Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Answers to 45 random questions

Here's another one of those facebook questionnaires that I filled out. I'll try to post something more substantive soon.

1. Do you like blue cheese? No dairy for me.

2. Have you ever smoked heroin? No.

3. Do you own a gun? No.

4. What flavor do you add to your drink at Starbucks? At Starbucks I usually order either iced tea, a soy (iced) chai, or maybe a soy (iced) latte

5. Do you get nervous before doctor appointments? I’m usually more busy being annoyed about how long I have to wait around.

6. What do you think of hot dogs? They can be pretty tasty but I can’t get the images of the ligaments, hairy snouts, and blood clots I saw on that episode of You Are What You Eat out of my mind.

7. Favorite Christmas movie? Hmm… oh Pee Wee Herman’s Christmas Special is awesome (seriously)

8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? OJ

9. Can you do push ups? Yes.

10. What's your favorite piece of jewelry? I like the watch I lost about a month ago

11. Favorite hobby? Uh... let's say "reading."

12. Do you have A.D.D? Maybe.

13. What's one trait you hate about yourself? Chronic laziness

14. Middle name? Carl

15. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment? I’m bored with most of the music that plays on my ipod, this computer is making a lot of noise, I have a meeting later this afternoon.

16. Name 3 things you bought yesterday? Salmon sandwich, metro card, cab ride.

17. Name 3 things you drink daily: Water, diet coke, juice.

18. Current worry? What’s been up with my digestive system recently? Could I have some sort of parasite or something?

19. Current Dislike? When I burn my tongue or the roof of my mouth.

20. How did you bring in the New Year? In Playa del Carmen with friends: we had a nice dinner, some too sweet champagne, and then went out.

21. Where would you like to go? Lot’s of places: Israel, Africa, Norway, Singapore…

22. Name three people who will complete this. I think only Nicole will.

23. Do you own slippers? Yeah, but I don’t wear them that often. I usually hang around the apartment in my socks.

24. What shirt are you wearing? Banana Republic shirt with like pastel green stripes

25. [Missing apparently]

26. Favorite color? Azure

27. Could you be a pirate? Arr, if I was I would be drunk on grog all the time.

28. What songs do you sing in the shower? I don’t really sing in the shower usually.

29. Favorite food? Sushi

30. What's in your pocket right now? Wallet, cellphone, dumb receipt, like 3 cents in change.

31. Last thing that made you laugh? My conversation with Nicole on the phone last night

32. Favorite sheets? I don’t know, modal maybe.

33. Worst injury you have ever had? Cutting my arm open on broken glass while fighting with my brother

34. Do you love where you live? I like it.

35. How many TVs do you have in your house? One.

36. Who is your loudest friend? Ashlye

37. How many dogs do you have? None.

38. Does someone have a crush on you? I think a few people probably do.

39. What are your favorite book(s): Hmm… Let's go with Nabokov's Ada.

40. What is your favorite candy? Lindor truffles or ferrero rocher

41. Favorite Sports Water: just regular water for me

42. What songs do you want sung at your funeral? The Van den Budenmayer Funeral Music

43. What were you doing 12 AM last night? Chatting with people on the computer about how I needed to go to bed/watching TV (Big Love, I think)

44. What was the first thing you thought of when you woke this morning? Blech.

45. Favorite place to be? In the water.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Funny Line of the Day

Person B: You're drinking beer at 8:30 in the morning?

Person A: What? It's only a Hefeweizen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Meeg at the Movies: It has been a Red Dawn

A few months back, inspired in no small part by the Family Guy episode where Peter stars in Red Dawn: The Musical (you can watch it here, it's at the very beginning of the episode), I decided I should finally sit down and watch the original '80s classic. Red Dawn may be fondly remember by viewers who were children or teenagers when it came out and who liked to imagine themselves in the place of the freedom-fighting rebels, but – make no mistake – it is Awesomely Bad.

