and rebukes Rafterman thusly:

“You think we waste gooks for freedom? This is a slaughter. If I’m gonna get my balls blown off for a word, my word is poontang.”

After this, the soldiers discussed how one of the dead soldiers, appropriately named “Handjob” would masturbate ten times day in order to secure his section 8. Then comes the film’s second (!) scene in which American soldiers haggle with Vietnamese prostitutes over sex. As if one weren’t enough. prostitute2 Now, at this point in film is there anything redeeming about the US military? Well, it was nice that Joker seemed to realize that it is wrong to kill women and children, even if he was being detached and ironic about it. He also reacted with appropriate horror to the mass grave. But is that all? I’d have to say yes because in almost every other instance Kubrick goes out of his way to make American servicemen look bad. Did that dead American really have to be a chronic masturbator? Did we really have to see that lunatic helicopter gunner mow down civilians and then brag about it? Did we really have to sit through two very similar scenes with Vietnamese prostitutes? Did they really have to prop a dead NVA on a lawn chair just to laugh at him? What plot are we advancing here? What character are we developing? What narrative theme are we building upon? Was any of this necessary other than to shock and entertain Kubrick’s sophisticated, college educated public (very few of whom supported the war to begin with)? After all, people love it when you affirm what they already believe to be true. And if you do that by slandering the nearly 2.6 million men who fought in Vietnam and not slandering their despicable enemies (who set up a Stalinist police state after the war and murdered or enslaved millions), then I guess that’s just dandy. I mean, it’s not like the millions of lives wasted and ruined by the North Vietnamese, like, matter, or anything. Right? You see, this is why I question Stanley Kubrick’s artistic humanism. He gleefully slanders the lesser of two evils with regards to the Vietnam War while remaining mostly quiet about the greater of the two evils. And if you believe the numbers quoted in Part 1 of my Full Metal Jacket essay, the differences between these two evils are pretty freaking big. And then something must have happened. Maybe Kubrick was just following the script, or maybe he just got tired of sacrificing human beings on the altar of his movies, or maybe he was touched by the Hand of God for the first time in 30 years, or maybe he just slipped, but whatever it was, Stanley Kubrick finally woke up and realized that his characters were human beings. Starting at about 85 minutes in, Kubrick gives us straight-up, un-ironic, non-satirical, suspenseful filmmaking in which we feel what the characters feel and we hurt when the characters hurt. We feel the tragedy when they die. Basically, soldiers start getting killed one by one as Joker, Cowboy, and the rest of the squad are out on patrol. At one point a sniper hidden in a building picks off two soldiers. As they lie writhing on the ground, Cowboy is faced with a difficult dilemma. Does he charge to their rescue, not knowing if the buildings are infested with the enemy, or does he pull back and leave the two stricken men to their fates? He opts shrewdly (and perhaps not incorrectly) for the latter option, only to be repudiated by Animal Mother. The man who had heretofore been the film’s villain (or, at the very least, the Big Bad American Bully) now leads a heroic charge to save his fallen comrades. His actions are perfectly selfless, and, even better, he pulls it off. In lesser scripts, such a guy would have a comeuppance or would reveal himself a coward in battle (because, of course, all bullies are cowards). But no. Here, Kubrick bestows upon this man a sense of humanity that is frankly uncharacteristic for Kubrick films. And to do it with such an unlikable character, the kind of person the film is designed to slander, really is something. AnimalMother This is almost enough to forgive Kubrick for having Rafterman laugh and dance like an imbecile after shooting the little girl sniper in the end. But you see, this was a moment of clarity from which Kubrick promptly wakes up. He ends his film in baffling fashion as the soldiers all march on…singing the Mickey Mouse theme. I really don’t know what Kubrick was thinking in those final few moments, but whatever it was, it undid whatever good he accomplished when he went out of his mind treating his characters like real people for a change. Remember that characters are rarely anything more than pawns in Kubrick’s big game. In the Vietnam chapter of this film he may not play them as masterfully as he does in the Parris Island Chapter, but at least here he takes his hands off the pieces for a little while. He lets them serve their own agendas, not his. Why did Animal Mother lead that charge? It wasn’t to serve the anti-military aims of Kubrick’s, that’s for sure. He did it for the same reasons why real-life soldiers have done the same thing – because he has love for his comrades and a sense of duty to his country. When interviewed by a TV crew at Hue City, Animal Mother is asked what he thinks of America’s involvement in the war. He response is simple and straightforward. He says, “I think we should win.” While contemporary audiences might shudder at such unapologetic jingoism, history will show that, with such clarity of thought, Animal Mother is the most sympathetic and three dimensional character in the film. It’s just too bad that Kubrick didn’t see it that way. This concludes my polemic against Full Metal Jacket. Next up, the conclusion of this series: Paths of Glory, and what a humanist really looks like.

Against Kubrick 9

This is part 9 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, with this post focusing on…

Full Metal Jacket.

To begin, I believe that Full Metal Jacket is Kubrick’s most overrated post-Strangelove work. He never figures out how to overcome the central shortcoming of the script, which is that, chopped in half, Full Metal Jacket is really two stories that don’t cohere very well. In the first, tensions build during boot camp in 1967 as the apocalyptically abusive Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by R. Lee Ermey) bullies the hapless Private Gomer Pyle (played by an overweight Vincent Dinofrio) past the point of reason. Eventually Pyle turns into a time bomb. That’s basically it.

In the second, Private Joker (played by a wisecracking Matthew Modine), who had witnessed Pyle’s self-destruction at the hands of Hartman, has become a military journalist in Vietnam. He then joins American soldiers in the field where they take on and defeat a North Vietnamese sniper, who is also a little girl. That’s basically it as well.

In my opinion, Kubrick had fewer cinematic ideas for Full Metal Jacket than in his previous films, and instead found himself relying on memorable and shocking dialogue to make up the difference. Think about it…what memorable images do we have here? A few, to be sure, especially in the first half. I can see why such a script would appeal to Kubrick. Lots of men in uniform shouting and moving in unison can lead to mathematically precise imagry that you can just load with counterpoint.

fmj1

Aside from some great scenes in the marines barracks, however, Full Metal Jacket is not quite like 2001 or A Clockwork Orange or Dr. Strangelove where you can just play it with the sound off or capture images almost at random and still know it’s a Kubrick movie. Indeed, there is less of the visionary genius that sparkled in his earlier masterworks.

This is not to say that Full Metal Jacket is bad film.

The Parris Island chapter is a gripping and well-filmed depiction of life at boot camp. Further, R. Lee. Ermey is just mesmerizing to behold, truly a unique cinematic experience. I don’t think a single actor has ever dominated a film so completely and so brilliantly as R. Lee Ermey did in Full Metal Jacket. I think Kubrick simply recognized the man’s genius, pointed the camera at him, and let him spew pure gold.

This is part 9 of my polemic against the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. My premise basically is that his great films had negative effects on the world and that Kubrick was anything but a humanist. I will go after his great films one at a time, with this post focusing on…

Full Metal Jacket.

To begin, I believe that Full Metal Jacket is Kubrick’s most overrated post-Strangelove work. He never figures out how to overcome the central shortcoming of the script, which is that, chopped in half, Full Metal Jacket is really two stories that don’t cohere very well. In the first, tensions build during boot camp in 1967 as the apocalyptically abusive Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by R. Lee Ermey) bullies the hapless Private Gomer Pyle (played by an overweight Vincent Dinofrio) past the point of reason. Eventually Pyle turns into a time bomb. That’s basically it.

In the second, Private Joker (played by a wisecracking Matthew Modine), who had witnessed Pyle’s self-destruction at the hands of Hartman, has become a military journalist in Vietnam. He then joins American soldiers in the field where they take on and defeat a North Vietnamese sniper, who is also a little girl. That’s basically it as well.

In my opinion, Kubrick had fewer cinematic ideas for Full Metal Jacket than in his previous films, and instead found himself relying on memorable and shocking dialogue to make up the difference. Think about it…what memorable images do we have here? A few, to be sure, especially in the first half. I can see why such a script would appeal to Kubrick. Lots of men in uniform shouting and moving in unison can lead to mathematically precise imagry that you can just load with counterpoint.

fmj1

Aside from some great scenes in the marines barracks, however, Full Metal Jacket is not quite like 2001 or A Clockwork Orange or Dr. Strangelove where you can just play it with the sound off or capture images almost at random and still know it’s a Kubrick movie. Indeed, there is less of the visionary genius that sparkled in his earlier masterworks.

This is not to say that Full Metal Jacket is bad film.

The Parris Island chapter is a gripping and well-filmed depiction of life at boot camp. Further, R. Lee. Ermey is just mesmerizing to behold, truly a unique cinematic experience. I don’t think a single actor has ever dominated a film so completely and so brilliantly as R. Lee Ermey did in Full Metal Jacket. I think Kubrick simply recognized the man’s genius, pointed the camera at him, and let him spew pure gold.

I will PT you all until you fucking DIE!
I will PT you all until you fucking DIE!

Because of this, the Vietnam chapter often gets overlooked, but it is a tight, suspenseful war story in its own right. It’s just that what makes Full Metal Jacket so celebrated, of course, is not so much what happens, but what people say in between what happens. How often does that happen in Kubrick movies? Name one single major Kubrick work other than this one in which dialogue trumps the pure, viceral images the man can so brilliantly convey.

In the first half, when little happens from a plot perspective, we’re basically entertained by the colorful abuse that Hartman heaps upon his recruits, especially Pyle. You can find most of it on YouTube or IMDB. Here are a few of my favorites:

“You’re so ugly you could be a modern art masterpiece!”

“You are not even human fucking beings! You are nothing but unorganized grab-asstic pieces of amphibian shit!”

“You climb obstacles like old people fuck!”

“Tonight, you pukes will sleep with your rifles. You will give your rifle a girl’s name because this is the only pussy you people are going to get. Your days of finger-banging ol’ Mary-Jane Rottencrotch through her pretty pink panties are over!”

“I bet you’re the kind of guy who would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around. I’ll be watching you!”

“I want that head so sanitary and squared away that the Virgin Mary herself would be proud to go in there and take a dump!”

Here is a great collection of the best bits in part one:

It’s interesting to note that Ermey had been a drill instructor during the Vietnam War and was essentially born to play that role. Nearly 50% of his dialogue he ad-libbed.

Kubrick shows his horns however when he portrays these young marines as being brainwashed into becoming nothing more than killings machines.

“What makes the grass grow?”
“Blood! Blood! Blood!”
“What do we do for a living, ladies?”
“Kill! Kill! Kill!”

This is real Lord of the Flies territory here. But is it true? I’m sure some of it is. But I am also sure there was more to boot camp than training people to kill indiscriminately. If this were the case there would have been hundreds of Mai Lai Massacres instead of one. And the American servicemen who did commit war crimes in Vietnam wouldn’t have gotten in trouble, don’t forget that. By not giving a more balanced representation of boot camp, Kubrick really tries to make military authority figures out to be bad people, psychopaths, even.

For example, Hartman at one point quizzes his recruits on the exploits of Charles Whitman and Lee Harvey Oswald. These, of course, are two infamous snipers. The former went on a rampage at the University of Texas in 1966 and murdered 11 people. The latter assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Hartman not only brags about how the marine corps taught these two lunatics how to shoot at long range, but he tells his recruits that with their top notch military training one day they will be able to do the exact same thing.

So Oswald and Whitman learned to shoot in the marines, eh? Innnteresting...
So Oswald and Whitman learned to shoot in the marines, eh? Innnteresting…

Now, did Kubrick really need to do this? Did he really need to slander our Vietnam-era military leadership like that? Did he really need to accuse them of training marines to be mass murderers? These were the guys who stormed the beaches at Normandy, or withstood heavy fire at Okinawa, or marched with Patton’s 3rd Army across Northwest Europe during World War II. These were the guys who put their lives on the line to fight fascism…and now they’re what? Brainwashing kids into becoming criminals?

This is why I see Full Metal Jacket not so much as an anti-war movie, but as an anti-military movie. R. Lee Ermey played a similar character named Sergeant Loyce in a 1978 film called The Boys From Company C. Like Hartman, Loyce had to train a group of civilians to be combat ready in a short period of time. Like Hartman, he spouted a nonstop stream of profane abuse, calling his men maggots and civilian slime and worse. But he also gets the opportunity to humanize himself. It starts at 3:01 here:

Here’s what he says:

I got one hell of a shitty Goddamn job here! They sent me 60-80 buckets of civilian shit and expect me to train them to goddamn combat ready marines. I’ve gotta send these people to Vietnam. I’m the one that has to send them! They’re gonna come back in bags. They’re gonna come back in wheelchairs. They’re gonna be maimed. They’re gonna be fucked up people when they come back. It’s up to me how they come back!

Suddenly, these recruits aren’t maggots anymore. They’re people. Suddenly, Loyce isn’t some loud-mouthed, bigoted jarhead anymore. No, he’s a person too. He clearly has compassion and concern for the welfare of the men he’s about to ship off to war. But in Full Metal Jacket, does Kubrick give us any of that? Of course, not! Compassion? In a Kubrick movie? Yes, he does pay lip service to some of the “we’re training you here so you won’t die over there” stuff. At one point, Hartman tells his recruits:

“The most deadly weapon in the world is a marine and his rifle! It is your killer instinct which must be harnessed if you expect to survive in combat. Your rifle is only a tool! It is a hard heart that kills! If your killer instincts are not clean and strong you will hesitate at the moment of truth! You will not kill! You will become dead marines! And then you will be in a world of shit…because marines are not allowed to die without permission!”

Note that Hartman is less concerned about the welfare of the men he is training and more concerned about welfare of the people he is training them to kill. A dead marine is not bad thing in and of itself, according to Hartman. A dead marine is only bad because dead marines can no longer kill. Because, you know, killing is what marines do. Just because.

“God has a hard-on for marines because we kill everything we see! To show our appreciation for so much power, we keep Heaven filled with fresh souls!”

Well, that about says it all, doesn’t it? So much for making the world safe for freedom and democracy. Murder and mayhem is more like it…as long as it’s said with such clever profanity that Kubrick’s sophisticated, college-educated fans would find it amusing, of course. Please go to Allan Millett’s, Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps and Larry Cable’s Conflict of Myths: The Development of American Counterinsurgency Doctrine and the Vietnam War for evidence refuting Sgt. Hartman’s (and Kubrick’s) outlandish claim. Marines kill, to be sure. But they do a hell of a lot of good work as well, even during wartime.

According to historian Lindsay Kittle in her thesis Gentle Warriors: U.S. Marines and Humanitarian Action during the Vietnam War:

Although the Marines adopted a strategy that encouraged close interaction with the Vietnamese, the forging of relations between the two did not happen simply because of the Corps’ strategy. Marines helped the Vietnamese in many different ways. They often furnished school kits and made desks for children; they also provided medical care and many basic commodities for civilians that they were otherwise unable to obtain.

In 1970, journalist Cherilee Noyes went to Vietnam and had this to say about the marines:

In addition to the few words of the Vietnamese language I managed to muddle through, I also learned first-hand the other Marine story in ‘Nam; the story which is seldom told. The orphanages, schools, churches and hospitals the Marines built, supported and protected.

Can we say the same about the Viet Cong?

Now, we all know how part one ends. Pyle goes ballistic in the bathroom and guns down Sergeant Hartman before taking a seat on the toilet, putting the rifle barrel in his mouth, and pulling the trigger. All while Joker watches on, horrified. This is a pretty intense, harrowing scene, and to Kubrick’s credit, he directs it impeccably.

full-metal-jacket4

Well, in classic-Kubrick fashion, our story then switches abruptly to Vietnam months later with Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boot are Made for Walkin'” on the soundtrack.

Have you heard this song? If not, listen to it now.

An upbeat, catchy mid-1960s pop number with a classic bass-line, “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” is sung from the perspective of a woman who’s lover has been cheating on her. Whether she’ll use her boots to walk away from him or walk all over him remains open-ended.

Now why did Kubrick juxtapose such a peppy song with such a grotesque murder-suicide? Well, for one, he doesn’t care much for the characters he just wasted and doesn’t want you to care either. Really, using “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” as an elegy for such a nihilistic massacre is artistically unforgivable in a serious drama.

Compare this treatment to other famous films in which major characters get killed before the story’s end. Imagine Alfred Hitchcock dusting off “Can Can #4” after Vivian Leigh gets sliced to ribbons in Psycho. Picture Francis Ford Coppola blasting “That’s Amore!” after Fredo Corleone gets dumped to the bottom of the lake in Godfather Part II. How about hearing “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone?” by Charley Pride right after Drew falls out of his canoe in Deliverance. What about “Yakety Yak” by the Coasters after Kevin Spacey eats it in L.A. Confidential?

Or even Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” after Juliane Moore takes a bullet to the head in the futuristic Children of Men? (Yeah, I know “Blurred Lines” came out in 2013, seven years after the film and 13 years before the story takes place. But given the date of this essay, it’s the best I can do.)

And please don’t mention the famous ear slicing torture scene in Reservoir Dogs. “Stuck in the Middle” by Steelers Wheels was playing on the radio and was therefore diagetic, despite Quentin Tarantino’s upping the volume on the soundtrack. Anyway, he turned the music off when things really started to get ugly.

So are these movies too different than Full Metal Jacket to matter? OK, fine. Let’s bring it closer to home. Imagine “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” being played after Lawrence Fishburne’s heartbreaking end in Apocalypse Now. Or, better yet, after Willem Defoe’s majestic death in Platoon. Would that make any sense? Remember, Full Metal Jacket is a war drama, not a stab at satire like Dr. Strangelove. Characters really die in this movie, and there are real consequences. We must assume that Pyle and Hartman have family and friends at home who will mourn them. We must assume that what we were just forced to witness was tragic.

But when Kubrick doesn’t wait twenty seconds after bullet hits the bone to kick his movie into second gear with “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” (lingering on the backside of a sauntering Vietnamese prostitute, no less), he’s telling us these deaths aren’t tragic, especially if he’s the one killing you.

