Sunday, December 30, 2007

My New Year's resolutions

1) Try out for the New Orleans Saints. They need a few good men in their defensive secondary, and I could fill in at either cornerback or free safety. Yeah, yeah, I know the NFL doesn't have open tryouts. But really, what are they afraid of? That I'll be bad?

2) Vote for Barack Obama in the Missouri primary and then, eventually, whatever Democrat wins the nomination. Because that's the only way that this country will even begin to start healing itself.

3) Further my progress toward eating more organic and home-cooked food. Which brings me to:

4) Don't go bankrupt. Making decisions to be healthy and environmentally conscientious can be expensive, even more so than eating junk and driving junk. This, of course, is a major part of why America is obese and coughing: everyday low prices! Speaking of which...

5) Stop shopping at Wal-Mart. Did that twice this year. Sorry.

6) Blog more and more furiously. With an election year coming, that shouldn't be too difficult. Also, I want to make more videos, as soon as I figure out what it is with my camera that adds 45 pounds to my face.

7) Stop being so hard on myself. Man, am I hard on myself! I could absolve myself of this problem if only I weren't such a FRUSTRATINGLY PERFECTIONIST PIECE OF CRAP!!! YOU SCUM! dROP AND GIVE ME 20! AND 20 MORE FOR THE TYPO IN THAT LAST SENTENCE!! GRARARARARAUGUGUGH!!

8) Lay the groundwork for a future New Year's resolution.

9) Turn 28. This one I think I can keep.

10) Of course, I'd be amiss without mentioning the one thing that everyone can get behind in this tumultuous time: washboard abs. Oh yeah.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Coming soon, maybe...

I hope to write a review of the year 2007. But first I'm waiting to see how the Saints' season ultimately turns out. Also, I'm holding out for the year's worth of good news that I am sure will spring forth in the next four days.

UPDATE: Just learned that Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's great democratic hope, was assassinated today. (It's the second most popular story on Reuters today, behind Paris Hilton being denied 97 percent of the Hilton fortune.) And here I was all optimistic. Hah! I'll bet the damn Patriots win too.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

This is what I get for trying to be Al Gore

This week, I received a pleasant surprise. And by "pleasant," I mean "brutal":

Seems my utility bill had surged from $58.76 last cycle (itself high) to $90.08. I did expect my bill to rise somewhat, given current cost trends for, well, everything in the world. But a near-50 percent increase? Foul! For one thing, I use my heater about twice a day, and always turn it off anytime I leave, even for a few minutes. Second, I tend to have on only what I'm using at any given time, which often leaves my apartment lit only by the occasional peek of sun. Third, I live alone in a one-bedroom apartment. Foul!

At first opportunity, I went to City Utilities (or CU, as we say when making puns) to set them straight. I liked my chances, given that my first-ever bill from them was a whopping $211. They told me later it was an estimate, which makes me wonder what they charged people who actually have roommates and other rooms. They were so wrong that time that they actually credited me for the next three months.

This time, however, CU was as certain about my bill as George W. Bush is about, well, everything in the world. After all, this bill was based on actual meter readings, which are gospel. If anything, they said, a broken meter would have worked out in my favor. Hmmm...tempting! Naah. Sounds like entrapment.

After some wrangling with the front desk, which was like trying to push a good idea into Bush's head, I headed over to appeals. I told them of the situation, my energy principles and my history of battling fishy CU prices. How, I asked them, could my carbon footprint have been made by Andre the Giant? (In different words, of course. I'm not always metaphorically pretentious.)

They then showed me that my kilowatt-hour rate had indeed doubled in the past month, probably from leaving my heater on 70 (good call there). Furthermore, that rate was actually stingy compared to previous tenants' readings from this time of year. So my extensive efforts to be an energy hippie actually did help a little. Whee.

So now I accept the $90 charge as a learning tax. This month, I'm determined not to use my heater at all, even when the temperature drops into sub-freezing levels. I've actually done this before, and it's not bad with blankets. Take that, Hallibusto!

The New Orleans Saints will keep me warm.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Things I learned (or recalled) during my week in Louisiana

--A Starbucks really can open and thrive in the parking lot of a Barnes and Noble that has a Starbucks inside it.

--Since moving, I have been down for three Saints games: the preseason game against the Chiefs, the Monday Night Falcons match and Sunday's go against the Cardinals. All three were decisive victories. Nice.

--A lot of grass I remember fondly in Lafayette is now about 30 trendy businesses of which I am not fond.

--Cyclists are tied with terrorists on the "Mow them down" scale.

--To older, sight-challenged women, I am worthy of a brusque "Table for four" by virtue of my proximity to the front door of a Mexican restaurant.

--To older, speech-challenged women working cleanup at Chick-Fil-A, I inspire the thought, "Now that's a guy who wants to hear all about the pearl necklace my boyfriend of nine years gave me and what I did to get it!"

--Speed vans hide.

--Gov. Bobby Jindal is talking about how he will fight the trend of college graduates leaving the state to take jobs. I'm encouraged; Republicans always back up their promises to Louisiana.

--Judging by the local media, not only is every man, woman and child in Lafayette gainfully employed, but they are all extremely affluent and are worried only about the fluctuating price of diamonds and sushi in River Ranch.

--Such constant cheerleading about Lafayette's "full employment" has me wondering exactly why Lafayette Parish voted so enthusiastically for Jindal, who campaigned on total change. I'm lost on that one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dollars so weak, they give you two for the price of one

Remember that time I got sequential dollar bills attached to each other? Well, it happened again, this time at a Starbucks in Springfield:

I'd tell you which Starbucks, but you might get confused and go to the wrong one across the street (Lewis Black sure nailed that one. Actually, there's one literally next door to another in Lafayette now, so Black'll have to refine his act).

In any event I'm glad this happened again. It's just more money for me to pay my $90 electric bill, which is a huge leap over last month's $58. Even with the winter months, I call shenanigans; I was in Louisiana all of last week and I make like Jimmy Carter with the heater. Was there a sweater surcharge?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Louiziana 4 Life

I just got subpoenaed for jury duty. In Louisiana.

I've been a resident of Missouri for more than 10 months, but apparently the Louisiana DMV and the registrar of voters are unaware of this. Remember that flap about Sammy Kershaw and John Breaux not being eligible to run for state office because they weren't residents of Louisiana? They were. Believe me.

Vote Jim Mora in 2011! Lee Harvey Oswald has skeletons.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Acadiana High to defend Louisiana football title tonight

Go Destrehan!!

Last year at this time, I posted the "motivational" speech I would have given the Wrecking Rams if I were their head coach. No excerpt does it justice. Maybe its ironic karma will actually work this time.

I like this line from The Daily Advertiser about tonight's matchup:

The Rams, who are making a third straight appearance in the title game, are viewed as a superbly coached machine not blessed with an abundance of college talent.

And who's behind that superbly coached machine? Coach Gingrich.

Here's to tomorrow's headline: "RAMS WRECKED!" Big font. 128-point, at least.

Be they from St. Louis or Scott, Rams simply should not win in the Superdome. Redeem, Dome. Redeem.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Ask not what you don't have to do for your country...

I have a slight problem with the Bush administration.

Maybe you've heard about this new rate freeze for subprime loans that will lock in interest rates for homeowners, rather than jack them up as scheduled. This measure is intended to combat the staggering rate of foreclosures that marred the otherwise totally tubular economic picture in 2007.

Now comes the interesting news: hardly anyone qualifies for the locked-in rate. Oh, and lenders aren't even required to offer it!

Yep, good old voluntary regulations.

When I was in fifth grade, my school system began something called "voluntary uniforms" (which, in retrospect, is about as oxymoronic a term as "compassionate conservative"). They kicked in the following year, but the campaign began well before that: "Check out the new uniforms in the lobby! They're not required, but they look great!" So I did. They didn't. I laughed, thinking they were not serious about this. The following year, I saw as many as five students wearing them. Before long even they loosened up on it, proving my long-held theory that school uniforms are not something people would ever, ever wear willingly. (I'm leaving out schoolgirl fantasy situations, because we're talking about 6th grade here, extremely pre-sexy-Britney.)

