Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Serve with pride...er, 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 NFL.com, 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?"
"No."
"Good. And don't give in if they do."
"OK."

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 of...er...context 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.