Much of my week has centered on a lawsuit. It’s not a trial; it’s a binding arbitration, and I am neither the plaintiff nor the defendant. But I appeared as a witness, with all the logistical wrangling that entails. In the process, I developed a sense of just how tenaciously we come to contest anything we contest formally. Once we hold an advantage—be it a parcel of money, a position in a market, or an inherited privilege—we become loath to share it with anyone, even in situations where sharing would seem completely reasonable if lawyers weren’t present. Today is Friday, and we cling to our inheritances fiercely when someone tries to take them from us. Won’t you put property ahead of propriety with me?
First, the good news: the vast Sea Monkey(tm) fortune still belongs to a 1960s bondage-film star named Yolanda Signorelli von Braunhut, as every child knows. The bad news is that the Big Time Toy Company is trying to take it from her. I’m as surprised as you are, but nothing in the preceding two sentences is made up, except for that knowledge-of-children thing. No activity you are doing right now could be as interesting as this New York Times Magazine story about the battle over the Sea Monkey fortune, including reading this blog. It’s not just about Sea Monkeys. It’s about the tension between what is promised and what you get that is, I daresay, our shared American inheritance.
That and cable monopolies. In other big news for moneymaking schemes, President Obama is urging the FCC to allow American cable subscribers to use third-party receivers—those set-top boxes1 your cable provider insists you rent from them by the month. Here’s a terrifying fact: the average cable subscriber pays $231 a year to lease their box. What if you could buy one for, I dunno, $231—or, more likely, the cost of a router—and expect it to last more than a year? What if your AppleTV also worked as a cable receiver? What if your damn TV just did that, as it easily could? If you think that sounds like a great way to save money and encourage innovation, you’re wrong. It would actually be, as the cable company describes it, “a giveaway to wealthy tech companies.” It sounds like the giver in this giveaway would be wealthy cable companies, but whatever.
The important thing is that rich people maintain their position. I assume it’s the inherent value of the wealthy that convinced the New York Post to endorse Donald Trump in the GOP primary. Maybe it’s just that the Post is the Donald Trump of newspapers, while Trump is the New York Post of people. Or maybe it’s that Trump hasn’t said anything specific or plausible about what he would do, making the possibility of his presidency a blank canvas onto which the Post can project its vain hopes:
Should he win the nomination, we expect Trump to pivot — not just on the issues, but in his manner. The post-pivot Trump needs to be more presidential: better informed on policy, more self-disciplined and less thin-skinned. Yet the promise is clearly there in the rookie who is, after all, leading the field as the finals near.
The editorial board makes two points here: A) maybe if Trump wins the nomination, everything about him will change, and B) it looks like he’s going to win. Argument (A) is, um, exciting. Everything Trump has shown us so far has been terrible. He doesn’t seem to know what he is talking about, he’s vindictive and hot-headed, and he doesn’t seem to think about anything he says until a few seconds after he’s said it. But he could change! And something different from the existing Trump could be great. This weird cognitive fallacy—the abstract is superior to the specific, the unknown presumed better than the known—is the same one that has propelled his whole campaign. We agree our existing politics are bad. Because Trump operates outside that politics, he must be good. To trot out an old favorite analogy, he’s the alien in Alien. Because we can’t see most of him, our imaginations fill in the details that would thrill us most.
Meanwhile, in Missoula, another heritable real estate fortune waits in limbo. The Historic Preservation Commission has again postponed its decision on whether hotel developers can demolish the Merc, after the city attorney urged four commissioners to recuse themselves for apparent bias. It turns out they’ve been liking the Save the Merc Facebook page. They also liked the page of the developers, ostensibly so they could get more information. Once again, the Missoulian runs a story inadvertently criticizing itself as a source of news. Also, the commissioners’ quotes suggest scary ignorance of various points of law and city policy. Here’s Steve Adler:
“Evidently sometime today the city attorney deemed four of us unbiased2 and unable to hear this issue in appropriate fashion. My question is, is there any legal method to counter what just happened? We were not informed of the investigation until the guilty verdict was handed down. I would like to clear the record.”
Not a verdict, bro—there wasn’t really an investigation, either. We’re talking about the advice of the legal counsel of the City of Missoula. Also, did you seriously think it was appropriate to like the Facebook pages of parties to a permitting dispute as your city agency was ruling on it? Just make another Facebook account that doesn’t have your name on it. Or have your friend send you the articles. Or maybe even ask the disputants for the information you need.
Small-town government is the best government, if what you want from your government is amusement. Maybe not so great at running the town, but we can’t have everything, I suppose.