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Category: Culture

Future Imperfect
Predicting the future can be a tricky matter. Everyone wants to know what’s going to happen there, but it’s really hard to find out before we arrive — which is why predictions are in such high demand. This also explains why there’s not much of a market for predicting the past.

It should also be said that any projection involving human activity is particularly chancy. The current political season is adequate proof of that. Even Nate Silver, chief stat man at the FiveThirtyEight probabilities website, pronounced himself “humbled” by the rise of Donald J. Trump. Whether you’re predicting politics, sports, or the longevity of Hiddleswift, the human element adds too many variables to permit a reliable call.

Purely scientific forecasts are another matter, at least theoretically. Predictability is what the scientific method is all about. Only data is important; every effort is made to eliminate the taint of human stupidity and prejudice. It is impossible, of course, to screen out the dreaded observer effect, to say nothing of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which I will say nothing of. Generally, though, science has proven to be pretty solid oracle.

Weather is an area where, in theory, we should be pretty good at predicting. Science and the observance of real phenomena are at the very heart of meteorology. The quality of the science involved and the density of factual input has gone way up in recent years. So why do their forecasts suck?

Okay, “suck” might be a little strong. I’ll give them this: they’ve gotten “the sun will rise tomorrow” right for as long as I can remember. I don’t wish to appear ungrateful for that perfect record of prognostication, but it’s only fair that we talk about the less-than-perfect, too.

Take last week. On Monday, the forecast for my small mountain community included a high temperature of 75. It eventually topped out at 94. Fine. I understand that conditions can change, and that the slightest alteration in the mix of phenomena can throw off even the most careful projections. That said, what about Tuesday? 76 was predicted; my final high reading was 94. I was beginning to suspect a trend, but when the weather page told me Wednesday’s high would be 77, I still chose to believe the experts. We ended up hitting 100.

I know: “Ohhh, poor baaaaby.” And believe me, I know exactly where you’re coming from because I was born there. I admit that I was not really harmed by this misleading information. If the mistake had gone the other way, and the temperature had turned out to be balmy rather than broiling, I probably wouldn’t have complained.

But hear me out. These predictions appeared in a newspaper…as news. This is what is going to happen, they seemed to say. You can count on it because our job at the newspaper is to print reliable information so people can make good judgments about their day-to-day lives. These figures aren’t the product of some BS artist like Nate Silver, they are the end result of a careful scientific inquiry. You can take them to the bank, they imply, and deposit them in a nice, safe money market fund.

But no. They were wrong — by a lot! Three days in a row! No correction was ever printed. No attempt to explain the enormous disparity was ever made. No refund was posted to my account. And not a word of apology was uttered.

This whole experience has been an epiphany for me. I’m not sure how it will affect my relationship with meteorologists, my local daily, or newspapers in general. This much I do know: if they tell me the sun will rise tomorrow, I will believe it when I see it.
Mine Hair
“You’ll have a tough time, Charlie, keepin’ all those gals away.” That’s what the old Wildroot Cream Oil jingle claimed, anyway. I did use Wildroot as a lad, and I suppose that promise might have struck some deep chord in my young psyche, but I don’t think that’s why I used it to groom my hair.

Nor did I choose Wildroot because its spokesman was the slicked-down Fearless Fosdick, “hero of every red-blooded American boy.” I was certainly a big fan of Fosdick’s work as a parody of Dick Tracy, but I didn’t need a cartoon character to tell me how to get my look on. No, I used Wildroot Cream Oil because that was my father’s favored brand.

Later, I moved to butchwax (for the fence at the top of my forehead), then to Yardley English Lavender Brilliantine when my butch cut evolved into a flattop-and-fenders. When I switched to the standard side-part look (first on the right side, later on the left), I turned to Vitalis Hair Tonic for Men, and eventually (to my everlasting shame) Brylcreem. They all worked after a fashion, and they all smelled funny.

Finally, I abandoned grooming products entirely, and that choice stood for nearly forty years. Then I hit the Bernie Sanders wall, and my hair stopped taking orders. The world of hair care, meanwhile, had passed me by. All I could find out there was a product called Groom & Clean. It didn’t say what it was, exactly, only that it offered ”greaseless hair control,” and that was exactly the kind of old-school hair maintenance I was looking for. Tonic, pomade, cream — it’s all the same to me as long my hair stays put and I don’t look like Ed Grimley.

Those Groom & Clean tubes last a long time, though, and when I finally finished the last one, I couldn’t find another. So today I stood in the Hair Care aisle at CVS, searching for a familiar, uh, substance. “Surf paste” did not really speak to me, nor did the prospect of becoming “glued” with a “blasting freeze spray.” “Thickening styling cream” seemed likely to take my aging coif a bridge too far, as did “air-whipped densifying foam,” “volume inject mousse,” and “spiking glue.” This must be the stuff that keeps all those modern bad haircuts in place.

I will say that NordicBliss, an organic frizz control “serum” composed of argan, coconut, jojoba, almond, avocado, and orange oils, was a very seductive option, but I ended up going with CVS/Pharmacy brand Styling Gel. It had the plainest container and promised non-sticky “sport action hold.” It’s the closest thing to old-school they had, and it seems to work fine, despite the funny smell.

