Thursday, November 30, 2006

"Who still thinks the GOP is the frugal party? Anyone? Anyone?"


Inspired by Slave Wage Awareness Week here at Not Right, Phillip sends us the latest Ben Stein editorial via e-mail. Here's what the Artist Formerly Known as Phizz had to say about it:

Yo Ian: party at my casa Saturday. Your turn to bring the goat and the duct tape. Also bring Spicy Nacho Doritos.

Whoops, wrong e-mail! But he did highly recommend Ben Stein's stance on who's really to blame for the current record deficit. Want to guess at whom the avid Republican and former Nixon speechwriter points the finger? Exactly!

Put simply, the rich pay a lot of taxes as a total percentage of taxes collected, but they don’t pay a lot of taxes as a percentage of what they can afford to pay, or as a percentage of what the government needs to close the deficit gap.

Something to think about the next time a dittohead tells you that the top 1 percent pays the top 182 percent of taxes, or whatever the official figure is this week. The only percentage that matters is the one they pay as individuals.

Here's a candy analogy: Suppose you have 100 Mike and Ikes, and I have 20. You pay 20 as a tribute to the Mob, while I pay 10. Why, you've given away twice as many Mike and Ikes as I have, you selfless philanthropist! You're also taking two-thirds of the burden of the payment we owe to the Mob. On the other hand, I'm paying 50 percent of my candy, while you've paid only 20 percent. That's barely a loss to you, whereas I'm starved for my real fruit flavors. And we still owe the Mob big anyway, because Mike and Ikes don't pay off gambling debts and flashy new war toys.

But wait a minute! Professor Stein, aren't you merely fomenting class warfare by blaming the current deficit on the rich?

Even though I agreed with him, I warned that whenever someone tried to raise the issue, he or she was accused of fomenting class warfare.

“There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

And who is this Mister Buffett? Jimmy? Nope; it's Warren E. Buffett, famous zillionaire and economic realist.

Mr. Buffett compiled a data sheet of the men and women who work in his office. He had each of them make a fraction; the numerator was how much they paid in federal income tax and in payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, and the denominator was their taxable income. The people in his office were mostly secretaries and clerks, though not all.

It turned out that Mr. Buffett, with immense income from dividends and capital gains, paid far, far less as a fraction of his income than the secretaries or the clerks or anyone else in his office. Further, in conversation it came up that Mr. Buffett doesn’t use any tax planning at all. He just pays as the Internal Revenue Code requires. “How can this be fair?” he asked of how little he pays relative to his employees. “How can this be right?”

Simple--it's not! And, according to Stein (and most people who don't drink the punch), neither is the idea that lower taxes generate more government revenue. Indeed, Stein argues for higher taxes whenever appropriate. Gasp!!

The sad fact is that spending rises every year...spending has risen every year since 1940 except for a few years after World War II and a brief period after the Korean War.

The imperatives for spending are built into the system, and now, with entitlements expanding rapidly, increased spending is locked in. Medicare, Social Security, interest on the debt — all are growing like mad, and how they will ever be stopped or slowed is beyond imagining...

People ask how I can be a conservative and still want higher taxes. It makes my head spin, and I guess it shows how old I am. But I thought that conservatives were supposed to like balanced budgets. I thought it was the conservative position to not leave heavy indebtedness to our grandchildren. I thought it was the conservative view that there should be some balance between income and outflow. When did this change?

Oh, now, now, now I recall. It changed when we figured that we could cut taxes and generate so much revenue that we would balance the budget. But isn’t that what doctors call magical thinking? Haven’t the facts proved that this theory, though charming and beguiling, was wrong? [...]

If, in fact, it’s all just a giveaway to the rich masquerading as a new way of stimulating the economy and balancing the budget, please, Mr. Bush, let’s rethink it. I don’t like paying $7 billion a week in interest on the debt. I don’t like the idea that Mr. Buffett pays a lot less in tax as a percentage of his income than my housekeeper does or than I do.

Ben Stein knows a thing or two about money, having had enough to give it away every week on his eponymous game show. His government-spending ideal is classic paleocon: small government doing smart spending with big funds. As Stein said, he is indeed old; old enough to recall a time when taxes were fair and deficits did matter. The GOP would be wise to heed the words of one of its most ubiquitous voices.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Get meth. It pays!

Today's Times of Acadiana has an article on Meth Awareness Day, which I'm now aware is tomorrow. Check out the following excerpts. They're free, dude!

Thursday is Meth Awareness Day. The drug, previously associated primarily with rural low-income Caucasian usage, is quickly spreading...

Washington's office is specifically targeting educating women, students and those in industries where people have to stay up for longer periods of time...

George Crowder, who works narcotics with the Lafayette Sheriff's Department, says meth is not as common in Acadiana as it is in northern Louisiana and parts of the Midwest -- and he's not sure why.

"We don't see meth as often as we see marijuana," Crowder says. "You can theorize all you want, but nobody knows for sure why they don't cook as much down here as they do up there. We've only had three meth labs so far this year." [...]

"Now, Mexico has picked up that slack with their super labs. They make really good meth there,' Babineaux says...

"That's what got me working in narcotics," Crowder says.

Listening to Crowder explain the basics of how meth works gets your attention...

Stuart Gauthier, with Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, says anhydrous ammonia isn't used around Acadiana very much.

"Around here, I don't see where that fertilizer is used much anymore," he says. "When I was a kid, a lot of farmers had tanks. It's kind of dangerous. In north Louisiana it's still used a lot in cotton."

Today's lesson, kiddies? Whether it's drugs or unintentionally ambiguous words, tweaking is bad!

Monday, November 27, 2006

The back cover of Highlights Magazine was never this obvious

Can you spot the two forehead-slapping mistakes made by the Daily Advertiser in Sunday's sports section? If you need help, scroll below for a couple of hints:

1) I'm surprised the paper didn't refer to the Saints' head coach as Jym Mora Jr.

