Let's say you want to become pope, head of the Catholic Church and shepherd to over 1 billion faithful.
What requirements must you have for this lofty position:
1) Be a catholic and
2) Be a man.
Which seems a little thin… and, while it's technically possible for a regular Sunday Catholic to become pope, the last time this happened was essentially never because becoming pope isn't like becoming president, you can't just run for office. Selecting the pope is an inside job and the men who do it are the cardinals, and while in theory they can select any catholic man to become pope, in practice they prefer to elevate one of their own.
The last time a non-cardinal become pope was more than 600 years ago. So, while it isn't an official requirement, it's an unofficial, official requirement.
Thus in order to be pope you'll first need to be a cardinal and to do that you'll need to start climbing the catholic corporate ladder.*
Step 1: Become a Priest.
Unlike some churches where you can fill out a form online and -- poof -- ordained. The Catholic Church treats becoming a priest as a real, you-need-training profession. So you're going to require a lot of education: usually a college degree in Catholic Philosophy and then a masters in divinity.
In addition to your educational qualifications, you must also be:
Willing to remain celibate forever.†
If you meet these requirements, and have been working with the church, then you can be officially ordained as a priest. Which basically means you get to run a Catholic Church, or work with another priest who does.
But, you want onward and to do that you need to take the job of the man who just made you a priest.
Step 2: Become a Bishop
Bishops are a much more select group: while there are about 400,000 catholic priests world wide, there are only about 5,000 bishops.
While priests get churches, bishops get cathedrals, from which they oversee a number of local churches.
To advance your career you must wait for a bishop in your area to be forced into retirement at age 75 or die sooner than that -- freeing up space for you.
But you can't just apply, because there's already a secret list of potential bishops that's updated every three years based on who the current bishops in your area think would make a good replacement for one of their own.
To be on that list, in addition to the obvious requirement of being a pious person, you should also:
Be least 35 years old
Have been priest for at least five years
Have a doctorate in theology (or equivalent)
Assuming you're all these things, your name may, or may not be on the secret list. The local bishops then give that list to the pope's ambassador for your country, known as the Apostolic Nuncio.
The Nuncio picks three priests from the list, does in-depth research on them, conducts interviews and selects the one he thinks is best.
But it's not over, because the Nuncio sends his report to Vatican City and the congress of bishops who work there reviewing potential appointments from around the world.
If the congress of bishops doesn't like any of the three candidates, they can tell the Nuncio to start over: returning to the list, picking another three candidates -- doing more research, more interviews and sending off the results.
When the congress of bishops is happy with one of the Nuncio's candidates that name is given to the pope, who can reject the candidate and start the whole process over.
It shouldn't be a surprise that from a vacancy to a bishop's replacement can take months and, on occasion, years.
But assuming that a bishop in your area retired (or died) at the right time and you were on the secret list of good priests and the Nuncio picked you and you made it through his interview and the congress of bishops approved you and the pope didn't veto you -- poof now you're now a bishop.
But you're still not on top. The penultimate promotion is...
Step 3: Become a Cardinal.
Despite the fancy name and snazzy red outfits to match cardinals are not the bosses of bishops, they are bishops, just with an additional title and additional responsibilities -- the most notable of which is electing the new pope.‡
The only way to become a cardinal is to get to current pope to appoint you as one -- and of the 5,000 bishops, only about 200 are ever cardinals.
But let's say your ambition doesn't go unnoticed by the pope and he makes you a cardinal -- now it's time to play the waiting game for his death or retirement -- and with popes death is vastly more likely.
When either happens the cardinals under the age of 80 are brought to Vatican City where they are isolated from the outside world -- presumably by taking away their cell phones and tablets and carrier pigeons. Once sequestered, the election of a new pope can begin.
These elections are never exactly the same because the ex-pope leaves instructions on how he wants his replacement to be picked, but in general it works like this: four times a day the cardinals go to the Sistine Chapel to vote -- to become pope one of them must get a 2/3rds majority.
There's a big dose of mustn't-be-too-hasty here as the cardinals don't just raise their hands, or use a modern preferential voting system, but instead write down one name on a piece of paper stand before the alter and say a long latin phrase, before officially casting the ballot.
