Ask Alex - January 5, 2018
Welcome back to "Ask Alex", where I answer all of your stupid questions with even dumber answers. Have a question you need answered? Tweet it, email it or submit it here and I will get to it (maybe) next week.
The good news is that Alex hasn’t had a drink since 11:59, 12/31/17! The bad news is that it hasn’t made me feel better, and we got buried in snow yesterday so now I am going to be stuck inside without a drink all weekend...oh well, at least I will have chicken wings. The even better news, for this lifelong Bulldog die-hard, is that Georgia won the Rose Bowl and is now headed to the National Championship next week…
Pretty wide range of topics today, including some serious questions from Gavin and Prop Op, and some Star Wars talk in response to Athryn Sarethi. My fellow Misfit Anne has some questions about New Year’s Resolutions and then we tackle a previous topic - constructing with breakfast foods - with Mike out Yonder. Finally, we finish up with an existential question about cats and tigers from Gomes before I remind you that David Bowie went through a Springsteen phase!
Submitted by: Prop Op
I always like when concepts have analogues across disciplines as they then feel a bit more fundamental. Is this a logical error though? [First non-jokey submission but I was wondering about this again today.]
I dunno. Yes? I’m not good with real questions.
There is something to this, though. Not to get too existential, but we all like to think that there are underlying truths that govern the universe and form a framework into which we can fit our own observations. The hope, of course, is that this framework helps us understand how different, unrelated things will unfold in the future.
This is why, for example, people read Sun Tzu regardless of whether or not they are fighting a much larger Chu army during the Spring and Autumn period of Ancient China (which, it should be noted, Sun Tzu’s side won, but ultimately lost the peace…). Politicians, businessmen, athletics coaches and lawyers still use the text as a road map to strategic planning, relying on its basic principles to build their strategies.
There are, however, limits to this. Defense wins championships in just about every sport, but it is a questionable political strategy and a pretty bad way to run a business. US-based steel and auto manufacturers spent most of the 1970’s and 1980’s playing defense of their high-margin businesses while ceding the low-margin markets to foreign makers, who used the expertise and infrastructure they gained in those areas to later threaten the higher margin spaces.
“Better to fight them over there than over here” is a fine sentiment regarding the destruction wrought by war, but bad strategy in other endeavors and the literal opposite of true in most sports. It also failed pretty spectacularly for Robert E. Lee… Likewise, “better to be safe than sorry” has been ignored by nearly every person who ever accomplished something truly great. Most everything is harder to do uphill, except for chipping and putting.
So, I get what you are saying, and I think it is a pretty natural feeling. We look for validation that an idea is a good one not just because it self-evidently is, but because we can find some corroborating testimony provided by another example with similar traits. And certainly, it makes sense to look for some kind of transferable truth that supports those ideas...I just think we need to be careful in looking for principles that are mostly true and assuming that they are universally true.
There are, however, two truly universal truths that can be used to explain nearly all of human history, which I am pretty sure have been mentioned before:
Come at me, bro.
Submitted by: Anne Alexander
What are your thoughts about New Year's resolutions?
I’m all for them. I mean, I am more in favor of real, executable plans to make major life changes than arbitrary “I hate myself this week” whims brought by the passing of another year...but little things are better than nothing, I guess.
That is the problem with most resolutions: the person making the resolution isn’t really serious about it. She (or he) is just thinking of something that she wishes was better about herself and saying it out loud as if that were a plan. “I’m going to lose 25 pounds” is not a resolution unless it is accompanied by a serious and well-structured plan to do just that.
The good part (the result) is easy to say because it is easy to want. Nobody needs to resolve to do stuff that they like doing anyway...you only need to resolve to do things you don’t want to! The actual resolution has to be about the hard parts, because those are the things blocking your results. If it were easy to have abs like Gwen Stefani or Ryan Gosling, then everyone would have them. Your resolution can’t be about that, it has to be “I am going to cut out refined sugars and get up at 5:30 every single morning to work out and do like 4,000 crunches.” That doesn’t sound fun, does it? But that is what you need to do. Like I said...if it were fun, you wouldn’t have to resolve to do it.
