Thursday, March 30, 2006

Narrow minds make great insulation

Last night I had a conversation with a friend who is a Louisiana expatriate currently living in the upper midwest. She's itching to move back as soon as she can, which she and her husband plan to do in a few years. She says what she misses most about her native region are the food, the festivals and her old friends.

I can certainly understand this. If I ever left, I can think of several food items off the top of my head that I'd send for, since they aren't available elsewhere. Foodstuffs like Zapp's chips and Evangeline Maid bread, for example (I've heard local troops in Iraq are also pining for these items). As for Mardi Gras and Festival International de Louisiane? I'd miss those too. And friends? Mais yeah, as they say in these parts. And, as if it needs to be said, the eternal masochism that is Saints football.

What wouldn't I miss? The politics, obviously. Louisiana has a well-deserved reputation as something of a corrupt state, a distinction that isn't limited to one party. And let's just say that Kat-Rita brought out both the best and worst traits in people. Nothing is so vivid as a person's true colors. I also wouldn't miss the humidity. Sweet Jeezus! If it were any stickier, Courtney Love would live here.

And that's what my friend and I got to talking about: no, not sticky Courtney (wiseass!), the grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome. She implied that I was just in need of new scenery, while I argued she was nostalgic for a place she couldn't wait to leave three years ago. But then I wondered, perhaps she really does fit in here? After all, we're quite different people. And she has certainly been around enough to make an informed decision about where she belongs.

There's a profound difference between someone who has been in a disparate region for several years, has traveled extensively and has decided that they are happiest at square one, and someone who has lived in one place their entire lives and is certain that nowhere else compares. There's a lot of the latter sentiment here in the south. And as you can probably imagine, it drives me nuts.

After all, seeing some ignorant redneck with 10 teeth walk out of Wal-Mart and climb into his souped-up-like-Bigfoot truck with a rebel flag and a sticker declaring that he's Southern "by the grace of God," really has an effect on the old self-esteem. If he's blessed, then God must really hate my ass. Bummer.

Even so, I would still wish more power to him for loving his hometown if I knew he came by that assessment honestly. But then I realize that, to him, anything north of Opelousas is Yankee territory. The same probably goes for the 18-year-old local girl who posts on myspace that she's "ready to settle down." As if getting drunk every night for a year constituted a cultural expansion! How can you settle down if you've never even gotten up?

Though in better times I once traveled through the American southwest, most of my travels have been through the Deep South. And with few exceptions, everything looks exactly the same to me. Highways, tourist traps, diners, Stuckey's, oil rigs, rusty cars, southern accents...this is my reality. But then I meet people from other corners of the nation (or world), and all of this freaks them out. And I have to wonder, what about this is so bizarre to them? Whatever the answer, it reminds me that this is just one area of many. Not the best, not the worst, but certainly not the ONLY.

"But Ian," you say, "It's like that everywhere." But is it really? I used to believe this, until I realized that most of the people telling me this hadn't been anywhere else themselves. Others really had been around and found they liked this place best; but at least those people understand my wanderlust, because they once had it themselves.

Mind you, there are some places I would exempt from this blanket condemnation. If someone says they'd want to live in New York City their whole lives, for example, no one can really accuse them of being sheltered. Likewise with New Orleanians, or any other cultural hubs here and throughout the world.

But ANYBODY who can claim to living in paradise on Earth, without ever having seen the rest of it, is actually proving the opposite point.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Britney's bare! Get it?!!

NEW YORK - A life-size sculpture of a naked Britney Spears kneeling on a bearskin rug as she gives birth will be on display next month at Brooklyn’s Capla Kesting Fine Art gallery.

The sculpture is to appear next to a display case filled with anti-abortion materials. It was created by Daniel Edwards, who said he never spoke to the 24-year-old pop star or met her, and fashioned her face and figure from photographs.

Photographs of who, Scarlett Johansson and Demi Moore? This guy's clearly got a subscription to Vanity Fair. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But at least to me, Britney is not the one who comes to mind here.

“I admire her. This is an idealized figure,” Edwards said Tuesday in a phone interview from his home, which is near his studio in Moosup, Conn.“Everyone is coming at me with anger and venom, but I depicted her as she has depicted herself — seductively. Suddenly, she’s a mom.”

You know, I almost buy this. Sure, there are lots of jokes to be made about this sculpture. For example:

--I recall there being a period between Britney's "seductress" and "mom" phases; I think it was called the "She let herself go in a disastrous way" phase;
--If Britney and K-Fed are the new spokesmodels for making babies, then maybe we should reconsider castration;
--That doctor sure has a kinky way of delivering a baby;
--Did Edwards have to wear latex gloves for protection while sculpting this?
--Britney can't tell if she's coming or going!

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah...were it not for the anti-abortion material put next to it, this would simply be a provocative sculpture. Instead, it's a provocative sculpture depicting what looks like a really painful birth (or bowel movement) as proof that life is beautiful.

“We also got calls from Tokyo, England, France. Some people are upset that Britney is being used for this subject matter,” said gallery co-owner David Kesting. “Others who are pro-life thought this was degrading to their movement. And some pro-choice people were upset that this is a pro-life monument.”

Does anybody like this sculpture? I'll admit that I do, and not because it turns me on; unfortunate positioning aside, it's just a well-done representation of the pregnant human form. Then again, it's all about the angle; I might feel differently if I could see behind it. Anyway, it doesn't look all that much like Britney.

“Pro-lifers normally promote bloody images of abortion. This is the image of birth,” he said.

That's really the problem with the pro-life movement: the obsession with birth and death. Both are nasty processes! If they really wanted to celebrate life, a seductive sculpture of a 2000-era Britney would have sufficed nicely.

When Edwards was asked why he creates art that generates publicity by selecting subjects hyped in the media, he said: “You’re bombarded with these stories. And there’s a thread that winds back to the art. That’s not a bad thing. People are interested in these topics, and it works for art as well.”