2) Did New Orleans pick up a certain superstar while I wasn't looking?

Hope those help. Good luck.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Smug as a thug in a stolen Bug

On Saturday, I posted a comment I made on the Daily Advertiser forum about the minimum wage. Since then, I've been involved in a back-and-forth...well, let me rephrase that...gang bang with irate locals on the issue. Here are some highlights:

Ya'll need to get a grip here. The MINIMUM WAGE is not a living wage. Quit confusing the two, they are NOT the same. Do you honestly want somebody like your teenager with absolutely no job skills out there making a mandatory $10 an hour?

My wife took an entry level position and her first year I think she made $2.65 an hour, last year she made $80,000 and that is with no degree. Nothing but hard work and being a responsible, dependable person who worked her way up the ladder.

Minimum wage is for minimum work. Minimum wage is for kids starting out their working career. How easy is it to quickly get above minimum? If someone wants to make over minimum wage then need to: get to work on time, do what is asked consistently, treat people with respect while representing their employer, give a damn about what they are doing. This isn't rocket science.

In an open job market, people are paid exactly what they are worth. Sometimes minimum wage is too much. If you don't feel you are being paid what you are worth, shop yourself around. [...] Education is one answer. Hard work and dedication are other means to better pay. They are all equal in my book. I have had college grads who I wouldn't employ if they paid me. I have G.E.D. recipients who make six figures. The work force in another example of supply and demand. Legislation will not change that.

Ian McG doesn't get it. Like I said, go back and take an economics class, you sorely need one. [...] I don't pay anyone $20 to cut my grass when they come knocking either. Why? cause it takes 30 min. to cut my entire yard. That comes to $40 an hour for a kid to cut grass.

Minimum wage is an emotional issue used by politicians. The amusing thing is the outcome results not in a higher standard of living but in a lower one.

I am NOT a minimum wage person, so I do NOT work for minimum wage. It is THAT simple. This is my CHOICE....say that with me slowly for the people in the back......CHOICE. Who is forcing these people to make 5,6, or 7 bucks an hour? Not me, are YOU. Democraps want to keep the bottom feeders dependant on them, so that they may continue to get their votes. If you want more, GO AND GET IT!!!!!

I am going to type this out in caps really s-l-o-w for all those that don't get it:

MINIMUM WAGE IS NOT MEANT FOR YOU TO LIVE ON

If you can't support your family on minimum wage you have a few choices. Don't have kids and get your spouse to work. Change your lifestyle. Change your job/education status/career. Take responsibility for you life. In spite of what some tell you, it is not some politician's job to coddle you through life. Stop being a victim of politicians that tell you should get more for doing nothing in addition.

SOME JOB TASKS ARE ONLY WORTH MINIMUM WAGE

Society does not value all professions the same. It is obscene that actors make millions and teachers/police/firemen make 20-30K. It is obscene that bartenders and service industry people make more than people with Master's degrees. Is counting, logging, and handing people their clothes at the dry cleaners really worth more than minimum wage? NO!

THAT IS LIFE! LIFE IS NOT FAIR. Get over IT!

You can command what you are worth. If you don't work regularly, if you consistently show up for work late, bitch, moan and complain and if you aren't a good worker, maybe $5.00 is too much money.

Quick question for you posters in favor of a higher minimum wage. Does your manager insist you ask if I want fries or a hot apple pie with that, or are you just trying to show some initiative?

My grandmother always reminded me of a scripture in the Bible that says " Do all for the glory of God"....I didn't get it when i was young, but as I grew older and wiser, I leasrned that this means that I should do the best that I can do at everything that I do in order to please God. If that means I clean the toilet with a toothbrush for $2 then I do it with the passion I have for God. I had Minimum wage jobs, then I went to college, got an education and left minimum wage behind.

I'm glad at least one person had my back. Thanks, "Amber."

I don't understand the reasoning that says certain jobs are not worth a liveable wage, no matter what education is required for them.

First off, there are not enough teenagers to take all the minimum wage jobs the market has available, so adults will be working them. They can't be viewed as just something for people who do not need a liveable income, because that's simply not what has happened in our society. Take a look around you next time you venture out into the world.

And then getting paid what you are worth is not as easy as "shopping yourself around" when you are a minimum wage worker, because there isn't much to shop around. Even if you show up to work on time every day and work as hard as you can for a period of time, the average minimum wage job is not teaching any skills or imparting any education that will help the employee seek any kind of job...except another low-wage job.

If we're going to ask people to do these jobs, then we need to pay them money that they can live off of while working full-time or close to it, instead of demeaning their hard work as "minimum work" (whatever *that's* supposed to mean...)

Finally, here's my reply to all of them:

The common thread I see in these responses is value judgments. And that's, frankly, a very pathetic way to determine what the minimum wage should be. The minimum wage should be the line of the cost of living, period. Otherwise, we're simply fostering a culture of governmental dependence and the decline of the work ethic. Put another way: if everyone made wages in line with the cost of living, then poverty would decline sharply and welfare would all but disappear. But we as a nation have yet to make work worthwhile for all people.

Not everyone who works minimum-wage jobs--or the equally unlivable $7.25 an hour, for that matter--is there because they want or choose to be. When times are rough, people sometimes have to take whatever they can get. Much of the time, merit doesn't even factor into it. I'm sure everyone here knows somebody who works a job beneath their capabilities, or has done so themselves at some point. Sometimes they do so because of family concerns, because they work another career where opportunities are inconsistent or any other myriad reasons. No one should ever be faulted for having to do that. Hey, it beats welfare, right?

I can only hope that none of you on this thread ever find yourselves in a situation where you are forced to make it on minimum wage, like millions of your fellow citizens.

