Monday, January 30, 2012

Cold War villain is actually unsung hero

There are a lot of people who point to Ronald Reagan’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on June 12, 1987 as the turning point in the Cold War. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” he said to rousing cheers. A little more than two years later, the Berlin Wall was history, and the Soviet Union dissolved four years after that. Democracy had triumphed.

While there is no overstating the importance of Reagan’s speech, however, it certainly wasn’t the first sign we had that decades of Soviet resolve against personal freedom were fading. Through the steady advance of technology, the world was becoming a smaller place, and it was becoming ever more difficult for Soviet censors to curtail the voice of unrest in their own midst, especially in the Baltic states and other outlying territories.

It was against this backdrop that the Soviets first began to institute the policies of perestroika (reform) and glasnost (transparency) in the mid-1980s. Rather than appease citizens, however, the new openness allowed a now freer press to critique the shortcomings and hypocrisy inherent in the system. While most Soviet citizens still supported the Union, the voice of dissent was growing louder and picking up steam.

In the past, Soviet hardliners would have seized the opportunity to come down hard on citizens and squash any opposition. However, that was no longer possible: the genie was already out of the bottle, and glasnost was picking up steam. Instead, the Soviet government decided to quiet dissent by reinvigorating national pride within the populace. To do so, they launched a massive propaganda campaign, turning to an old trick in their playbook: beat the United States.

From the beginning, the Soviets had matched the U.S. in military might, but both sides knew that in the nuclear age that was not an acceptable battle field, so they tried to one-up each other in other ways. The Soviets had taken the technology lead in the early 1960s by putting the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961), but the Americans were never far behind, and after the U.S. became the first to put men on the Moon in 1969, the space race became a symbolic dead-end. Likewise, the mech tech race in the mid-‘60s cooled before it had really begun, as the Stark and Vanko models both proved potent yet overly-complex and cost-prohibitive compared to conventional weaponry and nuclear deterrents. And unbeknown to the Americans, with other concerns looming, the Soviet government had quietly declawed their technology R&D spending.

But athletics and bio-medicine were areas in which they continued to excel, and in which Soviet leaders believed they could gain significant moral victories over the Americans. Having lost the men’s Olympic ice hockey finals to a supposedly inferior U.S. team in 1980, there was a bit of hurt ego playing into the equation. The Americans’ boycott of the summer Olympics that year and subsequent Soviet boycott of the 1984 Olympics had only caused the U.S.S.R. to further lose face. Seeking to change that, the Soviets decided to hit the Americans hard on their own soil.

Such a move was a risky one, of course, as there is no way to control the outcome of any sporting event. However, in this case, Soviet leaders were as certain as they could be about their chances to win. An agency led by one of their top athletic officials, Nicolai Koloff, had developed undetectable (at the time) anabolic steroids that were capable of bestowing almost superhuman strength and endurance. Koloff had also taken to training one of the country’s most promising young athletes, Ivan Drago, who in 1980 had won a largely uncontested Olympic gold in boxing. With Koloff’s help, Drago was trained – and enhanced – to peak condition.

Drago, of course, is best remembered as a villain: the man who killed popular former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in the ring in his only fight on American soil, and subsequently lost to reigning heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa on Christmas Day 1985. After that fight, he fell from national hero to villain even among his own countrymen. After a post-game report was released identifying “super soldier” steroids in his system, he was disqualified from international competition and disappeared into anonymity, never to be seen again. (Unless you believe wild Internet rumors that he turned KGB and was involved in that disgraceful business in Namibia in 1988.)

But I think it is worth looking back at what Drago represented in the larger context. Although his country turned its back on him, they did not turn their back on what he stood for. His fight with Balboa is the stuff of legend. It ended the Italian Stallion’s career (save for a single, spectacular exhibition outing at age 59 in 2006), but not before he gave the fight of his life. At the end, the crowd was cheering “Rocky! Rocky!” as they embraced the fighter from Philadelphia the same way they had started to embrace the values set forth in Philadelphia two centuries prior. Even Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev was seen begrudgingly clapping after the American’s win and heartfelt plea at center ring that “We can all change!”

While the reactions of Gorbachev and the crowd were mostly censored from Soviet television, that only made them more legendary. Interestingly, though, they did not censor the reaction of Ivan Drago when the crowd turned against him. In the waning moments of the fight, Drago was seen pushing Koloff aside and shouting, “I win for me! For me!” The Soviet leadership, blind to the mood of their own people, allowed this quote to be aired repeatedly, hoping it would vilify Drago as someone detached from his own people, thereby deflecting blame for the loss onto his shoulders alone.