The second reason why Kubrick chose this song was because it has meaning vis-a-vis the Vietnam War. According to Wikipedia:

• During television news coverage in 1966/67, the song was aired as a soundtrack as the cameras focused on US Infantrymen on patrol during the Vietnam War.
• In 1966 and 1967 [Nancy] Sinatra traveled to Vietnam to perform for the troops. Many US soldiers adopted the song as their anthem, as shown in Pierre Schoendoerffer’s academy award winning documentary The Anderson Platoon (1967).

Well, I am assuming this was one of Kubrick’s reasons. I am assuming he knew about this, given his penchant for shoulder-hunching research and near-maniacal dedication to perfection. I imagine the chances that I would know something about a Kubrick film that Kubrick himself didn’t would be kind of low.

And it makes sense…this song resonating with American troops in Vietnam: the simple juxtaposition of loyalty versus infidelity, honesty versus mendacity, honor versus dishonor. The delicious threat of a well-deserved comeuppance. And there’s not an ounce of irony to it. The song also serves as a useful allegory for the war itself. For someone who actually believed in the cause, the song’s antagonist could be the North Vietnamese themselves. Consider the lyrics:

You’ve been messin’ where you shouldn’t have been messin’
(Yeah, like in South Vietnam and Cambodia.)

Yeah, you keep lyin’ when you oughta be truthin’
(Like with all the guerrilla and terrorist stuff you pull with the Viet Cong.)

Now, what’s right is right but you ain’t been right yet
(We have the moral high ground here, not you…)

These boots are made for walkin’
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these boots
Are gonna walk all over you
(See? You’re gonna get what’s coming to ya…)

So to select this very song to segue from a horrific murder-suicide to a scene in which a Vietnamese prostitute solicits two American GI’s who are keen on haggling is to make a statement on the very men who chose this song as their fight anthem. And that statement is negative to say the least. Intellectually snotty, even. If Stanley Kubrick re-makes “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” into the ironic anthem for the psychotic killers, remorseless bullies, and cynical assholes like what we have in Full Metal Jacket, then he has found a very clever and sophisticated way to say that the American GI’s did not have the moral high ground in Vietnam.

And why is this an anti-humanist perspective? Well, for one, Kubrick up till this point in the film refuses to humanize two of his three main characters, not to mention the entire US marine corps. But we already know that. Secondly, the American soldiers, despite whatever misdeeds you can accuse them of, did indeed have the moral high ground in Vietnam. Of course, you can’t expect soldiers to behave like boy scouts when they’re getting shot at all the time. You will find abuse in all wars and on virtually all sides. But as a whole, and in comparison with our enemies, the American forces have little be ashamed of for their conduct during the war.

I understand this not a popular opinion these days. Most educated people, if they think about the Vietnam War at all, will consider the war an act of colonial aggression on the part of the US and ascribe to it the basest of motivations. And of course they’ll have this perspective. They will be informed mostly by films like Full Metal Jacket.

For a more rounded perspective, you can go to Our War Was Different by Al Hemingway, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, 1965, by Jack Shulimson and Charles Johnson, A Voice of Hope by Thomas Flynn, the documentary The American Humanitarian Effort: Out-takes from Vietnam, The untold story of humanitarian efforts during and after the Vietnam War by Robert Wilensky, and Gentle Warriors: U.S. Marines and Humanitarian Action during the Vietnam War by Lindsay Kittle. These sources will show that winning hearts and minds were not simply words to many US servicemen. The US forces did make real efforts to save and protect the South Vietnamese from the Viet Cong as well as improve their standard of life as much as they could.

Yes, there were American war crimes. According to Wikipedia, there was the Mai Lai Massacre of 1968 (504 civilians killed) and other less famous crimes amounting to an additional estimated 194 civilian deaths. This makes the total of innocent lives lost at the hands of American soldiers to 698.

Bad, yes. Tragic, definitely. And you know what? Let’s make it even worse. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that Wikipedia got it wrong. Let’s say just for the heck of it that Wiki came up short by about an order of magnitude. Let’s just say that it wasn’t 698 civilian deaths caused by US servicemen but 6980. Then let’s round it up to an even 7000, because I’m a nice guy. That still would be nothing compared to the sins of our enemy.

According to Wikipedia:

During the months and years that followed the Battle of Huế, which began on January 31, 1968, and lasted a total of 28 days, dozens of mass graves were discovered in and around Huế. North Vietnamese troops executed between 2,800 to 6,000 civilians and prisoners of war. Victims were found bound, tortured, and sometimes apparently buried alive.

Really. Burning people alive, huh? Even Kubrick doesn’t accuse American GI’s of that. Wait, there’s more.

On December 5, 1967, two battalions of Viet Cong systematically killed 252 civilians in a “vengeance” attack on the hamlet of Đắk SÆ¡n, home to over 2,000 Montagnards, known for their fierce opposition to the Viet Cong. The Vietcong believed that the hamlet had at one point given aid to refugees fleeing Viet Cong forces.

and

VC terror squads, in the years 1967 to 1972, assassinated at least 36,000 people and abducted almost 58,000 people. Statistics for 1968-72 suggest that “about 80 percent of the terrorist victims were ordinary civilians and only about 20 percent were government officials, policemen, members of the self-defence forces or pacification cadres.” NVA/VC forces murdered between 106,000 and 227,000 civilians between 1954 and 1975 in South Vietnam. Up to 155,000 refugees fleeing the final North Vietnamese Spring Offensive were killed or abducted on the road to Tuy Hòa in 1975.

In fact, Wiki has a whole section on the VC/NVA use of terror here:

Let’s not even stop there, because the North Vietnamese were just getting started. Let’s jump cut to after the Vietnam War. Once Saigon fell in 1975, Vietnam succumbed to one of the most shameful periods of violence and oppression the world has seen since World War II. Indeed, the poor Vietnamese were thrown into the 10th circle of Hell. Again, from Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

On 2 July 1976, North and South Vietnam were merged to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Following the communist takeover, 1–2.5 million South Vietnamese were sent to reeducation camps, with an estimated 165,000 prisoners dying. Between 100,000 and 200,000 South Vietnamese were executed. R. J. Rummel, an analyst of political killings, estimated that about 50,000 South Vietnamese deported to “New Economic Zones” died performing hard labor, out of the 1 million that were sent. 200,000 to 400,000 Vietnamese boat people died at sea, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, fell to the communist Khmer Rouge on 17 April 1975. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge would eventually kill 1–3 million Cambodians in the Killing Fields, out of a population of around 8 million. At least 1,386,734 victims of execution have been counted in mass graves, while demographic analysis suggests that the policies of the regime caused between 1.7 and 2.5 million excess deaths altogether (including disease and starvation). After repeated border clashes in 1978, Vietnam invaded Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia) and ousted the Khmer Rouge in the Cambodian–Vietnamese War. The Vietnamese installed a new government led by Khmer Rouge defectors, which killed tens of thousands and enslaved hundreds of thousands.

Hey, Stan, don’t worry about all the zeroes in those numbers counting dead gooks, man. Zeroes mean nothing, baby. Nothin’.

Seriously, ignoring such all-encompassing evil in order to make US soldiers look bad cannot be seen as the work of a humanist. A humanist would be appalled at the inhumanity of the North Vietnamese and would be grateful that the United States and other civilized countries sent men over there to stop them.

I’ll say it, and I’ll say it slow. The North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War and afterwards were a bunch of ruthless communist bastards. They were enemies of humanity and a stain on the human race. They are guilty of murdering, subjugating, and terrorizing millions upon millions, and I am proud to live in the United States which had the moral courage to stand up to people like that. This one major reason why I have problems with Full Metal Jacket, for all its brilliance.

This concludes part 1 of my polemic against Full Metal Jacket. Part 2 will address part 2 of the film and how Kubrick continues to rely upon shocking dialogue rather than visionary filmmaking to promote his less-than-humanistic ideas.

Johannes Brahms – A Mini-Biography

Brahms1

Was Johannes Brahms a musical purist carrying on the spirit of the Baroque and Classical traditions? Or was he a stodgy conservative who resisted all change in the Western musical tradition? Indeed, Brahms was “old school” back when the old school may not have been that old, but it certainly wasn’t new. He steadfastly resisted the burgeoning and sensational “Music of the Future” movement inspired by Hector Berlioz and spearheaded by such luminaries as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. By the mid-19th century, classical music was churning with changes that promised to unify the literary, visual, and musical arts. For Wagner, this meant voluptuous multi-layered operatic productions; for Liszt, symphonic poems with literary or visual art underpinnings. All this pointed to a glorious future for music, and indeed paved much of the way towards the radicalism of the Twentieth Century.

In the face of such progress, Brahms was fly in the proverbial ointment. His first symphony, completed in 1876, embodied the classical ideal so much it was praised as “Beethoven’s Tenth”. He championed Bach back when Bach’s music still wasn’t all that fashionable in Vienna. He concentrated on succeeding Schubert as a composer of lieder (German for songs), equaling Beethoven as a composer of symphonies, and composing gorgeous chamber music like no one. After the voices of Mendelssohn and Schumann fell silent in the mid-nineteenth century, Brahms was, as one critic put it, the “keeper of the classical flame.”

Brahms1 Was Johannes Brahms a musical purist carrying on the spirit of the Baroque and Classical traditions? Or was he a stodgy conservative who resisted all change in the Western musical tradition? Indeed, Brahms was “old school” back when the old school may not have been that old, but it certainly wasn’t new. He steadfastly resisted the burgeoning and sensational “Music of the Future” movement inspired by Hector Berlioz and spearheaded by such luminaries as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. By the mid-19th century, classical music was churning with changes that promised to unify the literary, visual, and musical arts. For Wagner, this meant voluptuous multi-layered operatic productions; for Liszt, symphonic poems with literary or visual art underpinnings. All this pointed to a glorious future for music, and indeed paved much of the way towards the radicalism of the Twentieth Century. In the face of such progress, Brahms was fly in the proverbial ointment. His first symphony, completed in 1876, embodied the classical ideal so much it was praised as “Beethoven’s Tenth”. He championed Bach back when Bach’s music still wasn’t all that fashionable in Vienna. He concentrated on succeeding Schubert as a composer of lieder (German for songs), equaling Beethoven as a composer of symphonies, and composing gorgeous chamber music like no one. After the voices of Mendelssohn and Schumann fell silent in the mid-nineteenth century, Brahms was, as one critic put it, the “keeper of the classical flame.” brahms2 Check out some of my Brahms favorites: The Horn Trio, The Academic Festival Overture, and of course, his Violin Concerto. And the way his Second Symphony just barrels to a close is nothing short of glorious. Brahms also produced a wealth of choral music (such as the German Requiem), and perhaps his most profitable works, the Hungarian Dances, demonstrate a deep interest in folk music. That, and he composed a classic lullaby (“lullaby, and good night…”) that rocks children to sleep even today. Brahms’ reputation as the stodgy conservative wasn’t helped at all by his famously brusque behavior. Born in 1833 to humble conditions in the waterfront city of Hamburg, Brahms never seemed to pick up the refinement and manners that one would expect from a star composer. Nor did he seem to care. He reportedly fell asleep while virtuoso Franz Liszt was giving a recital at his home. He did little to curtail his negative opinions of contemporaries such as Anton Bruckner and Peter Tchaikovsky. He was known to say offensive and acerbic things at parties, such as the time when at the home of a wine enthusiast, the host opened what he called “the Brahms of his cellar.” Brahms took a sip and reportedly muttered that host had better bring out the Beethoven. Another story involves how he tried to escape a group of female admirers by lighting up a cigar. Nearly choking on smoke, the ladies scolded Brahms about how gentlemen do not smoke in front of ladies. Brahms replied that “where there are angels there must also be clouds.” Indeed, the quintessential Brahms quote, probably apocryphal but definitely fun, was when leaving a party, he announced, “If there is anyone here I have not offended, I do apologize.” Brahms also had a passionate side, and this was famously expressed in his forty-year relationship with piano virtuoso Clara Schumann. Young and virtually unknown, Brahms fell in with Robert and Clara

Schumann in 1853 after the composer (not one for understatement) hailed him as a genius, a “Minerva fully armed from the head of Jove”. They were tremendously fond of each other, so much that young Johannes lived with the Schumanns for several months and acted as big brother to their many children.

Robert and Clara Schumann
Robert and Clara Schumann
When Robert died three years later, Brahms grew much closer with Clara, who was fourteen years his senior. There is much speculation as to whether their relationship was romantic or platonic, with most evidence (or lack thereof) pointing to a loving but platonic one. Then again, they did burn a lot of their letters, so one has to wonder. Regardless, theirs was a relationship for the ages, filled with passion and strife, and with love and music. It is speculated that this love, thwarted by an insurmountable age difference, is the reason why Brahms never married. He could never find another Clara. Clara finally died in 1896, and this set off a series of tragic accidents that made Brahms horribly late for her funeral. He received the news late, boarded the wrong train, missed his stop, backtracked and got off at the wrong city, and then spent the next forty hours without sleep correcting these mistakes. He arrived during the procession to the grave, exhausted and in tears, just in time to toss three fistfuls of dirt on her coffin. Later, he said, “Now, I have nobody left to lose.” Beyond the boorishness and this intense passion, those who knew Brahms knew him for the kind-hearted softie he really was. He lived modestly in a three room apartment and gave much of his money away to relatives or fellow musicians. He once offered his fortune to a young Antonin Dvorak and helped further the career of Gustav Mahler. He loved nature and the outdoors, and was famous for taking long walks throughout Vienna. He once claimed he could hear music in the croaking of bullfrogs!
Two of Brahms' famous beneficiaries: Dvorak and Mahler
Two of Brahms’ famous beneficiaries: Dvorak and Mahler
Brahms was also extremely humble for someone who was the toast of Vienna for practically three decades. Once at a party, when someone lifted his glass to Brahms to honor the greatest composer of all time, Brahms completed the toast by announcing, “Yes, yes, let’s all drink to Mozart’s health!” and quickly downed his glass. As rough and rude he was, Brahms was indeed a sweet, generous man. This is perhaps exemplified best when someone once asked him for an autograph. Brahms jotted down a few bars of the Beautiful Blue Danube by his dear friend Johann Strauss Jr., and beneath it wrote, “Alas, not written by…Johannes Brahms.”

Chess Will Break Your Heart

On November 22nd, 2013, Magnus Carlsen from Norway defeated Viswanathan (Vishy) Anand of India in the World’s Chess Championship. Pretty much everyone knew he would. After all, at 22, Carlsen is more than twenty years younger than Anand and is rated nearly 100 points higher. In chess, an Elo rating encapsulates in a single number the estimated strength of a player based on his recent performances. Going into the match, Anand’s was 2775, enough to put him in the top ten in the world. Carlsen’s, however, was 2870, the highest ever.

Game9pic

According to Wikipedia:

The difference in the ratings between two players serves as a predictor of the outcome of a match. If two players with equal ratings play against each other, they are expected to score an equal number of wins (50% each). A player whose rating is 100 points greater than his or her opponent’s is expected to score 64%, if the difference is 200 points the expected score for the stronger player is 76%.

So, the expected happened after game 10 of the match, and a new chess champion, the 16th to be precise, was crowned. Carlsen won three games, drew seven, and lost none in a best of twelve. Much has been made of this being a new era in chess with the old giving way to the new (as it always does). This is all correct, of course. Further, Carlsen won the way he always does. Instead of bold gambits or piercing brilliancies, he simply achieved even middle games and then started building up small advantages until his opponent either found the draw or cracked under pressure.

On November 22nd, 2013, Magnus Carlsen from Norway defeated Viswanathan (Vishy) Anand of India in the World’s Chess Championship. Pretty much everyone knew he would. After all, at 22, Carlsen is more than twenty years younger than Anand and is rated nearly 100 points higher. In chess, an Elo rating encapsulates in a single number the estimated strength of a player based on his recent performances. Going into the match, Anand’s was 2775, enough to put him in the top ten in the world. Carlsen’s, however, was 2870, the highest ever. Game9pic According to Wikipedia:

The difference in the ratings between two players serves as a predictor of the outcome of a match. If two players with equal ratings play against each other, they are expected to score an equal number of wins (50% each). A player whose rating is 100 points greater than his or her opponent’s is expected to score 64%, if the difference is 200 points the expected score for the stronger player is 76%.

