McCain, Trump, and the wisdom of picking one’s battles

Donald Trump won the GOP nomination in 2016 by being the only GOP candidate who was willing to question the previously unquestioned tenets of globalism that had developed after 1990.

He was mostly right about all that.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Trump has narcissistic tendencies.

Nor does he know when to let an argument drop.

Case-in-point:

GOP struggles to respond to Trump’s attacks on McCain

…But what about John McCain?

Given the nature of today’s political climate, it isn’t acceptable to have a nuanced view of anyone. You must either hate ’em or love ’em. No middle ground.

That isn’t my style.

I honor John McCain’s military service in Vietnam. But  I’ve primarily known him as a politician, and that is how I evaluate him. (John McCain was shot down over North Vietnam almost a year before I was born, and I’m in my fifties.)

I remember John McCain’s performance during the 2008 U.S. presidential election. I wasn’t impressed. His platform included support for expanded American military action in the Muslim Middle East, and government bailouts of the financial giants that caused the housing crisis of 2007.

The worst of both parties’ platforms, in other words.

Then he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Now…What was he thinking when he did that? Sarah Palin is a nice person, but she clearly wasn’t ready for prime time in 2008.

Net result: McCain handed the 2008 election to Obama.

That was great if you’re a Democrat, of course. (No wonder McCain is the most popular Republican in Democratic circles.)

If you’re a Republican, it wasn’t so good.

In short, McCain overplayed his “maverick” card. Most of the time, he simply didn’t seem to know what he was doing.

Now, that all said…John McCain was still a decorated war hero. And Donald Trump didn’t serve during the Vietnam era, citing bone spurs, or whatever.

And John McCain has been dead for six months.

So…

Quit talking about John McCain, Mr. Trump! Just….let it go, already! It’s over!

Learn to pick your battles, Mr. President. This one ended when John McCain removed himself from Congress, in anticipation of his impending death.

Let John McCain, whatever he was or wasn’t, rest in peace.

The left’s betray of MLK…and all of us

As Star Parker obverses, The Left’s Identity Politics Rejects the Vision of Martin Luther King Jr.  She ties in the outrageous spectacle that took place at NYU last week, when Chelsea Clinton attended a vigil:

Students now show up at universities already armed with what they have accepted uncritically as true—gleaned from the internet, Hollywood, and other fertile corners of popular culture. Universities simply serve as platforms for them to advance their political agendas and get official stamps of approval for their careers.

A recent example is the pathetic display of two New York University students who cornered Chelsea Clinton at a vigil noting the tragedy of the murder of 50 Muslims in New Zealand.

They stuck accusing fingers in Clinton’s face, claiming that her condemnation of the anti-Semitism of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., somehow fueled anti-Muslim bigotry and contributed to what resulted in the massacre of innocent Muslims in New Zealand.

According to these ignorant young accusers, Clinton’s criticism of Omar was about being anti-Muslim, anti-black, and misogynist.

As I’ve said before, the left wants to make any criticism of Ilhan Omar a hate crime.

This isn’t going to happen.

Omar is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The insanity of identity group politics will not deter concerned citizens from questioning the motives and decisions of their elected officials.

Seek contentment, not happiness

I am going to put forth the radical proposition that you should not try too hard to be happy.

Instead you should seek contentment.

 

Why not happiness?

Because happiness is open-ended. Happiness is all about the ideal (whereas contentment is about the real).

Happiness is constantly redefining itself. Happiness is a moving target, a never-ending, ever-evolving list of wants, whims, and flights-of-fancy.

What makes you happy today, or this year, will almost certainly not make you happy tomorrow, or next year.

The quest for happiness will therefore exhaust you—and probably cause you to treat others poorly, too.

An overemphasis on happiness encourages you to look at every person and situation in your life with a critical eye.

An overemphasis on happiness is what causes midlife crises, and midlife divorces.

