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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Monthly Archives: March 2011

Full disclosure: Two of my biggest fans are teachers.

Recently, it occurred to me that political satire as an art form may very well be dead.  It had a good run, of course, but it may have finally died of exhaustion and dehydration. After all, if you run for long enough, even a “good run” turns into something significantly less pleasurable, right?

So, why might political satire be dead?  Frankly, it seems that actual reality is now composed of facts that would have otherwise made great jokes.

Example?  Sure.

Think back to three years ago.  Just toss yourself back to the start of 2008.  If you have a time machine, use that (and also let me borrow it so I can unbuy this blender).

Now that you’re in 2008 Mode, pretend that I told you that in the midst of a severe and utterly incapacitating economic crisis, when banker bonuses are suddenly bigger than ever and the national unemployment rate struggles to stay under 10% and as bombs begin to drop on yet another predominantly Muslim country, a sizable and politically powerful faction in this country will take aim at…public school teacher salaries.

Think about it.

Think about it and then watch this…

Warning!  Lawyer insults!  Possible tears!

Taylor Mali, “What Teachers Make”

It seems to me that if children are our future, so too are our teachers.

I don’t remember much.

I don’t remember my first word (“Heretofore”), my first home run (opposite field 385 footer off lefty submariner), or my first birthday cake (candle blown out after nonchalantly wishing for more wishes).

But what I do remember is my first bout of faux outrage, the first time my brain exploded just a little bit because the entire world seemed to have it all wrong and I, of course, had it all right.

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Sidenote o’ honesty: This story I’m about to tell is more than likely made up.  The surroundings are so clear in my mind, the dialogue so scripted, that I feel it is my duty to point out that I am probably full of crap.  Not intentionally so — like when you find yourself gorging at an all-you-can-eat buffet (not by-the-pound!), but in the literally-wrong-but-not-technically-committing-perjury sort of way that leaves me completely outside the scope of criticism.  And while I did say, “I remember it like it was yesterday,” the truth is the previous 24 hours are a bit of a blur.

As I was saying.

I remember it like it was yesterday.

The year was (probably) 1988.  I was (probably) in kindergarten.

Seen here: Non-OSHA-compliant structure

As was the case with most kindergarteners of my generation*, I was primarily interested in engaging in the ceaselessly popular, hyper-exclusive activity known to participants simply as “Blocks.”  Blocks were — and quite possibly still are — the most worthwhile experience available to a young boy.  The best blocks were — but probably are no longer — red and large and rectangular and looked like bricks (see photo).  The worst blocks, if my memory serves correctly, were any other kind of blocks. Feh!

Blocks were elite but they were certainly not without flaws.  The problem with block-playing, at least at Council Rock (“A Super School”), is that there were not very many block units (BU’s) available.  For this reason, unless you were in a large group satisfied with a hodgepodge of 3-BU (implicitly lame) constructions,  a party of two generated the highest level of happiness per party factoring in the most sensible allocation of faux brick resources.

What a bunch of Rawlsians.

One day, while fabricating what I can only assume was a replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, I was approached by a fellow 6-ish-year-old.

Instigator/Him: “Can I play blocks?”

Hero/Me: “No, I’m playing.”

Instigator/Him: “Come onnnnnn!  I’ll be your best friend!”

Hero/Me: [thinking]

Instigator/Him: “Pleeaaaaaaaaaaase?”

Hero/Me: “Why would that make you my best friend?”

As I pointed out above, this story probably isn’t true even though I think it is.

In any case, I do recall being confused and frustrated by the best friendship offer/threat very early in life.  Even as a youngster, I recognized that “I’ll be your best friend,” when used as an enticement, was a confused request given what I knew at the time about friendship, favors, and the relationship between the two.

Children, even when raised by loving, well-meaning parents (perhaps especially so?), eventually develop into self-obsessed pleasure-seekers so in love with themselves that they honestly believe their essence is fundamental to all that is worthwhile in the universe. And with that belief in mind, they soon develop a worldview where it is reasonable to suggest that their very existence should then be magical enough so that acquaintances ought to — for example! — drop their big red blocks in awe as they are offered an opportunity of a lifetime: a non-binding social contract of friendship!

Of course, the friendship-offeror, being that he is so wonderful and pure, still maintains his independence and is by no means limited by the  “I’ll be your best friend” arrangement.  He says nothing of your relationship to him.  He does not say “We will be best friends!”  He does not say “You’ll be my best friend!”  No.  He does nothing of the sort.

He asks for two huge favors — your blocks and your emotional energy — and offers what amounts to nothing in return.

At least you get a bottle of snake oil from the snake oil salesman.