And, for the record, I've taken an economics class. And hundreds of other college courses, as well, earning two degrees in the process. What I've learned is that success is not automatic. Nothing in our economy is automatic. So why do we continue to pretend that it is?

That may be all I have to say on that (or any other) topic on that forum; seeing the true colors of my anonymous neighbors hurts my head.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Minimum Rage, Maximum Ignorance

A few days ago, I did something very questionable--I joined the StoryChat forum of the Daily Advertiser. It's become very popular among local readers, and proves to outsiders exactly what I deal with, politically speaking, on a regular basis. So far, so fun!

Today's edition ran a reader's rebuttal of a previous letter that called for the end of the minimum wage. Here's my response to several comments. I doubt it needs much context.

So what are your arguments AGAINST minimum wage? All I've heard so far is a bunch of slippery-slope arguments ("Why don't we just raise the minimum wage to $100,000?") and idiotic cracks ("Her thoughts are on loan from Ted Kennedy.") None of these speak well of the anti-minimum wage stance.

The minimum wage exists in the first place because industry couldn't be counted on to pay low-level workers livable wages. Indeed, at every level, captains of industry have been so benevolent toward their lifeblood (meaning, workers) that the government has had to step in regarding employment benefits, Social Security, what constitutes overtime labor, workplace conditions, classification of employees, labor-management relations and child labor laws. These examples of so-called "big government" are why we have such dastardly concepts as "holidays" and "the weekend." I would presume that those who oppose the minimum wage and advocate totally unfettered commerce would not actually want to work in a factory in 1906 America.

I understand that pay should be based on merit; in fact, that's one of my deepest-held beliefs. But that's nowhere close to our current reality. Sometimes external factors play a role in what person works which job; Lafayette's economy, as my (conservative) friend put it, cannot absorb all of the college graduates it generates. Consequently, you're just as likely to find a college grad working a fast-food job as you are at the executive branch of an oil company.

Ideally, if an employee is worth more, than they will eventually earn more. But everyone, even if they are not cut out for their current job, deserves to be paid wages that will keep them out of poverty. When they are off poverty, they're also off that welfare you hate so much. The minimum wage hasn't been raised since 1997, and only then it was a tiny bump. It's time that everyone who works can keep up with the cost of living.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Tips for surviving Black Friday

--Don't be a retail worker, delivery driver or police officer.

--You'll want to beat long lines, so be prepared to leave home early. A good time to do so is four hours before the store opens yesterday.

--Shopping among large crowds increases your chances of being robbed or pickpocketed. Prevent this ahead of time by bringing no money with you.

--Before falling off your roof, make sure there isn't a mall between you and the hospital.

--Note to budding guerrilla protesters: gluing department-store locks shut is so 2005. But spreading glue on the sidewalks? That's money, dawg!

--In the mad rush to catch this season's biggest bargains, some businesses get overlooked. Today's a good day to visit such venues as baseball stadiums and waterparks.

--Buy Furbies. Less competition.

--Electronics buffs will create severe gridlock at Best Buy franchises all over America. Mediocre Buy, however, is usually not as crowded.

--If you're planning to liven up your Black Friday experience by shooting BBs at unsuspecting shoppers, doing so in front of a gun store is a bad idea. Also, Alabama.

--Finding the perfect holiday gift for that special someone can be a challenge. Hint: kill two birds with one stone by becoming a friendless athiest.

--Don't write checks. If there's one thing that holiday shoppers won't stand for, it's having to wait in line.

--Be Sony.

--Shopping at dollar stores and discount outlets ensures your safety by implying to would-be muggers that you have nothing worth stealing.

--Now would be a good time to renounce all consumer tendencies and become a patchouli-soaked hippie.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

In defense of O.J. Simpson...

What's the only thing worse than witnessing the spectacle of O.J. Simpson musing on the entirely hypothetical situation, If I Did It? NOT being allowed to witness it.

Now, hear me out.

MSNBC reports that the Fox network has pulled the plug on O.J. Simpson's upcoming television interview, in which he related how he would have conducted the Nicole Simpson-Ron Goldman murders...you know, if he wasn't 100 Percent Not Guilty. Additionally, Fox sibling HarperCollins has stopped the presses on Simpson's mem-noir If I Did It, thus sparing booksellers nationwide a serious classification dilemma.

Rupert Murdoch, the mastermind behind both decisions, had this to say regarding the dual discarding: "I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project...We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."

As we all know, Murdoch has never been one to deal in innuendo, fabricated stories or bad taste. We should all salute his efforts for knowing where to draw the line.

As far as projects go, this one was sick from the outset. O.J. Simpson did himself no favor by embarking on this endeavor, which will probably serve to alienate his few remaining defenders. Indeed, the only two questions he seems to be answering are: "Do you have something to get off your chest?" and, "Can you take on something that makes Juiced look like Naked Gun?" I, for one, had no plans to purchase (or even read) this book, nor was I canceling my late-November revelry at any point in order to catch his TV appearances.

That said, however, I still bristle at the idea that HarperCollins is going to recall and destroy existing volumes of If I Did It. As a fervent free-speech advocate, I strongly oppose ANY measure that keeps protected expression out of the public's hands. Free speech is a double-edged sword: while it allows for the uninhibited flow of ideas, it also permits the expression of sentiments that most of us could live without. As much as O.J.'s latest publicity jag disgusts the level-headed world, the former star has as much a right to speak as anyone else. He would likely have it even if he were incarcerated; after all, inmates give interviews too.

Don't think for a second that Murdoch's decision has anything to do with integrity or other lofty ideals; had that ever been a factor, he never would have commissioned the book and the interview in the first place. Instead, Murdoch saw the coming backlash and decided it might hurt his bottom line (not to mention his clout as a media titan). These are exactly the things that should never factor into whether or not the public can access something.