Likewise, “I am going to save more money” is not a resolution, it is an aspiration. A resolution would be “I am going to buy fewer unnecessary clothes, I am going to say ‘no’ to that trip to Jamaica in March and I am going to get up 15 minutes earlier every day to make my lunch rather than buy it.”
I tweeted last week that a friend - maybe my least responsible, most fun friend - texted me that she wanted to get her finances in order and asked if I could help. So we had lunch on Tuesday and I kinda yelled at her a bit (real Alex is sort of tough-love Alex). Her roommate moved out about a year ago and she has been living on her own and she doesn’t want another roommate. And she really didn’t like my suggestion that she was either moving to a smaller place, getting a roommate or else she wasn’t really serious about saving any money. I also told her that she needs to spend a lot less money eating and drinking out, which is I think is more along the lines of what she had in mind...but maybe not as dramatically as I might suggest:-)
Speaking of which, New Year’s is always a good time to revisit your own financial situation to make sure it still makes sense. Sometimes life changes slowly and we don’t notice that we have kind of gotten to a place that doesn’t make sense. But the change in the calendar is a good reminder to take stock. There is a strong chance that you don’t need to take any real action, but it still makes sense to check on that. Am I making enough money - do I need to look for a new job or another job? Is my rent/mortgage still reasonable? Do I have any giant life events I need to think about - kids, marriage, school, moving, etc.? Am I saving as much as I can in my 401k/IRA/whatever - and if you don’t have one, why not? Do the investments in those plans still make sense - like, if you are nearing retirement, are they too aggressive, and if you are pretty young are they aggressive enough? Do I have enough insurance? These are all things that are not really resolutions, but do make for the subject of a good annual review practice.
I have another friend who has resolved to drink more for each of the last three years. She’s got kids, about the same age as mine, and she thinks that she should be more sociable and more willing to get herself out of the house with friends. So, she has aspired to drink more...which, to be fair, is a pretty terrible resolution...
Submitted by: Mike Out Yonder
I'd like to revisit the How Many Pancakes Does It Take To Build A Doghouse question, but using waffles this time. And not Eggo frozen ones, either. I mean the high-dollar Waffle House waffles. And Happy New Year, ma'am! :-)
Waffles unquestionably make a better building material than pancakes. Some of that is in the minor differences in ingredients, but most of it is in the amount of crisped surface area. The result is a lighter, stronger and far superior material for constructing a dog house. They are going to have many of the same problems as pancakes, though - they don’t act predictably, they have almost no ability to deal with moisture and the dog is likely to eat his own house.
Also, point of order, do we have the ability to build a custom waffle iron? One of the issues we had with pancakes is that they are basically round, so the walls will be as thick as the diameter of the pancakes and you need to use a lot of smallish pancakes to build with. I used 3 inch round ones in my example last year. But waffles are shaped like the waffle iron, so we could conceivable build a waffle iron that makes waffles that are like 12 inches long and only two inches wide (TWSS!)
Assuming that we can’t though, I think we are probably looking at waffles that are about the same width as the pancakes: 3 in. This, for the math wizards, gives waffles 27% more surface area with less batter. More importantly, it is going to give the waffles a taller profile than the same pancakes. Because they are lighter and stronger, there is going to be less squishing (which I anticipated at about 50% of the original pancakes height). Therefore, the waffles both start thicker (¾ inch?) and compress less...all of which is my fancy way of saying that I think you will need only half as many waffles as pancakes.
I suppose I could redo the whole equation making new assumptions on waste and whatnot, but I am going to skip over that and just give it a ballpark. This has already taken too much time (because you can’t build a dog house out of pancakes OR waffles! It will collapse on itself!!!) Due the the stronger, thicker and lighter waffles, I think you only need half of the 4,800 pancakes it took to build the doghouse.
