Why Men Lick Their Balls

The Anthony Weiner scandal is only the latest example of utterly predictable behavior being discovered and everyone rushing to proclaim how shocked and outraged they are. As others have pointed out, part of the rush to criticize Weiner no doubt comes from a desire of those critics to distant themselves from that type of behavior. Mind you, I don’t approve of what Weiner did. I just can’t muster the outrage.

Men are raised to believe that having sex with as many women as possible is a measure of how manly they are. Fathers protect their daughters from priapic teenage boys and look the other way when their sons figure out ways to defeat the defenses of other parents. (My parents were decidedly not like this. Stupid Christian morality.)

I am forty-two. My favorite show in high school and college was “Cheers”. After that there was “Seinfeld” and “Frasier”. One of my favorite shows now is “Mad Men”. The central characters in all of these shows all had enviable success with members of the fair sex. Why wouldn’t I aspire to reach the same heights?

Men in positions of power, like Anthony Weiner, have an even greater incentive to indulge their inner Sam Malone; it’s easier. As the great Chris Rock said, men are only as faithful as their options. Men like Anthony Weiner have more options than the regular Joe. It must be intoxicating for someone that looks like Weiner to discover that his range with woman has increased exponentially. (I wonder if he only figured this out after he started dating the woman he recently married. She is physically out of his league.)

Most men would rather that a woman think he’s stupid than that he’s ugly. (We know that women float the idea that they are attracted to intelligence just in case the ugly guy is rich.) So it naturally follows that a guy like Weiner would take things too far once he starts to explore the new boundaries of his appeal. A good-looking guy like President Obama probably exhausted himself years ago. (Former President Clinton was a good-looking guy but he had to overcome being from Arkansas. Sure he achieved a lot in college and law-school but that just meant he was smart.)

I don’t approve of Anthony Weiner’s behavior, but I understand it. Although I live in Brooklyn, I am not in Representative Weiner’s district. If he makes it to the next election, I won’t be able to cast a vote one way or another. That being said, I don’t think I’d hold all this against him. Maybe its one of those “there but for the grace of God” things but it’s just not in me to punish the nerd who finally was in a position to have as much as the cool kids.

It’s Okay to Be Happy, and Dignified

Like almost everyone else in the country, I’m glad he’s dead. I’m also glad that he resisted arrest, even if that resistance only entailed him being himself. I am happy and irrationally relieved. Its irrational because it probably doesn’t change much. Its probably more symbolic than anything. Still, symbols may not be rational but they still have power. We may not be safer than we were last week but we feel safer. That being said, I don’t see the need to celebrate.

I haven’t been to Ground Zero since the announcement, unless you count visiting Century 21. I haven’t put on a red, white and blue tie and I haven’t pumped my fist and I haven’t waived a flag, literally or figuratively. I’m reminded, as I often am, of a sports analogy. Players who score touchdowns are sometimes instructed to “act like you’ve been there”. You can also change it to “act like you expected to be there”. Even though it was a long time in coming, we should all have expected that one day we would get the news that the man was dead. We should just behave as if we knew this day would come.

I’m not in favor of the death penalty. I also don’t believe that it brings much comfort for the survivors. While I agree that this was the best course of action in this case, I still don’t believe that it will bring much comfort. What’s dead doesn’t come back, no matter how many of those responsible are killed. Celebrating the death of another human being is unseemly and it diminishes us. I’m happy and it’s okay to be happy. It’s also okay be dignified, as if this is the outcome we all expected.

This is Good, but Could Be Better

Today and tomorrow will feature the second legs of the Champions League semi-finals. In both semi-finals, the home team will be trying to protect a 2-0 lead, which is about as safe a lead as you can expect at this stage of the competition. The only drama of these two matches (I hope) will be the competition in today’s all-Spanish match.