The quest for happiness is what makes middle-age men buy sports cars.

An overemphasis on happiness leads to that vice that the ancient Greeks called hubris—an excessive pride or overconfidence. Because when you are constantly asking yourself what would make you even happier, you tend to develop an inflated view of what you’re entitled to have.

 





 

Of course, the above paragraphs assume a certain base level of having one’s life together. I’m not suggesting that you should be “contented” with being overweight, in an abusive relationship, in debt, or unemployed.

The definition of what it is reasonable to be “contented” with is different for each individual. It varies by age and life stage. A fifty year-old would be contented with things that a twenty year-old ought not to accept (and vice versa).

The determination your reasonable “baseline” requires self-knowledge and introspection.

But once you do determine that baseline, I would encourage you against chasing happiness with too much vigor.

Seek contentment instead, contentment with what you have.

Contentment is attainable. You can rely on it. Happiness, by contrast, is a hare that, once sighted, you can chase…but never catch.

Stairway to Heaven: the ‘Heart’ version

I was poking around on YouTube and I found this cover version of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven’ by Heart–a band I remember fondly from the 1980s.

I’ll admit when I clicked on this, I had my doubts: I mean, Heart…’Stairway to Heaven’?…Really?

To my surprise, however, Heart might actually have improved on the original. (Yes, I know this will seem like pure blasphemy to some of you. But give it a listen before you judge.)

The meaning…if there is one…of the lyrics of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ have been debated for years. I won’t delve into the occult controversy for now. Suffice it to say that the lyrics of this song sounded a lot more profound to me thirty-five years ago, when I heard them at the age of fifteen.  But a lot of things aren’t as good or as deep as we remember them, thirty or forty years later.

‘Stairway to Heaven’ is still a great song, part of the soundtrack of my (and many other people’s) youth. I’ll always like it.

Are beauty standards universal across time?

The answer to this one is complicated.

Some biases regarding attractiveness certainly are universal, in that they applied equally in Elizabethan England as they do today (and probably will five hundred years hence.)

Men who are tall and broad-shouldered have a natural advantage with women. Always have…probably always will.

Men have always preferred younger women, and women who have a certain hip-waist-bust ratio.

Speaking of age: In no society that I am aware of, have the elderly ever been regarded as the sexual ideal.

(Hey, I just turned fifty; so I’m not any more enthusiastic about it than you are. But it is what it is.)

The age thing probably makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective. Sexual attraction is ultimately about procreation. Older women can’t get pregnant; and a man’s ability to produce healthy offspring declines with age. If young people were naturally drawn to sexual relations with old folks, the human race would have died out eons ago.

(Twentysomething female readers who don’t wish to remain pawns of their evolutionary impulses are of course welcome to email me.)



 

Once you get beyond these basics, though, there is some real variation.

I watch a lot of old movies, and I’m often surprised by my reaction—or lack thereof—to female sirens of the early twentieth century.

Almost all of them, no matter how young they were when they appeared in a particular film—make me think of my grandmothers. And that’s a real libido-killer.

Consider that famous pinup of Betty Grable. You’ve seen it: the one that features Grable standing in a swimsuit with her back to the camera. She is looking mischievously over her shoulder.

Betty Grable, 1943

It has been said that no World War II GI was without one of these. (I know that my grandfather, a World War II veteran, had a copy.)

Betty Grable was twenty-seven when she posed for that iconic shot. Put me in a time machine and take me back to 1943, and Betty Grable would consider me an old man at my present age of fifty.

And yet, the pinup photo of Grable (which so inspired men of my grandfather’s generation) does absolutely nothing for me. Even at twenty-seven, Grable strikes me as matronly.

I don’t really see much in the way of wow! feminine attractiveness until you get to the Baby Boomer generation.

This makes sense. In the early 1980s, when I was an adolescent boy discovering the existence of the opposite sex, many Baby Boomer women were still youngish, and therefore objects of fascination from afar.