I have since discovered that Wildroot Cream Oil is still available online. I could still buy a bottle of Vitalis there, too, and experience anew the wonders of the Vitalis “60-second workout.” Even Brylcreem is still alive on the internet should I ever get a hankerin’ for that foul colloid.

But no. You can’t go home again, even to retrieve your father’s hair cream. Keeping gals away was never much of an issue anyway, and now it’s completely off the table. So I will simply say that Fearless Fosdick’s ‘do will always gleam undiminished in my memory, but never again on my head.
In keeping with a fine Eaganblog tradition, the time has come to present my annual predictions for the new year.

My first prediction is that all of my predictions will turn out to be correct. Why wouldn’t they? They’ve all been right so far. Nitpickers might point out that this is the first installment in this fine Eaganblog tradition, but that does not make it any less flawless.

Global warming will continue. On the plus side, it will be a dry heat.

Hillary will prove that she is still tone deaf by signing her own speech at the American Council of the Blind.

Donald Trump will eat a toddler on live TV and the next day be named The Sexiest Man Alive.

Bernie Sanders will be elected President (though Trump will win the popular vote by over ten million votes).

The Supreme Court will decide that, like corporations, guns are people too. As such, they have rights, including freedom of speech. In fact, they are entitled to the last word on almost any subject (especially the right to bear arms).

In art news, the Taj Mahal will be exposed as a forgery.

Self-driving cars will appear in showrooms. They will feature plenty of bells and whistles, but only the luxury models will offer a road rage package, complete with self-firing bazooka.

“Affluenza” will reach epidemic proportions, ending poverty worldwide.

Drones will begin delivering packages right to your door along with firefighting equipment and emergency medical assistance.

Robot umpires will be introduced in the minors, along with robot cops in minority neighborhoods. Bad calls will go way down.

Quentin Tarantino’s next movie will be released in full Bloodvision. Depending on your ticket, you will be spattered, splashed, or drenched in gore.

Jesus will come to earth and appear in front of the U.N. General Assembly. He will reveal that he is really more of a secular humanist himself, but that the Rapture will go on as scheduled. Accordingly, only sincere Democratic Socialists will be transported to heaven.

The sun will go out for a few minutes in late May, but it will come right back on so don’t sweat it.

And finally, Jennifer Lawrence will ask me out on a date, but I will be forced to decline.

See you next year (at least that’s what I’m predicting).
I saw a production of Macbeth a while back. I’d read the play, but this was the first time I’ve ever seen it presented on stage. Maybe it was actually seeing it live that made the difference, but the experience gave me a whole new take on this great tragedy.

The common wisdom holds that Macbeth’s tragic flaw, the profound defect of character that eventually spelled his doom, was his overweening ambition. He had big dreams, and he wanted them too badly. I now reject this assessment.

I am not a particularly ambitious person, but I have been advised that having at least some ambition is a good thing. Fine. I can see where it might be useful in getting ahead. Furthermore, I am willing to agree that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. The same goes for too much curiosity, too much self-doubt, too much self-confidence, or too much pride. All of those traits can be helpful in small amounts, but they’ll burn you if you overdo it.

But none of those, including ambition, is the root cause of Macbeth’s fall. He was ambitious, but that’s not what took him down. His flaw was even more fundamental than that. Indeed, he was cursed with a fatal weakness that is not helpful in any quantity. Macbeth’s flaw, poor fellow, was stupidity. Okay…overweening stupidity, if you insist.

It all comes clear in that scene with the three witches. They lay that prophecy on him — in witch poetry — and he bites so hard on it that he almost breaks a tooth. Then he swallows it whole and spends the whole play trying to convince himself that it must be true.

For the record, here’s what they said:

Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him.

And later:

Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.

Let me say again that these are witches we’re dealing with — foul and reeking of evil. In fact, they revel in their evil. They're not the Salem witches, falsely accused and burned alive. These are genuine, unabashed, certified witches who traffic in trickery, deceit, and foul play. Why would someone believe anything they have to say? I’ll tell you why: because he is really, really stupid. So stupid, in fact, that he doesn’t know how stupid he is.

I mean, of course witches are going to yank you around. That’s what they do. Did it even enter Macbeth’s mind that their “prophecies” were nothing more than snares to capture the weak of mind? Did he stop to think, at the very least, that he should not take their strange verses literally? That he was not, in fact, invincible, always and forever? Did he for one moment consider the possibility that three scary old hags, smelling of eye of newt and goat gall, might not the best people to take career advice from?

No. And there you have his tragic flaw: being so sack-of-hammers stupid that he blows his status as a war hero, kills all his friends, and ends up dead and despised for all eternity by everyone in Scotland. It may seem odd that Shakespeare would elevate boneheadedness to the level of a hubristic defiance of the gods, but what other conclusion can we draw? The stupid had eaten into his judgment like an infestation of termites. If he were a house, he would have been tented and gassed.

I suppose that ambition, despite its upside, might rise to the level of a tragic flaw and finally pull a hero into tragedy (keep an eye on this year’s presidential campaign.) And there’s no doubt that Macbeth was ambitious. But good for him, I say. Go ahead, try to make something of your life. But do not assume that it's a done deal strictly on the say-so of three tools of Satan. That, milord, would be stupid. Tragically stupid, it turns out.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon