Let me give you a completely ridiculous, totally implausible scenario.
While you’re sitting in line at the DMV, or in some other scenario with a fairly representative cross-section of society, aliens abduct you and everyone else in the room/mall/town/whatever. The aliens have been watching the NBA playoffs, and they are now totally infatuated with basketball, but they can’t play because they’re gaseous, or they have no hands, or something sufficiently debilitating. So they take all these random humans (since they don’t know how to evaluate talent for this kind of thing, they just know to find humans), and they whisk them off to this faraway space arena, and they set up a tournament. Let’s say they abducted 1,000 random people, so they form a hundred teams of ten, completely randomly, and they give you cool uniforms and set up a schedule and all that. Your motivation is this; if you lose before, say, the third round, they eat you, or launch you into space, or if you’re turned off by the morbidity (and randomness) of that, assume that you just end up living relatively crappy life as a human refugee who’s viewed as not good at the one thing humans are known for being good at. In short, it’d be really, really good for you to get past the third round. There’s no prep time. One minute, you’re looking for a Cinnabon, and the next, you’re in the arena, getting ready to play your first game. It’s single elimination. You’ve never spoken to any of your teammates, who are totally random people (let’s say Americans, just to keep it somewhat simplified) of wildly different ages, physical makeups, and backgrounds.
I wonder how I, and other people I know, would fit into this scenario. I mean, I spent a lot of time playing in basketball games where I’m average, or slightly below average, but at the same time, I spend a lot of time playing in basketball games. I’m 29 years old, just under six feet, 175 pounds, and I can jump pretty high — don’t all those things put me at a distinct advantage against my typical opponent/teammate? Sure, there are lots of people — total — who are better than I am despite being older, or fatter, or out of shape, but out of the entire world population? The odds can’t be that high. Look around you right now; are you the best basketball player in the room right now? Top three? Top five? I think it’s very likely I’m the best basketball player in my entire office. That’s simultaneously saying a lot, and not saying very much at all at the same time, which I suppose is really the point of this whole exercise.
We spend a lot of time being informed, through analysis, competition, or conversation, of how good we are at different things compared to the best people on Earth. That’s what we aspire to, in general. But almost none of us actually live in that aspiration-based world; we play in rec leagues, record CDs, we write witty e-mails, we try to make our spouses and kids laugh; we try to be the best looking person in the bar (okay, some of us do; I try to not be at the bar, but I’m trying to be as inclusive as possible here). We THINK we have a good sense of where we are in this giant life pyramid, from things like high school — but despite the cliche, life is really almost nothing like high school (or any other school). How many of the people who were good at basketball in, say, 6th grade, still play basketball? How many kids who were great writers became engineers, or discovered World of Warcraft, or beer, or just got bored with it, and watched their skills erode? Is anyone still good at “Magic : The Gathering”?
And then, take that weathered, diffused bunch of students, and throw them into a pot with the other generations of people who are still around, or just now entering the real world. Where does everyone stack up now?
You don’t have to do this with basketball, obviously, or even something you’re relatively good at. What if the aliens liked soccer? I’d still have some advantages — big ones, even — over the elderly, and the especially unathletic. I probably know more about soccer from video games than, say, the average mom. I have, technically, played soccer against other people, even people who were pretty good (I didn’t say it went well). When my team assembled, would the crappy people look at me hopefully, expecting me to be “good” at soccer? Is it possible, or even likely, that a team composed this way would be so bad, that I might still be the best player on our team? What would that experience even be like? What if it was a giant Halo tournament? Or some competitive version of a random craft activity, like weaving? My Mom would end up getting all these endorsements, and I’d be like Mark Madsen, running out and high fiving her during timeouts, hoping I’m never actually called on do anything important.
The possibilities are endless. So keep practicing whatever it is you do — just in case the aliens come.
Matt Taibbi is always going to produce far more aggressive, combative, and yes, oftentimes much funnier rhetoric than I probably ever will on politics. But even taking that into account, I think there’s a very compelling point within what Andrew Sullivan calls “his usual bravado” :
“Michele Bachmann has found the flaw in the American Death Star. She is a television camera’s dream, a threat to do or say something insane at any time, the ultimate reality-show protagonist. She has brilliantly piloted a media system that is incapable of averting its eyes from a story, riding that attention to an easy conquest of an overeducated cultural elite from both parties that is far too full of itself to understand the price of its contemptuous laughter. All of those people out there aren’t voting for Michele Bachmann. They’re voting against us. And to them, it turns out, we suck enough to make anyone a contender.”
I don’t mean to imply that this audience — and remember, I used to live in suburban Ohio, so I’ve at least got a sliver of credibility here — only makes political decisions out of spite; I don’t think that’s true at all. But are they capable of doing it? Is that “overeducated cultural elite from both parties” really that infuriating these days?
I dunno, you tell me.
It’s got a little bit of everything, but most importantly, it successfully portrays something totally ridiculous that only rich people do as a normal, increasingly popular trend in American life.
“FOR some parents, an engraved pen set just won’t cut it as a graduation present. It seems so insubstantial, so unoriginal. Anyway, the kid will just lose it. So how about a New York apartment?”
Umm… what? Does your kid even have a job yet?
“In many cases, brokers say, the parents do not live in the New York area and view the apartment as a potential pied-à-terre for themselves when the child decides to move on. Some buy it as a straight-out gift, a gesture of profound affection sweetened by the current generous tax exclusion. Others buy it as an investment and retain ownership, and still others acquire it through a family trust for joint ownership.”