Today’s match features arch-rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid. Compared to these two clubs, rivalries between American sports teams and colleges seem quaint. While the level of vitriol between the supporters of the Old Firm is probably higher, El Clasico stands out because of the rich history of the two clubs. Between them, Barcelona have dominated Spanish soccer. Real Madrid’s history in the Champions League is superior but even that adds to the rivalry as some argue that Real’s early Champions League dominance was built on a player that was stolen from Barcelona.

The saying “styles make fights” is usually applied to boxing but it is equally valid for soccer. Today’s match features the best passing team in the world in Barcelona against the pragmatism of Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid. (Not that Real isn’t talented, just not Barcelona talented.) Barcelona’s eight point lead in La Liga and recent 5-0 destruction of Real may have made the outcome semi-final a foregone conclusion but it was at this stage of last year’s competition that Mourinho’s even more pragmatic Internazionale Milan ousted Barcelona. So there was hope for a thrilling tie. Alas, Barcelona extinguished that hope last week in another master class of passing and movement and possession.

The only interesting thing going into today’s match is that Real Madrid has spent the last six days talking about Barcelona’s master class in cheating. According to Real, the Barcelona players repeatedly faked injuries in order to get the referee to penalize Real Madrid players. Putting aside the irony of one Spanish team accusing another of play-acting (and one that features Ronaldo at that), it has made things more interesting going into the second leg. Real went so far as to post video evidence on their official website showing various cases of simulation by the the Barcelona players. This all sets up for either a classic match or, more likely, a match which gets very nasty once Real Madrid determines that they can’t overcome the deficit.(My father’s favorite phrase “quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” comes to mind.)

I’m not so American-centric to say that play-acting does not go on in American sports. Baseball players act like they caught the ball or made the tag, basketball players embellish it when they take a charge, golfers complain about cameras going off when they shank a tee shot. But diving and faking serious injury is more important to soccer than these other examples. One could refer to the American examples as “gamesmanship”. In soccer, it’s just the way things are, and its encouraged by the governing bodies.

At present, the highest levels of soccer do not use goal-line technology to determine if there was a goal or not. There is no replay review of close decisions. And the best part of it all, on a field that is longer and wider than a football field, one referee is supposed to be able to cover enough ground to watch what all twenty-two players are doing. (Unless, of course, it’s an important Champions League match involving Barcelona in which case at least one opposing player will be dismissed.)

American football has seven officials to monitor a game that moves much slower and is much more predictable than soccer. The soccer referee also has two linesman whose primary responsibility to monitor offiside violations (and often fail to do even that) and a fourth official on the sideline whose primary responsibilities are to hold up a board showing the numbers of substitutes or the amount of added time, and also to remind the coaches to say in their respective technical areas. It is an example of the hubris of the lords of soccer that they won’t take more steps to address the rampant cheating in the game. In fact, the lords of soccer have been conspicuously quiet since last week’s match. (No doubt Michel Platini would have weighed in if the controversy involved an English team play-acting.)

So there is no punishment for being taken off on a stretcher as if the future of your career is in doubt and then running back onto the pitch a minute later. There is no punishment for holding your face when an opposing player elbows you in the stomach. None of these things are punished and this only leads to more players employing these tactics. It makes it hard as a fan to watch these matches and take them seriously. We watch because we want to see the best try and do their best while someone else tries to (legally) stop them.

That today’s match will likely degenerate into a contest about who can act hurt more realistically is sad. The biggest reason that this should matter to the lords of soccer is the most important reason of all: money. There is money to be made by generating interest in soccer in the United States, lots of it. To date, most American fans don’t care for the play-acting as we were not raised in that environment. No doubt we’ll get there one day but until then we want to see two teams going at it honestly. So why shouldn’t the lords of soccer do something to reduce this behavior? After all, what highly-placed soccer official doesn’t like money?

