Tuesday, July 29, 2014

All Crises are Local

You go to parties, right? You know what it's like when you're making the rounds:

First you talk to a scientist. The scientist tells you that there isn't enough funding for his specialty. He says it's a serious problem, and the public doesn't even know about it!

Then you talk to a music teacher. She tells you there isn't enough funding for music in schools. She says it's a serious problem, and the public doesn't even know about it!

Next you talk to a cop. He tells you his hands are tied when it comes to investigating crimes. He says it's a serious problem, and the public doesn't even know about it!

If every sector of human endeavor was as badly off as these types of conversations make it appear, human endeavor would cease entirely. Because everyone thinks their interests and pursuits are extremely important, anything they consider awry with those pursuits to them constitutes a grave, MUSHROOMING crisis. Makes sense; we are all our own little sun that the rest of reality revolves around. We're more crestfallen by our personal setbacks than by anything Hitler cooked up.

Much is made of the power of anecdotes; not enough is made of the power of telling anecdotes. The more opportunity we have to reveal the plight of our work field to strangers (particularly those unaffiliated with that work field), the easier it is for us to believe its problems are uniquely dire and underappreciated. People are more skeptical of statistics than they are of anecdotes - including the anecdote teller. You seldom hear - even from scientists - hard data being tossed around at parties.

Holocausting haberdasher Harry Truman said it well: It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours. All crises are local.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is New York America's Unhappiest City?

New York, America’s unhappiest city

New York City has been declared America’s unhappiest city by researchers from the University of British Columbia and Harvard.

The paper, “Unhappy Cities,” leaned on survey data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that asked respondents: “In general, how satisfied are you with your life?”

Researchers then tweaked that data for control factors such as race, education, marital status and family size. They concluded that New York, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Milwaukee and Detroit are, in that order, America’s least happy cities.

Envy contributes indefatigably to unhappiness, and it is difficult to avoid envy in New York. I don’t subscribe to the idea that neighborhoods with diverse incomes generally make people happier. When you’re in a building with kingly penthouses and you’re in a claustrophobic studio – like my last apartment – you really see up close how the other class lives. In Manhattan at least, those situations are common. It is much easier to keep up with the Joneses when the Joneses are a fellow suburban neighbor with a lifestyle roughly the same as yours. Subdivisions don't usually have a McMansion next door to a Steinbeckian shack.
A lot of people move here to build an identity, to reinvent themselves as winners. They don't just come to be a lawyer, they come to be a New York lawyer. Many of these transplants were large fish in cramped ponds. They arrive and suddenly realize that in Manhattan they’re just average (or worse). They're whole scheme to be the crème de la crème goes sour, and overachievers don’t take underachievement well. They probably would have been happier staying in Omaha, being the best lawyer in town and sucking on a small regret about what might have been in New York (and telling themselves, and probably believing it, that they would have conquered New York). 
Those who do try to keep up with the manic Manhattan competition do so at the expense of health and social lives, which of course begets unhappiness. Those competing in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx have a hard time even saying they're in the competition (Staten Island is actually a floating car dealership).
A city with a lot of dreamers is going to have a lot of broken dreams.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Assassination is a young man's game

Two things you don't see often in this life: Bon vivants who listen to the Cure and middle-aged assassins.

Czolgosz was 28 when killed President McKinley.

Gavrilo Princip was 19 when he killed Archduke Ferdinand.

Hinckley was 25 when he shot Reagan.

Yigal Amir was 25 when he killed Yitzhak Rabin.

Wilkes Booth was 26 when he killed Lincoln.

John Lynette Fromme was 26 when she tried to kill Gerald Ford.

Arthur Bremer was 22 when he shot George Wallace (Travis Bickle was partly modeled on Bremer*).

Sirhan Sirhan was 24 when he killed RFK.

Mehmet Ali Agca was 23 when he shot Pope John Paul II.

Mohammad Bokharaei was all of 17 when he killed Iranian Prime Minister Hassan Ali Mansur.

If Stefan Wisniewski killed Germany's Attorney General Siegfried Buback, he did it the day before his 24th birthday.

Giuseppe Zangara was 32 when he killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak while attempting to shoot FDR.

Truman's failed assassins were 36 and 20.

van der Graaf, who was 32 when he killed Pim Fortuyn, was an elder statesman of the assassination racket.

Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry was also long in the tooth, being almost 35 when he tried killing De Gaulle.

