Monday, October 30, 2006

The Pimpin' Pumpkin PA

When I was a young boy (as opposed to the old boy I am now), Halloween in my neighborhood was always a surreal experience. That's because it was probably the least scary night of the year.

The neighborhood in which I grew up was (and largely remains) a mix of bohemian college kids, African-Americans and bohemian white professionals. The neighborhood, known unofficially as Freetown, is one of Lafayette's very first settlements. My house in that neighborhood was so historic (and old) that a photo of it made the cover of a local newspaper supplement in 1984. The picture was from 1919.

Today, Freetown remains a hub of downtown cultural activity, housing arts venues such as Cite des Arts, the Blue Moon Saloon and ArtWalk. Additionally, it also houses such long-standing traditions such as Mardi Gras, Downtown Alive! and Festival International de Louisiane. Over the past decade, the area has been the recipient of considerable renovation, from the Streetscape project to a totally re-energized central business district. Robert Duvall filmed part of his 1997 movie The Apostle two streets from my house, and Ani DiFranco called the neighborhood home for a time after Hurricane Katrina. Freetown is often considered to be one of the best places to be at any time of day or night in Lafayette.

I lived there for 19 years. And I spent much of that time wondering how I would get out of that dump.

Sure, we had all of the festivals, and in my younger years it seemed like paradise. But we also witnessed fights, drugs, stuff stolen from our cars, drunks, hookers and even a guy who unapologetically pissed in our backyard during Mardi Gras one year. When I was 13, I got robbed of my bicycle while I was riding it, from an older kid who was ready to clock me in the head with a blunt object if I didn't jump off. I was 18 before I regained the courage to ride off my street again.

Still, my brother and I made lots of friends in the neighborhood. I never understood why my wealthier friends at school all lived so far away; but for the most part, I liked our little slice of history. My mom's parents lived next door to us, and my great aunt lived two houses down, on a strip of houses that had been in our family since the 1920s. Only with the deaths of both of my maternal grandparents in 1999 did my family leave Freetown for good.

That year also brought the passing of a proud tradition among my grandparents: the Talking Halloween PA Pumpkin! My grandfather, who we affectionately called "Pop," was a locally venerated TV and radio repairman. He also liked to create odd gadgets from things lying around, a trait firmly embedded into my own DNA.

Sometime well before my cerebral reach, Pop had the idea to install a woofer into a plastic Jack O'Lantern. He attached a light to the speaker, and wired the whole setup into a voltmeter-ish gadget and a Realistic-brand PA console. He would hang the pumpkin off the middle of his front awning, where it would greet unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. He then discreetly passed the wires through his side window, plugged in a microphone and let the creepy karaoke begin!

The best way to describe the effect is this: the Jack O'Lantern would hang, its light casting an orange glow over the shotgun house. That in itself was cool enough. But when Pop saw the trick-or-treaters through the window, he'd grab the microphone. Then the pumpkin would suddenly dim in rhythm with his booming baritone:

"HAAAAPPY HALLLOWEEEEEN! HOOHOO-WHO-AH!!"

I always loved the sight of the neighborhood kids (some of whom had little more than their city-league football jerseys as costumes) literally having their minds blown by this awesome thing. We'd open the door, by which time we'd still be talking to them, and they'd keep their wide eyes and big grins staring upward. Sometimes they'd even remember to ask for candy.

Halloween in Freetown could be a varied experience. Some years would yield a bountiful candy harvest, while others would grant you literally three items. As fewer residents opened their homes to their spooky guests year after year, the amount of local kids coming around diminished. But they would always stop by Pop's. In later years, my grandfather's house was literally a shining beacon at the end of a dark street. And all because of the PA Pumpkin.

Pop's invention was such a hit that he used it straight through my senior year of high school, the first time in countless years I was not around to speak into it (I played in my Homecoming football game, but I was still sad to miss the kids). By Halloween 1998, he and my grandmother were taking turns in the hospital. By the time we sold their home in 2000, the PA Pumpkin was nowhere to be found. I like to think that Pop took it with him to the Great Beyond, and is scaring the hell out of Satan with it. No doubt Vincent Price clamors for a turn on the mic as well.

In any event, I will never forget the legacy that one small clever gadget had on the children of a depressed, century-old neighborhood. For me, Pop's PA Pumpkin defines Halloween. Processed sugar can't even begin to compare.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

10 things the Saints did stupidly Sunday

1) Let the Ravens intimidate them from Play One

2) Fumbled the ball right after recovering it

3) Drew Brees' first interception

4) Drew Brees' second interception

5) Drew Brees' avoidance of a safety by throwing an interception for a touchdown

6) Letting Reggie Bush throw an interception in the end zone

7) Letting Reggie Bush play long enough to nearly break his ankle

8) Letting Reggie Bush touch the ball at all

9) Not figuring out fast enough that the Ravens defense and New Orleans bloggers share a common scheme: "Stop Bush"

10) Lost at home

And for balance:

10 things the Saints did right yesterday


1) Brought back the Beer Man, Michael Lewis

2) Threw for 386 yards to top the NFL in passing this week

3) Shook it up with receivers even I'd never seen

4) Took a chance on 4th and 10...or at all

5) With Marques Colston, reminded the NFL community why a draft lasts longer than one round

6) Held the Ravens to a shutout in the 4th quarter

7) Scored 15 unanswered points in the 4th quarter

8) That last-minute two-point conversion

9) Gracefully returned a lost Maryland driver's license to the referee to whom it belonged

10) Gave the fans a sense that at least they might learn from this loss, which in seasons past wasn't a given

Rantin' and Raven

Is there any way for someone watching the Saints game at home to get a refund? Maybe from CBS? If I wanted to see smug bullies intimidating the underdog who completely cracks under pressure, I'd watch C-SPAN.

On the other hand, I am a bit nostalgic for 1993. I remember that being a good year for me personally, at least after a rough start. Kind of like now.