The plot is simple: the Soviets team up with the Cubans to launch an invasion of the American heartland. In a small, Colorado town, a handful of teenagers take to the hills and form a guerrilla unit which becomes an ornery thorn in the Communist invaders' side. If this doesn't already sound stupid to you, then have a look at the cast: the teenagers include Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey (the couple in Dirty Dancing), Charlie Sheen (currently starring in America's favorite TV comedy: Two and a Half Men), C. Thomas Howell (perhaps best known for his blackface tour de force in Soul Man), and Lea Thompson (Caroline in the City, Howard the Duck, the mom from Back to the Future). And, bizarrely, Harry Dean Stanton has a cameo.

There's an irritating right-wing, cowboy undercurrent which runs through the movie, but let's try to ignore that. Below are some thoughts which I've been ruminating on since I watched the movie.

(1) So the flick starts with some opening blurbs about the Sandinistas and crap which do their best to present a plausibly alarmist setup for a Communist invasion of the United States. Then, literally five minutes in, the paratroopers start landing (no beating around the bush for this movie!) and immediately get to terrorizing civilians. You know, killing a teacher, aiming a rocket launcher at the high school, blowing up a yellow school bus, shooting at random people on Main Street. Clearly this is the way you want to start your invasion of enemy territory; you'll be winning over the people's hearts and minds in no time!

(2) Not long after the town falls to the Communists, the teenagers scurry out of hiding to check out the aftermath and see what happened to family and friends. Despite the fact that they are wanted by the authorities and the town is all on lockdown and being run like a police state, it is amazing how easily they manage to sneak in and out without incident. They even stop by the drive-in-cum-internment-camp where the Communists are keeping suspected dissident (or, as the case may be, any ole person they happened to round up on the street).

(3) I though it was an amusing touch how, post invasion, the town movie theater was showing Eisenstein's 1938 classic Aleksandr Nevsky. Were some of those Soviet paratroopers packing film reels in their knapsacks? Also, don't they know that rednecks hate foreign films?

(4) Is it just me or does it seem like, from the beginning, the invaders have allocated a disproportionate amount of firepower to subduing this town of like 15,000? I mean, paratroopers, armored tanks, tons of troops... does this town have some sort of strategic importance (maybe it was on their supply route?) or are we supposed to believe that every such town in America gets a similar occupying force with 20-50 tanks?

(5) The teens (who start calling themselves the Wolverines) spend months roughing it up in the forests of the Rocky Mountains, in the dead of winter, and yet we never once see them finding or building any type of shelter. Are we supposed to believe they were just sleeping in the snow all that time?

(6) It seems like in one scene the Wolverines are cowering in the forest crying and trying not to get caught (also drinking deer blood), and in the next they've organized themselves into an effective insurgency that's scoring some major points off the Communists. Their only qualifications are that, like, two of them used to go hunting with their dad and a bunch of them were high school athletes. I just think it would have made a lot more sense if they hadn't gotten their act together and become Al-Qaeda in Iraq until after that downed fighter pilot guy joined them. Like maybe he could have been training them. I don't know....

(7) I think the movie is deliberately coy when it comes to the size of the Wolverines' guerrilla unit. At some point it seems like they've increased significantly in number (I guess because it would require a superhuman suspension of disbelief to think that a half dozen people were responsible for all those victories we saw them pulling off), but by the end we're back to the original six.

(8) And it seems like the rebels have an inexhaustible supply of ammunition. Usually weapons and ammunition are big issues for guerrillas, but the Wolverines have their automatic weapons ablazin' in every scene, like emptying a full clip at every rustling tree branch. Those raids on Soviet tanks sure must have been fruitful. On a related topic, is it weird that when they were going to execute the traitor in their midst (the son of the collabatorationist mayor who apparently popped into town to betray his friends off-camera at some point) my first thought was "no firing squad! Hang him, save your bullets!"

(9) I enjoyed the occassional peeks into the minds of the occupying Communists, like how they couldn't wrap their heads around the fact that the insurgents called themselves the Wolverines after the high school football team. And I particularly liked the part where the mayor (collaborationist bastard) was telling the Cuban colonel how his son was harmless and certainly not a member of the resistance, and the colonel was like "isn't he a prominent student leader?" You know that Communists take leaders of student organizations seriously! I think he also referred to the Eagle Scouts as an "elite paramilitary organization."