Once all the cardinals have done this, the votes are counted and then burned.
This why TV news stations covering the election of the pope use super-modern-hd-livestreaming cameras to look at a chimney. If the smoke is black, no new pope.
The high victory threshold, and tediously slow voting process, is why it takes so long to elect a new pope. It's usually at least two weeks of voting four times a day six days a week (with one day a week for prayer) but the record length is three years.
Assuming you, eventually, win the support of your fellow cardinals, you have one final thing to do before becoming pope: pick yourself a new name.
There is no formal rule, you can name yourself anything you like but it's tradition to take the name of a previous pope.
Upon your acceptance of the job, the final ballots are burned clean to make the smoke white and announce to the world that a new pope has been selected.
So that's the career path: be born into the right half of the population, become one of a billion catholics, then one of 400,000 priests, then one of 5,000 bishops, then one of 200 cardinals, wait for the current pope to die or retire, and convince 2/3rds of your fellow cardinals to select you as the one, the only pope.
Notes & Corrections
- Recent papal elections have been shorter than two weeks.
Music: Kevin MacLeod
The debt limit is kind of a financial weapon of mass destruction chained to the United States government by the United States government.
Confused? Then it's time for The United States debt limit Explained.
To understand the debt limit you need to know the US splits financial responsibility between the president and congress.
The president has two jobs when it comes to money:
1. Collect taxes and...
2. Spend those taxes to run the government.
This might give you the impression that the president, with regards to money, is all-powerful. Especially when you hear news reports on 'the president's new budget' or his plan to 'raise taxes on haberdashers' or 'lower taxes on apiarists'.
But reality is just the opposite and the president is the one who takes orders.
Congress has the jobs of setting the tax level and determining how much the government will spend by writing a budget.
So while the president does get to submit budgets to congress, and asks for changes in the tax level, these are just requests that congress doesn't have to pay attention to.
Congress can add or subtract anything they want from the president's budget or throw it out entirely and write a new one. The same goes for the level of taxes.
So congress decides what it wants: bridges, tanks, buildings, courts, robots on Mars, robots on Earth, National Parks, whatever and approves a budget with that stuff in it.
Once approved the president's is required by law to spend the money Congress listed in the budget and pay for it using the taxes that congress set.*
As long as more taxes come in than spending goes out everything is fine.
But, almost always, Congress puts more stuff in the budget than they cover with taxes which means the president must borrow money to cover the difference.†
In most countries the story ends here because if their legislatures approved more spending than they have income, they've also implicitly approved the necessary borrowing -- but not in America. Here Congress also limits the total amount of debt the United States can have.
A debt limit sounds like a good idea until you see the real-world consequences of these two branches of government interacting.
As the total amount borrowed gets closer to the limit, Congress usually points to the president and acts shocked, shocked that his reckless spending has brought us so close to the debt limit that they, reasonable, prudent Congress have set.
And while it's technically correct that the president has borrowed this money, congress has forced him to do it, by approving a budget that the president is legally obligated to spend without also approving the necessary taxes to cover that spending.
So the debt limit fight is essentially the government version of the playground favorite: 'stop hitting yourself' except with added terror for everyone watching.
For, it's important to note, the debt limit is not about future spending -- it's not a credit card on which the limit will be raised so a crazy government party can be thrown -- the debt limit is about paying bills already incurred.
For example, the government hires a company to repave a federal highway. But if the US is at the debt limit, when the company asks to be paid after the work has been done, the government can't. This shakes trust in the US and since large parts of the global economy depend on the dollar being trust worthy, messing with that trust is a big deal.
But there is a way out: Congress can raise the debt limit and, because of the aforementioned terror, they always have.
So… if not raising the debt ceiling is potentially disastrous and the solution is simple and always taken in the end: why does this debate last months‽
The debt limit isn't in the constitution, congress created it themselves and from their point of view, the debt limit is awesome because:
1. It creates a problem that...
2. Congress can (technically) blame on the president who...
3. Needs the solution that only they can provide
Congress gets to use the threat of mutual financial self destruction as leverage in negations that they benefit from extending until the last… possible… second.
Music: David Rees.
