29 February 2008

Woman President? Not Yet

“I think that woman should be equal with men. I just don’t think that they should have positions of power over men.”
- Student in my son’s college class

The experts have begun to eulogize Hillary Clinton’s campaign. And I’m hesitant to make her campaign’s apparent demise mean anything because something had to be proven: either we would conclude that racism or sexism is still alive and well in the US. Someone had to lose. Obama is a great candidate, but he’s not flawless. Clinton is a flawed candidate, but she’s still great. It’s easy to say that she had the bad luck of running up against one of the best speakers in politics in years, but if Obama were running behind Clinton, similarly persuasive points could be made about why a candidacy as promising as his foundered.

Clinton is articulate and her view of the world is sophisticated. She talks like a politician at times, but we’ve had the good old boy approach of plan speech and simple thinking, so nuance ought not to automatically disqualify her. And while I acknowledge that she’s reviled by a wide swath of the polity, if that were enough to keep someone out of office, dubya would be clearing brush in Crawford. (Wait. Let me hold that image for a moment. Sigh. Back on topic.)

It’s hard to imagine that women will have a better shot at the presidency any time soon, and after 200+ years, they apparently still have not come up with a candidate worthy of the job. One wonders how long it’ll be before we join the 40+ countries that have already had female heads of state. (Among them Muslim countries like Indonesia and Pakistan.) It may well be that Clinton is not a good enough candidate and that she is, just coincidentally, one in a string of millions of women who just happen to be “not quite good enough” for the job.

There are many reasons that we have not had a woman president, but among them there seems to be a subtle one that intrigues me.

Women are used to putting the needs of others before their own. Blame (praise?) nurture or nature for this trait, but could it be that the edge to Obama is as simple as that? Women are better able to help others and might they have, once again, deferred their own agenda. Are women simply working to right racism before they deal with sexism?

Ben knew once he had opened the two sweaters that he’d better not wait. If he didn’t quickly put on one of the sweaters, his mother would be offended, assuming that he was unhappy with his Christmas present. As soon as he put on the one sweater, his mother wrung her hands. “Oh, Ben. The other sweater, you don’t like?”

I know that if Clinton wins, very similar arguments will be made about how racism is more deeply entrenched than sexism. But perhaps John Lennon was ahead on this as with so many topics. He and Yoko Ono were visiting some Black Panthers, talking about racism. Lennon was appalled at how casually demanding the men were of the women, ordering them about. This is what prompted him to write, “Women is the Nigger of the World.” Maybe he’s right. Maybe sexism is stronger even than racism. The Democratic primary suggests that this is still true.

28 February 2008

Maddie's iPhone

I was at lunch with Maddie and Bernard when Bernard suggested to Maddie that I might be able to help her with her iPhone.

"She's having trouble loading songs," he told me.

"What kind of trouble?" I asked.

"Well, I got it to work, but it ... well I just pictured it as different."

"May I see it," I asked. I took it in my hands. It is a beautiful piece of hardware ... software ... art, whatever it is. "How many songs do you have loaded," I asked her.

"Only about 12," she said. "It takes a long time."

"Are you getting songs from iTunes or CDs?" I asked.

"Huh?" She gave me a blank look

Curious, I put in the ear buds and navigated to the songs. There were 11 and the titles included "i get kicked out of you." No artist was listed, just the song title. Wondering if it was Sinatra, I played the tune. After an uncharacteristically long silence, I heard someone clear their throat. And then I heard a humming before Maddie's warbling, but admirably clear voice began to sing acapella. "I get no kick from champagne. Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all," she sang.

"Maddie," I turned to her. "You do know that you don't have to load songs into this iPhone by singing, right?"

She looked sweetly at me. "Oh, I know that," she smiled. "But my turntable is broken."

"Of course," I mumbled. "Well, the quality is quite impressive," I said. "You have a nice voice."

"Yes. They were so clever to combine a phone and a microphone," she said. "I can see why everyone raves about how well engineered it is." She smiled. "Maybe you'd like to sing a song into it?" she asked.

"Maddie," I said, "I do get a kick out of you."

She beamed and punched me playfully in the arm. "Of course you do," she said. "You're not a complete idiot."

27 February 2008

Buckley Dead

"Ah, yes. Buckley is a good friend of mine. We often ski together and socialize. I enjoy him. But perhaps the thing I like best about Bill is that, like most people, I'm averse to thinking. I simply have to wait to see what position Bill takes on a topic, and I know that I can safely take the other."
- John Kenneth Galbraith, predicting the future of punditry in an attempt to be absurd.

For a time, William F. Buckley and John Kenneth Galbraith defined the liberal and conservative views. They were articulate, learned, and unafraid to make points that demanded something of the audience. To read either was to learn new words, new ideas, and about old events. They did not design their message to be accessible but, rather, to make the audience stretch. (I remember, as a teenager, reading Buckley and Galbraith with a dictionary beside me.) They seemed less interested in pandering to prejudice than delighting in challenging conventional thought.

Galbraith was liberal, sure, and Buckley conservative, but their positions never seemed mindless or automatic.

Today, Buckley died, two years after his friend Galbraith. But they represented a different era of journalism than what we have today. Their message did not cater to market demand. Rather than dumb down their message, they expected their audience to smarten up. They were unafraid to be elitist, erudite, and even to be seen as arrogant. (I never did understand why Buckley, a man from Texas, sounded so British.)

One got the sense that they saw the world as complex and felt obligated to offer ideas that, if not actually complex were, at least, nuanced sufficiently to do justice to such complexity.

Today’s media, less secure in a shared monopoly, seems more anxious about getting the public’s attention, unable to host the views of people like Buckley or Galbraith, people’s whose elaborations could prompt massive defection from remote-control holding audiences with twitchy fingers.

Historians will likely use the deaths of Buckley and Galbraith to signal the death of a particular kind of punditry. The voice of the right now sounds more like Rush Limbaugh than William F. Buckley; the voice of the left now sounds more like James Carville than John Kenneth Galbraith. This new media seems more designed to appeal to entrenched feelings than to challenge conventional thinking. Such a pity.

26 February 2008

If I Had 3 Trillion Dollars

I’m offering a meme that tests the limits of imagination. What would you do with $3 trillion? This is not “take your family to Disneyland” money. This is "buy the whole Disney company" money – and then look around for another 50 companies with similar market cap.