Of course, George W. Bush is a school-uniform kind of guy. And, aside from strict federal interference in education, stem cells, foreign affairs, sex and free speech, not the kind of guy who wants the government all up in our business. Voluntary regulations, then, are a win-win situation for this loser.

Funny how voluntary regulations seem to come in play only when actual application of such would threaten the sanctity of one of the many, many lobbies to which Bush owes his allegiance. When it comes to unreasonable education demands, opening up personal information to Homeland Security or reducing veterans benefits, that stuff's etched in stone. Anytime this government places regulations on industry, they won't be half as rigid and devastating as any burden placed on the people. Count on it.

I'm surprised we haven't yet seen the Wink, Wink Act. Perhaps in 2008?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Planes can't fly with only a right wing

Now here's something interesting. Apparently, a spike in airport runway collisions this year is being blamed directly on piss-poor leadership in the White House.

Does that seem like a far-fetched allegation? Yes, even considering how our leadership really is piss-poor. And, after all, the report is from the hippie Congress, which obviously means it's out to get the president at any cost. Besides, am I a worse driver now than I was in 1998, just because a Bush is in the White House? Hell no! If anything else, I'm better than I used to be because soaring fuel and insurance costs, combined with declining highway funding and fear of expensive tickets, has me as vigilant behind the wheel as Ted Nugent is behind a scope. If slightly less eager to hit anything. But I digress.

For all the accusations that the report is sure to get from both remaining Bush apologists, statistics don't lie:

In the 2007 budget year that ended Sept. 30, the incidents spiked to 370 — 6.05 incidents per 1 million air traffic control operations. That approached the level in 2001, when there were 407 runway incursions and 6.1 rate. An incursion is any aircraft, vehicle or person that goes where it should not be in space reserved for takeoff or landing.

Ah, the good old flying days of 2001. Nostalgia! But what could be causing such a sudden spike in these incidents, when they had been going down for years?

Air travelers face a high risk of a catastrophic collision on U.S. airport runways because of faltering federal leadership, malfunctioning technology and overworked controllers, congressional investigators said Wednesday [...]

At this time, "no single office is taking charge of assessing the causes of runway safety problems and taking the steps needed to address those problems," the Government Accountability Office said in a report requested by Rep. Jerry F. Costello, D-Ill., and Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J.

So the cause is big, bureaucratic government? Here comes the Bush administration to the rescue!

What, no excerpt? I thought we had an excerpt. Moving on...

Then-Federal Aviation Administrator Marion Blakey stepped into that leadership void in August by calling an industrywide conference to produce ideas for quick action. In October, the FAA reported progress on recommendations from the conference, including speeding improved runway markings and pilot training. The GAO report approved of those moves but also recommended more leadership from the FAA, better data collection and less overtime required of controllers.

"This report makes clear that the Bush administration is cutting corners and failing to put passenger safety first," Lautenberg said. "The FAA is taking too many chances and ignoring too many red flags."

So a leadership vacuum in a bloated government bureaucracy and lagging technology, combined with a lack of sufficient workers for the job, are causing lax safety situations at airports? This is not a case of minimum-wage-earning, untrained airport security; this involves well-trained professionals, which means it takes a serious crisis for them to have as many close calls as they have. And there's simply no excuse for that. But how about some good news?

Serious incursions, where a collision was narrowly averted, declined to a record low 24 in 2007, compared with 31 the year before. But the report said they have stayed high enough to pose "a high risk of a catastrophic runway collision."

Oh. Guess not.

Debate all you want about whether the Bush administration is doing the right thing overseas. But there's no debating that government has been crippled in so many areas domestically, from FEMA to the FDA and the FAA. When Republicans talk about ending big government, this is exactly what they're talking about. They have no problem putting cameras on every street corner and microphones in every phone; but actually ensure that our most basic public programs are well-staffed, well-funded and competent? Why, that requires more than lip service! It might actually entail making airports safer, and the public thus less subject to sort of fear that the White House needs to get away with its bungling.

And, yes, it is Bush's fault, because this is happening under his watch. Someone remind him that global conquest doesn't cancel out a president's need to address problems in his own country.

I think Tom Tucker from Family Guy said it best: "These days, it seems you can't even fly in a plane anymore!"

Saturday, December 01, 2007

How I feel about certain things

--No, this blog hasn't become audition central for "High School Musical 3"; that's Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Brodie Croyle. He will be inactive for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers due to what was described as a "deep, deep bruise" in his lower back. Well, yeah, that's what happens when you put a 15-year-old on the field with NFL players. It would also explain the Chiefs' four straight losses, though not the rumor that Croyle beat the entire Miami Dolphins by himself in a recent pickup game.

--Sometimes I ponder going to teach in Sudan. With all that's going on in that country, I really want to do my part to educate the embattled population. After all, education is the way out of ignorance and poverty, and -- wait, what? Protesters are calling for a teacher's head because she let her students name a teddy bear after a classmate named Mohammed? Ha ha! That's funny! But I think Hollywood will find it too unbelievable a premise to make it into the next Jerry Bruckheimer movie, strike or no strike.

Oh, wait. This is actually happening. Fanatics are actually brandishing swords over a damn teddy bear. Wow. That's pretty sick! Almost Darfur sick. Between the anger in the fundamentalist Muslim world and the aggressive imperialism brought forth by Western Christian fundamentalists, I have to ask: How did atheists get so despised?

--The latest word in terrorism is that the Bush administration is going to slash the Homeland Security budget outlay in half for 2009. Actually, $3.2 billion to $1.4 billion is more than half. That's right - before Bush leaves office, he is going to leave his successor with a severely curtailed anti-terrorism budget. That means port security, transit security and local emergency programs will be slashed or cut altogether, and the new president won't be able to do anything about it until September 2009. Asked to comment, Niccolo Machiavelli called the move "political treachery of the worst kind." George Carlin called it "cynical."

--A recent study shows that night workers are more prone to prostate and breast cancers. Apparently, working at night and sleeping during the day disrupts the body's circadian rhythm, thus preventing it from creating enough cancer-blocking melatonin. I had a good laugh as I edited this article on my night shift. Then I went to the bathroom. Five times.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A joke to make your Friday fun

"Why do some people instinctively believe it when they are told that President Bush is somehow less than intelligent?" (Actual rhetorical question seen on a message board)

(I don't know. Why do some people instinctively believe it when they are told that President Bush is somehow less than intelligent?)

Answer: His lips are moving!

(I didn't say it would be a good joke.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

I'm not a Patriot

The New England Patriots suck.

Not abilitywise, of course; they're still undefeated, even after Week 12. What sucks about them is who they are and why they represent anything that's wrong with the media and the world.

First, the team:

Tom Brady - Good-looking. Talented. Dates supermodels. Funny on Family Guy. What doesn't go right for this guy? I hardly ever hear or see one thing go wrong; he might as well be Jesus. What adversity has Tom ever had to overcome? His story is about as inspiring as George W. Bush's.

Bill Belichick - is there any less likable coach to go all the way? Last year was especially special. Sean Payton was coach of the year, and Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith made history at the Super Bowl. On the other hand, Belichick's stern glance, secretive demeanor (on Sunday he pulled Wes Welker away from an NBC interview as soon as a tough question was asked of him), distaste for the coaches' union and videotaping of other teams almost makes one wonder when Dick Cheney quit politics, got a toupee and went into coaching.

Randy Moss - He's Terrell Owens without the literary credits or the clean driving record.

Donte Stallworth - Just the latest of a long line of ex-New Orleans Saints who saved it for later.

Kevin Faulk - crushed every football team in my high school's district almost singlehandedly, including several times against my brother (leveling him at least once). Has played for Carencro High, LSU and New England, which means he's played only for ridiculously stacked teams that I frequently root against. His cousin Trev Faulk, on the other hand, is cool. I say that because I played with him in high school (though he was way bigger and way better than me. Ever seen Lucas? Practice footage of me trying to tackle Trev looks a lot like that.)

In 2001, shortly after 9/11, I wrote a satirical article titled, "Patriots to go to Super Bowl no matter what." Then they actually did, which took all of the humor out of it. Bastards.