Images: The Noun Project, Jonathan Keating, Luis Prado, Andrew Forrester, Juan Sebastian Rickenmann & Anuar Zhumaev.
I almost never watch TV news, but on the rare occasions it crosses my path, I’m left both depressed and enraged. The most recent example I came upon while researching my next video is this clip on the trillion dollar coin.
The clip isn’t special, it’s just like all the others from every news channel, but it caught me at exactly the wrong time and irritated me enough to write the nearly 2,000 words that now lay before you, dear reader.
So, if you like, go watch that clip and then come back here and let me talk about it as an example of everything that’s wrong with TV news in vastly more detail than it deserves.
Fear Leads to Hate, Hate Leads to Ratings
The segment starts by telling you that the previous news story you were supposed to fear is over, but fear not, there is more fear to fear:
“So we survived the fiscal cliff after all. The next dire circumstance you’re gunna hear us talking about around here is the debt ceiling which, make no mistake, has the capacity to crash the US economy.”
‘Wow. Sounds pretty serious,’ you might think to yourself. ‘I better watch the rest of this segment’.
“So wouldn’t it be just like the current thinking in Washington, and the cast of characters there, if they could mint a coin they could spend that could solve the problem.”
The anchorman has already conveyed, by implication:
- Washington is doing things wrong because
- The people working there are fools who
- Want a magic coin to fix all their problems
Now, I have no opinion on the trillion dollar coin – and perhaps all three points are true. But these points are not facts, they’re just assertions with nothing to back them up that color the rest of the report.
Twenty seconds in and the viewer is already primed for two emotions: fear the debt ceiling, hate the guys with a (possible) solution.
Vacuous Words in a Silly Voice
At 33 seconds in, we get the weird reporter voice. Why do TV people talk like that? If you go months without hearing a TV report, your first reaction to ‘the news voice’ is ‘what’s wrong with that guy?’
(Hypocrite deflection: this is not my normal speaking voice either but I try, perhaps unsuccessfully, to modulate my voice to add emphasis to a story.)
Now come news clips from other news shows talking about the same topic – or at least we must assume so, given their brevity and lack of context.
My favorite is this guy:
"Take all the fights we’ve had and put ’em all in one fight."
That sounds pretty serious. Perhaps if a trillion dollar coin can solve a fight that’s the size of every fight ever combined, we should look into it.
Cue the ridiculous and embarrassing revelation music and the reveal of an animated trillion dollar coin. This must be the solution to our problem! Can’t wait to learn about it.
Dear Princess Celestia, I Didn’t Learn Anything!
Now it’s time to, you know, explain something. Right?
It’s Simpsons time and Homer’s insightful remark that a trillion dollars is, quote: “a spicy meatball!”
In case you didn’t notice, that Simpsons show was about a trillion dollar bill and we are discussing a trillion dollar coin. Picky yes, but the two forms of cash have different laws regarding how they are created. Which isn’t a big deal, it’s just the whole reason the trillion dollar coin story exists in the first place.
Now, perhaps, you think I’m complaining too much. But take this into account: The Simpsons clip is exactly half way through the video, and so far you don’t know more than what the headline already told you: that a trillion dollar coin may be a thing.
Also, there is apparently a law that requires puns in all published TV news segments and at 1:17 we get it:
"...an idea getting a lot of currency online"
(Emphasis not added, the reporter really leans into that word. All that’s missing is a laugh track.)
We’re told that the trillion dollar coin is supported by a petition with over 6,000 signatures on Whitehouse.gov – which sounds impressive unless you’ve ever been to Whitehouse.gov where you’ll find 23,000 signatures for a Joe Biden reality TV show (which might not be a bad idea), 34,000 to build a Death Star as a jobs program (my personal favorite) and, of course, the 125,000 who wanted Texas to secede from The Union.
But still: 6,000 probably sounds like a lot to people who get their news from TV and have never been on the Internet.
Finally, at 1:20, just 60% of the way into the video, we get a reference to someone who might know what he’s talking about: a nobel-prize winning economist who thinks the trillion dollar coin is a good idea.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t burden us with why this economist thinks it’s a good idea. We’re just told the headline of his article: “Be ready to mint that coin” with no further comment.