The Bush Administration initially estimated that the Iraq invasion and occupation would cost $50 to $60 billion. White House economist Larry Lindsay said it would cost $100 to $200 billion and was fired for his effrontery. The total cost of the invasion and occupation is now estimated to exceed $3,000,000,000,000 - $3 trillion.

To put it in perspective, this would be equivalent to a car mechanic estimating a repair at $739 and then charging you $44,340 when you came to pick up the car. (“$3 trillion! For that much I could have bought a NEW country!”) To miss an estimate this badly is ludicrous; to miss it on such an astronomically huge amount is insane.

$3 trillion is a staggering sum. If you magically got $1 million each time you sang the chorus of Barenaked Ladies’ “If I Had Million Dollars,” you would have to repeat that chorus 3 million times. Assuming it took you 20 seconds per go and singing 12 hours a day, you would need 1 million minutes, or nearly 4 YEARS of singing just to generate $3 trillion.

Here are some things I could do with that much money.

I could buy the world coke – at the current street price of $137 a gram, I could buy everyone on earth one gram – and then have money enough left over to put 1 billion people through rehab at $2,178 each.

I could buy a million dollar McMansion for 3 million homeless people. If I forced them to share the homes in groups of four, say, I could house about 12 million.

I could end the hunger that kills 6 million children around the world each year – for a century.

I could retire to the south of France. Actually, I could buy the south of France.

What about you? What could you do with $3 trillion? As you answer this meme, let me know: I’ll add the links to your responses below this post. Meanwhile, sing along with the Barenaked Ladies, substituting this blog post title for their song title. It's not easy work, spending $3 trillion. You'll need some inspiration.

25 February 2008

Happy Birthday Scott!

It's Scott's birthday 26 February. (He's the smallest guy in the line, just to my left. He has caught up by now (in height) and has surpassed me in so many other ways.)

Scott showed up at all my family reunions: our mothers were sisters and our fathers are brothers and the two couples were married in a double wedding. At times, he comments here at R World as LS (as in Scott) D. This Christmas we got together and, although we'd only seen each other a couple of times in the last five years or so, he was as easy to be with and talk with and laugh with as he'd ever been. He shares my sense of the absurd. (And to give you a sense of his sense of humor, he'd been reading R World regularly before Christmas. When he saw me, he exclaimed, "It's the analog Ron!") I'm not just delighted that he's my relative - I'm delighted that he's related every which way he turns, guaranteeing that he can't get out of it. Happy Birthday Scott! Given that your folks went for three and mine did not, I'm glad to know that in a pinch I could borrow you as a kid brother. (Or is that, in a punch? That does seem to be how these things work, no?) Put me on the list of people who are glad you were born.

If you would like, you can leave him a comment letting him know what a cute kid he was. And if you ever need any architectural work done in Fresno, you may want to call him direct - although you should know that he does not design tents.

What Are You Reading? (The Page 123, Line 5 Meme)

After an intense week on site with a client, my brain feels like flan. Cce offered this irresistible meme, a way to rally the brain cells back to the process of writing.

The meme is this: grab the book nearest to your left elbow, open to page 123, and then copy the sixth, seventh, and eighth sentences. As it turns out, this seemingly innocuous meme makes me look hopelessly nerdy. I would have so preferred to look hip to the jive.

First, this from Richard Bookstaber's A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds, and the Perils of Financial Innovation, a book I found myself drawn into on the flight out and back last week.

The most recently issued bond, termed the on-the-run bond, becomes the standard for trading. When traders enter orders to buy or sell the 30-year, the on-the-run bond is the bond they mean. This trading demand means the on-the-run bond enjoys a liquidity premium - that is, it trades at a slightly higher price than its less interesting older brothers which, though once on-the-run bonds themselves, are now beyond their six months of fame.

As I write this, two things become clear to me. One, why it is that when I first began this book months ago, I put it down. (And yet this week, his story about how our financial markets have become so volatile snapped through the definitional necessities to engage me.) Two, why I developed a sense of humor. Any young man who finds such ideas fascinating is sure to become a social pariah if he can't also tell a joke. I learned early in life that most people did not share my interest in the arcane world of underlying social constructs that give us the visible but that most everyone finds ill-timed bodily functions like farts or erections a great source of humor.

In an attempt to prove that I also read less dense fare, I tried the meme on another book, the second book taken on my recent trip. The Best American Nonrequired Reading, edited by Dave Eggers, is full of whimsy. It includes the story that Hemingway wrote when challenged to write a complete story in six words: "For sale: baby shoes, never used." And yet, the meme brings me directly to yet another fascinating to me, yet almost intentionally dense, bit of prose - this one from futurist Ray Kurzweil, writing about longevity.

If we factor in the exponential advances in computation and communication (price-performance multiplying by a factor of a billion in twenty-five years, while at the same time shrinking in size by a factor of thousands), these scenarios are highly realistic.
The apparent dangers are not real, but unapparent dangers are real. The apparent dangers are that a dramatic reduction in the death rate will create overpopulation and thereby strain energy and other resources and exacerbate environmental degradation.

Now feeling self conscious about the kind of stuff I read, I turned to the next book piled on my left and find a dry excerpt from one of George Washington's speeches, elaborated upon by Gore Vidal in his book Inventing a Nation. One more time I try the meme, drawing from Marty Lefkoe's Re-create Your Life.

Now Frank described a pattern that bothered him: "I use sarcastic, flippant, glib humor to mask my insecurity. I use it to take the offensive. I use it to negate compliments. If I get loving, supportive comments, I do this to deal with the fear that it will be taken away."

Or perhaps Frank is just dealing with the fact that his interests are oddly esoteric and his acceptance into any group hangs by the thin thread of humor.

Life Hiker, Thomas, HRH, Dave, and jen, if you would like, try your hand at the meme. I'm curious about what you're reading.

23 February 2008

Time for Neo-Keynesian Economics

We're all Keynesians now."
- Richard Nixon

The Tipping Point for Crisis: When Actors in an Environment Become the Environment
When Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) was formed, the founders were intent on making monster money. LTCM’s board included two Nobel Prize winning economists. For a few years, they had annual returns in excess of 40%, before losing more than $1 billion a month for about four months in 1998 and folding in 2000. It is not just LTCM that collapsed. UBS was founded in the mid-18th century; because of the money it lost betting on LTCM, it would have likely collapsed had it not “merged” with Swiss Bank. LTCM was so heavily leveraged that it hurt lots of firms when it imploded.

