I was thinking I might write something clever on the aforementioned topic for today’s post. But the reality is just too ridiculous.

Everybody I ran into today pretty much started laughing uncontrollably whenever the topic came up. It seems that they all had that initial moment when they just thought “Wait, is this some kind of out-of-season April fools joke?”

By now we are used to seeing crazy stuff whenever we look at the news. But at what point is something simply too inane to even be real?

Every day the threshold of “too ridiculous to be true” continues to creep a little higher. But some days that threshold jumps clear out of the atmosphere and floats right to the moon.

This is one of those days. I mean, seriously folks.

Sorry, have to stop now. I just can’t stop giggling.


Today a colleague of mine, who is from Russia, explained an aspect of the international Space Race of which I was not aware. It seems that the docking of the U.S. and Russian space stations had led to an interesting difference of opinion.

Each country, she explained, wanted its space station to take on the male role: Both the Americans and the Russians felt strongly that their space station should be the one to penetrate the other.

I told her that I found this to be ironic. After all, in the larger geopolitical struggle the situation was quite the reverse.

“How so?” she asked.

“If you think about it,” I said, “the real desire of each country was to envelop the other.”

Inviting in the vampire

There is a well-known tale about vampires. They cannot enter your home unless you invite them in.

I love the idea of this as a metaphor. It applies to so many things in real life.

In a work environment, you don’t end up with dysfunctional people who will destroy your professional team from within unless you agree to hire them. If you are the person responsible for that team, and you let in one of those people, then the bad things that happen to productivity and morale are your fault.

Similarly, the citizens in a democracy are free to elect a weirdly incompetent self-absorbed fascist who promotes racism. But if those citizens do invite in the vampire, they shouldn’t expect it to end well.

Just saying.

Binary thinking considered harmful

People are able to discuss some topics rationally. But shift the conversation to other topics, and pretty much everybody seems incapable of holding a meaningful discussion.

Let’s take two examples: “intelligence” and “racism”. When we discuss the general topic of intelligence, we don’t reduce the conversation to “this person is smart and that person is stupid.”

We all know full well that intelligence is on a continuum, and most people are at least somewhat aware that it is multi-dimensional. You can be a straight A student and yet be lacking in emotional intelligence.

You can be a genius at musical composition, yet terrible at analytic reasoning, or vice versa. A great writer may be a terrible conversationalist.

Nobody thinks any of this is strange or contradictory. After all, we spend much of our day parsing the varying categories of intelligence of the many people we meet, work alongside or happen to be related to.

Yet when you say the word “racism”, people seem to lose all ability to make such fine distinctions. People simply classify other people into the bin “racist” or “non-racist”.

In reality, there is no bright red line separating “racist” from “non-racist”. There are, in fact, many different kinds of racism, and everybody’s racism is on a multi-dimensional spectrum.

But that’s not how we talk about it. In fact, we don’t even seem to have the language for talking about those many subtle distinctions.

In the case of racism, I find this to be quite discouraging. After all, how can we work on the corrosive and pernicious problem of racism if we don’t even have meaningful language by which to discuss it?

Something really new

Every once in a while somebody invents a new art form, and does a really good job of it. It doesn’t happen too often, so when someone manages to do it, you sit up and take notice.

I am about half way through George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, and I am realizing that I am in the presence of such an accomplishment. I suppose that technically it is a novel, since it tells a single fictional story of book length.

But calling Lincoln in the Bardo a novel is like calling Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective a TV miniseries. On some technical level you might be sort of right, but you would also be completely missing the point.

I wonder how many clear-cut cases there are of a truly new form being introduced into popular culture, with the result being a spectacularly successful work of genius.

I can’t think of very many.

The difficulty of doing nothing

When things go terribly wrong, we feel we need to do something. Not just something, anything.

Yet sometimes what the situation really calls for is to do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nada.

And that can be hard, because all our lives we are taught that when something happens, we need to do something in response.

Consequently, to respond by doing nothing is infinitely more difficult. Even when it is the only correct thing to do.

Postponing the trade war

There is something wonderfully funny about the fact that the ongoing U.S. trade war against the People’s Republic of China is being hastily postponed. This week our federal government decided that for most consumer goods the trade war would not officially begin until after December 15.

Yes, it is true that China is a potentially fearsome opponent. After all, its population is nearly 1.4 billion.

China also has a Gross National Product of more than $1.2 trillion. It has been a formidable nuclear superpower for well over half a century, at any moment able to unleash weapons of mass destruction easily capable of wiping the entire human race off the face of this planet.

Yet none of this matters. The White House knows all too well that there is a far greater and more formidable power at work here.

It is a demonic force of unstoppable vengeance, one whose dreadful wrath, once unleashed, would be even more awesome and profoundly terrifying than the combined military might of all the nuclear capable nation states on Earth.

I am speaking, of course, of Christmas shoppers.

The movie that ruins the book

We’ve all had the experience. They are going to make one of your favorite childhood books into a movie. You are excited — finally your treasured tome will become a part of the larger popular conversation.

Then you go to see it, and your heart sinks. They’ve turned a brilliant jewel into another example of stupid Hollywood treacle.

The worst part about it is the realization that future generations of children will never read this book. Because the terrible movie will replace the great book in the awareness of the populace. Sigh.

For me this happened when they made a movie from the first book of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. If you actually read that book — The Golden Compass — then you know what a masterpiece it is, and you have probably gone on to happily devour the second and third books.

But if all you saw was the movie, then there may be nothing I can say that will get the bad taste of that film out of your mouth. A terrible aesthetic crime was committed against you, and you may not even realize it.

A friend of mine told me today that this happened to her with Inkheart. I never read Cornelia Funk’s novel, but I did see the movie, and I thought it was a train wreck.

My friend told me that when she saw the film — after having read and fallen in love with the book — she had pretty much the same reaction that I did when I saw The Golden Compass: A deep sadness that another brilliant novel had been buried under the weight of a terrible Hollywood adaptation.

Have you ever had a favorite book that was similarly destroyed along the way to the big screen?