My God

I am a weather god. And a parking god. Many people claim to be one or the other. But I am both.

I can’t pinpoint when I made the separate ascensions. Certainly, when I was in college the brutal Michigan winters precluded any claim to weather godliness. But even then my campus parking prowess was noted by dorm roommates, especially after late-night drunken bacchanals left us frantically searching for the last elusive vehicle space at 3 a.m. To this day, I never fail to find that  parking place, either on the street or in the lot. I knew I had ascended when I found a legal spot on the street midday in San Francisco’s North Beach, one block from my City Lights bookstore destination.

Living in Southern California, I am surrounded by many false weather gods;  people claiming credit for the perfect weather day in and day out that is simply their good fortune to have stumbled into.

The true test is on the road, when that Hawaiian vacation during rainy season hangs in the balance. When that Big Sur sojourn finds the “ever-present” October fog lifting just in time for two days of glorious hiking with abundant views of migrating whales.  When the November Michigan sleet and snow stop the day you arrive, and begin anew just as you pull up at the airport to turn in your rental car on the way out of town. When you defy the omniscient and its warning of miserable heat, humidity and precipitation and still pay a Fall visit to the folks in Boca Raton.

On that potentially ill-fated trip to Florida with my then-wife and tater-tot of a daughter, my parents treated us to a day at Disney World in Orlando. The forecast was rain. Heavy rain. All-day rain. So we took along bright orange plastic ponchos and some among us prepared for the worst.  The weather was sufficiently intimidating that the usual Disney hordes were nowhere to be found, and the classic long lines were totally absent. And so was the rain. It literally stopped as we arrived and began again as we departed. Best Disney visit ever.

I always prevail. Always. Even when I am in the company of someone like my girlfriend, who has a never-ending litany of weather-driven holiday disaster tales to tell, I prevail.

I used to be shy about flaunting my weather prowess, for fear that I might offend the true weather god — who seemed forever to smile upon me — and be forsaken. I would mention it to people after the fact, but try not to tempt the fates beforehand. However, after years of unambiguous success and an ever-escalating  bravado, I came to the conclusion that I need not fear that god, for He was I.

The danger here, obviously, is hubris, which “often indicates being out of touch with reality and overestimating one’s own competence or capabilities.” It got Achilles and Oedipus in deep doo back when the Greeks were inventing the concept and now has apparently ensnarled President Obama.  (Googling “Obama hubris” turns up 489,000 hits.)

In between, most everyone who thought they got it right and the other side got it wrong, has been accused of having it.

According to HBO, Caesar, when he wasn’t inventing salads and lending his name to resort hotels, said, “It’s only hubris if I fail.” Ultimately, he did fail, but he accomplished so much before the fall that it is difficult to determine how much of his life was hubris and how much was not.

Hitler, of course, had hubris in spades and it is one of the main reasons conservatives liken Obama to him. Genghis Khan, Bismark, Napoleon, Louis XIV and more than a few popes were similarly impaired. You can look it up.

Eliot Spitzer dallied with it. Peter Beinart has written how hubris caused three 20th Century U.S. presidents to drag this country into unjust wars. And, of course, the original weather god, Al Gore, probably contracted it shortly after he invented the internet.

Sometimes, as with Rudolph Giuliani or multi-national states, hubris seems to be only one ingredient (or two) in a simmering cauldron of competing pathologies. Other times, as in the case of John Edwards, it looks like a small part of a larger narcissistic pathology that includes “grandiosity, entitlement, arrogance, hubris and exploitative actions.”

That sounds kinda sick. And according to a study published in Brain: A Journal of Neurology, it probably is. The study disagrees with HBO’s Caesar about hubris being a loser’s affliction (it “develops irrespective of whether the individual’s leadership is judged a success or failure”) but did come up with 14 symptoms to aid in the diagnosis of your boss at work. None of them are complimentary and you only need three of the 14 to qualify as a douche.

The researchers, David Owen and Jonathan Davidson, studied the presidents and prime ministers in the U.S. and Britain from 1908-2008, but were quick to point out you can also find hubris among artists, religious gurus and bankers. Most of us already had suspicions about the last group. But the key is: no power, no hubris. Which probably accounts for why my first 8 hours of random Googling of hubris failed to turn up a single reference to hubris among women.

