Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Black Swan world.

I was listening to the GLoP Podcast the other day, when the participants discussed how incredibly weird things have become. They cited events that the bizarre announcement of Best Picture at the Oscars, the Patriots' comeback in the Super Bowl, the Cubs winning the Series, and other things that have happened that no one would have predicted could have happened. 

Yeah, sure; what are the odds of that?
The podcasters cast back from each weird event to the one before, going through things like the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory, 9/11, and finally landing on the 2000 presidential election as being the point where everything started to seem crazy.

I guess that's a good starting point, but you could just as easily go back to 1998, when the scandal of President Pantsless came to light. Or the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Or the New York Rangers winning the Cup in 1994. Or the Miracle Mets in 1969.

Calvin Trillin once wrote about "It-all-goes-back-to-ism," the blowhard's friend, a way of pegging present problems and conundrums on something in the past that we hated. Mad about Iraq? It all goes back to Vietnam, if you want it to, and many in 2003 wanted it to. Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum, and you can easily trace current events back to past events -- almost any past events. You just have to work a little harder if you want to make an argument that, say, the cancellation of Firefly goes back to the fall of Han dynasty.

Maybe it's always felt a little this way. The Black Swan theory, after all, doesn't take vacations. Something unforeseen with ramifications for many people is always taking place somewhere. It always seems predictable in hindsight.

Strangely, the Black Swan theory seems to only refer to man-caused events -- natural disasters may be unexpected and horrific, like tornadoes, floods, hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, or the Boxing Day tsunami, but they don't feel weird. Ringling Brothers suddenly closing? Weird. North Korean dictator's brother murdered by girl in LOL shirt? Weird. President Trump? What do you think?

When strange things happen, Dave Barry's blog  likes to present them as another sign of the upcoming apocalypse. He does do this for things that are apparently natural events, like a pig born with the face of a monkey or turkeys circling a dead cat --- but also for man-made things like digital bagpipes. I suppose that it's fair that some black swans should be actual animals.

Maybe these things are signs of the end of the world. But the world is full of billions and billions of things -- bad and beautiful and strange, says E, as neat a summation as I know. Some are bound to come across as weird. I think we still have some life left in us.
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