I’m Shocked By That Language

Wayne Rooney said “fuck” after scoring a goal and the FA has decided to suspend him for two matches. You read this correctly. While Rooney was celebrating scoring an important goal in a key match he said fuck loud enough to be picked up by the nearby cameras. The FA stated that Rooney was suspended for using offensive, insulting and/or abusing language. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I imagine that fuck is uttered many times each match. I imagine that fuck is heard numerous times by the referee, the linesmen and the fourth official. I imagine that fuck is often directed at the referee, the linesman or the fourth official. Yet, for some reason, suspensions are so rare that I can’t remember another example of one.

To be clear: I’m a Rooney fan. That said, I know he’s no angel. He’s probably been suspended less times than he should have been in his career. Rooney is not above retaliating at a perceived slight. (Often these slights can be impossible to perceive.) Rooney has plenty of faults and no one should feel sorry for him. That being said, why the silly attitude towards swearing? There is not one English-speaking person watching the match who hadn’t heard the word fuck. No doubt the majority of those people have uttered the word fuck. I would guess that a number of the non-English-speaking people watching the match have heard the word fuck. Who exactly is the FA protecting here?

The Danger of Expectations

Recently, HBO aired a fourteen minute preview of the upcoming “Game of Thrones”, a series based on the first book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin. The preview was only part of the long line of promotion that HBO has been providing in a effort to generate interest in the series and to reassure the hardcore fans out there. (Does science fiction and fantasy have anything other than hardcore fans?) I was introduced to the series a few years ago by a good friend and have been excited for the series ever since it was announced. I have read everything about the series and watched every preview and featurette. I am pumped for this series. So why, while watching the preview last night, which is basically the first fourteen minutes of the first episode, did I feel anxiety about how good the series will be?

The obvious answer is that those fourteen minutes weren’t any good, but that’s not the case. Aside from not caring for the look of Winterfell, I thought everything else looked spot on. I like the casting decisions and I thought that the pacing was very efficient, covering the prologue and half of the first chapter in one quarter of an episode. The initial critical feedback has been positive. So why was I worried? Simple. I have trouble just being in the present, enjoying what is happening now and not worrying about what may happen later.

With regard to “Game of Thrones” there is plenty for me to worry about. Will the series be any good? Will people who haven’t read the book like it? Will my wife like it? Will it get renewed for a second season? Will the things that I loved on the page have the same impact on the screen? How will I feel about the changes? How much will I have to explain to my wife while we are watching it? (The early answer is, quite a bit. Even in the preview last night my wife had questions.) The list goes on and on.

This is the way my mind works. This is why when I was at Old Trafford a few years ago, I didn’t enjoy the match as much as I wanted to. (United won.) This is why I end up feeling vaguely unsatisfied when I finally get to do something that I’ve always wanted to do. I’m always thinking ahead, trying (and failing) to anticipate the next thing.

But life isn’t about seeing it all coming. Life is about what happens to fuck up whatever plans you have. And life is about feeling that thing when it happens and riding it, whether its good or bad. I have trouble doing that when my expectations are too high. Yet I don’t have the discipline to stop myself from building those expectations. I’m not sure what the answer is but I need to deal with it as “Game of Thrones” is set to begin on April 17 and I really want to enjoy it. The memory of my vague unhappiness with the three “Lord of the Rings” movies is still fresh in my mind. It would be nice not to ruin something good for myself.

This Round to the Republicans

Evidently it has been the strategy of President Obama to keep out of the budget fight in order to appear like he’s above the fray, stepping in only to settle down the unruly children. At the same time, the President refused to present any realistic plan to address the Federal debt, wanting the Republicans to make the first move. The only problem is that what was calculated to appear as maturity instead came across as indifference. It didn’t look like leadership.

I’m not a big believer in electoral mandates. The new members of the House, primarily Republicans, felt like they came in with a mandate to shrink the Federal government. One problem is that the key issues for voters are not always the key issues for those they elect. Voting is often about what effects us on a personal level. People may talk about the debt and the deficit (and mix the two up) but they care most about money in their pockets.

