Monday, January 23, 2012

79 Things Upon Which "We" All Can Agree

Last week, returning from a business trip, I needed a magazine to read. Esquire had a cover with the heading "An Issue for our Divided Times" and the related cover story "Agree: Bill Clinton and 78 Other Thing We Can All Agree On".

I picked it up: I'm looking for areas to broaden the "new consensus", and ya gotta like the preposition they ended their title with(see above!) Anyway, Bill Clinton was a good choice for their theme: even Newt Gingrich, his nemesis, seems to remember Clinton fondly, and, since he got a bit older, Clinton's testosterone seems to have given him a break, releasing him from his sex addiction (or was it the open-heart surgery and the vegetarian diet that did it?), and allowed him to turn his talents wholly to worthy pursuits.

So, yeah, I read the opening interview with Bubba and the editors' promise that they would present 78 other "things that, regardless of party, region, or class, we can agree are great, lousy, true, false, beautiful, stupid, delicious, or crazy."

Alas. There wasn't much more upon which to build a political consensus. Turns out "we" are the Esquire readership--or their perception of it--which is a moderate, metrosexual, manly sliver of our society. Not that I have anything against that particular fragment; they're better than many. It's just not a sort of a "we" that one would recognize as being representative of American society.

Very little of it was political, none of it a statement as clear as their choice of Clinton. Most of it, as you'll see, was tendentious opinion about stuff that doesn't matter much or about their taste in the arts, drinking, and fashion. You'll also see that they started pretty well (put their good ones up front), then lost the thread, and then they wandered into a bunch of random short pieces they had lying around.

I'll try to categorize the other 78 (either quoted or paraphrased) in a few groups and give a little backing thought to my classification. Starting positively,

We Do/Should All Agree:
#1 Bill Clinton. see above
#5 "The electoral college should be abolished." Score one for Esquire!
#7 "Boss (on Starz) is as good as anything...on HBO." (see my recent post on that show, and note my comments on the Oscar nominations made this week)
#21 "the worst...Followed closely by the NCAA." (see #20 below, or my posts on the subject)
#22 "SNL is pretty good these days." Could've been written 25 or so of the past 35 years, but I will admit that my children have caught the bug in the last year or so.
#24 Navy Seals. OK, I get the point of this one (OBL); you need say no more.
#26 "Tina Fey is a national treasure."
#40 The National Parks.
#42 "Turkey: Also the Man." Corny line, but the sentiment is right (see #41 below, and Rick Perry should read the argument--it's short, Rick.)
#56 Bruce Springsteen. Yes; anyway, this is someone on whom everybody used to agree, 25-30 years ago.
#66 "There's no way to master all in the world." They've got an article about someone who's trying to do that, and they're justifiably skeptical.
#69 "...Dr. Ralph Steinman deserved his Nobel Prize." He's the guy who died after they decided to award him, before he found out about it. No reason to penalize him just because his luck was all-time bad.
#73 "Larry Summers is an a--hole." Even Larry would agree, objectively speaking.
#75 Martin Scorsese. Probably someone doesn't like his movies; that person would probably hate all movies.