The Patriots have won three of the last six Super Bowls. They're the Halliburton of the NFL. I don't think al-Qaida could beat them at this point (though a quagmire is possible).

But even more than the team itself, the sports media sucks for its coverage. They've officially jumped the shark. Yes, the team's good. Yes, some interesting human-interest pieces have come about. But I get tired of the "Are they Supermen?" type puff (blow?) pieces. At this rate, the media is one step away from writing Chuck Norris jokes: "Tom Brady doesn't play for the NFL. The NFL plays for him."

I could understand all of these articles if they were coming out now; 11-0 is hardly anything to sneeze at. But they've long predated any real show of greatness. The Saints started 7-0 in 1991 and 5-0 in 1993, but you didn't read anything like, "Is Bobby Hebert God's favorite player?" Whereas the anointment of the 2007 Pats began almost from Week One.

Watching the Patriots squeak by the Eagles, I saw a good football team. But I didn't see the greatest team in history. There was no invincible Tom Brady, or perfect Kevin Faulk, or uncatchable Randy Moss. Brady is right when he says the team has flaws and just finds ways to improve and/or work around them. And that's what they did Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, please, media. Keep this in perspective. I know you will the first time they lose. Like with every other team.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thought on Black Friday

I'm sure glad I don't need medicine today. If I didn't die in a massive trampling accident in the parking lot, I would have died from the sickness before I got to the counter. Also, medicine is expensive. I'd get it as Christmas gifts for my friends and relatives, but then they'd ask why I didn't get them something cheaper, like a Lexus.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

And the award for Most Amusingly Appalling Billboard goes to...

It sits along Missouri Highway 13, tantalizing commuters with its promise of sparkling jewels that originate primarily from virtual slave labor in Africa. Fittingly, it faces the road leading out of downtown toward the suburbs. I couldn't make this up if I tried.

"You like me! You really like me!" was White Flight's reported response to winning this honor. "HMOphobic?" said it was an honor just to be nominated.

Yes, White Flight diamond fever is catching on. While driving along a major Springfield freeway yesterday, I noticed a guy spelling out this message in cups along a pedestrian bridge:

I guess he's ready for a commitment after years of flying Solo cups. Zing!

While the creator of this masterpiece deserves originality points, I suspect the whole thing was mere showboating. Even for a proposal. For one thing, the girl's name is not mentioned. Every woman in a relationship driving down this road is going to think they're the target audience (which is particularly damaging if someone's actually expecting to see this and it's some other guy). Second, it requires expert timing - if she's driving the other way, for example, the whole thing's shot. Third, assuming the right person sees this at just the right time, how's she going to say yes? At best, she'll have to park and run about half a mile up the pedestrian bridge, all the while hoping that it isn't the wrong dude. This engagement must be earned, dammit!

Perhaps it was a publicity stunt. There were a lot of cute women crossing the bridge at the time. I noticed at least one or two stop to talk to the guy. Smooth...

(Incidentally, I apologize for the headache-inducing images. My camera wasn't cooperating and I had to enhance the hell out of the pics just to make them palatable. So to speak.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Now appearing on clipboards across the NFL

Speaking of Texans with ties to New Orleans, my dad noticed this:

That's all for now. I've got NFL Blitz to ignore.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Money: Yet another thing I don't like

Every football fan has undoubtedly seen the Saints Visa commercial:

(Well, that was the best I could do. Roll with it.)

As a lifelong, die-hard Saints fan, I have decided that I do not like this commercial. And not because of the Saints imagery - indeed, I enjoy that - but because of the spot's message. This commercial has existed in other forms, too, but they all boil down to this:

In a store or restaurant, we are all cogs in a flawlessly fascist show of efficiency. This production constantly straddles the danger zone, and if you so much as hesitate, the next person's lunch is all over the Catherine Zeta-Jones lookalike behind you. Similarly, Saints fans will get irate if you pay for your tennis balls (douche) with cash (double douche!!). The message here, then, is that cash is as old-fashioned and creaky as grandma's corset. And about as visually appealing.

So at this point, we have two stupid messages: 1) Shop/eat as fast as you can at all times and 2) Why slow down the line with cash when you can swipe your card, press a million buttons and await verification?

But wait...that's not all!

Rounding out the trifecta of wrong stuff being taught here is the worst lesson of all: that credit cards deserve to be made smaller and more instantly swiped. Like a wronged Sean Payton, I call a challenge on this one. In all my years as a debit-card carrier (no credit cards for me, thanks), I have rarely, if at all, had my card checked against who I am. And that's with a full-sized card and rapidly outdating technology! Now they want to make it smaller and easier to steal, with clerks prizing ruthless speed and efficiency over ID verification? That's not why I go to the French Quarter, dammit! Or anywhere else.

Visa may be Everywhere I Want to Be, but I would like it to stay with me. Not that anyone else would honestly want it.

That reminds me...I should really buy a Saints knit cap for these frosty Rams/Chiefs winters. And not with cash, lest I be branded a bleeding-heart freethinker.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thanks Jim Haslett

You finally figured out how to win in the Superdome. You and Rick Venturi both. Congratulations.

[Update after the game actually ended: At least there was the 4th quarter. Josh Bullocks' hands almost made for a threat there too.]

[Update at 6:51 p.m.: Tonight, one of my duties at work was to create a Rams-Saints online photo gallery. That's just piling it on. One of the captions read, "Both Haslett and Venturi severed as head coaches of the Saints." I thought it was a typo, but maybe it isn't.]

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Strike one, writers!

Lately I've been marveling over the concentration of good fortune that some cities seem to have sports-wise, such as New Orleans (Saints and Hornets) and Boston (Red Sox, the Patri-rots).

Knock on wood for New Orleans.

Conversely, Denver has to be so disappointed in its recent heartbreaks (Rockies and Broncos) that there's nothing high about the city.

Right now, America's most high-profile writers are living in Denver. Metaphorically speaking, of course. And because they are, you'll just have to settle for stupid observations like that one. Because I'm the best you've got right now!

In what may be the only labor movement in decades that might ultimately work out for labor, Hollywood writers have gone on strike. Actors have joined them on the picket line, which means that our steady supply of passive entertainment should dry up at about the same time that Atlanta will. And guess which one of those will prompt a larger outcry.

I wonder if I should cross the picket line and prove my Hollywood mettle, a la John Fourcade for the Saints during the 1987 NFL strike? Or should I show my solidarity with the striking writers as they hold out for Internet and other outside royalties? Fortunately, that quandary is eased somewhat by the complete fiction of the first option. Solidarity, scribblers!

Further darkening the world for people who like to read good things, Norman Mailer died. And so did Kurt Vonnegut before him. Both at 84. I guess 84 is the new 27! BAM! I'm on fire, baby!

Please hurry back, Hollywood. I don't think anyone can take much more of this.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Is this the dumbest thing Bush has ever said?

At any given time, George W. Bush is one of two things: hypocritical or stupid. Well, OK, he's always stupid. But sometimes that stupidity is accompanied by statements so hypocritical that it's a wonder Bush wasn't president in 1984. For example, weapons of mass destruction - Bush rattles his sabers over the horrors of WMDs, as if his aggressive foreign policy and nuclear threats aren't the reason most nations want them in the first place. At this point, I genuinely can't decide whether Bush is 1) simply a moron or 2) so drunk with power that he feels he can impose standards that don't apply to him. Either way, he has become one of the most arrogant and ignorant men ever to hold power. Too blunt? You tell me:

"You can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time."

Yes, he actually said this about Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday! Not to his face, of course; that would have set Bush up for criticism, and dialogue is just not the man's style.

Bush made the statement in reaction to Musharraf's tendency to don military apparel. Yes, we certainly wouldn't want a reckless leader undermining world diplomacy by flexing his warrior muscles, now would we?

On the other hand, I'm more than willing to hold Bush to his word. Since he's both the President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, he should be asked to step down from one of those posts. When he drops the presidency (which you know he would), he would no longer be bound to honor the Constitution and its whole trip about being the president and the head of the military at the same time!

For someone so fond of telling others what they should and should not say, Bush sure can't control his own idiotic mouth. I say he should follow the recipe for success comedian David Brenner prescribed to him in 2000: "Don't say anything else!"