So, the expected happened after game 10 of the match, and a new chess champion, the 16th to be precise, was crowned. Carlsen won three games, drew seven, and lost none in a best of twelve. Much has been made of this being a new era in chess with the old giving way to the new (as it always does). This is all correct, of course. Further, Carlsen won the way he always does. Instead of bold gambits or piercing brilliancies, he simply achieved even middle games and then started building up small advantages until his opponent either found the draw or cracked under pressure. The only sporting analogy I can think of is the underappreciated heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes. He wasn’t very flashy and he lacked serious knockout power. But he was just very tough, made few mistakes, and found ways to outfight guys late. Holmes’ greatest KO victories (Shavers, Weaver, Cooney) all came after the tenth round. So that’s Magnus Carlsen. As for Anand, however, he had his chances in game 9. At that point he was trailing two to nothing with four games remaining. Had he won game 9, survival would not have been out of the question. He would have been only one win away from drawing the match. This would take the competitors into the rapid tie breaks where Vishy, a renowned speed player, would be on better footing against his young challenger. This says nothing of the psychological boost the victory would have given him as well. There are many ways for grandmasters to bore an audience with a chess game. They can go through the motions, so to speak, and no one but other grandmasters and the computer engines would know any better. They can replay drawn games played by other players from before (yes, they have them memorized). They can trade down all major pieces and let the conflict peter out into a lifeless endgame. Or they can play certain openings that require precise positional calculations rather than deadly tactics. For example, a positional player may think something along the lines of, “Well, if I post my knight on d6 and then double my rooks on the open C-file, in fifteen moves I may have a queen-side pawn majority that will be difficult to stop provided I somehow deal with my opponents pesky bishop on g4 which is currently pinning my knight to my queen.” Yeah, chess isn’t exactly a spectator sport for a reason. [Caveat: I’m not a chess professional and I really don’t know what the hell I’m talking about with all that algebraic notation above. The specifics were completely made up in order to make a point. So all you chess whizzes out there…don’t bother analyzing. And for those of you who don’t understand chess algebraic notation to begin with, reference this chessboard. Every square has a letter and a number. Note the e4 square in the middle.] algebraicNotation A tactical player on the other hand will pretty much play chess the way we all do, except better: “If I go here with my queen, he must go there. And then I take. Then he takes. Then I take. Then he takes. Then I fork his rook and bishop. He sacrifices the exchange for a pawn, which forces me to take on h5. Then he has to take on e7 or be mated. Then, of course, queen to g3 which will force him to resign since he can’t defend both his knight and bishop at the same time!” If you can sum it up concisely (and perhaps only somewhat inaccurately), the positional player plays not to lose while the tactical player plays to win. Game 9 was a game of tactics. Both players came to fight and both players fought to win. Carlsen as black was desperately trying to break through on the queen side while Anand was desperately trying to checkmate the black king. After a point, there was nothing subtle about the position. Swords were drawn, firsts were clenched, and both guys yelled, “Charge!” Clearly, positional considerations are for sissies. Here is the position after white’s 27th move:

Chess fans love bloodcurdling positions like these.
Chess fans love bloodcurdling positions like these.
So white is two moves away from checkmating black. All he has to do is move his rook to the H file, and nothing can prevent black’s pawn on h7 from falling. And once that happens, it’s checkmate. On the other hand, black is about to queen his pawn on the b file and deliver a check at the same time. Can he harry white’s king long enough to keep the white rook off of h4? Well, first he promotes his pawn and forces white to protect his king: Move27Black And here is where Vishy Anand’s heart must have broken. He defended his king with his knight and not his bishop. A horrific blunder. An “insta-loss” as they say. Anand had to resign almost immediately. Why? Because it led to this position after black’s 28th move: Move28Black Remember how black needed to find a way to keep white’s rook from reaching the h file? Well, thanks to knight f1, he got it. His queen, now on e1, is bearing down diagonally on the same square the white rook is: h4. So if Anand were to move there, his rook would be snatched up. Sure, the white queen can recapture, but she alone cannot achieve checkmate against the defended pawn on h7. Like a poker player who goes all in, Anand was pinning all his hopes on checkmate. Further, at this point he would be playing a full rook down against the number one rated player in the world. Resignation was the only choice. Heartbreaking because had Anand defended with the bishop instead, he could have won, or at least achieved such a thrilling draw that both players, their handlers, and pretty much everyone viewing the game worldwide would have needed a cigarette to recover.
Baby, it was as good for everyone as it was for me.
Baby, it was as good for everyone as it was for me.
Here is what the board may have looked like after such a move: Move28Black2 Notice that with the knight still on g3 there is nothing keeping the white rook from supporting the queen on the h file. Please feel free to play the game through in the application below to see what possibilities were in store for both players had Anand found the correct continuation of this apocalyptic position. Annotations by Josh Friedel. And read more about the game here at Chessbase. [pgn height=500 initialHalfmove=16 autoplayMode=none] [Event “FWCM 2013”] [Site “Chennai”] [Date “2013.11.21”] [Round “9”] [White “Anand, Viswanathan”] [Black “Carlsen, Magnus”] [Result “0-1”] [ECO “E25”] [WhiteElo “2775”] [BlackElo “2870”] [Annotator “Josh Friedel”] [PlyCount “56”] [EventDate “2013.??.??”] [EventCountry “IND”] [TimeControl “40/7200:20/3600:900+30”] 1. d4 {No Berlin this time, and the entire world claps.} Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. f3 {The f3 Nimzo is known for its sharpness, and now it was clear Anand was ready to fight.} d5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 c5 7. cxd5 exd5 (7… Nxd5 8. dxc5 Qa5 {is the main line, and I remember Anand winning a wonderful game against Wang Hao here. Alright, might as well show it.} 9. e4 Ne7 10. Be3 O-O 11. Qb3 Qc7 12. Bb5 Nec6 13. Ne2 Na5 14. Qb4 e5 15. O-O Be6 16. Nd4 $1 exd4 17. cxd4 Nbc6 18. Qc3 Ne7 19. Rfd1 Rad8 20. Bf2 a6 21. Bg3 Qc8 22. Bf1 b6 23. Rab1 Nb3 24. Rxb3 Bxb3 25. Qxb3 bxc5 26. d5 Ng6 27. Qb6 f5 28. Bxa6 Qd7 29. Bb5 Qf7 30. exf5 Qxf5 31. Qxc5 Rc8 32. Qd4 Rfd8 33. a4 {1-0 (33) Anand,V (2810)-Wang Hao (2731) Wijk aan Zee 2011 CBM 141 [Anand]}) 8. e3 c4 {This has been a trend lately, trying to mess with White’s development scheme of Bd3-Ne2. The main drawback to this is that e4 is potentially much stronger with the pawn on c4. It was a surprise for me to see this line, as it certainly isn’t the safest, but perhaps it is simply what Carlsen prepared before the match.} (8… O-O 9. Bd3 b6 10. Ne2 Ba6 {is by far the most popular, and seems to be much more in Carlsen’s style to me.}) 9. Ne2 Nc6 10. g4 {White prepares Bg2 and prevents Black from playing Bf5. It is clear we will have a fight!} O-O $1 11. Bg2 Na5 12. O-O $1 Nb3 13. Ra2 b5 {This is one of Black’s major ideas in this c4 system. Put a knight on b3, shove the queenside, and hope not to get checkmated. The knight on b3 is actually not all that strong, but it helps to always have the option of taking White’s bishop.} 14. Ng3 a5 15. g5 (15. e4 dxe4 16. fxe4 Bxg4 17. Qe1 {was another approach, but Anand possibly felt there was no need to sac a pawn.}) 15… Ne8 16. e4 Nxc1 {Magnus didn’t want to allow Be3 and the knight on b3 might find itself to be a spectator.} 17. Qxc1 Ra6 {Magnus might not be afraid here, but I would be. White’s pawns look menacing.} 18. e5 {Vishy closes off the center and prepares to shove his f-pawn.} (18. Rb2 {I might prefer a bit, retaining

some kingside flexibility and discouraging Black’s b4 counterplay.}) 18… Nc7 19. f4 (19. Rb2 {I still like for White, as once b4 happens Black’s counterplay is quite annoying. I find when you are in a must-win situation, it is easy to forget prophylactic moves.}) 19… b4 20. axb4 axb4 21. Rxa6 Nxa6 22. f5 (22. cxb4 {was “safer” but this is no way to play for the win, as now he’ll always be tied down to defending d4.}) 22… b3 {Both sides go all in. Black entrenches a protected passer on b3, but takes away all the pressure on White’s center. In order for him to use this pawn, however, he needs to survive White’s attack.} 23. Qf4 ( 23. h4 Nc7 24. h5 {was another plan of attack. It looks incredibly scary for Black, but it isn’t so clear how White will break through.}) 23… Nc7 24. f6 { Once again, Vishy opts for the most committal continuation. I also don’t think this move should be rushed.} (24. Qh4 {was a more flexible possibility. Now if} Ne8 25. Nh5 {There are some real threats.} b2 26. f6 g6 27. Nf4 {and White has more chances than in the game.}) 24… g6 25. Qh4 Ne8 26. Qh6 {Anand goes for the most direct attacking plan, which involves letting Black queen!} (26. Ne2 { was the other option, trying to bring the knight into the fray. A possible variation could go} Be6 27. Nf4 Qa5 28. Bh3 Bxh3 29. Qxh3 b2 {It looks like Black will be faster, but White has the resource} 30. Ne6 $1 Qa1 {Black has to continue his queenside play.} (30… fxe6 31. Qxe6+ Kh8 32. Qe7 {is crushing.}) 31. Nxf8 Kxf8 32. e6 Nd6 {Another only move, as Qh6-exf7+ was a mating threat.} 33. Qh6+ (33. exf7 h5 $1 {wins for Black.}) 33… Ke8 34. exf7+ Nxf7 35. Qh3 { and now the game will end in perpetual after} Kd8 36. Qg2 b1=Q 37. Qxd5+ Kc8 38. Qc6+ Kd8 39. Qd5+ {with a draw.}) 26… b2 27. Rf4 $1 {This is truly throwing all your chips into the middle of the table.} b1=Q+ {And here, unfortunately, Vishy has a mental blank. I’m not sure if he missed Black’s response or if he simply thought he was lost anyway.} 28. Nf1 $4 (28. Bf1 {was necessary, and now} Qd1 {is forced, planning to pitch the queen on h5.} 29. Rh4 Qh5 30. Nxh5 gxh5 31. Rxh5 Bf5 {and at first White looks busted, but he has the move} 32. g6 $1 Bxg6 33. Rg5 {with the plan of h4-h5. Black is paralyzed, so he has nothing better than} Nxf6 34. exf6 Qxf6 35. Rxd5 {and the game will most likely be drawn after something like} Qf3 36. Rc5 Qxc3 37. Qf4 {and White takes on c4 next move. The d-pawn could be strong, but the king on g1 is too exposed to do much with it. Even so, I’m sure Vishy would have taken the extra 1/2 point.}) 28… Qe1 {The only move, but now it is over, as Rh4 is met by Qxh4 and Black is up a clean rook. It was really ashame to see Vishy’s fighting spirit meet with such an end. It must be said, however, that Magnus kept his cool throughout the game despite the scary-looking attack and it seems like he was never really in any trouble. Despite this, Vishy really had everything he wanted out of the opening, and I’m sure he’d like that one back.} 0-1 [/pgn] So what do we have here? Vishy Anand achieved a dangerous double-edged position against Magnus Carlsen in which Carlsen said later he had real fear of being checkmated. And Anand needed the win. A draw would have been as good as a loss at that point since he was running out of games with which to catch up to his challenger. It was do or die time, and, unfortunately, an elementary blunder caused him to choose the latter. Imagine an artist ruining a masterpiece with a bold, yet errant, brush stroke. Imagine a musician marring a brilliant cadenza with a series of wrong notes. Magnus Carlsen didn’t so much win game 9 as Vishy Anand lost it. And everyone knew it immediately. Game 8 of the previous world championship ended with a similar one-move knockout blow, but it was Anand who delivered it. His challenger, the Israeli Boris Gelfand, sacrificed a knight to capture a pawn and a rook. Good exchange, right? Well, Anand responded with a beautiful move that almost no one saw coming. It was subtle, yet deadly. It trapped Boris’s queen and would have forced him to sacrifice a second piece in order to extricate her. Boris resigned on the spot. I posit that such a loss is not heartbreaking. There is no shame in going down to a brilliancy. For one, it could put you in the history books. Secondly, we’re all human, right? To miss a stroke of genius that only your opponent and the chess engines can see is perfectly understandable. Anand’s loss in game 9 is another matter entirely. Knight f1 was such an obvious blunder that the commentators (who are nowhere near Anand’s league) were ruling it out long before Anand committed it. That Anand actually played it in a world championship match was nothing short of catastrophic. And how did Anand react? Pure class. anand He showed no adverse reaction during the game (unlike Garry Kasparov’s characteristic flair for the dramatic. Start at about the 4:50 mark here and prepare to be entertained). Further, during the game 9 press conference Anand was admirably candid. He simply admitted that he had missed the open diagonal on the h4 square when he moved his knight. pressconference Remember, Vishy Anand is a national hero in a nation of over a billion people. Further, the match took place in India. At times it received more Twitter activity than cricket, the Indian national pastime. To make this feat even more remarkable, Anand received more Twitter attention in India than Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar did on the day the great batsman retired. This would be like Bobby Fischer supplanting the Super Bowl. For Indian fans, Tendulkar is the Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, and Wayne Gretsky of cricket.

This man is idolized by millions, yet for a brief time he played second fiddle to chess.
This man is idolized by millions, yet for a brief time he played second fiddle to chess.
Imagine the pressure. It’s hard enough to take on the number one player in the world in twelve straight games. But with the added weight of tens of millions on your shoulders, it’s amazing that Anand showed up at the press conference at all. That he carried himself with such poise boggles the mind. True, Anand has really nothing left to prove. He became India’s first grandmaster in 1988. He’s been a top five player for over twenty years and the undisputed world champion for the past six. He successfully defended his title on three occasions. He has the fourth highest FIDE rating of all time (2817, achieved in 2011), and is generally considered one of the greatest chess players who ever lived. But still. Hearts break. And they ain’t like eggs. You don’t get a yummy omelet afterwards. No. No. You get a big hot steaming plate of bubkes, that’s what’s you get. That, and a tall, ice cold glass of suck it up and deal.
Well, at least it probably wouldn't kill ya.
Well, at least it probably wouldn’t kill ya.
Losing in game 9 the way he did would have been heartbreaking for most of us. And it probably was for Anand too. Yet he took it like a man. Like a champion. I have to resist the urge to throw my cell phone through a wall every time I commit such a game-ending blunder. And I’m a patzer. A chess nothing. A nobody. Imagine how Anand must have felt. In any sport it’s inevitable that the old gives way to the new. Names like Anand, Kramnik, Ivanchuk, Topalov, and Gelfand will, in the next few years, give way entirely to the new generation: Caruana, Nakamura, Aronian, Karjakin, Radjabov, along with Carlsen, all born in the 1980s or 1990s. There’s no stopping it. Former title challenger Nigel Short called it. It’s the end of an era. And I will say that Magnus Carlsen is a worthy champion and standard bearer for the new era. Not only is he a great player, but he is young and charismatic. He’s also a fashion model. He’s done the rounds of late night comedy. He will turn millions on to chess. Much of this has been observed before. But one of the most important traits that Carlsen shares with Anand is that he’s a nice guy. He’s no troubled genius like Bobby Fischer who went into seclusion to rot in a cauldron of bitter paranoia. Instead, from all reports, Carlsen has healthy relationships with his friends and family and treats his colleagues and the public with respect. Like Anand, a thorough class act. And I find this utterly remarkable since Magnus Carlsen is only twenty-two years-old. I know for this certain: If I was half as good at anything at twenty-two as Magnus Carlsen is at chess…I would have been an asshole. At such a young age, the things I would have said…the things I would have done. The arrogance, the pretension, the self-importance. Oh my God. I embarrass myself just thinking about it. Let’s just say that it’s good that not everyone has what it takes to be the world’s chess champion. And it is equally good that we have chess champions as classy and as great as Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen, broken hearts and all.
The king is dead. Long live the king.
The king is dead. Long live the king.

The 50 Greatest Rock Albums

Here are the rules: No greatest hits, no compilations, no live records, no various artists, 50% of the songs have to be originals, and no artist can be in the list twice in the same band. A lot of no-brainers here. Hopefully you’ll find a few gems too.

Pet Sounds – Beach Boys – 1966

Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – Beatles – 1967

Velvet Underground and Nico – Velvet Underground – 1967

Are You Experienced? – Jimi Hendrix Experience – 1967

Astral Weeks – Van Morrison – 1968

Willy and the Poor Boys – Credence Clearwater Revival – 1969

Arthur – Kinks – 1969

The Gilded Palace of Sin – Flying Burrito Brothers – 1969

Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel – 1970

Fun House – Stooges – 1970

There’s A Riot Goin’ On – Sly and the Family Stone – 1971

Who’s Next – Who – 1971

Exile on Main Street – Rolling Stones – 1972

Modern Lovers – Modern Lovers – 1972

New York Dolls – New York Dolls – 1973

Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan – 1974

Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen – 1975

Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols – Sex Pistols – 1977

Rocket to Russia – Ramones – 1977

Let There Be Rock – AC/DC – 1977

Rumours – Fleetwood Mac – 1977

I’m Stranded – Saints – 1977

Street Hassle – Lou Reed – 1978

52nd Street – Billy Joel – 1978

Rust Never Sleeps – Neil Young – 1979

Squeezing Out Sparks – Graham Parker – 1979

Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones – 1979

Germ Free Adolescents – X-Ray Spex – 1979

London Calling – Clash – 1980

Get Happy! – Elvis Costello – 1980

Swordfishtrombones – Tom Waits – 1983

Pleased to Meet Me – Replacements – 1987

Cuba – Silos – 1987

Sign o’ the Times – Prince – 1987

He’s Drunk + Plus, Also, Too – Scrawl – 1988

Hell’s Ditch – Pogues – 1990

I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got – Sinead O’Connor – 1990

Achtung Baby – U2- 1991

Love is Murder – Michael Hall – 1992

Gentlemen – Afghan Whigs – 1993

Exile in Guyville – Liz Phair – 1993

There is No-One What Will Take Care of You – Palace Brothers – 1993

Foolish – Superchunk – 1994

The Bends – Radiohead – 1995

Dirty Three – Dirty Three – 1995

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel – 1998

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams – 1988

White Blood Cells – White Stripes – 2001

Funeral – Arcade Fire – 2004

Separation Sunday – Hold Steady – 2005

Heretic Pride – Mountain Goats – 2007

Cage the Elephant – Cage the Elephant – 2008

Aim and Ignite – Fun – 2009

21 – Adele – 2011

Strange Desire – Bleachers – 2014

Title – Meghan Trainor – 2015

Here are the rules: No greatest hits, no compilations, no live records, no various artists, at least 50% of the songs have to be originals, and no artist can be in the list twice in the same band. A lot of no-brainers here. Hopefully you’ll find a few gems too. My 2000’s suck. I know. Sue me. I’m working on it. Put in the comments any you think I missed or where I’m full of it. So here it is in chronological order. Enjoy.