At least my high school team won this weekend, averting a shutout of blowouts among my favorite teams. Figures that was the only game I didn't see this weekend.

False hope is worse than no hope at all. Thanks, guys.

EDIT: I guess I should wait four quarters to write this stuff. That last quarter was pretty good. A 35-22 score is not terrible, and neither were the stats. I still have faith in you, Saints.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fox news: fair, or unbalanced?

If ever you doubt that the Republican position on science is insanely hypocritical, remember five words: "Rush Limbaugh mocks Parkinson's victims."

Here's a recap: Michael J. Fox, famed actor and Parkinson's sufferer, filmed this ad for Claire McCaskill in Missouri. In it, he expresses his support for stem-cell research and for candidates who do so. The spot is hard to watch for anyone who remembers Fox in his Hollywood prime. Some, such as Rush Limbaugh, accused Michael of exaggerating his symptoms for emotional effect.

Fox says the exact opposite: that his symptoms are actually from the medication he is taking. Without the meds, he says, he would be virtually catatonic. Either way, the man is going to show his symptoms. The consensus among those familiar with Parkinson's Disease is that Fox isn't faking it. I'll take their seasoned word over the far-right political bleaters any day.

As someone who has seen numerous relatives live out their final weeks (or even years) in the grips of terminal illness or stroke, I can attest that it's a heart-wrenching experience. Watching your loved one deteriorate over their final years is something that makes you want to close your eyes and hum. But you don't, because they are still the same person, and it's up to you to show them the care and affection that they deserve. Sometimes, that alone is enough to make things better for both of you. Basically, you find yourself wanting to do anything you can to alleviate the suffering.

That's why I get so annoyed when politicians and pundits claim we should just ignore the suffering. They don't say that directly, of course, but they do so under the guise of "respecting the victim's wishes" or other hell-paving phrases. It's one thing for someone to a patient or a family to choose that on their own; it's another to want someone who chooses to take their fight public to shut up.

The right certainly had no problem making Terri Schiavo as ubiquitous as apple pie. Michael Schiavo has said that he would be happy if no one outside his family and friends ever knew who he was. It was the right-to-life forces and their friends in the Florida governor's mansion and the White House who made Terri's fight into a political cause. So, you see, they have no problem magnifying unpleasant personal issues when it suits their own twisted ends.

On the other hand, Fox sparked his career in the 1980s by personifying the Young Republican in the most eighties show ever, Family Ties. He is one of Hollywood's best-loved stars and personalities, which shines through his tremors even today. And while he has professed liberal beliefs time and again, he did stump for Republican Arlen Specter in 2004. In other words, he's no partisan hack.

So where did he go wrong? He made a perfectly reasonable case for stem-cell research. And while it's okay for screechy liberals to do so, how could Alex P. Keaton? Why can't the guy just shut up, can the theatrics and go back to exalting Reagan? Whoa, bad example...stem cells might have helped him too! Arrrgh!

The outcry over Fox's ad isn't so much his argument; it's that he makes it a hard point to argue. He's torn down the conservative pro-life rhetoric just by showing his reality, thus toppling the very weak leg on which the anti-stem-cell platform has so far stood. And no amount of desperate GOP hysterics will right that leg. Or any other limb, for that matter.

Michael J. Fox may be half the man Rush Limbaugh is; but he has twice the heart.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Parallel: Parking

How is it that the most mundane of events can cause someone to question their very humanity?

Yesterday, en route to my day job, I stopped at a local chicken joint. Getting into this particular place requires a sharp turn off a major thoroughfare. After maneuvering the tricky turn, I noticed that a crew of contractors had commandeered the parking lot. Three men stood directly in the path of my vehicle, talking and laughing. Despite their acknowledgement of my presence, none of these men (all of whom bore resemblance to Larry the Cable Guy) bothered to move. It wasn't until I crept up literally to their Achilles tendons that they finally stepped aside. They looked incredibly annoyed. One of them, wearing a yellow shirt and apparently not much older than me, bent over and squinted at me as if to say, "Who the hell are you to be driving in our parking lot?"

I parked and jumped out. As I walked to the side door of the restaurant, I realized that the parking lot had no actual cars in it, save for a handful of company trucks and construction implements. Then I saw that the restaurant had been completely gutted. From the road, this was not particularly obvious. "Damn!" I thought. "This sucks, but I'll just go someplace else." I glanced at the men, who continued to stand there and glare at me with squinty eyes.

I drove around the restaurant (or what was left of it), only to find two cones and some kind of wrecker blocking the way. After lapping the parking lot twice, I realized that every other exit had been blocked off by trucks (couldn't they have at least blocked the biggest turn of all?). Right before finally finding my way out, I noticed that the three men were laughing and jeering at me. At no point did any of these men ever approach me or otherwise signal that the place was under construction, and nothing from the vantage point of the major thoroughfare suggested that either. These guys were giving me a hard time over a simple mistake, and it certainly didn't help my disorientation. Yellow Shirt gave me a final smirk and nod as I drove off, and I replied in kind by arching my brow and mouthing a certain word I don't usually say.

On my way out, I noticed the contracting service's trailer. It had a giant state of Texas on it. When I'm inconvenienced and mocked, the last thing I need is a reminder of how many Texans (and other out-of-staters) have treated me that way over the years, by virtue of my assumed inferiority to them. That then leads me to thinking about politics, which by default severely cripples my sense of decorum. Still, I do know when to let things go, and decided to just brush it off.

But the more I think about this ultimately minor incident, the more it seems like a microcosm of everything that's happening now, and where us progressives fit into it. Though everything seemed reasonable when I drove in, I suddenly found my path blocked by arrogant rednecks who deliberately ignored my presence. Then I found myself trapped in a maze of their design, wasting my sparse time while being ridiculed by these smug jerks from Texas. Had I actually confronted these men over their behavior, I probably would have come off just as badly. Instead, I did the only thing I could do--get on with my day. It's quite a parallel to today's society.