Kindergarten is a wee bit early to be interpreting moral philosophy, but this is clearly my first (possibly made up) memory of a Kantian ethical failure.  Among other things, Immanuel Kant suggested that people ought to treat others as ends themselves rather than means to a particular end.  In the block-friendship exchange above, I was seen as an intermediary, a hurdle between the block requestor and the blocks.  Even though the exchange was framed in a friendly context, this person clearly had no interest in my friendship in a world where I did not control a collection of awesome red blocks.

Thanks for reading, peeps!  Make sure to tell some of your friends to read the bloggy, too.

I’ll be your best friend!

* I have no idea what kindergarteners do these days.  Hopefully blocks are still involved in some capacity.

Hello, March.  It’s good to see you!

Goodbye, February.  And I don’t mean to offend you, February, but good riddance.

To be honest, February, you frustrate me, and not just because it takes me two or three tries to spell you correctly.  I can even look beyond the unnecessarily cold shoulder you show us on each of your days, or the fact that you are objectively the least interesting month in sports.  I’m not bitter about Valentine’s Day (except for the fact that folks rarely apostrophize [ed. note: actual word!] the holiday), and do not object to your dedication to a better understanding of black history.  I like you, February, but for all of your positive qualities, you will always — at a fundamental level — be one thing to me.

The month when the cost of living in my apartment is about 8% more than normal.

Explanation?  Sure.

(Beware!  Sixth Grade Math lurks!)

Let’s say your rent is $1,000 per month.  (Apparently, you do not live in your own apartment in DC.) This means that you pay $12,000 annually to live in your humble abode.  There are 365 days in a year, so we can determine that it costs you about $32.88 per day to live in your unit.  Also, there are 12 months in a year so we know that there are about 30.42 days in each month.

Depending on the month, your cost per day fluctuates.

January (31 days) / Rent $1,000 / Cost per day: $32.26 / 😀

Average Month (~30.42 days) / Rent $1,000 / Cost per day: $32.88 / 🙂

April (30 days) / Rent $1,000 / Cost per day: $33.33 / 😐

February (28 days) / Rent $1,000 / Cost per day: $35.71 / 😦

This means that it costs you about 9.7% more to live in your apartment in February than it does in January or any of the other months with 31 days (Math alert! [(35.71-32.26)/35.71]*100 = 9.66) and 6.7% more in February than in April or any of the other months with 30 days (More math! [(35.71-33.33)/35.71]*100 = 6.66).

Overall, each day of rent in February costs about 7.9% more than an average day of the year (Still more math! [(35.71-32.88)/35.71*100] = 7.92).

And that sucks.

Ergo, February sucks.

(Even in a leap year.)

Of course, the Heroes of Non-Confrontation among us will sigh and say, “So what, Zach?” And before I am allowed to muster a reply they will abruptly add, “It all evens out in the end, so it’s just a whole lot easier to just have a standard payment every month.  Suck it up.”

Absurd!  I will not ‘suck it up’!

Why?

Because it’s stupid, you see.

It doesn’t make any sense to pay for rent on a “monthly” schedule because “a month” is not a standard unit of time!

Months are social constructs that are perfectly useful when specificity is unimportant (e.g., “We went to Costa Rica a few months ago and here is a boring slideshow of our trip and by the way we’re out of beer and there is a rabid raccoon outside our front door.”) but are a special kind of unhelpful when a specific date is central to the statement being made.

For example: Let’s say you have a gambling problem (“My problem is that I lose!”).  And let’s also say that your bookie has a gambling problem (“My problem is that if I don’t collect debts from my family’s mob-connected gambling operation, the don, who is quite powerful and has been known to murder people — even those close to him like myself — for reasons related to uncollected debts, will not be satisfied and thus I have a strong and vested interest in collecting this particular debt that you owe!”).

One morning, this bookie says to you, “You know that debt you owe me?  Bring me $5,000 in cash to my front door at sunrise exactly one month from now or I will break your kneecaps — and then I will murder you because of the pressures I feel from my family that are best summarized in the television series The Sopranos. My life is much more complicated than you suspect.  Anyway, as I stated earlier, please bring me the money in exactly one month.”

The current date: January 30th, 2012.

What morning do you show up?

(As it turns out, February can even get you killed.)

We treat “month” to mean something very specific when the reality is that “a month” is about as specific as “a few.”  When someone says “a month,” what they are actually conveying is “an amount of time equal to or greater than 28 days but not greater than 31 days and never 29 days except for once every four years.”

Not very helpful.