Sound advice.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

God is love

Here's a note for you - we have no agenda and we need no half-truths [...] You choose to ignore it at your own peril and the cost is so great you will bare it for eternity. But ultimately, it is your choice. Your blog saddens me for you really. And just an FYI, as a person married for 7 years, I am honored to be called Mrs. - marriage is a beautiful relationship between two committed people who are willing to sacrifice self to serve the other. That's what is wrong with all you liberals these days - you have no values left (if you ever had any to begin with) and no sense of honor, community and love. All you care about is spreading hatred and bitterness around the world. You are in our prayers. D. D. P.

The above is from a comment I received today on this post from 2004. It was a response to an e-mail forward I received claiming that those darn atheists were at it again, trying to remove all references to God from the public airwaves. It made reference to so-called recent successes by Madalyn Murray O'Hair in working toward that end. Seeing as how she was killed in 1995, my B.S. detector immediately went off. By now, it's common knowledge that petition 2493 is an urban legend.

My point in the post was that people aligned with the religious right will forward anything they think helps their cause, even when they are the flimsiest and most easily disprovable fakes on the Internet. I received one just recently, in fact. And it's likely to happen again.

D.D.P. has pointed out - correctly - that Focus on the Family has distanced itself from this e-mail and spells out the same facts that I did. Fair enough. Assuming that this notification was published prior to 2004, then I was wrong to say James Dobson or Focus on the Family was behind the forward's visit to my inbox.

But my point still stands that fact-checking is a distant priority for those who wish to keep the alarm train wailing. These e-mails serve no purpose other than to stoke the self-diagnosed "victim" status that the religious right puts on every time its aggressive revisionism is rightfully called out. Oh, but by pointing this out, I'M the one who needs prayers from these righteously judgmental do-gooders?

Look, I don't care what you believe in or don't believe in, as long as you aren't crashing planes into towers or trying to stop scientific (or gay) advances. But don't tell me I'm an evil, hateful person because the American theocrats are unwilling to sift fact from fiction. That says nothing about me and everything about you. And why I am proud not to be aligned with the increasingly desperate religious right.

Oh, and I'm certainly not against marriage; in fact, I support gay marriage, which means I support more marriage than the religious right does. What I do object to - and this transcends any political or religious view - is people who get married and trade off any semblance of individuality they once had. Commitment can be wonderful, but it doesn't have to turn anyone into the Surrendered Wife. I don't want anyone to "serve" me. I'm not a country. Love should conquer all, not judgment. Remember when God was love?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Give this word up

Nothing tests the free speech waters quite like the infamous N-word. I've recently been asked - on two different occasions - for my thoughts on the issue. I thought I had a simple answer; but the more I thought about it, the more complicated my answer got.

My short answer is this: I don't think the N-word has any place in intelligent conversation. No matter who speaks it, the word exists only to provoke and inflame. Even in the best context, such as denoting brotherhood between African-Americans, the term shows a lack of sophistication.

Of course, it isn't necessarily that cut-and-dry. On one hand, words have only as much weight as we give them. On the other hand, this particular word is so loaded with hatred that it has become too heavy to speak. On one hand, many in the black community have adopted the word as a means of defusing its prejudicial taint. On the other hand, doing so is a convenient excuse for racist whites to ask, "If they can say it, why can't we?"

But does that mean we have any right to ban the word? I don't think so. In Germany, display of Nazi regalia is illegal, and some Nazi-themed movies are also banned. Though well-intentioned, such bans are a weak substitute for education and honest dialogue about cultural impact.

Bringing up the word itself during racial discussions may be inevitable. Bob Herbert uses it in dispassionate terms while discussing racial dynamics. Chris Rock uses it to brilliant effect in his classic comedy bit about how some in the black community are dragging the rest down. In a sense, the word has been co-opted by blacks, in much the same way the gay community has adopted gay-bashing slurs.

But until this nation can have an honest, dispassionate conversation about race, it's probably best for everyone to voluntarily ax its use. Growing up, I heard the N-word casually spoken as much among black friends in my neighborhood as among whites. Deep down, I knew the word was wrong on some level; then again, I thought, how bad can it be if so many people say it?

Fortunately, the word has never been in my vocabulary, and I learned hard lessons the few times I did say it as a kid. I credit that to good influences and some very honest friends. But what's going to happen to impressionable kids without such a foundation? Vocabulary starts at the very beginning; education can't always keep up. But if we're going to make headway on race relations in America, it has to start in childhood. Maybe then, arguments to ban the term can be pushed aside and people will be enlightened enough to voluntarily not say it.

At best, the N-word represents the worst of American society. Historically, it serves as the embodiment of an important lesson in race relations. Its effects must never be forgotten if we are to move forward. But that progression can only begin by discarding contemporary use of this divisive insult. That will not happen through suppression of speech; it starts from within.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Getting sick from viral campaigns

As sick as I am of receiving suspiciously similar campaign e-mails each day from candidates I never supported in the first place, I'm even sicker of seeing messages like this in every single newspaper and YouTube forum I visit:

Yes indeed, the Saints are on a roll. Drew Brees has found his rhythm, Reggie Bush seems intent on running aggressively, Deuce-style, and the secondary is finally stepping up in the long game. They have a tough row ahead with the Jaguars, especially since the Superdome hasn't yet been an advantage for New Orleans this year. But I think they have what it takes to seize the game and, ultimately, the NFC South.

When the media pundits and most Americans have written off someone, that's when they're most motivated to make a triumphant comeback. RON PAUL is that kind of candidate. He is exactly what we need to make a comeback in America! It may be fourth and inches right now, but trust RON PAUL to get those inches in our time of need! He has a tough row ahead with the jackals in the Republican Party, but only RON PAUL has the integrity to win the American south, and everywhere else! He's finding his rhythm, and is ready to step up his own long game!

Vote for RON PAUL. He's a Saint!

It's almost enough to put some pesticide on those grassroots.

Facing a long uphill battle against established GOP also-rans, Ron Paul is running as the supposed antidote to all the corruption currently corrupting the Republican Party. Which should tell you a lot about the guy's opportunism. But I digress.

In Springfield, you can't drive past most telephone poles without seeing a homemade wood sign stenciled simply, "Ron Paul 2008," in red, white and blue colors. Just so you know he's on America's side, of course. Our newspaper ran a story on these signs, noting at one point that they actually violate city statutes. This was apparently the case in Lafayette when I was 12, when a Bill Clinton flier I posted on the telephone pole across the street from my house was taken down within an hour. But because Ron Paul is polling among local Republicans more than every other candidate combined, that apparently doesn't matter; the signs are still all over the city. I guess you could say that, unlike George W. Bush, Paul listens to the poles. (I'm here all week, folks.) Online, sentiments like the message above are in every local Internet forum, no matter how dubious the connection to the actual topic.

Which is why I predict the RON PAUL REVOLUTION® will sputter even before the real campaigning begins. Let's face it - he's as likely to win the nomination as Duncan Hunter or Tom Tancredo. At some point (which may have already happened), Paul's support will reach critical mass and the PR blitz that's working so well now will become a mere exercise in self-congratulation. And then it could backfire into the Republicans as well, being that it shows the increasingly aggressive ideological split within the party. Which almost makes me want Paul to keep going, obnoxious though his campaign is.

In the campaign's defense, though, it is great to see grassroots energy being harnessed with the idea of changing the wretched status quo. All we need to do now is channel it away from Ron Paul and use it for good.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Serve with, fear of jail time

In trying times such as these, talk often turns to a resurrection of the draft or some form of community service. Is the prospect actually looming, or is it just more spooky talk designed to keep us in line? More than likely, it's the latter. But that doesn't mean Americans should look the other way when these issues come up. Just because nothing's been asked of us yet doesn't mean we won't be eventually asked to put two magnetic ribbons on our cars. So to speak.

The draft is a double-edged sword. On one hand, its implementation would all but spell the end of our current multi-tasking in the Middle East; once Jenna gets her draft notice, the jig would be up. On the other hand, it's the freaking draft. It means that young people would be conscripted regardless of socioeconomic status or priorities. And the age would be likely would be raised past its traditional ceiling of 26, which I am against for obvious reasons. And they'd probably be less picky about bad backs and weak ankles, which also bothers me.

