This Ruthless World

Adventures in absurdity

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

Let’s Beat Up On the Young. Again. And Again. And Again.

O tempora o mores! What’s wrong with teenagers these days? Having dreams and desires? Doing things for fun? Having sex? And don’t even get me started on their iphones, ipads, ishmads and all that other touch-screen, sexy-picture-taking rubbish. Why, only a generation ago, teenagers were completely different. They hunted the woolly mammoth and mined salt for their own meals. They made all their own clothes and bought their own cars with the money they earned making cheeseburgers after school. Alas, it’s all in the past. Gone are the days when thirteen-year-old girls married sixteen-year-old boys and had ten babies in quick succession. Now, that was some maturity, some responsibility! Today, young people live through their teens and twenties enjoying themselves and not saving money for an obscenely overpriced home somewhere by the side of a coal plant. What’s wrong with teenagers today, and how can we help them live harder, less enjoyable lives as surly little adults?

You might think that the habits and mores of teenagers and young people today have something to do with demographic changes in the last several decades and centuries, and the current state of the economy, but you would be wrong. No, Alison Gopnik, writing for the blessed Wall Street Journal — I swear, lately, this gift just keeps on giving — is here to tell you that really, there is just something wrong with young people’s brains. It’s not the high rate of unemployment. It’s not the screwed-up economy, where an Ivy League degree gets you a job as a secretary (assuming you speak three languages and have a nice ass). It’s not the crushing cost of education these days. It’s not that it makes sense to spend some time living a little and getting a solid financial ground under your feet before you start having kids and taking out astronomical mortgages. It’s not that people who claim they lived like Trappist monks when they were young are lying. Oh no. Everything bad that happens to teenagers and young people these days is because they are lazy, irresponsible, unrealistic and shallow. In other words, “the kids these days”. Cue in hundreds of comments about “the way it was in MY day”. Read more…

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Friday Ramblings: Shorts

This just in: history is polluted by facts!!

Actually, this isn’t just in. In fact, this juicy tidbit is about a year old, but it’s just too good to pass up: The Tennessee Tea Party has demanded that school history textbooks do not mention any TRUE FACTS that reflect negatively on the Founding Fathers, including “intrusions” on the Native Americans and ownership of slaves. (Sorry for being redundant.) Lest anyone think that the TTP has taken a page out of the Holocaust Denier’s Handbook, it must be emphasized that they went beyond classic historical revisionism, by implicitly acknowledging that bad things have happened to certain groups of people in the course of the American history. The draft reads: Read more…

Dabbling in Religion (Or How I Became an Atheist)

Back when my family was still living in Moscow, in the last waning days of the Soviet regime, my mother would take a tram car to work every morning. From the Three Stations, it rolled through Basmanny, past the magnificent Yelokhovskaya Church, where sometimes, my mother would get off to light a candle or to … just hang out, I guess. My mother was not by any means devout, but she was a romantic, and I think she had a touch of bovarism: Yelokhovskaya was the most opulent church in the city, certainly the most opulent functioning church (St. Basil’s Cathedral was a mere shell then), and it was rumored that the last remnants of the Old Regime aristocracy came here to worship, bloody but unbowed, and still conversing in French. On the few occasions that I happened to accompany her, the church awed me with its cascades of goldleaf and beeswax candles, its vast, dark expanse that made the lightest whisper ring and soar, its endless icons with saints, regarding me sternly and its otherworldly frankincense-scented mist. My mother would squeeze my hand and whisper in my ear: “Can’t you just feel that the Lord dwells in this place?”

I knew — because she told me many times — that the year before my birth, my parents lived on the shores of one of the numerous man-made reservoirs in Russia’s heartland, where you could still see the crosses of submerged churches and an occasional ruined belfry peeking out of the water. To us, living under the Soviet rule, when it was still dangerous to go to church or admit to being a believer, these small reminders of a submerged world were symbols of some spiritual loss, of the rootlessness, ugliness and the soul-crushing grind of Russian life. Read more…

Some Thoughts on Taxes, Inspired by Mitt Romney’s Tax Returns

Willard Mitt “Mittens” Romney has confirmed what most of us have been suspecting — that the taxes he pays on his astronomical income are a mere fraction of what most middle-class Americans pay to the government, despite our vastly more modest means. And it has been explained to us, of course, that the reason for this is that the money that ended up in “Mittens'” coffers isn’t really income — it’s “capital gains”. It’s a simple distinction, you see: income is any kind of revenue, unless it’s revenue from investments, in which case it’s clearly not income; it’s capital gains. I mean, it should be obvious. In any event, long-term capital gains are taxed at a substantially lower rate than ordinary income. Incidentally, revenue you get in the form of inheritance isn’t income either, because come on. These distinctions in our tax system — and indeed, that’s true of all the tax systems that have been proposed over the past several years — reveal that we are not quite sure what it is we want to tax: distinct units of actual cash, people or transactions. Read more…