In retrospect, however, it was clear that this was the moment Drago stopped being a pawn of his evil government and started representing his actual countrymen rather than the people who claimed to speak for them. Yes, his cry of “I fight for me!” was the most democratic thing ever heard from behind the Iron Curtain. It reflected a growing sentiment among his people: that their will was not subservient to that of the government, and that their voices deserved to be heard.

Ivan Drago lost the biggest fight of his life, but in doing so he helped win the Cold War – for everyone.

Friday, January 20, 2012

And the winner is...

A - armpit, awkward (2)

B - baboon, badonkadonk, balls, blubbery, boobs, booger, booty, bra, buns, burp, butt (11)

C - constipated, cow pie, crotch, cup (4)

D - diaper (1)


F - fanny, fart (2)

G - gas, giblets, gorilla (3)

H - hot (1)





M - manure, monkey, moon, mudflaps (4)

N - nerd, nipple, nose hair, nostril, nude, nuts (6)


P - pee, poop (2)


R - rear (1)

S - S.B.D., sexy, skid marks, snot, squat, squish (6)

T - turd (1)

U - underpants (1)


W - wiener (1)




So there you have it. By a landslide, nine-year-old boys have chosen B as the funniest letter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ten little baby toes

Here's a song I made up for the newest addition to our family. Enjoy.

I’ve got ten little baby toes

And one little baby nose

Two baby elbows

And two baby earlobes

Two little baby eyes

And two little baby thighs

And two little baby lungs to help me cry


I’ve got one little baby face

With two little chubby cheeks

And one little baby mouth

But no little baby teeth

I’ve got two little baby hands

With two little baby thumbs

And one little diaper to cover my baby bum


I’ve got one little baby family

My butler, chef and nanny

They put me in pajamies

And clean and wipe my fanny

They play games like peek-a-boo

And they love whatever I do

And they always come running whenever I say boo-hoo


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy Planet Day!

As regular readers know, I'm a bit of a fan (completely obsessed) when it comes to planets. A while back, I was thinking about Earth Day, which we celebrate across the globe every April 22, and it ocurred to me that if we are going to colonize the rest of the Solar System one day, then the other planets are going to need their own special days as well. So I decided to figure out when those should be.

I decided right away that each month should have only one such day. After all, we only have eight planets, so there's no need to bunch them up. And with four months left over, I figured we could also find room on the calendar for days to celebrate asteroids and plutoids as well.

There were a few marklers that helped give shape to where the celebrations fell. Earth Day, of course, is in April. It seemed only right that Mars Day should be in the month named after it: March. Finally, I figured December was a fitting month for Saturn, in honor of the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia. By keeping the rest of the planets in their relative order, everything else fell into place.

Here is what I came up with:

Jupiter Day: January 8

As first among the planets in terms of size and mass, Jupiter's celebration is in the first month of the year. We celebnrate the "King of Planets" and its satellites annually on January 8 in honor of Galileo Galilei's discovery of Jupiter's four largest moons (the first moons discovered beyond Earth's) January 7-8, 1610. (The planet itself is visible to the naked eye and had been known since antiquity.)

Asteroid Day: February 19

This is the day to celebrate Ceres, Pallas, Vesta, Hygiea, Interamnia and the millions of other asteroids in the Solar System. Asteroids are smaller than planets, so we celebrate them in the shortest month, and the 19th was chosen to commemorate the discovery of the first asteroid (Ceres) on the first day of the 19th Century (January 1, 1801).

Mars Day: the fourth Tuesday in March

Celebrate the "Red Planet" on the day of the week (Latin: "dies Martis") and month of the year (Latin: "Martius") that share the name of this fourth planet from the Sun. (Note that because they use different calendars, the fourth Tuesday of March will not always fall on the same date on Earth as it does on Mars. Until the first Mars colony is up and running, though, we'll use the Earth calendar.)

Earth Day: April 22

Every April 22, we celebrate the "Blue Planet" and spread awareness and appreciation for the Earth's natural environment. Earth Day has been celebrated since 1970, when it was founded by U.S. Senator and environmentalist Gaylord Nelson. In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22 International Mother Earth Day.

Venus Day: May 22

In many ways, Venus is Earth's twin: the planet nearest our own in terms of size, mass, surface gravity and diastance from the Sun. So it seems only fitting to celebrate the "Cloud Planet" exactly one month later than Earth Day.

Mercury Day: June 23

Mercury revolves around the Sun exactly two times for every three times it rotates on its axis, and this 2:3 orbit-spin resonance makes the 23rd a fitting day to celebrate the "Swift Planet." June 23 is also close to the summer solstice in Earth's northern hemisphere, a fitting time to celebrate the closest planet to the Sun.