The reason assassins are usually mere babes (particularly when it comes to random "lone gunmen"): is obvious: Young people are romantic, and only a pie-in-the-sky romantic sacrifices himself to commit a murder that in 99% of cases alters very little. If the killing of Franz Ferdinand led the way to WWI, it was the exception.

People in their 40s and 50s might care about politics, but in addition to being less romantic about the world they usually also have more to live for; kids, spouses, mistresses, etc. A 22-year-old guy is living for beer and Transformers 5; hardly impenetrable walls against foolish revolution attempts.

Even when assassinations involve teamwork the organizations behind them normally rely on wide-eyed youngsters to commit the actual violence. The heads of these organizations know it ain't easy getting a boomer to try a low percentage act of terror that will change nothing and end with his facing a firing squad.

When you're young you feel much more strongly about revenge; even if it is macro revenge, the kind you take against political figures. Plus young folks are more likely to harbor a sense of destiny; they compare themselves to Great Ones much more often than oldies. Someone who thinks he's destined for greatness is going to be far more inclined to TAKE ONE FOR HISTORY.

By the time you're older you're more aware that nothing changes. This is why young people, including the non-assassins, do most of the marching and screaming. They're too young to know no one is listening.

*Behind every would-be "great man" is a woman who said no.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Killing 'Em Profitably

Here's a theory about the globe's nagging economic stagnation: The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth

One of the arguments for immigration, in the U.S. and Europe, is that these young transplanted workers will pay taxes and save the pension systems. Well, who is likely to be killed in these ostensibly prosperity-inducing wars? Young people.
If large swathes of the young are killed off, who is left? The pension-expectant elderly. Then you really have global Japan-like malaise.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Workers of the World, Download!

Calls for an increased minimum wage are echoing coast to coast. Many of those doing the calling are millennials; the Piracy Generation. The generation that wants everything for free - music, movies, TV - are upset that someone is trying to give them less money for their services.

Funny how they decided "labor rights" didn't matter when they suddenly had a chance to obtain music for free. Funny how they decided a living wage wasn't necessary for musicians. Funny how they didn't worry about royalty checks keeping up with inflation. "Workers should control the means of production," except when I can horde their services with the click of a mouse.

Isn't it convenient that these anti-business folks started using the term business model when it came time to justify the "business model" of musicians no longer getting compensated for their songs? Don't ya just love watching these anti-globalists participate in the movement of goods across borders without paying for them?

Apple takes flak for what it pays people. Millenials use Apple products to behave like Apple.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Marlboro Man was born that way

Drinking is now called a disease.

Drug use is now called a disease.

Even gambling addiction has been upgraded to a disease.

But cigarette addiction: not called a disease. In fact, smokers are treated as though they're a disease. They're even quarantined like a disease. No one shows them the slightest compassion. Quite the opposite. Folks will regurgitate the claim that "nicotine is more addictive than heroin," then two seconds later cast disdain on the smokers puffing on the sidewalk outside the bar.

How about all the cartoonish outrage against cigarette companies? They're vilified for "targeting" new addicts. But what about beer companies? Their ads, which are EVERYWHERE - TV, magazines, billboards, sporting events - don't aim to make drinking seem cool? How about bar owners: their entire enterprise consists of intoxicating "diseased" folks right before they get in a car to drive home. Sounds pretty callous to me. Cigarette companies have to put pictures of diseased lungs on cigarette packs. How come Miller doesn't have to include pictures of beaten wives or families killed by drunk truckers on their beer bottles?

What about casinos? Unlike tobacco companies, Vegas still gets to advertise on TV. Yet when was the last time you saw an attorney general get elected by taking brave stands against backgammon?

Here's how it is: alcoholics, drug addicts, and hardened gamblers very often destroy their lives and the lives of everyone around them. Telling them a disease was at the root of it makes it easier for them to cope with the damage they've inflicted, and thus find a way to start over. Which is more likely to get someone to attempt a painful rebirth; telling him he's a victim too, and therefore his neglected kids, traumatized wife, deceived friends, and stiffed creditors aren't entirely his fault, or telling him he indulged himself to the point that it dragged everyone he cared about into the undertow?

Ironically, because cigarette smoking DOESN'T wreck lives we don't bother qualifying our criticism of it. You hear that smokers: a little less nicotine gum and a little more domestic abuse and soon you'll be welcomed back indoors. Or just start calling cigarette addiction a disease and attack anyone on Twitter who dares suggest otherwise. After a few radio and TV hosts lose their jobs for being Kool-o-phobic everyone will magically forget that for decades cigarette smokers were treated like lepers.