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I won’t say that capitalism is bad.

It rewards individual enterprise, after all. It also rewards ingenuity, hard work, and the building of long-lasting, beneficial institutions. Unfortunately, capitalism also rewards greed — more handsomely than all those other things put together. I am willing to say that greed is bad.

What’s so bad about greed? Isn’t it just as good at animating the Invisible Hand that Adam Smith assured us would magically guide the economy toward a good result for everyone? No. They made greed a cardinal sin for a very good reason. It kills any positive motivation (enterprise, let’s say) that might exist alongside it and goes straight for the money. It dictates an all-out, all the time, full-on sociopathic pursuit of personal gain. As with all the other cardinal sins, it will lead you to a bad end.

And by “bad end,” I don’t mean hell. I mean human suffering, and the more greed there is at play, the more suffering will result. In fact, of all the cardinal sins, including wrath, it has the most potential to do harm. Slavery is a prime example. Slave traders certainly make plenty of money, but they also create a lot of human misery. My guess is that they don't care. That is because the traders’ greed has overcome their human decency. I would also argue that most war — the ugliest, stupidest, most destructive thing we do — has greed at its motivational core.

So capitalism has a problem. It incentivizes the most poisonous of all vices. It sews the seeds of its own undoing, cripples the invisible hand, and in the end will bring all of us down. Adam Smith himself recognized this danger. He warned against cartels and monopolies, which are antithetical to the idea of consumer sovereignty that is central to his theories. And he wasn’t even aware of the monstrous corporate “persons” we live with today.

Still, I won’t say capitalism is bad. Instead, it’s more like an undisciplined child, potentially good, but in need of structure and guidance. That leaves us to decide how to provide that structure. For this job, there are two options: Church or State.

I’m not really crazy about either one, but I’ll have to go with State. Church is just too unreliable. With State, assuming it’s a democracy, we have the promise of our own authority written into law. It’s not an ironclad guarantee, certainly, but it is something tangible we can use to defend ourselves from the ravages of greed and the excesses of capitalism.
Naming Rights II
The prospect of involving physicists in the creation of new words might seem like a chancy undertaking. This is probably nothing more than liberal arts prejudice on my part, especially since they have done quite well over the years in making up names for things.

Quark is a good example. For those of you who don’t know what a quark is … I’m a liberal arts guy, remember? Let’s just say it’s an elementary particle and that it’s very small. It seems to fit the thing it names. Quark. A little strange, like the concept, yet short and pronounceable. It even smells a little bit like a laboratory, don’t you think? The quark, by the way, has a superpartner called the squark, which is its hypothetical twin as suggested in supersymmetry theories now current in high-energy physics. This is why I am in the liberal arts.

They’re both good names, though, as are many of the names assigned to these teensy bits. You’ve got your leptons, your bosons, and your tachyons of “Star Trek” fame. Also geons, dyons, muons, luxons, trions, and plektons. Special note is made of the pomeron, which is used to explain the “elastic scattering” of hadrons. I figured it was something like that.

What I like most about these words is that they have no other meanings besides these. I wish that were true about all words. But no; language suffers from its own form of elastic scattering.

In fairness, it must be said that physicists do not have a perfect record in this regard. Take flavor and charm. Others seem to like the idea of giving these names to hard physical phenomena. Perhaps they think these are cute, counterintuitive usages; I don’t care. We already have multiple meanings for those words. Should we dilute their clarity even further in the service of cuteness? (Please say ‘No’ here, out loud if possible.) I also have a small quarrel with the use of the –on ending for so many of the elementary particles above. Just a plekton more of imagination might have helped.

Despite the energetic naming efforts of physicists, however, they have missed a few obvious opportunities. Let me take on two of the challenges they have ignored. First up: the speed of light. It’s the "c" in e=mc2. Why are we still using four words for a concept so central to modern physics? For this position of honor, I nominate phtt. No vowels, I know; there just wasn’t enough time. The double T, in case you’re wondering, is meant to add a firmness to the ending emphasizing that this is the absolute speed limit for our universe: phtt and no faster.

Next comes nano-. Yes, it’s a prefix, not a word, and yes, it’s a perfectly good prefix. In fact, it’s one of a number of very fine size-related prefixes. Nano- indicates a high degree of tininess — just below micro-, in fact — but the tiniest of all is yocto-. The nano- prefix indicates a billionth; yocto- means a septillionth. What I propose to do here is crash through the frontiers of smallness with a brand new prefix representing sizes measured in octillionths.

For this heady task, I choose neenonano-. That’s teeny to 27 decimal places. This new prefix will be able to look above itself at the other prefixes as say, “Ha-ha. I am the smallest of all! Neenonano, neenonano.”