We Agree to Some Extent, That Is, I Agree:
#4 "The Sarah Palin episode in American politics is a bafflement." Yes, but I disagree that it's over.
#9 "Sooner or later, the Monday after Super Bowl must become a national holiday." The Stupid Bowl should be played every year on Feb. 13--they don't need it to be a holiday because it starts in the evening!--and Feb. 14 the men should make up for it with a holiday for their women.
#12 "Kids, Career, Marriage: In That Order." That's fine for those with kids, I guess, but that's not everybody.
#13 "Kevin Durant is the best combination of talent and personality in sports today." He's good, all right, but what about Derrick Rose?
#19 " can always find one area of agreement between polar opposites." Cute graphic with Venn diagrams--the best one is the intersection of Tim Tebow and Lady Gaga, being "Shoulder pads have their uses."
#23 "The United States needs an active manned space program. With its own spaceships." Well, not exclusively so, but we should have our own.
#37 "Men are Men." Dissing the trend of faddish articles about the disappearance of men; I do agree about the recent lead article "The End of Men", in The Atlantic, by a woman who led men on about commitment for most of her life and then decided it was better that she should never marry.
#41 "Mark Wahlberg is the man." I've grown to respect him since Boogie Nights.
#44 "Howard Schultz is the most interesting billionaire in America." He's OK, but there are others.
#54 "Screening for Cancer, like screening for a lot of other diseases, ain't all it's cracked up to be." The point being, what's the point of detecting if you can't do anything about it? It does absorb a lot of money, certainly.
#57 "In retrospect, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the biggest mistakes our country has made in our lifetimes." Some of us are old enough and would argue that Vietnam was a bigger mistake (at least 5X the US deaths); and, to nitpick, the first war with Iraq was no mistake.
#58 "Most people really shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a handgun."
#63 "Marijuana should be as legal as cigarettes or alcohol."
#68 Roast Chicken. Well, I like it, anyway.
#70 "There is nothing we all agree on." They give some good examples of things most, but not all, people agree about, but then why did they make this whole piece trying to argue the contrary? Because it would/might sell more magazines, surely.
#71 "We can all agree to hate a few things." They give 15 examples, and true to form, it's about 20% each for Yes/Maybe/No Way/Who Cares?/What are you talking about? This post is already too long, or I'd give examples, and Esquire hasn't put the list on its website yet.
#79 "Things are not so bad." I agree, though I don't think that many others do--but does that make the pessimists right? I'll give Esquire some credit here for arguing a minority point of view, though it's hardly the case that "we" all agree.

Totally disagree:
#3 Chris Christie owes his popularity to being fat. Quite the contrary.
#6 "Bono should sing more, talk less, and never write at all." Sure, sing, but I actually like his writing in the Times. They're jealous they didn't score him.
#10 "The Obama presidency has been a disappointment for everyone involved." I read that as meaning "for everyone" (and of course I disagree); if they mean everyone in the Administration I think they have to back that up a bit.
#11 "Even if he's accomplished more...than any of his five predecessors." That's what I was talking about!
#14 "Whoever rebranded rich people as 'job creators' should win some kind of award..." No, that person should be fired, then shot, then eaten.
#20 "Banks are the worst." My self-serving opinion: not all banks! More objectively: Insurance companies are the worst, and particularly health insurance.
#25 "Baltimore is America's next great underdog city..." I've heard some people speak well of it, but I'm not convinced of its greatness nor its uniqueness. Cleveland?
#27 "Economics isn't dismal; it's foolish." No, you are! It's not foolish to try to understand economic behavior, it's just sad that there is so little agreement about this "science"--for example, it should not be allowed for someone who calls himself an economist to say that reducing tax rates will not reduce tax revenue.
#45 "Nobody ...replaced..what the young Eddie Murphy brought to movies." Certainly it wasn't done by the older Eddie Murphy, but I do think there are claimants.
#46 "The same can probably be said for Julia Roberts." I was never a big fan, though she did a good Erin Brockovich impersonation.
#48/#49 "Everybody roots for Jennifer Anniston...and wonders why nothing...ever works out for her." I like her OK--no strong feelings--but not everyone does.
#50 "Same for Billy Joel." OK, the same for me, too, but from a different starting point: not everyone feels the same.
#51 Woody Harrelson: Who Doesn't Love Him? OK, the same again. Some really don't like him. Actually, Esquire just wanted to use the interview they had with him. It was kind of interesting, not as surprising as they think: he's trying to live clean but finds it hard to do.
#55 "Past Results are no indication of future performance." examples being Robert Downey, Jr., Indianapolis Colts, Lindsay Lohan, and Mitt Romney's former position in favor of abortion. As an empiricist, I must object and argue that the seeds of the reversal of fortune of each were always present.
#59 "There are so many instances when medium rare is not the call." If they're talking about beefsteak, I disagree: it's always the call.
#60 "They Greeks can f--k off for all we care." Some--Greeks, people who care about their indirect effects on the US economy--would disagree, and I'm one (no, not Greek).
#61 "After all this...scripted dramatic television is the most satisfying of all the entertainment media." I'll take movies, music, and TV sports over that one.
#76/#77/#78 "Tim Tebow has us all riled up about football (and God) is really going to be big in this country...even though we all agree that's not true." Three statements that couldn't all be true, though they could be, and are, all false.

