I'm on a real roll with these super-exciting (sarcasm) personal finance posts where I reveal my tricks for not hemorrhaging money. Last time I covered why new cars are terrible for your wallet. Following the official Noah cost-cutting dogma of finding economies that have absolutely no effect on your life.
Every expense you have in your life can be put into one of two categories: mandatory and optional. Mandatory expenses are bills - mortgage, electricity, etc. Optional are any purchase you make that is voluntary (ex: any time you go into a store and plunk down your credit card). You can buy essential things (food and medicine, for example) as voluntary expenses, but there are often ways to do better (like going to a cheaper groery store). This often requires effort, leading to the requirement to calculate whether the juice (benefit) is worth the squeeze (effort).
I saw it last night. Still very angry - I would rather shit out a tennis ball covered with razor blades than watch it again.
Ten Quick Reasons to Miss It:
(1) The main villain is a 15-year-old tech genius who decides to start shit between two superheroes for NO APPARENT REASON. He also knows their identities, again, FOR NO APPARENT REASON.
(2) The main villain is a cave troll (yeah, from Lord of the Rings). Its genitals looked like the end of a Hot Pocket. At some point it gains the ability to fly for no reason.
(3) People said the final conflict was the strongest part of the film, so I'll have a go at that: Eight seconds into the climactic battle, the US government decides to nuke the cave troll, along with Superman, the only thing on the planet that is effectively fighting the beast. They do this directly over Metropolis. The nuke turns Superman into an anorexic.
(4) What's up with the odd obsession with analog film? There's a photographer using a film camera in one of the first scenes. Lex Luther sprinkles POLAROIDS in front of Superman. Then he proceeds to give him an hour to kill Batman USING AN EGG TIMER as a measurement tool! What kind of low rent bozos are these guys?
(5) Wonder Woman takes a flight... in economy.
(6) Gotham and Metropolis are maybe 20 minutes apart (judging by how frequently the heroes commute), yet Superman and Batman have never met, despite hating each other.
(7) 40% of the movie are flashback sequences, some of which are so long you start to think the movie has skipped forward. In one of them, Batman literally has a 12-minute-long sequence where Superman rips his heart out while flying Spider-men watch.
(8) Three words: Weird Persian Aquaman.
(9) Batman spares Superman's life based entirely on the fact that their mothers have the same first name.
(10) Lex Luther can kill a senator but can't get five pounds of green metal into the United States.
(11) Related: A paralyzed,unemployed security guard can get a MASSIVE bomb into a senate hearing, presumably by hiding it up his ass.
(12) Superman personally saves Lois Lane maybe three times (once an hour, on the hour). Each time, there is a strong vibe that they're about to fuck right there in the street. There is also an "English Patient"-style lovemaking session in a bathtub early in the film.
(13) Batman is literally using a branding iron as a weapon.
(14) Batman inexplicably breaks into a maximum security prison, just to make Lex Luthor flinch.
(15) Lex Luthor is awkwardly referrred to as Alexander Luthor throughout the film. He also delivers a a cringe speech about the importance of literacy for no apparent reason.
(16) A gang of high-level terrorists capture Superman's mother, get her from Kansas to (Metropolis? East Coast) inside of an hour, then seven guys point guns at her, ready to blow her unarmed 50-year-old ass away if she even flinches.
To use the phrase du jour, there is no apparent reason to see this film. I can't go on through the haze of tears. Phantom Menace was better than this. The Joel Schumacher nipples-on-batsuit movies were fucking Citizen Kane in comparison.
I hope you were spoiled. I hope you never make the mistakes I did. I'm just sorry.
I've been hard at work on a new story for the site. This one's a little sadder than most - it's my awkward breakup story, and it's one I've never written a draft of before, so it'll take some time to polish up and post. Nevertheless, all the pondering about relationships prompted me to pop down a few thoughts I've incurred over the years on the subject of marriage.
I've mentioned before that I have a significant other. We've been together for a long time, but we're not legally married. Our situation is fairly comfortable (we had an engagement party in 2012 with the tagline, "Livin' in Sin since 2010!"); most people mistake us for a married couple and our lives are rather intertwined. When the full gravity of this registered, I was forced to ask myself the heretical question: Why bother getting married?
