Friday, August 31, 2007

Mainlining the stream

Several months ago, I made an automotive decision almost everyone else questioned: I bought a Scion xB. If the name doesn't register, the design definitely will.

Mine is a 2006 model, though in name only. Scion did not designate a 2007 xB, which means I always have to explain why the two-month-old car I bought with 30 miles on it was not a year-old program car. Thanks, guys. But that's about my only complaint with the car.

Most who question the existence of the Scion xB point to its perceived flaws: "How can the tires be so small?" (Do Miata owners get the same question?) "The bottom must get dented all the time!" (It's an optical illusion. I ran over a concrete parking barrier once without a scrape.) "A center-mounted dash? That must be awkward!" (I can see it without taking my eyes off the road.) "That 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine must be deadly in highway traffic." (I've driven it on mountain roads, at full occupancy, with little problem.) "Do people make fun of it?" (Mostly they ask me at traffic lights if it's as a great a car as rumored. I say yes.)

The Scion xB, more so than most, is a car that you either adore or despise. And plenty of people fall on both sides. Overall, I find people fall into three camps: 1) Those who unconditionally hail it; 2) Those who would not get it themselves but appreciate the concept behind it; and 3) Those unafraid of telling xB owners that they have the ugliest car ever made. These reactions say much of those who speak them, I think.

Scion hoped for the same thing. Even their marketing materials said, "The xB looks like nothing else on the road. And we designed it that way." Well, no more. Apparently the marketing department convened a focus group of the It's Ugly Camp and asked them what needed to be done to the 2008 model. The result is this SUV wannabe that saps all of the charm and originality from the original vehicle. In addition to looking completely different, the new xB is larger, stuffier, less fuel-efficient and has perilously huge blind spots where the previous xB had virtually none. Why, Scion, why?

At best, the 2008 Scion xB should have been introduced as a different model line. Perhaps as the souped-up second coming of the four-door Ford Maverick? If automotive message boards are any indicator, the new xB will sell well...to the same middle-of-the-road, power-hungry masses that the Scion brand isn't supposed to court in the first place.

Why does this always seem to happen in America? What compels a company to introduce a quirky niche product, see an immediate positive reception, have its fans herald it as an instant classic, see swift mainstream-level sales and then decide to remove all of the product's distinguishing elements? Who on Earth would say, "This product is selling beyond our wildest dreams. We're surprised at the diversity of our client base and we've clearly found a niche that has not been filled by anyone else. What we need now is to start over?"

I've long had the same gripe with radio stations. All of my favorite stations as a teenager and college student would appeal to a loyal demographic, and get marvelous ratings for playing music that was otherwise not on local airwaves. It all seemed fine. BUT...the (corporate-owned) stations would realize that they could get a minuscule ratings bump by playing the same pop swill as everyone else, and they would switch formats without notice.

Prevailing American business thought seems to be thus: alienating your entire market is worth the couple of extra dollars that the mainstream will bring in. That might be (slightly) better for the balance sheets, but it does little to curb the bland blight infecting the marketplace of ideas.

Greed sucks.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How can two years ago feel like yesterday?

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall at Buras-Triumph, a town in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. It was the beginning of one of the biggest tragedies ever to hit the U.S. As a natural disaster, Katrina caused considerable damage; as a governmental disaster, its effects reverberate harder than ever.

At the time, I lived in my hometown of Lafayette, La., about 136 miles northwest of New Orleans. Though Hurricane Katrina did not hit Lafayette, we felt its effects in the form of concern for friends, loved ones and others we didn't even know. Our city provided shelter for substantial amounts of refugees, to a degree where we had an entire arena devoted just to pets. For weeks and months afterward, Lafayette was a prime destination for those seeking comfort and safety.

Not that the altruism was pure, of course; with the hospitality came the now-infamous paranoia sparked by the apparently sudden realization that many refugees were the kind of people most of America had ignored for decades. At the same time television stations were calling for volunteers to staff the Cajundome and Blackham Coliseum, radio stations buzzed with horrifying rumors: A woman was carjacked by a Katrina refugee at the southside Wal-Mart. Cajundome volunteers were being held up. Gulf Coast Bank was mobbed by criminals. Lafayette Shooters was...well, you know. City officials literally sprinted to the nearest live mike to dispel these reports, albeit unconvincingly (even though the anecdotes were all false). Even after a year, homicides were reflexively blamed on the euphemistically named "New Orleans presence" - even when all involved were locals.