At 1:28 is the closest we get to an explanation of anything:
"In theory the treasury would mint the trillion dollar coin and then walk it over to the Federal Reserve for deposit so the government can pay its bills."
That sounds like an explanation, but take a moment: close your eyes and think about that sentence.
Has it informed you about anything? Unless you’re already deeply involved in government fiscal policy – and thus would have no need to watch this video in the first place – that simple little sentence answers nothing and, on reflection, raises a ton of questions:
- Who or what is the Federal Reserve?
- Why do they get the trillion dollar coin?
- How does the government pay its bills if it just gave the coin to the Federal Reserve?
- Why doesn’t the government just use the coin to pay its bills directly?
- If the treasury can print as many coins as it wants, why do we even have a national debt?
- Wait a second, just what the heck is money anyway‽
Hopefully, all will be told in the next breath of the reporter:
I guess not: just a joke about dropping the coin into the sewer using a shot that makes me think of every dropped-lightsaber reaction in the Star Wars prequels.
Is it Secret? Is it Safe?
I don’t know about you, but the questions just raised in my mind about the existential nature of money make me want to know if the treasury can really do such a thing as print infinite cash. So here is the answer:
"Is it legal? Technically the treasury doesn’t need the permission of congress to mint platinum coins."
If you read those two sentences carefully (or if you’ve researched this story already) you’ll notice that the statement sidesteps the question.
Let’s rephrase that:
“Is it legal to murder? Technically, you don’t need the permission of congress to gun down a man in cold blood.”
So… not really an answer.
The legality of minting the trillion dollar coin is an interesting, and unresolved question. (Warning, actual constitutional analysis by constitutional lawyers.)
It’s by no means clear that it is legal. For the executive branch to be able to mint endless money on a technicality is almost certainly something that would end up in the Supreme Court.
Thankfully, the TV news segment doesn’t bring up the complicated reality of the situation.
Next up is how big a platinum coin worth a trillion dollars would need to be… if you melted it down for the value of the platinum.
Again, this has nothing to do with the treasury minting a trillion dollar coin. Fiat coins don’t contain metal worth their face value – that’s the whole point of modern currency.
But, nonetheless, this segment leaves a casual viewer with the impression that idiots in Washington want to make a coin the size of an airplane – reinforcing the sentiment in the opening of the piece.
And then there’s the statement:
"Some suggest it’s [the trillion dollar coin] a political ploy"
Followed by a clip of The Colbert Report – a television show that actually uses humor well to inform – saying nothing about a political ploy at all.
A Final, Non-informative But Memorable Point
At last we come to the thing that really matters: whose face will go on the coin. The choices are three living people, two American politicians and – in a curve ball so curvy it would hit its pitcher in the face – one Canadian teen pop idol.
I understand this is supposed to be some sort of joke, but it irritates me on so many levels, not least of which is that federal law prohibits depicting living people on US coins. I don’t know if anyone in government really thought it necessary to pass a law requiring Americans on American money as well.
The report also says it will be a ‘political battle’ about the face on the coin. It won’t. The law in question gives full authority to the Treasury to pick the design.
So, we’ve made it to the end. And, all told, you’ve learned nothing of any substance that wasn’t mentioned in the title of the story. Thanks, TV news. You’re really doing your civic duty on this one.
P.S. It’s Not My Fault!
To be clear: I’m not laying this terrible segment on the shoulders of its reporter, Kevin Tibbles. I looked him up and his bio is pretty serious. He has won four Emmys, worked around the world in Iceland, Thailand, Panama, Dubai and my adopted city of London. The guy interviewed Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, David Petraeus, and Nelson Mandela.
He’s a real reporter.
The blame is not his – or any reporters’.
The best reporters of today find themselves as Lando Calrissian in Cloud City: victims of circumstances beyond their control. TV news has huge fixed costs and decreasing revenues. That math results in a desperate ratings grab and terrible conditions.
The news station probably told Mr. Tibbles: “Give us something on the trillion dollar coin, make it less than two minutes long, don’t go into detail and make it funny. Oh, and we need it in two hours.”
Were I in his situation and given the same requirements, I could do no better. And, from most of what TV news has to offer, its clear no other reporters do much better either.
But, that’s no reason to watch the news. Ever.
Welcome to the Great nation of Holland: where the tulips grow, the windmills turn, the breakfast is chocolatey, the people industrious, and the sea tries to drown it all.
Except, this country isn't Holland. It's time for:
The Difference Between Holland, the Netherlands (and a whole lot more)
The correct name for this tulip growing, windmill building, hagelslag eating, container ship moving, ocean conquering nation is the Netherlands.
But confusion is understandable -- the general region been renamed a lot over a thousand including as:
- The Dutch Republic
- The United States of Belgium and
- The Kingdom of Holland
But it's not just history that makes this country's name confusing because the Netherlands is divided into twelve provinces:
- Zeeland (Which, by the way, is the Zeeland that makes this Zeeland, new)
- Friesland (With adorable little hearts on its flag)
- Utrecht, and here's the confusion:
- Noord (North) Holland and
- Zuid (South) Holland
These provinces make calling the Netherlands 'Holland' like calling the United States 'Dakota'. Though unlike the Dakotas, which are mostly empty, save for the occasional Jackalope, the two Hollands are the most populated provinces and have some of the biggest attractions like, Amsterdam and Keukenhof.
Chances are if it's Dutch, and you've heard of it, it's in one of the Hollands.
Even the government's travel website for the country is Holland.com -- officially because it sounds friendlier, but unofficially it's probably what people are actually searching for.
Confusion continues because: People who live in the Hollands are called Hollanders, but all citizens of the Netherlands are called Dutch as is their language. But in Dutch they say: Nederlands sprekende Nederlanders in Nederland which sounds like they'd rather we call them Netherlanders speaking Netherlandish. Meanwhile, next door in Germany, they're Deutsche sprechen Deutsch in Deutschland. Which sounds like they'd rather be called Dutch.
This linguistic confusion is why Americans call the Pennsylvania Dutch Dutch even though they're Germans.
To review: this country is the Netherlands, its people are Dutch, they speak Dutch. There is no country called Holland, but there are provinces of North and South Holland.
Got it? Great, because it's about to get more complicated.
The Netherlands is part of a Kingdom with the same name: The Kingdom of the Netherlands -- which is headed by the Dutch Royal Family.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands contains three more countries and to find them we must sail from the icy North Sea to the Caribbean and Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten.
These are no territories, but self-governing countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and as such they have their own governments, and their own currencies.
Geography geek side note here:
While Aruba and Curaçao are islands, Sint Maarten is just the Southern Half of a tiny island also named Saint Martin the other half of which is occupied by France and also named Saint Martin. So despite being separated by Belgium on the European map, The Kingdom of the Netherlands and the French Republic share a border on the other side of the world on an island so nice they named it thrice.
But why does the Kingdom of the Netherlands reach to the Caribbean anyway? Because, Empire.
In the 1600s the Dutch, always looking to expand business, laid their hands on every valuable port they could. For a time, America's East Coast was 'New Netherland' with its capital city of New Amsterdam. There was New Zealand, as mentioned previously, and nearby, the king of the islands, New Holland. Though the empire is gone, these three Caribbean nations remain.
And while four countries in one kingdom, isn't unheard of, it doesn't stop there, because the country of the Netherlands, also extends its borders to the Caribbean and three more islands: Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba.
These are not countries in a Kingdom, but are cities of the Country of the Netherlands and they look the part. Residents of these far-flung cities vote in elections for the Dutch government just as any Hollander would. Though, weirdly, they don't belong to any province and they don't use the Dutch currency of Euros, they use Dollars instead. It's kind of like if Hawaii wasn't a state, but technically part of the District of Columbia, all the while using the Yen.
These cities of the Country of the Netherlands and these countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, are together are known as the Dutch Caribbean. And their citizens are Dutch citizens. Which, because the Kingdom of the Netherlands is a member of the European Union, means these Dutch Caribbeans are also Europeans.
So in the end, there are 6 Caribbean islands, four countries, twelve provinces, two Hollands, two Netherlands and one kingdom, all Dutch.
Notes & Corrections
- The ç in Curaçao should be pronounced with an 's' sound.
- Frieslanders will often claim that the little hearts on their flag are actually waterlillies, but that's only because they are embarassed by the little hearts on their flag.