Thursday, August 2, 2012

Front Page 8/2/12: An Interesting Newsday

USA Today’s three front page articles today seem specifically designed to engender conversation.

“If Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness”

This one is about the age-old argument about whether money drastically affects your happiness. First question: Why is it always money that gets talked about in these discussions? Why not something else? Surely there are other things that make one happy. Well, we know why it’s always money: because it’s money (to repurpose a Mamet line). By why not articles like “Does sleeping with a lot of hot people increase happiness?” or “How eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every day influences one’s happiness levels” or “The daily percentage of one’s time spent at the beach found to drastically increase overall happiness.”
There are a lot of numbers in this piece: The U.S. ranks 11th in the World Happiness Report conducted by the Earth Institute at Columbia University; Happiness changes little once a person reaches $75,000/year according to a Princeton study; Life expectancy in Bhutan is 67. Stats galore.
The problem I see with anything quantifiable is that it eventually goes away. If money is in fact a major contributor to overall happiness, what about it exactly is causing the happiness? Is it the spending of it? The problem with that is that the more you spend, the less you have, and eventually you’ll have nothing left if you spend it profligately (though one assumes happily). Is it having it? The problem then is that laws—both federal and of the universe—dictate the eventual spending/losing of the money—through taxes or, like, entropy (or something)—which would cause unhappiness in this scenario.
Maybe as long as we consider happiness quantifiable or measurable, we will always be unhappy. But I don’t know that for sure. It must be tested in a controlled experiment. So in the name of scientific discovery, I propose we have someone spend all their time at the beach and supply them with the following: a giant stack of money, a never-ending supply of Ben and Jerry’s, and tons of hot models. I nominate myself.
More bad news for the postal service. We get another update about their dire circumstances about as often as we get mail delivered. Should they be allowed to fail? Some would say, Oh Hell Yes.
A mean person would say that they are the biggest derelicts ever seen. That they are fat lazy idiots. That they take 2-hour lunch breaks sitting in their delivery vehicles by the side of the road. That there have been confirmed non-holiday weekdays when they didn’t deliver the mail. That they routinely lose packages and put mail in the wrong boxes. That they take longer to deliver the mail when it’s a nice day. That they are arrogant and unhelpful and close ranks faster and tighter than anyone when someone tries to point out their fecklessness. That there have been witnessed shady mailbag transfers in parking lots, where a mailman puts an overflowing bag of mail into the trunk of another mailman’s civilian vehicle. That they should just go away and let someone else come in and do their job better than they ever could.
A mean person would say all of that. But I’m not a mean person, so I wouldn’t say anything like that.
“London Olympics Badminton Scandal Raises Ethical Issues”

A bunch of Olympians were disqualified from The Games. They were badminton players who intentionally lost their qualifying games to have more favorable matchups later on.

The thing is, what they did is technically not against the rules. Or is it? “The rules say you have to win every match,” says Thomas Lund, the secretary general for the Badminton World Federation. Really? This is the first sport I’ve heard of that has a rule that the players “have to win.” If the NBA had that rule, the Raptors and Wizards would be in a lot of trouble.

A lot of this is based on one’s sense of right and wrong more than a blatant rule violation. “For me, it’s really a matter of principle whether things are done in the correct way,” says Niels Nygaard, president of the national Olympic committee in Denmark. Olympic athletes are expected to demonstrate sportsmanship and fairness and probity at all times.

This frankly should seem pretty alien to American audiences. We’re a stickler for the rules, so as long as something isn’t against the rules, it’s ok with us. In the US, teams like the ’10 Celtics, who basically threw the last half the season to get players healthy for the playoffs, are lauded for their shrewdness. Belichick squirmed his way out of videogate with little more than a slap on the wrist for saying he “misinterpreted the rules.” (See, he was trying to follow the rules!) What would Mr. Nygaard make of Dwayne Wade, possibly the most unsportsmanlike player ever, acting like he gets fouled every time he drives and throwing opposing players’shoes off the court when they slip off? (There should be an NBA rule against Wade.)

I mostly agree with the Olympic committee’s actions, in principle. But there is a certain amount of shame about condemning those players’ actions because we know how they would be described in the US: savvy, shrewd, clever.

However, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t change the rules for next year.


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