Better question...would this cost more than the construction of an actual Waffle House restaurant? I’m not totally sure it would...those seem like buildings that get churned out of a 3D printer in a couple of hours. Don’t @ me, Southerners, you know it’s true. Things can be delicious even if they are made in an oversized version of the sheds in Home Depot’s parking lot from ingredients that the USDA marks only as “fit for human consumption”.
Submitted by: Gavin
In these free speech cases like Masterpiece, is the application of the law the same if the roles were reversed? Or would it be a different application of 1A, etc? E.g. gay bakers refuse to make a wedding cake for a Christian because they object to Christianity.
Dude, this is two different serious questions in one week...what is wrong with you people?
It is an interesting question. In the court of public opinion, it most definitely matters. The perceived ability of a group to inflict oppression on another group is directly related to the sympathy that the oppressed group will get in resisting that oppression. There is always an allowance for marginalized groups to protect themselves, including certain forms of reverse discrimination (its why we call it "reverse" discrimination).
The legal part of it is a different question, although it clearly shouldn’t be a question at all. Are there judges who would rule that the “volume of victimization” of a certain class affects the amount of legal protection that class needs? Is there a “minorities can’t be racist” caucus in the judiciary? There almost certainly is, although it would be really hard to speculate on how big it might be. I mean...Roy Moore was a State Supreme Court Judge in Alabama and he had absolutely no commitment to legal principles beyond his feelings at that moment. My intuition says that these “bad judges” get fewer and fewer as you get higher into the judiciary (and, presumably, to better judges), but clearly some of them go a long way.
As an interesting, speculative intellectual exercise, it is enlightening to think about how the judges on the Supreme Court might rule on the competing cases. It is generally assumed that Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg and Breyer will come down on the side of the gay couple asking for a cake to be made against the baker’s wishes, while Thomas, Alito, Roberts and Gorsuch will side with the baker. Kennedy is the swing vote. But, were the roles reversed and a Christian denied service by a gay baker, which judges would we all assume felt differently?
I’d like to think that they wouldn’t change, since that is essentially calling someone a bad judge, and there is some of evidence in favor of that they can remain consistent. In 2014, for example, a case went to the court challenging “buffer zones” around abortion clinics barring protesters. The court ruled 9-0 that the zones were unconstitutional...a decision that pro-choice leaders like Kagan and Ginsburg surely didn’t want to render, but did anyway because it was constitutionally correct.
But I also wouldn’t go to great lengths to assume that Kennedy or Sotomayor, to name two, would pass this test all the time. Or, I suppose, Thomas, Alito or Breyer for that matter. I’d be more confident that Ginsburg, Kagan, Roberts and Gorsuch would hold to their principles regardless of the litigants in a case, but who really knows? Just because you are wicked smart doesn't mean you can't work yourself into logic pretzels...
Submitted by: Athryn Sarethi
Has there ever been a villain that was built up and wasted like Snoke was in the most recent Star Wars movie?
Spoiler alert: the new Star Wars is stupid and it is time that mega-fans stop wishing and praying that they are getting another Empire Strikes Back. I love Daisy Ridley. Adam Driver’s emo-Vader is awesome and while I liked John Boyega in the last one better, he is still really good, too. Benicio Del Toro was fantastic in a limited role. The technicals and visuals are great (Laura Dern’s bonzai mission was phenomenal) and it had its usual assortment of adorable creatures and funny spots. The movie is, as always, fun. The story in this one was at least less recycled than the last movie, which is good, but it ended up being super scattered, which didn’t help.