Judith Regan, head of the ReganBooks imprint that was to publish If I Did It, offered a reason for the book that would seem to contradict Murdoch's supposedly good intentions. An abuse victim herself, Regan said that O.J.'s book served as an indictment on those who practice spousal abuse. Whether or not this argument holds water may never be known, because free speech has once again taken a backseat to the pressures of capitalism and so-called "decency."

To paraphrase a favorite mantra of Murdoch's voracious consumers, "Let the free marketplace of ideas decide!"

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Monday Morning Musing

You know something? Drew Brees and I are a lot alike. And not because we're both major superstars with loads of money and stellar reputations within the community. Though that's part of it.

Brees, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, has overcome adversity and a new start, and throws for 510 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite this immense statistic, the Saints still lost huge, due partially to several interceptions. Like with Reggie Bush and Terrance Copper the week before, the biggest playmakers of the game are often the ones whose strengths wind up backfiring. That's gotta hurt.

I feel this way a lot. Life often reminds me of the movie Phenomenon, in which John Travolta's higher intelligence turns out to be caused by a cancer that created a unique circuit in his brain. Ultimately, it kills him. And while my own parallel is more metaphorical than literal (hopefully), sometimes I feel like my personal strengths will bring me down as well. Every day I ask myself these questions:

--What would make me happy?
--Would I be able to handle happiness?
--Why am I often afraid to take up opportunities?
--Am I wrong for wanting admittedly lofty things out of life?
--Am I my own worst critic?
--Why I am I so picky about everything?

One of my most-praised qualities is, and has always been, my intelligence. Much like Brees' arm, which can fire both 72-yard touchdown passes and heartbreaking red-zone interceptions, my strengths can be both a blessing and a curse. Writing has opened doors for me I didn't even know existed; at the same time, it has welded others shut. My sense of determination has wowed some and has appalled others. I know I'm hardly alone regarding this. The best most of us can hope for in life is that the good times outweigh the bad.

I don't doubt I'd be happier at the moment if I hadn't seen so much in life or if I found contentment in "normal" pursuits. But I guess I should be happy that I'm not happy. Brees and I both look good on paper; but ultimately, paper crumbles. Winning on the field is what really matters to both of us. No other result can satisfy us quite like that.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Time for more rules

Rule #33: YouTube, YouBoob

Enough with the copyright crackdown on YouTube! It's futile and will serve only to dilute the site's already-small fraction of watchable videos.

Okay, I understand if the material in question is a brand-new music video or an unreleased track. Fine. Take those off. If Comedy Central is offended by YouTube's diversion of traffic from its higher-quality Motherload feed, then so be it.

But is Warner Brothers really accomplishing anything by removing decades-old music videos that haven't been available to the public since the debut of MTV's Remote Control? Where the hell else am I going to find the video for Morris Day and the Time's 1985 hit "The Bird?" And aren't music videos advertisements to begin with? I think the cash cow went to pasture on that one years ago, guys. Give it up, as KC and the Sunshine Band once sang.

Anyway, what defines "copyrighted material"? Any original body of work created in the United States has a copyright, technically speaking. I own the copyright on everything I've written or designed on this blog. Registered copyrights hold up better in court, but those are generally reserved for those who concern themselves with making profit. Which is, more than anything, what this is all about. I guess I'll just have buy all those old videos. Now, what store sells them again?

Rule #34: Headline Heaven

When the top news story is "Bush goes to Vietnam," every publication is allowed to cover it like The Onion. In fact, there's no excuse not to. Example headlines might include the following: "Finally," "It's about time," "Bush visits Vietnam, literally this time" and "Too little, too late." Editorials shall state, "What about all the times Bush DIDN'T go to Vietnam?" and "These days, even National Guard soldiers have to go to foreign countries." There must also be questions regarding potent Nam weed and hookers, Bush's low sense of morale, and his coming need to be lifted by helicopter out of the American embassy. And, most importantly, Walter Cronkite must comment on the inevitable stalemate ahead. And how Bush wishes it were 1975 all over again.

Really...what other kind of coverage this this absurd event deserve?

Rule #35: Tickle Me PS3

You know how silly it seems now that people once lined up for days for a Cabbage Patch Kid or a new Atari game? That's you, Mr. "I Cut Class for Two Days to Stand in Line to Pay Double Markup So I Could Be the First in My Apartment Complex to Own a PlayStation 3." Hey, at least you got your name and picture in the paper, so everyone knows all about your bizarre exploits!

The rush to get the new PS3, or any fresh toy, is ultimately more about hype and competition than about actually wanting the product. Anyone truly interested in testing out the product would be satisfied by the free display offered by most major outlets; short of that, why not play with a friend who bought one? Assuming they remembered to buy a second controller. And a game, for that matter.

Truly worthwhile products stand the test of time, as PlayStation has in all its incarnations. Even Cabbage Patch Kids and Elmo-related toys remain wildly popular. If you want to fight for tickets and stand in long lines, go to the Superdome 30 minutes before a Saints game. At least then you'll be rewarded with a unique experience. And the game console will still be there when you get home.

Rules Archive

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A matter of carbon sense

Yesterday marked the annual Great American Smokeout, so I suppose today's post would have made more sense then. But because I like to be fashionably late with my punditry, here's something to put in your pipe and smoke. Yeah, I know--how original, right?

Somehow, Louisiana has passed a law that will ban smoking in virtually all public places, effective Jan. 1, 2007. The ban extends to correctional facilities as of mid-2009, which gives inmates roughly three years to think up a replacement prison currency. Note to self: do not get arrested after 2009!

But I digress.