The Perils of Human Autopilot
Most of us perform a ton of behaviors without applying a whit of thought to what we're doing. We do them out of habit or because our parents did them. We're victims of societal inertia. There's usually nothing wrong with this, but if you really take an unbiased look at things, you can spot the exceptions. A great example is circumcision - it's a medically irrelevant procedure with no real point (hygeine? really? If you can't wash your dong well enough to where cleanliness is a factor, you've got bigger problems than the existence of your foreskin).
So why do it? My guess is momentum. I'd bet 95% of people opt for a procedure in which they cut off a portion of their child's genitals just so their son looks like his daddy. What really underscores the point is the fact that circumcision seems to be the one part of American culture that hasn't caught on around the world. Despite being in the minority on this, circumcision remains relatively popular here; people who point this out are ignored and/or stigmatized (there was a guy at U of C who would protest this; most of us - including me at the time - assumed he was bitter about a botched circumcision*). Fact of the matter is, on a global scale, we're the weirdos opting to mutilate our own genitals. And we think nothing of it because it's what our parents did.
Point is, some of these decisions probably should be considered a little more. Three of the biggest decisions that seem to be taken for granted are marriage, having kids, and owning really heavy furniture. Since each of these topics are so massive, I thought I'd split them up, starting with the sacred institution of marriage.
Recently, we witnessed the end of an era - Susan's car, the famed "Green Bean", was retired in favor of a new ride (the "Black Bean"). On this monumental day, it occurred to me that I have not yet broached one of my favorite topics, the incredible, unnecessary cost of owning the wrong type of car.
Read what I just wrote carefully. I'm not against car ownership in the slightest. In fact, It's cheaper for me to own a car than using public transportation, even in a place like Chicago that has a good system.
If that surprises you, just check out the numbers: 95+% of my driving is commuting to work, a 25-mile round trip. In addition to driving, my options include (a) taking the train or (b) riding my bike. Consider the time and cost of a round trip using each mode of conveyance:
Time (round trip): Car (90m), public transit (120m), biking (130m).
Cost: Car ($3.50, incl. gas at $3/gal and maintenance), public transit ($5), biking ($0.50, mainly replacing tubes/tires).
Clearly (and sadly), public transit is the worst option. Ignoring the environmental/comfort/etc arguments, there are simply no cost- or time-savings of mass transit compared to driving. Even with $5/gallon gas, the number's still don't work. Biking is the frugality winner, and I do bike on occasion, but I like to save my time and legs for running, so it's an occasional thing*.
So driving a car isn't too bad, even in a car-unfriendly big city. The numbers don't lie: automotive operational expenses are simply lower than the alternative. For me to switch to mass transit, Chicago would have to penalize driving, either by making my commute more expensive (tolls, higher gas prices, parking) or disincentivize me (e.g., driving takes much longer than riding the train). European and Asian cities are often better at this, but that's a discussion for another day.
The point, as it relates to the topic at hand, is that, despite what you might assume, it can be cheaper to drive than take the bus. While I generally support the most efficient, practical way to achieve efficient transportation, preferring car travel presupposes one very important thing: the cost of the vehicle itself. The real trap (as far as efficiency) comes in the form of vehicle acquisition costs. Since one of the recurring ideas that's part of my life philosophy is the avoidance of traps, both personal and financial, I want to make an effort to point out just how much the wrong attitude towards car buying can and will cost you.
A Simple Primer on Car Buying
I do not like car payments. In 2002, with my trusty 1989 Buick Park Avenue (thanks Mom and Dad!) dying, I made the leap and purchased a brand new 2002 Toyota Corolla. For the next 60 months, I paid exactly $287.72 to Toyota's financing department. This was in grad school, and this payment represented quite a chunk of money back then. When the car was paid off, I vowed to never again have a car payment. Almost a decade later, this is still true. I thought I was so smart, driving a small, sturdy car into the dirt.
