Friday links! Batting average of empathy edition

Nolan Ryan punches Robin Ventura in the head during a 1993 baseball game.

Nolan Ryan punches Robin Ventura in the head during a 1993 baseball game.

What is the failure rate of empathy? Surely it is among the most powerful forces in human motivation, but no one would say that it works every time. So what is empathy’s average? .750? .250? Ted Williams batted .344, and he’s in the hall of fame. It would not be ridiculous to suggest that even a top-shelf impulse like compassion wins fewer than half the days. Are we prepared to accept that for every anonymous kidney donor, two people crowd the gate before their boarding group is called? Today is Friday, and that which makes us human only works some of the time. Won’t you grudgingly share resources with me?

First, the good news: the Department of Homeland Security will probably shut down today, because A) Republicans in Congress refused to pass a “clean” funding bill with no amendments overruling President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, or B) Senate Democrats refuse to bring an amended funding bill to the floor. One of those explanations must be right, because one party to a dispute must be right and the other wrong. That’s how it works in the world’s greatest deliberative body, anyway, where the rhetoric of disagreement has gradually become the rhetoric of existential threat to the future of America. Lo and behold, governance has begun to conform to that perception.

Update: The Senate passed a clean funding bill minutes after I wrote this, and now the House will vote on it. By now there are almost certainly further developments in this story. You should probably get your news from a newspaper of some kind.

Kombat Kids!: If someone appears to be ignorant of what every reasonable person knows, they probably aren’t. Case in point: this enormously satisfying letter to the Missoula Independent, which takes me to task for expressing astonishment that Rep. Ryan Zinke had served in the military:

Not only did Rep. Zinke mention his service as a SEAL in his numerous speaking engagements throughout the state prior to the election last year, but most of the TV ads he produced also mentioned his service. It is most irresponsible of Dan Brooks to state this and other remarks in his article that are simply not true.

That right there might be a clean articulation of what satire does: it forces the reader to articulate for herself a truth the author appears to contradict. Ideally, that would happen in a way that makes Ms. Greene think I am funny and smart, but  this outcome is pretty satisfying, too.

Also satisfying: 15 solid minutes of throws, trips and slams.

Mad props to Ryan “The Darkness” Harkness for making this and other great highlight videos. You might remember Ryan from Fightlinker, where he sometimes paid me to anger his longtime readers. He’s at Bloody Elbow now, doing work. Read him and understand MMA better. Also, I feel the relation between judo throws and empathy is pretty obvious.

If you prefer a positive correlation, you should read Norm MacDonald’s long and ultimately touching narrative about how he failed to convince Eddie Murphy to do a Bill Cosby joke at SNL’s 40th anniversary. If you’re reading this, I probably don’t need to tell you that MacDonald is a remarkably strong writer, but I’m going to say it anyway. Even if you don’t give a rip about Murphy, MacDonald’s deconstruction of how and why the Celebrity Jeopardy sketch works is a master class in comedy. It’s also a weird reminder that he and Will Ferrell were on Saturday Night Live at the same time. In another universe similar to our own, frat boys are endlessly quoting Dirty Work instead of Anchorman.

We talk about parallel universes as the stuff of science fiction, but really we encounter one pretty much every time we meet another person. Meditate on the concept of sonder:

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

That’s a little more lyrical than what one finds in a conventional dictionary, but I agree that sonder is a real feeling. Is it a real word, though? At his eponymous blog, a man named Niel considers what makes a word “real.” “Sonder” is a term original to the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, but people use it. It means something specific. How old and/or popular must a word be before we call it real? Does it violate the language to say that you are twitterpated, or that you Instagrammed something rather than posted a photograph of it to Instagram? Niel makes a strong case for eliding the line between language, jargon and cant, and I tend to agree with him.

Do I agree with my recent, intemperate love for Taylor Swift’s 1989 album? I do not, exactly, but here I am. Feel for me, dear reader, for I cannot choose my affections.

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