I continue to wonder why people like this have so much power and clout in America. But more importantly, I wonder how such an event can actually make me so mad and question my humanity. But this is really what's happening in this country right now. Except that we can't afford to drive away.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Thoughts I had on September 5th

--Blogger Beta is stupid. While it supposedly offers great new features, this so far has been my experience with it:

1) Certain blogs that I used to read (and even link) are now inaccessible unless the user deigns to invite me to visit it.

2) I tried to leave a comment at an open Beta blog, and only after I hit "Post" did it inform me that Blogger was unable to process my request. Great. Can you tell me why? Or at least offer a way to go back to my aborted (and lengthy) comment?

3) My blog is not yet fit as a candidate for Blogger Beta. I presume that means it's too good.

Blogger shouldn't cater to the clique crowd with Beta. If privacy is an issue with a blogger, then they shouldn't post personal concerns on a worldwide computer network. Let them start LiveJournals and MySpace pages, where they can clique together in obscurity. I've always seen Blogspot as the domain of bloggers who want to look professional and garner a wide readership. Then again, most blogs I see now focus deeply inward, whereas I'm projecting outward. Maybe they have a point.

--Moderated comments make for a dull discussion. While I can see the purpose of this function, the fact is that 99 percent of people who enable this don't need to. And it stifles real-time discourse.

--Wouldn't Ann Coulter, as a print journalist, know the difference between slander (spoken unfounded attacks) and libel (printed unfounded attacks)? Then again, a book called "Libel" doesn't have the same ring to it, does it? "Unfounded Attacks" would be better, albeit a little too true for her.

--For a self-professed homophobe, Michael Savage is awfully obsessed with San Francisco. Maybe it's because his real last name is Weiner.

--A recent counterprotest in San Francisco had College Republicans from Berkeley dress up as suicide bombers. This action was praised on their blog as "thoughtful" and "awesome." My question is this: how were they able to do this without much interference from security? At Bush functions, people with the wrong bumper stickers on their cars are kicked out; but at lefty functions, conservatives are allowed to dress up a suicide bombers! Kinda makes you wonder which side better supports free speech, huh?

--If any group makes Berkeley look bad, it's the College Republicans. I especially like how they act like they've been kidnapped and forced to go there, as if these chickenshits have any perspective of real conflict. "My name is Kyle Tibbitts and I am a 19-year-old conservative who has just been thrown into the ideological warzone that is the People’s Republic of Berkeley." Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry, friend, but they don't give out Purple Hearts for veterans of the Culture War. You made your bedfellows, now lie to them.

After all, I wouldn't go to Bob Jones University or Liberty University. Actually, I would, but at least I'd understand my role there, relish it and not be too shocked when I was legally barred from the grounds on the second day of school.

--In my lifetime, I've accumulated lots of kudos and Brownie points. Any idea where I can cash them in? I want a hat.

--If Socrates were on trial today, Nancy Grace would air this story: "Should 'Thought Criminal' get the hemlock penalty or merely rot in jail for life?"

Monday, October 23, 2006

Monday Morning Musing

Let's say that you're a diligent worker. You possess a self-motivated drive to always do your best, and it reflects in your work. Bosses and coworkers alike praise you for your intelligence, your work ethic and your attention to detail. You might even get a pay raise or some other prize.

What often happens afterward? As Andrew McCarthy put it so eloquently in Weekend at Bernie's, "My father worked hard. All they did was give him was more work!" A cynical view, sure, but certainly one to mull over. After all, success and stress often go hand in hand.

It's one thing to be bestowed more responsibilities consistent with your competence and work ethic; indeed, it can be quite an honor. But at what point does being indispensable become a burden? When does being the go-to expert become the go-AWAY expert? At what point are you tempted to reach for a sledgehammer and say, "Bye bye, brains?"

Few things are as satisfying in life as being appreciated. And few things are as annoying, once the expectations have been set high enough.

I like to impress people. I do my best work when I know the reaction will be, "Wow! Who is this guy?" In school, I always did better in more laid-back classes than I did in the ones with high expectations. To me, it's more satisfying to genuinely impress someone than to simply clear the bar with someone whose reaction will be, "Yes. I expect perfection." After a while, I simply coasted in the latter type of courses while my classmates burned themselves out trying to get that prim nod. Some of them got it, some of them didn't. I didn't envy either side. Still don't.

This mentality has led me to some weird career goals. Would I love to be a famous writer-slash-TV star? Of course. But how likely am I to try to suck up to the Devil Wears Prada-type hierarchy evident in both worlds? Not very. My proudest triumphs in life come from being found, not by actively seeking out opportunities (though I also do plenty of that). That's probably a bad way to go through life, but it's worked so far. Serendipity, baby.

Does that make me sound like I have no ambition? A lot of people have told me as much. But a better way to put it would be that I have a different sort of ambition, one that that does not involve the corporate ladder or being an indispensable link in a chain of command. It does not mean being the envy of the neighborhood or trying to please those who won't deign to be pleased. Most people probably can't understand that, because those qualities have become the essence of the American Dream.

But I realized long ago that I'd rather write on the side and have a regular low-stress job, than to give up my dreams and go the conventional 9-to-5, corporate-ladder route. I've seen too many frazzled faces for that to be a compelling option. Ambition is great, but in most cases people are living other peoples' ideas of what that means. Find your own, and someday you may be the one fighting off more work!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go to bed on this glorious Monday morning.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Jogging a blogger's memory

You know what I like to do sometimes? Whenever I read about something that happened in the last couple of years (be it a famous death or other historical event), I like to go back to what I wrote that day here on Not Right. It makes the memory all that much stronger. Especially if what I wrote happens to be more superfluous than what wound up happening that day.