Then I met Susan, who quickly became my girlfriend and now my fiance. While I was generally the more financially saavy of the two, Susan was light years ahead of me in the car game. She bought a nine-year-old Geo Prizm in 2003, which she drove thirteen largely problem-free years. Seeing the eventual end, we traded up for a "new" 2001 Chevy Prizm.
When replacing Susan's car, our selection was informed by an observation I'd made while monitoring car prices - at some point there's a conclusion of the concavity of the depreciation curve, creating an abrupt set point where a car's value essentially bottoms out. The beginning of that curve is generally predictable (based on historical data), and represents something of a sweet spot for purchases. In the Toyota family, that sweet spot can be depressed even further by seeking out rebadges (Pontiac Vibes, Prizms, etc.).
While Susan and I share a strategy of driving our cars into the ground, she has employed the additional step of searching out modest used cars. I wondered how much more of an advantage this really gave her, so I decided to compare costs. In fact, I decided to take it one step further and create a three-way comparison against a hypothetical driver who trades in their car every five years (this is pretty reasonable - in 2012, average new car ownership time reached an all time high of 71.4 months, although this is dropping as the economy improves).
Here's the small print if your interested: I've compared the plans over the last fifteen years using our actual car costs and expenses. For the sake of a straightforward comparison, let's imagine our hypothetical new car buyer also has an eye for the base model Toyota Corolla, as Susan and I do. Let's ignore the things that are roughly equivalent, like routine maintenance and registration expenses (used cars will have more of the former, but less pricey title- and tag and fees). I'm ignoring inflation in car prices (which would only affect the new car buyer), but am including a 5% new car tax (which is only half of what it costs here in Chicago!). Trade-in values were calculated by determining the fair market value (per Kelley Blue Book) of a private party sale (which is far more than trading it in at a dealer). For repairs, I've included our actual expenditures and (perhaps generously) assumed no repairs on the new car buyer. I've also ignored the increased insurance costs of insuring a new car, not to mention the cost of anything above liability insurance. To really level things out, I'm subtracting the current KBB values of our vehicles, just to level out any lingering differences in the final value of our vehicles (in reality, stretching older vehicles further would reduce costs even more). In short, these calculations are very, very friendly towards minimizing/underestimating the expense involved in the new car strategy - in the real world, new car ownership would be more expensive.
The Regular (Bad) Way
John Q Driver. Buys a new car every five years. For our example, let's assume a sensible, modest car like the Toyota Corolla (current MSRP: $17K). Finances purchase at low-single digit on a 60-month plan. Sells old car on private market for exactly KBB average value. Owns three cars over a fifteen year period.
The Noah (Better) Way
Buys a new car, planning to drive it into the dust. In this case, my actual 2002 Toyota Corolla. Finances purchase at low-single digit on a 60-month plan. One car over this period.
The Susan (Best) Way
Buys a nine-year-old Geo Prizm (AKA a rebadged Toyota Corolla... see a pattern here?) for $3K, cash. Drives it until this year, when it was replaced with a 2001 Chevy Prizm which we paid $1500 for, cash. Sold original Prizm to a friend for $800.
Holy fucking shit. By voluntarily driving a reliable beater, you're saving nearly $200 each month compared to someone who's driving a newish car. And these are friggin' Toyota Corollas we're talking about - suffice to say, you're not exactly impressing anyone driving one of these things. And while we're on the topic of car ownership, let's be real: most of us venture into the vast expanse of so-called mid- and upscale markets, making our actul numbers even worse.
Other Reasons to Drive a Garbage Car
Driving a beater imbues you with a sense of fearlessness. Every car in Chicago that regularly parks on the street quickly accumulates a series of scratches and dings. Those with new cars actually attach these things called Bumper Buddies to their fenders to prevent routine scratches. My car, on the other hand, is covered with battle scars; I'll happily add another while squeezing into the space that's a little too tight for Mr. New Car.
Insurance above the state minimum is a non-issue. Why would anyone pay an extra $500 a year on a policy with a $500 deductible to replace or repair a $1500 car?
Maintenance is cheap, a total non-issue. We don't go to the dealer for anything (I assume everyone in the free world knows that one already). In my experience, auto repairs are both less frequent and cheaper then you'd think.