Pet Sounds – Beach Boys – 1966

Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – Beatles – 1967

Velvet Underground and Nico – Velvet Underground – 1967

Are You Experienced? – Jimi Hendrix Experience – 1967

Astral Weeks – Van Morrison – 1968

Willy and the Poor Boys – Credence Clearwater Revival – 1969

Arthur – Kinks – 1969

The Gilded Palace of Sin – Flying Burrito Brothers – 1969

Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel – 1970

Fun House – Stooges – 1970

There’s A Riot Goin’ On – Sly and the Family Stone – 1971

Who’s Next – Who – 1971

Exile on Main Street – Rolling Stones – 1972

Modern Lovers – Modern Lovers – 1972

New York Dolls – New York Dolls – 1973

Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan – 1974

Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen – 1975

Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols – Sex Pistols – 1977

Rocket to Russia – Ramones – 1977

Let There Be Rock – AC/DC – 1977

Rumours – Fleetwood Mac – 1977

I’m Stranded – Saints – 1977

Street Hassle – Lou Reed – 1978

52nd Street – Billy Joel – 1978

Rust Never Sleeps – Neil Young – 1979

Squeezing Out Sparks – Graham Parker – 1979

Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones – 1979

Germ Free Adolescents – X-Ray Spex – 1979

London Calling – Clash – 1980

Get Happy! – Elvis Costello – 1980

Swordfishtrombones – Tom Waits – 1983

Pleased to Meet Me – Replacements – 1987

Cuba – Silos – 1987

Sign o’ the Times – Prince – 1987

He’s Drunk + Plus, Also, Too – Scrawl – 1988

Hell’s Ditch – Pogues – 1990

I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got – Sinead O’Connor – 1990

Achtung Baby – U2- 1991

Love is Murder – Michael Hall – 1992

Gentlemen – Afghan Whigs – 1993

Exile in Guyville – Liz Phair – 1993

There is No-One What Will Take Care of You – Palace Brothers – 1993

Foolish – Superchunk – 1994

The Bends – Radiohead – 1995

Dirty Three – Dirty Three – 1995

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel – 1998

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – Lucinda Williams – 1988

White Blood Cells – White Stripes – 2001

Funeral – Arcade Fire – 2004

Separation Sunday – Hold Steady – 2005

Heretic Pride – Mountain Goats – 2007

Cage the Elephant – Cage the Elephant – 2008

Aim and Ignite – Fun – 2009

21 – Adele – 2011

Strange Desire – Bleachers – 2014

Title – Meghan Trainor – 2015
 

The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century – Part 10

So here it is. The final installment of the Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. In previous posts we counted down the top twenty and then the ten also-rans. We also discussed the Americans who missed out on the glory for either being not great enough or not weird enough.

Check out parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 of this series.

In our final post, we will take on two individuals who missed the cut for their own unique reasons but still deserve mention when outlining the pantheon of American weirdness. And when it is all over, we’ll provide a list of folks to look out for; that is, those Americans who are still with us but could potentially make the grade once they weird their way out of this life and into the next.

John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943).

DrKellogg

Ever have a crazy uncle or neighbor who could never stop spouting the most bizarre ideas as if they were the gospel truth? Sacrilege, embarrassment, doubt, common sense, feh. Guys like that have no time for any of that sissy stuff, or for listening to anyone else for that matter. They know what they know, they want you to know that they know what they know, and they want you to know what they know too. At parties they usually end up standing by themselves in a corner, hogging all the dip.

Anyway, if loud and opinionated lost souls ever had a patron saint, it would be John Harvey Kellogg. Kellogg was a great man in that he singlehandedly initiated the healthy living craze that is still chugging along today. He came out of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and brought with him all the prosthelytizing passion you would expect in such an organization. In his home state of Michigan he founded the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a place where the sick and the not-so-sick would go to convalesce their way back to health. (The place was cleverly spoofed in the 1994 film, The Road to Wellville, by the way). Kellogg published nearly 50 books on what he called “biologic living,” and, in his heyday in the 1880s and 1890s, was one of the most influential medical authorities in the world.

So here it is. The final installment of the Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. In previous posts we counted down the top twenty and then the ten also-rans. We also discussed the Americans who missed out on the glory for either being not great enough or not weird enough.

Check out parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,  8, and 9 of this series.

In our final post, we will take on two individuals who missed the cut for their own unique reasons but still deserve mention when outlining the pantheon of American weirdness. And when it is all over, we’ll provide a list of folks to look out for; that is, those Americans who are still with us but could potentially make the grade once they weird their way out of this life and into the next.

John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943).

DrKellogg

Ever have a crazy uncle or neighbor who could never stop spouting the most bizarre ideas as if they were the gospel truth? Sacrilege, embarrassment, doubt, common sense, feh. Guys like that have no time for any of that sissy stuff, or for listening to anyone else for that matter. They know what they know, they want you to know that they know what they know, and they want you to know what they know too. At parties they usually end up standing by themselves in a corner, hogging all the dip.

Anyway, if loud and opinionated lost souls ever had a patron saint, it would be John Harvey Kellogg. Kellogg was a great man in that he singlehandedly initiated the healthy living craze that is still chugging along today. He came out of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and brought with him all the prosthelytizing passion you would expect in such an organization. In his home state of Michigan he founded the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a place where the sick and the not-so-sick would go to convalesce their way back to health. (The place was cleverly spoofed in the 1994 film, The Road to Wellville, by the way). Kellogg published nearly 50 books on what he called “biologic living,” and, in his heyday in the 1880s and 1890s, was one of the most influential medical authorities in the world.

It was the parrot that did all the work. Kellogg was just there to give him something to stand on.
Really, it was the parrot that did all the work. Kellogg was just there to give him something to poop on.

Many of Kellogg’s doctrines centered around the then-radical idea that diet and exercise are central to healthy living. He was also adamantly opposed to smoking. Well, yes, such good practices are taken for granted today, but not so much in the late 19th century when many physicians promoted fatty foods and cigar smoke as being good for you. Due to this man’s energy and singular purpose, millions worldwide learned how to take steps to ensure longer and healthier lives. He was also fearless and imaginative when it came to technology. Some of his contraptions seem silly today, like his electrotherapy coil cages and light bulb baths. On the other hand, he did improve upon and popularize mechanical exercise machines, which are ubiquitous today. He was also one of the first physicians insisting upon sterile environments in which to work. Other Kellogg inventions include peanut butter, inhalers to treat nasal passages, and the electric blanket.

Kellogg was also a top notch surgeon, setting a world record in the 1890s with 165 operations in a row without a fatality. His list of well-known patients included President Taft, Amelia Earhart, George Bernard Shaw, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison.

All this, and he helped invent the corn flake breakfast cereal with his brother Will Keith in 1895. Yes, Kellogg was a great man. But he was every bit as weird if not weirder.

Um, so why are you stanging in my Corn Flakes, kid?
Um, so why are you standing in my Corn Flakes, kid?

First, there was his preoccupation with poop. Kellogg breathlessly studied the feces of chimpanzees and gorillas to prove the efficacy of a vegetarian diet. And he would not shut up about constipation, insisting upon a solid bowel movement after every meal. Then there was the pernicious sin of self abuse (i.e., onanism, “the silent killer of the night”) which he tirelessly campaigned against. He once claimed that masturbation had a worse effect on humanity than war, plague, and small pox, and prescribed circumcision without anesthesia to cure men and boys of it once and for all. (Yes, that would do the trick, wouldn’t it?)

He was also one of the first to claim that choking chickens caused “dimness of vision”. Hairy palms, not so much, it seems.

And for women, it was worse. To keep them from going blind, he recommended applying carbolic acid to their private parts or, even worse, clitorectomies.

Sex, of course, was hardly better in his eyes. He would constantly warn married couples against sexual “excesses”, whatever they may be. He also bragged that he never consummated his marriage with his wife. Not surprising from a guy who wrote a book on his honeymoon and then decided to adopt 40 children. Can’t say John Harvey Kellogg didn’t practice what he preached.

Other wackadoo ideas include insisting that men at his spa wear exercise diapers, placing sandbags on the underweight as they slept, and building enema machines that squirted yogurt.

No, I am not going to show you the enema machine squirting yogurt.
No, I am not going to show you the enema machine that squirted yogurt.

So, if John Harvey Kellogg was so great AND so weird, why is he not on the list?

Well, it was close. But basically, he did most of his great work in the 19th century, and so belongs there rather than in the 20th. Kellogg certainly remained influential and active in the early 20th century, but by then he was mostly continuing all the things he had started in the 19th. He was hit hard by the Great Depression and was forced to sell his sanitarium. By this time, the medical establishment had caught up with him, and in many cases surpassed him. By clinging to his original ideas up until the end of his life, he began to seem more like a Victorian relic, and his ideas more faddish than cutting edge.

He died in 1943 at the age of 91. This was 9 years short of his goal but still proof that there might be something to this healthy living schtick after all.

Ezra Pound (1885-1972).

PoundMugShot

Despite being undeniably great and undeniably weird, Ezra Pound was quite frankly too notorious to be celebrated as a great American weirdo. Pound was always at least a little weird. It was only by middle age, when he embraced fascism and became a rabid anti-Semite, did things begin to descend beyond weirdness. By the time he was an old man, he spent 11 years in an insane asylum and didn’t particularly want to leave.

No serious effort to prove Pound’s greatness as a poet and literary figure will be made here because any effort here will not do the man justice. So instead, you’ll have hits greatest hits, so to speak. Pound was one of the leading lights of 20th Century poetry. Upon arrival in England in 1908 he took it upon himself to revolutionize the world of letters. He co-founded literary movements (most notably Imagism and Vorticism), edited literary magazines, and tirelessly championed great writers such as T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Ford Madox Ford, Robert Frost, and James Joyce when they were all still unknowns.

Pound with James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, and John Quinn
Pound with James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, and John Quinn

Loyal and dogged, Pound went to great lengths to ensure that the works of these and other writers saw print. He was also a brilliant editor, placing his famous red pen all over “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and other great works of Western literature.

It is said that Ernest Hemingway taught Pound how to box while Pound taught Hemingway how to write. Hemingway was the better pupil it seems, noting that Pound “habitually leads with his chin and has the general grace of a crayfish.” Given Pound’s later insanity, these words were prophetic in more ways than one.

Gotta keep that chin down, Ez.
Gotta keep that chin down, Ez.

Inspired as much by classical Chinese and Japanese poetry as by anything in the Western canon, Pound’s own work placed clarity and precision above all. His most famous works include Ripostes (1912), Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920), and his massive 120-section epic, The Cantos, which he labored over for more than 50 years. Pound was also an influential essayist and a successful yet highly controversial translator of foreign and ancient literature.

In his prime, Pound’s contemporaries recognized his genius, but also knew him as a bit of a showboater and spaz. Pink coats, green trousers, sombreros, hand-painted ties. Ezra Pound knew how to make a splash in more ways than one. T.S. Eliot once said that Pound’s manic behavior gave the impression of someone trying to explain to a deaf person that the house is on fire. Pound even challenged a prominent critic to a duel because the man dared to call for a return to the simplicity of William Wordsworth.

By the mid-1930s however a sad note crept in. Pound became increasingly erratic, paranoid, and, well, weird. Pound’s daughter described her father during this time as “visibly fighting a wasp nest in his brain”. In essence he embraced an economic doctrine called Social Credit which among other things condemns turning money into a commodity that can be bought and sold. From here he descended into vicious anti-Semitism and began publicly supporting fascist regimes such as Mussolini’s Italy and Nazi Germany. He lived in Rome during the war and was a vehement propagandist for the Axis, writing hundreds of letters, articles, and speeches, and spouting vile diatribes over Italian radio. After the war, he referred to Hitler as a martyr.

From 1947 to 1958 Pound was institutionalized. During this time, he was reclusive and refused treatment. His friends noticed how he would constantly fidget and twitch and could never stay on a single topic for long. When his fascist supporters visited him, he insisted they call him “Grampaw.” He never really apologized for his anti-Semitism nor for his words and actions during the war. Despite this, he still kept a quirky sense of humor. Shortly after his release from the mental hospital, Pound quipped, “No wonder my head hurts; all Europe fell on it.”

Many say that by cheerleading so stridently for the Nazis, Ezra Pound was no better than the murderers and lunatics I have decided to keep off this list. I agree with this argument. But given Pound’s tremendous and varied contributions to English literature and the fact that his wartime speeches were so loony and incoherent, he at least deserves an explanation as to why he should never be included in the 20 Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century.

Ezra Pound: too notorious to be weird

People to keep an eye on:

Kenneth Anger (1927- ). Influential underground filmmaker. Gay counterculture icon. Pagan. Thelemite. Occult figure.

Kary Mullis (1944- ). Nobel prize winning biochemist. Dropped a lot of acid. Believes HIV does not cause AIDS. Believes in astrology. Surfer dude. Speaks to glowing green raccoons.

Dennis Rodman (1961- ). NBA All star. Greatest rebounder in basketball history. Cross-dresser. Body-piercer. Childrens book author. Personal friend of Kim Jong Un, the personal dictator of North Korea.

Thank you for reading!

The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century – Part 9

According to Merriam-Webster, an also-ran is a “a horse or dog that finishes out of the money in a race”. For our purposes however also-rans are those individuals we considered for the Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century list but ultimately declined to include.

Here you can find parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 of this series.

In part 8 (Part 1 of the Also-Rans), we included those who were great but not quite weird enough. Now in Part 2 we include those who undoubtedly embodied Teh Weird, but could never be mistaken for great despite their fame or their impact. Four names. Enjoy.

Francis E. Dec (1926-1996)

dec

Francis Dec might top a list of the weirdest American weirdos, but his lack of greatness, in my opinion, keeps him from glory. He was a disbarred lawyer who lived as a recluse in New York City from the late 1960s till his death. He wrote volumes of bizarre, paranoid screeds and mailed them to media outlets the world over. His bete noir apparently was something called the “Worldwide Mad Deadly Communist Gangster Computer God.” He also wasn’t very keen on blacks, Jews, communists, and Catholics.

Dec has become a cult figure among underground and alternative types, and is considered an outsider artist by some. His bizarre writings and conspiracy theories found their way into R. Crumb’s Weirdo magazine in the early 1980s. His tapes have been sampled on television and radio. He has even inspired CDs and plays. But given the overall psychotic and negative nature of his work, Francis Dec shouldn’t be considered great by any standard, let alone enough to make the list. It is the sheer intensity of the man’s weirdness and the odd staying power of his rants however that warrants his mention on these pages at all.

According to Merriam-Webster, an also-ran is a “a horse or dog that finishes out of the money in a race”. For our purposes however also-rans are those individuals we considered for the Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century list but ultimately declined to include. Here you can find parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 of this series.

In part 8 (Part 1 of the Also-Rans), we included those who were great but not quite weird enough. Now in Part 2 we include those who undoubtedly embodied Teh Weird, but could never be mistaken for great despite their fame or their impact. Four names. Enjoy.

Francis E. Dec (1926-1996)

dec

Francis Dec might top a list of the weirdest American weirdos, but his lack of greatness, in my opinion, keeps him from glory. He was a disbarred lawyer who lived as a recluse in New York City from the late 1960s till his death. He wrote volumes of bizarre, paranoid screeds and mailed them to media outlets the world over. His bete noir apparently was something called the “Worldwide Mad Deadly Communist Gangster Computer God.” He also wasn't very keen on blacks, Jews, communists, and Catholics.

Dec has become a cult figure among underground and alternative types, and is considered an outsider artist by some. His bizarre writings and conspiracy theories found their way into R. Crumb's Weirdo magazine in the early 1980s. His tapes have been sampled on television and radio. He has even inspired CDs and plays. But given the overall psychotic and negative nature of his work, Francis Dec shouldn't be considered great by any standard, let alone enough to make the list. It is the sheer intensity of the man's weirdness and the odd staying power of his rants however that warrants his mention on these pages at all.

Sidney Gottlieb (1918-1999).

gottlieb

Whenever you see a movie in which the CIA hatches secret plots which cause nasty things to happen to innocent people, you have Sidney Gottlieb to thank. Known as the “Black Sorcerer”, Gottlieb was a military psychologist and chemist who schemed to assassinate world leaders and performed experiments in mind control, which were somewhat, uh, less than ethical.

He joined the CIA in 1951 when the Cold War was just ramping up and soon began researching “behavioral engineering of humans”. Basically he administered LSD to unwitting subjects to see if mind-altering drugs can aid interrogations. He claimed he wanted to “crush the human psyche to the point that it would admit anything.” He would target prostitutes, prisoners, the mentally ill, and other vulnerable types who'd have a hard time in court if they ever decided to get theirs from the CIA.

Gottlieb was also the genius who in 1960 proposed assassinating Fidel Castro with a poisoned cigar, an exploding conch shell, a poison fountain pen, and a poisoned wetsuit.

Sidney Gottlieb's weirdness is only exacerbated by some of his seemingly normal habits. He loved folk dancing, yet he had a club foot. After his retirement in the early 1970s, he worked in a leper colony in India, raised goats in Virginia, and tended to the dying at a hospice.

It is easy to dismiss Gottlieb as CIA super villain. There are those however who point out that during the Cold War the United States faced an enemy which fielded a murderer's row of assassins, rapists, war criminals, and mad scientists who made Sidney Gottlieb look like a choir boy. Some dirty deeds needed to be done by the United States. Others, not so much. Either way, Gottlieb's reputation is too unsavory in my opinion to put him on the list, despite having one of the weirdest careers of all time.

Harry Harlow (1905-1981)

harlow3

Harry Harlow was a psychologist who first demonstrated how important mother love is to the cognitive development of infants. In the 1940s and 1950s he stood against B.F. Skinner and the Behavioralists by claiming that there's more to mother-baby relationships than just milk and that “contact comfort” from mom helps prevent baby from having social problems later in life. Sounds sweet and wonderful, doesn't it? Well, he did it all by torturing monkeys.

Torturing. Monkeys.

This guy was unbelievable. He would take infant monkeys away from their mothers and supply them with surrogate mothers made of wire or cloth. He would raise infant monkeys in isolation chambers for up to 24 months. These chambers he affectionately referred to as “pits of despair”.

Oh, yeah. Harlow wasn't really into using technical lingo to disguise some of the uglier aspects of his studies. Euphemisms are for wimps, apparently. If Harry Harlow wanted to torment a monkey's mother, he'd put her in a device called “the Iron Maiden”. If he wanted to force two monkeys to copulate, he'd put them on something he called “the rape rack”.