(There is one group of males who are consistently attracted to older women, by the way: twelve- to fourteen year-old boys!)  

 

 

I have never been prone to celebrity obsessions. By this, I don’t mean to claim that I have never been interested in women who are out of my league—but they have tended to be women in my immediate surroundings, versus women on television. When I tilt at windmills, I like the windmills to be nearby.

 

I do, however, recall a brief adolescent infatuation with Olivia Newton-John, one of the costars of Grease (1978). Since Olivia was a Hollywood celebrity and twenty years my senior, I recognized, even at that age, that these were foolish thoughts. But since celebrities can provide a frame of reference for discussions like this, I’ll note that I can also see some real make-my-heart-flutter beauty in Nancy Sinatra, circa 1968, and Michelle Philips, from anywhere around that time.

Nancy Sinatra, 1968
Michelle Phillips, 1974

 

My ability to see attractiveness in the young versions of Baby Boomer women (versus women of the World War II generation) makes a certain amount of sense from a cultural perspective, too. My world very much overlapped with the world of the Baby Boomers. When I was an adolescent, Baby Boomers defined youth culture.

Virtually all of the celebrities of my youth were Baby Boomers. So were the female sex symbols: Farrah Fawcett, Jacklyn Smith, Bo Derek.

(I recall seeing my first copy of Playboy at the tender age of eleven, in 1979. The centerfold model of that issue would have been born in the 1950s—making her a Baby Boomer.)

This 1976 poster of Farrah Fawcett was literally everywhere during my adolescent years.

 

 

Now I’m going through beauty-standard culture shock from the opposite perspective. To me, there is no aesthetic tragedy to equal the young woman who turns her body into a canvas of gaudy tattoos and ridiculous piercings.

Yes, I said “gaudy” and I said “ridiculous”. Almost all men in my age group feel the same way. For that matter, I strongly suspect that many Millennial men share this opinion, but are hesitant to openly express it.

Slightly below tattoos and piercings on the “what was she thinking?” scale are breast implants. Whenever I see a young woman with breast implants, I think of the strippers in one of the scenes from Bada Bing in The Sopranos.

Where the female body is concerned, I have an unapologetic preference for the “natural” look.

Kat Von D, via Pinterest: Why?????

 

I’ve also noticed that young Millennial women tend to vary more widely in weight and physical fitness than their predecessors. When I was a young man, it was somewhat rare to see a young woman who was either super-fit or noticeably overweight. (It was the same with males, I should note.)

Generation Y, however, has both more couch potatoes and more gym rats. The result is that most Millennial women tend to strike me as either jaw-dropping, centerfold-attractive…or not very appealing at all.

 

 

I will acknowledge a certain chauvinism here in addressing only the female side of the coin. But this is a personal essay—not a broad-ranging academic paper. And so the perspective is personal.

I’m sure that what women find attractive has changed, too, since the early twentieth century. Think about this: In the mid-1980s, most male sex symbols wore mullets (though nobody called them that back then).

I’ll leave that piece for a heterosexual woman to write. As a heterosexual man, I’ve always paid a lot more attention to the distaff side of things. Please keep that in mind as you compose your hate mail.

Beauty standards will continue to change, I’m sure—even as some factors remain constant.

Looking back at my own high school yearbook, I’m struck by how much standards of feminine beauty have changed in a mere thirty-five years…

But I’m going to keep those particular observations to myself. At least a few of my former high school classmates have been known to frequent this blog.

I can handle hate mail from anonymous folks on the Internet…but not from people I’ve known for thirty-five years.

Anthrax and anxiety

The other day I watched a documentary about some highly disturbing revelations to come out of the former Soviet Union.

In 1969 the United States, under then President Richard Nixon, unilaterally abandoned all testing and development on germ warfare. Nixon claimed he did this because he found these weapons simply too horrible to fathom. Pessimists claimed that Nixon was simply trying to cast himself as a peacemaker. (This was during the Vietnam War era, remember.)