If nothing else, I can say, "I know where I was that day! I was sitting in my computer room in the early morning hours, writing something." Actually, that's my rock-solid alibi for everything.

Friday, October 20, 2006

I Want A New God

(Not by Huey Lewis)

I want a new God
One that's not such a dick
One that won't destroy New Orleans
Or have a skull three feet thick

I want a new God
One that won't call for dead
One that won't only talk to kooks
Or make our states too red

One that won't make us nervous
Wondering how to boo
One that makes me feel like the world will see it through
Arab, Christian and Jew

I want a new God
One that won't kill
One that don't cause too much
Fuss over a pill

I want a new God
One that will go away
When the voices of the far right
Prattle about his divine way

One that won't make us nervous
Telling Bush what to do
One that Fred Phelps feels like but is nowhere close to
He's disowned by you
You're alone with this baby

I want a new God
One that does what he should
One that won't make us feel too bad
Just 'cause we wanna feel too good

I want a new God
One with no doubt
That the far right talks too much
And then world war breaks out

One that won't make us nervous
Telling Bush what to do
One that makes me feel like the world is not yet screwed
I'm alone with you
They're disowned by you, yeah yeah

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Newt Gingrich, Contracted

Cajun Tiger has brought something ghastly to my attention. Newt Gingrich--

[Applause]

Let me finish...

Newt Gingrich is lurking in the wings of Disgraceland, offering a detailed explanation of what the Republicans need to emphasize in order to win the 2006 midterm elections. While that's a little like Michael Dukakis offering the Democrats victory advice, it's still worth a look because--illogical though it is--Newt has his finger on the pulse of today's GOP.

For brevity's sake, I will not post the whole thing here. For one thing, it's as torturously long as I imagine one of his history lectures to be. Second, most of his points fall so easily in one of several stereotypical groups that mentioning them all would be redundant.

But more on all that later. First, the intro:

The elite media are giddy with anti-Republican euphoria. Their coverage has not been this biased against Republicans in three decades.

Three decades ago, the media was covering the great GOP fiasco that was Watergate. Today's media is bought off by right-wingers, and yet coverage is still bad? And the worst since Watergate? What is that saying about your party, Newt?

The Democrats are excited and convinced they will win a big victory.

I certainly hope they aren't convinced. They should win by a huge margin; but that's what I also said in 2000, 2002 and 2004. Complacency is the enemy.

Republicans should enter these closing weeks of the election with clarity, conviction and confidence. The GOP owes it to the American people to give them an inspiring choice. When you are right, you have confidence.

Is it me, or does this sound less like a campaign editorial than a corporate training video? "Clarity, conviction and confidence." I suddenly want to buy a diamond!

The theme is simple: We can't go back to the failed policies of the past.

Agreed!

As mentioned above, much of Newt's letter falls into one several categories. And while constant repetition is necessary to propagate GOP lies, I'll spare you the indignity and focus on the rhetorical tricks Newt employs:

1) Reducing political debate to ridiculously leading choices:

Republicans are right on defeating terrorism, and the left is wrong in wanting to run and hide

Republicans are right to favor traditional American conservative social values, and the left is completely wrong to put San Francisco left-wing values third in line to be President

Left-wing San Francisco radical ideas vs. the values held by the rest of America

2) Repeatedly saying, "If every American knew how so-and-so thought, they'd never vote for them," which seems to be more a critique of GOP mud-slinging than a stab at the Democrats

3) Invoking the Carter administration 4,000 times, seeming to imply that Democrats love hostages and being depressed. He also cites Carter for a litany of statistics--"the deepest recession since the Great Depression"--as if the Bush administration hadn't completely shattered most of them

4) Loyally adhering to his infamous buzzwords list:

The Democrat, Left-Wing Activist, News Media, Big Lie Campaign

5) Constant, almost fetishistic, attacks on Nancy Pelosi. Newt endlessly harps on Pelosi--the only politician he refers to at length in his entire screed--as if she is the only Democrat in America. Hmmm...anyone sense a little bitterness about the Speaker of the House post?

6) Rhythmic use of the brand name:

When Republicans tell the truth, Republicans win. When Republicans allow the left to hide their record, fudge their values and distort the facts, Republicans lose. When Republicans passively accept smearing, Republicans lose. When Republicans can't explain or define the choice, Republicans lose.

My fifth-grade reading book described this technique in an essay about propaganda. As I recall, a political campaign was the primary example.

7) Painting truthful criticism of the GOP as the work of paid Democrat extremists:

This year's campaign has been one-sidedly defined by the best-financed left-wing activist system in history. From George Soros on, the amount of money spent attacking Republicans dwarfs anything ever tried before.

That liberal-blogger thing can't be helping matters either, being that we spend so much money to be this effective!

8) Outright lies:

The elite media now sense a chance to beat Republicans and are shamelessly one-sided in their effort to defame and defeat the GOP.

When you are a conservative, you have to assume the news media will be against you. That is a given. The question is how you design a campaign to win despite that fact.

The Democrats have spent their time in a disciplined assault on Republicans...

9) Scary Mein Kampf references:

The Big Truth as a Disciplined Answer to the Big Lie

The key to winning the kind of campaign Republicans are in is to slow down, focus on a few very big truths and then insist on bringing everything in the campaign back to these core truths and the choice between the Republican future and the Democrat future.

They have to be "big truths" that clear away the 'big smear" and defeat the "big lie."

Which leads us to Newt's Three Big Truths for the Closing Weeks of the 2006 Campaign!

I believe there are three big truths on which the Republicans could win the 2006 campaign, despite every effort of the news media and the left.

I believe these three truths resonate with people in their personal lives and fit into their sense of America's historic context and within their political views.

I believe that by driving each of these three truths home, Republicans can win the argument if they insist on slowing down and focusing in order to build a resonating echo effect across the country.

Does anyone else have that Blessid Union of Souls song stuck in their head now?