Can I make one thing perfectly clear about the abortion issue? NOT EVERYONE WHO HAS A BABY IS PRO-LIFE. Believe it or not, pro-choice people do breed and, in fact, love their children as much as anyone else. The movement isn't about hating babies or promoting abortion; it's about choosing whether or not you are ready to engage in one of life's greatest responsibilities, that of parenthood. I would bet that most pro-choice people are, in fact, anti-abortion. This is because progressive people are able to separate their own personal beliefs from those of the whole. Case in point: I don't drink, but neither do I think alcohol should be illegal. Some see childbirth as a burden (and, wishing to avoid bringing a child into a rotten life, terminate a pregnancy as soon as possible), while others see it as fate and accept it. Whatever works for you, you know?

Asked whether he’s anti-abortion, Edwards said, “You nailed me. I’m not saying that I am. I wouldn’t march with either pro-life or pro-choice advocates. This is not meant to be political.”

When I ran an entry on a high-school classmate of mine who died in Iraq in September 2004, I was accused by some of exploiting his death to further my own beliefs on Iraq. Which I don't think was true, because I had been saying those things long before that incident (and I've always supported the troops). But it's true that you're taking a risk when you take someone you don't know (or whose politics you don't know) and twist their actions to fit your agenda. Especially with a public figure, it seems like a bold thing to do.

Still, Britney's probably pro-life. After all, she trusts Dubya. And she has always been the posterchick for that bizarre sexual-virgin dichotomy that's a trademark of the Deep South. So maybe this isn't as big a risk as it seems.

A better birth control?

Soon the GOP will try to stop this too

BBC--Experts are developing a contraceptive pill they hope will not carry the raised risk of breast cancer associated with the current combined pill.

It is hoped the new pill, which may actually protect against the disease, could be available within five years. [...]

It would stop the monthly cycle of periods by blocking the hormone progesterone, which helps the body prepare for pregnancy. It might also cut the risk of thrombosis for older women who are overweight or smoke.

A birth-control pill with a reduced risk of breast cancer? Wow! Assuming this innovation works out (it's still in a rudimentary phase), we could be looking at a serious breakthrough for women who wish to prevent unwanted pregnancy. The current pill supposedly protects against womb and ovarian cancer, so this would hit the trifecta! What a wonderful day for women. Surely there must be a catch...

The pill is based on the drug used in the controversial abortion pill - RU486.

Oh, darn. Well, so much for that! They say that this pill will be available in five years. But who are we kidding? Five years from now, the Scalito court will have raped reproductive rights to a degree that such a pill might never see the light of day here. Even though, ironically, it'll probably be most necessary by then.

But hey, that's what women deserve, right? If they hadn't given Adam the apple to begin with, then maybe they wouldn't be having all these babies. Or something.

To paraphrase the ridiculous attack ad from Head of State: "The religious right. They're for cancer."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Caption Central

"Note right" edition

--"...And because my SUV ran out of gas before I got to the demonstration"
--"...And I choose less shady school vouchers than this"
--"...And I choose to go to the bathroom, Condi!"
--"...Assuming that choice is made for me by GOP lawmakers"
--Of course, she had to note that she was both Republican and pro-woman
--Funny...when I think of GOP politicians making choices, I'm more reminded of yellow than pink
--There's a lot of room between those lines
--One bumper sticker that you won't see 30 times on a Navigator
--The answer: a tack. The question: How does a neocon solve any problem?
--Indeed, "Republican" and "pink slip" often go hand-in-hand
--"Wait...this is school choice right? Because that's all I mean"
--A very tempting bullseye indeed
--If you're a Republican for choice, then why are you a Republican BY choice?
--And I'll bet they support choice in order to CHOOSE's about time a conservative understood the pro-choice platform!

Lames people say

Friday, March 24, 2006

Good news, part two

Though I've never mentioned it previously on this blog, I have been in the running for a particular job for the past two months, one which I had first applied for last summer. It represented the main chance I had to have a real job here.

Last night I was informed that I didn't get it. Yep, on Friday night.

"This was one time where experience mattered," they said to me, referring to the person who was "better." Well, isn't that nice! It's good to know that experience can theoretically be attained someplace. It's hard to get (official) experience when no one wants to give you a chance to prove yourself. Does no one else see the catch-22 in that?

Of course, my resume will be kept on file. I was once dumped by a girl like that: "I'm getting back together with my ex-boyfriend, but if it doesn't work out then maybe we can get back together." Yeah, right. See ya!

Just like with the last post, there isn't any good news. There never is, it seems.

Good news!

No, I don't have any good news. But I was recently reminded of a common conservative mindset while reading about the Pluto Nash of presidents, Ronald Reagan:

Unhappy with the TV news coverage of his administration, President Reagan proposes that the networks report only "good news" for a week. "If the ratings go down," he says, "they can go back to bad news."

The Clothes Have No Emperor by Paul Slansky, entry for 3/3/83)

While good news certainly has its place, calls for such by right-leaning figures runs less along the lines of, "Grassroots efforts helping community" than, "Thousands if U.S. troops not killed today." In other words, they don't want good news so much as deceptive ways of pushing bad news.

There's an inherent irony in the president who's perhaps most responsible for today's neocon political climate (and all the crap it continues to bring us) asking the media to report only the good things. What's even crazier that that some of the Murdochier media outlets actually do it. Can't spell "press" without "P.R."

You want to know why it's called news? Because, by definition, it isn't something that happens all the time. Or if it is happening all the time, then it isn't supposed to be happening. You never hear, "Hey! Did you hear the news? I had a perfectly normal day." Now, if Indiana Jones were saying that, yeah, I suppose it could be news. Otherwise, no.

In a way, I'm jealous of those who operate under that mode of thinking. It must be nice to be that terminally positive, to be able to think, "At least I'm not homeless," and have that pass as a comforting thought. Personally, I think a balance of positivity and realism is healthy. And while I definitely understand the value of turning off the news once in a while (or often) for the sake of sanity, that's a decision that should be left to the individual and should not be abetted by news outlets.

