Friday links! Pyrrhic victories edition

Pyrrhus's war elephants in an ad for, uh, meat extract?

Pyrrhus’s war elephants in an ad for Liebig’s Extract of Meat

If one thing connects the modern age to antiquity, it is the ongoing usefulness of the phrase “pyrrhic victory.” Sometimes you win at such cost that winning defeats you. If we are willing to stray from the original context a little, sometimes what you conquer is rendered valueless by the conquest. This modern world offers us plenty of things worth having, from iPhones to Iraq, but they aren’t always worth getting. Unfortunately, the motto of 21st-century America might as well be “by any means necessary.” Today is Friday, and one more victory might ruin us. Won’t you survey the field with me?

First, the good news: In the latest and final New York Times/CBS poll of the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton maintains the slim lead she has held over Donald Trump throughout her campaign. The bad news is that more than 80% of respondents said the election has left them “disgusted rather than excited.” Nothing turns people off like a popularity contest. This one has been historically bitter, and it started with the two most disliked major-party candidates in American history. It says something about the present state of our democracy that elections make people hate it. Perhaps more alarming, though, is that 27% of Trump supporters say they will “probably not” accept the results if their candidate loses. Those people say a lot of things, though.

One of them has been saying Clinton supporters can vote by text. If you are reading this but are somehow dumb—perhaps you stumbled across this post on your way to complain about the Grand Marnier one—you cannot vote on your phone. Go to your local polling place or, better yet, read a book. The Washington Post couldn’t find the source of these ads telling Clinton supporters to vote early by texting “Hillary” to 59925, but they sure seem popular with avatars in red hats. I agree that it is unethical to circulate these images, and possibly irresponsible to even make one as a joke. But I disagree with old Robert McNees1 that it constitutes “disenfranchisement.” No one lost their legal right to vote because of this misinformation. Let us not throw “disenfranchisement” around, for the same reason we shouldn’t casually claim the election is “rigged.”

The most maddening thing about Trump saying so is that it seems to have worked. Then again, maybe it just generated a lot of coverage. By the same token, the scariest thing about Trump’s campaign is that it seems to have brought so many foaming xenophobes out of the woodwork. But then again, again, maybe those are just the people who get on the news. A Pew poll from July—around the same time Trump accepted the nomination—found 58% of American respondents saying diversity made the United States a better place to live. That puts us 22 points ahead of the most diversity-friendly European nation, Sweden, and 48% ahead of those parochial assholes2 in Greece. Once again, the old saw holds up: America is horrifyingly racist, but also less racist than everywhere else.

Not every pyrrhic victory is social or political, though. Some of them are interpersonal or, as the case may be, urinal. I have no idea how much of this funny story about sibling dynamics and the bathroom at Carl’s Jr. is true, but I like it. Author Chris Onstad clearly likes it, too, and if he constructs a few knotty sentences in his effort to get it all in, his evident enthusiasm excuses him. Why is the internet not flooded with humorous personal essays? It’s clearly amenable to personal essays generally. I can only conclude that no one is good at being funny, or at least not good at being funny on purpose. [Ed.: Do not fuck soap! It is bad for you.]

I don’t know about you, but my greatest pyrrhic victory this week was finally liking something recorded by Steely Dan. It came at a terrible cost, though, because now I wonder if “Mother” doesn’t actually sound better as a smooth jazz song. It mustn’t. Nothing can dim my lifelong albeit thoroughly qualified love for Danzig. But this mashup came damn close.

It’s the essential sadness that makes it. If you want to find hell with me…

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  1. Chris Onstad re-orienting his life around flavoured syrups is the ‘Andre 3000 designs razors’ of the webcomics world.

  2. Media coverage of Trump-related poll center-watching seems more like it’s publishing a ransom letter than it’s reporting something newsworthy. I might be biased, but I think if I were an editor I would nip that coverage to reduce the impact of the threat. Wikileaks emails I would still publish. But I can’t articulate where the line is. Dan, can you?

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