Three Big Thematic Truths

1) Promoting a proven economic prosperity agenda of lower taxes and pro-growth policies vs. the failed policies of higher taxes, more regulation and bloated bureaucratic structures of the past

Lots of P-alliteration there! Does Newt's audience need an umbrella when he says this aloud? Or, perhaps, a Spin-to-English dictionary?

2) Left-wing San Francisco radical ideas vs. the values held by the rest of America

Because that's what this election is all about: a bunch of extreme radicals in one city against the entire rest of the country, who thinks and votes in complete right-wing lock step. If that actually were the case, then why do the Republicans need a pep talk in the first place?

3) Defeating terrorism and the dictatorships who threaten America vs. appeasing and being defeated by them

Curiously, Newt leaves out the third (and currently most popular) option: fighting terrorism in such an abstract and convoluted way that thousands of lives are thrown away and no progress is made. And he thinks he's still relevant!

If you're still enthralled, you can read the rest of Gingrich's comically misleading remarks here. Unfortunately, we cannot ignore the rhetorical magic tricks that pepper Newt's diatribe. These are the exact shifty tactics that could lead to victory for the Republicans. Not victory for America, mind you, but for the Republicans. The difference is profound.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why I have faith in the Saints

In my life I've supported a lot of seemingly lost causes, things that offer brief glimmers of hope and long glimmers of despair. The University of Louisiana name issue. The Democratic Party. My own writing career. But nothing personifies my love for the underdog quite like my enduring love for the New Orleans Saints.

You might call it a birthright. When I was born in 1980, I came out with a paper bag over my head. I had scrawled "Aints" across it in the womb, the misspelling of which gave me the name that still haunts me today. And I know that, as long as I'm me--and no matter how hard I try to shake the negative connotations of being a Louisianian--I will always be a die-hard fan of the Saints. There's no other way to support them, really.

Fortunately, Sean Payton's scrappy 2006 squad is making such unconditional support a lot easier than it has been in the past. First, the obvious: they're 5-1, and hot off a thrilling victory over the excellent Philadelphia Eagles. Second, there's the human side; this team is largely new, helmed by a rookie head coach and hosts some of the most devoted transplants New Orleans has ever seen. Drew Brees' Times-Picayune ad introducing himself and his wife to the Big Easy is one of the nicest gestures I've seen a pro player do in a long time. Especially for a city that needs its heroes more than ever.

But of course, it's too early to tell where the Saints are headed. They are far from perfect, and must continue to prove themselves week after week. They face the perils of any football team, and do so with more attention than usual. But on so many levels, I trust this team to not let us down. My reasons for this go far beyond simple critiques of football mechanics or statistics; indeed, it's more of a feeling. A feeling of optimism I haven't had in a long time. And here's why:

--They're better than they have any right to be. Sean Payton adopted Jim Haslett's baby, immediately shattered its jaw, broke its nose and gave it a few questionable limb transplants. At the time, we didn't know what that kid would look like; indeed, the initial bruising made for a very ugly sight. But at least for the time being, the finished product looks good. Maybe the surgeon isn't so green after all.

--They're not like the previous 5-win Saints squads who blew it all. Historically, an early-season Saints lead was (to paraphrase Chris Rock) just the countdown to their breakdown. Who could forget the dismal 1993 season, for example, when the Saints capped off two consecutive playoff seasons--and a 5-0 start--by finishing 8-8? I still remember the turnaround point in that sixth game, and I was only 13 at the time! It was that palpable. Saints football is always palpable.

But watching the Saints this season, nothing suggests to me that this team isn't in it to win it. They aren't resting on their laurels, nor do they exhibit a fatalist view that things could fall apart at any moment. They just play. And that may be the biggest factor in their success thus far.

--They care about the crowd. This has to be the most interactive Saints team ever. And while every team in any sport feeds off the home crowd, has there ever been more tangible evidence of its efficacy than the recent three triumphs in the Superdome? Has there ever been a crowd so happy just to be there? And has any team ever shown the love with such reciprocity?

--They aren't afraid to try new plays. Double reverses. Halfback passes. Special-team acrobatics. These are hardly new to pro football; but they are a welcome sight to Saints fans, whose eyes are scarred from years of run-up-the-middle. Even if New Orleans was 0-6 at this point, no one could say that it's been a boring ride.

--Most importantly, when they're down, they know how to get up. At times, these Saints remind us why they're the Saints. But the major difference with this group is that they learn from their mistakes. And most of all, they keep cool and rational in the process. That's why you have Reggie Bush's game-winning punt return against the Bucs. And why Brees and Joe Horn connected with the long ball against the Eagles at a moment when past squads would have hung it up.

Is there any better metaphor for life in New Orleans than the 2006 Saints? Not perfect, but well worth the rebuilding effort. And definitely worthy of the triumph and respect that's long been overdue.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Caption Central

Starring Saints head coach Sean Payton!

--Those naysayers are hard to hear these days...
--For the second week in a row, Payton expressed disappointment in the crowd noise...until he realized he was deaf from it being so loud!
--New Saints slogan: "Tinnitus leads to WIN-nitis!"
--"What was that song you used to sing, Mr. Ashcroft?"
--That Liberty Bell is hard to hear among 70,000 screaming Saints fans
--"I hear the grating sound of Rush Limbaugh underestimating Donovan McNabb"
--Payton subtly gestures the fate of any team who plays in the Superdome this year
--Cropped from this picture: Eagles fans covering their eyes and NFL pundits covering their mouths
--"Too legit! Too legit to quit!"
--New Orleanians finally have someone in power listening to them
--The difference between Sean Payton and George W. Bush is the angle of the fingers
--"Did you say 'San Antonio?' I can't hear you!"

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Limits are for fishermen

The Conservative Cajun, Nick Bouterie, continues to conquer the print waves with his first guest column for The Daily Advertiser. In his column, he argues for term limits, decrying the perils of "career politicians" (though he has since denied he said any such thing).

