Kate had to read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” for her summer project in one of her AP English courses, so I’ve been paying more attention to him lately, too. I read this strange essay in the most recent New Yorker, which started out with those sort of great, Gladwellian anecdotes that drag you in. He’s talking about individual, extraordinarily gifted athletes and what makes them so — freakish genetics, mostly. One guy makes more red blood cells than any three of us put together; another guy has just the right legs, plus lives at the right altitude, for excellence in long-distance running.
And then, all of a sudden, we’re on to Floyd Landis, the cycling cheater, and I had to rub my eyes and reread a couple paragraphs, because Gladwell seemed to be making the case that performance-enhancing drugs aren’t so bad, are they? Because what do they really do? Give people who aren’t born with these remarkable genetic gifts a shot:
The other great doping pariah is Lance Armstrong. He apparently removed large quantities of his own blood and then re-infused himself before competition, in order to boost the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in his system. Armstrong wanted to be like Eero Mäntyranta. He wanted to match, through his own efforts, what some very lucky people already do naturally and legally. Before we condemn him, though, shouldn’t we have to come up with a good reason that one man is allowed to have lots of red blood cells and another man is not?
No. No, we don’t need to come up with that reason. Because the very nature of the human race is that some people have lots of red blood cells naturally, and others don’t. Some have long legs, others short. Ian Thorpe was a great swimmer, in part, because he had huge feet — veritable flippers. The Chinese are great gymnasts and divers, in part, because they’re smaller people than, say, Germans. This is what makes the Olympics interesting. Of course, the real reason they’re great is that they train and train and train; the genetic gifts just provide the edge (sometimes). And every so often a real outlier turns up — a swimmer with itty-bitty feet, say, or a gymnast that fills a B cup. And that’s what makes sports thrilling.
Not so hard, right? I should probably read “Outliers” and find out what other crap she’s been exposed to.
No, I probably shouldn’t. Distinguishing crap from non-crap is an essential skill.
So! Today it is forecast to be an astonishing 96 degrees. Friday’s high? Sixty-one. Last chance, tomatoes. Git ‘er done.
Not much bloggage today, but Charles Pierce drove me to this Politico profile of David Barton, “evangelical historian,” which sort of sounds the origin title of a long-running series: David Barton, Evangelical Historian. The peg: Many thought he was through when, last year, he was accused of such scholarly chicanery that his own publisher disavowed his latest book, “Thomas Jefferson, True Christian!” (Something like that, anyway.)
But to his critics’ astonishment, Barton has bounced back. He has retained his popular following and his political appeal — in large part, analysts say, because he brings an air of sober-minded scholarship to the culture wars, framing the modern-day agenda of the religious right as a return to the Founding Fathers’ vision for America.
In 2010, Barton helped shape new social studies standards in Texas that emphasize America’s Christian roots and question the validity of separating church and state. (He also pushed to have textbooks describe America’s values as “republican” rather than “democratic.” As he explained at the time, “We don’t pledge allegiance to the flag and the democracy for which it stands.”) He says he has advised on mainstream history textbooks used in other states as well, though he declines to give details.
Oh, I’m sure.
It’s growing late, and I have a big day tomorrow. A big, hot day. Let’s see how it goes.