Based on sheer dollar amount, driving a nice vehicle is the worst investment the average consumer can (and often does) make**. If you've ever peered down from the second story of your BMW SUV and chuckled at a guy driving a car held together with duct tape, don't sweat it - he's probably laughing at you also.
On the other hand, if you've seen the light but are afraid of making the switch because you already own a nice car and don't want to take a bath on a trade-in, don't fall into the sunk-cost fallacy on this one. Just do your own math - you'll quickly make back any short-term losses through ongoing savings achieved by dumping the new car monster immediately.
If you haven't already pledged to buy an old car by now, I'll try to reach you one final way: Contrary to most personal finance folks, I'm not a big fan of advocating for cutting out small purchases. Screw all that noise about never going out for lunch or buying coffee from Starbucks. Just fix the car thing. Who wants to constantly control fifty little urges when you can do one big thing and get the same result? By doing the car thing smart, you can get all the toys, coffees, meals out, drinks at bars, et al. that you could handle. Compare the pleasure of living your daily life as you choose to the enjoyment you get from driving an import that was made this decade and ask yourself which you'd rather have more.
*Biking is a great way to get exercise; if you're not active, I highly recommend it.
**With the possible exception of private school.
I'm way, way behind on what I hoped to accomplish this week. Not in terms of efforts at my day job (mainly the endless stream of meetings I attend), but my production on the writing front has struggled. I was barely able to produce a single new story this week, putting me behind my one-per-week goal.
A big reason for that is that I've been sick for two friggin' weeks. Whatever disease I've got is ungodly. It's like the flu combined with stealth technology and other advanced infectious features. One of these is something I've never encountered before. I've taken to calling it 'Surprise Diarrhea.'
Look, I know no one really wants an in-depth discussion of bowel function, and while you think you know all you need to know about the squirts, you don't know the first thing about Surprise Diarrhea.
In the regular version of this particular ailment, one temporarily transforms into a poo-spewing fountain, right? It's not fun, but here's the thing: At least you know you're sick. You're ready for it - you're taking the drugs, staying close to the bathroom, cleching your buttcheeks and not trusting farts. Best of all, when it's over you know you can go back to your regular life.
Now imagine not knowing any of that; you're just walking around, unprepared for the fact that your innards could be under siege at any moment. After it strikes, things go back to normal... until the next time. The disease strikes and disappears and strikes and disappears, like an unstoppable guerilla force living somewhere far beyond where the expired Z-Pack you're taking can get at it.
This has been my life for the past two weeks.
The first time it happened, I was sitting at my desk. No big deal, although I barely made it to the bathroom. Four days later, with nothing out of the ordinary to report since the first incident, I was stricken again, this time in the middle of a run. This was quite different from other instances where I voluntarily decided to use the bathroom on the lakefront path. I was reduced to a cheek-searing waddle within five seconds of symptom onset. Worse, it was 9 AM and I was on the Oak Street beach curve (for non-locals, this means I was in a very public place and about as far from a bathroom as you can be in the entire city). It took every scrap of my ingenuity (and some conventiently washed-up seaweed) for me to get out of that particular jam.
That was last weekend. So far, I'm OK, but I'm still worried.
While thinking about how "Surprise" + [any disease] = Much worse [disease], I've come to the realization that I don't like surprises anymore. As a kid, everything unexpected is great - it's all surprise parties and new puppies. Then, at some point, they all start becoming shitty. You need braces. Your mom and I are getting divorced. We can't give you an annual raise. Finally, you get one last surprise (It's a more aggressive form of cancer than we imagined/daddy are you having a stroke on the toilet?) and you die.
These little sprinkles of chaos are anathema to what I stand for. I've spent my entire life building a bland, vaguely successful existence built entirely around achieving tiny wins while avoiding setbacks. I'm healthy, I still have about 70% of the hair I was born with, and I've got a good thing going with the writing lately. You think I want a surprise that could change all that??? I don't even like presents - last Christmas someone gave me a Yo-Yo and I had to play it as though it was something I would incorporate into my life (side note: I brought the toy to work and set it out for a co-worker to give to their kid. No one took it... until I put a placard next to it that read, 'Cursed Yo-Yo. Take if you dare.' 15 minutes later it was gone).
