Cancerous Associations

Don’t equate material wealth with virtue. Or at least, consider it safer to make them inversely proportional.

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I’ve written about how I feel about luck before. The odd and somewhat repulsive political climate leads me to think about it again.

I can’t be objective here: our president is a horrible person. Even if we were to set aside the overt misogyny, the subliminal racism, and the petulant social media usage, there is still the fact that he has turned into a cutthroat businessman. All of these things were well-known about him before we voted him into office, and yet this didn’t seem to discourage people from giving him keys to the kingdom.

So I begin to question why. The only thing that makes sense to me is that people view his financial wealth and social capital as markers of success. Seeing that success, they automatically assume that the man in possession of it is intelligent, hard working, and worthy of emulation. Who better to run the country? After all, everyone knows that hard work, intelligence, and quality moral fiber are what create success, right?

He owns a gold toilet.

Let that sink in for a bit. What type of person shits into precious metals? Maybe he doesn’t actually shit in it and just likes the form of a toilet. The motives aren’t as important as the fact that it exists because he wanted it to. This is a businessman who loves money and power, proving time and again that he is willing to tell lies to acquire more of it, that there’s never enough.

Yet somehow people still believe that this is a person who will act for their benefit. There was an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette some months ago about two Trump voters who still supported him after one of the dozens of stupid acts for which he is now almost celebrated. One of them related that he voted for Trump because (paraphrasing here) he was so rich that he already had everything and couldn’t be bought.(Note that information about cooperation with Russia was becoming very difficult to refute at this point also.) This voter equated rich with incorruptible, ignoring the fact that wealthy people aren’t wealthy because they have a habit of saying, “You know what? I already have more than I need. Let’s just call this good enough.”

A person doesn’t become wealthy, powerful, successful (whatever that’s defined to be) simply because they’re intelligent, hard working, or virtuous. Some of them legitimately got lucky. Some of them cheated their way to “success”. These are not necessarily people who stick up for the well-being of the millions of others upon which their fortune depends.  The hordes of groping male celebrities are reinforcing this point. Just because a person has a gold toilet doesn’t mean he’s worth the shit it flushes.

A Cynical Portrait of Transportation in Pittsburgh

Just because everyone does it doesn’t mean that it should ever be done by anyone. Ever.

I’ve learned the following by observing my fellow vehicle operators. These are apparently taught in Pennsylvania schools. I wish the Pittsburgh Left were the worst of it:

  1. (Note: this is not a Pittsburgh Left. I’ve omitted that one.) When turning left across traffic, it is perfectly acceptable behavior to pull out into one lane, forcing it to stop, and then to wait there for an opening in the other lane. Beeping at a person who does this means you just don’t understand.
  2. If you’re not doing at least 10-15MPH above the posted speed limit, you should be tailgated immediately at a distance not to exceed 10 feet.
  3. Tailgating actually works as a method to modify the behavior of another driver.
  4. Tailgating is the acceptable way to approach on-ramps and other merge points. That’s your highway and those other merging losers need to yield.
  5. Tailgating is actually the default method of vehicle positioning, and it is not to be referred to as tailgating, but rather “driving”. Tailgating is what you do at a Steelers game.
  6. When the person in front of you is allowed the space to merge at an on-ramp, that automatically means everyone in line has just been allowed to merge at that spot and should follow that person into it.
  7. Use your horn. For everything.
  8. When changing lanes, do so as rapidly and with as little warning as possible. Everyone else will understand that you’re about to change lanes by the way you’re driving.
  9. Every four-lane road is a highway, the left lane of which is for passing only. If you’re in it and not passing, you must be destroyed.
  10. You can actually see around blind corners and what’s on the other side of the crests of hills. Don’t worry about it.

As a pedestrian:

  1. Crosswalks are for tourists. When you’re ready for the pro circuit, try jaywalking.
  2. As a walking parent, always lead with the stroller. This will ensure the traffic will stop.
  3. If someone doesn’t stop for you when crossing at mid-block, that person should be cussed at. They’re always supposed to yield because you’re a pedestrian.
  4. Help your spouse into parallel parking spots from the street, holding up your hand like a traffic cop so that the traffic doesn’t kill you. Under no circumstances should this be done from the wide sidewalk immediately next to the car. (Okay, I only saw this once, but I have NEVER seen it before.)

Hope you had a good Memorial Day holiday, and remember to buckle up!