But I'm sure there will be some good news on January 20, 2009. I'm cautiously optimistic, as the Gipper would say.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Questionable Answers

In keeping with the mission of Not Right to serve humankind, I want to start an advice column. So if any of you have problems (as one or two of you might), then drop me a line here or off-blog. My e-mail address is my first and last name runtogetherlikethis at gee mail dot com (but not actually that, obviously).

A few rules will apply for this: 1) This is me we're talking about here. You know my writing, so expect a similar treatment as I phenomenally solve all of your woes; 2) Save your most serious issues for professionals. If you have a real problem such as suicidal tendencies or substance abuse, you need real counseling. Also, consider that I'm probably in need of lots of help myself, which adds the requisite amusing irony to this; 3) That said, however, I will give legit answers as best as I can. This isn't "Ask a Vapid Sorority Chick" or any other Onion-type thing. The goal here is to help out people in a real and really entertaining way; 4) Hypothetical problems are acceptable and, in fact, encouraged, especially if it makes for fun bloggery; 5) Entries can be anonymous (and/or confidential) if you choose. Furthermore, I reserve the right to make up confidential entries, just like the tabloids do.

For this first issue, I will rip an actual letter from a syndicated advice column and answer it my own way. Just so everybody knows what they're getting into:

DEAR ABBY: I am seeing some behavior in my 15-year-old nephew that has me worried. He's a "high achiever" and, basically, a pretty good kid. Maybe he's under stress from school or sports, but he has been having some shocking, angry outbursts. Whether against his parents, his brother or his girlfriend, he will fly into a rage. He shouts, pounds his fists on the table, slams doors (breaking a glass pane) and storms out of the house. I saw him shove his brother during a recent argument, and I have heard him threaten to put his fist through a wall. Luckily, he hasn't followed through.

He doesn't have a history of causing trouble, and these angry outbursts don't happen all the time. I know you have a booklet about controlling anger. Do you think it might help him, and how can I order one? -- WORRIED UNCLE, ANNAPOLIS, MD.

Dear Worried Uncle: You are absolutely right to be worried about your nephew's behavior. Unusual signs of aggression in good kids is always alarming and is almost always triggered by a traumatic incident or series of incidents. In this case, it might be that he's 15 years old and is being bombarded by an increasingly testosterone-crazed American pop culture. Or that he's being teased. Or molested. You know him better than I do, so why are you asking me?

Seriously, my advice would be to look for anything amiss (such as relatives who are less "worried" than they are "creepy"). But no matter what, the kid needs to learn that such violent outbursts are not an acceptable outlet for aggression. If he is as good as you claim, then he should eventually see the error of his ways. In the meantime, set a good example in your own behavior. When you're tempted to put your own fist through a wall over dealing with your nephew, refrain from doing so in his presence. Consciously or not, he probably looks up to you. Serial killer Richard Ramirez looked up to his uncle, a bloodthirsty maniac who spattered his teenage nephew with his wife's blood. So the importance of good role-modeling can never be overstated.

Of course, I'm no professional psychologist; I'm speaking strictly from the perspective of someone who has been there. You see, I was once a 15-year-old boy. For a whole year, in fact. And at one point I was prone to much of the same behavior that you describe in your nephew. Mainly in my twenties, but that's beside the point. Your best bet, again, is to be there for your nephew and address his insecurities. If nothing else, it's cheaper than that $6 booklet that Dear Abby so graciously attempted to sell you. At least that Dr. Peter Gott guy sends you a free copy of his health reports before offering them for sale to other readers. Capitalistic greed at Dear Abby pisses me off! Makes me want to put my fist through a wall...

Sorry, I digress. If none of this behavior works out by the time he's 18, then you could always send him to Annapolis. Since you're already there and all.

Best of luck! --Ian

Monday, March 20, 2006

How to put Louisiana on the map

I think it's time that we Louisianians gave our state a nickname.

Yeah, I know that we have nicknames and mottos aplenty already: Sportsman's Paradise, the Bayou State, the Gret Stet, That Part of the World, etc. But just as we must adapt for a post-Kat-Rita future, so should we shake things up in the PR department.

Take our current state motto, for example. Our excellent new license plate, which debuted to much fanfare in 2005, proudly touts our outdoorsy heritage:

Louisiana, Sportsman's Paradise. Short, sweet and succinct. And if I may add another adjective that starts with S, "So played out." Indeed, the motto has been on our license plate almost continuously for quite a while now--like, since 1979. And before that, 1964-73. And before that, 1959!

Off-years have included such illustrious Louisiana promotions as "Louisiana Purchase," "LSU Centennial," "Bayou State," "World's Fair" and (no joke) "Louisiana Yams"! But that's not all; the years 1958 and 1961-63 listed the motto as the subtly sexist, "SportsmEn's Paradise." But none of these have ever caught on with the rest of the country. Most people I've talked to from other places think we're the Pelican State or Oil Country or the Waterboy State or whatever.

Even those within the state tend to refer to themselves in obscure terms, such as "Coonass," "Poo-Doo" and other terms that Nick might know. Generally, however, people tend to take the first letter of their hometown and add "-Town" to the end. This is unique and very, very hip. "I'm from H-Town," for example, would be said by someone from Houma. "B-Town" refers to Broussard. "D-Ville," a variation on this slang, refers to Donaldsonville. "Alec" is a shortened form of Alexandria. Still others claim they're from the Dirty South.

And of course, New Orleans is the Big Easy. It's the only unique selling point we really have.

So as you can see, Louisiana could use a new and refreshing, yet relevant, synonym. Something catchy that accurately reflects the spirit of the state in the vernacular of the times. I think I've got it:

The Weezy.

Yes, The Weezy. It works for several reasons: 1) It's an unmistakable abbreviation for Louisiana; 2) who doesn't love a woman named Weezy? 3) it rhymes with "Big Easy," "breezy" and "off the heezy"; and 4) the air here makes you wheezy. It's almost perfect! If not for a license plate, then at least for a logo:

Granted, I am aware of the drawbacks to this nickname. For one thing, those who currently pronounce the name "Loo-ziana" would have a hard road to pave with this one. Luzianne Tea would probably pitch a fit. And more likely than not, it violates some blue law in Ruston. But regardless, I submit "The Weezy" as our new state nickname. Maybe if those with power and clout adopt this slang in a desperate attempt to appear "rad," they'll have no choice but to start paying attention to us.

It might not help. But it can't possibly hurt.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Caption Central

"Things that make you go boom" edition

--OBVIOUS: Wiretapping's a bitch, isn't it?
--Using the most sensitive equipment available, researchers at Georgetown attempt to quantify the old adage, "In one ear and out the other."
--"Not tonight, Laura."
--What Watergate would have looked like if Bush had planned it
--The microphone industry was one of the few entities to boom under Bush's economic plan
--"Scratch your own damn backs, freeloaders!"
--"Not tonight, Satan."
--Those mikes are clearly compensating for something
--STAR TREK: "Ah hate tribbles!"
--No matter how hard the press corps scrubbed, they found that one cannot clean dirt
--These advanced lie detectors go off anytime Bush emits a sound
--"Even the boom-mikes in this country expect handouts!"
--In typical fashion, Bush addresses a gaggle of microphones by waving
--"Ah love whack-a-mole!"
--That overly phallic mic with the distorted feedback on the far right? Must be Fox News!
--With today's mass media being what it is, the mikes are probably asking Bush to sign their boobs
--Even the press won't touch Bush these days with a 10-foot boom pole
--That's gotta be a nightmare for both Bush and the microphones

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Jessica Simpson has principles

"I like him, but I don't LIKE like him, you know?"

LOS ANGELES - Jessica Simpson loves President Bush. She’s just not a big fan of Republican fundraisers.

The Hollywood starlet and tabloid cover girl was on Capitol Hill Thursday to lobby Congress for Operation Smile, an organization that provides reconstructive surgery to children with facial deformities. But all anyone wanted to know was why she turned down an invitation to attend a Republican fundraiser with Washington’s top star — Bush.

You hear that? Bush is a star! And all the figurehead of Neocon America wants is to visit with the reigning princess of Bimbostan. A true meeting of the mindless, I'm sure.

Curiously, this story changed between the first time I saw it and when I went back to blog on it. The main difference in the updated version is the Simpson family's huffing declarations of love for the Bushes. Beforehand, it spoke mainly of Jessica's desire not to politicize her group at a GOP fundraiser, with none of the apologetic "We-love-you-George" overtones.

“We went back and forth and we could never get the details worked out,” said her father and manager, Joe Simpson. “When it became obvious that it was not just a state dinner, it was more of a fundraising event, that is the wrong purpose of why we are here.”

Still, he said of the president, “We are huge fans of him and of his family, his girls. Jessica loves the heck out of him.”

When even people who love the heck out of you are embarrassed to be seen with you on a political stage, you're clearly doing something wrong!

NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said he was surprised at Simpson’s position.

What's even funnier to me is that they're so upset about it, as if Jessica Simpson is bowing out of the Coalition of the Willing. She's a pop star, brainiacs!

“It’s never been a problem for Bono,” he said, referring to the U2 rock star who has met regularly with political leaders of all stripes to promote various causes, including Third World debt relief. “I find it hard to believe she would pass up an opportunity to lobby the president on behalf of Operation Smile.”

Well, Bono was a candidate for president of the World Bank, and his devotion to social causes began even before Jessica was an urge in Joe's pants. The U2 frontman's also networked extensively with leaders all over the world. Comparing Bono to Jessica is like comparing apples to, well, melons.

Not that Operation Smile isn't important; far from it. But this article proves that Jessica can indeed get her message across without overtly tying the cause to Bush. I think it speaks volumes that the National Republican Congressional Committee was concerned more with getting her together with Bush than with the actual substance of her message. Again, note the wording of the above quote:

“I find it hard to believe she would pass up an opportunity to lobby the president on behalf of Operation Smile.”

What matters is that people see Simpson and Bush together against a background with "Operation Smile" splashed all across it, more so than what actually results for Operation Smile. Of course, I can see why these folks would value the photo-op over the message. A Jessica/Dubya picture would be the photo-op of a lifetime, one that would tell historians everything they ever need to know about this day and age. It would be the famous Nixon/Elvis and Reagan/Michael photos combined into one national punchline!

Come on, Jessica! I've got captions in my head just itching for a pic like that...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Beware the idealists of March

Ten years ago today, on March 15, 1996, I was accepted onto the staff of my high-school newspaper. Only juniors and seniors could be on the staff, and applying was a relatively rigorous process involving sample writings, peer review and signed references from three teachers. It was really exhilarating to make it, as I'd missed being on a school-paper staff for the previous two years. At that point, Brutus himself could have stabbed me and I would have happily asked, "Et tu, Brute?" (actually, that would have sucked, because I'd be dead and wouldn't have gotten to write then).

Naturally, they botched my name when they announced it over the intercom (supposedly at the behest of a friend who told the announcer girl that I would find that funny). "EYE-in..." Ha ha, right? So my reaction to the announcement was the double-edged, "Yeah! HEY!" that now accompanies most good news that I get.

After a year as staff writer, I was named co-editor-in-chief. That meant I designed the paper, proofread articles and hung out with the yearbook girls during my free period. It also meant I wrote less, and that most of my stuff that got in was space filler. I did, however, manage to write my first-ever published editorial. Yeah, it was watered down and self-censored to the point of near-incoherence; but being that you all like to laugh at other people, I'll put it here:

The original name of the column was "Not Quite News." How prophetic was that?

Each blurb (numbered here in order) says something about my evolution as a writer:

1) Some things never change, and moving from the top to entry-level again is always a tough transition. MTV references apparently never change either.

2) When creating fake pages with fake articles to learn the program, don't leave them on the same disk as the real issue going to print; something bad is liable to happen. And it did with our second issue. Over the summer, I'd made up a CD review, in which I said I had a new CD out, and proceeded to minutely critique it (complete with sample lyrics!). To top it all off, I put my friend's name on the article. Imagine my coronary when I saw it in print! I was embarrassed, everyone was confused, my friend was mad at me (even though his English teacher asked him why he couldn't write like that in class) and one of my teachers asked me for a copy of the CD. This blurb was my attempt to play it off, though I guess I shouldn't complain at having a music review of my "work" published. Lots of real bands would kill for that exposure.

Still, it could have been worse; the dummy page the publishers didn't use was an advice column that referred to all of my crushes (and enemies) by name and description.

3) Considering any of the hundreds of things I could have whaled on about our new Nazi superintendent, I chose the tamest thing. Way to sell that Fourth Estate, baby.

4) This was supposed to end, "...And I should know, because she used to clobber me in baseball games in my front yard when we were kids." But that seemed too...self-indulgent?

Speaking of self-indulgence...I'm out. Et tu?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Battlefield Colorado

Scientologist Hayes 'clears' self of South Park

NEW YORK - Isaac Hayes has quit “South Park,” where he voices Chef, saying he can no longer stomach its take on religion. Hayes, who has played the ladies’ man/school cook in the animated Comedy Central satire since 1997, said in a statement Monday that he feels a line has been crossed.

“There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins,” the 63-year-old soul singer and outspoken Scientologist said.

“Religious beliefs are sacred to people, and at all times should be respected and honored,” he continued. “As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices.”

There's definitely something fishy about this. Isaac Hayes has been on the show for nearly a decade and suddenly he's offended by it? Please! South Park's entire existence hinges on outrage, and Chef has been as integral a part of that as any other character. It's more disappointing than anything, because Hayes is such a widely acclaimed singer and voice actor, and it always hurts to see someone so willing to break boundaries quit doing so because they have no ability to laugh at themselves.

“South Park” co-creator Matt Stone responded sharply in an interview with The Associated Press Monday, saying, “This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology... He has no problem — and he’s cashed plenty of checks — with our show making fun of Christians.”

Way to go, Matt! The ability to laugh at oneself is the pivotal test of open-mindedness. Some people pass; others take the money and cut out.

Last November, “South Park” targeted the Church of Scientology and its celebrity followers, including actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, in a top-rated episode called “Trapped in the Closet.” In the episode, Stan, one of the show’s four mischievous fourth graders, is hailed as a reluctant savior by Scientology leaders, while a cartoon Cruise locks himself in a closet and won’t come out.

Last November? Man, if something bothered me in November (and believe me, many things did), I would have tried to take care of it then! Hayes could have boosted his case considerably if he had objected to the script during a preliminary read. But raising a stink four months after the episode aired? That just, um, stinks.

Stone told The AP he and co-creator Trey Parker “never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin.”

South Park
is one of the most topical shows on TV, and (though I'm admittedly not a fan) it does attack politics and culture with abandon. Right now, one of those Big Things is Scientology. And given Parker and Stone's past swipes at Catholics and Jews (among others), it only seems to reason that they would lampoon Scientology as well. I'm not saying Hayes has to like it, but neither should he seem so surprised about it.

This incident, along with the Danish cartoon affair, raises the question of satirization of religion--in this day and age, should it be done? I'm divided straight down the middle on the issue. First, the reasons why religion deserves to be satirized as much as anything else:

1) Religion is relevant. Some of today's most dramatic and far-reaching political decisions come down to spiritual issues: terrorism, abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, etc. At times, the debate teeters on fanaticism, which solves no problems but does allow politicians to score cheap points. Those of us who fear and resent such actions often feel powerless to stop them, and react in any constructive way we can. For a satirist, poking fun at the spectacle and hypocrisy of it all is a form of therapy.

2) Religion is trendy. While spirituality and faith have been around as long as "around" itself, it's taken on different forms in different eras, with some more sincere than others. Right now, celebrities are big on Scientology and the Kabbalah. And while many of these people may be genuine in their beliefs, the whole thing has more than a slight reek of coolness to it. This treatment of religion as a flavor-of-the-moment practically cries out to be lampooned.

3) Religion is misrepresented. Everyone believes in something; but almost never is that belief fully understood by the next person. Because of this simple misunderstanding, we've all been fighting for 3,000 years. What's saddest about this is that almost everyone ultimately wants the same things. If all of that isn't irony, then irony doesn't exist.

4) Religion is the standard. The ability to satirize religion is the best barometer of freedom of speech. If such freedom is not protected, then it is only a matter of time before we lose other speech freedoms as well.

On the other hand:

5) I don't want to be killed. So I'm about 50-50 on this.

Maybe Isaac is similarly worried about a backlash from Tom Cruise. He's got power, you know.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Caption Central

"Let freedom wring" edition

--Two Iraqi kids prepare to perform an uproarious metaphor of the Iraq War
--"Man, I'm pissed! That other kid got to hold up a sign saying his sister had been knocked up!"
--"My shirt's wrinkled. Anyone have an irony?"
--The only thing washed on this poor kid is his brain
--I heard he's actually registered to vote in Akron
--Under the Iraqi version of No Child Left Behind, playground bullies are allowed preemptive strikes against smaller children, by virtue of the bullies' larger stature
--I believe they call this, "Stockholm syndrome"
--Asking the Iron Sheik to starch his shirt was a bad move
--They told him the shirt said, "Bush League Futbol"
--That particular hold is known as an Abu Grab
--Not only was his index finger purple, so was his neck
--"They promised me that this shirt would ward off evil spirits!"
--Another fine product from Credibility-Gap Kids
--"Who is this 'sitting duck' I keep hearing about?"
--What the kid likes best about the Bush platform is his supply-side economic policies, which offer tax incentives to corporations and the wealthiest citizens in order to facilitate economic growth and...wait, what? Oh, he can't even read. Never mind.

Holy smokes! We ARE back in the Fifties!

WASHINGTON (AP) - Cigarette sales are at a 55-year low, but public health advocates say more must be done to encourage the roughly 20 percent of Americans who still smoke to quit.