As I see it, there are only two ways to proceed: The first is to change my life so that surprises are good again. This involves either a time machine and a return to my youth (a temporary fix at best; see above). Alternatively, I could fuck up my life so badly that I have nowhere to go but up (if you eat out of a dumpster, just about any twist of fate is good, I'd reckon). Anyway, since that's not gonna happen either - knock on wood - I'm left with only one option: As of right now, I'm afraid to say that I'm going off surprises for the forseeable future. If it's an emergency, please contact Susan so she can gradually phase the news to me in a way that would mitigate any shock.
Thanks for your understanding. Now I have to be getting back to my cocoon of numbness.
One of my co-workers is pretty religious (church twice a week kind of religious). As part of her indoctrination, she attends some sort of young adult program where they occasionally go into go into poor neighborhoods to work in a soup kitchen. She calls the religious organizations that give out food/medical care/shelters "ministries". I asked her what the point of ministries were, besides black holes* for social service dollars. She looked at me, puzzled, and I explained that while her heart was in the right place, her thinking might not be.
If poverty is a disease, then simple charity is palliative at best. There's no debating that feeding or housing hungry people is helpful in the immediate sense; I'm certainly not saying we should stop doing it. In my estimation, curing systemic poverty comes from looking one level up, by asking what objectives can we accomplish that will subsequently enable people to significantly alter their own trajectories.
While I wrote this, I asked Susan what she thought the answer was, to which she replied, "education" and went back to her iPad as though she'd cracked the nut. I'm less certain. In Chicago, we spend more on education than just about any other municipality in the country and we have a school district that leads the nation in murders per week (i.e., students killing students).
I pointed this out to Susan and asked her again why education was still such a problem. "Because there's no buy-in from the parents or the community," she explained. "Kids are surrounded by friends and family who don't place any value on education, so most of them don't care either."
This gets closer to the heart of the matter, in my opinion. It's very possible other risk factors for poverty (crime, becoming a parent at a young age, poor family structures) are also borne of systemic failings that arise, not with individuals, but with the larger communities. After all, there are people who rise up from ghettoes and go on to better lives, but it's rare that entire communities experience robust gentrification - we've seen this in cities in Chicago as well as on the country- and continent level.
I've been nibbling around the corners of this problem for years with no real solution. It's daunting - people have tried to "fix" poverty since forever and a day using thousands of different approaches. If one of these approaches was a panacea, we'd surely hear about it.
But we haven't. So I've altered my thinking a little by taking a step back and asking a more basal question: If we suspect that poverty is a largely systemic problem, what qualitative differences are present in poor neighborhoods that might contribute to this phenomenon?
The following are a list of my very unscientific (probably incomprehensive) traits of poor communities:
(1) Lack of/Inability to achieve delayed gratification.
The famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment is one of the best predictors for lifelong success (on income, intelligence, and even how fat you're likely to become). Simply restated, the experiment is a simple test of whether an individual can accept delayed gratification (small reward now or a larger reward later). I suspect poor people would do rather poorly in this type of test, as poverty creates short-sightedness that robs individuals of logical, long-term thinking.
To illustrate this, let's perform a thought experiment: Imagine you're a first grader and someone's mom brings in birthday cake. The result: an immediate bum rush for the baked goods by every kid in the classroom. Why? Scarcity - there might not be enough to go around. Even if there is, those who tarry in their seats might not get the best piece of cake if they're not aggressive, and the kids aren't yet sophisticated enough to realize that not getting the corner piece with the extra frosting won't kill them.
Now imagine the same situation in a high school class. No crazed rush. There's a little dignity there - a system of order prevails and things are much, much smoother. Applying the metaphor to our communities, it's difficult to imagine poor people forgoing an immediate benefit when such rewards are few and far-between. The recent lead water pipe fiasco in Flint, Michigan is a lovely example of short-sighted thinking leading to far bigger problems later.