It is said that Harry Harlow was responsible for giving rise to the Animal Liberation Movement. It’s easy to see why.

I guess Harlow’s science was sound since he won a number of awards and was the president of the American Psychological Association from 1958-1959. And I have no idea how weird he was in his personal life. Maybe he had his own teddy bear shrine in his basement and sang odes to Cthulu while playing badminton all alone and naked in the rain. Then again, maybe not.

Either way, Harry Harlow was not going to make it onto my weirdo list. Why? Dude tortured monkeys. That’s why.

Anton Levay (1930-1997)

antonlavey

Ever heard of Mephistopheles? That's the Devil to you. Bald. Dark goatee. Eeeeevil stare. Yeah. Anton Levay certainly looked the part. He was a founder of the Church of Satan, so he'd better. He was a celebrity in West Coast circles for a time during the 1960s and 1970s after he wrote the Satanic Bible, which laid out the main principles and rituals of Satanism. Known as the “Black Pope”, it was his deep knowledge of the occult and literate defense of our carnal natures as well as his flair for anything demonic that gave him his fiendish charisma and his church staying power.

If you need more proof that Anton Levay was a weirdo, look to his sleeping companions: baby lions. He claimed he also slept with a young Marilyn Monroe, which curiously no one other than Levay seemed to be able to corroborate. A big part of Levay's weirdness was his pathological lack of scruples when it came to building the Anton Levay legend. Almost everything he ever said about himself was a lie.

1) Slept with Jane Mansfield? Huh?
2) Played oboe in the San Francisco Ballet orchestra? Well, was there ever even a…
3) Was San Francisco's City Organist until 1966? But San Francisco never had a…
4) Learned of the Dark Arts from his Transylvanian Gypsy grandmother? Do you actually expect me to buy…
5) Served as a technical advisor on the set of Rosemary's Baby? But his name is not printed on the…
6) Was a multimillionaire? Oh, yeah. Right!

So Levay weird? Yes. Levay great? Absolutely not. Quite the opposite, actually. Levay claimed to be an animal lover, yet he abused and neglected his pets. He claimed to be a loving family man, yet it is said he abused his wives and children. By the late 1970s it is said he was living off of handouts from his father and friends. And despite Levay's claims of a multitude of followers, the Church of Satan under his leadership never exceeded 300 members. Read more about the Anton Levay “legend” here. No way we sully the weirdos list with one such as this.

Next up, Part 10: The final weirdo post. Here we’ll provide a list of the living who may one day make it on this list. Also we'll discuss two final weirdos. One spanned both centuries but belongs more in the 19th and the 20th. The other was as great as he was weird but was too notorious to celebrate on the list. Hope you tune in.

The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century – Part 8

So in the vast dissertation that is the Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century, here is where we list the also-rans, the folks who were considered and rejected because they simply could not cut it as great weirdos. In all cases, these people were offbeat or quirky enough to at least have their names come up in the conversation. But alas, they fell short.

Here you can find parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

In this installment we discuss those who were undoubtedly great, but just not weird enough.

Tammy Faye Bakker (1942-2007)

TammyFaye

Much maligned as a member of the Christian Right, Tammy Faye is best remembered these days for the mascara-black tears she cried when her husband and PTL Club co-founder Jim Bakker was convicted of mail and wire fraud in 1988. This however does not do the woman justice. With irrepressible charm and a voice big enough to fill a cathedral, Tammy Faye was a pioneer in Christian broadcasting in the early 1960s and a vital force in the Holy Rollin’ Empire for over 25 years. She co-founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network and the PTL Club and basically wrote the book on how to spread the word of God over the airwaves. And she meant every bit of it. Despite a taste for opulence and ostentatious makeup, Tammy Faye really was a sweet, caring, sympathetic individual who earned the love of millions. She also preached understanding and compassion for homosexuals and especially AIDS victims during the 1980s, a time when such topics were strictly taboo among serious Christians. For this alone she would deserve a spot on the list…if only she were weird. And weird she wasn’t.

So in the vast dissertation that is the Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century, cialis here is where we list the also-rans, remedy the folks who were considered and rejected because they simply could not cut it as great weirdos. In all cases, cheap these people were offbeat or quirky enough to at least have their names come up in the conversation. But alas, they fell short.

Here you can find parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

In this installment we discuss those who were undoubtedly great, but just not weird enough.

Tammy Faye Bakker (1942-2007)

TammyFaye

Much maligned as a member of the Christian Right, Tammy Faye is best remembered these days for the mascara-black tears she cried when her husband and PTL Club co-founder Jim Bakker was convicted of mail and wire fraud in 1988. This however does not do the woman justice. With irrepressible charm and a voice big enough to fill a cathedral, Tammy Faye was a pioneer in Christian broadcasting in the early 1960s and a vital force in the Holy Rollin' Empire for over 25 years. She co-founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network and the PTL Club and basically wrote the book on how to spread the word of God over the airwaves. And she meant every bit of it. Despite a taste for opulence and ostentatious makeup, Tammy Faye really was a sweet, caring, sympathetic individual who earned the love of millions. She also preached understanding and compassion for homosexuals and especially AIDS victims during the 1980s, a time when such topics were strictly taboo among serious Christians. For this alone she would deserve a spot on the list…if only she were weird. And weird she wasn't.

Let's see: She had highly questionable fashion sense, she was addicted to Diet Coke, and she had permanent eyeliners tattooed to her face (quite possibly because she was a cancer patient). She also had an almost surreal ability to bounce back from embarrassment. Nah. If you think Tammy Faye Bakker was God's own weirdo, you picked the wrong holy roller.

Lester Bangs (1948-1982)

lester_bangs-cfacb

Commonly considered one of the greatest if not the greatest rock critic of all time, Lester Bangs was certainly great enough to make the list. He was a brilliant, if somewhat undisciplined, writer who cared passionately about music and cultural matters. He was a driving force in the growing critical consciousness of rock fans, writers, and artists throughout the 1970s. Punk, classic rock, disco, heavy metal, didn't matter. Any major band caught resting on its laurels would get pummeled by the blistering prose emanating from Bangs' typewriter.

Bangs approached music criticism with a kind of profane urgency that's still being imitated today. Aesthetics was almost literally food and drink for him, and he applied his own brand of it in ways that were startlingly original. Check out his series of interviews with Lou Reed or his long expose on the Clash for some of the best music criticism you can find. And his take on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks truly does that beautiful record justice.

Thing is, however, Lester Bangs wasn't weird. He had demons to face, sure. He drank too much, had a temper, and abused drugs in order to survive the emotional roller coaster that was his life. But these failings are relatively common. Further, as he got older Bangs did make honest efforts to come clean and get his life in order. Lester Bangs would only be considered a weirdo because he was a great champion of weird music. But that, to be sure, is not the same thing.

Roy Cohn (1927-1986)

CohnEsquire

Roy Cohn was a piece of work. A brilliant piece of work, no doubt. I pity the attorneys who had to face him across a courtroom during his 35-year law career. Cohn rose to prominence during the Red Scare in the 1950s when he served as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy. To his credit, Cohn was instrumental in convicting many suspected communists and Soviet operatives. Ever hear of what happened to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg? That was Cohn's handiwork. As a result, Cohn became a champion of the Right and the bane of the Left.

It is said he had a photographic memory and practiced law as if it were total war. As a result, people lined up to get on his good side, and Cohn, party animal that he was, enjoyed every bit of it. Cohn liked his friends like he liked his clients: rich and famous. In private practice his clients included big time Mafiosos, the New York Yankees, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. Want to know where Donald Trump found his abrasive personality? Look no further than Cohn, who represented The Donald in the 1970s.

As one might expect, Cohn wasn't exactly a choir boy. Once in 1975 he entered the hospital room of a dying millionaire, put a pen in the poor man's hand, and tried to get him to sign a will naming Cohn as a beneficiary. Sleazy episodes like this eventually caught up with him and got him disbarred in the mid-1980s.

In 1986, Roy Cohn shocked the nation by dying of AIDS. Yes, he was a homosexual and had been closeted for decades. When he worked with McCarthy, he had targeted government officials and celebrities for their homosexuality. But homosexuality (closeted or otherwise), hypocrisy, and sleaze does not make one a weirdo. The only weird thing about Cohn I could find was that he never admitted he had AIDS. To anyone and everyone he talked to, even up to his dying day, it was liver cancer. Got that? Liver cancer.

There is really no bottom to the resentment the American Left harbors against Roy Cohn. In the end, however, it was Cohn who had the last laugh. He died completely broke and owing the IRS millions. No way you can ever call a guy like that weird.

Charles Fort (1874-1932)

CharlesFort

What is it like to be the skeptics' skeptic, the person who is open minded about everything, the guy who entertains any theory no matter how outlandish? Well, to answer these questions, one need not look much past the biography of Charles Fort. Because the truth is out there. And maybe they just don't want you to know it.

Charles Fort was a highly influential writer of supernatural and unexplained phenomena. In fact, he invented the genre. UFOs, crypto-zoological findings, poltergeists, disappearing people, frogs falling from the heavens, you name it. Fort literally spent years in the New York Public Library amassing data on strange, mysterious events occurring throughout history. Then he published highly original (if somewhat ridiculous) theories to explain them. For example, he once posited that the reason why extra-terrestrials never visit Earth is because we humans are their property, and they control us unseen. Go ahead and try to disprove that one.

His books were considered non-fiction thrillers and were enormously popular. They question everything, and use the paranormal to challenge the fundamentals of science. Fort was always on the lookout for facts hidden within facts. As such, his books have almost never gone out of print. The term “fortean”, as in the Fortean Society, is defined as “Pertaining to extraordinary and strange phenomenon and happenings.” So, yes, when you have a word and a society named after you, you are great enough for the list.

Despite writing about weird things, Charles Fort really wasn't weird himself. By all accounts he was a shy, polite, and, well, normal guy. After traveling the world, he lived a fairly conventional life. He was unassuming and did nothing to encourage his cult status which materialized around him. He wouldn't even join the Fortean Society despite their invitations. Furthermore, there are many who believe that Charles Fort didn't take himself very seriously and indeed was conning us all. Perhaps his theories really weren't theories. Perhaps instead they were satire of our abject deference to science and its all-encompassing claims. So even with the author himself, not all is as it seems. How's that for a fact within a fact?

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

 steve_jobs_apple

If Steve Jobs had truly been weird, he would have been number one on the list with a bullet. It can be argued that no single man has had such an positive impact on so many lives in the past 40 years than Jobs. As the co-founder of Apple Computers in the late 1970s, Jobs' genius for design and computer interfaces initiated the personal computing age. He anticipated users' needs and instincts with the friendly, intuitive, point-and-click environment of the Macintosh. It is well known that Microsoft, erm, absconded with much of the technology that went into the Macintosh in order to build the Windows operating system.

Later, as the CEO of Pixar in the 1990s Jobs was an integral part of the digital film revolution. Great films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles might not have happened at all if not for Jobs.

These accomplishments alone would have been enough for Jobs to top our list, but he was just getting rolling. Throw in how he revolutionized the music industry with the iPod and iTunes, throw in the marvelous iPhone, throw in the iPad and the incredible array of apps that you can get for it, and you have a man who pretty much characterizes the culture of the early 21st century.

Jobs' enemies may consider him weird but he really wasn't. Yes, he had a thing about not bathing. Yes, he was a prima donna. Yes, he was obsessive about his organic diet. Yes, he could be much the autocratic asshole. Yes, he was a pathological perfectionist. His biographer often referred to his “reality distortion field”. This could serve him well when pushing his engineers to nearly break the laws of physics to meet a tight deadline. It didn't serve him so well when it prevented him from treating his cancer as early as he should have.

Steve Jobs had eccentricities to be sure, but they never really morphed into weirdness. In fact, they only got better over time. If I ever get over this weirdo thing and start compiling a list of plain old great Americans, then I will reserve a very high place for Steve Jobs.

Timothy Leary (1920-1996)

 leary

Highly influential proto-hippie, Timothy Leary was a groundbreaking psychologist who experimented with LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs during the 1950s. And, well, let's just say that where most scientists become absorbed in their work, Leary's work became absorbed in him. This, and some rather unethical behavior involving undergraduates led to his abandoning academia altogether in the early 1960s. He then set himself on a mission to corrupt the nation's youth with his hedonistic ideals.

“Tune in, turn on, and drop out” was his mantra, and soon he became the godfather of the hippie movement, the anti-war movement, the summer of love, you name it. His California home became ground zero for all sorts for chemically assisted high jinks, including parties, orgies, further “experimentation”, and getting arrested by local DA G. Gordon Liddy. Later antics involved a run for the California governorship against Ronald Reagan, a bed-in with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, a daring jail break with the Weather Underground terrorists and a stint in Algeria as a prisoner of the Black Panthers, yet another terrorist organization. Overall, Timothy Leary saw the inside of 29 jails worldwide.

To Leary's credit, he wrote a lot, publishing 20 books. His topics went beyond psychology and drugs and covered philosophy, mysticism, space travel, and other far out topics. In the 1980s he became pals with arch nemesis G. Gordon Liddy, and the two hit the lecture circuit to great success. He also seemed to have a sense of humor about himself and remained popular until his dying day.

Does this all sound like an interesting life? Well, that's because it was. But that doesn't make Leary weird. He was into psychology. He was into drugs. And he was into spreading the word about both. He never really wavered from that. Given his albeit whacky parameters, most of what Leary did and said was perfectly consistent and rational. As a cultural icon he was certainly great enough to make the list, but he didn't come out of left field often enough to be considered weird.

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)

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Any conversation about great American weirdos will sooner or later get around to H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft was a major pioneer of weird fiction, and the world he created was so intricately and convincingly weird that one would have to assume that Lovecraft was weird as well.

Lovecraft certainly would be great enough to make the list. He is still read with great interest today, and unlike his contemporaries such as Bram Stoker and Edgar Rice Burroughs, there is very little that is considered dated or quaint about him. No one, and I mean no one, evokes foreboding better than Lovecraft. His most famous creation, Cthulu, is this malevolent, tentacled cosmic entity that threatens to destroy mankind. Cthulu also causes a tremendous amount of anxiety, an idea which Lovecraft capitalizes on beautifully. What also separates Lovecraft from the horror writers of his day was his inspired and theretofore unheard of use of astronomy and mythology. This and a rather florid style of writing enabled him to create a wholly original mythos that made him one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.

Throw in the six film adaptations, the widespread Lovecraftian themes found in heavy metal music, the dozens of gaming appearances from Dungeons and Dragon to World of Warcraft, as well as Lovecraft's immortality on the internet, and you'd have a great American weirdo…if only Lovecraft had been weird.

Well, Lovecraft was a bit of an oddball and he was certainly uptight. He suffered a lot from anxiety, especially when it came to money. Coming from New England, he had a thing about immigrants, the loud, swarthy southern European types who seemed hell bent on taking over his pristine Anglo-Saxon world. Then again, he married a Jewish girl, so go figure. His racism is well known, but hardly out of the ordinary considering the time period. If Lovecraft was weird, he did a real good job of keeping it in check. I'm more inclined however to believe that he simply wasn't weird.

Harvey Pekar (1939-2010)

Harvey Pekar

There is an old Yiddish saying that goes something like, “better a false good morning than a sincere go to hell.” I have a feeling that Harvey Pekar didn't agree with this sentiment very much. Pekar's story is well known. He worked as a file clerk at a Cleveland hospital for 30 years. Meanwhile he self-published his own comic book American Splendor which was the ongoing saga of his life. It was a critical success if not a commercial one, and gained Pekar worldwide fame and respect in the indie comix world. It also made him the subject of the excellent biopic American Splendor in 2003.

Pekar's talent was making the mundane interesting, and it helped that he was thoughtful and sufficiently introspective. And when the subject matter was heavy enough, he could be downright poignant, such as in 1994's Our Cancer Year. Team him up with great artists like R. Crumb or Joe Sacco, and you got yourself some good reading.

In public, however, Harvey Pekar often came across as a crank. He seemed to want to dispense with niceties and just get to the point. There was zero pretension about Harvey Pekar, and that may have lead to some odd and brusque behavior. Check out his series of David Letterman interviews to get a feel for how trying Harvey Pekar could be when he thinks he can knock you down a peg. This no nonsense attitude may have helped Harvey Pekar become great, but did it make him weird? Nah, just honest.

Man Ray (1890-1976)

Man

Born Emmanuel Radnitzky, Man Ray figured out early on that he was an Old World kind of artist. And by Old World, I mean cutting edge modern. After World War I he moved to Paris and hung out with a who's who of cubists, dadaists, surrealists, whateverists. Basically, he was front and center among the art avant-garde. Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Salvadore Dali, Antonin Artaud, Rene Clair, Luis Bunuel, they all knew and worked with Man Ray.

Ray made his bread and butter as a fashion photographer. He was also an accomplished painter and illustrator and he directed a number of noteworthy surrealist short films. But it's his work as a photographic artist that constitutes the bulk of his reputation today. Ray was a master at manipulating the photographic medium to control the unsettling tone of his images. He was known for rendering images by placing objects on photosensitive paper and he perfected a darkroom process called solarization to add a bizarre, ghostly quality to his work.

Many celebrate the work of Man Ray as embodying the spirit of revolt against bourgeois aesthetics of the day. Others however see his work as just plain weird.

Consider the following. “The Gift” is nothing more than nails glued to the business end of an iron. Ray would put little wooden dummies in sexual positions and photograph them. He would do the same with humans and dare you to draw the line between eroticism and porn. Torture, amputations, self-flagellation, erotic rituals, these were some of his themes. Others included nudes with gunshots wounds, nudes in bondage, nudes as musical instruments, nudes as ocean waves, nudes as nudes. He was really into this nude thing, you see. And he was good at it, so he never failed to make a strong impression.

Oh, and he was really into women's armpits, the hairier the better.

So with output this weird you'd think this guy's gotta be weird too. Well, not so fast. Other than genius and a strange obsession with the Marquis de Sade, Man the man seemed like a relatively normal guy. I searched everywhere and couldn't find anyone complaining about the weirdness of Man Ray. It seems he left it all in his work.