LTCM’s method depended on fairly complex algorithms and a simple idea: use historical data to determine fair spreads between, for instance, various kinds of bonds. Using this data, they bet on particular convergence trends. And they bet heavily. They had leveraged about $4 billion with about $120 billion in loans. (If you are confident that you can make 6% on money you borrow at 5%, the only thing that limits the amount of money you can make is the amount of money you can borrow.)

The problem was, they were successful. Not only did they grow, but others began to imitate them. Suddenly, LTCM had changed the environment they’d assumed to be stable. The historical trends and relationships had changed because LTCM and their imitators assumed that these relationships would not change. You might say that one ingredient for creating a crisis is for the actors in an environment to change that environment in ways that obsoletes the old assumptions. At a certain point, one is no longer weaving in and out of the slalom poles but is, instead, weaving in and out of other skiers who are also moving. To put it mildly, this changes things.

Managing a system depends on clearly distinguishing between the environment, the system, and the parts. In LTCM’s case, their system grew to encompass the environment and then collapsed. A similar thing might be happening with regards to economic policy; globalization has changed the line between the system (nations and their policies) and the environment (the global economy).

Time for Neo-Keynesian Economics
John Maynard Keynes defined modern economic policy. His ideas are still genius, but given that the system boundary has shifted from nation to globe, his ideas need to be updated.

Keynes made a small fortune trading stocks while having breakfast in bed. A recent college graduate, his response to missing questions on his civil service exam on economics was, "Hm. How odd. I must know more about economics than they do." And Keynes was the first to articulate a theory that explained how it was that the actions best for households or firms might not be best for the whole - the macro - economy.

Put simply, Keynes invented macroeconomics. Before him, there was only microeconomics, but no one knew it was micro. The pre-Keynesian view didn't really distinguish between what drove optimal behavior for firms or households and what drove optimal behavior for the economy as a whole.

His insight seems simple now. Indeed, like other brilliant ideas such as representative government and gravity, his insight now seems obvious. He pointed out that a slumping economy could make it rational for firms to spend less - saving money by spending less. However, when firms spend less, households have less income, so they, too, spend less. As households spend less, firms spend less. As firms spend less, households spend less. When everyone does what is good for the individual, the result is something that is bad for the economy. (Which is, of course, bad for individuals.) Keynes said that the government could reverse this by spending money, lowering interest rates, or injecting some cash into the system. As it should be, this has become accepted and is now common practice in most every country.

Keynes invention of macroeconomics arose from a distinction between the behavior of systems and their parts. He looked at the whole system and made conclusions that seemed counterintuitive at the level of parts.

Keynes, however, wanted limits to capital flows between countries. For him, the system of consequence was the nation-state; his definition of macroeconomics was a prescription for national economic policy. His system was the country.

And yet today’s economy is global. We live in a post-national economy. Many Americans are about to receive checks as part of a stimulus package that gained broad support among all parties in DC. This package will be financed by loans from China and will be used to buy goods from China. Keynesian economics might not work as planned.

Worse, all this teeters on top of global financial markets that no longer have proven mechanisms for stability – like the mechanisms created by Keynesians to stabilize national banking systems and financial markets during the last century. Given how tightly coupled markets now are – a crisis in Thailand can quickly create a crisis in Brazil’s stock market – any attempt to devise system-level controls and checks suggests the need for neo-Keynesian policies that directly deal with the global economy we’re in.

It’s time for a neo-Keynesian economics. This will probably be less a matter of formulating new philosophy than putting in place new mechanisms, agencies, and regulations that do for the global economy what Keynesian economics have done for national economies.

20 February 2008

Fortune Cookies I Would Like to See

Tonight, for reasons too convoluted to explain, I ended up with three fortune cookies, wondering why every culture doesn’t have the equivalent. Why can’t there be fortune matzo balls, or fortune tacos or fortune naan? The idea is a great one but, sadly, artists in the medium too often resort to cliche, leaving its potential untapped. Here are some fortune cookies I’d like to see.

Check your zipper. The staff here is not normally this attentive – they are just curious. At least put a napkin in your lap.

Your house will be unexpectedly sold by your spouse who, you will soon learn, has a serious eBay addiction and needs the cash to buy civil war memorabilia they inexplicably feel compelled to collect.

You will be surprised to hear from an old classmate. As it turns out, they are contacting you for a reason: they are just this desperate to brag to someone about their latest promotion. You’ll feel badly but will pretend that you don’t.

Your friends do not find your story this riveting: they are fixated on the large piece of broccoli between your two front teeth.

Your date asked us to tell you to leave. Don’t make a fuss. Just go. She’ll get a cab.

My phone number is 317-555-xxxx. I’m the waiter with the tattoo and the earring. Call me. Soon.

Next time, chew with your mouth closed. It will make dining less stressful for everyone.

My Funeral Plans

Friday, my Valentine took me to CORTEO, Cirque du Soleil's traveling show. The opening line of the show is, "Last night I dreamt I saw my own funeral." It made me re-think my own funeral plans, although it did little to dissuade me of an idea that I’ve had for years.

I think it would be interesting to have a ventriloquist at my funeral. It is true that I deserve accolades - everyone does, particularly once one is dead. It's also true that I am not all that. So, my vague and fuzzy plan is to have someone deliver a wonderful and glowing eulogy while hosting a dummy (with a face like mine) on his knee - a dummy less reverent than the average funeral speaker and less inclined to spin my life in a positive direction.

Ron was a kind man.

Well, he was particular kind of man. Not a particularly macho kind of man. But you know, to sort of balance things out, at least he was largely unaware and insensitive. Yep. He was a kind of man, alright. We’re still not sure just what kind.

He looked out for his wife.

“Look out! It’s my wife!”

In the end, it could be one of the more revealing funerals. And, kids might enjoy it more than hearing hymns and “In My Life” played on the organ.

Oh, and for the record, these plans are still vague and fuzzy for a reason: I am not planning to attend my funeral until sometime in the latter part of this century. Of course, things don't always go as planned: should science boost longevity by a factor of two, I'm prepared to wait another century for the dummy to come out.

18 February 2008

Love, Meaning & Flow

Bernard didn’t even pause to sip his coffee. “You thought it was a crisis of meaning," he told me as I was sitting down, not even wasting his breath on a simple Hello. "You think you can approach things philosophically. It isn’t a crisis of meaning and you can’t just approaching things philosophically.”