The fact is that candidates run on a number of issues, any one of which may be the key issue for an individual constituent. Deciding what the election means always says more about the candidate than about his or her supporters.

The other problem with the electoral mandate with regards to government spending is that, in general, the American voter is relatively ignorant about what the government spends money on. Polls regularly expose this ignorance with regards to the amount of money spent on foreign aid. Responders often believe that 25% of the federal budget goes to aid foreign countries. Even those who guess 10% are way off as the real number is approximately 1%. Eliminating that from the budget would have little to no effect on the real problems. Most Americans don’t know what budget reform will really mean and I wonder how rabid their support would be if they did.

That said, budget reform needs to take place at some point and they answer will have to include a combination of reduced spending and increased revenue (taxes). The agreement on the 2011 budget did not include any tax increases, which shows that none of the politicians are actually serious about the debt. The Republicans will trot out the old reliable myth that cutting government spending will lead to job creation. Ignoring that some of the cuts will directly lead to the loss of government jobs, the current record corporate profits aren’t exactly stimulating job growth. Corporate American is taking advantage of the results of the global economic crisis; people are afraid to lose their jobs and are willing to do what they have to to keep their jobs. Corporations have found that they can do the¬† same or more with less and make higher profits. What incentive do they have to add staff?

It’s safe to say that the Dems played this round all wrong, from not settling the budget business last year to the 2012 budget proposed by the President earlier this year to not moving fast enough to identify their own cuts until brow-beaten to do so by the motivated Republicans. Now the Dems will proclaim victory by agreeing to a worse deal than the one that was initially proposed by the Republicans and was rejected. No doubt the Dems moved for the only reason that politicians ever move; in order to get re-elected. This cynical strategy assumes that the voting public really cares about government spending. I have my doubts. Most people I know care about earning enough money to pay their bills. The debt and the deficit are difficult concepts to understand and they don’t have the luxury to devote more time to understanding it. They outsource their understanding to the disingenuous politician class assuming that the politicians care about the same things that they do.

Tonight, President Obama will finally lay out a plan which is expected to be based on the recommendations of the President’s bipartisan commission, the same recommendations which he ignored when they were presented at the end of last year. Welcome to the fight, Mr. President. In the meantime, the budget debate is being fought entirely on the Republicans’ turf. In the end, the budget agreement will be somewhere between the centrist recommendations of the commission and the conservative recommendations of the Republicans, which will again be a victory for the Republicans. And what will the President get for all his dithering? We’ll know in November 2012 when the President either gets rewarded or punished for the state of the economy at that time. If it were me, I’d rather have succeeded or failed on my own terms.

This Isn’t Your Living Room and Its Not Mine Either

I love movies. I the dark theater and the sense of anticipation right before the movie starts. I love the communal feeling, of experiencing something in a crowd that makes everyone laugh or cry (or just get misty) or scream. I love when you are walking out of a just finished great movie and you look at a total stranger and you see in that person’s eyes that he or she just had the same experience as you and you know that you both understand that something meaningful just took place. Watching a great movie is one of the pleasures of life. Still, I rarely go to the movies anymore.

I have many problems with going to the movies. For one, it’s impossible to know beforehand if the movie is going to be satisfying or not. I hate to sound like an old crank, but movies in New York are expensive and it’s disappointing to spend the money and then leave dissatisfied. But this never used to bother me, so what changed?

I think people changed. People now think its okay to talk during the movie as if they are in their own living room. They think its okay to put their feet on the back of your seat or kick your seat. They think its okay to make a lot of noise opening the packages of food that they smuggled in from outside the theater. In general, the behavior of the movie-going public has deteriorated to the point that I’m tense from the moment I sit down in the theater. I’m looking and listening before the movie starts, trying to figure out from where the problems are going to come. Maybe its confirmation bias, but it seems like the problems always come.