Joseph Rhine (1895-1980)

Rhine

Joseph Rhine was a botanist who became the world's first parapsychologist. In other words, he scientifically studied what’s known as Extra Sensory Perception, or ESP. His methodology included putting designs on the backs of cards and having people guess what they were. Anyone who could attain positive results at a greater rate than chance would be considered having ESP. Rhine was spoofed in the movie Ghostbusters, just so you know.

Rhine founded the Parapsychology Department at Duke University and for a time was considered a legitimate scientist. It was a weird discipline, sure, and you'd think that the guy singlehandedly spearheading it would be pretty weird too. But apparently not. I poked around and couldn't find anything weird about him. He was inspired to do all this extra-sensory stuff by an Arthur Conan Doyle speech about speaking with the dead. It is said he falsified his data and selectively published his findings in order get the results he wanted. Other than that Joseph Rhine seemed like a pretty normal guy, that is, if you consider making a science out of hocus pocus to be normal.

Next up, Weirdos Part 9: More also-rans. The undeniably weird who missed the cut because they were undeniably not great.

Music Wars

So, I had an interesting experience today. I went to get some gas with my four year old in my backseat. And some dude was blasting rap music from his car. You could hear his speakers rattle, it was that loud. There is nothing more obnoxious than forcing your music on others at high volume. Now, normally, I would try to ignore it. But then I thought, ‘Am I just going to take this? This is my country too.’ And then I got angry. I thought, ‘You wanna play your music loud? Fine. I can do that too.’ So I opened my door and blasted WCPE the Classical Station. I set the dial to eleven and just went about my business. I couldn’t match his bass, but I took over the upper registers until I could barely hear his music at all. I’m sure no one else could either. I was a little scared because I was clearly trying to be kryptonite to his noise pollution. I was obviously sticking it to him. If the dude wanted to start something, I’d have a serious problem. Fortunately, he took the hint and turned his music off completely. I was much relieved when I turned down mine in response. Before he drove off, he looked to me and didn’t nod. Neither did I. That was the end of a very tense moment. And the music that cleared the air? Rachmaninoff’s Caprice Bohemien, Opus 12. Gonna go buy me copy just because.

So, I had an interesting experience today. I went to get some gas with my four year old in my backseat. And some dude was blasting rap music from his car. You could hear his speakers rattle, it was that loud. There is nothing more obnoxious than forcing your music on others at high volume. Now, normally, I would try to ignore it. But then I thought, Am I just going to take this? This is my country too. And then I got angry. I thought, You wanna play your music loud? Fine. I can do that too. So I opened my door and blasted WCPE the Classical Station. I set the dial to eleven and just went about my business. I couldn’t match his bass, but I took over the upper registers until I could barely hear his music at all. I’m sure no one else could either. I was a little scared because I was clearly trying to be kryptonite to his noise pollution. I was obviously sticking it to him. If the dude wanted to start something, I’d have a serious problem. Fortunately, he took the hint and turned his music off completely. I was much relieved when I turned down mine in response. Before he drove off, he looked to me and didn’t nod. Neither did I. That was the end of a very tense moment. And the music that cleared the air? Rachmaninoff's Caprice Bohemien, Opus 12. Gonna go buy me copy just because. And to clarify my position here, I would be angry if someone were blasting classical music, or any music, forcing it on others. I would be angry if it were Al Franken or Rush Limbaugh they were blasting. Doesn’t matter what; it matters how loud. I said it’s my country too because I got the impression that the dude didn’t think I had the right to enjoy my own piece of mind. I could have ignored him and scurried out of there quickly, but then I would have felt like a second class citizen, sacrificing my right to happiness to his obnoxious behavior. If it were his country and not mine, meaning if he had full rights and I only dhimmi status, then yes that’s what I would have to do or be punished. So it’s more than maintaining a soundscape, and it has nothing to do with what

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I like or don’t like. It’s about my (and everyone’s) right to have a reasonable amount of peace in a public place. That’s what the dude was intruding upon, thoughtlessly or not.

The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century – Part 7

Welcome to Part 7 of the 20 Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. We’ve counted down from number 20 (Buckminster Fuller) to number 1 (Howard Hughes). Now I’d like to present a small list of honorable mentions, 10 people who were either weird but not quite great enough, or great but not quite weird enough. Like the top 20, these weirdos were born in the United States and made most of their fame during the 20th Century. You will notice a few Woot weirdos in this post (designated with an *), which is where I first heard of most of them (thanks, Woot!). Anyway, so here goes:

John R. Brinkley* (1885-1942)

JohnBrinkley

You can’t cure nothin’ in this world without a pair of good ol’ goat testicles. Or so thought “Dr.” John Romulus Brinkley. Brinkley is best remembered a quack doctor who found his fifteen minutes of fame during the 1920s due to his assertion that he could cure impotence and other ailments by transplanting goat testicles into humans. Men, women, didn’t matter. He received his medical degree from a shady diploma mill and was known to operate while inebriated and often in less-than-sterile environments. Brinkley was also a radio advertisement pioneer and constantly promised to enhance one’s, um, sexual prowess on air. This, combined with his natural showmanship, helped attract patients worldwide and earn him a fortune.

Welcome to Part 7 of the 20 Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. We’ve counted down from number 20 (Buckminster Fuller) to number 1 (Howard Hughes). Now I’d like to present a small list of honorable mentions, 10 people who were either weird but not quite great enough, or great but not quite weird enough. Like the top 20, these weirdos were born in the United States and made most of their fame during the 20th Century. You will notice a few Woot weirdos in this post (designated with an *), which is where I first heard of most of them (thanks, Woot!). Anyway, so here goes:

John R. Brinkley* (1885-1942)

JohnBrinkley

You can’t cure nothin’ in this world without a pair of good ol’ goat testicles.

Or so thought “Dr.” John Romulus Brinkley. Brinkley is best remembered as the quack doctor who found his fifteen minutes of fame during the 1920s by asserting that he could cure impotence and other ailments by transplanting goat testicles into humans. Men, women, didn't matter. He received his medical degree from a shady diploma mill and was known to operate while inebriated and often in less-than-sterile environments. Brinkley was also a radio advertisement pioneer and constantly promised to enhance one's, um, sexual prowess on air. This, combined with his natural showmanship, helped attract patients worldwide and earn him a fortune.

After his medical license was revoked in the early 1930s, Brinkley managed two failed but respectable bids for the Kansas governorship. To help his campaigns he relocated to Del Rio, Texas and opened the first border blaster radio station in Mexico. Along with his indefatigable medical huckstering and campaign speeches, he played country music, enhancing the careers of genre greats such as Gene Autry, Jimmie Rodgers, and the Carter Family. It is said his signal was so powerful you could hear it in Canada. He also considered running for President, but thankfully a psychic's reading convinced him otherwise.

Things came crashing to a halt in the late 1930s when Brinkley was exposed as a charlatan by the American Medical Association. The malpractice lawsuits flooded in, as well as federal investigations for tax fraud. Brinkley declared bankruptcy in 1941 and died a year later. Weird, and somewhat important if only for his and country music as well as for shepherding the Del Rio economy through the Depression. In the end however being a great charlatan does not a top 20 weirdo make.

Howard Finster (1916-2001)

HowardFinster

Folk artist, outsider artist, naive artist. Howard Finster was best known by the world as one of these. To his congregations, however, he was a passionate fire and brimstone Evangelical preacher who claimed he saw visions. This started at 3 years old when he had a visit from his dead sister. When he was 60, he received another. “Paint sacred art,” it said. Despite having no training whatsoever, that's what Finster did, embarking on an odd and noteworthy career that got him on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and his work on the covers of a Talking Heads album and an R.E.M. album.

He made over 10,000 paintings in his career, most of which focus on religious outreach. Today, Finster originals can fetch thousands on the internet. The weirdness bleeds into his sculpture gardens, which he made out of junk. He built an eight-foot concrete shoe and on it wrote a verse from Ephesians, “And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Also displayed is a jar with a boy's tonsils. So there's that. Finster was certainly odd and quirky. The visions make him weird, for sure. But he'd have to be Picassoesque to crack the top twenty. Instead, he's Finsteresque. Check out his work here.

Henry Ford (1863-1947)

HenryFord

Every school child in America knows why Henry Ford is considered a great American. What they don't know, however, is that with just a little more weirdness, Ford would have been considered a great American weirdo as well. Ford's claim to greatness goes beyond obvious and almost into the tautological. Before Ford, automobiles were expensive playthings for the rich. After Ford, well, we're still living the After-Ford era in which geographic separation between people and where they want to be isn't quite the hurdle it once was. Really, with his innovations in the moving assembly-line which produced the first affordable automobile (his Model-T), few in history have had such a profound and positive impact on humanity as Henry Ford.

But was he weird? He was eccentric, certainly. Sure, there was the Dearborn Independent, a newspaper published by Ford that was available at every Ford Dealership worldwide. Ford famously published many of his anti-Semitic essays in the Dearborn Independent, as well as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. There was also his lunatic management style. During an 8-hour day, workers at the Ford Auto Plant received 15 minutes for lunch as their only break. They were also forbidden to talk, sing, whistle, or sit during the day. Ford did pay about double the going rate with his famous $5 a day pledge, but did that give him the right to hire a sociological department to inspect the homes of employees and interview their friends and neighbors? Ford seemed to think so. Toss in his belief in reincarnation, his surrounding himself with thugs in his later years, as well has the pathological undermining of his unfortunate son Edsel, and you begin to wonder about Ford.

Perhaps Ford’s biggest claim to weirdness is Greenfield Village. On one hand it was a perfectly honorable outdoor museum containing transplanted or recreated historic buildings such as Thomas Edison’s laboratory and the Wright Brothers’ workshop. On the other hand, it was a time capsule for Ford’s childhood. He recreated the house he grew up in down to almost perfect detail, including his mother's china. Schools and shops too. It was where he would go to escape. Ford would also hire people to live in Greenfield Village to make it seem like he really was reliving his past. He would even have them act out scenes from his childhood for his amusement. If Henry Ford had been poor, his grand obsessions probably wouldn't have manifested at all, and he would have seemed normal. But since he was rich and could indulge in whatever creative pastime he wanted, normal is not exactly the word one would use to describe the man. Henry Ford is a great example of how eccentricities can creep into weirdness when you have more money than God.

George Ellery Hale (1868-1938)

GeorgeElleryHale

A pioneering solar astronomer and professor of astrophysics, Hale was very close to cracking the top twenty. He certainly was great enough. He invented a solar telescope called the spectrohelioscope and with it discovered solar vortices. He was also the first to determine that sunspots were magnetic. Hale had a thing for telescopes, and he liked 'em big. In 1908, he built a sixty-inch telescope, and nine years later constructed one that was 100 inches. Both were the largest in the world at time. He also oversaw the construction of what would be the 200-Inch Hale Telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego. Although he didn’t live to see it completed, it was the world’s most productive research telescope for forty years and was instrumental in expanding our knowledge of the universe. Hale also founded many significant observatories across the country as well as various astronomical organizations and journals.

He was a rare breed of scientist: pathologically energetic, highly imaginative, talented in research, and a genius at raising money. No history of 20th century astronomy can be complete without a chapter dedicated to the prodigious contributions of George Ellery Hale. The weirdness of the man can be seen in how he treated astronomy almost like a religion. Hale referred to himself as a “sun-worshipper”. He referred to the observatory he build in Mount Wilson as “the Monastery” and embellished the place with Egyptian symbols. He and his astronomers would hold rituals there. Of course, women were not allowed. He was often institutionalized later in life due to his chronic nervousness and odd behavior (he'd hear voices and refer to his physicians as “wizards” or “Satanic holinesses”). It is said he also claimed to receive frequent visits from an elf who would advise him on personal matters.

So if he was this great and this weird, why didn’t Hale make the top 20? For one, he knew he had a problem and tried to rectify it. For the most part he voluntarily entered sanitariums. That alone suggests he was more normal than weird. Also the mention of an elf occurs in a single letter, and there is doubt whether he meant it literally or figuratively. Hale's first biographer indicated it was literal, but many later suggest otherwise. So with doubt comes the benefit, and Hale stays out of the pantheon of weirdness.

Carrie Nation* (1846-1911)

CarrieNation

I was really glad to see that Woot included Carrie Nation in their list. If you paid attention in your high school American History courses, you'd probably remember an anecdote or two about a crazy woman on the forefront of the temperance movement who liked to storm into saloons and smash bottles of alcohol with a hatchet. That woman was Carrie Nation.

Of course, this was all religiously inspired. She claimed she was the personal bulldog of Jesus, yapping at whatever He didn’t like. She experienced visions of the Good Lord instructing her to admonish the sinful with her “hatchetations”. Sometimes she’d lead a gang of women into these lecherous lairs. Other times she’d go it alone. Jail never deterred her since she could always afford bail with money she earned from her speaking engagements and from selling mementos of herself. At nearly six feet tall, she was one fearsome woman. It is said that former heavyweight boxing champ John L. Sullivan would run and hide whenever Carrie Nation crashed into one of his watering holes.

It’s true that she spent most of her life in the 19th century, but Carrie Nation didn’t really get going as a one woman prohibition crusade until early in the 20th. That’s pretty much when weirdness got serious. Suspecting that President William McKinley was a closet alcoholic, she publicly approved of his assassination in 1901. Yes, she was that weird. And with the historical importance of being forever associated with the Temperance and Prohibitionist movements, you’d think she’d make the top twenty, yes? Well, the 18th Amendment which enforced prohibition in 1920 was repealed in 1933, so her historical impact is more a history for history’s sake kind of thing rather than something we can still feel today. Plus, I didn’t think it was right to put someone in the top twenty simply because she liked destroying things and barking at sin, even if she defended it with a fearsome mean streak and visions of a vengeful God. This, in my opinion, isn’t enough to warrant a place in the rarefied air of the top twenty weirdos.

Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005)

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Yes, the “gonzo” journalist. Sports writer. Firearms enthusiast. Pyromaniac. Political hack (you-to-pieces) reporter. The “least factual and most accurate” writer on the campaign trail. All around party animal. Friend and foe alike refer to this man both as an asshole and a weirdo. The first part might be right, but the second might be taking things a bit too far. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a meandering tale of drug abuse and (some would say astute, others puerile) ruminations on the decline of American culture first saw print in Rolling Stone Magazine in 1972. Those who were mourning the end of the counter-culture movement of the 1960s had found a new hero in Thompson. Basically, Thompson couldn't stop acting irresponsibly in entertaining ways. He also couldn't stop beating the snot out of his dead hobby horse Richard Nixon. This, and a brutally cruel yet effective sense of humor turned him into an icon for cynical hipsters the world over.

But was he weird? Well, that depends on whom you ask. He liked to blow things up on his Colorado compound. The local sheriff's office can attest to that. So can actor Johnny Depp who once stayed with Thompson and learned that his impromptu bedside table was in fact a crate of dynamite. Thompson invented the game of shotgun golf and liked to autograph his novels with bullet holes. He was always drinking, smoking, or doing something. He also loved a good practical prank. He was famous for spitting fire at parties. To celebrate Jack Nicholson's birthday, Thompson showed up at Nicholson's door firing a gun in the air while playing a cassette recording of a pig being eaten alive by bears. Also involved were a million-watt spotlight and a frozen elk's heart. So, yes, a case can be made for Thompson's weirdness.

On the other hand, this behavior can be described simply as that of a man who loved his vices, refused to grow up, and had a pathological disdain for anything conservative unrelated to the Second Amendment. Perhaps he was simply trying to live up to that gonzo reputation he constructed for himself. Perhaps he reveled in all the attention. Hunter S. Thompson was definitely excessive to the point of leaving normal in the dust. But much of his antics appear rather boilerplate compared to the more genuine weirdos in the top twenty.

Rube Waddell* (1876-1914)

RubeWaddell

Rube Waddell was a strange, childlike, oaf of a man who just happened to be one of the greatest Major League Baseball pitchers who ever lived. He led the American League in strikeouts from 1902 to 1907. In 1904, he struck out 349 batters, still a record for American League lefthanders. He currently ranks 10th on the Major League Baseball all-time Earned Run Average (ERA) list (2.16). He is also 19th in shutouts (50). Waddell’s fastball was crushing, but his curve was something else entirely. Legendary baseball manager Connie Mack once said that Waddell had “the fastest, deepest curve” he’d ever seen. Waddell was so confident in his abilities he would invite his outfielders to sit down and watch him strike out the side.

Such was Waddell’s weirdness, however, that teammates and management were always glad whenever he was traded away. He would often fight with teammates. He'd show up minutes before a game and remove his street clothes while still on the field. He never did wear underwear. He poured ice water on his arm before pitching out of fear of burning the catcher's glove. During games, his mind tended to wander. It is said he could be distracted if his opponents held up puppies or shiny toys. He also loved fire engines and had to be restrained by his teammates from leaving a game every time one drove by the field. Off the field, he was just as weird. Of course, he drank too much. He claimed to have lost track of how many women he'd married. In the off-season he would wrestle alligators. Commentators today speculate that Rube Waddell suffered from everything from autism to ADHD to mental retardation. Regardless, no one was quite sure what he would do next. Eventually coaches and players had had enough. He was kicked out of the majors in 1910.

Rube Waddell is a celebrated baseball pitcher, and his prowess on the mound could match anyone's. This makes him as great as he was weird. So why did he miss out on the top-twenty glory? The complicated answer is that it would be counter-intuitive and anti-thematic to include one such as Waddell who placed minimal importance in advancing mankind in its inexorable quest for truth or beauty. Simple answer: he was too dumb.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

AndyWarhol

Andy Warhol was one of those artists who inched past being merely eccentric. So he wasn't quite as weird as one would think, given his controversial output and lifestyle. On the other hand, he's Andy Warhol, so he deserves a honorable mention. Along with Grandma Moses, Jackson Pollack, Norman Rockwell, and Georgia O'Keefe, Warhol belongs on that Mount Rushmore of great 20th Century American painters. His work upended the art world at the time of his arrival in the mid-1950s with their preoccupation on material things, on celebrity, and on sex. There is a kind of mass-market cheapness to his work. At the same time, however, Warhol belied a unique ambition, painting objects and people in ways no one had ever thought of before, ways that really should be beneath the attention of a serious artist. Except not anymore, thanks to Andy Warhol. No one person personifies pop art better than Andy Warhol.