(10) When the Wolverines capture this Russian soldier, who seconds ago was trying to kill them, he tries to claim that they can't kill him because he's a prisoner of war and that would be against the Geneva Convention. Patrick Swayze's obnoxious, ignorant answer to this is "I never heard of it!" Don't get me wrong, I'm not against killing him, but I feel like a better answer would have been something like "Oh, and what about all those unarmed civilians you lined up and shot earlier in the film?" Also, I bet the history teacher was getting to the Geneva Convention before he was shot by paratroopers.

(11) And, finally, I am pretty sure that an assault helicopter – although impressive – is not the best weapon for flushing out guerrillas hiding in the woods.

After I watched Red Dawn I found out that they are apparently working on a remake as we speak!!! Heaven only knows who the bumbling invaders will be in Red Dawn 2.0. Also, looking back at the movie today, the Communists' poorly planned occupation and the resistance they meet from resentful locals of course brought to mind the failures of the US' current overseas wars. Thus, it's interesting to note that the military mission that resulted in the capture of Saddam Hussein was named Operation Red Dawn.

Images from Red Dawn by United Artists

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Cool Music: Stephen Malkmus

Hey, everybody! You probably know how I'm always on the look out for cool music. I'm always super excited when a friend passes me a new song to hear, and I also occasionally check out the selection on some music blogs.

My favorite music blog has to be Aquarium Drunkard, which has introduced me to a nice sampling of classic and contemporary tunes. The Drunkard's musical tastes are pretty eclectic: I'd say that most of the music they feature falls into the broad category I'll call "White People Music" (rock/folk/indie), but there are notable exceptions. I've found some quality blues and soul on there, not to mention some random stuff like '60s psychedelic rock from France and Cambodia (I'm not making this up), oh and some classic jazz from Ethiopia (seriously awesome, after hearing a few songs I bought the whole album from iTunes).

Anyhoo, I figured I'd dedicate a quick post to introducing you all to a musician I discovered via Aquarium Drunkard and who slowly insinuated his was into my favorites. Stephen Malkmus (website, myspace) is a California-born indie rocker who currently plays with a band called the Jicks who are based out of Portland, Oregon. The story behind the group's name is that it's "J" from Jagger + ("Mick" - "M"). That kind of reminds me of that game show Classic Concentration that was hosted by Alex Trebek without the attitude.

Anyway, here's my favorite song that I've heard so far by Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, "Baltimore" off their latest album Real Emotional Trash (2008). Maybe it's kind of simple or rambling music-wise, but it's the lyrics (lines like "it's warm for a witch trial, don't you agree?") that really drew me in.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Baltimore.mp3

Once Malkmus made it onto my radar, I did a little research and discovered that he used to be part of another (now defunct) group I really like called the Silver Jews (myspace). I must credit Mennu's Belmar mix for introducing me to them. In case you're unfamiliar with this group, I'll leave you with their classic "Rebel Jew" about Jesus and Texas.

Rebel Jew - Silver Jews

Image: cover of 2001 album by Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks released by Matador Records

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Curious Case of Carlos II

Getting back on topic, if we're looking for a royal personage who was a victim of inbreeding depression the clearest candidate is Carlos II (1661-1700), the last Habsburg king of Spain. Most history books will tell you his deficiencies were the result of excessive inbreeding, but let's look at the evidence for ourselves.

How inbred was he?

That Carlos was the product of inbreeding is undeniable. Since the days of his ancestor Charles V (1500-1558, aka Carlos I of Spain), the Habsburgs had been in the habit of marrying members of the family's Spanish branch to members of the Austrian branch. Oh yeah, in their heyday the Habsburgs controlled not only the Spanish and Austrian Empires but also the low countries (Benelux), Portugal, southern Italy (Naples and Sicily), Milan and Burgundy.