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Roll for Fortune

On a result of 1, you end up penniless with a TEDx beer cozy.

I’ve once again been rendered inadequate by xkcd.

It’s difficult for me to describe why it bothers me so much to see successful people giving talks about their good fortune, attributing it instead to hard work and trivializing the luck involved. There’s probably a more appropriate logical fallacy to describe it, but this idea that a person can simply work hard to achieve success seems to be an odd form of legitimizing one’s outsized results in a socially acceptable format, presumably to escape the “Why me?” feeling that ought to accompany ridiculous success.

I’m jealous, to be sure. I’d love to be able to never worry about money, food, or housing ever again. I’d like to be swimming in job offers and never need to take any of them. Who wouldn’t be envious? It’s just that the “hard” work thing sticks in my craw. What does that mean, hard work? Does that mean long hours? Doing things that make you morally uncomfortable? Does it mean physically challenging?

According to Maynard James Keenan’s biography, the band Tool was signed to a record label after just a handful of live shows. Less than ten. (I’m being vague here because I can’t remember the number and I can’t be bothered to look it up. The impact is the same. I think it was eight.) I love Tool’s music and it’s been great to see their success. I truly believe that they deserve it. Certainly they worked “hard” to make their music, but I can’t help but point out that they got ridiculously lucky in being signed to a record contract so soon, and I can’t help but think that it was the luck that played the more significant role. There are countless acts working their asses off, touring, playing shows everywhere, and they either get ignored or end up producing their own stuff to lukewarm reception. Go ahead and try the ol’ ten-show record contract plan today.

So when does the work end up determining the success? Is it possible to be successful without the work? Of course it is, and not just because “successful” is also a moving target. However, keep a D6 in your pocket, and when listening to these successful folks describing the roots of their success, roll it to remind yourself of the role chance plays, because a great many of these people will be, consciously or not, reluctant to admit that they probably didn’t work any harder or better than the hordes of less-prominent people around them.  While I enjoy a good inspirational talk as much as the next person, simply saying “I got lucky” tends to take the wind out of the sails a bit, though it shouldn’t.

This might be a peculiarly American thing, or a feature of any culture that tends to over-emphasize the value of labor. Randall Munroe has succinctly described my thoughts on the matter in one frame, in either case.

Image result for six-sided die
On a result of 4, your job pays really well, but also gives you hemorrhoids.

Actively Breaking Godwin’s Law (And thereby also indirectly following it.)

Every German will thank you.

I am trying to restrain myself from making comparisons to past nationalistic regimes, not because I’m opposed to such political hanky-panky, but because I don’t think it’s helpful. Are there parallels? Of course. The problem is that by comparing the current administration to something so horrifically memorable, it’s far too easy for supporters to simply wave a hand and say, “This is completely different. You’re overreacting.”

In this, they’d be correct. This is its own brand of ignorant. Remember that there were comparisons to national socialism when Obama was in office. I won’t say they were informed comparisons, but they were there. It’s become a crutch to be used whenever someone wants to say, “I think this is a really bad thing.” It’s like when someone gets called a hipster.

So I want to encourage criticism related to the current abuses, the lies and idiocy of the present day. Keep it in a context that doesn’t raise the problem to the level of the evil and absurd. There’s plenty to use here. Because comparisons to a Jew-slaughtering, book-burning, people-gassing, war-starting psychopath can’t really be made without throwing the judgment of the user into question.

But criticizing an unapologetic liar; a backpedaling administration desperately trying to avoid looking foolish in front of the world; a scared little baby who also believes that everyone else ought to be quiver-lipping the pacifier; people who believe in taking money away from the things that actively keep our fellow citizens  (and non-citizens, for that matter) alive in order to re-direct those funds into the things that actively make other people dead…

Criticizing those people? In present-day terms? That just shows you’re a person who pays attention. We don’t need no stinking swastika to do that.

Dick.

Better out than in.

To the gentleman at the Indian restaurant today, who will never read this but it feels good to type it anyway:

The protests were not because someone “lost”. People in Australia and Europe didn’t lose anything and don’t feel a sense of loss. What they feel along with many people here is that they’ve gained an ignorant, unqualified liar who has yet to prove himself otherwise, and that the rhetoric is treading dangerously close to the type of drivel that oozed from the corners of the mouths of men who’ve inspired worthless fanaticism and slaughter.

Enjoy your fucking tea.