Even when the shit hits the fan, well-to-do societies keep their shit together far better than poor communities. When the Tohoku provine was struck by the recent tsunami in Japan, cut off communities lined up the wounded by roads and organized themselves to receive aid, resulting in a bare minimum of post-crisis casualties. After the fact, older individuals volunteered to clean up radioactive areas in part because it made more sense for them to do it. We saw a much different response in the Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina, which consisted mainly of looting and finger pointing.
(2) Poor resource management.
Poor people are much, much more likely to spend money frivolously when they come into it. Proof: Lottery winners (mostly poor) who go broke. Here's a bum who got $100,000 and managed to blow it all almost immediately. In a sense, they're victimized by an irresponsible idea of what it's like to be rich. Even those poor people who manage to not go bankrupt report a heightened need to display ostentatious status symbols of wealth, according to the authors of the most excellent book The Millionaire Next Door.
This behavior stands in stark contrast to the brilliant-but-unsexy investing principles espoused as a path to get rich slowly and quietly, creating a vicious tie-down that's likely to keep the rich wealthy and the poor destitute.
(3) Poor Leadership
Point number two seems to be exacerbated whenever poor community members move into positions of power. They often skim huge chunks of money off the top. Examples: Jesse Jackson Jr. and Mobuto Seko (the massively corrupt president of the Democratic Republic of Congo). It also exists on a smaller scale - I cannot believe how many sleazy low-end "ministers" in Chicago fleece hordes of people who attend their churches. They're regularly on the news, usually being led into courthouse on fraud charges. I have this nascent theory that these crappy leaders are elected based on their ability to connect with their constituents, who mistake familiarity for qualification. However, in many ways the problem of poor leadership is simply a manifestation/continuation of short-sightedness and poor resource management in individuals who just happen to matter more.
This problem also affects nonprofits that are there to help. Although this TED talk explains it better than I, the low-paying environment of nonprofits scares away smart, driven people who can easily get better, higher-paying jobs elsewhere. What's left are a few true-blue do-gooders (who may or may not be all that good at their job) surrounded by dead husks of unambitious paycheck chasers.
(4) Lack of Personal Investment
Here's a story I heard on WBEZ (Chicago's NPR affiliate) about group of high school students in South Chicago who'd started their own production company. It's a fairly standard feel-good story about poor kids trying to make good, but that's not really the point: If you listen to the interview, you repeatedly hear the kids saying that this is their opportunity to "get out" and how this is great because sports is "the only way out" in their neighborhood. This term, and variations thereof, are used so many times you could play a fairly intense drinking game centered around its use. "Getting out," as it were, seems to be their top priority.
I hear this kind of term get tossed around a lot. So let me get this straight: Here are kids who have at least some motivation and are trying (although it's clear they have no idea what they're doing**) to create a better life for themselves whose desire to succeed is fueled primarily by the desire to get the fuck out of their shitty neighborhood. No mention of returning anything to their community, no desire to create jobs in the area they come from, no personal responsibility. Just a desire to pack up and leave as soon as possible.
Amazingly, there's no stigma or backlash when this sort of thing is said. In fact, it seems like skimming/poaching the best people out of terrible neighborhoods is expected and encouraged. I can't even say I blame them - it's easier, after all. Nevertheless, there's a clear problem that no one ever seems to address.
None, really. This is not a lot better than describing the water to a group of drowning men. However, understanding a problem is an important part of solving it - imagine trying to cure a disease without knowing the cause. That's what I do pretty much every day, and it definitely adds to the degree of difficulty. More seriously, I believe the need to identify inroads to combat the systemic problems I've listed are perhaps our greatest challenge. This may be even more important than finding resources - there's an army of people like my religious co-worker who have the means and inclination to do good. The challenge will be in directing their efforts, isolating and leveraging this force to greatest effect.
There's also the possibility that poverty, much like Michael Jordan in his heyday, is an impossible problem that can only be minimized. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to create a more egalitarian society, which virtually concedes the existence of a less-successful class of people while offering a path towards social mobility (sometimes - and this is not meant to be inflammatory - I wonder if that's part of the reason our military and/or government is so large).