Sure. Totally reasonable. In fact, if you don’t buy your kid their own NYC apartment, you’re practically throwing money away. Can we get some practical advice here, though, for the regular people who are doing this?
Richard Koenigsberg, a certified public accountant, thinks that these gifts can be a good idea. “We are in a remarkable period of time at the moment,” he said, because the tax exclusion on gifts and estates has been raised to $5 million from $1 million until the end of 2012. This means that a parent can give a child as much as $5 million tax free; if two parents are involved, make that $10 million.
You don’t say? That’s interesting, especially because I’m pretty sure the only reason my parents didn’t buy me my own apartment in the most expensive city in the world was because of the taxes on a five million dollar gift for their idiot son. Or possibly because it’s an insane, terrible idea and all these kids do is use Instagram and write pithy blog entries and DON’T YOU LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT I HAVE A DECENT FULL TIME JOB AND A REASONABLY SIZED RENTED TOWNHOUSE IN THE SUBURBS AND WE OFTEN BUY STORE BRANDS.
I don’t mean to imply that journalists/editors should have to get their stories & headlines “approved” by sources or anything, but doesn’t it seem like with some words, you should really have to check?
Take this example.
Maybe McCain said “baffled” at some point in the interview. “I am baffled by this controversy.” I can picture that. Or maybe they said something like “Senator, would you describe your reaction to this controversy as ‘baffled’?” But I doubt it, since they don’t actually quote him saying that in the article, and it makes me wonder if the editor (or whoever does the headlines on the website) was trying to punch things up with a cool word, and just thought “baffled” was cool, kind of like “unfurled”.
The only problem with that is that it conveys a sense of confusion, instead of say, disagreement, because that’s exactly what my first reaction was (and why I just sort of reflexively clicked the link from Google News). I thought, “hmm, John McCain is legitimately confused by a question, that sounds interesting”, probably because my own internal biases associate McCain, who is 70-something, and has been made fun of a lot (fairly or unfairly) for being old, with confusion and general bafflement. After all, I bet there are a lot of things that legitimately “baffle” 75 year old rich guys, but of course, those are oftentimes very different from things they just flat-out disagree with or don’t like. For instance, it may be technically true that McCain was “baffled” by why he didn’t win the 2008 election, but it’s not like he doesn’t actually understand what happened. Really, he was just “surprised”.
I think this is what happens when we focus too much on controversies related to what people think, and not enough on whether what certain people think actually has any impact on the world around them. By necessity, you start focusing describing what people are thinking and feeling, which is an obviously inexact science, and then you end up describing people as “baffled”, even if that makes me think of something more akin to this :
It isn’t the worst example of headline grabbing by any stretch of the imagination, or even the funniest. But I still think it’s a subtle form of lazy click-bait, and it makes me realize how annoyed I’d probably be with 90% of the press about me if I were a public figure. “I didn’t say baffled!!! Who said baffled???” Plus, this particular article annoys me because, as I said, it basically took advantage of my own internal biases, and I really don’t like when that happens.
UPDATE : Okay, “puzzled” it is. Notice how they put it in quotes? I’m glad we got that cleared up; I got to Photoshop something, and now I can go back to not caring about this story.
Okay, come on. This is bullshit.
Ron Paul on being old and running for President:
Paul,75, rejected the idea that he’s too old to be president. “It’s the ideas that count,” he says. “I endorse young ideas.”
I wrote a post about this that was kind of interesting, but after re-reading it, it doesn’t apply nearly as well to this quote as I had originally intended. The point is, basically, that I don’t think a President’s ideas are his/her most important or relevant quality, given the actual legal powers of the President.
Obviously it’s not good if they have lots of bad ideas, but even that doesn’t necessarily matter if the other branches of the government do their jobs.
I didn’t grow up in a traditionally religious household, but I did grow up in what I always felt was a fairly spiritual one, in so much as that “balance” and “harmony” were pretty core concepts. It wasn’t explicitly stated or anything (no crystals, no auras, nothing like that), but when I look back on it, it seems obvious. My parents loved a different thing about each season, each part of the day, and each part of their lives. They didn’t complain about being old, and they ignore what I thought because I was young. My dad read books about taoism and eastern religions, and my mom preached moderation so strongly, that once, after tirelessly nagging me to read a book for about two weeks one summer, actually made me stop and go outside when I got hooked on this as a little kid. It was all about moderation.
Uh oh — it happened again. This time it’s 15th century Italy. “AAAAAYYEE, HOW MUCHA DO YOU EXPECTA ME TO PAY FORRA HORSE-A?”
I should never work for the State Department.
The auto industry. This has been the Obama administration’s clearest example of success. General Motors (GM, Fortune 500), Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) and Chrysler Group all are back on their feet and regaining some of the market share they lost.
All three made money in the first quarter, the first time all were in the black at the same time since 2004. And employment at auto plants and dealerships is up 100,000 since hitting a low point during the government-funded bankruptcies at GM and Chrysler in 2009.
So, basically the exact opposite of what I predicted. Oops. I didn’t think I was being especially ideological when I decided bailing out GM (and especially Chrysler) was a bad idea, and maybe I wasn’t — maybe, like a lot of people, I just don’t know what I’m talking about. I dunno, what’s the better excuse, that I was blinded by my almost religious belief in moral hazard, or that I’m just ig’nant?
Then again, it’s not like we ended up just cutting them a check and walking away; management got swept out, labor relationships were changed, etc., etc., and so forth — can I turn this into me somehow being right yet? No? How about now?
The NY Times explores the politician sad-face.
“I deeply, deeply regret having to talk about this.”