Couldn't Care Less:
#15 "The 100th birthdays of Julia Child, David Packard, and Fenway Park are worthy of celebration." Most would choose 1 of the 3.
#16 "Not to mention those of Arizona and New Mexico." 1 of 2, and I'm partial to that one.
#28/#29/#30 (see #27) Ezra Klein worship. He's OK, but the whole thread was lame.
#32/#33 Russell Banks. Lyle Lovett. No explanation--tell me why. Like or no like?
#34/#35/#36 "It's still better to read the paper on paper...Especially The New York Times, the only essential newspaper left. Except for the Harrisburg Patriot-News." Basically, just filler: on #34, I'm changing my mind; on #35 I can't really say it's the only one, and I've been reading it almost exclusively online for years, and regarding #36, I know nothing about Harrisburg's paper; do you think anyone else does?
#38 "You can ask a man anything except how much money he made last year." Go ahead and ask, if you want. What about asking a woman?
#52/#53 "No cocktail should take more than 45 seconds to make"; picture, recipe of some (unnamed) cocktail with egg whites, sugar, half and half, Heyman's Old Tom gin, etc.
#62 "Berenice Bejo should be in more movies". They have a nice picture of her in a negligee and a short interview. (she's the wife of the director of The Artist and stars in it)
#64 "Everybody loves a good dip." They have a recipe they like for pimento (sp) cheese dip.
#67 They've got an article about a new Jeopardy! hero who taught himself all the subjects he didn't know.

#2 "J.B. Smoove and Larry David are the best black-white duo since Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder...."
#8 Siri. No further comment necessary? Do we love it, hate it, or ignore it? I couldn't tell. Maybe I should ask Siri what they are talking about...
#17 "Speaking of Arizona Muse." (see #15/16 above)
#18 The Egg McMuffin. See #8 Siri above. They show a picture with lots of them; is that supposed to make me hungry or puke?
#31 "The moment you hit the water." Sometimes good, sometimes (like when it's freezing, when you bellyflop, when you fall from 300 ft. up) not so much.
#39 "The Tiny-Suit thing is getting a little silly." I have no idea what they are talking about.
#43 "Ashley Greene can go any way she wants to, it's all up to her." picture of a fetching woman in a body suit (last month's cover model?)
#47 Watermelon. Some like it, some loathe it, even without the seeds.
#65 "Counter-terrorism is getting complicated." It always has been. They have a researched article on four old white geezer would-be militiamen who got stung by a provocateur and a guy from Homeland Security on the make. It's just complicated because they're white and not Muslim.
#72 Tim Gunn. They have his picture; I don't recognize him at all.
#74 "Sinclair Lewis was right: It carries the cross and comes wrapped in the flag." I looked this up: the reference is to "When fascism comes to America...", but this is a truism: it was the case when fascism came anywhere, that's always how it came. So we can agree, but it doesn't mean much.

The Final Tally:
We all Should/Do Agree--14
We Agree To Some Extent, That Is, I Agree--17
Totally Disagree--21
Couldn't Care Less--16


Mark A. Cohen said...

Wrote about the same thing this week, so I decided to follow your blog. Opinions are opinions, therefore I can't argue with your post - I liked it, though... You might find mine interesting - I blog at: and I have a Facebook page as well, "From the Left to the Right" Thanks, Mark

Chin Shih Tang said...

Thanks, Mark. I'm not Eric Stoner, though!