Rebecca Solnit on Trump and the corrosive experience of wealth and privilege

Trump is the apotheosis of a certain kind of warping wealth and privilege. This essay is mandatory reading, and I suspect will become one of the keystone bits of analysis written in this era.

She ends:

The man in the white house sits, naked and obscene, a pustule of ego, in the harsh light, a man whose grasp exceeded his understanding, because his understanding was dulled by indulgence. He must know somewhere below the surface he skates on that he has destroyed his image, and like Dorian Gray before him, will be devoured by his own corrosion in due time too. One way or another this will kill him, though he may drag down millions with him. One way or another, he knows he has stepped off a cliff, pronounced himself king of the air, and is in freefall. Another dungheap awaits his landing; the dung is all his; when he plunges into it he will be, at last, a self-made man.

What do you do with the extra cookie?

Author Michael Lewis (The Blind Side, Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, The Big Short) gave a pretty spectacular commencement speech at Berkeley in 2012. Kottke has more, but the key bit is this, about the tendency of very successful people to discount the amount of arbitrary luck typically involved in their positions:

A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

Share the cookie.

If you’re my age, there was nothing like a Countach

This video about the world’s first supercar is pretty fun. Lambo made the Countach from 1974 until 1990, which is kind of insane; at that point, they moved on to the Diablo, and then to the Murciélago, and then, in 2011, to the current Aventador.

For a comparison between an ’88 Countach (effectively, the pinnacle of the breed) and a new(ish) Aventador? We’ve got you covered.

And as long as you’re falling down this hole, Jay Leno has an ’86.

I’m not a basketball fan, but…

…it does seem worth noting two things about this year’s NBA Finals.

First, the Warriors are a game away from sweeping the entire playoffs; they haven’t lost a single game, and are up 3-0 over the Cavs. The 2000-01 Lakers dropped only a single game and finished at 15-1, but lost their streak at game 1 of the Finals. (Back then, the first round was best-of-5 and not best-of-7). The Warriors, if they win, will have a 16-0 streak.

Second, LeBron James is playing in his seventh consecutive finals. That’s not unprecedented, but it’s damned rare — the only folks with more played on the 1957-1966 Celtics, who dominated the league and appeared in the Finals all 10 of those years.

“King” among those folks was the legendary Bill Russell (and I say “legendary” because you’d have to be borderline divine to have been a famous basketball player in the 50s that I know about). He’s the only one who was on all 10 squads, and won 8 in a row from ’59 to ’66.

The 8-in-a-row, obviously, still stands; nobody’s managed to string more than 3 titles together since (Bulls twice, Lakers once).

The terrible intersection of American racism, poverty, and HIV

Via MeFi, we find this NYTimes Magazine story: America’s Hidden HIV Epidemic, which asks the question “why do America’s black gay and bisexual men have a higher HIV rate than any country in the world?”

While the problem is nationwide, the story focusses on Mississippi — which, as it happens, will no longer offer free HIV tests through the Health Department after June 1, owing to budget cuts forced by the Republican supermajority in charge of the state.

The Jackson paper notes something also found in the NYTimes story: in Jackson, 40% of gay or bisexual men are HIV positive. Forty. Percent.

When your son joins the Army

John Nova Lomax’s new piece in Texas Monthly is about his son’s decision to join the Army.

The lede:

My son was jobless, directionless, and apartmentless. So when he decided to join the Army, we were just glad he was out of the house. What we didn’t know was just how much the military would change him—and us.

But the real kicker is this:

A picture I took of him that day in his camo, standing in the sandbag-lined trench that led into the Yankee tunnels, and that by a trick of the light appears almost sepia-toned, fills me with a mixture of dread, pride, and regret. Privates are always privates, and war is always war.

I say regret, because I have not served, and now, with middle age upon me, never will. Right before my eyes, the little boy I had known was becoming a man I could never know.

It’s pretty damn fine. Go read the whole thing.