Sunday, January 30, 2011

One thing I can count on in this uncertain life

Whenever I hit "next blog" at the top of this page, I will always get a political blog. And not just a political blog, but usually the most pseudo-intellectual, ignorant, John Birch fantasy barf that Blogger's algorithm can muster.

Why is that?

Friday, January 28, 2011

An amazing time in political history, and yet...

On my Facebook feed today, someone posted a warning that anyone considering traveling to Egypt should do so only for essential reasons.

And all I could think was, "Shucks."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State of the Union? You can't say it's inert

I haven't yet watched the State of the Union address, because I was shouldering a rather large workload at the time, and other kinds of work awaited me at home in the hours afterward.

But I do know this: lefty contrarians thought he was selling out his promises once again to the corporatists; New Orleanians thought he betrayed them by not mentioning the oil spill; conservatives thought his compromise isn't really a compromise because it would involve compromise from them; and most people in between thought it was a pretty decent speech.

And, from what I hear, Michele Bachmann can't see straight. But her rhetoric suggested that already.

I did get to watch just long enough to see how strange John Boehner looks in the speaker's chair. And how strange he looks in general. 

Afterward, while editing our newspaper, I did manage to glean some insight onto what was said, and the reactions thereto. And I made the remark to a concurring co-worker that, for some of these politicians, interviews were barely necessary.

Seriously. About the only thing that makes these events interesting in the Obama age is Obama himself, who is a rhetorical giant. You can count on him for flourishes of phrase that, despite the criticism, I think can make a difference. Everything else — partisan reactions, standing ovations, even Obama's policy decisions — are far too predictable. We know the president will call for compromise and that Michele Bachmann and Billy Long will find any way to discredit him as a result. We know that far-left liberals will convey a similar (or perhaps even angrier) strain of hatred because Obama is no different than Bush or something. And libertarians will continue to promote a false equivalency between both parties and urge the dismantling of our current do-nothing government in favor of a do-nothing government that does nothing the way they want nothing to be done. And that's kind of entertaining in its own right.

I'll probably catch the speech anyway.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

If you gotta say it...

Rule #165: Strong national defensive

If the very first thing you have to say about your ideology is that it is NOT RACIST and NOT VIOLENT, you're lying. Quite possibly to yourself.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Beck: Loser

This was going to be a piece on why Keith Olbermann is not, in fact, the Glenn Beck of the left. But Mitchell Bard over at Huffington Post stole my thunder, so take a minute to read his thoughtful argument. I’ll be here when you’re finished.

I think it’s more than fair to say Keith Olbermann is no Glenn Beck. Neither is Rush Limbaugh, for that matter.

Nobody is Glenn Beck. At least, not anyone they allow on the airwaves.

I haven’t fully wrapped my mind around exactly what Beck is supposed to represent. Is he trying to be a professor? A rabble-rouser? A rodeo clown? At times, he seems or claims to be all three. But no one who is genuinely any of the three is very likely to be any of the others. Not that Beck is actually any of those things.

First off, Beck’s no professor. That’s an ironic facade even for the fake parallel reality of today’s far right, given that he logged virtually no time in college. He seems to think that wearing glasses and a jacket and scrawling on a chalkboard makes him a professor. And somehow, he is not completely alone in that notion.

I had to do something like this in third grade. I managed not to leave out any letters.
I got nothing.
And about that chalkboard. Has anything on it ever made sense? Beck makes connections that put John “Beautiful Mind” Nash’s to shame.

Pictured: Glenn Beck's office.
Even my most extreme professors never engaged in such chalk-dusted madness. And if they had, I would have probably run straight to the registrar’s office.

No, Beck did not get a formal higher education. Instead, he cut his teeth on the morning radio zoo-crew circuit, making jokes about miscarriages, minorities and people he’d like to smash with a shovel. Just the kind of guy you want disseminating your cable news.

Beck often likens himself to Thomas Paine, of “Common Sense” fame. He also attempted to co-opt Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in the inspired bit of performance art that was the Restoring Honor rally. Obviously, those two historical icons are hard to top, and Beck hardly rises to the challenge. But even more than that, Beck is a reputational parasite. It’s hard to imagine either Paine or King touting themselves as the new saviors for a generation. People who truly change the world don’t have time to assign themselves like that. And they don’t have to repeatedly remind people of their role, either.

The fusion of entertainment
and enlightenment
apparently produces this.
As for the “rodeo clown” bit, that’s probably the one of these three self-caricatures that Beck comes closest to fulfilling. But even here, it’s inaccurate. Glenn Beck is smug, smarmy and very high on his own alleged intellect, but he isn’t funny. Unless you consider non-sequitur sex jokes about Hillary Clinton and talk of poisoning Nancy Pelosi’s coffee funny. The only humor to be ascertained from Beck is his flailing, paranoid nutjob schtick. But his target audience isn’t laughing at that. And for those who would otherwise laugh, it’s tempered by the clout that this man has with too many Americans.