Selfish reasons aside, the push toward a draft and mandatory community service highlights a gaping wound in our national pride. Namely, what do such options say about Americans' desire to fill the national ranks? Put more succinctly, who the hell wants to go to Iraq or aid in the continued destruction of U.S. infrastructure?

Resistance toward the draft has been a hot-button issue for at least the past four decades. Its alternative, community service, often gets lost in the shuffle. Compared to military conscription, the concept seems almost too benign to think about. But in its own way, the motivations behind forced national duty can be as sinister as those behind the draft.

Historically, the draft targeted the 18-26 age group; that demographic would most likely bear the burden of forced community service as well. But what is so special about, say, the 18-20 age bracket? Ability-wise, this group doesn't have much life experience. They haven't yet carved out their niche; do not have higher education; and are generally at an awkward transition phase that leaves them impressionable. On second thought, maybe that's exactly the point. Foist it on the young, because older people can't be bothered to drop their settled lives for something as trivial as helping the nation in a time of crisis.

Such a proposal would also hurt the already-wounded state of higher education in this country. Colleges thrive on new blood, and depriving them of students (in some cases, permanently) would forestall professional development. Even with college out of the equation, putting an entire age bracket in a state of involuntary servitude goes against the individual spirit instilled in U.S. citizens. Furthermore, the conservatives who push for this sort of thing apparently haven't considered the big-government implications of adding millions of college-age kids to the federal bankroll. They despise the SCHIP program for poor children, but have no problem subsidizing every 18-to-20-year-old in the United States? Has any thought been put into this?

Mandatory national service would be a perilous extension of the current doctrine that dictates enforcement of things that, in a better world, people would clamor to do. Just as the Iraq war has taught us, the U.S. needs to lead by example rather than force hypocritical ideas down everyone's throats. Public faith in government is at a historic low at the moment, and no forced servitude is going to spur any patriotism. If the current dust crop of leadership has taught us anything, it's that a nation needs a strong sense of civic obligation to triumph. That doesn't come about through force or subjugation of others; it thrives when a nation lives up to its ideals and its people want to participate.

It's a sad testament of the selfishness of the Bush administration that mandatory service is even being considered. That's about the only way they'll get anyone to fight for their wretched ends anymore.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Is Fox Sports turning into Fox News?

While scanning Saints highlights on, I came across this bit from last week's Falcons game. Headache-inducing though it looks here, Fox's graphic at the bottom of the screen is worth a quick trip around the bases:

On that note, congratulations to the Boston Braves on their World Series sweep!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Caption Central

"Talk to the Hand!" edition

--Who knew Bush administration blinders were soundproof too?
--Like talking to a wall. Literally.
--Voting in Iraq has come a long way from the purple dye...
--Someone finally figured out that Condoleezza Rice's vision is based on movement
--After years of Iraq visits, mildly bloody hands barely elicited a shrug
--The mime was unsuccessful in asking Condi if she could go to the bathroom
--"I'm out of blood. I'm told you have plenty to spare."
--Protester Desiree Anita Ali-Fairooz discovers the boundary of the First Amendment Zone
--As Martin Riggs might say, "I'd get used to that view."
--Condi's right-hand woman always wore her heart on her sleeve
--The Bush administration's plan to knock us back 50 years gains ground
--If Jesus' message doesn't sway them, why would your bloody hands?
--Rice didn't like being reminded how many seconds she once considered diplomacy
--"All right, a CodePink protester! That should put a permanent end to all discussion of ending the war. Learned that from Memogate."
--"You know, Madame Secretary, we wouldn't have to do this if you guys would occasionally acknowledge any viewpoint outside of your disastrously tight yes-circle."
--"Great job! High five!"

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Clinton would have been impeached over the initials alone

So Bobby Jindal is the new governor-elect of Louisiana. As if nobody saw that coming. A relentlessly pro-business savior figure who walks and talks the neocon George W. Bush line, completely out of step with both national sentiment and reality, who sees the seat as the latest in a long line of opportunistic resume-building glories? Well, he's not Kathleen Blanco, so OK.

Jindal is the first Indian-American governor ever, as if that means the United States (with the Republican Party leading the way) is making racial progress. Just as it is wrong to judge someone strictly by their skin color, it is also wrong to parade that skin color as the sole barometer for cultural progress. The GOP doesn't discriminate against skin color, just ideas. If you are willing to be a foot soldier for their made-up cultural war and a cheerleader for their made-up Iraq war, they don't give a damn what you look like. Because you'll look like Bush.

Bobby Jindal is a very educated and (some would say) affable man. That said, however, I'll never forget a commercial that ran during his 2003 campaign, in which he talked about education reform. He ended the mostly benign spot by asking the question, "Haven't the liberals had their way with our schools long enough?" Before I knew anything else about his political platform, his love for Creationism or his close association with Bush, that comment alone caused me to lose respect for him. Not that I had much respect for any politician in 2003, but still...

Jindal supporters are crowing, as they have for more than two years, that he is the man to get Louisiana right with the federal government - that he will work with Bush rather than merely complain about lack of national intervention in certain disastrous situations. This is probably true, but it's also petty and not something that anyone should be bragging about. But they will anyway.

That's my two bits on Jindal. I won't even get into his competition, which I think involved the entire lineup of the Washington Generals and several people who auditioned for the Alan Colmes slot of Hannity & Colmes before Fox News decided to get tough.

When I first heard Saturday's gubernatorial results, I merely shook my head. But now I'm also feeling guilty from inaction, because my inside source (thanks Mom) tells me that I am still registered to vote in Louisiana! According to the commissioner my inside source talked to, this renders me ineligible to vote anywhere other than my Lafayette precinct. This would not be so remarkable, except for two things:

1) I established residency in Missouri in February; and
2) I have already voted in a Missouri election. Holy Diebold, Batman!

In my last post, I detailed how my name is among those potentially compromised by Louisiana's loss of confidential FAFSA info. And also, how the notarized title to the truck I disposed of in 2005 is missing. Before long, they're going to come after me over my expired driver's license, which I let lapse because I had traded it for a Missouri one several months before its expiration.

In short, Louisiana is as hard a state to shake legally as it is culturally.

Which is why I have hope in Savior Jindal. Just as everyone now knows he would have parted the Katrina waters had the voters rightfully fulfilled his God-given destiny in 2003, he is also the answer to all of Louisiana's long-standing political ills. And I'm just certain he'll clean up government and have people like me rightfully eliminated from the voter rolls.

Viva la Jindalucion!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thanks, Louisiana!

Apparently, a whole database of FAFSA financial aid info was recently discovered missing by the state. Yes, apparently someone just left it sitting on the doughnut counter and BAM! It's gone! Just like those sunglasses I left at the video exchange while looking for Bulworth.

Because of this, they're asking everyone who's applied for financial aid in Louisiana to access this site and see if they're at potential risk for identity theft and/or fuzzy credit math. Apparently, I'm one of those names, and now it's up to me to make sure my last car isn't my last car. What's especially remarkable is that I filed a FAFSA only once, in 1998. So you repeat offenders should be even more vigilant. As Stephen Colbert might say, "That's what you get for sucking on the fat teat of government largesse just so you can scribble anti-American poetry for four years!"

And, no, this is not a scam. I checked.

But I'm sure this will all go away once Bobby Jindal parts the Red Sea of fraud with his bare hands and turns it into the white wine of integrity. I hope so. I'm still being asked for a vehicle title I surrendered more than two years ago. And now my credit may be just as lost. No wonder so many expatriates return to Louisiana; it isn't because the culture is so wonderful, but because it's slightly less of a pain in the ass to drive to the Baton Rouge Found-and-Lost from Lafayette than it is from - to use a strictly hypothetical example - Missouri. I should have learned that all those years I spent in college; after all, I was paying for the privilege in more ways than one.

Gotta love that Louisiana gov! (Dr. John should totally say that in a commercial.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

This just gave conspiracy theorists everywhere a raging - er - reason to be all conspiratorial

Barack Obama, Dick Cheney distantly related!