I invite physicists to comment on these creations or simply to begin using them in interactions with their peers. I certainly welcome input from liberal artists, as well — but shouldn’t you be out looking for a job?
A Better Place
Brightly-colored vegetables tumble across my TV screen, bouncing and twirling for joy — fast food in slow motion. Is it Arby’s? Sizzler? McDonald’s? Some of those vegetables need to be chopped, a task done with flair and gusto, also in slow motion. Sauces and seasonings fly, splashing and smacking the food.

Zydeco, or maybe happy techno, sets the beat. It’s a party back there, back in the kitchen. Such fun, just making our meal! Then it comes time for the main course. It may be a burger, or a chicken filet, or a prawn the size of your fist. The gorgeous offering is placed — so lovingly, so gently! — with tongs atop some fluffy butter lettuce.

Meanwhile, out front in the eating area, we are in a different world. Flickering fluorescence illuminates the grim patrons as they sit masticating and staring at nothing. Lines move, not in graceful slow motion, but as long stretches of waiting punctuated by brief shuffles forward. No Zydeco here, just the muffled din of street noise and the squalls of unruly children.

The food itself is transformed, as well. The entrée has shrunk, its plump vitality drained away. The special sauce has gone gummy. Vegetables, which so recently pirouetted in high spirits, now lie inert. Brilliant hues have faded to drab. Ambrosia has turned to grub.

I do not mind this contrast. Instead, I prefer to think of the public area as a metaphor for this earthly life. It is filled with heartache and disappointment, crippled by chance and human folly, destined to be brief and brutish.

Ah, but the kitchen! Where happy chefs mambo the day away working their culinary magic, where even the dreams of simple vegetables can come true. This is what heaven must be like. Well, maybe not heaven, but a better place, a perfect version of this flawed existence. It gives me comfort, it gives me hope that such a world could be so close — just behind that wall.

It helps, I guess, that I have never worked in a fast food restaurant.
What's So Funny?
Do you have a sense of humor? Of course, you answer ‘yes.’ We all would, even the poor devil who doesn’t have one. We have to think that; to believe otherwise would be to admit that you are not attractive, not lovable — that you are somehow less than human. But that’s certainly not you. I shouldn’t even suggest that it is. So let’s assume you have a ‘friend’ who doesn’t know when to laugh; how do you help your ‘friend?’

Let us be forthright: there is no cure for humorlessness. It is a lifelong affliction, like bad hair. There are, however, ways to cope. For bad hair, the solution is a hat. For the humorless, it is a lifetime of pretending you get it when you really don’t.

That said, one must always remember that the safest way to indicate amusement — at least until you’ve gained proficiency — is with a simple smile. No belly laughs for beginners, please. You’re blind to humor, remember? Let’s not start by running full tilt into the blackness. Just smile and try shaking your head. Not up and down, but side to side, as if you don’t believe what you just heard. Easy enough, right? Ah, but how will you know when to smile? Here are some simple guideposts.

B, as an example, is the funniest letter. I think that’s pretty generally accepted, except among P freaks. Boob, bustle, bozo, blimp, banjo, bupkis, boondoggle, even Beelzebub — the list is endless. If you hear a word with a prominent B or two, that is your cue to smile.

The funniest number is six. It’s also the most beautiful, but don’t let that throw you. It looks like a boob or a buttock, both of which can be lovely, but both of which are also hilarious (see the letter B, above). It also looks like a testicle. Ha ha.

The funniest color? Orange is not only clownish, but everyone looks bad wearing it. It’s almost as if they want you to laugh at them.

The dachshund is the funniest dog. “Wiener dog” says it all, I think. (There are no funny cats, by the way, unless you think tormenting them with a laser pointer is funny. And it isn’t; those YouTube clips are made by the humorless for the humorless.)

The funniest bird is the duck, with penguins coming in a close second. Daffy, Donald, Dirty, and (God, I miss him!) Duckman — there is no higher humor pantheon among all the animals. Ironically, neither ducks nor penguins do the single funniest thing that most birds do: that doofish head-bobbing walk. In truth, you can’t go wrong laughing at any bird, though I’d advise you not to get too cheeky with ostriches.

Vegetable? Beans, owing largely to their long association with farting, obviously take the top spot. Let’s be honest: even at your wittiest, you’ll never be as funny as flatulence. Childish, but true.

There is hope, then, for the humor-challenged. You can be assured that smiling at any of these cues is completely appropriate. After a while, after a lifetime of careful observation and practice, you’ll be able to add other cues to this list. Train yourself, like Pavlov’s wiener dog, to smile or laugh automatically at their mention, and you’ll finally become a functioning, lovable member of society. Fully human in every way.

That’s a joke, by the way.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee