Thursday, December 31, 2015

Deflated Future: The Best of 2015


For much of the world, 2015 was a tumultuous year full of ups, downs, excitement, heartbreak, sadness, ridiculousness and hope. Which is also an accurate appraisal of my own year.

This picture of a sunset — which I apparently took in September — illustrates my year quite well: A mix of blinding darkness and bright beauty.

As always (sometimes), I titled my year-end best-of with two words that encapsulate this year. And just like last year, I didn't want to get too depressing with it. So "GUN BEHEADING" was right out, as was "ISIS AWAKENS" and "ASHLEY YUUUUGE."

Hence, "DEFLATED FUTURE." This was the year Back to the Future II crossed over into full-on retro kitsch and a certain football team endured pressure over its balls. And other stuff happened too. I even wrote about some of it. Not as much as I wanted to, but still way more than the world needed.

I present here my favorite blogs of 2015, which cap the intermittently fruitful 11-year run of Not Right About Anything.

TAKES ON THINGS

Seen in Washington, D.C.: A newer version of my iPhone in a museum exhibit. In related news, I got a new phone in 2015.
For me, any interaction with a cat is straddling a fine line between delight and terror. The usual script: My cat-owning friend will reassure me that their feline loves affection — and then I, like the walking science I am, inevitably prove otherwise with the slightest approach. Then the pet hyped more than any other as Captain Personality goes and stares at something for the next several hours.

Real rights empower human beings in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They don’t keep others from doing the same. (This is not the same as being criticized, opposed or offended. Sorry, religious right.)

But people who smoke in others’ spaces, don’t wash hands, refuse to practice traffic safety or (worst of all) don’t vaccinate, adversely affect everyone. They voluntarily introduce risk where it didn’t exist before, potentially affecting innocent people — which, by definition, hinders people’s basic rights.

Back when people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said, “Jon Stewart.” The show’s format and sensibility are basically what I wanted, and still want, out of life. It combines everything I’m into — current events, media, satire, intellectual jawing and the refusal to be taken too seriously. It’s ridiculous when it wants to be and on point when professionalism is in order. And, perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear.

If your ideology is threatened by education, thoughtfulness, exposure to other opinions, compassion, empathy and inanimate objects, you're doing it very wrong.

“I still don’t know, though. That one car offers so much of what I want.”

“But it doesn’t offer everything you want.”

“This one offers nothing I want. In fact, it introduces so many more problems that could hurt me down the road, that really, it offers negative benefits.”

“Well, don’t you think maybe having so much of what you want is making you slack off as a driver?”

I-blog (4/2)
There are plenty of ways to omit a first-person perspective from reporting. One decent workaround is, "told reporters." But if there's absolutely no way around it, embrace it, I say. The implication is exactly the same as the euphemisms (such as "this reporter"), but it's more direct.

I don't understand why people feel like they need to believe in myths, astral planes, fanciful creatures, elaborate conspiracies, spiritual miracles, the supernatural, etc., to make life interesting. 

Real life — the things that you can see, feel, hear, smell and taste, and everything else that's demonstrably tangible — is unbelievable. The beauty is more beautiful, and the tragedy more tragic, than anything anyone could fabricate. 

Riot acts (4/27)
One of the most terrifying mindsets a person can have (both for themselves and for the innocents around them) is the feeling that they have nothing to lose. When they feel society has failed them, from economics to the police and everything in between, they see no alternative but to lash out. They see a way to get attention, completely unencumbered by any feeling of obligation or empathy to others. And why should they care? How well did that work out for them before? Anyone who loots and commits violence harbors that feeling to some degree, even if in other circumstances they’d see such destruction for the horror that it is.

Dylann Roof’s diseased belief was that the people he killed represented all that was wrong with America. But the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church took him in and warmed to him, because they were good people. After the shooting, more good people refused to feel the hate for him that he had expressed in violence. That takes more humanity, more courage, more guts, than someone like Roof could ever comprehend.

So to the extent that I ever tolerated the flag, it was because I associated it with the show and its toy counterparts, and all the good times that came with them. Like those who revere the flag for more dubious reasons, I was born into it. But I quickly grew out of it, and now think of the Confederate flag as a stain on an otherwise enduring franchise, just like its continued presence on flagpoles and vehicles is a stain on America. If we could get more people to follow suit on that belief, we’d all be better off.

Lots of snow photos here, herehere and here
It’s not fair, but you make the best of it. In fact, you do such a terrific job of it that pretty soon, your housemates are resentful. They wind up spending many sleepless nights pacing around their expansive living rooms and lengthy corridors and fully stocked kitchens and well-manicured yards grumbling, “Where’s MY cellar?!!”

In that sense, I’m not shocked that it happened in Lafayette so much as I’m saddened that it can happen anywhere. That’s the biggest tragedy of all.

They’re dead, why? We may never know for sure, but we do know that the guy who did it felt very insecure about his standing in the world — and that he had a history of mental-health issues. And, on that night, he had both a gun and (apparently) a feeling of nothing left to lose. The deadliest combination.

Black lives matter … too.

Mentioning the suspect’s name and story isn’t glorifying anyone. It’s reporting the truth, which is (ideally) the point of journalism. It has a purpose — aside from simply disseminating the facts (which will always be needed in a world where conjecture would otherwise swirl in a vacuum), it can possibly start a conversation as to why he did it and how to thwart such ills in the future.

This is one of those things where you think, WTF? Nude pictorials made Playboy!

That is correct. But in 2015, those pictorials are the most antiquated thing about the magazine, so it makes perfect sense to take them out.

Whose life is so privileged, and yet simultaneously bereft, that they are bothered by a secular corporation decorating its cups merely with Christmas colors instead of the flashy pagan symbols that make the holiday distinctly Christian? 

Paris thought (11/13)
The single biggest threat to humanity isn't a religion or an ideology — it's the notion that there's nothing left to lose.

People who are invested in our institutions don't set out to destroy them. People who have hope in their lives, and who have faith in their fellow humans, don't engage in suicide bombings. Hopelessness allows fanaticism to take root.

What I believe doesn’t matter anyway, because in the context of Christmas, Linus nails it, and that’s all that matters. Charlie Brown sees a holiday rife with excessive commercialization and with magnified pressure to get all the details just right, and in his frazzled state wonders how — and why — this is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, because to him it just feels like yet another time to get belittled for trying and falling short. Linus cuts through the materialism and stress with a gentle reminder of how the holiday came to be in the first place. The idea of cutting through excess artifice to get back to basics is heartwarming in any context.

Regarding the removal of Confederate statues from public squares:

If you were once in a tumultuous marriage where fighting was constant and the children were forced to take sides, and where the rancor was largely fueled by your spouse's fierce insistence that you not have a life of your own ... and if you then entered into a much more stable second marriage ... then it's understandable if, 20 years later, you walk past pictures from your first wedding still mounted in your living room and think, "Maybe I should put these in the attic.”

HOW TO BE PEOPLE


What grates on me is when people insist on it. "I earned this title" or, "I command respect!" Another one of my personal rules is to ensure that if someone has a problem with me, that the problem is all theirs — in other words, that if someone disrespects me, it's because they're being a jerk, not because I did something wrong. That's not always the case, but it's my aim. When people insist on appropriate props via inappropriate pontificating, they cede that high ground.

I’ve always found it somewhat amazing that marriage/long-term companionship is such a common and expected achievement. Because when you think about it, finding a person who’s perfect for you in the long haul is really hard. And yet, it’s safe to assume past a certain age (not 25) that a given person is married or seriously involved.

The author employs the typical simplistic picture: You're either a desperate loser living in your mom's basement going to dive bars every night, or you're a hardworking family man (and the sooner you make the jump, the better, because 19 is a pivotal age).

Or, according to him, you are a hardworking single man who takes care of business, but that isn't enough and you should be married to make more money to raise a family that costs more money.

The role of technology, as it is with everything, is incidental. You will always have both embracers and people who think it marks the downfall of civilization. They say that about smartphones now. Some almost certainly thought the same about newspapers or wireless radio. Like the generation gap, that will always be with us.

As will character. There will be always be people with it and people without it. No generation has the lock on either group.

I understand as well as anyone the crippling effect of loneliness (which isn't necessarily a function of place or lack of support). It messes with your head in sometimes very subtle ways. You may feel the need to reach out to your fellow human, but you also trust strangers less. You may seek out those with whom you share interests, but not bond with them. You want a break from your personal routine, but you tolerate others' quirks less and less. Possibly worst of all, you do lash out more (whether alone or with others) than you might if you felt more like part of society. You get caught up more in your own thoughts and criticisms, which can be mentally destructive if there isn't anyone around to check them.  If your circumstances don't easily allow for you to attend events or meet anyone, that can lead to a lingering depression. It's not a stretch to see how all that could lead to a shorter lifespan.

Anyone who reads this blog, or talks to me on an intermittent basis, knows that I am not big on curmudgeonly generational condescension, aka "kids these days" talk. Older people only think younger generations suck because 1) older people romanticize the past and 2) they forget that their elders thought they, too, sucked. The generation gap is as old as humanity itself, because it's human nature to lack perspective.

