Homo homini rodentius est

Presidential Body Mass Index: McCain Wins!

Presidential Body Mass Index (PBMI)
[Click to view] McCain and Obama compared to presidents by Body Mass Index

A few days ago the Wall Street Journal caused a little ripple in the Force by publishing a tongue-in-cheek (maybe) piece entitled, “Too Fit to Be President?” by somebody named Amy Chozick. The story explored the idea that, in a nation of fatties, Obama could be rejected because he’s too thin and an elephantine electorate would not be able to bear four years of being shown up every time his svelte image appeared (fully concealed) behind the presidential podium. Dutifully, the piece was picked up by FoxNews. I kinda’ liked the WSJ piece because, well, I wrote it. Back in October, when I posted a [nearly identical] piece expanding brilliantly on the dim prospects of an Al Gore run due to his uncomfortable resemblance to a small natural satellite. The WSJ even included a cute graph in their piece comparing the presidents by height and weight, but graciously avoided using a body mass index (hey, they’re not thieves, okay?) I was going to send a snarky email to the writer, but she’s already being [raked over the coals] so I guess I’ll let it go.

But getting back to the Presidential Body Mass Index (PBMI) — just what does it have to say about the prospects of the current candidates? Well, the first thing it shows us is that some of the presumptions about the candidates are dead on: John McCain really is a clone of George W. Bush (when it comes to body mass, anyway) — his BMI of 25.8 matches exactly that of the current occupant of the White House. Mere coincidence? Sorry, Bub, this is science. And, guess what? Obama really is the new John Kennedy — his BMI of 22.8 almost exactly matches that of JFK (22.6)! Camelot redux!

However, lest any Obama supporters out there start cracking open their Vitamin Water bottles in premature celebration, there are a few things to keep in mind: 1) McCain’s BMI falls exactly on the mean — he is far more representative of what the country seeks in a president and 2) John Kennedy was an anomaly — a PBMI outlier who only got to be president because his father stole the 1960 election by stuffing the pockets of Chicago ward bosses. As I argued so convincingly in the Al Gore analysis, Americans tend to like slightly portly “successful looking” men to be president. Bean poles may win their party’s nomination — but rarely take the big prize. If Obama truly wants to be the next president, he might take a page from his fellow countrymen and start sucking down the burgers and milkshakes.

Jesse Helms and his unintended legacy

Jesse Helms as Boogie Man
The boogie man.

Well I never would have believed it, but Jesse Helms ended up sharing a characteristic with Thomas Jefferson! They both died on Independence Day. Of course, down in Old Dixie, this means that for years to come July 4th will take on added gravity as a day of remembrance for a fallen son of the Old South — the antebellum South, that is. But it will also be marked in other places — as an additional reason to celebrate. And not just for the obvious reason that we are relieved of one of the most hateful men who ever held public office in this country, but for the not so obvious benefit that he provided to those he hated the most.

Helms’ reactionary policies and statements are legendary — loyal support for foreign fascists such as Pinochet and Ian Smith, unrelenting opposition to civil and reproductive rights in his own country, and, of course, virulent hatred of gay people. The man who once said, “I have tried at every point to seek God’s wisdom on the decisions I made, and I made it my business to speak up on behalf of the things God tells us are important to Him,” also said of gay people suffering from AIDS, “It’s their deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct that is responsible for the disease.” But his hatred went beyond mere condemnation. When he repeatedly opposed funding for the Ryan White Bill to fund AIDS research it was obvious that his intention was to assist what he considered to be God’s judgment in its deadly work.

And yet, ironically, his unmitigated enmity toward the gay community was one of the most effective galvanizing forces for a previously ghettoized and marginal population. There is a great virtue in having a clear enemy who acts as a locus around which opposition can cohere. In political struggles where radical change is needed the greatest danger comes from enemies that diffuse distinctions — which is why Jim Crow and its “separate but equal” sop was so effective for so long in delaying the conflagration that had to come to end American apartheid. It took a Bull Connor and his dogs and fire hoses to lay bare the face of racism and galvanize disparate groups of people to radical action. For gay people, Jesse Helms was our Bull Connor. I’m almost tempted to say we should thank him. Almost. I wonder if he was ever bewildered by the steady advance in civil rights that gay people have enjoyed since the AIDS crisis struck. I’ll bet he was.

The thought of it makes me happy.