For a few days in September 2005, I volunteered at the Cajundome, working long shifts and doing anything anyone asked me to do. I kept a detailed diary here, which is definitely worth another read. The unfortunate effect of this work was the most severe illness I've ever had in my life, which (combined with other personal issues) kept me from volunteering as much I wanted to. But I've never stopped thinking about those I met, who I otherwise would never have spoken to, even as a frequent New Orleans traveler. These exhausted, grateful people were not the plasma TV-stealing, helicopter-shooting thugs that are too often associated with Katrina evacuees these days.

That perception, combined with the government's ineptitude and the media's willingness to look away once ratings went down, often gives the impression that everything has returned to normal in the Big Easy. In the words of some people I met in Utah, "We don't hear about it at all anymore." I've heard similar thoughts in Missouri. In better times, everyone would still be thinking about Katrina and its effect on the nation ever since.

If nothing else, the anniversary provides for more publicity. Sports Illustrated's latest issue does a stellar job of this - provided Louisianians can get past the cover photo of Nick Saban donning Alabama duds. One article, "Two Years After Katrina," shows pictures of Lawless High School, the public high school of the Ninth Ward. The pictures are of grass-engulfed basketball courts bereft of hoops; cracked and waterlogged football helmets lying near fences; and a gymnasium that looks more like a devastated swimming pool than a basketball venue. This is no photo retrospective; these are recent pictures. Proof that time can freeze in the worst ways.

Since the unfortunate events of 2005, New Orleans and outlying areas have faced an uphill reconstruction like no other. At the same time, incompetence at all levels of government and increasing public indifference have complicated the effort. Which is why I join the chorus of New Orleans bloggers who are taking this opportunity to say, "We Are Not OK."

Other thoughts of mine:
Why is New Orleans any different? (1/25/07)
Mardi Gras fear in Lafayette (2/28/06)
My reaction to 'Chocolate City' (1/19/06)
Listen to me talk about 2005 (12/31/05)
Ray Nagin comment hotbed (12/5/05)
Things no evacuee said (11/4/05)
Too soon to laugh? (10/4/05)
My evacuee diaries (9/4/05)
Post-Katrina dialogue, September 2005

Monday, August 27, 2007

The grass seemed greener this morning...

Another crooked domino finally falls

What is the best part about Alberto Gonzales resigning as attorney general? It's hard to say. But I think the fact that George W. Bush did not initially accept his resignation - and ultimately gave a bitter, petulant and immensely hypocritical statement about how this was caused by politics - may take the honor.

The resignation is especially significant because it marks one of the only (if not the first) occasions Bush could not even try to dismiss with his trademark bluster. If he's ever seemed weaker, we haven't seen it. I hope that the last few Bush supporters will finally see him for what he is: a spoiled rich boy who pouts when he can't get the gangrenous hegemony he thinks he deserves. And we don't need that in a store manager, much less in a president.

Between this happy event and Michael Vick pleading guilty on dogfighting charges, maybe we're in for some long-overdue karma after all.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

An open letter to New Iberia, LA

Street signs are your friends! Make some! Start with the largest intersections in the city.

You don't need to render travelers hopeless to generate gas-station business. Cars do that all by themselves. Especially after driving around so many major intersections with no signage and many confusing one-way turns. Anyway, asking for directions there is an open invitation to be told where everything used to be.

I'm very lucky I worked as a journalist in New Iberia; it's the only way I ever learned that LA-14 is also Central Street. Mapquest can botch directions just fine by itself, thank you.

The movie was good, though.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bush: withdrawing from Iraq would be like withdrawing from Vietnam

No, really, he said that!!

BBC - President George W. Bush has warned a US withdrawal from Iraq could trigger the kind of upheaval seen in South East Asia after US forces quit Vietnam.

"The price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens," he told war veterans in Missouri.

I may have been born five years after the 1975 U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, but it seems to me that continuing the war into my infancy wouldn't have helped much. On the other hand, the withdrawal undoubtedly saved the lives of thousands upon thousands of American troops. As for the Vietnamese, well, they seemed angrier by our presence than what was in store for them if our forces left.