I was in a foul mood and had not wanted to meet Bernard. I responded with a serious tone, “It isn’t? What are you babbling about, Bernard?”

“You think this is a crisis of meaning. It isn’t. It’s a failure of love, not philosophy. You can’t approach everything philosophically.”

“Sometimes love seems so overrated.”

“That is such a condescending way to put things. Do you really think so lightly of love?”

“No,” I said, feeling like maybe I did but not wanting to admit it. “I mean, human beings need something more than just affection. Life has to have some kind of meaning for people. Even puppies can love.”

“Ha! You think that meaning is just about meaning? Meaning doesn’t stand alone. In fact, meaning itself is not a thing - it is just a web, a way to connect things.”

“Bernard, could you be more convoluted today?” I asked, seriously ready to just walk away and noticing for the first time that Bernard could be classified as an old fart.

“You want a happy life? You want to feel better than you do right now?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Then first thing, accept some coaching. You either change feedback or it changes you. I’m trying to give you feedback.”

“I’m all ears.”

"Your ears are kind of big. And you know what? Ears keep growing – right up to the time you’re my age."

“Great,” I tried not to smile. His stupid humor was kind of cheering me up, which I found annoying in my present mood.

“Use your ears. Shush.
“First of all, you want happy, you learn from Csikszentmihalyi. You find flow, or engagement in events. You lose yourself in tasks. Good. But if the happiness from flow is going to last, these tasks have to have some meaning."

“That’s what I said,” I retorted, a little miffed that he was trying to advise me with my own advice.

“Lesson one: this is not about you, so just listen.”

“Got it,” I said churlishly.

“Sometimes you think you do. Got it. And just remember, anytime you start feeling confident, it just shows how little attention you are paying. But what is meaning?”

“I can talk now?”

“Yes. I asked you a question. What is meaning?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know. Now you are talking sense.
"You look up the meaning of a word and what do you find? Other words. The meaning of words is just more words, which at some level makes no sense – at some level, meaning seems meaningless. It's just a web of connections. But when you read the other words, you learn what the word means. Meaning comes out of the interaction of one word with other words. Meaning comes out of relationships. This is just like life.”

“Life is meaningless?”

“No, you twit. Life has meaning when one life connects to other lives. So, if you want happy, you need two things: flow or engagement in the moment or in tasks; and a sense of meaning, a sense that your activities, your own life, connects to other people, to something bigger.”

Why are you telling me this? I told Life Hiker this a few weeks ago.”

“Sure, but if all you have is these pieces, they eventually collapse. You missed the most important and final piece of the happy puzzle."

“I did?”

“You did. And I don’t know why these things surprise you. You’ve missed more than this, but this is important. If you wake up one morning and realize that you don’t feel for anyone, it sucks all the meaning out of your life. Flow is unsustainble without meaning; meaning is unsustainable without love. You can't stay engaged in meaningless tasks and you can't sustain meaning without love.”

“So, all this to say that we need love? What is this, Bernard, you’re writing for Hallmark now?”

“You have no idea how stupid you look in the very moment you are feeling so smart,” Bernard told me, looking disgustedly at me.

“But you don’t just wander around passing out love like advertising brochures. Love has to be earned and sometimes people you are supposed to love are so far from lovable. What about when you just don’t feel like loving them?”

“’Don’t really feel like love,’” Bernard mocked me. “You think that people need to be worthy of love?”

“Well sometimes they’re so petty or jealous or full of contempt…” I trailed off.

“Because of that, they don’t deserve to be loved?”

“Yes,” I said, feeling like sticking it to him.

“Well, you are right,” Bernard said, surprising me. “They don’t.”

“So you agree with me?”

“No one deserves to be loved, really. I mean, not if you get technical about it.”

“My point!” I exalted. “So, when love fails we become philosophical.”

Bernard snorted. “Could you be more dense?” he stared at me. “Have you not heard a thing? Philosophy depends on meaning and meaning is all meaningless if the connections you make are to people you don’t love. You don't love because deserve to be loved. You love because it gives your life meaning. No philosophy can save you from a failure to love.”

“So we love to find meaning?”

“Well, yeah. That and it simply feels so much better to love than not love."

I paused a long time, letting my ugly feeling slowly drain from me. “So, love is better than philosophy?” I asked.

“Love is a philosophy, you twit.” And at last, his coffee now cold, Bernard took a sip.

15 February 2008

The Measure of Organizational Efficacy

"So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work."
- Peter Drucker

This morning at breakfast, my buddies Bill and Eric were bemoaning the fact that Detroit has wasted decades in responding to Japan and Germany's lead in cars. They were incredulous that we could still be regularly falling behind and did not understand why these companies had not yet been transformed.

I wonder if the measure of an organization's efficacy isn't a function of the difference between what it takes to be successful within the organization and what it takes to be successful within the community. If the gap is big, the organization is flawed, perhaps pathological. If the gap is small, the organization is healthy and vibrant.

For instance, what it takes to succeed within a gang is criminal behavior. This is the opposite of what it takes to be successful within the community - in fact, "successful" gang members will often end up as failures. Gangs are bad organizations.

Companies often divert a great deal of attention to pleasing management - people who sign paychecks and vote on pay raises but don't actually finance employees with their own money. To the extent that success in the company is dependent on how well employees please management rather than customers, the company is poorly designed, is flawed. Same with teachers who are busy pleasing administrators.

It seems a simple and obvious thing, but once organizations get to a certain size, it is an easy thing for the people within them to become fixated on pleasing others within the organization rather than the people outside the organization who ultimately make it successful or let it fail. Co-workers and managers asking for progress reports are often so much easier to see then the customers who buy the final product.

14 February 2008

Pundit Disclosure Law

We make food producers disclose contents and list nutritional information. Why not do it with pundits?

Let's say that Bill Kristol is earnestly arguing that Iran is a threat and that we should take military action against them. Whether in print or on screen, there should be a little scorecard below his name or face that indicates his track record. (e.g., Predictions Made: 308. Predictions Right: 11. "Facts" asserted: 1,052. "Facts" that could be verified: 104.)

Such a system would help to out the pundits who talk a great game but are disconnected from reality or consequence. It seems to me that this could be made a requirement of anyone broadcasting on public airwaves or accessing shared cable.

The one exception to this requirement could be made for pundits who agree to be clearly labeled as "fiction." There would be a variety of ways to do this. I like the idea of simply having them wear a t-shirt that says, "I'm just making this up as I go along," or "If I turn out to be right, no one will be more surprised than me," or, "I had to end treatment for my delusions because I need the money I get from espousing them."