Another issue¬† is that watching movies at home has never been easier or more enjoyable. Movies are available on cable (on demand or at air time), or from the ether through Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, iTunes and no doubt a number of other services. And our TVs are much bigger now. My smallest TV (33″) may be embarrassingly small by today’s standards but it is significantly bigger than any previous TV that I owned. The picture quality in the movies I watch is HD. Plus, I still get all the other benefits of being at home that I always had; I can put my feet where I want, talk when I want (until the wife shushes me), I can pause the movie to use the bathroom or to get food or to send an important text. I miss the magic of the theater but there is a version of that magic in the home now.

The other great thing about watching at home is that the stakes are much lower. By not trying to make sure that I spend my movie money wisely, I am spared having to expose myself to the movie hype machine. I don’t need a bunch of articles and commercials and reviewers and friends telling me how great a movie is, raising my expectations to an unreasonable level. I can go into most movies with a clean slate, with little expectations. My wife and I recently watched two really good movies, “The Secret in Their Eyes” and “Dogtooth”. I had not heard of either movie and I recognized a total of one actor from the two movies combined. It didn’t matter. I watched “Red Road” a couple months ago, same thing. I started watching these movies with little to no expectation and was rewarded.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever completely stop going to the movies. At some point you want to join in the conversation, even if it means sitting through a movie like “Avatar”. Sometimes I want to be part of a community. The good thing is that watching a movie at home no longer means that you’re not part of a community. Thanks to the internet, a community is only always seconds away.

All the Others Are So Much Easier to Bear

We are all a number of different people at the same time. There’s who we think we are, who we want to be, who we want others to think we are, etc. Sometimes these things are aligned but most of the time there are differences between these various parts of ourselves. It is these differences that lead us to form friendships. We all have the need to reveal who we really are and a need for acceptance of that person.

A close friend of mine feels that technology is changing the nature of friendship. She feels that things like Facebook and Twitter are removing the impetus for people to interact face to face, and that losing this interaction makes friendships less meaningful.

When Facebook launched in 2004, I was 34 years old, married and living with my wife in an apartment we owned. I suppose that I was not in the target demographic for Facebook. I was old enough to have grown up in a time in which you didn’t keep people informed of everything you thought or did. I was also (and still am) happily married, so tracking down old lovers was not of interest to me. I don’t need to be on Facebook for business reasons. In sum, I can’t think of a single good reason to get on Facebook while I can think of plenty of reasons not to (including old lovers trying to find me).

Even though its not for me, I do believe in the possibility of friendship through Facebook or Twitter or other social media. A friend is someone you can tell what you really think, reveal who you really think you are. The only consequence of social media is that maybe the boundary between you private and public self is breaking down. Is this a bad thing? After all, wouldn’t we all be better off if we could live our lives as openly and honestly as possible? I think maybe it could be but I also wonder about unintended consequences of all this. I continue to stay off Facebook.

It Seems Simple

As has been continually reported, albeit not comprehended, the biggest problem with the US Federal budget is that even if it was decided that all discretionary, non-security spending be eliminated, the budget could not be balanced. This is important because the current debate in the US Congress about whether to cut spending by $61 billion, as advocated by the Republicans, or by $10 billion is almost meaningless. The real debate needs to center around the proverbial third rail of US politics, namely entitlement reform.

What I don’t understand, is why is this subject so taboo? As others have pointed out, the two major entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare were established when life expectancy for men and women in the US was much lower than it is now. Men now live approximately eight years longer and women approximately six years longer than was the case in 1965 when Medicare was created. The difference is more pronounced since 1935 when Social Security was created, with men living approximately 15 years longer and women 16 years. It is clear that circumstances have changed since those laws were passed.