What were Nixon’s true motivations? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

The Soviets, being the Soviets, took the most cynical, zero-sum interpretation possible. They signed the Biological Weapons Convention, along with many other countries, in 1972. In secret, however, they ramped up their germ warfare program to previously unimagined levels.

(Supposedly, the Soviets believed that Richard Nixon was lying about the U.S. unilaterally abandoning its germ warfare program. What country would do such a thing? (Certainly the USSR never would.) But in this case, at least, Nixon had been telling the truth.)

The Soviets built a huge anthrax weapons development facility near Yekaterinburg. (This was where Czar Nicholas II and his family were massacred by drunken Marxist revolutionaries in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution.) The Soviet government told the world—and its own people—that the site made nothing but conventional military tanks.

This being the USSR, there was an inevitable foul-up. Some anthrax, in aerosol form, was accidentally released into the air in 1979. Several hundred people died as a result. The Soviet government told the world (and its own people) that the deaths had occurred from ordinary food poisoning.

After this disaster, the Soviets built another biological weapons facility in a remote area of Kazakhstan. This facility created enough weaponized anthrax to wipe out all human life on the entire planet.

Then the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

The government of the now independent Kazakhstan really wanted nothing to do with the USSR’s massive germ warfare facility—or its stockpiles. Throughout the 1990s, various efforts were made to clean up the site, and dispose of the stockpiles in a safe manner.

Much of the anthrax was placed into sealed containers and dumped into the Aral Sea, which lies between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Although this sounds inherently dubious, they figured it would be safe there.

But there was a problem.

The Aral Sea has been slowly drying up for decades. Why? More Soviet ingenuity at work. During the Khrushchev era, Moscow had the brilliant idea of diverting the two major rivers that feed the Aral Sea, in an effort to irrigate a desert in the area.

So the once submerged containers are gradually being exposed.

Most of these containers are still difficult to get to. But there are certainly terrorist groups with a lot of motivation, and there’s all that anthrax sitting out there, in those containers.

Oh, and it gets better: There are still scores of unemployed germ warfare experts from the former Soviet Union. Many of them are only in their fifties. And many of them are selling Chinese-made trinkets in Astana in order to make ends meet.

 

This is a lot to worry about, when you think about it: While the development of a nuclear weapon would likely be an overwhelming task for a stateless terrorist group, biological weapons require much fewer resources.

It is no exaggeration to say that the former Soviet Union’s biological weapons program could still wipe out all human life on earth. The USSR left a long shadow, and nothing left in that shadow was good.

On age and humility

I turned fifty this past year.

Age makes most everyone more conservative, more set in their ways.

I am no exception in this regard.

Age has also dimmed much of my youthful optimism.

On the positive side, however, age has definitely made me more humble.

When I was twenty-three (the most arrogant, self-important age, for most people), I had lots of ideas about myself and what I could do.

But I had not yet been tested. Not in any meaningful way.

At the age of fifty, I’ve definitely been tested by the big things: the deaths of loved ones, illness, disappointments, and the disillusionment of my youthful notions about “how the world is.”

And having been tested, I must report that I’ve sometimes found myself coming up short.

I’ve discovered that I am not that wonderful and impeccably principled person that I believed myself to be at the age of twenty-three.

Each of us is endlessly virtuous, until those virtues are put to the test.

At the age of twenty-three, I saw only black and white. At the age of fifty, I see many shades of gray…most of all in myself.

A cap on student borrowing

The Trump administration is considering new limits to student loans, with the aim of encouraging “responsible borrowing”.

We need to decrease third-party payments in the higher education market, as I discussed in a blog post yesterday. Third-party payments from the federal government have inflated the cost of higher education, placing an unreasonable burden on students, parents, and taxpayers.

The only real beneficiaries of the current system are the higher education elites.