The Brainiacs zeroed in on hubris by eliminating all the politicians with serious mental illness. As an aside, they noted that between 1776 and 1974, 49% of American presidents met criteria suggesting psychiatric disorder: depression (24%), anxiety (8%), bipolar disorder (8%) and alcohol abuse/dependence (8%) were the most common.

So once you toss out the deranged presidents, you’re left with … who? Well, Nixon was a drunk. No hubris there. Teddy Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson were bipolar. Cross them off the list. Woodrow Wilson’s brain exploded, so he gets a pass. And Kennedy was a speed freak. They all exhibited hubristic traits but none of them were categorized as having hubris syndrome.

The rest of the presidents were judged reasonably sane and untarnished by hubris syndrome.

Except for one: George W. Bush.

They pointed out that he had once been a drunk, but now was simply a victim of hubris. They desperately wanted to give him a pass because of the pressures from 9/11, but had trouble getting past this:

His appearance in flying gear on the aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln, cruising off the coast of California, on 1 May 2003, and then speaking on television with the slogan “Mission Accomplished” emblazoned on the ship control tower behind him, marked the highest point in his scale of hubris. This episode is particularly interesting when one considers that the so-called success in Baghdad was only 10 days later described in a memo to Prime Minister Blair by the then British Ambassador to Iraq, John Sawers, as involving a complete absence of any serious planning for the aftermath of the taking of Baghdad: “No leadership, no strategy, no coordination, no structure and inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis”.

Not everyone is as restrictive in their definition of hubris as the Brain researchers.

David Mayatt, in his groundbreaking essays regarding “white hordes of homo hubris“, maintains that there is apparently an entire subspecies of humans with the affliction: “the White, or Caucasian, peoples of Europe and the so-called New World.”

Homo Hubris is distinguished by their generally uncouth, vulgar, behaviour; their lack of manners; their arrogance and insolence; their pride, and their innate, often unconscious belief (or rather, delusion), that they and their kind are ‘superior’ and have a sort of ‘destiny’ or duty to interfere in the lives of other peoples, often now by imposing some abstraction on them, by force and killing, but most often, in the past, by occupation, conquest, and imperialism.

In addition, Homo Hubris is in thrall to causal abstractions, and is easy swayed and manipulated by others, lacking as they do any real personal noble character and deficient as they are in both empathy and honour.

In brief, the people of Homo Hubris often act and behave like spoilt children and/or bullies.

Hubris, perhaps better known in some circles as chutzpah, is not a difficult concept to grasp. Even a child can understand it. But what fun is it to have a vice that can’t be construed as a virtue?

Hubris has been suggested as one of the three virtues of successful programmers, according to computer whiz Larry Wall. It is ‘the quality that makes you write (and maintain) programs that other people won’t want to say bad things about.’  The other two virtues are laziness and impatience.

Lazy, impatient and filled to the brim with hubris. That sounds like me.

I feel like a god.

Something new

I’ve had an interesting past year. How about you?

I didn’t used to notice years being particularly interesting, though I often felt interesting things were  happening in my life and the world around me.

Empires would rise and fall. But there always seemed  to be some continuity in the sweep of my personal history. No one year being all that more significant than another. No one event defining an era.

Though I have grown up in interesting political times, I have never quite felt the pendulum of history swinging between left and right in this country. Watching a culture of Kennedy/FDR worship morph into the veneration of Ronald Reagan always seemed less an ideological gyration than an incremental victory for money and marketing.

People still seemed to have a sense of shared responsibility, a sense of community  and the knowledge that we’re all in this together.  Even if Tea Baggers, in a bizarre spasm of corporate doublespeak,  wanted government to keep its hands off their Medicare, they recognized the underlying virtue of the government program.

There was still hope that facts, with their distinctive progressive bias, might still somehow inform our world.

But I had little doubt where politics, awash in money in a modern world, was headed. The die was cast in 1975 when the Supreme Court, building on a historically obscure, though monumental, screw-up, equated spending money with free speech.  It was just a question of time before the intended consequence of that decision would be realized.

And now it has.

On Jan. 20, the Supreme Court may have made its most significant decision since  establishing itself as a co-equal branch of government alongside its executive and legislative brethren 200 years ago in Marbury vs. Madison.  This time, the justices brought in a new, senior partner, corporations, and proclaimed them free to spend as much shareholder money as they want to influence and elect politicians.

It’s only 22 days old and the new year has already piqued my interest.

Addendum: A dissent from the left.