Day of the Sun: July 21

On what is statistically the hottest day of the year in many parts of Earth's northern hemisphere, celebrate the star that provides that heat and makes life possible in the Solar System.

Comet Day: August 12

This is the peak of the annual Perseids Meteor Shower on Earth, which is caused by debris left by the Swift-Tuttle Comet. (August 12, 1972 was the most active meteor shower in recorded history.) Because of heir extermely elongated orbits, comets travel both very close to the Sun and to the outer reaches of the Solar System, making this day a perfect bridge between July's Day of the Sun and September's Plutoid Day.

Plutoid Day: September 13

Celebrate Pluto, Eris, Makemake, Haumea and all of the dwarf planets and smaller objects beyond Neptune. Pluto was the first such object discovered (in 1930), and its longtime status as the "Ninth Planet" makes the ninth month of the year a good time to celebrate it and its kin. The discovery of Eris, another plutoid as large as Pluto, caused the astronomical community to rethink how we classify such objects. September 13, 2006 was the day Eris was officially named, ushering in the era of the plutoid.

Neptune Day: October 10

Neptune, the "Tempest Planet," was discovered in September 1846, and just 17 days later, on October 10, its first moon was spotted. But Triton wasn't like other moons: it was retrograde, orbiting in the opposite direction one would expect. This double disciovery opened a greater window into the history of our Solar System.

Uranus Day: November 15

All but two of the major planets of the Solar System are visible to the naked eye. Sir William Herschel was the first to discover a new planet, Uranus, in 1781. He then discovered its first two moons six years later. For this reason, we celebrate the "Bull's Eye Planet" and its satellites on Herschel's birthday, November 15.

Saturn Day: December 17

In ancient Rome, the biggest festival of the year was Saturnalia, a feast on December 17 in honor of the god Saturn. Many aspects of Saturnalia continue today, absorbed into Christmas holiday tradition. Today, we take the opportunity on December 17 to celebrate the "Ringed Planet" and its extensive and unique system of rings and satellites.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Most anticipated splody movies of 2012

At the beginning of each year, I check to see what movies are coming out and try to informally rank which ones I think will be worth seeing. My formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions. Here is what I think about the movies scheduled for 2012:

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
When: December 14. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because it's a continuation of the amazing Lord of the Rings movie series. And because it's not a prequel just to cash in on the success of LotR - The Hobbit was actually the first book written in the series.

2. The Avengers
When: May 4. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because Marvel Studios has made four separate, worthwhile franchises and is now combining them in a collision of epic proportions. And if anybody can pull it off, it's writer/director Joss Whedon, who proved he can handle ensembles with the long-running Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and cult-favorite Firefly.

3. The Dark Knight Rises
When: July 20. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because director Christopher Nolan's Batman series has been unbelievably good. This final chapter only needs to be half as good as the last one in order to be a classic.

4. Prometheus
When: June 8. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because it's set in the same universe as the Alien movies (but don't call it a prequel!) and marks the return of director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) to science fiction.

5. John Carter
When: March 9. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because it's based on a series of pulp novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs (who also created Tarzan), which have influenced just about every sci-fi, action and fantasy movie ever made. Also, it's the first live-action movie from Pixar's great Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo). Oh, and it's about Martians.

6. The Amazing Spider-Man
When: July 3. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because Spider-Man was my favorite superhero growing up. I thought the previous Spider-Man trilogy was OK, but not Earth-shattering. We're being promised a more faithful adaptation of Spidey's story here. I have some doubts, but I'm hopeful.

7. Men in Black III
When: May 25. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because I love me some Will Smith. The first MiB movie rocked, the second sucked. This one looks interesting from what little I've seen. Hopefully the Indiana Jones rule will be in effect here (odd numbered movies are classics and even numbered ones bite).

8. The Bourne Legacy
When: August 3. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because three previous Bourne movies were exciting - competing with the Sean Connery run of James Bond films as the best spy movie series ever. This one, however, doesn't even feature Jason Bourne. Can it keep up the momentum?

9. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
When: June 29. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because I liked the first one. It was dumb, but fun, and I've never been a big fan, so the liberties it took with the source material didn't bother me. With the addition of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Bruce Willis, this one honestly looks even better.

10. Skyfall
When: November 9. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because James Bond rocks when done right. Daniel Craig's first James Bond film was great. His second was boring. He admitted as much and said this one will more than make up for it. Let's hope he's right.

11. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
When: February 17. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because the first GR movie sucked so bad. Honestly, this should be one of the coolest characters to ever hit the screen: a flaming, motor-cycle riding demon-skeleton. I have my doubts, but the early pictures and clips look promising. It won't be a classic, but it could be entertaining.

12. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
When: June 22. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because it has a cool title. It's a long shot, but it could be campy fun.