The National Association of Attorneys General, relying on Treasury Department data, reported Wednesday that 378 billion cigarettes were sold in the United States last year. That is the lowest number sold since 1951, according to the attorneys general.

I am shocked--SHOCKED!--that this is actually true. It blows my mind so much, in fact, that I wonder if the statisticians aren't actually smoking something themselves. Of course, they are talking about 1951 here--not exactly the smoke-free-est of eras. Judging by pictures and films of the era, smoking was apparently required in every classroom, boardroom, newsroom and doctor's office. So maybe what the Treasury Department is really saying is that we're finally back into the decade where the Republicans would most like us to be. And that, to me, is reason enough why people would be anxious enough to smoke more.

Indeed, in the past couple of years I've seen more people start smoking than ever. Not young teenagers, either: people in their 20s! Even weirder, some of them were once anti-smoking activists. I once read that if someone makes it to 18 without smoking, they have a 90 percent chance of never starting. That was before 9/11 changed everything, of course; just ask Peter Jennings. Oh, never mind, you can't.

Tough times make people do things they might otherwise avoid for health reasons, such as smoking, drug use and finding fundamentalist religion. And nothing breeds a nicotine habit like endless repetitions of, "It's been a rough week!" Here in the happy state of Louisiana, you hear (and smell) that a lot. The percentage of smokers in this state is conservatively estimated (of course it is) at 25 percent. Based on my travels through Lafayette and New Orleans, that stat apparently means that no one in north Louisiana smokes.

Of course, everyone in Louisiana smokes in some sense, because we're the Pittsburgh of the south. We have more toxic waste than the toilets at Chernobyl. So I guess for most people, it's not that much of a gamble. Still, I refuse to smoke; I'm a rebel to the very end.

Even though nothing in my personal sphere would suggest that cigarette sales are down to 1951 levels, I do predict a continuation of this trend into 2006. This will happen for several reasons:

--My dad quit smoking in January. He alone was responsible for 25 percent of Marlboro sales. Okay, that's an exaggeration; but since my parents have stopped, my mom has been able to save money for a down payment on a new car. In three months. No joke!

--As the job market remains stagnant, people will be unable to afford cigarettes.

--As the Bush administration and its obedient states continue their love for executions, fewer inmates will be around to trade cigarettes for sexual favors.

--The age for cigarettes is 18; beer, 21. In their ever-increasing haste to appear older than they are, teenagers will turn to scoring beer.

--Bumming, of course.

--Practically everyone famous who smokes dies from it somehow. It also killed Dana Reeve and Andy Kaufman, neither of whom smoked but who played in smoky clubs. Yummy!

--Kevin Federline smokes. And if he does it, how cool can it be?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

His suicide note read, "Goodbye, cruel world..."

Okay, that's not true. But it's true that Slobodan Milosevic was found dead in his cell today. This is undoubtedly disappointing news for those who wanted the pleasure of executing him.

I don't doubt that Osama bin Laden will also die the same way. Except for the part about being in jail. Isn't karma fun?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Louisiana State, U Need Adversity

As long as I live, I'll never understand why people who are lucky enough to have top-shelf opportunities and schooling feel the need to bully those who make do with less. This is a common issue between those who attend one of Louisiana's two universities, LSU and Not LSU.

Nick has alerted me to The Highland Road Blog, which has published a post that pissed both of us off. First, a bit of background: in Louisiana, state schools are governed by two bodies: the LSU System, which services LSU and its three satellite campuses, and the UL System, which oversees every other state university. The LSU Board and the UL Board share members, most of whom are beholden to LSU. If that seems a tad unbalanced, you're catching on.

The current buzz is that Sally Clausen, the current head of the UL System, is being tapped to replace outgoing LSU System head Bill Jenkins. Highland Road's author--an LSU student named Ryan--balks at the idea [emphases mine]:

I don't see the strength in Clausen. She is the President of schools like Grambling State, ULL, ULM, UNO, SLU... in other words shitty schools. At my high school and around my hometown SLU was called Slow Learners University and the people who went there from my high school were often given a "Wow, I'm sorry" type response (not spoken, more of a thought) when they told other students they were going to SLU. The same goes for ULL, if you were going to ULL you knew they didn't have the qualifications to go to LSU (in the majority of the cases).

The fact is that the people who go to the schools in UL system are the ones who couldn't get into LSU or failed out of LSU.

You know what I like about this guy? His humility.

Prompted by this eloquent post, Nick and I have both tendered our responses. But since Ryan's blog is comment-moderated (of course it is), neither one of us is sure if our replies will ever see the light of screen. So I'm cross-posting my reply here:

If you think Gov. Blanco is spending too much time propping up UL Lafayette, then perhaps you should read this:

"Blanco came out for LSU in Baton Rouge on Feb. 4, 2004. 'LSU is currently regarded as the flagship university in Louisiana,' Blanco said, as quoted in the LSU Reveille. 'It should be encouraged to compete…but what we want to see is LSU being among the highest-ranking academic universities in the nation.'

Naturally, our camp raised the question about what the flagship status will mean for universities such as UL Lafayette. 'All the minor universities are able to compete nationally,' Blanco said."

If anything, she's playing both sides. Neither UL nor LSU is satisfied with her.

I attended UL Lafayette from 1998 to 2005, earning two degrees in the process. I certainly could have entered LSU, and in fact many people were surprised when I didn't. But I went to UL instead for several reasons: 1) I was offered sufficient scholarships to work and attend the school; 2) my major, mass communications, has a solid program comparable in many ways to LSU's solid program; 3) as someone who spent much of my childhood shuttling between Lafayette and Baton Rouge, I preferred to attend school in Lafayette, a city I feel offers far more cultural opportunities. As a member of the UL track team, I traveled to LSU on countless occasions. As impressed as I was with the campus and its facilities, I still felt like I made the right decision.

LSU is a school with a lot going for it, and I don't begrudge that. And I certainly am not the biggest fan of the UL system or the state in general. But to say that all of Louisiana's state schools are populated by LSU rejects is arrogance of the worst kind! Just like any other school, LSU has its strengths and weaknesses. One of those weaknesses, unfortunately, is hubris.