Harold Arrives Late to the Party

The scariest thing… ever.

In the wake of AIDS, with the gay community furiously trying to reinvent itself as a caricature of 1950’s domesticity, one can barely remember what gay sensibility was like back in the 1970s. A bit darker than images of beaming pairs of grooms slicing into a wedding cake, to be sure. Growing up in a small upstate town, the images of homosexuality that made their way into my little backwater milieu were rare, often absurd and sometimes frightening — a glance at a Life magazine photospread about gay subculture, replete with shadowy shots of hirsute men in strange leather uniforms; the odd appearance on TV of flamboyant character actors like Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde; the furtive peek at Playgirl (which even I knew was targeted to men as much as women). And then there was The Boys in the Band. I saw it on TV when I was very young and it scared the living hell out of me. The movie was meant to be an honest look at the experiences of gay men living in Manhattan, but its over-the-top portrayal of every hysterical stereotype extant approached Grand Guignol. Most frightening of all was “Harold” — a blasé character at the center of the storm, so embittered and disdainful that he can barely make an utterance that isn’t delivered like a lancet. I suspected I was queer and I dreaded that Harold was to be my fate. But the world would change before that could happen.

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Hillary’s Consolation (prize)

Sad Hillary
Cheer up girl! It could’ve been worse… you might’ve won.

Could it really be just two interminable years since this humble blog [declared] with such ballsy confidence that Hillary Rodham Clinton didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being president? My… how times have (not) changed. Well, now that the rest of the world knows it, the only remaining question is: what does she get as a consolation prize? The slackjawed political punditocracy — who have managed to be wrong about almost every aspect of this election — are boosting the Hillary as Veep meme. Looks like they will continue their perfect losing streak at prediction. Obama is unlikely to select her as his running mate for the simple reason that he seems to want to win and he well knows that, outside of the Democratic Party (and thesedays even inside it…), she is radioactive. The Republicans are playing all innocent, scuffing the floor with their Buster Browns and whistling nonchalantly during this discussion, hoping not to give away their absolute need for Obama to select her — it’s the only thing that would get disgruntled Republican donors to open the money spigot for McCain. No, she won’t be vice-president. But what will she be?

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50 Shots of Injustice

Victims of police brutality
Victims of police brutality: Michael Stewart, Eleanor Bumpers, Antoine Reid, Abner Louima, Patrick Dorismond, Amadou Diallo, Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Stansbury, Sean Bell

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
— Robert Kennedy, quoting Aeschylus, following the assassination of Martin Luther King.

This week, 3 New York City police officers were acquitted of the wrongful death of Sean Bell, who was gunned down in a hail of 50 bullets after leaving a bachelor party the night before he was to be married. The details of the case can be recovered from the [New York Times] site and I won’t recount them here. I’ll just comment on the fact that when I heard the judgment, which I was dreading, I felt sick. I dreaded it because I feared that it would play out as so many similar cases in this city had over the years: police officers in a tense situation overreact and apply deadly force in a situation that did not warrant it. The police would be acquitted because in an ambiguous situation the onus is on the victim — especially if they are black — to avoid death. This case, as those that preceded it, reminds us in the starkest way that black people in New York City live in a state of siege. Sequestered in ghettos still, disproportionately vulnerable to the ravages of crime and too often assumed to be dangerous by those who are charged with their protection.

The first night I lived in this city as an adult, in 1983, I was wakened from sleep on a blisteringly hot September night by the sounds of a man screaming for his life. I got out of bed and looked down into Union Square to see a group of police officers crowding a crumpled figure lying before them on the ground. “Good,” I thought, “they got him,” thinking that the figure on the ground must have been the one attacking the unseen victim. The next day we learned that the crumpled body had been Michael Stewart, a young black graffiti artist who had been beaten to death by the police following his arrest for spray painting a subway car. The officers involved were all acquitted.

Cases like Stewart’s and those represented in the photo focus our attention, but you can’t live in this city without being made to face, everyday, the commonplace soul-destroying injustices that are perpetrated against black people and that become the perverse representation of normalcy. Every time I see a cab driver pass by a black woman with children because he’s afraid she will bring him into a black neighborhood, or a group of young black men given wide berth on the street because of what they are wearing I can’t imagine how so many people can endure so many hurts for so long. Living a life where just leaving your house in the morning becomes a test of courage.

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