[Thanks to nunya's post on Bill Kristol for provoking this idea.]

13 February 2008

New Banner!

I now have a visual presence on the web and I owe it to an unexpected, unsolicited, and extraordinary act of generosity on the part of Gypsy at Heart. If you are half as impressed with this new banner as I am, you may now be twice as impressed with my blog.

Gypsy's writing at The Leaping Thought blog makes it clear that some version of the whole world goes into each child; as she writes about her son, we're reminded by eclectic music videos, cultural references and opinions about the larger world that a mother is a child's cultural umbilical cord, working to filter out the toxic and pass along what nurtures. A child first sees the world through a mother's eyes.

Soy tan agradecido. Muchas gracias Gypsy.

Love Defies Reason

I found out that there is something more interesting than dining with Maddie and Bernard: drinking with them. I tried to take notes on cocktail napkins, but napkins have gone missing.

Bernard had donned a cravat for our outing. Maddie had a beautiful scarf. I felt distinctly under-dressed. “If you go drinking you need to dress well,” Bernard told me. “People are more likely to tolerate ill manners from someone well dressed. If you collapse on the sidewalk, at least someone asks if they can help you get home. At my age, if I were wearing a t-shirt and sweats people would just assume I was an indigent and step over me.”


About three mixed drinks into his evening, Bernard’s jaw set. “You fall in love in hours and then spend years negotiating what it was you fell into.”

”What is that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“What is Stendhal’s line? ‘Heloise speaks to you of love and some ass speaks to you of his love, don’t you sense that these two things have nothing but the word in common?’ It’s not enough to fall in love. You have to fall in love with someone who shares a vocabulary.”

Maddie was already a little buzzed. “Oh Bernie,” she shook her head.

“And do you know what else,” Bernard continued. “You know why it is that so many people come to resent the person who loves them?”

“What is it that you think you know this time, Bernie?” Maddie asked. I don’t know if it was the alcohol or the topic, but I’d never seen Maddie look so assured.

“It’s because relationships – love in particular – are projections. We project something on to someone else. If they feel like indulging us, they play that role. If not, they rebuff us. Love is an act of playing a role that matches their inevitably misguided notion of us. We can only put up with it so long. And then we give up the act and they say, ‘You aren’t yourself today.’ How can you not resent a person who loves you like that?”

“You can’t make generalizations based on two failed marriages, Bernie," Maddie said.


“Well, I know this,” Bernard drew himself up. “There are too many people on this planet.”

“You’re making a comment about the consequences of love,” I asked.

“No. Why it is important. Do you know how big a number 6 billion is? If you named two people every second, you would not name everyone. You would only name the people who were dying. You’d have to say four names every second to simply keep up with the babies freshly born. And you'd never name the people already here.”

“This has to do with love how?”

“You can’t live your life on that stage. No one can take that kind of meaninglessness, those odds of being inconsequential. If one other person loves you, life is scaled down to the human level. Love puts life at a level we can comprehend.”

"And yet love itself is incomprehensible," I could not help but add.

For this Bernard shot me a look of irritation. "Don't be a twit," he said.


Maddie began to giggle. It was either an infectious giggle or influential rum, because I began to giggle as well. “Do you know why men are so fascinated by sports?” she asked.

Disappointed to learn that I was laughing at myself, I abruptly stopped giggling and said, “No.”

“A guy can plop down into a chair in front of the TV and in 15 seconds know the score, know who is winning and who is doing well. He can sit in a relationship for 15 years and never once have a clue about any of that. He’s not even sure he’s shooting into the right basket.”

Sometime later, Maddie had become loquacious. If only I hadn't lost those other napkins I might have woke up this morning a better man.

“Well, we are suckers for a man in love,” she said.

“We?” I asked.

“Women. You know one of the things that is so appealing about a man in love? They know what they know so strongly but at the same time they are racked with doubt. That doesn’t happen to men in any other venue – not in sports, or politics, or choice of garden tools. Love is odd,” she stared at the table cloth before lifting her eyes. “It makes a man doubt what he believes most strongly. I think that might be the one time when a man really makes sense to me, when he has that look of determined uncertainty in his eyes that comes just before making a declaration of love. Love is the certainty that fills you with doubt.”

Bernard's eyes looked moist. “You aren’t making any sense,” he told her.

Maddie looked sympathetically at him. “Oh Bernie,” she said, reaching out to stroke her brother’s thin hair, a move that made something catch in my throat. “And you still think that love does? Make sense? No wonder you get so angry, hon. You now have explanations and ex-wives. You don't see how those two go together?"

“That is just so unreasonable,” he mumbled, his jaw trembling.

“Unreasonable is what we want, Bernie. When a woman tells a man to be reasonable, it is just her way of saying that she wants him to love her differently or better. We don’t want reasonable. We want someone who goes straight to the heart.”

[Happy Valentine's Day to Sandi - who has rather unreasonably loved me for 25 Valentine Days. Thank you for putting the often sensual into my sometimes sensible.]

11 February 2008

Hope Yet for the Republican Party

A beautiful thing happened on the way to the Republican nomination. The loudest voices in the Republican Party of the last couple of decades have been, uhm, obnoxious, shrill, and unyielding. And now these thought(less) leaders are being ignored by the majority of primary voters.

Ann Coulter has done well for herself. She doesn't have the looks to be a model, the wit to be a shock jock, or the intelligence to be a political pundit, but she's somehow turned these 3 short comings into a package that looks to most like a piece wood lying flat on the ground yet is sold to rabid fans as a three-legged stool. She is so upset about McCain gaining the nomination that she has threatened to vote for Hillary. (Which would be like a Muslim threatening to become an Episcopalian .) Rush Limbaugh, too, denounces McCain as "not a real conservative" and has been urging listeners to vote against him.

In spite of all this, McCain is the one serious Republican candidate left standing.

The shock media stars have problems with McCain because, among other things, he is against torture, is for the constitution, and feels that we ought to begin creating some alternatives to oil. That shock media stars would try to make this sound shameful is a confession of how far they've gone to prostitute good policy to good ratings. That McCain would emerge as the clear front runner in spite of their rants suggests that average Republicans have now realized that these shock media stars don't care about the world of average Republicans but care, instead and only, about ratings and book sales.

