I spend time worrying allot about why people do stupid things, and why they do them in mass? Years ago the noted self-trained historian and author Barbara Tuchman wrote a book titled “The March to Folly; From Troy to Viet Nam” The book was a historical examination of why governments pursue policies detrimental to their own best interests. It’s an interesting read, although I think its probably out of print nowadays. In the book, Ms. Tuchman writes about four different events in history where governments or powers simply ignore all the signs, all the writing on the wall, and bring about their own demise. The events she writes about are;
- The Trojans and their famous gift from their arch enemies, the Greeks. Why in the hell would you take that thing into your city gates anyway?
- The Catholic Church and and the Protestant Succession. The Church was corrupt, it’s leaders knew it was corrupt and for 200 hundred years assumed that this new movement to reform the the faith wouldn’t last.
- England and her upstart American colonies. How just a few minor tweaks in policy could have stopped the colonists from moving down the path towards independence.
- The United States and Viet Nam. We saw the Japanese, we saw the French and we assumed that we could do better in the face of unbelievable odds and put down a popular rebellion.
I bring this up, not only because I really liked the book, but because 20 years after I first read it, I still find myself thinking along the lines of Babs T. Why do people do stupid things in spite of what common sense and basic intelligence would tell them is right. Lets walk through a few examples shall we.
Ok, 2009 is about 4 weeks old and we already have an idiot of unparalleled stature on the national conscious. A guy so blinded by his own arrogance and self deceit that he can’t see that the entire country is laughing at him, not out of fear or parody, but out of absolute contempt and disgust. I’m speaking of that Gandhi-King like former governor of Illinois.
Asswipe bad haired politician aside here’s a guy with some really lousy background, who was a crooked politician in office and who was reelected. Re-elected by 11 points.. despite investigations ongoing DURING THE CAMPAIGN.
Stupid Shining People
The economy. Or is it the ECONOMY Stupid? It’s everything these days. It’s in the news, it’s in my balance sheets, it’s in my retirement, and now it’s impacted my day to day sense of security and well being. I overheard the following discussion this week, which to me explains why we’re where we are and what years of Reganomics and good old fashion deregulation have brought us. I set this up for your consideration with thoughts of Enron. If you haven’t seen the Smartest Guys in the Room, rent it and see it now.
Greed, shameless greed. Actually Mrs S, who’s a hell of a lot wiser than I am, repeatedly states that “shame is what’s missing in America today”. Lack of Shame is why Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens can sit straight faced and stare down at congressmen and flat out lie through their beady steroid damaged eyes and not for a second understand what it was that people were so pissed off about. It’s unfathomable that that you can do something like have yourself injected by family members and “confidants” and not expect that they aren’t going to come clean when pressed by the heavy hand of the law. Dude, they aren’t going to jail to protect your sorry Hall of Fame ass.
Lack of shame is why a guy as evil as Bernard Madoff could get busted for fraud on such a massive scale, fraud against individuals and against charities, a man who is responsible, according one source, for the single largest destruction of Jewish wealth, thanks to the number of Jewish charities who he solicited investments from, since the Holocaust. Mortie Zuckerman, former director of a large Jewish charity in New York said no one has damaged so damaged the image and self respect of American Jews since Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the Manhattan Project scientists executed in 1951 for passing atomic secrets to the Soviets. And, once busted, his focus is on trying to preserve his wealth by mailing checks to family members, jewelry etc… Shame Bernie SHAME.
Tyco, Global Crossing, Satyam, Keating.. on and on.
The conversation I heard went like this. One side a VP from Citibank, in the Twin Cities, on the other a friends wife. The execs wife make about $250,000 a year at Citi, and receives and annual bonus that is between $50,000 and $70,000 per year. The woman expressed her worries about the economy in the following way. “there’s some fear around the office that we aren’t going to get our bonuses this year. That, would be a disaster. You can’t not pay people for their work, these are very talented people. If we aren’t paid our bonuses, I’m not sure how we’re going to be able to make ends meet. We could be in trouble.” Good news for the woman, once the bailout money found it’s way to Citibank.. they were paid their bonuses in full. The rest of us working American’s have been told no bonuses this year, no pay increases. Be happy to be working, and for the most part, we are.
Absolute garbage. And we just march along.
Consumers can be stupid too
I’ve been watching with some interest the ongoing TV ad war between Comcast all the satellite companies out there. Personally I can’t understand why anyone would sign up for service where the ad guarantees that in three months, your rates are going to go up. Personally I don’t even really understand why there are still cable companies in existence. For 30 years Americans have put up with shitty service; 8 hour service windows, “packages” that force us to pay for 100 channels of absolute garbage programing just to get ESPN, the History Channel and Discovery, and all of this, for the first 20 years of their existence, in complete monopoly. No competition what so ever. And now that they have competition.. competition that beats them at their own game, tradition and fear of thunderstorms keeps us from changing over to better and cheaper service.
Another good example- IPods and the Apple stranglehold on our media consumption. I’ve been on every available music service on the planet. Rhapsody, Napster, Zune, Yahoo Music when they were around, Lala.com, EMusic.com and finally ITunes. Here’s how I rank them. Actually for the sake of this argument, I’m only going to share the worst one on the market, yup you guessed it, ITunes.
ITunes is expensive compared to the other services, by about 10 cents a track in most cases, even more in the case of album purchases.
ITunes does not have a song rental/Music to go feature. They’ve figured it out with movies, you can rent movies for your device from ITunes, but for music, nada. To completely fill a Zune 8 gig player from the Zune Market place, that would be for 2000 songs, it would cost you $15.00 a month. That’s it. That could be for all new music every time you sync the stupid thing, old favorites ANYTHING. Same deal on Napster. Same deal on Rhapsody. True, you don’t “own” the music, and if your subscription lapses your music won’t play, but is that really a big deal? How often does that Donny Iris album come our? When was the last time you spun up Alan Parsons? If you like something allot buy it.. You get to hear the complete song as many time as you damn well please before you do.