This hubris is evidenced every time someone from LSU derisively refers to my school by "ULL, UL or whatever your school is called these days." It's the LSU board's influence that kept our name from being the University of Louisiana in the first place. They didn't want our name to reflect badly upon the outdated "flagship" university status that LSU has. Our school is currently lobbying to officially change its name to UL, and much of the local press has alredy dropped the "Lafayette." And lest you think we can't drop the regional designation, officially or otherwise, I'd suggest you look up the official name of your own university, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. LSU has set the precedent in that regard.

Mind you, I have nothing against LSU; many of my friends and family have gone and do go there. The only issues I have lie with those within that institution who feel that they must dismiss other schools out of some feeling of superiority.

Not that you guys at LSU have anything to worry about. You do and will continue to receive as much funding as every other state school combined. With as much funding and national recognition as the school gets, it should be at least as good as it is.

If you wish to show your educational prowess, then do it academically. In the end, that'll take you much further in life than cutting down those around you.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Nukes of Hazard

I Love Lucidity

A couple of nights ago, I borrowed an old-school Nintendo game from a friend: Back to the Future II and III. Despite my ability to quote verbatim and do most of the sound effects from all three movies, I had managed to never play this game before. Part of that was probably because I had once tried to play the original Back to the Future Nintendo game. Once. I still remember the date that I fumbled with that awful adaptation--12/29/89. That's a long time to hold a grudge.

Fast forward to 3/3/06: I decide to open up to the sequel of one of the most frustrating games I'd ever played. I jumped into BTTF II and III, knowing full well that the game had been made by LJN, a now-defunct company that was known for its brutally hard game adaptations of popular movies and cartoons. If you've ever played Bill and Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure, you know the frustration of having to find 20 items and match them up with 20 people across 100 screens, all the while hoping your finger doesn't twitch and force you to have to replay the entire game.

Yes, BTTF II and III was every bit as impossible as I expected it to be. I like the game in theory, and am determined to beat it because I don't like to lose (you think by now I'd have learned to accept that I usually lose at things...but I never learn). Last night, while playing a particularly tedious prize maze for the 40th time, I realized that there's a huge difference between something being challenging and it just being difficult.

A challenge brings out the best in you; it excites your sense of competition and compels you to give your best for a potentially handsome payoff. On the other hand, a challenge can cross the line into tedium; if something is nearly impossible and appears to offer a negligible payoff anyway, then persistence probably isn't worth it.

I often feel that way about life. At what point do challenging ambitions become impossible roadblocks? What is the point of connecting the dots of success when the picture you get makes no sense, and could have been drawn better without any dots in the first place? Some people cruise through life while others bust their ass, stay out of trouble and still have to live day-to-day. I've seen some of the most upstanding people I've ever known--people who got their education, Just Said No and never hurt a fly--ruined or even killed before their time, while others who never gave a crap fall into one lucky break after another. Cause and effect matters so little in America these days, it seems.

Mind you, I want everyone in life to be successful--whatever that means to them--as long as what they choose to do harms no one. I'm not resentful because people with less education or less street smarts than myself have gone further in life. Even with two college degrees, I don't feel like I deserve to have anything handed to me (which is precisely why it stings me to see people have things handed to them with no appreciation of their value).

Because of all this, I often reach that point where I want to scream, "What the hell did I do wrong?" And just as often, the answer to that question makes want to turn off the tedious game that I'm playing. But I don't, because I'm a sore loser and a delusionally persistent bastard. Which may be the only thing that gets people like me through the day.

The game awaits.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The South Park of the South

What does it take to make it in the entertainment world? A Lafayette-based animator has found out:

It's best that Marc Moceri can't officially divulge the plot of his pilot for Comedy Central -- the synopsis alone is too graphic for print. As he outlines the story about a blood-thirsty space vampire of a different sort, he quickly catches himself saying a word he's not fond of letting slip past his lips.

"That's vulgar," he says, stopping the graphic flow of details. Strangely, Moceri is the creator -- literally based out of an extra bedroom in his Lafayette apartment -- of Sick Animation Dot Com, a site featuring cartoons making South Park on its worst day look like a kindergarten primer for manners and civilized behavior. For his site, the 26-year-old University of Louisiana alumni creates very simple cartoon clips ripe with foul language and toilet and genitalia humor, almost always ending with a punch line of man-on-man erotic behavior.


"I think they (professors) all disliked my work -- not because of subject matter. It was all the drawing and stuff. I'm a terrible drawer, a terrible artist, and I didn't make an effort what-so-ever to perfect my craft," Moceri says about the program. "I really didn't care at all. I just wanted to do animation, and I felt like, man, you don't have to draw, when in actuality it's a huge part."

I've been to his site, watched his animation and browsed through his strips. Saying Moceri's work deals with homosexual behavior is (and I'm sure he'd find this funny) like calling the Grand Canyon a hole. It consumes pretty much every pixel of his creations.

The Times article compares Moceri's work favorably to South Park, a spot-on comparison. They're both in the same poorly drawn, profane-for-profanity's-sake, homophobic vein. "Oh, look at the poorly drawn ghost! He's so....GAY!" Har de har har har.

I understand that I appear to be eating sour grapes here. After all, this dude's currently the darling of National Lampoon, and he manages to make a full-time living as an animator, which is quite a feat anywhere, let alone in Lafayette. I will give him major props for that.

Still, the humor typified in works like this escapes me. Maybe it's because it's so prevalent in this day and age. All I know is that several devices, unfortunately far too common in today's comedy, should be retired as punchlines:

--The word "fuck." I've seen exactly one instance where the word "fuck" was an effective punchline: at the start of his Shakespearean documentary Looking for Richard, Al Pacino walks onto the stage in an empty theater and silently scans the seats. Sitting alone amid the emptiness is William Shakespeare himself. Already nervous about the production he's going to put on, Pacino mutters to himself, "Fuck!" Cue title cards. It's a far more hilarious moment than anything Eric Cartman has ever done.