Take it from me - a fever dream following a grade-three concussion and only two hours of sleep is less mind-blowing than this. I just woke up, but it's entirely possible I didn't just wake up and I'm merely dreaming about blogging this. Then I'll rise for real and find something sufficiently depressing (yet believable) to blog about, like how Al Gore is too busy to run for president because he's using his power for good. Figures. Guess I am awake after all.

Once, as a teenager, I liked a girl who turned out to be my cousin by marriage, but I'd never known about her until then. Reading that Obama and Cheney are cousins is similarly nauseating. Forget the New World Order overtones - just thinking about the awkward family reunion is enough. Anyone who's been involved in political clashes at theirs knows what a pay-per-view title bout this one would be.

If I were in Dick Cheney's camp, I'd play this one up. After all, Thomas Jefferson also had some black relatives. And it's not as if the vice president will ever again be mentioned in the same breath with Jefferson. Unless the statement is, "Dick Cheney is no Thomas Jefferson."

Even better, the two are related through a common French ancestor. And Lynne Cheney was the one who figured this out. And Obama's spokesman replied by saying, "Every family has a black sheep." If this gets any juicier, it'll turn out that Obama is not only my cousin too, but was that girl I liked.

The worst part about this is that I can never again say, "That's about as likely as Barack Obama and Dick Cheney being relatives." I think I said that the other day about the Republicans' chances of winning in 2008. They must be listening to me. Conspiracy?

If there is a more extreme example of how we're all brothers on this spaceship Earth, Skull and Bones is suppressing it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

How to bury the language barrier

After a late night at work, I often need a bite to eat. One grocery store in my area of town is open 24 hours, which gives it its own unique vibe in this nine-to-five city. The massive size of the store, contrasted with its late-night emptiness, often makes it feel like the supermarket abandoned by the zombies in "28 Days Later."

On this particular (and rare) occasion, I am off early on a Saturday night. At this time, the store is three times as crowded as usual - meaning, three customers. I see them already in line, so this should be in-and-out as usual.

Fast forward to the checkout line, about 15 minutes later: the same three people are still in line. What the hell? At first glance, it appears the man at the front is to blame, due to his purchase of apparently every banana and tomato in the store. This is one of those self-bagging stores, so that adds to the delay. But, for whatever reason, the clerk is standing there holding the man's bank card, nearly frozen in place. The other customers - who have maybe 10 items between them - silently seethe.

That's when I figure out the problem - the guy, who appears to be Korean, doesn't speak a word of English. His card is also locking up the system repeatedly, which has the manager running across the store several times to work some key magic.

Right when said customer appears to be done - which seems like 20 minutes after I got in line, and long after everyone has placed their groceries on the belt (and sorted them alphabetically) - the clerk starts ringing up the next customer. Suddenly, she darts her head up and says, "WHOA!!" For some reason, the man is gesturing toward two large tanks of water in his basket.

"I did not charge you for those. I did not see them," she says. He nods and starts to leave.

"I DID NOT CHARGE YOU FOR THOSE. I DID NOT SEE THEM!" the clerk yells, and starts to chase him. Why people think they can yell over the language barrier, I'll never understand. The officer-looking guy who's always there at night blocks him from the front, and chatter ensues. The man seems compliant, but communication is still an issue.

The awkwardness in the line escalates to triple-digit levels. On one hand, you have a man in the middle of Missouri who has apparently no grasp of English; he doesn't even say one of those translation-guide phrases like, "Where is your carburetor?" I feel bad for him, but resent him at the same time. On the other hand, I'm also afraid to make eye contact with anyone else in line, lest they give me that "God, don't you hate these damn immigrants?" eye-roll that I'm expected to reciprocate. This awkwardness intensifies when the man is escorted right behind me to pay for his unscanned purchases.

When the clerk gets back to her register, she shakes her head and mutters, "Guy doesn't even speak English!" with an air of exasperated cultural disgust you don't typically expect from a black woman.

That night at the store, I saw firsthand how important it is for someone in America to learn English. But I also realized how much heat immigrants take for not having mastered the language. It's enough to get you mad at everyone involved.

I think it's wise for someone who wants to live in the United States to have at least a working knowledge of English. It's smart, because it's the predominant language in almost every area of the country.

On the other hand, I'm not one of those people who thinks the U.S. should make English the official language, out of preserving "our culture." It's frankly a very bigoted view that ignores massive cultural clusters throughout the country, not to mention the huge array of dialects within English itself. I'm surprised any Cajuns would take the English-only view, given that a major lesson from their forced English schooling in the early 20th century was that it nearly killed the culture outright. Still, I've heard it time and again from self-professed Cajuns. But even in apple-pie Missouri (or anywhere else, for that matter), it's a short-sighted view.

Who's to say the guy wasn't trying to learn English anyway? Linguists say it's one of the hardest languages to learn. Could you even begin to explain slang like "Keep it real" to someone who doesn't even know the real meaning of "real?" Good luck with that! And, as I know from my attempts to speak French to actual French people, sometimes you're better off shutting your mouth if you can't construct everything you want to say. So I feel for the guy at the checkout line. Even if he did hold everyone up.

I'd like to see immigrants learn English, just as I'd like to see Americans learn other languages. In my experience, most of the loudest advocates for an English-only nation don't, and don't want to, know anything but their own language. They want everyone to speak English - as long as they themselves aren't involved in the learning process. They see English as something that can be picked up as fast as, well, bananas and tomatoes. It's not. But it is hypocritical; while other countries might require a native language in everyday life, they sure know OUR language when we visit THEIR tourist traps!

So don't get so upset when you have to press "1" for English. I'm sure most immigrants wish learning English was as simple as pushing a button.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Informed of the news, Bush said, "Not without a fight!"

Five years after ex-president Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize, America's most cheated election winner wins the same honor. Carter won it for his decades of peaceful diplomatic efforts, while Al Gore has won it this year for his environmental efforts.

As frustrated as I often get with the Democrats - I'm not one myself - honors such as these confirm my long-held belief that even the party's most-maligned figures are leaps and bounds better than the best ruling Republican. One group espouses faith-based, peace-through-strength nonsense while rattling their holier-than-thou sabers at every opportunity, while the other works tirelessly to mend sore relations and poverty, even out of power. Kind of like how the Clinton and Gore kids don't get arrested nearly as often as their Bushian counterparts.

Oh, well. It's good that the adults are in charge, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The power of perseverance (slightly cynical take)

MAD Magazine once ran what I consider a classic strip in Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side Of..." It involved a track sprinter who has just won an Olympic final, and is being interviewed at the finish line. Asked how he managed to win, he says something along the lines of, "I won because I trained every day for years and practiced self-discipline," to which another runner retorts, "Big deal! I did the same thing and lost!"

Not that this really applies to the Saints, because their performances this season suggest that they aren't so much as phoning it in (or e-mailing it in, even). But it does seem to apply for many people in general, doesn't it? To quote an obscure late-era Men at Work song, "You can make a million staring at the ceiling / You can break your back and still be poor."

Years before I truly understood economic lines, I attended a middle school that was a mishmash of poor black kids and rich white kids. The latter were bused in from the wealthiest neighborhoods to attend the school, which was in an area that had its fair share of hoodlums and homeless people. Though I lived near this neighborhood, I attended this school only because I was in gifted classes. The gifted students were, by and large, diverse both in race and in life experience. And while I got picked on them occasionally, I always preferred the gifted classes to the (one level lower) advanced/honors classes.

The advanced classes always gave me a vaguely creepy feeling, which I know now was because most of the students in those classes came from locally powerful and/or wealthy families. I shared very little in common with them - they all knew each other from childhood, were very cliquish and lived in large homes in neighborhoods named after trees and Sir Walter Scott novels. From day one, these kids never made any effort to welcome me into the fold; a common response to anything I said was, "Who asked you?" Even when they did ask. There were exceptions, of course, but mainly among those who felt as out-of-place as I did in those classes. Three years and several mysterious bully departures later, not much had changed.