I'm a nonsmoker. I chose this path for my health, though it's probably been permanently negated by decades of close exposure to secondhand smoke (which is--knock on wood--permanently out of my life since my parents and brother all quit smoking). Health concerns aside, it's nice to wear a clean cotton shirt that actually smells like clean cotton. And I highly prize my ability to stay in one place for more than 20 minutes, even if I want to leave for other reasons. And it keeps more money in my pocket. Theoretically speaking.

As you might imagine, I could not be more ecstatic about the coming crackdown on indoor public smoking. But lest anyone accuses me of being one of those smoking Nazis who supports bans even in private places, I believe that the limits should extend only to those who pose problems for defenseless parties. If I choose to hang out at Phillip's, for example, I expect the place to resemble a pan of Jiffy Pop that's been on the burner for too long. If I have a problem, I might go outside (or inside if too many smokers are congregated outside); but as long as a smoker is respectful and is somewhere with adequate ventilation, I don't raise a hissy fit. Most smokers I know are polite and understanding about their habits in my presence.

I do, however, get tired of hearing about someone's "right to smoke." The right stands insofar as it affects you; but when it invades my territory, your right becomes an infringement. How hard is that to understand? It's also not illegal for someone to pour beer into another's spaghetti, but it can completely ruin the diner's experience. Furthermore, it can cause severe health problems if George W. Bush or Gary Busey happens to be eating that spaghetti.

Okay, maybe that wasn't the best substance-abuse parallel. But as far as parallels go, smoking doesn't really have one. No one ever talks about secondhand Ecstasy or secondhand drunkenness. And with good reason; smoke is a unique animal in that it affects its environment as well as its direct user. Much like cars and biological weapons. Except that nobody talks about allowing either of those indoors; they might cause cancer or even death!

As much as some smokers and the tobacco industry insist that secondhand smoke is harmless, the fact remains: the same smoke that you inhale also comes out of the other end of the cigarette. The SAME smoke! And while it may not be as concentrated as what smokers are accustomed to, 100 smokers in a bar can cause quite a tobacco cloud over the course of an evening. And a burning blend of toxic carcinogens known to cause lung cancer and birth defects can't be good for anybody. Anyone who believes otherwise is either an addict, delusional or both. Most smokers themselves can't even stand stagnant smoke, so clearly it isn't the non-issue some try to make it out to be.

Because smoking is such a scourge, I applaud Louisiana (for once) for enforcing this ban. While most of our state might find it inconvenient or even incomprehensible, I trust they'll eventually warm up to it--just like citizens in other states where such bans have long existed. Seventeen years ago, when UL (then USL) banned smoking in its hallways, students went ballistic. Nowadays, most smokers don't even light up in their living rooms. Banning it in enclosed public places is a natural extension of changing societal attitudes.

We've come a long way, baby.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Borat: reviewing of film for make glorious blog of Not Right

On Sunday night, I went to see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. I was a little hesitant to see the movie, because I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle it. It's not that I'm not a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen; I've seen Da Ali G Show numerous times and nearly cried with laughter every time. What bugged me was what bugs me when The Daily Show gets too snarky in their interviews; pained reactions that cross the line from funny to uncomfortable. It's one thing to lampoon a racist redneck or a partisan flack; it's another to meet with perfectly reasonable people and discover that they have no sense of humor. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.

Still, I steeled myself and bought a ticket. And it really is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. Love him or hate him, Sacha Baron Cohen is one of this generation's most talented and ballsy entertainers. According to imdb, he had the police called on him 91 times during filming and put himself in real danger in several scenes. This is a man who truly believes in his art, which shows in the end result.

The film was a lot more comfortable to watch than I expected, because most of Borat's interviewees have it coming. Homophobic rednecks. Drunken frat boys in South Carolina. A rodeo audience that probably committed mass suicide last Wednesday. And Borat's innocent-foreigner act (especially in the scene where the black guys teach him how to dress and talk like one of them) kills, regardless of one's political or cultural inclinations.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some subjects in the film are suing 20th Century Fox, claiming they didn't know what they were getting into and that appearing in the film has hurt their reputation. I'm no legal expert, but I doubt the plantiffs have much of a case. Being fooled by an obscure TV character is not a crime. And fortunately for millions upon millions of Americans, being a drunk jackass is not an offense. Even if one could argue these things in court, however, there's still the touchy matter of the release forms they all signed. Oops!

One interesting angle at play is that Borat's unwitting subjects assumed the film would be seen only outside of the United States. Which, of course, would explain everything; after all, who cares what a group of English-challenged foreigners think about idiotic American behavior? If their opinion mattered, God would have made them Americans! Right?!!

Actually, what it tells me is that the subjects were more concerned about being embarrassed than about being misrepresented. They figured they could get away with displaying their honest selves as long as their employers, friends or family would never see it. Again, oops. You'd think in this age of globalization and YouTube that people would always beware the camera. Guess not!

In April 2002, a friend and I were attending a journalism convention at the University of Arkansas. While sitting in a bar one night, we were approached by the host of a popular public-access show and her entourage. She asked us if we wanted to appear on an impromptu quiz segment, and (probably because the host was gorgeous and my friend was buzzed) we both said yes. As a crowd gathered around us, we signed a couple of things and were told to act really, really dumb. They explained to us that every show had a quiz skit and they'd put in a few dummies for humor value. So my friend and I spent the entire segment purposefully fumbling easy questions and mugging for the camera (though I correctly answered the political questions; gotta protect the reputation, after all). The next day I heard from several UA students who had seen the show and were most amused by "those dumb yokels from Louisiana." And then I felt dumb for real.

I've never seen the clip, though I'm sure it's itching for release if ever I rise to stardom. And it will embarrass the ever-living crud out of me. But will I sue? Of course not! I played along! No one forced me to do it, besides my own inner ham. Which, ultimately, is what compels most people to prostitute themselves in front of a camera. Without this need for attention, reality TV would not exist and Jerry Springer would be just another Cincinnati Bengals fan.