Opponents of unlimited terms tend to be conservative, anti-big-government types. They view politicians less as public servants than as public nuisances, sucking at the 36DD teat of government largesse and tripping on power as if it were high-grade LSD. To this crowd, the only difference between public service and welfare is an office and a necktie. Their motto: "Give a politician a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach a politician to fish, and he'll retire early and go fishing for a lifetime."

For the record, I'm against term limits for the same reason I'm against the curtailing of so-called "frivolous lawsuits"; there's already a filter for that: the legal apparatus put into place by the Constitution. In the case of "frivolous lawsuits," it's the justice system, where a judge or grand jury decides whether a case is suitable for trial. Similarly, if voters don't like politicians, then they can—and must—vote them out. Why should we place any extra restrictions on those entirely reasonable checks and balances?

That said, however, politicians get away with a lot only because voters let them. But the real solution to that isn't to diminish the already-precarious value of the vote; it's to educate the citizenry and remind them whose responsibility it is to improve matters. It's ours!

"But Ian," you ask, "Don't you blame voters for the 2004 presidential election?" Well, yes and no. On one hand, voters aren't necessarily the most intellectual people, and the Electoral College seems to have been conceived with that notion in mind. On the other hand, there's little comfort in ousting Bush from the presidency, only to have another Republican clone take his place through partisan string-pulling and media manipulation. It would help if voters weren't such suckers and that politicians stopped handing them empty calories to suck on. They’re both to blame.

And as much as I totally despise the current occupant of the White House, I am against term limits for presidents. Even casual observers know that the 22nd Amendment was passed as a response to FDR's four terms, and serves more of a political purpose than anything else. Why limit a president to two terms if they are deemed by the electorate to be doing a good job? Most Americans would vote for Bill Clinton again in a heartbeat. As for the prospect of a third term for George W. Bush, I'm not worried. If he really wants one, he'll find a way to get it. But I think he's salivating over that fishing pole even as we speak.

Advocates for term limits often argue, as Nick has, that "keeping politicians from getting too comfy with all their perks and health benefits aint' [sic] such a bad idea." Can you imagine if they tried this argument with any other profession? "We must not let our teachers and factory workers get too comfy in their jobs, with all their perks and fancy-pants health benefits!"

On second thought, that's a really lousy example. Conservatives have kept workers on their toes for years by reducing their health benefits, perks and everything else that makes a job worth its toil.

No one ever talks about "career scientists," "career engineers" or "career police officers." Indeed, in fields such as those, expertise is valued. So why not with politics? Maybe it's the corruption they're worried about. Well, that can happen anywhere; I'm sure the manager at your local McDonald's doesn't always throw away the six-minute-old patties. At least with "career politicians," we know who we're dealing with, instead of trying to figure out a new scorecard every few years.

Politics is not Saturday Night Live. Well, okay, sometimes it is. But do we really need a completely new cast every couple of years? At best, that erases much of the hope for electing and keeping competent and likeable officials. At worst, it nurtures a political culture of puppetry, as older politicians continue their clout through the new generation. And it's hard enough now to keep track of our officials and who owns them.

Clearly, the debate on term limits will continue to rage for years—unless we put limits on the debate itself, which would be smart. But for the sake of public harmony, I offer a compromise: how about term limits on last names? Democrats would be happy to see the Bush dynasty gallop off into the twilight zone, while the Republicans resent the Kennedys. Bipartisan birthright control! What could be better?

I do fear, however, that such a regulation would force the GOP to mine new tasteless jokes following Ted Kennedy's departure from the Senate. All of those decades of refined and recycled jokes would just go to waste! And government waste is bad.

Bill Clinton '08!

Now that's just piling it on

Has anyone else noticed that tomorrow is Friday the 13th?

Is that really necessary in October 2006?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Because I'm too jubilant to post anything else...

Defense wins games, not flagships

Well, well! It seems that the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns--the team that LSU both hates and pretends to not care about--has won its third consecutive football game.

Against who, you might ask? Northwestern Southeastern Jimmy Bob State? South Louisiana Community College? Lafayette High School?

Try the Houston Cougars. Try 31-28, after trailing 21-0 a mere 16 minutes into the game! Not bad for a team taking their first lead in the final 62 seconds, and preserving it with a tough defensive stand. Not a bad showing against a (now 4-2) team who beat Oklahoma State two weeks ago.

See, this is why I don't follow SEC football. Too much heartbreak.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Time to take back the talk

Two weekends ago, I went to a party held by my friend Phillip. Every liberal in Lafayette was there, filling up half of the one-bedroom apartment quite nicely. Because of this cramming, some of us went outside for fresh air. It was there, on Phillip's balcony, that I found myself in a conversation about politics (naturally). And even though I had just met everyone involved, I found myself less apprehensive about the discussion than I typically would be with even my closest conservative friends. But I almost messed that up when I said this:

"I'm a real patriot!"

Cue record-scratch. Everyone just stared at me, dumbfounded. Then one guy said with a smirk, "Dude, you are totally in the wrong place to be saying stuff like that. If you only knew!"

For a second or two, I felt a strange mix of confusion, guilt and resentment. Fortunately, I quickly recovered and elaborated on what I meant:

"What I mean is that I'm a real patriot: someone who speaks out, believes in the First Amendment, loves freedom and doesn't blindly accept what's spoon-fed to us by the government. Especially the crap coming from this administration."

They all nodded their heads and went "Ah!" The original objector expressed his agreement with what I said, and the rest of the conversation went really well. I made a lot of friends that night.

Since then, I've replayed that exchange in my mind. For more than a decade, the Republican Party has hijacked words such as "patriot" to an enormously successful degree. It's worked so well that expressing love for this country's ideals is now tantamount to expressing love for GOP ideals. If you doubt that, consider what comes to mind when hearing words such as "patriotism," "loyalty," "freedom," "life" and even "democracy." Chances are, you'll think more of what Republicans have shaped them to mean, rather than what they actually mean.