• You should have it all figured out by now. If you don’t, you are a pathetic, clean-shaven little boy who deserves to die alone in an efficiency apartment only to be found six days later when you don’t show up for your job fetching coffee for real men (which is two days longer than they’re used to you being gone because you are a lazy fool who constantly calls in sick).

Fifteen years ago, hipsters were much less common. Does that mean people weren’t seeking outsidership in 2000? Of course not. It just took a different form then, maybe in nu-metal/rap-rock (or whatever other lamestream trend was hot at the time; I didn’t pay attention). It’s mainly an aesthetic difference. But someone who was truly their own person then is probably the same person now.

Online dating is monumentally stupid.

I'm sure most of you could have told me that. The Internet did. So did my mom. They doled out the hard truth about such a pursuit that I could have have figured out too, had I given it three seconds of thought. But instead, I spent that three seconds thinking, “Gee willikers, my wit and personality are absolutely going to shine through online dating just like they do face-to-face!”

Pssssssh.

I learned very quickly that successful online dating requires everything that I hate about everything.

SPORTS: THE YEAR OF THE OVERDOG


Beast Moan (1/29)
Journalists aren’t sociopathic scoop sharks and Lynch isn’t some poor, bombarded sap. He’s a superstar football player about to play in his second consecutive Super Bowl. He plays in a league that trains all of its personnel in relating to the media as public figures. The big game has events where these players have to be available to talk for five minutes. They can choose to spout the usual platitudes, or they can be refreshingly different. Or, they can not say the usual platitudes but still be uninteresting, like Lynch. His standoffishness is remarkable only in how petulant it is.

YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS IF:

• You won the science fair every year in school because your projects had strobing LED displays, push-button audio components and six-foot-tall mockups of Nikola Tesla, because your parents were very rich and also they did the projects for you.

YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR THE SEATTLE SEAHAWKS IF:
• You only learned of football’s existence in 2013.

But as far as playing real golf goes, you need a huge plot of land and pricey clubs, to say nothing of golf carts, other equipment and exorbitant green fees. That's not casual stuff for many adults, let alone children.

“Hi, Tom Brady’s wrist. How are you feeling today?”

“A bit tingly.”

“Why is that?”

“The NFL slapped me moderately yesterday.”

But no matter how one feels about God, it's a stretch and at least a little arrogant to insist that an almighty being is picking NFL favorites every week. To subscribe to that suggests at best that God is a fickle fan. At worst, it would mean that the games are divinely stacked. Either way, one thing's for sure: There's no correlation between how devout a player is and how successful they are. Cases in point: Tim Tebow struggles just to stay on a preseason roster while Arian Foster is not constantly engulfed in flames.

Brain: "You see, you can only stay fresh and relevant for so long, even if you want to stay in the game until you're 45. The body can only go so far."

Heart: "Yeah? Well, you're only as young as you feel!"

Brain: "To a degree. But at some point you have to accept that you're past your prime."

Ref: "All right, break it up! This blog fight is supposed to be about the Saints.”

THE YEAR IN FAKE NEWS 



POETRY CORNER

I drew on the wall
And Mom was mad about it
I did it again

This is the end ... for now

Today is not only the last day of 2015, it's also the final day of Not Right About Anything.

But that doesn't mean I'm going anywhere.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

In the eye of the job-holder

Something immediately jumps out to me about the “best” and “worst” jobs of 2015.

The “best” jobs pay well and cater to the current needs of the marketplace.

The “worst” jobs are almost universally things we need to keep society from eating itself.

Lists like these have are useful as a source of comparative information of incomes, and perhaps some wider, long-term trends. But they’re not career guides. The only way they could be is if you’re chasing trends, which is a shortsighted way to go through life.

I know it’s popular these days to criticize people for not obtaining an acceptably viable degree (or for getting one at all), but every degree is worth something, because you can’t go through two, four or more years of education and training without developing thought, discipline and structure within yourself. The same is true with on-the-job experience, regardless of educational pedigree. Those skills are useful everywhere. Chasing today’s hot ticket with hopes for tomorrow is a good way to hurt yourself, because nothing is guaranteed. So do what you want to do, regardless of whether some list insists it’s “good” or “bad.”

So what was the worst job of 2015? Newspaper reporter.

Journalism, in all its forms, is a calling. Teaching is another. These are jobs people do not for pay or prestige, but because they believe in the mission. The same can’t be said for many of the “best” jobs. That’s not to say the “best” jobs are inherently bad or that journalists and teachers couldn’t stand to be paid more, but it’s an important point. We will always need people to tell us what’s going on, and to teach the next generation. People would do both even if either ceased to be a career. We should never discourage those drawn to these pursuits (assuming they’re suitable, of course). Anyway, who knows when those will be hot again? Never say never.

Business cycles are part of life. But intellectual curiosity and critical thinking will always have value.