This is good news. For the foreseeable future, Republicans are going to have some - maybe lots - of influence. If saner voices prevail, this influence might stop being so pernicious. It'll be a great day when our neighbors and coworkers of the conservative bent stop letting the likes of Rush, Ann, and Michael Savage tell them what to think. Wanting a smaller government does not have to equate to hatred towards anyone who is different. If the Republican Party does not want to become irrelevant and obsolete, it will clearly embrace and trumpet this simple truth.

10 February 2008

The Ultimate Surprise Birthday Party

One of the problems with surprise birthday parties is that they are, at some level, not really surprises. After all, the target of the surprise is usually unsurprised to learn that it is his or her birthday.

There is no reason to just celebrate on birthdays. Neil Young, whose career was made by the LP, threw a huge bash on his 33 1/3 birthday. So, here's a suggestion for a surprise birthday party that will really surprise.

Rather than make it fall on their birthday, consider throwing a 10k or 20k party - blindsiding them with a celebration after they've been alive for 10,000 or 20,000 days. For instance, a person born 25 September 1980 is 10,000 days old on 11 February 2008 - a date that, on the surface, shows so little correlation to one's "birthday" so as to nearly guarantee a surprise. If you were born on 9 May 1953, you'll be 20,000, again a day far off from February. If you know someone who is 27+ or 54+ or 68+, you ought to do a quick excel spreadsheet calculation to determine whether you've got a great excuse for a surprise birthday party.

09 February 2008

God & Mammon - Wealth & Religion By Country

From Jeff Lee's blog:
A few weeks ago, one of my professors was lecturing about a Latin piece titled, “The Requirement.” After Columbus, Spaniards would journey to the New World, and seeing that it was their duty as good Catholics, they would try to convert the natives. In order to do so, they would read this beautifully written text which basically said, “While we will not force you to convert, we will kill you if you don’t.”

The Atlantic's March issue shows this graph from a Pew Report, indicating that as countries become more affluent, they are less religious (or, perhaps, as they become less religious they are more affluent).

There might be a variety of reasons for this. One might be that in regions where the state is weak, religion offers the promise of justice and order, and weak and corrupt states are commonly associated with poverty. But I also think it has something to do with the reality of economics.

Note that Kuwait is, like the United States, more affluent than would be suggested by the countries on the rest of this graph. Kuwait has oil money and this, for me, suggests one other reason there is a correlation between religion and wealth.

If oil or farming or timber or fishing is the basis for your wealth, your relationship to wealth is different from that of a community dependent on innovation. In a land-based economy, there is little evidence of wealth accruing from a strong science program or creative thinking. In fact, dogmatic assertions and force are the basis of wealth. (e.g., "This land is ours! And we have the force to back up our claim over it.") It is little wonder that in such communities, dogmatic assertions and force are the basis of religion as well. (e.g., "This is God's will! And we have the force to back up such claims.")

In simpler land based economies, dogmatic assertions structure life. In more complex information and entrepreneurial economies, dogma merely obstructs the deal making, problem solving, and creativity necessary to creating wealth.

And as a community becomes more economically advanced, a new emphasis becomes apparent. By the end of the Enlightenment in the West, the basis for community had changed. In Medieval times, the purpose of public life was people pleasing God, the narrative of a theocracy; by the end of the Enlightenment, the purpose of public life was people pleasing people, the narrative of a market economy. It is in this sense that prosperity is a threat to religion, but only a particular kind of religion. Post-Enlightenment religion is a private affair, to be practiced in voluntary communities; it is not a public matter.

I suspect, though, that religion will continue to hold steady, perhaps revive, even as we become more prosperous. People need a coherent narrative and the vocabulary of souls and salvation are still among our best hopes for making sense of our lives as something more than the day to day struggle to pay the mortgage. Life is bigger than the market place. Dogma will continue to wane; religion may not.

08 February 2008

The Inherent Contradiction of Mitt Romney's Campaign

The pundits are speculating about why Romney's bid for the presidency failed.

Romney's natural base would have been business conservatives, given his background. But he lost the support of business conservatives because of his emphasis on religion and then lost the support of religious conservatives because of his religion. Personally, I don't think that Romney being Morman would have mattered except that he ran a campaign emphasizing religion.

You can't tell voters that religion matters and then tell them that your religion doesn't matter. His failed bid might have been just that simple.

07 February 2008

Observations from the Tedium of Travel

Last year I traveled as little as I have in years. This year, I'll probably be making trips to Indy two to three times a month through the first nine months of this year, something that gives me lots of opportunity to endure sleep deprivation (a time zone 3 hours off from home) and close spaces.

The plane rides are less than amusing when the client finances travel in coach and you are nearly 6' 5". Today, on the leg from Indianapolis to Dallas, I sat between vivid illustrations of the two primary male urges: sex and violence. The guy to my right was watching Saving Private Ryan and the guy to my left was watching a new movie with Jessica Alba that included bouncing breasts and prolonged sex scenes - a bold choice for a man sitting on the aisle with a high-resolution, 17" monitor. I felt positively antiquated sitting between them reading a book published in 1822, but the one consolation for six hours of flying is the uninterrupted reading time. (And besides, neither offered a headphone jack.)

The book also helped me to endure the next leg of the flight, sitting beside a man who must have weighed at least 350 – perhaps more than 400. Stendhal's Cures for Love was at turns amusing and provocative. (And really, there is, of course, no cure for love. It simply has to run its course.) This former defense minister for Napoleon included commentary on the US that stills seems to yield insight. In the midst of his advice on sex and violence, he offered these notions:

"What deserves admiration in America is the form of government and not the society. Elsewhere it is the government that does the harm. They have reversed the parts in Boston, and the government plays the hypocrite in order not to shock society."

"Goethe, or any other German genius, values money at its true worth. One must think of nothing but making money until one has an income of six thousand francs a year and after that think of it no further."

"If for lack of personal security you substitute a healthy fear of lacking money, you will see that the United States of America … bears a strong resemblance to the ancient world."

Rather than plodding along behind Napoleon on foot, we're now traveling at 500 mph. But it seems as though we're still propelled by the same forces - if only with more vivid imagery.

06 February 2008

Your Gift, a Mad Pursuit, & Anonymity Avoidance

Bernard ordered the salad, something I had never before seen him do. He prefers what he calls real food.

"What's up?" I asked.

"My cholesterol," he said. "I have to be careful now about what I eat."