But are any of these concepts--patriotism, loyalty, freedom, life and democracy--foreign to liberals? They certainly resonate with me; I consider myself a fervent adherent to all five. But then, I prefer to see them as George Washington did rather than as George W. does. And that distinction is increasingly lost on even the most observant progressives. This is a sad trend that must be reversed if we hope to reclaim the American body politic.

I hope everyone who reads this, regardless of beliefs, understands that being an American patriot involves exercising the freedom to speak for oneself. Loyalty is having faith in the American ideal, even if that means objecting to administrations that seek to undermine that ideal. Freedom is every citizen's right, and is not something that can be granted or deprived at will by anyone else. Life is far too significant to be used as a synonym for female repression. Democracy is a system that must lead by example, a far more effective tool for its spread than a million tanks.

We're in sad shape as a nation when even our defining terms are rhetorical poison. I can certainly understand why Phillip's friends bristled when I called myself a "patriot"; at the same time, however, it's sad. And it explains a lot why conservatives have such blanket support for otherwise unbelievable policies. As long as words mean things, they'll remain the most lethal weapons of all.

Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: Fwd: God

My inbox occasionally gets clogged with pseudo-sappy tripe such as the story below. And while I understand it's supposed to be heartwarming, I'm going to tear into it anyway. Because I'm that cynical. And it's just that bad.

LOVE VS SEX

You'll see that this title has exactly zero to do with anything that follows it.

Body: A teenage girl about 17 had gone to visit some friends one evening and time passed quickly as each shared their various experiences of the past year.

She ended up staying longer than planned, and had to walk home alone. She wasn't afraid because it was a small town and she lived only a few blocks away.

She clearly has some very good friends, if they'll make their 17-year-old friend walk home alone late at night. I'm assuming this is late at night, though these might be the kind of teenagers who have 8 p.m. curfews and will be beaten with a switch if they they don't obey.

As she walked along under the tall elm trees, Diane asked God to keep her safe from harm and danger.

Maybe she should have just stuck to the sidewalk?

When she reached the alley, which was a short cut to her house, she decided to take it.

And what teenage girl wouldn't take the alley to shave a few seconds off her trek?

However, halfway down the alley she noticed a man standing at the end as though he were waiting for her.

And not wanting to take a chance, she immediately turned around and hightailed it back to the elm trees. Better safe than sorry, right?

She became uneasy and began to pray, asking for God's protection.

Well, apparently not.

Instantly a comforting feeling of quietness and security wrapped round her, she felt as though someone was walking with her.

Which is exactly the feeling you want when you're a young girl alone in an alley with a suspicious-looking man!

When she reached the end of the alley, she walked right past the man and arrived home safely.

Huh? If that had any more of a plot hole, it would be a Bible story.

The following day, she read in the newspaper that a young girl had been raped in the same alley just twenty minutes after she had been there.

Apparently that spiritual security blanket was only big enough for one foolish teenager.

Feeling overwhelmed by this tragedy and the fact that it could have been her, she began to weep.

But was she weeping because of the rape, or because she was happy it wasn't her?

Thanking the Lord for her safety and to help this young woman, she decided to go to the police station.

No need to be proactive about these things...wait until the horses have escaped to close the barn door!

She felt she could recognize the man, so she told them her story.

And they all found Jesus. At least that's whose name they said as they slapped their heads.

The police asked her if she would be willing to look at a lineup to see if she could identify him.

Why wouldn't she be willing? She's clearly willing to do just about anything, except for walking down well-lit streets...

She agreed and immediately pointed out the man she had seen in the alley the night before.

Must've been one well-lit alley, in which case I wonder why a rapist would see fit to hide there.

When the man was told he had been identified, he immediately broke down and confessed.

Because that's what criminals always do in Christian fantasies; they don't exhibit blank expressions, or demand to talk to counsel...they break down at the first sign of accusation. Or maybe he was finding God! Yeah!

The officer thanked Diane for her bravery and asked if there was anything they could do for her.

Where does bravery come in? Taking stupid risks is naive and foolish, not brave.

She asked if they would ask the man one question. Diane was curious as to why he had not attacked her. When the policeman asked him, he answered, "Because she wasn't alone. She had two tall men walking on either side of her."

Awww....isn't that sickly sweet? God sent not one, but two men to stride Reservoir Dogs-style abreast this stupid girl! To quote Monty Python, "Three Christs looks great! The fat one balances out the two skinny ones!"

But God couldn't spare even one for the next victim of this alluring alley? Did that girl not pray hard enough?

Amazingly, whether you believe or not, you're never alone. Did you know that 98% of teenagers will not stand up for God?

What is this obsession with standing up for God? In e-mails like this, "standing up for God" generally means you must either risk getting mugged or get shot in the face by athiest school bullies. Personally, I've always believed in doing whatever doesn't get you shot. I'm sure God would understand.

Repost this as Love vs. Sex if you truly believe in God..,

Why? It should be called, God vs. Accountability

PS: God is always there in your heart and loves you no matter what.....and if u stand up 4 him u would repost this

90% wont repost

But I will. Just to show everyone why this shouldn't be reposted.

I'm concerned that an impressionable young girl will read this and throw caution to the wind, because they'll think all they need to do is pray and the boogeyman will hallucinate and leave them alone. Advice for any young girls who are reading this: THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN. EVER! Chances are, any rapist who sees things that aren't there is being told by said phantoms to rape you in the first place!

For what it's worth, I believe in the rowboat-and-helicopter model of spiritual guidance. The greatest gifts any human possesses are common sense and the fight-or-flight response. Use them!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

New Mexican fence to be made from remains of Berlin Wall


WASHINGTON (PIMP)--President George W. Bush announced Wednesday that the recently approved U.S./Mexico border fence will be built entirely with pieces from the former Berlin Wall.