Finally, there are certainly lots of issues on the "rich" side of the coin (income disparities and compassion fatigue immediately come to mind), but that's for another day. I'm not trying to shit on poor people - there's enough of that already - but there has to be some engagement. As a middle-class person, it's difficult to hear poor communities say 'help us' one minute, then profess a desire to escape the same blighted neighborhood the next (vis-a-vis point number four). As part of being honest about what's going on it's important to communicate that securing buy-in from recipients of assistance is perhaps the most critical part of any plan. As this sort of engagement occurs on a personal level, I'm most optimistic that future solution(s) lay there as well.
*Oh, that sounds so racist, yet so accurate from a quantum- and physical relativity standpoint.
**To be fair, I mostly spent my teenage years eating hot pockets and watching that awesome Batman cartoon.
By now I'm sure everyone's seen the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. As you've undoubtedly noticed, the magazine decided to go in a different direction this year. A bigger direction*.
As I man, I have mixed feelings about this. My initial inclination was: You do not do this to the swimsuit issue. For god's sake, I pulled up the cover by googling "sports illustrated swimsuit fat girl". It was the first hit.
My next thought was to try and not be a sexist pig. This was quickly quashed by common sense. It's one thing to not view women as mere sex objects. However, it's terribly difficult to make a meaningful connection with a person wearing body paint. Face it, world: the real-world purpose of the swimsuit issue is plain to see.
For those who don't quite follow what I'm getting at, let's cut all the BS and just put it out there in the open why the swimsuit issue even exists. It's obvious to anyone with eight brain cells that this whole thing started off as a masturbatory aid. In the dark ages, men had limited choices when indulging in self-abuse. Religion frowned upon overtly sexualized imagery (except apparently Jesus's ripped abs/loincloth combo). Analog porn was difficult-to-find and risky (I have a theory that the entire ballet industry survived for years on the male desire to see women in tights; if they wanted to dance, fine. If not... whatever). Times were tough.
Then, in 1964 Sports Illustrated came up with an idea that changed everything. They said let's devote an issue to women in bathing suits.
What's that have to do with baseball, football, etc?
Who cares? It was way better than the JC Penney catalog. SI publishing the issue also gave it an air of legitimacy. Women accepted (or at least tolerated it) while men not-so-secretly hoarded back issues as the ladies' bathing suits shrunk with each progressive decade.
A great peace ensued for many years.
Let's get back on point: If SI would have tried this fat-woman-on-the-cover stunt in 1991, 12-year-old me would have led an angry pitchfork mob of men to SI's headquarters and burned that bitch to the ground. However, things are much different 25 years later. In the intervening years, free, high-quality computer porn has more than filled the void that the swimsuit issue used to inhabit. Denying us a statuesque blonde to enjoy for another year doesn't seem like such big deal when a depthless array of perversity exists only a private browsing window away. This is why I'm inclined to say, "let it slide," when it comes to SI's latest move.
Still, jJust to make sure SI wasn't simply responding to a dramatic upswing in fat fetishists, I checked out Pornhub's search analytic results (via their insight blog, which is actually pretty interesting) to see what terms people searched for to titillate themselves. Top search terms by state seem to indicate that, while we are all sick degenerates, none of us are really pushing the BBW thing hard enough to warrant the cover of a dying sex symbol magazine.
The really disturbing question centers around why SI is essentially rolling over to the fat acceptance movement. My guess is apathy. Deep down, us dudes get that the whole swimsuit thing is slowly dying; if SI wants to get a little positive femininst press on the way out the door, so be it. We owe them that much.
However, the fact remains that changes nothing: To those who would say that fat women are just as sexy as "traditionally beautiful" women, trust that I mean you no disrespect when I state unequivocally that they are not. As a person who's been both fat and fit (and registered the responses of the opposite sex while in both states) I feel somewhat qualified to say that. So-called fat acceptance (at least insofar as "big is beautiful" is concerned) is a total fantasy. Stratification is an inevitable manifestation of diversity. This is not misogyny, it's reality and, while the medicine may be bitter, it's far more judicious to use your energy improving yourself then wallowing in fallacy and attempting to subvert reality to your own set of circumstances.