Keep in mind that I'm no prude; George Carlin and Chris Rock are two of my favorite comedians ever. But like with all smart comedians, they curse as punctuation, and to great effect. Just like with anything else, profanity needs a sparing context.

--Randomness. Adult Swim promos, anyone? I don't get them. Some girl's dancing in a corner while a guy stares at his laptop. I know people who think that is the funniest thing ever, and yet it escapes me. And I will add to my payroll the first person who can explain Jerkcity to me.

--Bad drawings. Beavis and Butthead did this extremely well, and South Park made it into a cottage industry. But it takes genuine talent to do bad drawings well, and that fact seems to have escaped many of today's imitators, who really are bad artists. They doodle pictures unfit for a third-grade cursive tablet, add one outrageous punchline and wink at their genius. If William Hung ever gets tired of the music biz, cartooning should be his next vocation.

--South Park. Please, Comedy Central, kill that show. It ridicules gays, Jews, disabled people and activists, and makes an anti-hero out of a racist, obnoxious third-grader. Its punchlines weren't funny the first time, let alone the 1,367th time, and its crude animation is "complemented" by the most obnoxious voicework this side of Walton and Johnson.

People say, "Oh, it's such a satirical show, though! It makes fun of popular culture and social conventions." Which I suppose it does, if you count that South Park injects topical events into hackneyed storylines:

Stan: Hey, I just saw Brokeback Mountain!
Kyle: Brokeback Mountain? The gay cowboy movie?
Eric: Those cowboys were f*cking fags, man! Fags!
Kyle: I hear the movie really gets you in the end.
Kenny: Mffff fffffmm! [Gets smashed by a runaway giant phallus]
Stan: Oh my God, they killed Kenny!
Eric: F*ckin' bastards! F*ck! F*ck!
Timmy: TIM-MAY!

"TIM-MAY!" Yeah, ha ha ha. I never got tired of hearing that at the kegger.

South Park is but one example of a school of humor I've never understood. I guess calling it a school is a stretch, because pigeonholing it doesn't do it justice. But I'd describe it as any of the self-aware, poorly drawn, homophobic, random, catchphrase-heavy, gross-out-for-its-own-sake humor.

Some of you might say, "But Ian, you're a fan of SNL, Family Guy and Anchorman. You even find Tenacious D funny!" And you'd be right about that, because those are generally done well. Even with Tenacious D, there's a dimension of playing it straight that makes the humor explode. South Park, on the other hand, is all self-conscious cuteness; their idea of fighting the FCC is to have every other word bleeped. If your idea of bucking The Man is making your show so annoying that it can aggravate from five rooms away, then perhaps you should rethink your mission.

No wonder Comedy Central now has the uncensored Secret Stash. Thank God. If I wanted to hear constant bleeping, I'd dial a phone. Moceri would be perfect in that time slot, and I wish him well. I know he'll succeed, because he knows his audience. Heh heh heh. Huh huh huh.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Trappings of Lent

Yesterday was the first day of the Lenten season, in which Catholics and other Christians make personal sacrifices in the anticipation of Easter. For 40 days and 40 nights, the law is on their side. The law of humility, that is. Heee-hee!

Fasting is a major component of most major sects, the idea being that by depriving yourself of sustenance, you are both glorifying your god and enriching the less fortunate. I don't practice this myself, because I eat like an anorexic bird on a normal day. It's not like the money I saved from a week-long fast would help feed someone else, unless it really is true that you can feed a starving child for 20 cents a day. But that just seems so...I don't know...negligent? And I'm certainly not one to abuse an innocent child. So you see, that's why I don't help the less fortunate.

I also eat meat on Fridays. This really sucks for me, because I'm trying to reduce my animal intake for both healthful and political reasons. On the other hand, it's either eat meat on Fridays or be lumped in with the fundamentalist crowd. So it's flesh on Fridays for me. Sometimes you really have to make sacrifices for your principles.

Sidebar--One thing I will never do is eat fish on Fridays, or any other day. I love fish, but only when they're swimming. The smell of fried fish makes me sick to my stomach, and I still have nightmares about a nasty fish-stick incident that caused me to quit fish on the spot when I was nine. And let's face it--fish is meat, okay? To hear most people tell it, fish is in some kind of cop-out limbo food group. I'm with the vegetarians on this one: fish have faces. Go ahead, look them in the eye and tell them they aren't good enough to be meat! Piranhas are always fun for that sort of thing.

Despite not being a serious practitioner of Lent, I try to get into the spirit each year by giving up something. And, usually, that something is smoking. Only through the power of faith and perserverance am I able to keep up such a major sacrifice. And the fact that I don't smoke in the first place helps a great deal. Why burden myself by giving up something that I would actually miss? Just seems like so much unnecessary trouble. And discomfort is the opposite of spiritual wholeness.

Lent helps me in other ways as well. It isn't worth the awkwardness of ordering a chicken sandwich on Fridays: "Would you like some fire sauce with that?!!" This helps cut down on my food and health costs.

Another beauty of Lent is that no one has to know what it is you gave up. Like your faith, this is a very personal decision made ultimately for your own betterment. But mainly, this is a free ticket to get out of anything. Didn't eat your Brussels sprouts? "There're starving people in China and I want to feel their pain." Tired of justifying your desire to crawl in a hole and hibernate? Say you gave the world up for Lent. Want to get out of going to church? Same thing! This cuts down on guilt and thus makes you feel more tolerant of your fellow runners in the human race.

Tolerance and understanding are wonderful concepts that Lent brings to the forefront. After all, everyone in the world knows how much sacrificing sucks. And it isn't just Christians either: when I was in eighth grade, two of my Indian friends (a brother and a sister) went on a fast. They ate virtually nothing for a week, and carried around water bottles all day. Some of our more Caucasian classmates found this amusing, wondering why the siblings would do such a thing. In their minds, what these two needed was to see the light and fast for Jesus instead.

Nothing brings the major religions of the world together like their shared passion for David Blaine-style marathons of deprivation. Also, war.

Giving up war! Can I get an amen on that?