"Many argued that if we pulled out, there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people," Mr Bush said. "The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be."

For someone whose words and policies suggest such little regard for his fellow Americans, Bush seems to care an awful lot about Iraqis and other people we bomb. He's really going to the mat for them, in a way that would be admirable in most other circumstances. I'd say it was because they have oil, but Louisianians do too and he didn't give the Gulf Coast the time of day. Is he really that into war? I'm perplexed.

Patience is a virtue only when virtuous deeds are involved. Somebody should pass that on to our fearless leader.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Driving me loco

Leaps of logic, Conservative Cajun style:

1) If illegal aliens are caught driving without a license, they should be punished.

2) States should deny driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

3) Therefore, illegal aliens shall always be punished. Tsk tsk!

Now I understand that various documents are necessary to obtain a driver's license, and that many illegal immigrants would not have such things. Fine. But if they do - and as long as they're in our country and on our roads anyway - why shouldn't we let illegal aliens have driver's licenses? Denying them such doesn't protect against terrorism (Mohamed Atta had a valid Florida driver's license, with no falsified information), but it does give law enforcement a convenient excuse to nail an entire group of people. It sounds like something Boss Hogg would do on a bad episode of The Dukes of Hazzard.

You know who else had valid driver's licenses? Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, Charles Manson and Ted Kaczynski. Citizens. And, in Rudolph's case at least, the only reason we ever tracked him down.

Enforcement of immigration laws should be about protecting us from dangerous people, not about setting up Catch-22s for the amusement of an increasingly xenophobic nation.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Adventures in Ian's wallet

A few nights ago, I treated two friends to a movie. I paid cash and received change. The next day, I pulled out $1 of that change to pay for a snack. Something seemed wrong with the dollar bill; on top of being a little too new, it also seemed thicker than average. I was ready to cry counterfeit when the thick note split into two singles. Cool! I wonder if the movie theater meant to hand me that...

On a hunch, I checked the serial numbers on the bills. Sure enough, they were sequential:



I thought back to Michael Larsen, the guy who manipulated his way to major riches on Press Your Luck in the 1980s, who lost his winnings in part because he converted it all to cash. Why would he do such a thing, you ask? Because a radio promoter promised a $30,000 prize to anyone who could find two pieces of currency with consecutive serial numbers. In his feverish quest to win the contest, Larsen got robbed of his cash. I've been robbed too, dammit!

Oh well...at least I don't have to worry about massive piles of cash strewn about my place. As Forrest Gump would say, "That's good! One less thing."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Human monkeys and talking snakes have it out

Thanks to the inexplicable rise of the religious right, the Creationism-versus-evolution argument is raging more furiously than ever. Continuing efforts by religious conservatives have resulted in censored science books and a renewed debate on why science curricula need to be revised to accommodate the perceived spiritual beliefs of U.S. students.

This increasing Kansasization of our classrooms is blurring the line between science and theology for generations of post-9/11 students, who already have the deck stacked against them in so many pathetic ways.

Religious arguments do not belong in a science classroom. Notice that I am not prefacing that statement with "I think..." or "I believe..." - it's a fact. Why? Because Creationism is science in the same way that the Book of Daniel is a workplace-safety manual for furnace workers. Which is to say, it isn't. Introducing biblical stories into science class diminishes the credibility of education.

"But, Ian, Creationism has been the prevailing view of a billion followers for centuries! Excluding it from the classroom is intellectually dishonest, because not everyone believes we came from monkeys. Equal time is all we're asking for."

If we are going to equate theology with science, especially on the premise of “fairness,” then we have a duty to lend credence to all religious creation theories. Which begs the inevitable question: do we teach them all, or do we pick and choose? And, if so, which ones?

"We obviously don't have to teach them all, Ian. There are too many to contain in one curriculum; anyway, most of them are the ignorant, unfounded myths propagated by illiterate nomads thousands of years ago who needed a reason to explain why the sun came up in the morning."

Yes, I agree. And no scientific parameters point to Creationism being any different.

"Evolution isn't so great, you know. There are plenty of gaps in the knowledge and much has already been found to be wrong about the theory."