Honestly, I didn't care much even then what they thought about me. Even though they treated me like furniture, I learned to not let them use me for a footstool. Anyway, they were zoned for a different high school than I was, and I figured that fork in the road would be the last I would ever see of them. I haven't seen 98 percent of them since, nor have I heard anything about most of them (except that one died in college on Christmas Eve after getting drunk and chomping GHB like candy, thus lapsing into a six-day coma).

So what does this anecdote have to do with perseverance? Just that I wish America truly was a meritocracy. It isn't. Mostly, it's people who ride on the success of others, even when that success is defined strictly in wealth. Conversely, good, hardworking people are often mocked by these brats because the rewards of their success aren't as visually apparent as a Lexus.

I'll never forget one day when my grandfather, who had run a small, home-based TV-repair shop for decades, picked me up from that school in his 1980 wood-paneled station wagon. By then, the faux wood had considerably peeled off and the car looked a lot older than it actually was. That never seemed to bother him, nor me. I loved my grandfather and learned a lot from him. On this particular day, we were at a stoplight near the campus when a bus full of the preppy kids pulled aside us. Spotting me in the car, several of them poked their heads out of the bus windows and jeered, "HEY MAN, NICE CAR!! HA HA HA HA!!!" By then, I knew exactly how to react:

"This car rules! Fourteen years old and it runs better than you do!"

Yes, we were happy with what we had. People who aren't rich appreciate stuff more than those who can buy anything they want on a whim. I think their kids turn out better as well. So even if people do all they can and still finish second by traditional parameters, in other ways they actually come out on top. These kinds of thoughts help me feel better in those times when I feel winless.

I wish New Orleans could harbor a winner. Having the Colts, Cowboys and Patriots atop the NFL standings is as inspiring as seeing one of my former classmates land a six-figure position at his dad's firm. Which is to say, it makes me want to vomit. Right in their parents' Lexus.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Some game played in fake grass in a big building with guys in black and gold against guys in silver and blue

Today, I pledge to say nothing about a certain football team. No videos, no analyses, no wearing of the jersey of a certain running back whose workload recently doubled.

I will, however, say this: if a certain football team at a certain alma mater of mine can register their first victory of the season against a conference rival at home, then hopefully the team playing today can do the same thing.

To cement my commitment to not jinxing this team, I probably won't even watch. This has more to do with the market I'm in than anything else, but still...

I had a dream last night that this certain football team lost 40-30. So that's at least one scenario that won't happen.

If you want me, I'll be outside.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Watching Paint Dry

(Warning: Literature)

Foreword: I have a friend from New Orleans who works in the highest levels of government and has photographic proof that she has hugged Stephen Colbert. Recently, she had this to say about me:

"Oh Ian...I am sure you could write about paint drying and it would be as wonderful and amazing as anything I have ever read..."

I took that as a dare. Here is the result:

Watching Paint Dry
By Ian McGibboney

The walls were crying out for a coat. The satin blue had served its time, but the ravages of time and atmospheric pollutants had rendered its aesthetic shield overdue for a new veneer.

From the right angle, you could see the dull sheen of pencil scrawl long since covered itching to break back out into the light. With the blinds open and eyes cocked just so, you could almost make out the babyish scribble:

“Ian 82 123345” - capped by what appeared to be an aborted “6.” That must have been the point where my mom noticed what was going on and made me stop. In 1982, I was only two years old - and, yet, I seem to remember much about that year. In those days, I now recalled, I was obsessed with numbers, and wrote them as much I could anytime I could get my hands on a pencil. Paper was strictly optional.

Such a visual catalyst served as a stirring reminder of how certain cues can stimulate memories you forgot you ever even had. Not that that’s ever been a problem for me. Spurred by such a mundane, yet fond, memory, I also recalled how I nicknamed the front of my grandfather’s station wagon “eightytwo” and the midsection “morrow.” Why would I have done those things? I know now that the “eightytwo” came from the expiration sticker on the car’s license plate, and possibly the inspection sticker. “Morrow” was likely because the actor Vic Morrow had been decapitated in a grisly movie stunt gone wrong in July 1982, and I’d heard it on the news at some point. At age two, no one really knew what to do with me and my tendency to name random things after random words I’d heard in everyday speech. Some said it was autism. Most didn’t say anything at all, and just left me to my weird ways. Which, in a sense, is exactly why I was able to scrawl so much on the wall before anyone took action.

If these walls could talk, indeed!

The house I grew up in, the one whose walls now cried out for painting, was more than 100 years old. I had lived in it for 19 of those years. And though that seemed like an epoch to me, it was but a blip on the old Victorian two-story’s radar. No telling what those walls had seen, heard and had written on them over the decades. And here I was, years after having last set foot in it, somehow finding myself needing to coat it with yet another layer of future history.

At this point, my mind wanders away from childhood wonder and onto practical considerations of the task at hand: Should I use primer? Is the paint properly mixed? Flat or textured? Should I scrape away the old paint? Perhaps my mom has a scraper I can borrow. It’s probably all rusted, but I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t. And that’s saying something.

During much of 1985 and 1986, my mom undertook an extensive renovation of our house. My parents were separated at the time, so the project was almost exclusively my mom’s. Throughout my life up to that point, our house had been split up into two apartments. Mom had decided to make them into one, a project that I couldn’t begin to fathom the magnitude of at that age. What I did learn, and rather quickly, was that scraped paint has a smell all its own, particularly when combined with turpentine and fresh paint. She kept her Panasonic jambox on constantly, while my brother and I got our fair doses of prime-era MTV. To this day, songs such as “Eyes Without a Face,” “Money for Nothing” and “We Built This City” evoke the exact sights and smells of our fixer-upper, as well as all of the trashy cars parked next door in the mini-complex populated by college students. I recall wanting to become a carpenter, at least when I wasn’t repairing cars on the side. Years later, my mom claimed that the lead-paint chips probably messed her up. I disagree, but that may be because I myself must have snorted a ton of it.

Good times.

Back to the wall. I think primer will do. I get it ready, soak my roller and apply it as evenly as I knew how. As far as I can tell, however, my artistic skills have not changed much in the 25 years since I first drew on the wall. This does not bode well for my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, which means I’m applying primer repeatedly until I’m all but canceling its purpose.

Eventually, I tire of the monotony and stare blankly at the paint roller. I smirk at the six-year-old incarnation of my mind that somehow decided that this would be the perfect weapon for a serial killer. You see, in first grade I had dreamed up a movie plot called “The Painter,” wherein a deranged man terrorized a basketball team that practiced in the arena he had been hired to renovate. In the end, most the victims escape, and bond while washing the paint off their clothes at the Laundromat.

I never said it made a whole lot of sense.

Probably because my brother and I went through a celebrity-mag phase, I pictured the star of this film as a teen heartthrob. I even gave him a name, Andrew Duronda, and would frequently draw and write mock-up profiles of the guy as if he was real. And because I generally did this in class, my teacher became a fan.

My high school art teacher had a cooler response. For my freshman Art I class, she asked us all to write stories and create art to go with them. I recalled my first-grade thriller and made it into a more workable story, “Psychopainter.” Though the story was somewhat better, I was worried it would seem racist, this white guy terrorizing a bunch of black guys (even if it was the Utah Jazz he was targeting). So I made the killer into a vaguely Asian countenance. Dumb dumb dumb. He was supposed to look Libyan, like the bad guys in “Back to the Future” who kill Doc Brown (the inspiration for the character in the first place), but instead he looked more like those Jap caricatures from World War II. But just as with the wall scribbles, no one told me to stop until it was too late.

Why anyone is letting me paint this wall is beyond me. On top of my dubious history with pencils, this house has been out of my family’s possession since early 2000! But, somehow, it seems appropriate. It’s like one of those dreams I have at least a couple of times a week, in which the events of 1999 hadn’t even happened.

The house was ours because my grandparents had bought it sometime in the 1950s, for what I’m told was about $7,000. My grandparents lived next door in a house they had built themselves in 1947. My mom had moved in sometime in the 1970s, and my dad and the kids followed. This bucolic arrangement lasted all the way through 1999, when my grandparents died within a six-month period of each other and we put the houses up for sale. When I have these vivid dreams, however, it’s as if these events really didn’t happen. I mean, they did on some level - after all, the dreams take place now - but in other ways it’s as if they haven’t. We still have the houses, my grandparents are watching TV at home and I can hop in anytime I wish. I also have access to all their old cars (I love cars, especially that old station wagon) and every story I ever wanted to know but never can.