Because we often value convenience over logic, as a society, we have all decided to agree to ignore this month-as-fluctuating-variable problem when it comes to payment plans (or anything else that is done “every month” on the same day).  “It probably works out in the end” is a weird response to a math problem with an actual answer that impacts millions of people in our society (renters), right?

Furthermore, it should be noted that in the actual universe, it rarely ever “works out” for renters/landlords. Yearly leases often turn to month-to-month leases that are eventually terminated on a month not matching up with the original “ending” month.  Does the rent change on that last month depending on how many days it has?

Of course not.

Sometimes the renter wins the “average cost per day” battle (such as in the case where the lease operates from December 1, 2009 to February 1, 2011), and sometimes the landlord wins (e.g., February 1, 2011 to March 1, 2012), but in each of the situations the one underlying truth is that the scales of justice are arbitrarily (though not randomly!) tipping back and forth.

Goodbye, February.

And good riddance.

Postscript o’ optimism: Your life just got a little bit cheaper!  Your rental cost per day in March is almost 2% less than average!

In 1993, Major League Baseball unleashed upon the universe an ad campaign that rocked me to my very core.  See above.

“Catch the fever now!  Let me show you how!”

I was intrigued.  I wanted to learn more of this fever and exactly how to catch it.

Unfortunately, the reality is that the commercial provided no instructions whatsoever regarding the specifics of catching said “fever.”  Undeterred, I somehow managed to develop an unconditional (some would say irrational) love for the game of baseball.  By the end of the 1993 season, I had a favorite hitter (Todd Hundley, a young home-run-hitting catcher who would eventually be forced to embarrass himself in the outfield), a favorite pitcher (Jeff Innis, who had the goofiest delivery I had ever seen), and most importantly, I had a favorite pastime: America’s pastime.

I had the fever.

Finally, I caught it.

These days I still have the fever, but what was once an exercise in hero-worship — cheering for gladiators battling against lions who had mysteriously taken the form of the Atlanta Braves — has evolved into a not-insignificant piece of my emotional life.  Baseball is for me a meaningful way to acknowledge the passing of time, to separate one year (or season) from the next.

That said, I have no problem recognizing that the above paragraph is insane.  To ascribe words like “meaningful” and “emotional” to an athletic competition where you are a spectator and no member of your immediate family is participating — what amounts to a highly-publicized game night that you are watching from a neighbor’s couch — seems to misunderstand the capabilities humankind.  There are meaningful, emotional aspects of society, but the game of baseball?

Any sentence that explicitly states or casually implies that baseball has Real Significance in our lives rings hallow.  In fact, grandiose statements about baseball have to false be because baseball is objectively unimportant.  Grown men hitting tightly-wound string collectives with wooden posts and running around in a very specific, peculiar manner.  This is not an activity that moral philosophers have grappled with over the years (except for maybe one).

And to the extent that baseball is subjectively important, there are certain sad realities that one must acknowledge:

  1. as a general rule, players wear a particular jersey out of a desire for money, not hometown/team pride
  2. cities lose teams because citizens reasonably reject tax increases to build stadiums that provide a marginal economic benefit to the taxpayer and/or because the local fanbase is deemed insufficiently large/wealthy to maximize revenue
  3. if we utilized even a fraction of the money we spend on sports on some objectively worthy cause, that worthy cause would be improved dramatically
  4. within the economic universe of major league baseball, wealthy owners in large markets can leverage their financial prowess in ways antithetical to the notion of fair play

I know all of this.

And while it is completely true that I was known as The Voice of Reason in college (among other things), I just can’t shake this baseball fever.  Shouldn’t I be able to give up something once I recognize that it has at best neutral value and is at worse an economic drain on society?  Shouldn’t I direct my efforts — in terms of time, energy, and economic power — towards something legitimately meaningful?  Shouldn’t I attempt to replace the part of my memory that contains minor league baseball statistics with, oh, say, fluency in another language?

Shouldn’t I?

I won’t.

But shouldn’t I?

And because I will never give up this irrational hobby, March will forever be the month when baseball begins to permeate my consciousness.   When Spring Training begins, when horrible and true “Hope Springs Eternal” puns are unapologetically written by headline-writers across the country, when the weather warms up in the North just enough to think about tossing a baseball around, when winter coats are hung up for the last time and the sun peaks out from behind the trees and downtown monstrosities, temporarily blinding us for the first time of the year.

In March, hope does spring eternal.

The first spring training game was last week and my body temperature was literally 102 degrees.

Objectively I know that I was sick, but there is still a large part of me that wants to believe I simply have The Fever.

Special Bonus Content: Don’t have a favorite team?  Use this link to figure out who you belong to.

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