I don't care who you are, your degree of inebriation or your complete lack of sensitivity or sense of humor; it's entirely your fault if you act like an ass on camera. Assuming you're even acting. Anyway, every single person in Borat will eventually relish their place in one of the top-rated comedies of all time. If they aren't doing so already. For my money, the frat-boy RV scene was one of the best in Borat, and differed little from similar representations in fictitious films. Act or not, it's comic gold.

At its core, Borat is not a parody of Kazakhstan, nor is it a deliberate attempt to bring out the worst behavior in regular Americans. If it truly were either of these things, the film would be a poor effort. Borat and his sidekick speak a mishmash of Yiddish, Polish, Armenian and other dialects (none of which the average Khazakhstani would speak). Furthermore, Sacha would have better served in spoofing Borat's home country by depicting a society even remotely similar to the actual country. Instead, Borat is a multi-faceted testament to how Americans view the world and how they embrace (or don't embrace) the unfamiliar.

It's also got nasty sex jokes. So go see it.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Four football jokes

--Why are the Pittsburgh Steelers' uniforms black?
Pollution.

--What did the Saints eat for breakfast today?
Raspberry turnovers.

--What did Sean Payton yell after Willie Parker scored yet again?
"Bullocks!"

--What is the difference between George W. Bush and Reggie Bush?
About 20 points.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Deep Throat gets a tonsillectomy

The Daily Advertiser has an article on Donald Rumsfeld's resignation as Secretary of Defense. Can you find the angle that makes it fit for an episode of TRL?

As word spread Wednesday that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was resigning from his post, residents expressed surprise at the move, which many locals said they believe was politically motivated. [...]

Trent Donohue of New Orleans said he believes that was a main reason the secretary decided to resign. "I think it was a 100-percent political move," Donohue said. "There's really no question in my mind that the election had something to do with it."

Bill Campbell of Lafayette said he also believed the resignation was at least partially due to Tuesday's election results. "Somebody has to go in those kinds of situations," Campbell said. "That's just the way politics work."

Campbell said while he likes Rumsfeld personally, he didn't agree with his handling of the war in Iraq. "I think we should have gotten out of there a long time ago," Campbell said. "We should have left after we captured Saddam (Hussein) instead of trying to stay there and rebuild the country." [...]

Mike Gallagher of Lafayette said Wednesday afternoon he still was surprised at the announcement. "I'm not sure of the reasons behind it, but I am disappointed that he resigned," he said. "I don't know if it had anything to do with the elections or not, but I was really surprised when I heard about it. I think he did a great job."

The only possible way I could be happier with Rumsfeld's resignation is if Pat Tillman came back to life and took his place. And I'm not surprised that Rummy has his apologists, especially in this (red) neck of the woods.

But the elephant in the newsroom (puns intended) is this: who are these people? Why were they chosen by the reporter to comment on this story? All we have to go upon are their names and general locations: Trent Donohue of New Orleans. Bill Campbell of Lafayette. Mike Gallagher of Lafayette. You mean, the Mike Gallagher? Come on now...

Couldn't they at least offer us a glimpse into what they do and why their opinion holds weight? And why these three men are special enough to represent an entire diverse community? For all we know, Amanda McElfresh went down to her apartment complex's laundromat and interviewed whoever happened to be folding their Jockeys. It's practically a rite of passage for all budding journalism students to find sources this way; but one of the year's biggest stories certainly merits less-random quotage. How about a veteran or a military recruiter? Or, perhaps, one of the numerous soldiers that The Advertiser has profiled in recent years? Somebody whose quotes will resonate with the reader? Or whose quotes will resonate, period?

While in college, I wrote a piece about the possible relocation of the New Orleans Saints. This was around 1999-2000, when Tom Benson's gripe was that New Orleans wasn't doing enough...for him (weren't those the days?). My sources included: 1) direct quotes pulled from a Benson press release; 2) one of the "Golden Boyz," a rabid group of Saints fans who were frequently shown on TV during games; 3) a random friend of mine who thought Benson should do anything that would make him more money. The story received a low grade, primarily because my professor considered the sources "too weak." And, I'll admit, they were; but at least most of them had marginal ties to the story.

My advice to all journalists: Remember Rule 13!

The message in '06: 86 'em!

Since 2000, two distinct entities have experienced misfortune after misfortune. Despite rabid fan support and dollars, these groups have suffered from questionable leadership, poorly executed strategy, squandering of great talent and (of course) controversial calls. Both entities have seen their effectiveness diminish in recent years, even in their most familiar environs. Both have had analysts question their relevance and very future, wondering if either one would ever again experience the feeling of victory.

But in 2006, the Democrats and the New Orleans Saints both proved they are here to stay and here to win. Both have captured the nation's hearts and minds with their respective abilities to offer hope to a region that has suffered through disaster. This would be a great literary conceit even if former Saints quarterback Heath Shuler hadn't coasted to a Democratic victory in Carolina Panther territory (mainly by capturing the ever-critical NFC Southern vote). My brain positively explodes with all the politico-football parallels! And I thought I did my best writing when pissed off...

Unfortunately, I can't take any credit for helping this happen. I vote in Lafayette, Louisiana, where the proverb "all politics is local" has a particularly depressing ring to it. Charles Boustany (R-Bush Tool) beat Mike Stagg (D-Not Boustany) for my U.S. representative by a 71-29 margin, further proof that I couldn't be living in a wronger place than I do.

As hard as I try, I cannot get myself interested in local politics. Ever. For a Lafayette liberal like myself, the American election season is like thumbing through brochures of 2007-model cars: fun in theory, but in reality my only transportation options are my seven-year-old bike and a skateboard I've had since 1986. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, "I resign." Whoops! I mean, "You don't vote in the races you want; you vote in the races you have." I wish I could vote in different precincts. Hey, why not? In the Internet age, it's fully possible for anyone to follow any race they want. Besides, election returns in recent years suggest that voting eligibility is a shifty thing indeed. Think I ever get homesick?

My general uninterest in local affairs doesn't stop me from partaking in all but the most micro-obscure referenda, though that's more out of preventing horrifying initiatives than actually expecting progress. And also, because my precinct commissioners are really nice people. For me, the true excitement is in the elections with broader repercussions. This time around, the entire state voted for an important consolidation of New Orleans political power. And Lafayette offered a mildly interesting bunch of tax proposals that nevertheless all died, because they would have meant a couple more pennies out of our Wranglers. Repair our dilapidated courthouse so that suspects can't slip out unabated? Trashed, 69-31! A one-cent sales tax to fix Lafayette roads? Defeated 64-36 by those who'd rather save that penny for their next trip to Midas. They'll need it.

Despite my general disdain over local results, I join with the majority of voters in wishing the retooled 110th Congress a positive and productive term. This election has been as much about reintroducing fair play into government as it was a rebuke of those who have served with more dubious intentions. Some argue that this mid-term election is ultimately meaningless; but if Rumsfeld's immediate resignation isn't a testament to the power of the people, then nothing could possibly be. This may not be Bush's first rodeo (as he so hilariously reminded us yesterday), but it's his first on the business end of the rope. And the burn has got to hurt.

I'm sensing a Democrats-Saints Super Bowl afoot. Anybody game?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Whiny waitstaff manifesto

I love eating at restaurants and am a generous tipper, despite being a broke bastard. I hate when wealthy people choose to be stingy with tipping, as I hear is often the case. I’m always very nice to my server and get good service because of it. And, of course, they deserve to make a livable wage for what they do.

But I get a little tired of the attitude. Servers do no justice to their hard work by putting down their customers with condescension and contempt, as one did in a list I recently received. It’s one thing to expect adequate compensation; it’s another to throw a blanket tantrum toward customers who may or may not have the first thing to do with the feudal system that is the restaurant industry.

What follows is not the list I received, but my personal interpretation of it. And before you counter with, “But you’ve never worked as a waiter,” remember that I’ve knocked a similar list by a blogger in the past. Smarminess knows no job description.

1) So, you think you can afford to go out and eat? Well, guess what! I’m going…to say this…in the bitchiest, brattiest way possible…if you can’t leave a huge tip…then you can’t afford to go out! The least you peons can do after eating one of our $11 plates of spaghetti is pony up nearly half that so that I get paid. What, you think expensive restaurants actually pass on the profit to the people who do its work? YOU pay my entire salary! How hard is that to grasp, dumbasses?

2) This is 2006, people. 10% is not acceptable anymore…And neither is the “training wage” I make…not that I’ll ever make any noise about that. The restaurant lobby is too powerful…but you, the customer, are weak. We will reserve our contempt for you rather than toward the industry in which we chose to work.

3) Now I understand that 10% is good enough for God. That’s fine, but I’m your waitress. And I hold more contempt for you than the Old Testament God did toward his subjects. Therefore, a larger percentage is only sensible.

4) When you order a well-done steak, we will laugh at you behind your back. Because no food connoisseur would ever do that. For all you know, your steak is a leftover slab we dropped on the floor that we have no room to throw away. That’s what kind of judgmental pricks we are.

5) They say the customer is always right. However, I am very busy and you are wrong to assume that I care enough to check on you when I’ve messed up your order because I’m so busy.

6) Use some manners, please! I’m just trying to introduce myself. After all, this may be your only opportunity to see my face for the next 45 minutes.

7) If I do a good job, I do it for the tip; not because I like, or care about, you. I deserve to be rewarded for that.

8) Please don't take it out on me because you have had a bad day. I'm here to make it better. Unless I’ve had a bad day, in which case I will take it out on you and will still expect a big tip.

9) How was I supposed to know you wanted A1 sauce? Oh, you mean you asked me 10 minutes ago and I went to get it? I’m busy, you know!

10) Just because I walk past your table (and am theoretically here to help you) does not mean I won’t resent the hell out of you for actually acting on it when I deign to walk by.

11) You may call me Shirley, but to me you’re just Table 23. The only thing that matters to me is your tip. Ever notice how I never ask you for your name?

12) Treating a server like a piece of shit and the scum of the earth because we are serving you is the quickest way to get the worst service you ever thought possible. We are people too and you are no better than me...So treat us well, scum!

13) Just think about it like this. I work in an industry that actually gets away with paying a small fraction of the minimum wage, despite the fact that your hamburger costs $7. We don’t know where that thick profit margin goes, but we certainly don’t see or question it. So it’s up to you, the lowly customer, to shoulder the burden of the mess that we have gotten ourselves into. And if you don’t, then we don’t get paid. And then we will hate you…even more than we do when you come in. Who are we supposed to confront about that, the restaurant industry? Fat chance!

14) Last but certainly not least...Don't assume that my job is easier then yours and I am some dumb shit who can't get a better job. The restaurant business is a fast-paced environment with a high stress level. And you don't even see all the things we do behind the scene. So have some respect. After all, I clearly have so much respect for you! Thank you for eating with us, Table 42-A. Tip well.

Like suffrage? Suffer through this!

Suspect Device and Da Bog have brought the latest "guest column" in the Daily Advertiser to our attention. Compared to the Daily's usual fare, it's an awful diatribe. And that's really saying something.

For the uninitiated: my local rag employs a bevy of amateur columnists to riff on pressing issues of the day. As you might expect, this is a very diverse crew--they represent a vast array of views, from conservative extremism to old-fashioned raving racism. This feature certainly satisfies Gannett's mission of "local, local news." It's almost like actually talking to people in Lafayette! Though perhaps a little more restrained in print.