*Yes, I did call the covergirl fat. Ashley Graham is reportedly 5'9" and 201 lbs. Her BMI is 29.7, making her a cheeseburger from clinically obese. Is she a hot fatty? Yes. Is that like being the tallest midget at the circus? Yes.
It's looking like it's going to be Trump v Hillary in November. I can't recall being more 'blah' about a presidential election in my entire life. Since I can't really get behind any of the candidates, I thought I would bitch about a fundamental flaw in our electoral process is (apologies to anyone who thought this post was going to actually be interesting).
I remember listening to a Ralph Nader interview on the night of the 2000 presidential elections. Nader was, to put it mildly, getting creamed, with way less than 3% of the vote. The show's host was asking him a question along the lines of, "why are you doing even worse than we thought you would?" With a totally straight face, Nader blamed Democrats for siphoning votes off to the left and Republicans for siphoning votes to his right. He strongly implied he would have won otherwise. He was totally serious and, if we're being honest, he wasn't totally wrong.
I'm probably the only person who remembers this otherwise inconsequential interview, mainly because Nader's answer got me thinking. Specifically, it made me realize that we have a system designed to elect a leader that half of the country is basically guaranteed to hate.
Barring a few isolated periods in history (looking at you, Bull Moose Party), the United States has traditionally relied on a system of two diametrically opposed parties which achieves stability by virtue of the dual pulls from politically opposite directions. This has worked out pretty well in a general sense, but it's certainly not perfect, least of all for the core constituencies of each party. I imagine these diehard democrats and republicans exist in a state of perpetual unhappiness, living forever in a moderate world where their desires and reality are never fully reconciled.
Watching the interplay between dissatisfied conservatives/liberals and the icky quality of the remaining candidate field has led me to the following observations:
Trump and Sanders are the same kind of guy. Both of them are more radical alternatives to mainline stalwarts.
The relative success of "alternative" candidates can be attributed to dissatisfaction with the political party system. This is common to both reds and blues. Both groups believe that electing a leader who is even more "them" will somehow create meaningful change.
This is the exact opposite of a helpful response. Electing two fringe candidates for a presidential election guarantees we elect a candidate whose main attribute is not being as shitty as the other guy. Even in modern times (oh, the halcyon days of McCain/Obama) where moderate candidates were viable, we elected a person 45% of the country immediately dislikes. This cuts both ways - imagine how amazingly difficult the commander-in-chief's job will be for the winner of a Trump vs. Sanders general election.
There's one inescapable conclusion here: We are going about selecting general election candidates very, very badly, and its mostly the fault of our state-by-state primary system. Rather than whittling down our presidential selection from a large number of candidates, individual parties select a Godzilla vs. King Kong-style match-up of nominees selected by highly polarized core party members.
There's a strong argument for why we should adopt a different candidate selection system: Ideally, we want a candidate that a majority of people are at least OK with. If the political spectrum could be quantified, this hypothetical candidate would be at the 50th percentile, loved by moderates, liked/respected by partisans, and tolerated by all but a few. This is, realistically, the best we're ever gonna do.
Here's one way that might look: Do away with party primaries. Take the top ten candidates, then do rounds of elections (for the general population) that progressively whittle away fringe candidates. An election between the final two would ideally be the final differentiation between a SLIGHTLY more liberal or conservative candidate (as opposed to the current all-or-nothing system; see lazy powerpoint below).
This would stop so many bad things. Right now, there are millions of people who are not at all passionate about Hillary Clinton but will vote for her just so Trump doesn't win. And I'm sure there are equal numbers of republicans who will do basically the same thing. I ask you - does the current system make anyone happy?
There's one final benefit this type of full-spectrum system could bring: Instead of simply "rallying the base" to get the nomination, a non-binary system allows for increased sensitivity to the mood of the country. To use an example to illustrate how this is a good thing: when the SATs switched to computerized testing, they added an adaptive learning algorithm that changed the difficulty of questions based on whether you answered the previous question correctly. After ten questions, the program knew your general skill level. After twenty questions, it has a better idea. By the time you reach the final question, the machine is simply determining whether you are the 83rd or 84th percentile. Whether you answered the final question is hardly disastrous. To compare this to politics, our current system is a two-question test where both answers are probably wrong.
Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.