It’s just...I dunno...meh. Like, how do the bad guys in this galaxy continue to rise to power while being so incredibly incompetent? Every time they fight a battle they have the rebels in a situation from which they can’t possibly escape, and yet they somehow (usually by pausing too long for dramatic effect) manage to screw up the final killing. And how many fucking times are they going to fall into the same “That ship is too small for our giant weapons! And, btw, this Montana-sized space station with the killing power of an exploding Supergiant star is fatally vulnerable to one guy in a space rickshaw with a cosmic slingshot. Oops! How did the engineers not figure this out?!” trap.
There was also a very meek attempt to establish some intellectual underpinnings of the Rebellion (which, at this point is down to like 14 guys and a Wookie) as being really about the poor, enslaved and exploited all across the universe. That kinda came out of left field, though, and it has very little to do with the idea of Republican representative rule that was the source of the rebellion originally. I mean, I guess you can make some loose ties to general equality issues out of that, but it seems like a pretty broad stretch.
Also...while I am here...how did Leia not die when she was ejected into space without a spacesuit for like five minutes? THAT IS NOT HOW SPACE WORKS! I know that we already ignore an awful lot of laws of physics here (like, every single planet has the exact same gravity? C’mon, man...that’s like fourth grade science stuff) but this is just plain stupid. The moment a human being, or really any creature who lives on planets with atmospheres, ventures into actual space, they explode. They don’t slowly and dramatically get a sunburn, they instantaneously disintegrate into a puff of vacuum-induced vapor.
Let’s talk about the last scene, too. Giant First Order fleet with tons of ships, incredibly advanced tracking capabilities and an overwhelming force traps a band of ragtag rebels in an abandoned mountain stronghold. And the rebels get away by...sneaking out the back door? Nobody on any of those hundreds of ships with advanced sensors notices a bunch of people standing in a white field getting onto a giant ship that a whole bunch of them had just previously been chasing? Either the First Order has the attention span of a dog chasing a tennis ball - look, a squirrel! - or this script has some really serious logic holes. I supposed it could be both.
To your question about Snoke, though...what was even the point of him? He is basically just a thinly-developed story-writing shortcut version of Emperor Palpatine with a weird-shaped head and terrible posture. I don’t feel like he was really built-up at all...while there seems to be some backstory surrounding his rise to power outside of the films (there’s a magic obsidian stone involved), they skipped all of that in the movies. Or at least distilled it into “This Snoke...he very bad man!”
I appreciated his sense of humor in bouncing the lightsaber off of Rey’s head. Honestly, that would have been a great character trait to develop further...in addition to killing people, he uses his force powers to trip them while they are walking and bump into each other randomly. Like, he’s the most powerful evil force in the galaxy, but he is also kind of a ninth-grade boy at heart. Imagine that, after he excoriates Kylo Ren for his failures and his weakness and mocks him for wearing a stupid mask, that he also gives him a quick flat tire on the way out of the room. Now THAT would be fantastic. Or, while making General Hux give another ridiculous explanation for another inconceivable failure, he just kept knocking his hat off of his head and yelling at him to put his hat back on. Or “quit punching yourself”!
For a sort of casual fan of Star Wars, Snoke was just a dude in a gold suit who we are supposed to assume is super, super bad. OK, I guess, but then he got killed because it turns out that the apprentice he emotionally abused for all those years could really trick him the whole time and was keeping that from him just for this one super cool moment.
Did they really even need Snoke at all? What did he really bring to the table? Kylo Ren has been the bad guy of note for two whole movies, but there was very little to indicate that his badguy-ness was reliant upon or enhanced by the presence of Snoke. I’m assuming that there is some mimicking of the dynamic between Palpatine and Vader, but that was a much more developed and healthy relationship...Palpatine was the supreme bad guy in secret and the seemingly benevolent Chancellor in public, while Vader was the terrifying muscle who could serve both masters because they were the same guy. Vader eventually turned on him because he was a) dying and b) saving his children.