Measures have been taken on Social Security. The age at which a qualified person can receive full benefits has increased in steps up to 67 for those us who were born after 1960. This is reasonable but insufficient. When Social Security was established, people on average didn’t reach 65. Now will all live with the dream of ten to fifteen years of retirement. I don’t want to have to work past (or even up to) 67, but I assume that I won’t be able to draw full Social Security benefits until I pass 67. For younger people, retirement is so far away and so much less interesting than their current lives, I can’t imagine that many of them will balk at the age of full Social Security benefits being pushed back from 67. After all, you can still retire at any age; this just affects getting Social Security benefits.

With Medicare, the eligibility age is still pegged at 65. I’m not sure what sense this makes. Why can’t Medicare eligibility be pushed back as Social Security eligibility has? I’m not advocating changing benefits for those who are already receiving benefits or even for those who are close to receiving benefits (60 years old +). But what about people in my age group, people who are still more than twenty years away from qualifying for Medicare. Tacking on a few years isn’t really going to affect me much at this point.

Part of the solution with both of these programs is changing the eligibility age. Why can’t this be done? Who is going to object to this? Both parties are waiting to make a proposal on entitlement reform, no doubt waiting for the other party to go first so that they can criticize. (It’s always easier to destroy than create.) But what exactly is at risk? Normally, a logical point of view on an issue like this is unattractive to conservatives, but this is an idea that they conceptually support. (Republicans with nothing at stake in this like Governor Christie of New Jersey have already weighed in on this.) As this could lead to a real solution in the structural problems with the federal budget, why isn’t anyone taking the lead?

I’m sure someone could tell me what I’m missing. I’m just puzzled and wondering; what don’t I understand?

Nothing Can Fix Me

Nothing can fix me. It’s too late. I’m too old. Do you ever feel like that?

As you get older, things become clearer. The good part of aging is that you gain wisdom about things. It used to bother me when my parents would give me advice on something and their basis for the advice was that they were older and they knew the way things were. It seemed a pretty flimsy basis to me. As I have grown older and interact with younger people I see that there are things you understand just from having been around longer. Sometimes things are so clear to me that I can’t understand why the person I’m talking to can’t see it. Someday they will.

The bad thing that becomes clearer as you get older is that who you are starts to solidify. This is not a problem with the good qualities that you have but it is a source of frustration with regards to the things about yourself that you’ve always wanted to change. When you are younger, you always think that there will be time to change. Nothing is forever. I will only do this job for a little while until I pay off my school loans. I will live in this little apartment now until I have enough money to move into a bigger one in a nicer neighborhood.

The biggest surprise to me as I get older is how little personalities change. When I was growing up, I just assumed that my father had reached the level of adult maturity in which you take on the responsibilities of adulthood because you want to, not because you have to. Maybe I was naive, but I assumed that adults no longer wanted the things that they may have wanted when they were younger. I assumed that raising a family was not a burden but was a joy. My father didn’t care about what he had had to sacrifice because what had replaced it was more desirable.

In my twenties, I kept waiting for this maturity to arrive. I kept waiting to not care about the joys of my youth; video games, science fiction and fantasy and watching sports. Two decades later and I still love those things. I still love my freedom. I have been married for over a decade but in many ways I’m still the same person I was back then. Sure I’ve gained knowledge and wisdom but at my base, I’m almost the same.

This sameness is a burden when I make the same mistakes over and over. The things I fight about with my wife are rarely new things. Instead they are variations on the things that have been problems for years. I’ve often reached the point of giving up and just accepting that I can’t be any other way. I think people reach that point a lot from a physical standpoint. You try for years to get back into shape and you are not successful so you decide that you are at your new normal size. You accept what you are. This can also happen to us from a mental standpoint.

Still, I retain hope that I can change. I have been successful over the last couple of years in changing myself physically, shedding some weight and getting down to what I vaguely remember was my college weight. Now I am also working on changing mentally. My goal in this is not some hazy past ideal but progress towards to a hazy ideal that we all carry around inside, how we would like to be if we only could. Maybe we can. I need to believe that I can change and that things don’t have to be one way just because that’s how they’ve always been. We’ll see.