"Well, then you'll want to know that you have an alfafa sprout caught on your chin," I said, trying to be helpful.

"Very funny," he glared, taking a swip at it, but merely moving it higher up his face to a point at which it looked like it was coming out of his ear.

"My friend Lyle has quit his job," I announced, trying not to stare at his green earring.


"He's following his gift. Determined that if he does what he loves the money will follow.”

“Do what you love and the money will follow? People are still saying that? Peter Senge had a great response to that. He said that he didn’t know if it was true that if you do what you love the money would follow. He said all you can be sure of is that if you do what you love, you’ll love what you do. Money? Maybe.”

“But don’t you think that there is a lot to that – to this notion of following your bliss?”

“No. You might save yourself but whether or not you make money that is a separate thing. Plus, his gift may not even be ready to carry that kind of burden.”

“First things first. You challenge the notion of money coming from your gift.”

“Well, you might take great joy from cultivating your gift, but that’s no guarantee that anyone else will. If you want money, you find out what other people want and you provide it at a price lower than what they'd pay but more than it cost you. It’s as simple and as difficult as that. But it is not clear to me how you do that automatically by simply pursuing your own gift.”

“So you don’t think that it is important to develop your own potential? To pursue your bliss?”

“I didn’t say that. I just said that it might not make you any money. If you develop your gift, you’ll save yourself or find yourself or whatever it is that people do. You become you. Galileo worked as a tutor to the Medici. He was a private science teacher to kids.” Bernard got a faraway look in his eyes, and I knew that some history was coming. “Of course, these kids grew up to become popes and, however unwittingly, helped to usher in the Protestant Revolution, probably because learning from Galileo had made them tone deaf to how revolutionary most Europeans would find the new ideas of that time. Galileo had infected their world view and they didn't even know it. But that’s a different story. The point is, he became Galileo because he pursued his bliss, followed his passion. And he even helped to transform Europe – it was his writing that ushered in the very term revolution. But he wasn’t able to devote himself to that. He had to tutor rich people’s kids. But if he had only tutored, he would not have been Galileo – not in any important or substantive sense. The same is true for anyone who ignores their passion, who ignores what they know to be true.”

“So, what about the issue of the gift not being ready to carry the burden of you?

“A gift is like a child – it takes years to reach a state of self-sufficiency, much less reach a stage at which it can support you. You give birth to a child and you don’t expect it to suddenly look after you – you don’t even expect it to do chores around the house. It eats and soils itself and cries if you don’t hold it. That seems to me to be a pretty good description of a gift – particularly in its early stage.”

“So what do you do?”

“What you would do with a child. You nurture the gift. And you don’t panic the poor thing, like your friend Lyle has done, by looking it in the eye and saying to the poor little, thumb-sucking toddler, 'you’re going to support me now.'”

“You wait until what stage? How do you know when you can rely on your gift for support?”

“It’s a gift. It is just given to you. You just nurture it and give it back out into the void. It’s a gift. It may never pay you back. Not every child houses his parents in their old age.”

“So why give in to it at all?”

“How else are you going to define yourself? By sitcoms and bowling leagues? Gucci shoes? This is how you rescue you from anonymity.”

“But if it doesn’t make you famous, you’re still anonymous.”

“Not from yourself, you twit. This is about learning who you are. Follow your gift and when you get to where it leads you, you’ll find you. Right there. At the end of the trail.”

“Do what you love and you’ll become?”

“You know,” Bernard said, masticating madly on a mouthful of vegetable fiber, “some days I think there might just be hope for you.”

"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."

- Jesus, quoted in the Gospel of Thomas

05 February 2008

Obama - "We are the change we have been waiting for"

I think I may have just watched Barack Obama win the presidency.

I find it amusing that people have made so much of the differences between the Democratic candidates. I want to see one win, but I will be the first to admit that the Republican primary is far more interesting, offering as it does real choice and variety. The differences between the major Democratic candidates, by contrast, from Biden to Obama, have seemed to me more a difference of style than substance.

The Republican Party is wrestling over a new definition of conservative, threatening to fracture. By contrast, it seems to me that the major Democratic Party candidates have been fairly aligned on a change in direction.

And then, I watched Obama give his speech tonight. Wow. He made the other candidates look like amateurs. "We are the change we have been waiting for," is a line that could land in history. (And have I been asleep? Has he - or someone else - bandied this phrase about already?) This man can speak in a way that makes emotional seem reasonable and vice versa. [And it turns out that I heard this wrong. Obama actually said, "We are the ones we have been waiting for."]

And, thanks to slouching mom, I saw this video made of one of Barack's speeches, underscoring my point that the man can inspire. (Well, in this case with a little help from will.i.am and a host of others.)

04 February 2008

Are They Reinventing Motherhood (or just giving us a sneak peak into previously private journals)?

Kids? It’s like living with homeless people. They’re cute but they can just chase you around all day long going, “Can I have dollar? I’m missing a shoe! I need a ride!”
- Kathleen Madigan

Motherhood is a confusing performance, like painting for the legally blind, the preoccupied audience of husband and children caught up in their own drama or anomie and chronically unaware of the great effort expended on their behalf.

While philosophers love the idea of humanity, it is mothers who navigate the real mess of it, the humanity of little people who leave in their wake lost shoes and scuffed walls. A woman whose charm, beauty, and intelligence has given her a variety of romantic options suddenly finds herself confined to home with a big-headed creature who, if he could talk, would go on at length about the flavor of the couch.

And about this game of romance. In what other arena does success require one to immediately retire? Imagine Tiger Woods forced to the side lines after winning his first master’s tournament, victory forcing him into retirement, and you get some sense of how disorienting it is for a woman have finally navigated the mine field of love to learn that this part of life is over; from now on, odd and beguiling children are likely to be the sole beneficiaries of their charms.

But in their blogs, these smart mothers may be creating a new kind of motherhood – at the very least they are finally performing before an appreciative audience of other mothers who “get” what they are doing.

While the act of mothering may be basically the same, its context has been transformed in the last few decades. Mothers no longer sit in a web of extended family that play the role of easily available baby sitters and reference points, people who can sit watch against the attacks of insanity. Mothers are often raising children hundreds or thousands of miles away from their own mothers and sisters. Churches are less likely to provide a default community. University education and an excess of reading has created an ideological divide between them and their own family, even if they did live close by, a divide that makes sharing parenting problems and tips awkward at best. Probably at no time have mothers been more isolated, less able to depend on those around them.