Today, his works are nearly priceless. All this and the Velvet Underground make Warhol one of the greats. But was he weird? Well, he was an openly and obsessively stylish gay man who was also a practicing Orthodox Catholic. Certainly less weird now than in the 1950s when it caused a big splash. He claimed he was a virgin, but for some reason had to be treated for STD's. He also made weird movies, such as the appropriately named Sleep, which was 321 minutes of nothing but a man sleeping. Academy Awards were not exactly forthcoming.

Warhol’s biggest claim to weirdness, however, was his compulsive hoarding. Warhol kept a box next to his desk where he would place all sorts of objects. He would seal and date the boxes at the end of each month. The contents of these boxes include all sorts of strange items including a mummified foot and Caroline Kennedy’s birthday cake. There are 610 of them in the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Warhol also kept a massive collection of objects such as biscuit jars, taxidermy items, perfume bottles, cowboy boots, dental molds, white wigs, and God knows what else. Yes, he loved to wear white wigs. It is said that at the time of his death, only two rooms of his five-story Manhattan home were habitable. What surprised me the most about Andy Warhol's personal biography however was how dull it was it. He really wasn't terribly weird. He just had enough money to feed his eccentricities and to appear weird to many. By the 1980s he was making his paintings to sell for big bucks like any good American. That there was anything but weird.

Ed Wood* (1924-1978)

GlenOrGlenda

Ehhhhhh. Ed Wood was a talentless hack of a filmmaker who is barely noteworthy enough to make it as an honorable mention. The only reason why he is remembered today is because of Tim Burton's excellent 1994 biopic of Wood. Yes, Wood was weird. He was a heterosexual cross dresser who had a fetish for angora fabric. While fighting the Japanese during World War 2, he'd wear a bra and panties under his uniform. Performing for the circus he would act as the bearded lady, pumping his nipples full of air to affect breasts. Whenever you saw him out on the town in full drag, it wasn’t him. It was his alter ego Shirley. But one cannot attain glory on weirdness alone.

In his day, Wood was pretty much ignored and then forgotten. He had no talent, you see, and he was not great. I'm sorry, but Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 From Outer Space, his two best known films, are amateurish and dull. And no amount of posthumous kitsch-cult revisionist fandom is going to change that. Still, he was ahead of his time with the subject matter of Glen or Glenda. The docudrama was essentially a plea for sexual tolerance, inept as it was. It took an intrepid spirit to make such a film in 1953. So there's that. Ed Wood's legacy lives on as well in the Church of Ed Wood, a legally recognized religion with over 3,000 baptized adherents who claim Ed Wood as their savior. The religion started as a joke, but now, who knows? They claim to be serious, although somehow I doubt it. It is this recognition along with his cult status that squeezes Ed Wood into the honorable mentions of the Twenty Greatest Weirdos of the 20th Century.

Father Yod* (1922-1975)

FatherYod

James Edward Baker. Interesting guy. Really interesting life. A decorated marine during World War II. A stunt double in Hollywood. A jujitsu expert. After taking out two guys in self-defense it is said that Baker had his hands registered as deadly weapons. By the 1960s, however, he got seriously into the mystic. He became a Vedantic monk and later a follower of Sikh yoga practitioner Yogi Bhajan. By the late 1960s, Baker changed his name to Father Yod and founded a religious commune in Hollywood Hills, California known as the Source Family. He also opened one of the world's first vegetarian organic restaurants on the Sunset Strip, which he used to finance his sex farm, er, religious activities with the scores of nubile young beauties who just happened to wander into his groovy world. You see, the aforementioned Mister Yod began to suspect that the Y in his name really should a be a G. And if God wants to marry 13 of these nubile young beauties, who’s going to stop Him? In fact, Father Yod believed he was the father of the impending Age of Aquarius. Perhaps that's what got him cracking on populating New Age one baby at a time (it's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it).

They say throughout the 1970s his commune was teeming with women who were either pregnant or nursing. It was a three bedroom house, yet over a hundred lived there. Sleeping arrangements resembled beehives. Father Yod led his acolytes in rituals which involved mediation, sex magic, and, of course, worshipping Father Yod. It will come as a shock to some that this involved copious amounts of marijuana. Remember how Man gave names to all the animals? Well Yod gave names to all of his followers. First names included such far out examples as Isis, Sunflower, Orbit, and Prism. The last name was always Aquarian. Middle names were brief and to the point. They never ventured beyond “The.” Except for Father Yod’s. In the early 1970s, he rechristened himself YaHoWa. He also started a psychedelic rock band called YaHoWa 13. Yeah, I don’t know where he came up with the number thirteen either.

Anyway, they recorded 65 LPs, released 9, and Allmusic.com deems all but one to be mediocre. So here’s a guy who maybe wasn’t weird or great enough to crack the top twenty but had enough chops in both categories not be ignored. Father Yod deserves credit for starting the organic food craze which is still going strong. Further, his cult, if you can call it that, preached not just peace and love, but healthy living, kindness to animals, and an undeniably positive spiritualism. We take it for granted that many Californians are like that now. They weren’t before Father Yod.

Next up, Part 8: the weirdos that weren’t. All the people I considered and rejected for weirdo glory.

The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century – Part 6

Welcome to Part 6 of the Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. Here we count down from Number 4 to Number 1. Please check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 for more on America’s greatest weirdos. Also, if you think this is the final post, you’d be mistaken. After we finish the countdown, I’ll post the honorable mentions followed by a post of also-rans, i.e., people I considered and rejected for not being weird or great enough. After that, I will include a people-to-watch-for post to discuss potential future inductees who have yet to shed their mortal coil, if you know what I mean.

Finally, there will be a single post about two individuals whom I could not include on this list. Both were undoubtedly great. Both were loony-bin weird. But one straddled the centuries, and I decided that he belonged more in the 19th rather than the 20th. The other was simply too notorious for this list. He was originally on it, but I removed him after determining that he should not be considered “merely” weird. He was something far worse.

Anyway, announcements are boring. On with the show.

4. Bobby Fischer (1943-2008)

File photo of former chess champion Fischer

Genius. Prima donna. Champion. Folk hero. Recluse. Kook. Fugitive. Madman. The great chess player Bobby Fischer had been called all these things. But was he weird? Oh, yes.

Welcome to Part 6 of the Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. Here we count down from Number 4 to Number 1. Please check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 for more on America's greatest weirdos. Also, if you think this is the final post, you'd be mistaken. After we finish the countdown, I'll post the honorable mentions followed by a post of also-rans, i.e., people I considered and rejected for not being weird or great enough. After that, I will include a people-to-watch-for post to discuss potential future inductees who have yet to shed their mortal coil, if you know what I mean.

Finally, there will be a single post about two individuals whom I could not include on this list. Both were undoubtedly great. Both were loony-bin weird. But one straddled the centuries, and I decided that he belonged more in the 19th rather than the 20th. The other was simply too notorious for this list. He was originally on it, but I removed him after determining that he should not be considered “merely” weird. He was something far worse.

Anyway, announcements are boring. On with the show.

4. Bobby Fischer (1943-2008)

File photo of former chess champion Fischer

Genius. Prima donna. Champion. Folk hero. Recluse. Kook. Fugitive. Madman. The great chess player Bobby Fischer had been called all these things. But was he weird? Oh, yes.

Fischer began with tremendous promise. His “game of the century” in 1956 is truly a thing of beauty. He sacrificed his queen against an international master and won brilliantly as black. He was only 13 years old.

Fischer made such a splash when he was young that that's how many remember him.
Fischer made such a splash when he was young that that's how many today still remember him.

He won the US Championship 8 times out of 8 tries from 1958 to 1967. One year he did it without losing or drawing a single game. He was world's youngest grandmaster at 15 years and 6 months (a record not beaten until 1991). After some setbacks in the 1960s, he went on a tear against the world elite not seen before or since, winning 39 out of 65 games from 1970 to 1972, and losing only 5. His victory in the 1972 title match against Boris Spassky wasn't really all that close. At his height, he was considered the greatest chess player who ever lived. He also generated more interest in chess than anyone in history. For as long as people play the game of chess, they will remember Bobby Fischer. 

Bobby Fischer at his height in the early 1970s
Bobby Fischer at his height in the early 1970s

But Bobby had always been strange. Before he won the title, he would make outrageous demands of tournament organizers. He would voice conspiracy theories. He could be aloof, contemptuous, arrogant. Once, when advised to see a psychiatrist, young Bobby replied that a psychiatrist ought to pay him for the privilege of working on Bobby Fischer's brain. In 1964 he did not play a single game of serious chess.

After he won the title, however, things started to get weird. He stopped playing chess. He also intensified his relationship with the controversial (and some would say cultish) Worldwide Church of God. By the mid-70s he was espousing his well-known anti-Semitism and foisting The Protocols of the Elders of Zion on his shrinking cadre of friends and fans (despite being a Jew himself). While living as an impoverished recluse in Southern California he would repeatedly turn down multi-million dollar offers to return to chess.

The love for a teenage girl got him to do what money couldn't. Unfortunately, she didn't love him back. Even more unfortunately, the 1992 rematch with Spassky in Yugolaslavia made him wanted by the US government since he was breaking a UN embargo by playing there. But Bobby didn't care. He publicly spat on the order forbidding him to play. This act caught up with him 12 years later when he was finally arrested in Japan.

The shocking photo of Fischer when arrested in 2004
The shocking photo of Fischer when arrested in 2004

Fischer's horrendous anti-American, anti-Semitic tirades after the September 11th attacks sealed the deal for most of us. So did his friendly letter to Osama bin Laden. This left many people wondering why. Fischer was a lost in a nasty miasma of paranoid weirdness that only seemed to go away whenever the cameras did. When in the spotlight, he never stopped calling himself the World Chess Champion, he never stopped calling his successors Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov frauds, and he never stopped ranting about the Jews. Maybe that was his way of telling us he wanted to be left alone? Because when he was alone he was somewhat less weird. This is the Fischer his friends remember, the man who doted on his Japanese wife and Filipino step-daughter. This was also the man who in the 1990s developed Fischer Random, an ingenious chess variant still in competitive play today.

In 2008, Fischer died after refusing treatment for a kidney condition because the religion he no longer followed forbade it. He was a weirdo, all right. But it was those years when he was singlehandedly taking on the Soviet chess machine with all its resources and political advantages and underhanded tactics and beating it like a kid brother that made him truly great. He showed the world what a properly prepared and motivated individual can do against an entrenched bureaucracy. So it seems you can beat City Hall after all. You just have to be a genius and really really weird to do it.

 3. L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986)

 LRonHubbard

L. Ron Hubbard is most famous for being the founder of the Scientology religion as well as for developing Dianetics, a revolutionary form of therapy which, among other things, prevents mental illness, cures minor diseases, and raises one's IQ. Supposedly. Hubbard was also a successful pulp science fiction writer who wrote hundred of stories and knew genre greats such as Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. It is said that in his prime Hubbard could crank out over 2,000 words an hour writing fiction.

And he did it all with a feather.
And he did it all with a feather.

Most scientologists see him as a great visionary and philosopher and remain intensely loyal to him to this day. Many non-scientologists see him a quack, a charlatan, and a fraud. Hubbard’s claim for greatness rests in his unshakable cult-charisma and his vast and intricate imagination which not only netted him a brand new religion but enabled him to sell millions of books worldwide.

Works by L. Ron Hubbard
Works by L. Ron Hubbard

But a weirdo he was. While in California before publishing his breakthrough book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, Hubbard had practiced sex magic rituals with fellow weirdo Jack Parsons, stole his girlfriend, swindled Parsons over a yacht deal, and was arrested once for petty theft.

In 1950 however Dianetics brought him instant fame, as he claimed he could cure people of almost anything. He coined terms such as 'engrams' and 'the clear' to describe how the mind works and outlined intricate ways in which a person can reach a zen-like state of clarity. He even invented a machine called the electrometer which supposedly measures the “mental mass and energy” of a person’s mind. Hubbard used it to prove that fruits feel pain, asserting once that tomatoes “scream when sliced.”

Produce abuse: the face of a notorious tomato torturer L. Ron Hubbard
Produce abuse: the face of a notorious tomato torturer

Hubbard quickly cashed in on all this attention by writing more books and selling licensure and therapy sessions. Dianetics then grew into Scientology with all its rules and terminology dealing with reincarnation, galactic confederacies, and immortal beings called thetans which inhabit our bodies and are slowly losing their supernatural powers. Hubbard’s behavior and that of his followers was so strange that many nations would either investigate his church, refuse to recognize it, or ban it altogether.

To operate outside the laws of various nations, Hubbard took to the seas, dubbing himself the “Commodore” of his “Sea Organization”. He ran a tight ship, and if any of his followers said or did the wrong thing, they could face draconian punishments such as being tied up and thrown overboard for a certain amount of time.

“…an open smile on a friendly shore…”

Paranoia set in by the 1960s as Hubbard squabbled with enemies and friends alike over his religion. It got ugly. It got litigious. At one point he even instructed his followers to infiltrate and burglarize government offices. He spent his final years in hiding along the West Coast of America.

Of course, Scientologists will reject almost all of the above. For example, Hubbard never joined that California magic cult. No, he infiltrated it as a spy for the Navy. And he didn’t steal Jack Parsons girlfriend, he rescued her (and later married her). For Scientologists, Hubbard was The One, a great man and a great leader. That he was both is undeniable. Depending on whom you talk to he either spiritually divined or cynically contrived a bona fide, out-of-this-world belief system. Today there are around 8 millions Scientologists worshipping in some 3,000 churches in 54 countries. You have to be great to produce numbers like that. You also have to be more than just a little bit weird.

I mean, who wouldn't follow this guy to the ends of the Earth?
With shades like that, who wouldn't follow this guy to the ends of the Earth?

2. Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956)

AlfredKinsey

Perhaps the one thing the enemies and allies of Alfred Kinsey can all agree on was that the man was pretty weird. Known as the “father of the sexual revolution” or the “Columbus of sex”, Kinsey’s studies on American sexuality were about as landmark as you can get. Since when do 800 page scientific reports shoot to the top of the bestseller lists? This is basically what happened when Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). And the world really hasn’t been the same since.

Kinsey’s purported approach was to simply report the facts of human sexual behavior in scientific fashion. He interviewed thousands of subjects and had a way of making them feel at ease so that they would, um, bare all.

Go on. Go on. I'm all ears.
Go on. Go on. Don’t be shy.

He had a canon of around 500 survey questions, some of which got curiously nitpicky about sexual deviancy. To his credit, Kinsey took confidentiality seriously and recorded all his answers in nigh-unbreakable code. His books contained statistics that shocked, inspired, and infuriated Americans. Did you know that 1 in 10 white American males are exclusively homosexual? If you did, it’s because Alfred Kinsey told us so. Alfred Kinsey told us a lot of things.

“Well, you take your thing, and you go from here…to here. See?”

Today sexuality is everywhere – magazines, movies, television, music, video games, internet. All this pretty much began when Alfred Kinsey got Americans talking about sex. By not taking a moral stand on it all, however, he changed what was considered moral (and normal) about it. When his books were published obscenity laws were still being enforced and sodomy was a punishable crime. Kinsey's work helped allow millions of otherwise law-abiding people to be open about their sexuality, to be more knowledgeable about their sexuality, and to not fear persecution.

But with all his attention on sex, you had to know something else was going on. Although he had a wife and family, Kinsey was by no means the wholesome dad he was making himself out to be. As a young eagle scout he'd share his collection of nudist magazines with scouts in his tent. As a professor of zoology between the world wars he'd take students on camping trips where they would engage in group masturbation sessions. Once an established sex scientist, he and his inner circle would swap wives and film pornographic movies in his attic. It was all part of his “research”, you see.

Nothing to see here. Just a bunch of good old American scientists practicing good old American science. Yes, sir!
Nothing to see here. Just a bunch of good old American scientists practicing good old American science. Yes, sir!

More troubling however are the accusations of scientific fraud. He detractors claim that he skewed his samples hard towards sexual deviancy in order to get his shocking results. Many subjects were prison inmates. He would even collect data through the mail – including testimony from pedophiles and rapists whom he neglected to report to the police. There is evidence that Kinsey even wrote back to these people encouraging them to send him more data. What many found just as reprehensible was that his reports catalog the sexual activity of not just adolescents, but small children as well. This includes infants as young as 5 months. Comparisons to Josef Mengele abound.

Really, Alfred. Really? Really?
Really, Alfred? Really?

For many, however, Kinsey is a hero. People around the world wrote to him and thanked him for helping them become more sexually fulfilled. Stigmas were no longer stigmas, thanks to Kinsey. Certainly magazines like Cosmopolitan and Playboy were inspired by him. So was the gay liberation movement. Women's lib, to an extent. The pill, definitely. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association . Sexual repression is a thing of the past in many parts of the world. For all this, we can thank Alfred Kinsey.

This is the charitable take on the man. The uncharitable states that he was a pervert who used fraudulent science and deceptive statistics to make the world safe for perversion. Those who knew him best knew that he was pathologically fond of self-abuse. And by self abuse, I mean quite frankly sexual self-torture. It is said that after he lost funding for his work in the 1950s, Kinsey was so distraught he tossed a rope over a ceiling pipe in his basement, tied one end around his scrotum, and grabbed hold of the other end. Then the world's foremost sex expert stepped on a chair, pulled the rope tight, and jumped off. He remained suspended in air for God knows how long. Hard to spin that as anything other than weird.

