Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Mad Science: A Few Words About American Exceptionalism

The New York Times reported this week that Americans under 50 are the most likely to die of any such relatively young adults in the First World--and apparently, it’s not even close.  Why?  Well, basically it’s everything.  We drink too much, we do too many drugs, and we get in lots more car wrecks, and if that’s not enough, we’re also a ton fatter and far, far more likely to straight-up murder each other with firearms.  Oh, and we also have higher cancer rates.  And a far more fragmented, more expensive, and far less effective health care system.
Bottom line: Americans are actively trying to kill themselves, and if that doesn’t work, we as a country are a lot more likely to let them die if they get sick.  There are exceptions, of course, but we’re talking about trends and statistics, and those, at least, are clear.
So.  This is what’s it’s come to in America.  Older Americans--those who’ve survived into their 70s--are likely to live longer than their European, Canadian, and Asian counterparts, but it’s very much an open question as to whether or not that trend will continue.  More likely, it seems that their longevity is a relic of the lifestyles that used to exist in this country fifty years ago but which went out after the urbanization of the 50s and the Baby Boom.  What I think we’re seeing instead are the long term effects of a car-centric and office-centric culture, a sedentary lifestyle that makes a virtue of the outsourcing of physical labor of any kind.
And you wonder why I do triathlons.  
Seriously, though, I think we have a problem for the young in this country in the form of future expectations.  I mean, it’s fair to ask why they’re drinking and smoking and doing drugs and shooting each other, isn’t it?  Certainly, they’re not doing that stuff because they think they have a lot to look forward to.  As Ke$ha says, “Tonight, we’re gonna live like we’re gonna die young.”  Which is to say that I think we’re making it so hard to get a foothold in the future that lots of folks--maybe not a majority, but certainly a significant minority if the statistics are to be believed--just don’t care about their prospects any more.  The future is irrelevant.  It looks like a sucker’s game to even try.  
And that scares me.  I have two kids, and they have to grow up and live here.
I don’t have any answers.  I do know that unemployment and under-employment for newly-minted college grads is a serious problem, but I suppose you could counter that by arguing that those kids probably should’ve majored in something besides Art History.  Still, is that a message we’re communicating to them?  Do they have the basic skills and discipline to even attempt a more math-oriented higher education?  Do they think they have a plan?
Look, I’m not blaming the “system” here.  I mean, what system?  It’s a market.  You have to sell yourself, and somebody has to buy in order for you to get paid.  That said, I do wonder how much today’s high schoolers and college kids get told about the real nature of the economy.  I tend to believe that a little hard honesty and responsibility at a younger age would help.  But I don’t know that; I’m just guessing.  
I mean, maybe we’re just screwed.
I like that answer.  I think it’s the right approach for Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour titles as well.
Welcome to the Era Without Winners.
People have to believe that it's worth
a trillion dollars in order for the idea to work.
While we’re talking about cheaters, I hate this idea of minting a trillion dollar coin to outflank the Debt Ceiling debate.  I mean, yeah, the Debt Ceiling is ridiculous in that the money has already been appropriated, so we’re obligated to pay regardless of other considerations.  However, showdowns like this are a fundamental part of American democracy, and more to the point, lately they’ve been the only  means by which we can force our increasingly dysfunctional government to compromise.  Yeah, I could wish these guys would just cut some back-room deals and get it done, but since that doesn’t seem to be on the table any more, the Debt Ceiling debate is all we’ve got in the way of governmental tools to get a deal done.  I don’t like it, but it is what it is.  It’s like the old Chinese proverb, Danger is the intersection of Crisis and Opportunity.
With that said, the reason why minting a trillion dollar coin is a stupid idea is because, well, it’s a stupid idea.  What it is is monetizing the debt, i.e. printing money to pay what we owe.  Well, in this case it would be printing money to create collatoral against which we could do more borrowing, but y’know, that’s semantics.  Bottom line, nobody will lend you money if they think that you’re just going to pay it back with money that you’re printing out of thin air because that radically devalues the basis of the repayments.  Lenders are stupid, but they’re not that stupid.
Anyway, we’re gonna have another Debt Ceiling debate, and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.  I suggest you just lay back and enjoy the ride.
RG3, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
 “Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has emerged from about five hours of surgery to repair the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his right knee, two people with knowledge of the situation said Wednesday. [This was] the same ligament Griffin tore as a sophomore at Baylor University in 2009…”
Um.  If I’m Dan Snyder, I’m fucking pissed.  I don’t know whether or not RG3 should have been out there playing last Sunday, but even if he was legitimately medically cleared to play, I’m pretty sure that the Redskins’ coaching staff didn’t need to be calling designed runs for the guy.  It was pretty obvious that he had a busted wheel.  
The Hell of it is, it’s not like RG3 has to run to be effective.  See, this is what makes him a once-in-a-generation talent.  This is why people compare him to Elway.  He can run and pass.  There is absolutely no reason why the ‘Skins couldn’t have used their very effective running game and an extra blocker to keep Griffin safe and upright.  That’s the whole point.  RG3 can play from the pocket.
“But,” you say, “RG3 had to run in order to give the ‘Skins a chance to win the game.  Otherwise, they weren’t gonna score enough points.”  I think that argues with the basic premise above, but let’s say it’s true anyway.  It’s not like the Redskins were gonna win—or even get to—the Super Bowl this year.  So was it worth it to risk the franchise’s once-in-a-generation talent like that?
Maybe it was if what we’re talking about is just letting the guy play.  But calling designed runs for a guy with an already-sprained ACL and LCL?  Maybe I’m missing something, but that just doesn’t seem smart.
Anyway, as a Giants fan, I confess that I’m more than a little conflicted about this.  I mean, I hate to root for a guy to get injured, especially one who’s as freakishly talented and motivated as RGIII.  But then again, he already handed the Giants their asses once this year, and he damned near did it both times, and that was when he was a rookie.  Had the guy stayed healthy and continued to improve, I suspect we were looking at a long-term changing of the guard in the NFC East.  
From that standpoint, thank God for Mike Shanahan.
Finally, let’s ask the week’s Robert Heinlein memorial question: Could we ever live on the moon?
Slate’s author, a real, live astronaut, says yes.  But I personally have my doubts.  The author notes that the one thing the moon does naturally for us is provide gravity.  My question, though, is whether  or not it’s enough gravity?  The effects of prolonged zero-gravity have been well-documented, but do we really have any idea what extended living in very low partial gravity will do?  Seems like it can’t be anything good.
And then, too, as the article points out, even if we can live on the moon, the biggest challenge is that there’s not currently a good reason for us to go to the moon and stay there.  The article suggests that mining for He3, as a fuel for fusion power for energy production, might make sense, but me, I’d rather just use recycled pixie dust.  And from what I know about it, both seem equally likely technologies over the next fifty years.  Moreover, people on the moon would probably have to live underground in order to avoid the harmful effects of space radiation.  You ask me, that would suck.  It’s kind of a downer to say that because Heinlein believed that the moon was The Answer, but there it is.
The moon is probably not a good place to live.
That’s it for this week.  
Tri Club has practice tomorrow morning at 9:00 am, and as we said at our meeting on Wednesday, we’re running.  Yes, we WILL have child care.  Also, I plan to go about five, but I think some of the others will probably go less, so don’t feel like a five mile run is the minimum standard.  That’s not the way Tri Club works.
Have a great weekend!


  1. Thanks for another great Friday Mad Science. I love the hell out of these.

  2. Thanks Alan. That means a lot, man.