Have a look at Carlos II's family tree. His mother and father were niece and uncle. Granted, this was sort of an accident of history given that this was Philip IV's second marriage, and it just so happened that none of the sons of his first wife, Elisabeth of Bourbon, lived long enough to accede to the throne.

A couple of other fun facts indicative of Carlos' pedigree collapse:

(1) Carlos was descended from his great great great grandparents Juana la Loca (1479-1555) and Philip the Handsome (1478-1506, Felipe el Hermoso) through three of their children.

(2) whereas someone whose ascendants (i.e. direct ancestors) were all unrelated to their spouses would have 32 great great great grandparents, Carlos only had 14.

How messed up was he?

Carlos' physical and mental deficiencies earned him the nickname "El Hechizado" (The Hexed). First off, there was his debilitating overbite. Prominent chins ran in the Habsburg family (check out the portraits of Charles V or of Carlos' father Philip IV), but with Carlos II the condition was so bad that he had problems chewing. It's also said that it was difficult to understand Carlos when he spoke and that he frequently drooled. To me this seems analogous to those overly purebred Persian cats whose faces are so flat that they have respiratory problems and their tear ducts get blocked up.

This, however, was the least of Carlos' problems. He was feeble and sickly, prone to high fevers which kept him confined to his bed. It's also said that he suffered from seizures, that he invariably vomited on carriage rides due to chronic motion sickness, and that his eyes oozed liquid in open air. In addition to his physical shortcomings, Carlos II was purportedly dim-witted and he was left basically uneducated. The classic 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica claims "there was no room in his nearly imbecile mind for more than childish superstition, insane pride of birth, and an interest in court etiquette." Due to his weak health, he remained mostly idle while his mother, his bastard brother Don Juan José of Austria, and his advisors made most of the decisions affecting the Empire, with Carlos' most vigorous activity consisting of the occasional hunt.

Although he was married twice Carlos II fathered no children, and it is assumed that he was infertile if not actually impotent. His reign as king was largely disastrous and his inability to produce an heir led to the War of Spanish Succession.

Was this inbreeding depression?

As I said above, Carlos' mandibular prognasthism sounds like a heriditary physical trait which became exacerbated to the point of becoming a deformity due to inbreeding. Moreover, his sickliness and sexual dysfunction appear analogous to immunity and reproduction problems which have been documented in highly inbred lab rats. Therefore, I think it seems very likely that Carlos' problems did indeed stem from inbreeding depression.

Interestingly enough, Carlos' sister the Infanta Margarita Teresa (1651-1673, who as a little girl was the subject of Velázquez's masterpiece Las Meninas) was not affected by the same problems as him. She was lively and beautiful although, judging by her portrait, she looks like she had a strong chin. Margarita was married to the Emperor Leopold I (her uncle and first cousin) who was himself pretty inbred and had an abnormal underbite although he was otherwise fit and intelligent. They had six children (only one of whom survived to adulthood) before Margarita died at the age of 21.

Images: portrait of Carlos II of Spain by Juan Carreno de la Miranda is located in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna; Ancestry of King Charles II of Spain found in Wikipedia Commons.

Royal Inbreeding in Europe

Our search for inbreeding depression continues in the royal houses of Europe...

European royals

People often say that European royals are more inbred than the general population given the many intermarriages between the royal houses which took place over the generations. It is because of this that, for example, all the crowned heads of Europe can trace their ancestry back to William the Conqueror (1027-1087). And if you look at the family trees of Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip, you will see that they are not-so-distant cousins: King Christian IX of Denmark (1818-1906) was both Elizabeth's great great grandfather and Philip's great grandfather while Queen Victoria (1819-1901) was great great grandmother to both of them.

Here's a few more interesting facts about the royal gene pool:

(1) The most recent common ancestor of all the current crowned heads of Europe is John William Friso, Prince of Orange (1687-1711).

(2) Queen Sofia, the wife of King Juan Carlos of Spain, is Philip's first cousin once removed as King George of the Hellenes (1845-1913) was Philip's grandfather and Sofia's great grandfather.