That's precisely the beauty of evolution: today's major discovery might be thrown in doubt by tomorrow's find. Which is exactly why the evolution investigation is true science: it holds up under the hypothesis-data-conclusion mold of the scientific method. Every finding brings us one step closer to understanding evolution as a whole. And while we're far from knowing everything about evolution, the data scientists have compiled over the decades makes a strong case that they're on the right track.

"That may be so, but evolution is still just another theory, and should be treated as such."

Yes, evolution is a theory. It is something that can be empirically proven (or disproven) as the data-collection process endures. Compare this to the Book of Genesis, or any other theological creation story, which cannot be proven or disproven. Adherents have to take them on faith, a fact that disqualifies them as theories. Conversely, it also disqualifies evolution as a belief.

I don’t believe in evolution, just like I don’t believe gas powers a car. I know gas powers a car, even if I don’t know all the mechanics involved. But the engineers who do understand it have applied that knowledge in improving motor efficiency. Some innovations have worked, and some haven’t. That’s research. And it must continue, because we need fossils out of our fuels and in our rocks, so scientists can further strengthen the theory of evolution.

"But students' faith in the Bible will be shaken to the core if exposed to evolution!"

So what if it is? All that proves is that the student’s faith is built on a very weak foundation. Education is all about introducing knowledge to students, a process that is sometimes painful. But, in the end, the lessons are always worth it. Even many devoutly religious people understand that school is about engaging in ideas that might otherwise have never been considered, even if one ultimately disagrees. After all, a belief not worth questioning is not worth having.

And such is the difference between Creationism and evolution; the former demands no questioning, while the latter welcomes it. And that’s why evolution alone belongs to the realm of science teachings.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

For those of you starting college...

Attending an institution of higher learning is a risky proposition in a post-9/11 world. So, kids, here are some tips I've prepared to guide you through the four-year-plus quagmire known as college. The hints below originally appeared in the Aug. 24, 2004 edition of my university paper, but its wisdom transcends the plethora of local references. Don't know what plethora means? Ask a professor. But not a pointy-eared liberal one! They'll steer you toward the path to iniquity, a word they'll also explain to you if you aren't careful.

Hello friends! In light of the times we live in, we all have to stay safe. Because let’s face it: something will happen to you this semester. It might be great and it might be terrible. It might happen in the Quad or in Griffin Hall. Or somewhere else. At any time of day or night. You could be in a bar, or perhaps in your car. It might happen at the Keg. Or on your leg. It might happen in a box. It might happen with a fox. It might happen in a chair. It might happen when no one’s there. So damn, Sam! Don’t eat the green eggs and ham!

How can I be so certain that something will happen to you? Because things like these have happened before. What should you do in anticipation of something happening? Well, don’t let it affect your activities in any way. Go on with your life! Just make sure to be fully alert at all times. And watch what you say.

Keeping in line with our government’s guidelines for fighting terrorism, I have prepared a primer for you on how to prevent things from happening:

1) Don’t give out any identifying information. This includes, but is not limited to, any handwritten documents such as schoolwork and personal checks, no matter how much instructors or clerks demand it of you. Even typed work, cash and debit cards will have traces of your DNA on them. Avoid doing any assignment of any kind or buying stuff, and by all means DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING!

2) Do not venture into uncertain territory. With such a multitude of prominent landmarks, Lafayette is rife with potential happenings. You’re better off in your designated living area, unless that happens to be in one of those prominent landmarks. Nightclubs are massive points for human convergence, as are local churches, Cajun Field, the Cajundome, Dupre Library, the Student Union, Bourgeois Hall, dorms and pedestrian crosswalks. Avoid all of these areas at all costs. And don’t even CONSIDER eating at a restaurant.

3) Don’t say or do anything even remotely controversial. Because of the diversity of this great nation, you are bound to affect someone; so it’s probably best that you stay in bed and never leave your room. But even that might annoy your roommate and anyone relying on you to perform some kind of job or go to class.

4) Avoid any and all personal contact. While college offers an incredible opportunity to meet people, it also provides for trouble. How do you know that the person to whom you’re talking isn’t a recruiter for a clandestine cult? If they’re upfront about it, avoid them. If they’re friendly, seem harmless and appear to belong to no organization of any kind, well, that’s even worse! This suspicion should extend beyond peers to include professors, UL staff, SGA, frat boys and the university police. Never trust or touch anyone.