But I will spare you more commentary until you've had a bite of this juicy op-ed by one David Prejean. Oh yeah!

As is the case after most elections, the media and political establishment are lamenting the low voter turnout for the latest election. The wringing of hands and the furrowing of brows is palpable."What are we going to do about these apathetic voters? If they don't start voting in larger numbers, it will be the end of democracy!"

I beg to differ.

Man, that can't be leading to anything good. He might as well be saying, "I don't hate black people, but..." for the hole he's digging here. Or, perhaps, "Yeah, she was underage, but..."

Case in point, of the 13 amendments that were on the ballot Sept. 30, there was wide agreement that at least four of them should not have passed. Amendment numbers 4, 5, 6 and 9 were opposed by the Council for a Better Louisiana (non-partisan), Moon Griffon (conservative) and The Daily Advertiser (ultra-liberal). And yet they all passed.

I also voted no against those amendments. But it was because they were all bad ideas, not because some local bird-brains told me to. Even if they did run the extremely diverse spectrum that is Louisiana political punditry.

Indeed, the Daily Advertiser is so ultra-liberal that they had this to say in response:

David, whom we respect and who is one of those exceptional writers we chose as volunteer guest columnists...must have missed the editions in which we called for the impeachment of Bill Clinton and endorsed George Bush.

Watershed moments, indeed. That explains that great nose for talent! If The Advertiser is ultra-liberal, then I must be Ann Coulter (albeit less masculine).

The paper quoted a local party leader as saying that the founding fathers did not want a few people making decisions for the many. In fact, that is exactly what the founding fathers wanted. When this country was founded, white men with property were the only people allowed to vote.

True. So where will he go from here? A segue into a discussion about how the Electoral College was intended to control public passion? Maybe an extrapolation on representative, as opposed to direct, democracy? Lead us on, fearless one!

Now, I'm not saying that we've gone downhill as a result of women, minorities and non-property holders voting, but ... My point is that quantity does not necessarily mean quality...

So don't listen to the cacophony of voices demanding that you go vote. Ignorance is bliss, and the blissful can stay home on Nov. 7 and contribute to democracy in their own way.

Now, at first I was understandably appalled at these statements. But then I realized that all he's saying is that ignorant people need not vote. And I'm fair enough to concede that Prejean has one good point: that voters who take the time to hit the polls should also take the time to understand the issues involved. That's fair, if somewhat obvious.

Oh, and he also thinks that the most ignorant voters are minorities and women. Which is an insanely bigoted thing to say and should automatically disqualify someone from reproducing, let alone voting. Down with the ignorant!!

Why is it that those who call for voter testing and/or screening are never themselves the barometer for voting intelligence? I wouldn't trust anyone who voted for Dubya to draft such a curriculum, let alone someone who laments universal suffrage.

Maybe it's time to bring back the old Three-Fifths Rule. This time, let it apply to the value of a bigot's vote. How will we find out who these people are?

Test them!

Yeah, I could get behind that.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Kerry is so very, very...

Seriously. The Democrats have got to get some goddamn backbone.

John Kerry has apologized and canceled several appearances over his now-infamous vocal mishap. While his apology contained more than a medium degree of defiance, it's sad that he even had to apologize in the first place. As for those canceled campaign stops? Pitiful. Further proof that the petty vindictiveness of the right and its complicit press continues to dominate politics.

I'm all for apologizing when you've made a mistake, or when you feel you've unintentionally offended a group of people. I've done that time and again in my own published writing. But in this case, all Kerry needed to do was clarify himself (which I think he did well). This chorus of GOP politicos and their Democrat "counterparts" all but calling for his head is ridiculous! This isn't Rush Limbaugh accusing Michael J. Fox of exaggerating his Parkinson's Disease for political reasons or a certain president lying us into war; Kerry simply misspoke. The party of George W. Bush should be well-versed in misspeaking by now.

So what exactly did Kerry say to his college-age audience that day? "[If] you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." While that could certainly be misconstrued (albeit by a complete hack) as a slight against the intelligence of our fighting forces, it certainly doesn't merit the faux indignance that it has spawned.

All Kerry was saying is that Bush, through mediocre thinking and willful ignorance of history, has led this nation into a sticky situation in Iraq. Every single person I have talked with about this (among them: fellow liberals, casual political observers and one fervent Kerry-hater) completely understood this point! I have yet to run into anyone who honestly thinks Kerry was trying to disparage American students or the Armed Forces. The ones that do claim this position are the same die-hard neocon apologists who divert honest political dialogue at every opportunity, and who stand to benefit the most from distortion of Democratic words.

Assuming Kerry really meant to insult the military, couldn't he have made a more cutting comment? On Nov. 15, 1988, Kerry had this to say about the newly elected Republican administration:

"The Secret Service is under orders that if Bush is shot, to shoot Quayle."

That jab can be described two ways: 1) cheap and 2) clever. If Kerry really wanted to punch below the belt, there'd be no mistaking it. It certainly wouldn't be with that weak-ass remark with which the GOP is currently trying to crucify him.

This is a seriously desperate rhetorical trick on the part of the Republicans, who need the snowball of their record to survive the hell of mid-term elections. By lambasting Kerry, they bring the debate back into familiar territory: attacking the source and crowing over the mistake, rather than discussing the actual message. The fact that Kerry is apologizing and staying home is all the reinforcement the GOP will ever need to dwell in that unholy land.

As sad as it is, the neocons hope that voters are going to focus more on the "Kerry hates the troops" brouhaha than on the actual point he was trying to make. Right, Dan Rather? It doesn't help matters that Kerry and Co. keep apologizing every time they flub an obvious point, thus validating the immensely vapid tsk-tsking from desperate conservatives. Given that track, the Democrats are going to be even sorrier if voters shy away from them next week.