Bush's announcement comes fresh off his approval of a bill to build a protective barrier along desolate stretches of the Mexican-American border. Congress has allocated $1.2 billion over the next year for the wall's construction, much of which has already been spent in pursuit of Berlin Wall remnants. Bush called this a justifiable expense, given the historical implications.

"The fall of the Berlin Wall, and the subsequent collapse of Communism as a world force, was a watershed moment for the free world," Bush read from a prepared speech. "It was a gripping reminder of humankind's yearning to be free, and a bold statement to the world that mere concrete and barbed wire cannot contain the human spirit.

"We hope that all Americans will be reminded of this truth when they see the massive new wall we're building to keep out Mexicans."

The wall will be built by a construction team comprising Halliburton; the Minutemen; the National Guards of Arizona, Texas and Louisiana; and one additional group referred to only as "hard-working laborers."

Bush said that pieces of the former Berlin Wall were obtained from the German government, as well as through private donations from American citizens who had purchased pieces of the wall as a collectible in the early 1990s. But despite a successful effort to amass most of the wall's remains, Bush admitted that problems still exist.

"For one thing, this isn't exactly top-notch construction material, because when Ronald Reagan demanded they 'tear down this wall,' they really did," he said. "Second, even the fully intact Berlin Wall was only 96 miles long, far shy of the 700 miles we were hoping to make our own fence. And frankly, we're worried that people will try to dance atop this wall just like they did in 1989. That's one show of freedom that needs limits.

"Still, we hope to integrate portions of the Berlin Wall into every section of our new border wall," Bush concluded. "With this undertaking, we hope to do the Germans one better."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Masters of the Obvious Universe

Some things in life should be implied. Nothing's free. Children are more likely to be literate with a thorough education. Eating too much, combined with a sedentary lifestyle, is bad for your health. Internet access requires a computer. Poison kills.

Another sentiment that should be (though isn't) shared by 100 percent of the world populace is that it is wrong for adults to take carnal advantage of minors, or otherwise suggest sexual interest thereof. You'd think that sort of thing would be a default guideline for human behavior, ranking up there with "Drink water" and "Don't castrate yourself," right?

But leave it to the Republicans to turn this implied truth into a virtual campaign platform. "I was disgusted by the revelation, and disappointed that he would violate the trust of the citizens who placed him in office." Indeed! It's good to know that, here in these United States, we have a president whose morals are sufficient that he does not condone child molestation. Now that's what I call the barometer for family values!

I'm not exactly sure what sort of voter will be swayed by this rhetoric, though I picture someone who refused to buy a new car unless the salesman could prove to them that it had wheels. Or whose ideal date is someone who won't run away at first sight. You know, the soft-bigots-with-low-expectations demographic. But I don't see the use of going out of one's way to point out this bold stance on child solicitation. Isn't most of that simplistic target audience aligned with them already?

Of course, this is nothing new. The GOP defines itself by wrapping its horrible policies in words that make it seem inhuman for anyone to disagree: "We love America! And life! And children!" Meanwhile, voters think, "Wow! I love America, life and the children too! These guys sure speak for me! Not like those Democrats, who want America to collapse, everyone to die and children to be aborted and not heard. You know, the party that stands for nothing."

When a conservative politician is of such dubious ethics that his lawyer has to spin him as a gay, alcoholic abuse victim to sell him to his own base, something's wrong. And that something is the depths to which American leadership has plunged.

I hope that Foley gets all the help he needs. But shouldn't that be implied?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Foley's sorry folly

In the years that I've been blogging, I've heard lots of people warn me that something I write could come back and bite me in the J.Lo. And I worry about that constantly. After all, this is the Internet. And the Internet is very much like your grandmother's closet, where you can find everything from a sewing machine from 1954 to your mom's first-ever piece of handwriting. It's like a netherworld where nothing ever decays, and you can find almost any memory you wish just by sweeping aside a ratty blanket. Conversely, you're just as likely to find that horrible picture from seventh grade where even your pimples had pimples.

As a professor of mine once put it, "Once you post something on the Internet, it's there forever. You can try to erase it, but you can never control it again." Which means that publications across America are probably laughing at my horribly outdated resume even as I write this. I guess I should be grateful that I never posed nude or had a painfully personal MySpace as a teenager. Or that I'm a Republican Congressman from Florida.

It must really suck to be Mark Foley right now. This man is pathetic in so many layers that you could bake a cake. Let us count the ways:

This Republican...politician...from Florida...hit on a Congressional page...who was a 16-year-old...boy...from Louisiana...through E-MAIL!

Surely I could go on and on about the particulars of this incident. But is that really necessary? This isn't about debating what the definition of "is" is; this is about the indisputable fact that a politician who was known as "The Children's Champion" asked a teenage boy if he made him horny.

Even Michael Jackson wasn't this reckless! The man appeared on TV holding the hands of young boys and has said in interviews that he shared his bed with many a young lad. But even Jacko drew the line at e-pederasty. Stuff like that will give you a bad reputation, you know.

And how about those allegations that some GOP politicians knew about similar Foley messages months ago, but kept quiet about them? Did they also do that for the kids' sake?

But let's be fair: Foley's e-mails were written in 2003, which would make the page 19 years old today. And that's legal, right? Sorry, that's my best attempt at doubt-benefit-giving. This guy pretty much sucks.

I've found e-mail threads from 1984 with a minimum of online searching; surely a Republican in the Digital Age would be a little more discreet with his perversion, especially if his entire career is based around stopping child molestation!! But now, the whole world has his words to judge his character. The proverbial closet has just been opened--in more ways than one--and never again will the skeleton fit quite right.

Now I understand why the GOP hates paper trails. After this, even Diebold-rigged voting machines may not be enough to help them win this November.