5) DO NOT HAVE FUN! Fun leads to the kind of things that can distract one from watching for something happening. These distractions include: making friends, socializing, partying, meeting a new lover, “going out” on “the weekends,” games, sports, movies, music, hobbies, the Internet, working out and reading. Such frivolous pursuits only allow for something to happen to you that might change the course of your life.

If you follow all of these tips, I guarantee you that you will have a safe experience during your college career. You will also minimize your risk of ever being the unwitting subject of something happening. Unless you picked up this paper, in which case you’ve already screwed up. Sigh...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Uniforms are for teams and gangs

With new school years starting across the country in the coming weeks, I thought I'd take these next few days to share some of my own thoughts about the educational system. I'm no teacher (thanks, NCLB!), but I was a student from 1984 to 2005, a time span that itself is old enough to graduate from college (and drink). So I like to think I know a little about what I'm going to discuss.

Today's topic is school uniforms. I don't like them and never have. Not that I wouldn't ever wear clothes that look like them (I often do), but the ideas behind them are so flawed that it's a wonder anybody supports them as a serious solution to educational problems.

When I was in high school, our local school board began to seriously consider uniforms. Conversely, I was seriously ready to boycott school if that ever happened. Fortunately, I never had to find out how strong my principles were, because uniforms weren't adopted until I was in college. They were first introduced among the youngest kids in our school system, and eventually adopted in the high schools once the teenagers who knew freedom had shipped out.

Freedom. It's an interesting choice of words, one that is used by both anti- and pro-uniform camps - the former earnestly, the latter derisively. Proponents of uniforms say that students don't have the right to express themselves in school. These are often the same folks who think that a school newspaper must be line-read by the school principal to make sure no one writes anything too edgy. They argue that kids are in school strictly to learn, as if choosing clothes and learning about the ultimate superficiality of appearance isn't an education unto itself.

Another angle, regularly put forth by a teacher at my former high school, is that wearing a uniform prepares one for the workplace. Where do I begin with that? First off, tying success to conformity does little justice to most fields outside of the corporate sphere (and even many within). Second, students aren't mini-adults going to their job every day; that attitude does little justice to the majesty of education. Third, why not install a water cooler, cubicles and office supplies if we're going to take the Steve Carell route? Given the way schools are increasingly teaching to the test and pushing students toward being good office drones, it's the next logical step.

But why go the expression route when there so many more practical reasons to dismiss mandatory uniforms?

--Uniforms introduce avenues for discipline where none existed before. Depending on a teacher's mood, a straight-A student could be busted for not having their collar in the right place. I presume that's supposed to make up for the fact that that street clothes are, um, a distraction from class. This is the sort of thing that belongs in the military or juvenile center, not your average school campus.

(A parallel: Though we didn't have uniforms in high school, they did force us to start wearing our IDs. In 10th grade, I was nearly sent to the office by a very mean vice principal who didn't like that I was wearing my ID off of my belt loop, as opposed to on my shirt, where the clip would have torn it. She yanked it off my belt loop and shoved it painfully onto my shirt. Oh well...it was my fault for trying to get into the LIBRARY, so I could LEARN on my lunch break!)

--For teachers who disagree with the policy - and there are many - enforcement becomes a crisis of conscience. I saw enough of that in high school without a uniform policy. Hearing teachers say, "I personally don't care, but I have to follow the rules," is the quickest way to corrupt a student's sense of ethics. Though it does sound like perfect training for the business world.

--At most schools, uniforms have to be tucked in. And while uniforms are meant to diminish appearance stereotypes, they do offer much opportunity to pick on a self-conscious chubby (or skinny, or nerdy...) student. Which, in turn, makes the chubby (or skinny, or nerdy...) student dread school. Which then perpetuates the very problem that uniforms are meant to prevent.

--In some districts, students are often given the opportunity (on "spirit days" or other themed days) to pay a few dollars to wear whatever they want. In addition to being a naked opportunity for extortion, the very existence of these days undermines every argument for school uniforms. If street clothes are such a dire threat to the student community, then why allow them on any day?