Why did Kylo Ren turn on Snoke? Cuz he has a crush on a girl? I mean, she’s super cute and all, but he’s a goddamn force-wielder...he can make people do whatever he wants! Why not just go find Alexandra Daddarrio and make her his girlfriend? I guess it’s not the craziest thing a guy has ever done for a hot chick, but it is pretty lazy script-writing...
Submitted by: Gomes
Would you rather fight a housecat-sized tiger or a tiger-sized housecat?
I reject the notion that a tiger can’t be a house cat! Just like Michael Jackson and the guy from Siegfried and Roy that didn’t get mauled by the tiger, I firmly believe that tigers make fantastic pets! (Great Chris Rock joke: “I keep seeing where the Siegfried tiger went crazy. The tiger didn’t go crazy, the tiger went tiger.”)
Also...isn’t a tiger-sized housecat just...a tiger? They're basically the same bloodthirsty super hunter, just in different sizes. Get one thing straight: housecats hate you, and the only reason they don’t murder every human they can find is because they are too small to do it. Every one of you knows that your cat would maul you to death if given the chance. They only even tolerate you now as long as you keep them high on Fancy Feast, and because you outweigh them by a factor of at least 20.
Blow that cat up to 500 pounds like a tiger? You’d be dead before breakfast.
Unless they are killing mice for you, there is absolutely no reason for house cats to exist. They are hairy, they ruin your furniture, leave dead animals around your house and randomly claw at your face when they get irritated with you. Do you know why basically every human being is allergic to cats? Because nature is telling you to avoid them!!! Why are you arguing with evolution?
You want to know how much your cat hates you? It hates you “demand to shit in your house and make you clean it up” much. AND YOU DON’T EVEN WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE IT!!! Every cat knows how to use a litter box. In other words, they know when they need to go to the bathroom, they are aware that they should be doing it in a specific place and they will do it in whatever specific place you designate. And yet they won’t use the toilet!!! Dogs are neither smart enough nor agile enough to get up on a toilet, so they learn to go outside. Man’s best friend. Cats can poop exactly where they are told and are perfectly capable of perching on a toilet seat. In other words, they shit in litter boxes just because they are assholes. They revel in making you clean up after them because it is a means of asserting their authority over you.
So no, I don't want to fight a tiger-sized house cat because it would rip my throat out as it has been hoping to do for the entirety of its species' existence!
Alex’s random old song of the week
There is a lot of Bruce Springsteen hate on Twitter...I am not totally sure why. Sure, he is kind of annoying, and late-stage babyboomer really, really love him, but he made a lot of good music. Even if many of his lyrics have aged into a schlock of cheesy romanticism, the music holds up really well.
He also had a pretty interesting career arc. After an early career playing with a bunch of bands in New Jersey, he signed with Columbia Records. He (and the E Street Band, sort of) recorded Greetings From Asbury Park in 1972 as his/their debut album and released it to positive critical reception (exactly 45 years ago today!). Commercially, it was an almost impossibly big failure, selling 25,000 copies in its first year.
Right back into the studio he went, to churn out The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle for release a mere 9 months later. Once again, critics praised the album’s authentic folksy rock sound. Only this time, consumers...well, actually, they still hated it. In fact, they hated it even more and it sold only 23,000 copies in its first year and a half of existence.
Both have since, of course, become multi-platinum selling albums after Springsteen’s third album, Born to Run, made him the biggest rock star in America, but at the time, almost nobody noticed.
And I say almost, because, well, at least one guy noticed…
David Bowie ran across Spingsteen in a small club at someone’s insistence (I am trying to remember this story to figure out who...I wanna say Jackson Browne? but can’t find it) sometime in about 1973. So taken was Bowie that he recorded two Springsteen songs, eventually intending to (but not) put one of them on his 1975 Young Americans album. The two songs include maybe Alex’s favorite Springsteen song (or at least her favorite lyric… “I had a jukebox graduate for a first mate, she couldn’t sail but she sure could sing!”) Growing Up, and this week’s song of the week: a rollicking, early disco, glammed-up version of It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City.
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