I really wish these walls could talk.

Well, the primer’s dry. I guess it’s time to grab that paint and get going. As I paint - going back to the bright beige I long associated with the walls before I had them done in blue at 13 - it occurs to me that I have not since lived in a room with painted walls. At my parents’ current house, where I spent my college and some post-college years, I never elected to paint the stark-white walls. In my current apartment, doing so is forbidden - not that I’m complaining, because I prefer my rooms to be as bright as possible. Why I’m here now, painting the ancient walls of my distant past, is anybody’s guess. Closure? Closure from what? Who knows? Who cares?

Before I realize it, my painting is done. Not bad, I think, as I survey my handiwork. Despite this no longer being my room, I still want it to look its best; after all, it has a reputation to live up to. Said reputation frequently manifests itself in my dreams, where I find myself back in my old room much as I last left it. For some reason, however, I have left my TV/stereo cabinet there, with several stacks of unlabeled videotapes and CDs on top of it. Moreover, my closet is still full of old clothes and magazines, and assorted swag is lying in a mess in the opposite corner. The challenge in the dream, such as it were, is always the same: pack everything up and go. But, for whatever reason, it’s always difficult. Not emotionally, but literally. Well, maybe emotionally, too.

Maybe that’s what this painting job is all about: building upon good memories with a needed dose of the present and future. As the paint loses its immediate super-luster to the forces of evaporation, I’m reminded that life is never static; even when things seem to linger for a long time, ultimately everything should (and must) change. That’s what happened before I got here and that’s what will happen long after I’m gone.

The pencil scrawls, exhumed for such a brief and shining moment, are again solidified in the latest incarnation of satin paint. Like a person, they’ve left memories and love. But also like a person, there comes a time when they deserve a dignified burial. And those who remember move on, not letting a piece of themselves ever forget what once was.

Man, if only these walls could talk…

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What the hell are they smoking?

White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes once said, "If you say the same story five times, it's true." We've all heard how well our precious little wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are going, so how can the Bush administration hit the trifecta on their war lie?

BBC--The top US drugs official has said anti-drug efforts are having the best results of the past 20 years. John Walters, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said cocaine shortages had led to a jump in prices in 37 American cities.

Efforts on both sides of the Mexican border have disrupted the flow of all drugs into the US, Mr Walters said.

Yes! The War on Drugs is turning into a cakewalk too! Do you know what this means? As Speakes might say, the Bush administration is now only two wars away from telling the truth!

Of course, just like with real wars, gauges of success can be ridiculously arbitrary. In this case, the indicators involve two things closely associated with George W. Bush: the Mexican border and cocaine.

About 90% of the cocaine entering the US comes through Mexico.

"What's happened for the first time in two decades is we now see widespread reports of cocaine shortages in the United States," Mr Walters said.

[Lindsay Lohan joke space for rent. Five cents per word.]

[Yuppie joke space for rent. No charge.]

As a result of the drop in supply, the price of cocaine had increased by 24% and nearly doubled in some cities.

The federal government is eerily well-informed on that one. I don't know how much a carton of eggs costs, and that's something I can see on a price tag at any market. What do the feds do, just go up and ask dealers? Considering how the three branches of government are acting these days, maybe it's a lateral question.

Just like with all the other wars we're fighting, the real questions aren't being asked. The questions shouldn't be, "How can we stop Mexicans from smuggling cocaine into California?" The question should be, "Why do so many Americans feel the need to risk everything to take illegal drugs?" Hell, just the legal drugs are a bad sign: Americans abuse caffeine, nicotine and a smorgasbord of prescription drugs, none of which even count in the War on Drugs, but can arguably have the same bad effects as the illegals.

Drug policy in the U.S. ignores the underlying causes of drug abuse, emphasizes punishment over rehabilitation and makes arbitrary distinctions of legality. It's a war fought exactly the wrong way, just like our little adventure in Iraq.

If anything, the War on Drugs has probably done more to alienate U.S. citizens from its government than any life-destroying drug addiction. Why should anyone feel solidarity with a federal government that can't even face the basic idiocy of its drug policies?

And, no, I'm not a druggie - closet or otherwise - nor have I ever been. Personally, I think that drugs destroy lives and aren't worth the initial high. I even have to be goaded into taking aspirin for a headache. This stance did not come to me because of the fear of Nancy Reagan or because being told doing so would support the terrorists (unlike gasoline); it came through honest education and candid dialogue.

I remember a PSA in the late 1980s that was (bizarrely enough) narrated by George H.W. Bush. The spot was aerial footage of hundreds of kids saying the same thing over and over: "Just Say No! Just Say No! Just Say No!" For the longest time I thought they were chanting "Go Saints Go," which made me excited for football season, but didn't get me thinking about drugs all that much.

Cementing my decision never to do drugs came the first time I ever recall seeing a "Just Say No" commercial. In it, a guy asks a younger kid if he wants some drugs. The kid shrugs and says...well, you know. But the commercial would have flown right past me if my dad hadn't said:

"Does anyone ever ask you that?"
"Good. And don't give in if they do."

And that was all I ever needed to hear.

If we as a nation put as much energy into honest education and sharpening the intuition of kids as we do into building more prisons, we wouldn't even need a war on drugs. Because common sense is a hell of a shield.

Then again, common sense is usually the biggest enemy against war.

Monday, October 01, 2007

If I were in charge of the alphabet, I'd put M and F together

I know I'm late on this, but there was no way for me to finish this blog while the irritation I felt was fresh:

Bill O'Reilly is either a blatant racist or an ignorant jerk. Actually, there's no "either-or" there. Scratch that. His remarks that eating at a black-owned restaurant was no different than eating at an Italian restaurant were exactly the kind of tripe we're all used to hearing from talk media's favorite unlikable blowhard. Rush Limbaugh would say the same thing, except he doesn't talk when his mouth is full. And Ann Coulter doesn't ever eat.

--Defenders of the indefensible talk-show host say that his comments were taken out of context. But as Al Franken once said about Jerry Falwell's post-9/11 comments, "The only way they could be taken out of context is if he had said, 'I'd have to be a fucking nut to say...'"

--Yes, I know that Media Matters spread the comments. Most of the news outlets and O'Reilly apologists take pains to point this out, as if this means it didn't actually happen. Since the "Betray Us" fiasco, anything coming from a liberal voice is immediately seen as suspect, because of its supposed partisanship. You know, unlike Fox News.

--Assuming O'Reilly was being as earnestly delighted as he claims (big assumption), then he is being ignorant at best. Growing up in Louisiana, you always know at least a few people who are openly racist, but somehow have at least one friend of another race. How does that happen? "Well, he's different. He's hardworking and friendly, not like the others." This line is spoken with the tone of someone who can't believe there are examples of civilization among an ethnic group. The question is, what about Bill's experience would shock him so much that he felt the need to point it out?

I'm surprised O'Reilly didn't go the Mark Fuhrman route and compare blacks to "normal people." But he came very, very close.

Other comments O'Reilly made, I think, even better typify this whole mess. Talking about an Anita Baker concert he recently attended, B O'R said:

"The band was excellent, but they were dressed in tuxedoes, and this is what white America doesn't know, particularly people who don't have a lot of interaction with black Americans," he said.

Yes, black people wear tuxedoes. Thank you, Mr. O'Reilly, for being the voice of white Americans who occasionally associate with black Americans.

"They think the culture is dominated by Twista, Ludacris and Snoop Dogg."

If that were true (though I think that's also condescending), I'm sure it would have nothing to do with O'Reilly's constant crusades against rappers such as Ludacris, whose lyrics are regularly taken out by O'Reilly.

In light of this incident, I hope American diners across the land come together in the spirit of unity and scream for "MF-in' iced tea" anytime and every time they see Bill in their immediate vicinity. Hell, I hope it becomes a brand and advertises on his show. Karma, baby.