--Uniforms do not save money on clothes...at least for those who would benefit most from saving that money. Sure, you might save a few bucks by buying uniforms if your entire wardrobe comes from Hollister or the Limited, Too (not that they would, because rich kids are getting those clothes anyway). But what about the kid who wears hand-me-downs, donated clothes or otherwise non-designer apparel? They have to go an "official" uniform provider (lest they be accused of having the wrong tiny emblem on their shirt), which is often in a pricey part of town and is inevitably expensive. Donated uniforms don't help, because they tend to look used, which opens up the kid for teasing anyway. Kids always tease with whatever's at their disposal. Even when every child is exactly alike and no distinction can be made, they still have zits.

--Unless the student owns five uniforms, they are likely to repeat without washing or rinsing. And that's just unhygienic. I always found it convenient to be able to wear any shirt at my disposal, none of which showed any belly button (aside from my school-issued football tops).

--If there's such an epidemic with fashion-related teasing (though I wasn't aware that anyone had been shot for Reebok Pumps since 1990 or so), then maybe the problem is with the adults. After all, the kids aren't bombarding themselves with ads from minute one telling them they have to wear this or that to be accepted. And, in most cases, the parents buy into the same lies. Forcing uniforms to be high-end designer labels can't possibly help. Neither can (in many cases) not regulating shoes, coats or jewelry. For a uniform to be effective in the fashion-equalizing regard, it would have to be exactly the same for everyone from head to toe. Kim Jong-Il could probably recommend a good tailor.

--No matter what the superficial cause, bullying will happen. It's part of growing up (and, believe me, I know). If children are being bullied over clothing, it will happen whether or not we remove that factor from schools. And, at least at school, someone can do something about it.

Uniforms are but a distraction from solving the real problems with education. With such a highly visible measure at their disposal, school boards can appear to take action without actually having to do anything. Much like building prisons is seen as being tough on crime, when the real deterrent would be to figure out so many crimes are being committed in the first place. But that's more homework than anyone seems to want to do.

(Oh, and Karl Rove resigned. Who will be the next brown shirt?)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Land of the free press, home of the brevity

Today's News-Leader features a guest opinion column entitled, "Liberal News-Leader controls the debate -- and this letter." Proof of said liberalism, the writer says, is that he was asked to pare down a previous letter he wrote to a mere 200 words. Because that letter, in his own words, "completely destroyed" the basis of the U.S. as a liberal nation, the request was obviously a tacit form of liberal censorship. What he said next made me uncontrollably laugh out loud:

The truth has no word limits.

Cue a ragged Stephen Colbert wandering down the street wearing a sandwich board...

Seriously, though, I understand. Those of us who write, particularly when spoiled by the editorial anarchy that is blogging, feel entitled to use as many words as humanly possible in order to get our point across to a (hopefully) receptive and open-minded audience. See what I just did? That's a lot of words to say what could been said with a lot more brevity. What I'm trying to say is that writers often take too much time and space to express that which could be paraphrased into much shorter, tighter sentences. Dammit, did it again! Moving on...

When I was coming up through the ranks of the writing military, one of the major criticisms levied against me was that, despite making and supporting strong points, I often took half an hour to get to the point. "You're very bombastic!" was how one professor put it. I still don't know if that was a compliment or an insult. After a live TV appearance on a local political show several years ago, my mom said, "You talk like you write." I knew exactly how to take that. Likewise with my oral master's exam, when one of the professors on my committee said, "I don't question your mastery of the material, but you should learn how to directly answer questions." The lesson learned: writing and talking are inextricably linked.

So it's true what teachers say: before submission, read your work out loud. If it sounds like the ramblings of that guy at every party who monopolizes the conversation, shorten it. Length does not equal gravitas; people aren't going to read a rambling rant for too long if they feel they aren't getting their words' worth. Self-editing makes you a better writer and pundit. It will also diminish the need for trimming that happens with every newspaper article. Our editorial page is not run by Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama; that honor goes to two of my best friends, Space and Clarity.