To fill the same sized device on ITunes would cost you $2000.00, or 11 years of Zune subscription.
So you have an IPod, and I gotta tell you, even though the ITunes store sucks, and the ITunes software hangs up incessantly and is a pain in the ass to use, the IPod players, especially the Touch, freakn’ reeks coolness. I give. So you have an IPod, why the “f” you buy music for it from Apple completely befuddles me. Really. Lala.com sells 256K bitrate MP3′s for 89cents. MP3 PEOPLE.. no DRM. Albums are even cheaper. Added feature..you entire library is uploaded to LALA so you can listen to anything you own, from any computer on the damn planet… so THERE. Hell, buy from Amazon. They actually put shit on sale, SALE.. like 5 bucks for an album that you’re going to pay 10 for on ITUNES.
EMusic.com is perhaps the coolest music site out there. All independent labels, so if you like Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5 and that sort of garbage, you aren’t going to find it on emusic. You are going to find some of the finest independent labels in all genres, especially blues, jazz, and rock. AND you can pay as little as 49 cents a track depending on your membership arrangement. People I urge you, don’t be stupid with your money or your music. You have choices.
And the ultimate in consumer stupidity.
Folks.. we live in a country with the greatest infrastructure of services on the planet. In almost every place in these United States you have, almost for free, a tap that provides water the quality of which, any person in the Third World would give their right arm to drink. And we, as a people, have been sold the idea that drinking untreated water from some hole in the ground in Wisconsin, or even worse the treated tap water for some other berg, is better than what we have, and we gleefully line up and spend 100X a bottle what it would cost us to drink it from the tap. AND we fill the landfills along the way. My G-d, it’s like the Pied Piper himself were leading us as a society of lemmings.
You know, the Yuppies I work with have told me that you can’t drink tap water, especially if it comes from a bathroom tap. This is complete BS, the Sank plan to wean you people off your bottles… reuse them. Seriously,. By a bottle, and refill it a few times from the tap. Unless you live in rural Wisconsin, where our cabin is, and the water is coming out of the tap is rust colored and smelling like a rotten egg, well I’m thinking your throwing away your money. Which I’m sorry to report, makes you .. yes.. stupid.
The Great Equalizer
And finally the reason we give up logic and reason and re-elect morons, buy shitty products, worry about our mental health, our sexual prowess and our frequency and flow 24 hours a damn day… The device my wise and down to earth father would call “The Idiot Box”. that device that probably on hours a night and all weekend long in your home that serves up what Frank Zappa called “the slime oozing out from your tv set”.
The country is broke folks. We’ve been on a 20 year spending spree. Its like the parents haven’t been home in a long time and we’ve been out partying, and now we’re grounded. We’re spending $2000 on a TV. We’re spending $100 a month on a phone. We’re spending $75 a month to watch eight channels out of 200 on our TV. We tell our doctors what we know best about our conditions and ask for drugs we don’t understand, and yet most of us can’t say NO to our own damn kids. We worry about self esteem and ADD and ADHD, and we watch endless hours of American Idol and Bachelor and reality shows that are so damn tired and pointless that it’s insane. Most of us take handfuls of pills for blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and every other chronic condition because we’re told we’re fat (we are) and our 140 over 90 BP is outrageously high. 20 years ago we called that borderline. “Well, we know more now and we’re more aggressive about getting you hooked on a legal drug so you can support a pharma company than encouraging you to get off the fucking sofa and taking a walk.
We want to see you at a yuppie health club so you can get your cardio, and your weight training and you can change your name to Bobby Brown and get shiny teeth a six pac ab and a tight ass and look 30 when you’re 60.. except for those wrinkles but if we inject you, at a party, with one of the deadliest toxins known to man well, even those can go away, sort of.
I’m thinking I’m going to pass on all that. I’m going to go for a walk, put a backpack on with 20 lbs in it and stroll around the neighborhood a few times a week. Maybe ride my bike to the store instead of driving. I’m gonna turn off my TV and Tivo everything so a) I won’t be tempted to ask my doctor for pills to help my sexual prowess when I’m drunk or exhausted or thinking about the 600 people who just lost their jobs at my office and thus occasionally find myself “not in the mood” b) so I can watch my couple of shows on my terms, at my time with no ads.
I’m thinking I’m going to lose my hair, get fat, get ugly(er) and not worry a whole lot about because humans have been doing it that way since we first crawled out of the primal muck and looking like your 30 when your 60 just says “I’m one shallow SOB”. Tell you what, I’m going to drink some scotch once in while, I’m gonna drink Miller High Life because I think the ads with the delivery guy seriously represent what’s wrong with this country, and you know, I’m gonna sneak in that occasional GASP Winston because a good smoke can be close to a religious experience, and if I’m smoking a dozen cigs a year, I’m probably going to be alright. Once in a while, I’m gonna eat the apple fritter, and more often I’m going to eat oatmeal. It’s called MODERATION folks.
I’m not gonna worry about living boring lifestyle of all whole grains, bottled water, organic food and all the other shit that’s going to buy me another 6 months or a year of life. I’m pretty sure that last year is going to be in a diaper with drool coming out the side of my mouth, completely unaware of my surroundings, and it’s not going to matter one wit. Some folks, 100 years ago, lived to see 100 and some folks today do the same.
I think there’s more to luck than we think. ..
That was a bit of rant, even for me. Thanks for listening.