1. Howard Hughes (1905-1976)

HowardHughes

It seems almost unfair to include Howard Hughes in this list because his weirdness degenerated into madness at a time when madness was nigh-untreatable. Had he been born 50 years later his end probably would have been a lot less weird. In his prime, however, Hughes was a great man, the avatar of the unconquerable American spirit. The world didn’t stand a chance once Howard Hughes got rolling. He had a genius for technology and finance. He was charismatic and indefatigable. He was generous with his fortune. He had historic ambition. It is said he never wore watches because time didn’t matter to Howard Hughes. He could work through the day, through the night. Didn’t matter. Sleep is for the weak, don’t you know. But it was his incipient as well as the lasting effects of a few airplane crashes that eroded this giant of a man into the reclusive weirdo he became in late middle age.

Since he was such a recluse, few photos exist of Hughes in his old age.
Since he was such a recluse, few photos exist of Hughes as an old man.

Very few people can boast of the accomplishments of Howard Hughes. He constructed a radio transmitter when he was 11, a motorcycle when he was 12. He produced and directed Hollywood movies such as Hell's Angels and The Outlaw. He designed and piloted airplanes, engineered the world’s largest helicopter, broke numerous airborne speed records, and made billions in business.

The unstoppable Howard Hughes in his prime
The unstoppable Howard Hughes in his prime

The , which he founded in 1953, remains the largest institute of its kind in the world. Its endowment is currently over $15 billion, and the institute remains on the . Hughes was also an on-par golfer in his youth, an expert dancer, and inventor. He invented the adjustable bed, now universal in all hospitals. Not least in this humbling list of triumphs are his legendary exploits with some of the most beautiful women in the world.

It's people like Howard Hughes who make you realize how little you've accomplished.
It's people like Howard Hughes who make you realize how little you've accomplished.

But his weirdness was pretty much always there: his phobia of germs (he wouldn’t touch doorknobs without tissue paper), his erratic behavior and unpredictable mood swings (after one divorce he burned all of his ex-wife’s furniture), his strange bursts of insecurity (he once offered a teenaged Liz Taylor a million dollars if she’d marry him), his incessant television and movie watching (as early as the late 1940s, he spent four months in a darkened studio room screening movies and never once leaving). Surrounded by aides, he would write thick procedural manuals about how they should open cans of food and do other common chores. Of course, no one could ever touch him or speak to him. He would scotch tape the windows shut and keep the curtains drawn. He’d abstain from bathing and spend entire days naked before his television or movie screen. And this was all before the 1960s when he moved into the top floor of a Las Vegas hotel and officially became a recluse.

By the time of his death, none but a handful of people had even seen Howard Hughes for nearly 15 years.

1948 to 1976: What a difference weirdness makes.
1948 to 1976: What a difference weirdness makes.

His wife divorced him in 1971 after not seeing him for three years. As a result of his various airplane crashes, he had become addicted to codeine and lived in constant pain. He also consumed large amounts of valium. The man who once controlled so much essentially wasted away into a bearded corpse with famously long toenails and 7 broken hypodermic needles lodged in his arms. He passed away from kidney failure en route to a hospital. It’s fitting that the greatest American weirdo died the way he lived best, flying in an airplane.

Next up: Weirdos Part 7: The also-rans.

The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century – Part 5

Welcome to Part 5 of The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. Here we count down from number 8 to number 5. Please visit Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 for more of this series. So, to continue…

8. Andy Kaufman (1949-1984)

Andy Kaufman

You know how comedians like to rip humor out of thin air? In unscripted routines they always try to one-up each other with jokes or put downs. You have to be very quick-witted to pull that off. But that’s how Andy Kaufman was all the time. He never, ever stopped looking for The Funny. “He was always on,” a friend once said. Even those who knew him weren’t always sure if he was putting them on. Therein lies his genius, and his weirdness. “Where is the real Andy?” they’d ask. The answer was never clear.

Welcome to Part 5 of The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century. Here we count down from number 8 to number 5. Please visit Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 for more of this series. So, to continue…

8. Andy Kaufman (1949-1984)

Andy Kaufman

You know how comedians like to rip humor out of thin air? In unscripted routines they always try to one-up each other with jokes or put downs. You have to be very quick-witted to pull that off. But that's how Andy Kaufman was all the time. He never, ever stopped looking for The Funny. “He was always on,” a friend once said. Even those who knew him weren't always sure if he was putting them on. Therein lies his genius, and his weirdness. “Where is the real Andy?” they'd ask. The answer was never clear.

Andy Kaufman found ways to make people laugh that no one had ever imagined before. His schtick, if you can call it that, would typically involve assuming some bizarre yet wholly original persona who attempts some kind of ill-conceived performance art…and fails miserably.

KaufmanPersonae

Foreign Man (i.e., Latka Gravas from Taxi), with his excruciating naiveté and his pathetic “eemeetations” and his “Tenk you beddy much.” The “Inter-Gender” World's Wrestling Champion, with his flagrantly chauvinistic taunts and his “I'm from Hollywood” claims and his farcical feuds with professional wrestlers. Tony Clifton, the shrill, obnoxious and phenomenally untalented nightclub singer with his appalling salmon-colored tuxedo, uninterrupted stream of crude insults, and his wholly unsubstantiated delusions of grandeur. The list goes on.

Kaufman would even appear before audiences as “himself”, unshaven and forlorn, bemoaning his career misfortunes and his recent divorce and then panhandling the audience for pocket change.

Andy Kaufman on skid row
Andy Kaufman on 'skid row'

His idea would be to bomb and bomb and bomb some more, and then, when the audience couldn't possibly hate him any further, he would kill. He would do a spot on imitation of Elvis, or something devilishly clever with the congas, or speak gibberish to the audience for 8 minutes and make it work. “You're funny, kid,” Johnny Carson once told him. “I don't know how you do it, but you're funny.”

Neither do we, Johnny. Neither do we.
Neither do we, Johnny. Neither do we.

Of course, it wasn't really Andy. But when was it ever really Andy? On or off the stage, Andy Kaufman stayed in character no matter what. As Foreign Man he'd ask a string of inane questions before a long line of people while ordering ice cream. He'd walk around in his wrestling tights under his clothing. As Tony Clifton, he antagonized his Taxi co-stars to the point of being forcibly thrown out off the set. He would pick up girls in character and spend entire weekends with them never once letting on. Andy Kaufman never let on.

Somehow this must have had a cosmic connection to the Transcendental Meditation movement, which Kaufman joined as a youth. He would spend hours mediating every day. He once hectored the Mararishi himself about comedy and sex.

Noted Comedy Philospher and Concupiscence Pontificator
Andy Kaufman’s personal comedic philospher and concupiscence pontificator

Kaufman also subscribed to an odd “macrobiotic” diet of fruits and grains and vitamins and whatnot. This was perhaps why he was so confident the cancer in his lungs wouldn't kill him. The first thing he wanted to do after the diagnosis was to go on television and brag about how he got cancer for Christmas.

Ironically it was Elvis himself who pegged Andy when the two met in the early 1970s. “Man, this guy’s got a weird mind,” said the King of the Knave. For Andy Kaufman, all the world really was a stage, and he never left it. Except he did. And when he did at such a tragically young age, many thought it was just another one of his ingenious pranks. Only Andy Kaufman would be brilliant enough, and weird enough, to fake his own death. He actually had done that. In the early 1970s, he once bombed so badly that he put a cap gun to his head and pulled the trigger, to his audience’s horror. So it was understandable if people saw his cancer as just another prop in the ongoing comedy routine that was Andy Kaufman's life. And in some ways they were right. Andy Kaufman did fake his own death since the comedy he gave us will never die.

7. Philip K. Dick (1928-1982)

PhillipKDick

Philip K. Dick has established his own place within the pantheon of science fiction writers by basically asking two questions over and over: what makes us human? And what is real? He explored these issues in his stories while touching upon elements of theology, metaphysics, dystopia, paranoia, schizophrenia, transcendental experiences, and drug abuse. This all sounds pretty weird because it is pretty weird. But what makes Dick a weird guy rather than merely a writer of weird stories is that he lived all these things. In a sense he was a very autobiographical writer. To him, his themes were real. In his own life he really didn't know whether [insert science fiction trope A here] was really [insert science fiction trope B here] and how this would affect [insert science fiction trope C here]. It's a tough way to live. Despite what one would think about his chosen genre, there was nothing fanciful about Philip K. Dick.

Mind-bending, yes. Fanciful, no.
Mind-bending, yes. Fanciful, no.

Dick wrote 44 novels and 121 short stories over a 30 year career. But his star really began to shine towards the end of it and beyond with the large number of cinematic interpretations of his stories. Blade Runner, Total Recall, and other popular and lasting films as well as standout novels such as The Man in the High Castle and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said make the emphatic argument for the man's greatness. Also, in his best works his themes throb bloody hot without ever becoming too obvious. Take his later work, VALIS, in which the protagonist is convinced a young girl is the Gnostic Christian Messiah. When the girl dies, we're never really sure if this is true or if the protagonist is suffering from delusions. Any story in which a hero embarks on a strange journey in which he finds the truths he holds close to his heart to be challenged and twisted, often in cruel and inexorable ways, owes a great debt to the unparalleled imagination of Philip K. Dick.

But, oh, was he weird. This was a guy who would obsess over his dead twin. The poor thing, named Jane, died at two months. A frequent sufferer of panic attacks, Dick visited his first psychiatrist at 6 years old. He was agoraphobic and had fears of certain kinds of food as well. His paranoia is legendary.

At least he wasn't superstitious
At least he wasn't superstitious

He also was an amphetamine fiend, which no doubt fueled his prodigious drive to create. He had secret prescriptions to all sorts of medications. One of his wives discovered this only after their divorce….when she received the equally prodigious pharmacist's bill!

This was the same wife Dick pulled a gun on in a fit of ugly paranoia.

Good thing you didn't zap your wife, Phil
Good thing you didn't zap your wife, Phil.

He also experienced amazing visions which often burned brightly in his fiction. He once claimed he saw an evil, metallic face in the sky, which inspired him to write The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Most famously, when a woman came to his home, sunlight flashed off of her Jesus Fish necklace and left him spellbound. After that he claimed he was clairvoyant.

Have you noticed how artists never seem to run out of ways to visualize the work of Philip K. Dick?
Have you noticed how artists never seem to run out of ways to visualize the work of Philip K. Dick?

Was Philip K. Dick insane? If he wasn't, then he was real close. For example, when his home was ransacked in paramilitary fashion in the early 1970s, he was actually relieved. Why? Because now he could justify his long-standing paranoia. He really did have enemies. And who were these is enemies? Depending on the day, Dick would blame the FBI, the KGB, the Black Panthers, the Nazis, drug dealers, and God knows who else.

Philip K. Dick: With enemies like mine, who needs friends?
Philip K. Dick: With enemies like mine, who needs friends?

But none of that mattered. How much of the truth can we really know anyway? How much of reality can we really trust? These were questions Philip K. Dick never stopped obsessing over. In the end, however, the only realities about Philip K. Dick we can trust are that he was a great writer, and that he was really, really weird.

6. Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

 michaelJackson

No-brainer here. This is one entry that practically writes itself. The “King of Pop,” Jackson is considered the most successful entertainer of all time by the Guinness Book of World Records. He's won 26 American Music Awards, 46 Billboard Awards, 13 Grammies, and many, many others adding up to a whopping total of 495 music awards. He was inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame twice, once as part of the Jackson 5 and once as a solo artist. He is the only pop star inducted in the Dance Hall of Fame. He's sold over a billion units worldwide. His 1982 album Thriller is still the number one selling record of all time (and is at least 15 million sales in front of the second place seller) and is widely considered a classic. He has five albums among the top 75 biggest selling records of all time, including two in the top ten.

Michael Jackson's Mighty Handful
Michael Jackson's Mighty Handful

From 1987 to 1989 his Bad tour spanned 15 countries, reached 4.4 million people, and grossed over $125 million. It was the most-attended, highest grossing tour of all time.

No musical artist is more famous than Michael Jackson. No musical artist has been nominated or awarded more times than Michael Jackson. Indeed, no musical artist has ever been more successful than Michael Jackson.

King of Pop
The King of Pop in his early 1980s heyday

And no major musical artist is weirder than Michael Jackson. The corrosive facial rhinoplasties, the gradual paling of his skin, and the rumors of anorexia were fodder for tabloids and mainstream news for decades.

It seems MJ felt that less was more
Michael Jackson: 1970s to 2000s. The 'Less is More' tour

Neverland Ranch, his personal residence in California, with its private amusement park and exotic petting zoo as well as the giant floral clock and statues of children everywhere, wasn't exactly a bastion of normalcy either. Let's also not forget his ridiculous charges of racism against Sony, his record label, in 2002 which even his attorney Al Sharpton didn't want to get behind.

Then, of course, there were the children. Aside from dangling his newborn son (nicknamed “Blanket”) out of a 4th story window in 2002, Jackson was notorious for his sleepovers with young children. He would fly whole families thousands of miles to his home and go on trips with them and spend hours on the phone with their children. And he would sleep with them. Whether or not he was truly guilty of molesting them remains unclear. In 1993, he was sued for sexual abuse of a minor and then settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. In 2005, he was acquitted of 7 counts of child molestation and 2 counts of giving an intoxicating agent to a 13-year old boy. Since then two jurors say they regret their decision. So who knows?

It's a long way down, Mike.
It's a long way down, Mike.

Perhaps Michael Jackson's intentions all along were noble. Perhaps he never had sexual interest in children. But it was all the hand-holding, and the cuddling, and the intense, intense attention that he gave them (along with all his other excesses) that makes him, well, weird, even with the benefit of the doubt. And consider this: Michael Jackson better be weird. Because if his claims of innocence are not true and he really did molest those children, he wouldn't be merely weird, he'd be a criminal.

Numerous times the man was called the artist of the century. To his credit, he deserved that distinction. The numbers are impossible to deny. Further, he had a tremendous artistic impact on the world of pop, merging R&B with rock in a very singular way, and, in so doing, unifying millions through music. But like his greatness, Michael Jackson's weirdness was impossible to ignore. Consider the Google searches below, which was performed on February 24th, 2013. Apparently many others feel the same way.

MichaelJackson_WeirdVsNormal 

5. Jack Parsons (1914-1952)

jackparsons

Philosopher Thomas Kuhn described the history of science as undergoing periodic “paradigm shifts.” As anomalies persist within a normal science paradigm, certain bold and creative individuals begin to promote a competing paradigm which may eventually replace the existing one. A classical example is the Copernican Revolution, in which scientists finally accepted that Earth revolves around the Sun. A more recent revolution occurred in rocketry in the 1930s. The bold and creative individual responsible for it was Jack Parsons. Well, in this case, “bold and creative” is just a polite way of saying “really, really, weird”.

Before Parsons rocketry was barely even a science. No university offered rocketry courses. Hardly any scientist took it seriously. Parsons, however, fed almost exclusively on science fiction and equipped with a genius for chemistry that matched his intrepid abandon, decided to experiment on his own near his home in southern California. Working entirely out of the confines of mainstream science (Parsons couldn't afford to attend college), Parsons amassed a body of knowledge that laid the groundwork for the space age. It took an obscene amount of trial and error, which Parsons happily endured. He liked blowing things up, you see.

I'd, uh, stand back if I were you.
I'd, uh, stand back if I were you.

In the 1930s Parsons attracted the attention of the scientists at Caltech, and later, as fascism grew in Europe, the military. He co-founded both Jet Propulsion Laboratories and the Aerojet Corporation, two important scientific organizations still going strong today. He made numerous contributions to the science of rocketry, most notably in 1941 using rockets to assist airplanes during takeoff.

The first US plane to fly on rocket power without a propellor
The first US plane to fly on rocket power without a propellor

After the war, he discovered how to launch rockets using solid fuel. This accomplishment was so revolutionary most scientists didn't even think it was theoretically possible. It led directly to the creation of the Polaris and Minutemen rockets of the 1960s. Without Parsons always thinking outside the box, putting US spacecraft in orbit, let alone the Moon, would not have happened when it did, if ever.

Parsons' colleagues always knew he was eccentric. He'd decorate his walls with swords. He'd wear snakes like scarves. He'd stage “duels” in the desert with live ammunition (the man whose bullet gets closest to the other man's head without killing him wins). Then there were all the sick practical jokes with the explosives. But it wasn't until Parsons joined famed occultist Aleister Crowley's Church of Thelema (called Ordo Templi Orientus, or OTO) when things got really weird.

Before every rocket launch you must recite the Hymn to Pan so not to incureth the wrath of the Dark Lord.
Aleister Crowley: Magick guru and triangular fashion consultant

First, there was the wife swapping and the free love. Then there was the rampant drug abuse. Most to the point here however were the Satanic sex magick rituals which led to some truly bizarre behavior. Summoning a redheaded “Moonchild” from the 4th dimension. Baking cakes with menstrual blood. Incarnating earth goddesses. Reciting obscure scripture in obscure tongues. Impregnating statues with vital forces. Dancing naked within pentagrams. Spraying blood intently within pentagrams. Masturbating intently within pentagrams. Yeah. The less said about this very weird chapter in Parsons' life, the better.

Behold the ancient mystery and Satanic splendor of my moobs!
Behold the ancient mystery and Satanic splendor of my man boobs!

Apparently Parsons' colleagues at JPL and Aerojet felt the same way. A weirdo like Parsons could not be expected to front reputable institutions. After World War II (once rocketry became a legitimate science), Aerojet asked him to sell all his shares. Parsons readily agreed since he was shouldering the finances of his OTO lodge in Pasadena. The FBI also had a file on him and ultimately revoked his security clearance. So no more JPL either.

Jack Parsons was a pioneer of a new scientific paradigm. He did this by always shooting from the hip and following hunches rather than working in tandem with other scientists. Ironically, this very same trait also caused his downfall since it prevented him from getting work once this new paradigm has been established. By the end of his life he was making explosions for Hollywood movies and storing chemicals in his home. This was how he met his untimely end, in a horrific accidental explosion. It was the tragic death of a brilliant and fearless man who was just too darn weird for his own good.

Painting of Jack Parsons by his widow Marjorie Cameron
Imagine this gracing the hallowed halls of NASA. Painting of Parsons by his widow Marjorie Cameron.

Next: Weirdos Part 6.