In short, the truth does not take unlimited words to express. Tighten your writing by pretending you are speaking it. Leaving out long-winded rants is not proof of liberal bias, but a bias toward maximizing space. Speaking of which, this paragraph makes every point made in the rest of the post. I guess you should have read this first. Sorry...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

You'll need a forklift to carry this issue


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--The long arm of corn in Nebraska
--The long arm of potatoes in Idaho
--The long arm of cowboys in Wyoming
--The long arm of mountains in Colorado
--The long arm of big sky in Montana
--The long arm of wind in Illinois
--The long arm of baseball in Missouri
--The long arm (?) of silicone in California
--The long arm of gloom in Washington state
--The long arm of skyscrapers in New York
--The long arm of Mormons in Utah
--The long arm of gambling in Nevada
--The long arm of oil money in Texas
--The long arm of lobbyists in D.C.
--The long arm of violence in Michigan
--The long arm of racism in the South
--The long arm of identity crises in the Carolinas, the Dakotas and West Virginia
--The long arm of corruption in Louisiana, volumes 2-66

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Caption Central

"We've got a pulse!" edition

Charles Dharapak / The Associated Press

I could be really, really mean and Photoshop a "Mission Accomplished" banner onto this picture. But I'm not in the same mood I was in Saturday. I chalk up the "Flatlining" entry to sheer exhaustion, though I meant it at the time. But my mom apparently took it too literally, so I figure I'd at least rectify it. Also, I should call her more often. Anyway, here are some captions:

--Bush discovers yet another "part of the world" in Minnesota
--Using Iraq criteria, that's progress
--"Psst, Bush...I know it's hard, but...turn around"
--What's left of Clinton's Bridge to the 21st Century
--"You never hear about the bridge that didn't fall!"
--To Bush, this was further proof that the federal government can't do anything right
--Bush immediately ruled out guns, though not gay marriage, as cause for collapse
--Dubya immediately ordered five billion popsicle sticks (but didn't fund the mandate)
--"We fight the terrorists over there, so it only looks like we're fighting them here"
--For some reason, "Let's Roll" never made it into the speech
--"Oh my! What a tragedy! We're so gonna lose Minnesota in '08."
--"Damn...thought that was a toppled oil derrick...nevermind..."
--"Can't we just get those guys from the Iwo Jima picture to prop it back up?"
--"Where the hell is the National Guard? Oh..."
--Hey, Bush! Thumbs-up if this bothers you!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Coming soon: the Clark Bar Exam?

Des Moines — A college diploma could soon come with a corporate logo.

The University of Iowa is considering whether to rename its College of Public Health after Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield's foundation in exchange for a $15 million gift from the company's philanthropic arm.

A corporate name on a school could undermine the independence of researchers and create other conflicts, some educators say. Others see little reason to build a wall around academia, which is already dependent on corporate money for research projects, endowed chairs and buildings.

There are dumber ideas than this. Here is a partial list:

--Brushing your teeth with a chainsaw
--Hiring homeless drug addicts as valets at the Four Seasons
--Letting Ted Kaczynski out of prison
--Drinking from a dirty toilet at Chernobyl

Yes, it's that dumb of an idea. Educational institutions should never be sponsored by any corporation, because that inevitably compromises the integrity of what is taught. Do anyone honestly think that a school counting Blue Cross Blue Shield among its marquee sponsors is going to invite honest classroom discussion on the effects of the insurance industry in America?

Back when I was in high school, Surge was the new big drink. It was a forerunner to today's energy drinks, with excessive doses of caffeine mixed into a Mello Yello-ish soda. It tasted good, and I liked it even though I didn't - and still don't - like caffeine. And I know what it tastes like because my high school celebrated its launch in 1997 by giving it away for an entire week. We were even allowed to leave class to grab it in the front lobby. Even then, I had to wonder what compelled my high school - the same one that taught me to stay off drugs and avoid obesity - to hand out highly caffeinated soda like some kind of cultish Red Cross.

And thus I learned my greatest business lesson ever, without having taken a business class.

Corporate sponsorship of schools or book publishers can be good when the partnership yields much-needed educational materials or facilities. But usually, even that is about promoting products, like the math books that employ Oreos and Hershey bars to solve problems. What a thing to do when kids aren't that inclined to exercise in the first place!

And now we're perilously close to Nutter Butter High...

Here's a better idea: let's not make education just another profit venture. Schools are supposed to be about the democratization of knowledge, not the capitalization of a captive audience. One of these days, people are going to remember that not every single aspect of American life is intended to be for sale. Though, to paraphrase that old bumper sticker, that day will probably come only when the government fully funds schools and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.

And you don't have to be a math teacher to know that that day is quite a way off.

This blog brought to you by the numbers 3M and 7Up.