12 Things I Want Every Politically Opinionated Person To Take To Heart

As can be easily gleaned from my posts, I am a liberal. So it’s probably inevitable that this post will lean left. Nevertheless, there are appalling sins that I’ve seen people on both sides commit (as well as Libertarians), and so to the extent that I am able to overcome my bias, I intend the suggestions below to apply to all across the entire political spectrum. To be more precise, I can’t hope to change the quality of our society’s political debate, but there are a few things I’d like to get off my chest. Things like: Read more…

Friday Ramblings: The Elitist Edition

The cultural phenomenon of grossly overrating the mediocre never ceases to fascinate me. Some of these are easy targets: Spectator sports. Weddings. Traditional family values. But there are some rather meh people, stories and cultural widgets that have truly achieved the status of sacred cows, and I would like to devote this Friday to tearing some of them down. And so, a random selection from my list of horribly overrated, but actually mediocre, people, events, places and phenomena: Read more…

Never Mind SOPA and PIPA: Intellectual Property Laws (Mostly) Suck

SOPA and PIPA are nothing new. They are merely the latest chapter in the history of intellectual property legislation whose effect is to silence and intimidate the creative public, while promoting monopolies and cultural uniformity. I will not insult the reader’s intelligence by claiming that merely because IP laws restrict speech, they violate the First Amendment — because that’s not (necessarily) true. Nor am I about to defend those who copy others’ work and pass it off as their own or use it to further their own commercial or political ends — because morally, that kind of conduct is beneath contempt. Moreover, I will note parenthetically that I am more sympathetic to IP laws that protect scientific research and technological innovation than those that deal with art, literature or trademarks — mainly because from a legal standpoint, the standards for demonstrating scientific or technological theft are much clearer and thus less prone to abuse. Those disclaimers aside, however, I do, as a whole, embrace the radical view that most IP legislation creates more harm than good, and its effects are the opposite of what is officially intended.

The idea of IP laws (and once again, I am leaving science and technology aside here) is based on five distinct myths: Read more…

Tough Cookies for Thee

In November 2011, the New York Post reported with glee how a supporter of Congressman Bob Turner forcibly removed an Occupy Wall Street protester from Turner’s swearing-in ceremony. The article mentioned parenthetically that the “hero” ex-cop, Kevin Hiltunen, shown in the photo to be dragging a grown man out the door, is retired on a disability. Naturally, a curious discussion ensued in the comment section when one reader pointed out that Hiltunen seems exceptionally fit for someone who retired early and is collecting disability checks.

I have no doubt that the reader in question made that comment rhetorically, as a reference to Bob Turner’s Tea Party affiliation and Hiltunen’s lambasting of “socialism”. Nevertheless, outraged conservatives descended upon him like a ton of bricks with arguments that boiled down to how a person may be completely disabled even when he is perfectly capable of lifting heavy things and functioning in the world. Naturally, they called him on being a bleeding-heart pinko communist librul, and on showing insensitivity towards people who can’t work even though they can. Hey — who are you to say that a disk bulge doesn’t suck until you’ve experienced radiculopathy, hmm? All this was particularly touching in light of Bob Turner’s expressed commitment to “end subsidies” and “end government dependencies”. Kevin Hiltunen must be one hell of a fella to go so far out of his way to support a politician whose stated goal is to strip him of his pension and his disability benefits. Read more…

Potemkin Villages

In 1783, the Russian Empire scored a major victory against the Ottoman Empire: it conquered the Crimean Peninsula. Although nominally independent, the Crimean Khanate had essentially been a client state of the Ottomans, fellow Muslims (even when Crimea was formally allied with Russia). Once the lush peninsula was annexed, the next order of business was to do something about the vast steppes which separated it from the Russian heartland and the Turks to the southeast, smarting from their recent loss. The momentous task of settling and fortifying what came to be known as Novorossiya (“New Russia”), fell to Prince Grigory Potemkin, the lover and favorite of Catherine the Great.

About this, they — as in, the shadowy “they” who sit invisible at the table of every conspiracy, “they” who hide under every bed where an illicit affair is being consummated, “they” who are predominantly flamboyant 18th-century diplomats — they tell the following story: Read more…

Friday Ramblings: Odds and Ends

Image by Boaz Yiftach

The Right Name For a Right-Wing Politician

I thank Sarah Palin for really bringing this into focus with the names she and her husband gave their sons, and her comments about “Real Americans”. Over the past ten years or so, a convention arose as to what constitutes an appropriate name for a conservative male politician. Basically, the name must be short and resemble a manly grunt or a belch. Anything else is too effete and border-line communist. Read more…

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