(3) You may have heard the story of Anna Anderson who claimed to be Anastasia, the daughter of the last Russian tsar who was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 (there's a good movie loosely based on her story starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brenner). In 1994, ten years after her death, a test was done comparing Anderson's DNA to that of Prince Philip with the results proving that she could not have been who she claimed. This is because the real Anastasia would have been related to Philip (and Elizabeth) through Christian IX and Queen Victoria who were her great grandparents.

(4) Anastasia's father, Nikolai II (1868-1918), and King George V of England (1865-1936, the Queen's grandfather) were like "identical cousins." Their mothers were both daughters of Christian IX.

I should note that a lot of new stock has been introduced into the royal gene pool in recent generations as many royals are now outbred to non-royals (cf. Prince Charles and Andrew's marriages to Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson – Englishwomen from aristocratic families who were only distantly related to their husbands – and King Harald V of Norway's marriage to Queen Sonja who is a commoner).

Stay tuned for the most inbred royal of them all.

Images: Photograph of King George V of England and Tsar Nikolai II of Russia taken in Berlin, 1913 is in the public domain.

Monday, February 2, 2009

25 Random Things About Meeg

Hey, everybody, a couple of people sent me this survey on Facebook where you're supposed to list 25 random facts about yourself. I figured I'd post my answers here because "why not?" I'm not above padding my blog with a filler post or two. Let the oversharing begin...

1. Whenever I hear the intro for that song "Dreams" by the Cranberries I hope it's going to be the cover Faye Wong sings in Cantonese.

2. I find it slightly irritating when someone says "button down" instead of "dress shirt."

3. I don't mind it when a book is good but the ending is a let down, I think good endings are hard to come by.

4. I really want to go hiking more often.

5. When I was a kid I was afraid of going down escalators and I was always secretly happy when one broke down so I could walk down it like ordinary stairs.

6. For about a year, every time I sneezed it would get caught in my chest and it would be like a soft punch to the sternum.

7. Big spotlights shining up and illuminating the cloud cover kind of freak me out.

8. Sometimes I feel like I'm spiritually communing with the big guy.

9. I can remember listening to that song "Everybody wants to rule the world" by Tears for Fears when I was a kid and thinking "Aah, so true."

10. I can be a book snob and sometimes I try to hide the cover of the book I'm reading on the metro when I think that it's not worthy.

11. I actually don't think I'm very good at languages, but I would like to learn several more.

12. I love the smell of a turkey roasting in the oven.

13. If I lived during the Roman Empire I think my favorite gods would be Isis and Athena

14. I pride myself on the conviction that if some maniac was trying to kill me I would not hesitate to put a bullet (in fact several) through his head.

15. I tend to magnify chores and errands in my mind until they seem like a way more daunting task than they are.

16. Slow pedestrians blocking my way annoys me to no end, even when I'm in no hurry to get where I'm going.

17. I like fiction that is told from the perspective of an interesting or unreliable narrator.

18. I can never decide how I want to transcribe Russian words using the Latin alphabet.

19. My preferred methods of long distance communication are gchat and text message.

20. At some point I was able to recite a list of all the Roman emperors up to Constantine.

21. I can recite "L'Infinto" by Giacomo Leopardi, most of "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell (I think I get the last stanza messed up), and like the first stanza of "The Female of the Species" by Rudyard Kipling.

22. A couple of years back I decided to start reading the Bible and I got up to the part where Solomon is constructing the temple before I stopped (for now).

23. These songs are on my ipod's Top 25 most played list: "The Sun Sits Low" from A Little Night Music, "Chromakey Dreamcoat" by the Boards of Canada, "Why Won't You Talk About It?" by the Radio Dept., "Dangerous (DJ Dainjah Remix)" by Busta Rhymes, "Here's Your Future" by the Thermals, "Whisky in the Jar" by the Pogues, "Palabras, Palabras" by Carmen Sevilla...

24. If there was a good job opportunity which required me to live abroad for a year or two I would jump at it.

25. I'm getting a yoga mat.

* * *

That's it for this session. Let me know if you fill out the survey yourself.