Blogging mothers have done two things: they’ve created a network for themselves and they’ve given the rest of us front row seats into a performance that would have otherwise been completely missed. We get the jokes that would have sailed over the heads of their children, the expressions of serious frustrations that preoccupied husbands dismiss as petty, and the profound insights that would have been forgotten by the time they finally got a coffee break with friends, unable to remember what they were so eager to say now that they are forced to socialize distracted by the peripheral parenting that characterizes almost every activity at a particular stage of life.

It might just be that historians and sociologists will eventually conclude that the blogging mothers have created a new kind of motherhood. Meanwhile, the rest of us are beneficiaries of their willingness – perhaps even their eagerness – to perform, at last, before an audience that can’t help but applaud.

If you are looking for examples of this blog genre, here are four I’ve come to enjoy. (And to be clear, these women are mother bloggers in the same way that Bruce Jenner was a javelin-throwing athlete. It is a big part of who they are, but it is by no means all that they write about or all that they are.) All of these women show a lack of pretense, a sort of unfeigned modesty uncalled for when one can write so smartly and with such humor. Theirs has been a reminder to this idea junkie that behind abstract terms like humanity lie real people with runny noses and definite ideas about appropriate wardrobe and menu selections even at the ripe old age of 7.

Kyran Pittman pushes at the boundary of blogging, waffling between writing about the daily drama and at times actually transcending the genre with postings that seem to fall somewhere between short stories and vignettes. She is probably helping to pioneer a new form of literature.

Slouching Mother peels back the wrapper on motherhood in a way that is strangely honest without insistence on showing the scabs. Her stories are at turns provocative and warming, and she makes motherhood seem as beautiful and at times pathological as it must be, and is one of Kyran's fellow pioneers in the creation of a new literary form that might just get studied alongside the short story and novel in a few years.

Chesca has an unfair advantage over other bloggers because she not only writes with self deprecating humor, but could model – and often does for the benefit of her blog reading audience who get to pretend that they are in her living room as they leaf through the family photo album and listen to her whimsical and witty reports that she closes with unpredictable punch lines just often enough to keep readers off balance.

Cce’s brilliant writing is balanced by her rather quaint reading– she comes here most days. (Hello CCE.) Our exchange of comments has become for me a bit like mid-morning tea in which each of us gets to share what’s animated our thoughts and be heard and acknowledged before moving on with our day. I, for one, take comfort in sharing sensibilities with a woman this smart and talented, even if our lives are playing out in opposite corners of the country, in very different phases. And someday I plan to tell people that I was among the first to realize her potential.

For me, these mother bloggers do so much more than entertain. The rest of us get to be beneficiaries of expressions of charm that might have been muttered into the clothing hamper and lost in an earlier time. And I am at a stage of life when I get a little better sense of my own wife’s incredible performance of transforming sofa chewers into university students (sadly, about a decade or two after such awareness might have been of comfort). [And yes, that's my wife and children from about 14 years ago in the above picture. It would be fascinating to be able to read Sandi's blog from that time.]

03 February 2008

711 Number - Reporting Odd Behavior

My 70-some year old mother is riding with me when she spots a guy basically jay walking, but in a remarkably lackadaisical manner for a road where cars regularly travel at 60 mph.

"Look at him!" Mom exclaims. "Can you believe him?" She watches a while longer and I can tell two things. One, she is incredulous at his strange behavior. Two, she is delighted to have someone with whom she can share her outrage. And I have an idea.

We can call 411 for information. We can call 911 for emergencies. Why not a 711 number that people can call when they spot aberrant behavior - something they find odd or outrageous? Wives could report their husbands, children their parents, and anyone could call to report on those in public.

"There is this guy here with the oddest body piercings."
"Well, I realize it isn't illegal. That's why I called seven-11. But it does look odd. Why would anyone put one safety pin in his ear and another in his lip and connect them with paper clips?"
"No. He didn't even use the ear lobe. He ran it through the top of his ear."
"You don't think that counts as strange behavior?"

Who would man the phones? I think it'd be best if it were creative writing majors. A day at the phones would likely provide enough material for a short story collection or a novel. Perhaps we'd even have a weekly radio show in which highlights are played. Suddenly, the chronically odd would have a highlight show that could be to the them what EPSN sports center highlights are to aspiring sports stars.

I'm going to sit back now and wait for one of the candidates to mention this in a campaign speech. I can hardly wait.

02 February 2008

The Importance of Obama's Middle Name

In the spring of 92, I asked Sandi, "Ross Perot for President bumper stickers. Do you think those will be like pet rocks by October?"

My 5 year old daughter Jordan pipes up from her car seat, "Ross Perot. He wants to be president. I don't know, though. He doesn't sound like a president." And then from nowhere, she puts on this oddly convincing drawl, "Howdy, Howdy. I am Ross Perot and I want to be president." she says. And then she concluded, quite authoritatively, "His name does not sound like a president's.” [Note to young parents everywhere - that child in the car seat is not always ignoring NPR.]

"And who do you think should be president?" I asked.

"I don't know, maybe George Washington or George Bush. That sounds more like a president’s name."

Apparently, names matter to some of the polity. I've heard more than a few folks express shock at the fact that Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein. "Just like Saddam's last name!" they exclaim.

And that matters. Almost as much as it matters that once we had gained our independence from King George we turned around and elected George Washington.

01 February 2008

The Mediacide of Britney Spears

I'm sure that some of the Romans who went to the Coliseum actually felt sorry for the Christians or rooted for the gladiators not to be killed or injured. Even the folks now rooting for Britney Spears may actually be playing a part in the drama her life has become.

It seems to me that we're about to witness a mediacide, a murder by media. I'm tempted to say that it'll be the first time that the media has hounded some fragile soul to death, but Britney Spears' precarious plight is Marilyn Monroe-like.

We've turned our media into the modern coliseum, a place where celebrities can be made and then destroyed. I remember finding that viral video so odd - the one with the poor guy crying that we should, "Just leave Britney alone!" Suddenly, the man's words seem prophetic.

Should the poor little thing actually take the route of Marilyn, perhaps the greatest tragedy is that not only will her persecutors escape prosecution - but they will actually benefit from the flurry of interest in her demise. Britney may have become famous by singing fairly banal pop songs, but at this point, her life has become a tragic opera.

About a year ago, Craig Ferguson spoke eloquently about the fact that even our icons are real people, and Britney in particular. His words are still worth considering.