Wine tasting snobbery—Even if I were a drinker, I’d still be annoyed by the pompous comments made by the literati of the wine world. They make me want to scream: Just drink the damn thing. To me, the descriptions are tedious: It’s supple, yet verging on austere, in a way that dances on the palate, with a heady taste of something earthy—like mushrooms—and a cedarwood finish. You know what? If that’s what you like, barbeque some shiitakes on a two-by-four, but spare me the color commentary, okay? Someday I hope to see a Saturday Night Live skit about people at a wine tasting. After sipping and spitting, each person offers an obligatory observation that increases in haughtiness. And then it’s Elmore’s turn. He takes an enormous swig and swallows—apparently having been doing so for much of the morning—and pronounces: “Oh, yeah, I can taste an undercurrent of sweaty tee-shirt in this one. “
Today's cycling—I used to peddle everywhere on an old Schwinn that lasted me until I graduated from high school. Then, while living in Tokyo, my wife and I bought matching okusan cruisers—Japanese three-speed bikes built for packing kids and groceries. Most weekends we would split the boys up between us and go sightseeing, stopping wherever the fancy hit us. We found some great parks and eateries that way. But today cycling isn’t a leisure activity. It’s a sport you have to train for—one that has been completely co-opted by Madison Avenue. You can’t ride without the right clothes, which require bright colors and a logo written in a European language. When did that happen? The development has put me in a quandary: I refuse to succumb to pack mentality and buy the necessary crotch-padded leotards and $200 shoes, but I’m too self-conscious to ride in trousers. It’s a shame really.
Commuting in a Hummer—I know what some people think: If it’s legal and you can afford it, go ahead and do what you please. While I support people’s rights in this way, there’s a message we have to deliver to owners of Hummers (and other people who believe bigger is always better). That fact is when we use a scarce resource in a willy-nilly fashion, it does two things:
- It raises the price of the resource, because as any economist will tell you, prices are established by the marginal transaction
- In so doing, it puts the resource out of the reach of others, some of them poor, but deserving
There was a time when civilized people thought nothing of killing as many buffalo as they could. Someday, future enlightened generations will put us in the same category as the buffalo hunters, who laid waste to a resource for purposes of entertainment.
Famous for being famous—Why does Paris Hilton get so much attention? While people are being laid off in unprecedented numbers and losing their homes, let’s occasionally put a spotlight on Joe and Jenny Rest-of-Us and see real stories about perseverance in the face of awful luck. We don’t need more tales about silver spoons and wasted lives. And as long as I’m on this rant, let me ask you this: Did you see Kobe Bryant’s interview at the end of the NBA championship? Did you hear him talk about how much he’d sacrificed to win? He’s getting paid $20 million a year (not including his endorsements) and he’s talking about sacrifice? Hard work is what’s expected for any pay at all. $20 million should demand an extra mile, or two. I don't mind him earning more money than I'll ever see in a lifetime, but for heck's sake, he’s playing a game for a living. Let’s not call it sacrifice.
The pretense of knowing—As they flew into the Twin Towers on that terrible day we remember all too well, those who were at the controls apparently proclaimed, “God is Great!” Who were they trying to convince? Did God need to know He was great? To assume so is to believe God suffers from low self-esteem. Perhaps the terrorists were only trying to convince themselves of the point. From that perspective, I’m not sure we’re much different. People speak on and on about their love of God and His goodness, as if words rather than actions are important, and sometimes it strikes me as the spiritual equivalent of muscle-flexing on Venice Beach. It’s as easy to say, “God is great” as it is natural for a bully to boast, but to me, one's spirituality is a deeply private matter that is as intimate as the events of a wedding night—neither of which should be shared casually. What takes true courage and integrity is to admit: I don’t know if God is great, but I will emulate what I believe to be great in Him.
Our notion of perfection—Ask a person what his idea of perfection is and he’ll say something like this:
Perfection is having a body like a youthful Arnold Schwarzenegger, the creativity of Albert Einstein, the wit of Woody Allen, the magnanimity of Mother Teresa, the athletic prowess of Kobe Bryant, the knowledge of William Buckley, and so on.
Notice that no one ever says perfection is having Woody Allen’s physique and Kobe Bryant’s magnanimity. The truth is we gather into a ball what we admire most in others and call it perfection. If that’s the way we judge ourselves, we’re in a sad state. As Allan Bloom says in the Closing of the American Mind:
Man is a being who must take his orientation from his possible perfection. As it now stands, students have powerful images of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly. But…they no longer have any image of a perfect soul, and hence do not long to have one. They do not even imagine that there is such a thing.