Like many pundits who repeatedly cross the line, Beck often employs the “rodeo clown,” I’m-just-an-entertainer defense. Though it’s hard to tell exactly when he’s joking and when he isn’t. I imagine that his crying over his country and his stated concerns about Obama’s associations aren’t meant to elicit laughs. I guess he’s joking only when he gives obscure people or groups like the Tides Foundation a national spanking, and then the agency becomes a gunman’s target. Or when he stokes hysteria about Obama and all of his frightening plans for the citizenry, and then a man kills cops from his front porch, later citing Beck as an influence. And I guess he’ll be joking if ever his paranoid froth about how progressives are America’s enemy results in another tragedy.

As I said in the aftermath of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, pundits cannot be blamed for the actions of a lunatic. And obviously, not everyone who enjoys Glenn Beck is going to ape the actions of people who were clearly delusional to begin with. But again, this is where the media has to take responsibility for itself.

Glenn Beck appeals to people who, in all likelihood, already harbored similar views and angry resentment. And Beck’s presence on the airwaves gives those feelings a sick, frightening legitimacy at a time when reasoned discourse is needed more than ever. His success in the media is the ultimate triumph of ratings over responsibility. As loathsome as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Co. are, they don’t even approach the free-speech limits that Beck straddles on a daily basis.

As a journalist, I am offended by Beck’s shtick, and doubly offended at CNN Headline News and Fox News for giving this unqualified, paranoid man airtime that could be used by a better analyst (of any political persuasion) to improve our national dialogue.

Because I love my country.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Greed is good? No, balance is better

In Springfield, an ongoing debate involves what the city can do to attract more young professionals. The city recently commissioned a local group of young professionals, The Network, to study what that age group wants out of where they live.

The Network’s report noted that, in addition to jobs, the city needs to offer a diverse, inviting environment. Among the particulars outlined were recreation opportunities, including trails, and a limit on public smoking.

Public reaction to the findings reveals what I think is a fascinating split between generations and a very clear-cut picture of how the working world has evolved (devolved?) in recent decades.

A handful of guest editorials and online comments in the Springfield News-Leader scoffed at the findings, suggesting that all of this bike trail flibbity-flabber is absolute nonsense, and that a citywide smoking ban is just another excuse for more gubmint and taxes. Jobs! That’s all the young people want! Who cares about all that other non-job frou-frou?

Well, as a young guy (as defined by The Network and every other metric), I argue that the job is probably the least of a young professional’s concerns.

That isn’t to trivialize jobs — far from it. In fact, I fully realize how hard it is to find one these days. The economy is terrible, and the streets aren’t exactly paved with classified ads and “Now Hiring” signs. Because of that, many more job-seekers than who might otherwise be inclined to do so are seeking employment wherever they can find what they want.

But despite that — or perhaps because of it — quality of life has become a more pertinent issue than in the past. It’s not uncommon for many of us to decide to move to a chosen city and then seek a job. Economically speaking, that can be a pretty foolish thing to do, but those who do so illustrate that their desire to live in a specific place overrides career concerns that may be best served elsewhere.

My generation’s figuring out that if you’re going to have to move anyway, and job security is a museum exhibit, then you might as well head to where you think you’ll be happiest no matter what happens.

And that’s why quality of life matters even more than jobs. Jobs come and go in a heartbeat in this economy, and vesting all of our comfort, security and happiness into one is a potentially destructive proposition. You might find yourself out of a job one day, but you’ll never find yourself without a need for personal fulfillment or social stimulation.

No one wants to find themselves unemployed in a place where they have nothing to do and no one with common interests with whom to bond (and network).

Springfield has considerable obstacles in attracting young professionals, which will only get worse as the economy improves. And while the city deserves kudos for making a genuine effort to lure them, I think a sea change has to occur before the area becomes a competitive playing field for upwardly mobile careerists. That might take a while, maybe even a generation.

Springfield has a reputation for being a nearly all-white city of Republican Bible-thumpers. That’s well-deserved, but there are plenty of diverse, open-minded people to be found if you know where to look. I’ve found and befriended many.

The bigger impediment to progress lies with those who view this effort as an insidious plot to remake bucolic Springfield into San Francisco, New York or one of those other hellish dens of iniquity. The Queen City of the Ozarks, they say, is just fine as it is. (City officials seem to disagree, but whatever.)

There seems to be a generation gap at play with this objection. Older, more conservative Ozarks lifers see San Fran, New York and other metropoli as exactly what Springfield shouldn’t be, epicenters of corruption, vice and crime. Younger generations are more likely to see those places as culturally vibrant hubs, and want Springfield to adopt their best characteristics. And given that young professionals are the future of Springfield’s economic machine, city officials must take heed of what they want.

In order to do this, we must toss preconceived notions of what it means to be a young professional. The term “young urban professional” gave rise to the epithet “yuppie” back in the 1980s. Yuppies still exist today, frozen forever in time as wealth-accumulating, social-climbing, brand-slinging uber-capitalists.

But as a whole, my generation of young professionals can hardly be considered yuppies. We live in a very different economic reality than our counterparts in the go-go 1980s. Success has a much less static or material definition than it used to, and someone flaunting wealth and status is seen less as the epitome of the American Dream and more as a disconnected douchebag.

The events of recent years have burned into many young peoples’ minds the moral bankruptcy of capitalistic greed and the reckless neglect of the environment and humanity that often goes along with it. That awareness has helped shift the national idea of what the Good Life entails.

I’ll admit that when I was younger, I wanted to be a millionaire. I wanted to have a high-profile job, my own house, several cars, a sexy wife and a jet-setting existence. I figured I’d be set with all of that by the time I was 23. As a tween and teen, I fantasized about that future often, and figured I’d be able to achieve it as a college-educated professional athlete and/or business owner. Never in those fantasies did I ever imagine any hardship, setbacks, injuries, emotional constraints, etc. I also never thought much about where I’d live, presumably imagining living in some suburb of the city where I’d play ball. I was a Brewers fan, so I figured I’d live in Milwaukee. I never thought for a moment that I’d be averse to cold, or prohibitively far away from family and friends, or otherwise be isolated from the things I would like to do outside the ballpark.

Over time, as I grew into a greater social consciousness and a more realistic perspective on life, my definitions of all that changed. These days, I can’t remember the last time I wanted to be rich. As they say, mo’ money, mo’ problems. I want to be happy in my own way, and dealing with the pitfalls of having lots of money is not how I want to spend my time.

Highlights that stand out for me in my four years in Springfield include long, meandering bike rides on the Ozarks Greenways trails and year-round flag football on Sundays. I suspect that once I leave, those will be the two memories that stand out the most. They were fun, unique and, most importantly, they were things I pursued in my free time. I always made time for these pursuits. They made me no money (and at times they cost money), but not having those experiences would have severely diminished my well-being during a time of career advancement. And I hope that wherever I wind up next, I can undertake similar pursuits. I refuse to live anywhere where that’s not possible.

So, yes, it does matter that my city has bountiful recreational opportunities. Yes, I want a smoke-free city. Yes, I want to live where life’s open well past the normal business hours of 9 to 5. Yes, I want as many different kinds of people taking different steps in the walk of life as a city can fit. And yes, I want the kind of city that will make me feel welcome no matter who I am or what I do.

Springfield has a long way to go in that regard. But groups like The Network and the city officials who listen to them — not to mention my generation in general — give me hope that progress is possible. And inevitable.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

2001: A Race Odyssey

Ten years ago today, George W. Bush was sworn in as president.

I remember exactly where I was at that moment. I was working a college track meet in the indoor track facility at McNeese University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I did not have access to a TV, but I remember at noon thinking, "It's happening right now. Everything's about to be really different." I distinctly recall a race in progress. The runners started under Clinton, and ended under Bush. Like a lot of things eventually did.

I'm not particularly nostalgic about that time.

On a side note, Democratic Underground started that day too, just five days after Wikipedia. So at least there was that.

"The good old days weren't always good, and tomorrow's not as bad as it seems." — Billy Joel

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Where's Drano (or Kaopectate) when you need it?

So I went grocery shopping tonight. I don’t know why I put myself through things like that.

I turned into the the soup aisle to grab a couple of cans. Right next to me, an elderly woman sat in a scooter. She was close to my favorite soup, but not too close. After a moment of indecision, I grabbed a can. At this point, other people were starting to snake through the aisle, so I moved my cart a few feet inside the aisle. I decided I wanted another can of soup, so I turned to walk back to the shelf. By then, a group of three middle-aged people had crowded the end of the aisle. They were loading several cans of soup into a box. They were directly in my way, and the scooter woman remained static in her spot. So I decided to just hang loose for a minute. No point in being aggressive about it, I thought, and I’m in no hurry anyway.

Just then, a nice older couple I’d passed earlier turned into the aisle. They asked the blockers if they’d let them through. Through the mumbling, I heard the blockers say, “That young man needs to move.” Well, gee, thanks a lot!

I did move, of course, as I would have even without that bit of passive-agressiveness. As polite as I was, the nice old man nevertheless shot me a scowl as he slid through. Granted, I did hesitate a little, but only because other shoppers were starting to clog the other side as well. I decided to forget about this situation and grab that second soup can later, and headed for the other way.

But I found myself completely boxed in. The three blockers continued to block the entryway and box their soup haul, the elderly lady in the scooter still had her brakes planted firmly and another shopper or two made for insurmountable traffic on the opposite end.

This was just getting weird. Not to mention, awkward. At this rate, I was going to be hopping in a circle within the next 10 minutes. The gridlock was so perfect that it seemed like it had been drawn up in a playbook.

The woman on the scooter, perhaps sensing the impatience in my face, turned to me and said, “I’m just sitting here waiting for somebody.”

“It’s not you,” I said quietly and politely, albeit with a hint of exasperation. “It’s everyone else.” Meanwhile, the people actually blocking the aisle continued their slow task as if they were the only people in the world, utterly unaware of the now-considerable traffic jam. Life’s like that, isn’t it?

I took that opportunity to reach over scooter lady and grab a second can of soup, hoping I didn’t come off as rude in doing that. I’m an almost terminally polite person in most situations, but there’s something about being swarmed by selfish and rude Midwesterners that makes civility very difficult for me. I’d like to think that my manners toward the one nice person in this situation overcame the deafening hostility chafing its way through my head.

I returned to my cart, and it looked like I might have a clean way out after all. At that point, I was more than happy to be finished with this miserable situation.

But just then, another woman sped through on her scooter. She looked at me with the stinkeye they apparently issued at the aisle’s endcap and barked, “EXCUUUSE ME!” Like many drivers in this city, she wasn’t about to slow down just because she was drastically in the wrong — we’d just have to make way. (She either was or reminded me of the woman who, a while back in nearly the same spot, had blocked the aisle and when I muttered a muted “excuse me” and snaked through, snapped, “EXCUSE YOURSELF!”)

I knew we were all headed for a very bad situation. Unstoppable force, meet immovable object. I just know you’ll be good friends; you both suck. Discuss.

I managed to turn my cart around, headed toward the blockers, but I still had no room to maneuver. I was going to have to do what I dreaded most: talk to these people.

This might surprise some of you, but I can be a very shy person. I’m often reticent to ask people to move even when they’re in the wrong and it’s a good day. And in Missouri, there are only occasionally good days. To this southerner, the standoffish quality of your average Ozarker is something that apparently takes more than four years to get used to.

This encounter would only reinforce that notion.

Emboldened by the scooter diva behind me, who had still barely broken stride, I called out, as politely as I could muster, “Excuse me, please?”

The blockers didn’t even turn their heads. “Uh, hi...excuse me...”

Still nothing. Why does this happen so often in this area? Do these people have switches they need flicked on?

“EXCUSE US, PLEASE, SOUP PEOPLE?” That got their attention.

Now, at this point, you’d think (or at least I would think) that it would immediately occur to them that three or four people with shopping carts and scooters are backed up and are trying to pass through, and they’d scoot over without hesitation. They might even say, “oh, I’m sorry,” but you don’t hold it against them if they don’t. No harm, no foul. Just move over and we can get on with our respective evenings.

But they didn’t move. They barely broke stride with their painfully slow selection.

After a moment or so of silence thicker even than their heads, the guy holding the soup box gestured at the woman holding his group’s cart (who had her back to us) and said, “you’ll have to ask her to move.”


"We're just trying to shop here," Box Ass said to me. Oh, OK then!

"So are we," I snapped back, trying not to accurately convey the intensity of my dumbfoundedness and disgust.

To my surprise, he didn't punch me or threaten to do so. Instead, Box Ass came to his senses and tapped the woman on the shoulder. She turned around, gave an audible sigh and jerked her cart the exact amount of inches necessary for us to pass through, provided none of our wheels vibrated at all. After an exasperated jaunt to the orange juice cooler, I had to park in a deserted aisle for a few minutes to collect my bearings.

In the four years I’ve lived in Springfield, encounters like this have been a recurring problem. And whenever I’ve complained about it, I’m told that it’s my problem, as if it’s so naive of me to expect people to not be inconsiderate dicks. One of my friends from Illinois says Springfield is the friendliest place he’s ever lived. That’s just depressing.

And no, of course it isn’t everybody. But it’s enough people in enough situations to where I fear it’s starting to change me. And that’s worse than the attitude itself.

So my message to anyone reading this is, please, be a kind and considerate person. I know it can be hard at times, but you just might make someone’s day. If nothing else, you won’t make their blog for all the wrong reasons.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Horo! The Horo!

Many years ago, I picked up a book called something like "The Rolling Stone Rock Yearbook 1984" at the public library. In it, there was a section quoting famous musicians as to what 1984 meant for them. I remember two quotes in particular:

"1984 was the year I could buy brand-name macaroni and cheese whenever I wanted." — Weird Al Yankovic

"I had my horoscope legally changed because it told me not to get married in a year with a 9 in it, and it's a bloody long time until 2000." — A member of Spinal Tap (probably David St. Hubbins)

The latter, of course, was a joke. But apparently, someone, somewhere, has decided that there is a new zodiac sign (or that there was an old one that needed to be put back).

Casting aside for a minute all the intense outrage by people whom this apparently adversely affects, I have to ask: Who gets to decide this? And can I have that job when they retire? It must be a sweet gig to be able to effect change like that. Kind of like whoever invented brunch. Or modern holidays like Mother's Day and Kwanzaa. Conjuring up new star signs, meals and observances that gain acceptance are pretty interesting achievements. Not your garden-variety Wikipedia entry for sure.

Like many, I'm grumbling a little bit over the new astrological chart. And not because I'm a big believer in astrology (I prefer its college-educated cousin, astronomy) — though I'll admit that going from Taurus (the bullish Ford) to Aries (the ram that inspired a Dodge K-Car) feels like a demotion.

No, the real reason is that part of my job as a copy editor involves cutting horoscopes to fit their designated space, and that's hard enough already without a whole other star sign.

There's also the notion that many won't accept the legitimacy of this new sign, and we may see a schism rivaling that of the world's great religions. Great. More pointless wars, more angry phone calls.

Also, this means I've been dating incompatible signs all these years. Yeah, that's the ticket.

And despite this change, I still share a horoscope with Hitler.

In any case, I might as well cast off the stubbornness and bull-headedness that has always defined me so well and embrace my new stellar identity, which according to WikiZodiac, makes me:

love to start new things all the time. They have initiative and for that are perceived as having strong leadership skills, which in combination with their outgoing and ambitious style makes them the perfect sign to lead off a new cycle. Arians lead the way, break new ground, establish new traditions, and forge new paths. These traits make them energetic, vibrant, and lively. As the initial sign of the Zodiac, Aries also rules the first house: the House of Self, also known as the House of Personality.

This sounds exactly like the type of person who would break ground on a new horoscope. I like it!

You know what else I like? Finally having an excuse to embed this video:

And for those of you are pissed over this realignment, just remember: IT'S ALL MADE UP ANYWAY.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Uniting, not dividing

This afternoon, one of my friends from Louisiana came to visit me with a mutual friend from another part of Missouri. The two were my friends first (one from school, another from reading the blog) and have since become good friends in their own right, meeting for the first time in person yesterday. Good times and laughs were had by the three of us who, on film at least, are wildly different people.

The world needs more of this, I think.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stop shootin' your mouths off!

By Earl "Clem" Bob
Tea party contributor

Like all pro-American Americans, I’m devastated by the tragic events of this weekend’s shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Among the dead was an innocent 9-year-old girl. I pray for her and the other victims. Even that federal judge.

Sorry. That dig was unfair. I told myself I wouldn’t stoop to the levels of the compassion-challenged anti-patriots what insist on pissin’ on the graves of these heroes by talking about the circumstances of the shootings.

I mean, honestly, why bring up politics and society at a tragic time like this? We should be mourning the victims and prayin’ and helplessly blubberin’ and whatnot. That’s the right way to honor the lives of the fallen. Everything else is just nitpickin’.

What gets lost in all this hoo-hah is each victim’s story. For example, the young girl, Christina Taylor Green, was born on Sept. 11, 2001. Isn’t that crazy? Out of a day of death and misery sprang life, only to be snuffed out by a cowardly, gun-totin’ American 10 years later.

Tragic. But definitely nothin’ to get political about.

Anyway, it’s not like Jared Loughner was one of us tea party members. He was kicked out of school because they thought he was unstable. His list of favorite books and his ramblin’ YouTube videos suggest he’s an incoherent fella who doesn’t know what the hell he believes in. Also, he was said to be on the far left. So there.

It’s pretty unlikely someone that unstable would ever take a shot at a politician.

But of course, liberals love that this happened, because it gives them the opportunity to condemn fiery conservative rhetoric. Dare I say it? This is like their 9/11!

And who do they target first? Sarah Palin, of course!! What did she do? Of all the triggers she’s pulled, this was one time that she kept the ammo in her pocket. Sure, I’ve seen that crosshair map of hers! Did it lead me to go shoot those people? Hell no! I get what it means. That map ain’t like some sacred thing like the American flag or the cross — it’s just a symbol. A metaphor. A simile. A haiku. No one in their right minds would associate the SarahPAC crosshairs map with any form of violence. All it is is an inspiration to her supporters. And a damn clever example of free speech. And I’ll defend to the death her right to display it!

Still, it was gracious of her to take it down. As she often says about her website, “Don’t retweet, reload.”

Sharron Angle also took some heat for her past remarks about “Second Amendment remedies.” As if anything can be read into that. And that quote about watering the liberty tree with blood? That’s Thomas Jefferson! Unfortunately, it appears that you can’t even quote our Founding Fathers and our Constitution these days without being accused of inciting violence. Thanks, progressives! The shooters who take it too far don’t help either.

Will you just stop already? Please?

It’s not like the left’s closet is empty either. Look on any liberal forum, especially ones from the Bush era, and you’ll find plenty of calls to arms. Here’s just one I found by Googling “left violence bush hate commies kill crosshairs”:

ive had enough already. this country’s gone to hell in a fundamentalist handbasket. Bu$Hitler and his minions are gonna continue their assault on our civil liberties and kill any standing we still have in the world. will we even have any freedom’s left? i hope their isn’t violence in the streets before its over. but if there is, they’ll prob. label us commies and round us up. this hate-fear attitude sucks, and i hope people come to their sense in 2008. until then, ill keep bush and co. in my proverbial crosshairs, never letting up on them here on this forum.
Posted by jackknife on 03-Nov-04

So from here on out, you show me Sarah Palin, and I’ll show you jackknife. We’re even.

If there’s anything life has taught ol’ Clem, it’s that you never judge a book by its cover. For my friends who’ve never judged a book because they ain’t ever seen one, what I’m trying to say is, the first impression isn’t always the right one. I learned that recently when a Mexican held up the Gas-E-Mart on Farm Road 65. When we heard the news, we naturally assumed that the guy was a no-account freeloading thug probably brought into our country illegally by Janet Napolitano. That sparked a major illegal-immigration protest along the highway. (Carl drew “a Second Amendment fence” on his sign where the fence posts were all guns. It was a riot!) Wuss, the guy who drives the Toyota Penis hybrid, warned us not to rush to judgment on the guy. Turns out, the perpetrator was born and raised 20 miles away. He didn’t even have an accent or nothin’. Needless to say, we all learned somethin’ that day about the danger of speculation. I still hate illegal immigrants, though.

Let my recent lesson be a lesson to all of you liberals. In the end, it should be obvious to everyone that the Tucson shooting was simply a messed-up guy spraying bullets. Why isn’t that enough for some of you? Why make it worse by suggesting that he chose to let loose at a political event? That he targeted the politician and the federal judge leading the gathering? Why does your ilk insist on reading all sorts of undertones that aren’t there? This was random violence, period! Random violence!

Now, please, will you let it go?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tread on me all you want

Since yesterday afternoon, it has been snowing in Springfield. According to local meteorologists, the snowfall hasn't yet peaked. Leaving work last night, my feet crunched over the powdery white blanket that was the parking lot. In the wake of a fresh snowfall, every step and every tire track gets chronicled like a natural, giant Etch-A-Sketch. Fresh, white snow also has a way of lighting up the night sky to where it looks almost like dawn all through the night. Not that I'd ever do or condone it, but you could almost drive without headlights on nights like these.

Then there's road snow. Troublesome enough in its pure form, road snow is even worse when first mixed with the road salt that helps melt it off the road. Try taking a turn in it too fast, or apply your brakes at a normal pace, and you'll discover performance quirks you never knew your car even had. On top of all that, road snow is not even pretty to look at — it most closely resembles a graphite-flavored Slush Puppie that you left out in an igloo for too many years.

Give the process some time, however, the roads look and drive great, with all gross sludge piled aside. After I'd been on the main drag for a while, inching ever so closer to home, a city shovel truck passed in the other direction. And I got to thinking about the recent anti-government movement. And how poorly thought-out it is even among its most fervent adherents.

I don't agree necessarily, but I can see the attraction some people have to the notion of not paying any taxes, or not having federal government oversight over anything but national defense, or not having local government in your backyard and so on. Many of these people will tell you that it's individual genius and private enterprise that make the world go round, and that government only hampers things.

But that's in a vacuum. On the road, I'm glad to see the city at work in the middle of the night. They're most likely saving lives and they're most definitely meeting a need. And they're doing it without demanding exorbitant costs of everyone who drives by. It's one of those little, yet major, machinations of public interest that few think about when calling for drowning government in the bathtub.

But tonight, it's a big, big benefit.

The media is not Fireball Mario

In the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, there’s been considerable talk about the role of the media as an instigator.

On the surface, this seems like a superficial argument. After all, do rap lyrics cause drive-by shootings? No. Did Marilyn Manson tell Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to shoot up Columbine High School? Of course not. Did Genghis Khan play his records backwards to inspire his massacres? Unlikely. Did Ted Bundy need porn to be a serial rapist and killer? No, though he made a scapegoat out of it. It’s stupid to blame someone’s actions on some bit of pop culture they consumed. Or really, anything else other than their own decisions and actions.

That said, however, I think there is something to be said for the influence of the media. And I’m torn on this. Like I said, I don’t go much for allegedly bad influences, especially as a premise for censorship. But the media is not envelope-pushing rock music; it has a very real effect on how we see the world around us. Rap may be the “Black CNN,” but CNN isn’t supposed to be white noise for gangsta wannabes.

For all of the sky-is-falling forecasts about traditional media, and the often-dismissed reputaton of new media, people still rely heavily on both as sources of information. Whether anyone admits it or not, the media carries authoritative weight. Some will say that’s changed since the advent of 24-hour cable news and the Internet. But it hasn’t.

Back in the day, most people got their news from Walter Cronkite or one of the other major TV or radio networks, which operated their news divisions at a loss, and/or a local (and usually independent) newspaper. Liberals, conservatives, moderates, libertarians and the politically apathetic might have differed on interpretation, but generally agreed on the facts that they got from the meat-and-potatoes journalism that ruled the day.

In recent decades, meat and potatoes gave way to TV dinners and fast food. At some point, most likely when 24-hour news channels made it necessary, entertainment and profit concerns entered the picture. And the line began to blur between editorial and tabloid content, and hard news.

What didn’t change is public perception of trust in the media. Sure, there is and always was criticism, but it generally comes from the idea that the media should tell us the truth. That we can and should be able to rely on what we hear. The problem is that we don’t agree on the truth anymore. And that’s because many media outlets have shirked that responsibility.

It used to be that sensational coverage and editorial writing were particular provinces of a newspaper or broadcast. You had to buy a tabloid, or flip to a mainstream newspaper’s editorial page, or wade through Mike Wallace, Morley Safer and Ed Bradley to get to Andy Rooney.

These days, some of the most incenidary personalities are linchpins of news networks’ lineups. People will tell you with a straight face that they get their news from Glenn Beck, or Rush Limbaugh, or Keith Olbermann. But you don’t get your news from them; you get commentary. And chances are, anyone who listens to these and similar pundits does so to hear what they want to hear. Which is fine, but that doesn’t make anyone truly informed in the absence of other sources.

But what’s sad is that the punditry regularly ranks among the highest-rated broadcasts these days. I can only hope that those who get a kick out of these commentators’ shenanigans are also working doses of real news into their noggins. Because the exchange of information frankly isn’t working as it should.

For all their bluster, Americans aren’t skeptical enough of the media. And when they are, it’s because they think the media is too liberal, conservative or whatever ideology they happen not to be. They don’t consider the real concerns. The need for ratings. Corporate influence. The blurred line between news, opinion and entertainment necessitated by profits. The qualifications (or lack thereof) of the person in front of the camera. Despite everything, there’s still a cachet of legitimacy that comes with writing for a major newspaper/website or appearing on a TV network.

And that’s where many media sources are dropping the ball on their own end. Journalism requires a commitment to the truth, built on solid reporting and fact-checking, conducted by those versed in media law and ethics. Those trusted to offer commentary should at the very least be informed, enlightened and responsible with the power they wield.

A former screaming morning-zoo DJ spewing alarming rhetoric about our country’s immediate future, all the while encouraging his viewers to buy and hoard gold and joking about poisoning Nancy Pelosi, violates that trust. A former tabloid-show anchor known for his hot temper, incidences of alleged sexual harassment and love of frivolous lawsuits who makes up glib nicknames for abortion doctors, who inflames hatred against immigrants and abortion doctors, should not be anyone’s No. 1 fount of enlightenment.

And yes, I’m singling out conservative pundits. Not all of them, of course, because are there lots of responsible ones, but all the ones I have issues with are conservative. “But what about Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow, The Onion, etc.?” Well, all of those shows and publications are honest about their place (or lack thereof) as legit media. And none of them, as far as I know, attract an audience brimming with hatred and stoke that hatred.

As media consumers, we must harbor a healthy sense of diversity and skepticism. Likewise, the media has a responsibility to deliver hard news in a way that favors accuracy above all else, and its opinion element must be equally responsible in its commentary. Maybe then we wouldn’t have to read and watch coverage on all these shootings.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

What I want to hear from a player after a playoff loss

"I like to win. When did it become bad sportsmanship to feel that way? I play to WIN. I don't play to plaster a fake smile on my face five minutes after the game and say, 'Oh, shucks, maybe next year!' I'm mad because I failed. We lost to the better team tonight. Good for them. Classy organization and they played like they wanted it. But I'm pissed off. Pissed off because I'm passionate about the game, just like our opponents were, but they're the ones who showed it and we didn't. I play to win. It's what I do. It's my passion. I've been playing sports since I could walk. I have a competitive spirit. I didn't get to this level just to act like losing a chance at a championship didn't matter to me the second I walked off the field. I failed today, so excuse me for caring about it. I like to win."

It's probably for the best that I'm not a pro athlete. I have too much intensity.

An open note in the wake of tragedy

Forgive me if I and others suspect, at least in the immediate wake of it, that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' shooting is politically motivated.

I'm being flooded with Twitter and Facebook statuses suggesting that anyone who does so is a monster or is cackling gleefully. Or is otherwise exploiting it for political purposes.

Bullshit! This is a HUMAN issue. This week was rife with shootouts all over the country. That alone is tragic, regardless of cause. 

But if you expect me to believe that a Democratic congresswoman, in Arizona, whose district was "targeted" on SarahPAC's website, would be shot in the head at a campaign event, in an age when the right-wing movement makes a point of bringing guns to town-hall meetings and openly talks of Democrats as if they are the Marxist enemies of America, and that it was just some random act of violence with no chance of political undertones, well, sorry. I can't do that. And to ignore that possibility is stupid and reckless. And could cause more tragedy down the line.

And no, I'm not going to blame all conservatives, all Republicans, all tea partiers, etc. I'm not going to suggest that everyone who doesn't support Democrats supports shooting them in the head. But I don't think it's at all irresponsible to suggest that there are enough extremists hopped up on hate out there to give us all pause. The media is not responsible, but irresponsible punditry doesn't help. You don't get to bark a constant pipeline of hate, fear and hyperbole and then suddenly call for civility when it comes back to bite you.

Interpret that if you will as a stab against all of the pseudo-revolutionary talk and smug, glib, take-America-back-before-America-takes-your-guns-and-daughters punditry from the far right. All I know is, we have yet to see a political figure shot by a Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow disciple. No atheists have exercised their Second Amendment rights on a fundamentalist preacher over doctrinal differences. If they did, they would also deserve every bit of this criticism. Until then, this particular faction of extremism deserves all the condemnation it has and will get. 

Just like we shouldn't condemn all Muslims for the acts of a few, neither should we condemn all conservatives for this act. And I don't think anything beyond extra security for all politicians at events is going to help anything, and I certainly don't support a crackdown on political views. But again, there's a difference between overreacting and not reacting at all. And to suggest that we just brush the political possibility aside is asking for disaster in this day and age. Assuming that the shooting was in fact politically motivated, that makes it a double tragedy, for the victims and their families as well as the future of this country. I don't think it's at all out of line or disrespectful to bring up that notion. It's not too soon. If anything, it's too late.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Today in revisionist Saints history

What I learned from an comment:
• Saints fans are "band wagon riding flakes," which grammatically can be taken several different ways, but ultimately means that Saints fans pack the Superdome only in seasons that the Saints post winning records. Prior to 1987, FEMA singlehandedly kept the franchise alive through seat subsidies.  

• In 2006, Saints fans depressed by their team's performance coined the term "Aints" and took the suggestion of local commentator Buddy Diliberto (who was dead by then) to wear paper bags over their heads in shame. By the time the Eagles rolled into town for the playoffs, the Superdome crowd looked like the side of a UPS truck.

• All of a sudden, the Saints won the Super Bowl. Shazam! Like lightning.

• Inspired by the team's John Gilliam-like march to the Lombardi Trophy, Saints fans coin a new cheer, "Who Dat," which catches on so quickly that Aaron Neville rounds up as many 1983 Saints players as he can and cuts a hit record recounting the history of the franchise. True to fact, Neville alludes to the 2006 season, with its "80,000 people all wearing bags."

• Seahawks fans totally support their team all the time, win or lose, playoffs or 7-9 finish. The only reason they were 18th in the league in attendance in 2010, eight slots below the Saints, is because Qwest Field is smaller than the Superdome. I guess.

• The Saints totally clinched a playoff berth only because of a convoluted series of events that led them to an 11-5 record and a No. 5 seed. It's not like they ever had a chance to win the NFC South and the No. 1 conference seed, let alone make the playoffs on their own merits. Their playoff hopes hung by a thread, unlike Seattle's, which won the NFC West last week with a decisive 7-9 record.

• Yes, Tampa Bay had a worse record than New Orleans, even after the Bucs closed the season with a road win over the Saints. But the Bucs just barely missed taking the Saints' playoff slot, under the "points for trying" seed. Fortunately for both Saints and Seahawks fans, that spot went to Seattle.

• When the Seahawks beat the Saints (not if, when), the ever-disappointed bandwagon New Orleans fans will chant, "Who Dat was that just lost to the Hawks?" Maybe an enterprising fan will opt to diagram that chant. Perhaps on the back of a spent banner or a handy paper bag.

Now if you'll excuse me, this "band wagon" Saints fan has a flake to go ride.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Other things I imagine this new Congress will do

• Read the Holy Bible in its entirety on the House floor. Except for the unimportant parts.

• Vow to repeal the bill allowing concealed weapons in national parks, just to spite President Obama.

• Not only fight to repeal health care, but also club everyone making less than $30,000 a year in the knee.

• Vow, with so many new faces, to stay inexperienced for years to come, using a Men in Black neuralizer if necessary.

• Run the government like a business. By which they mean cut jobs right and left while they pad their own wages and report record profits.

• Simplify the complicated and convoluted Constitution to the point where you can write it on the back of an index card, then drown it in the bathtub.

• Pass a new law that, for every new dollar of government spending, you have to cut another somewhere else. Yeah. Good luck with that.

• Pass another law that redefines the term "excessive government spending" to apply exclusively to social programs, education, civil-service jobs and infrastructure, and never to military spending, corporate welfare or tax cuts for the wealthiest brackets. As a formality, it should glide right through.

• Have an all-out brawl on the House floor over who is the most proudly conservative and pro-American. Once it's over, there will be as much apple-pie filling and eagle innards as there is human blood spilled in the chambers.

• C-SPAN will become a TV-MA network once the FCC decides to censor sanctimony.

• C-SPAN broadcasts will become noticeably dimmer after the GOP decides, out of deference to the struggling American people, to turn out most of the lights in the legislative branch. The Republicans will also streamline the sessions by removing all pomp such as reading the Constitution aloud, as well as all the time spent making proclamations for this week and that, thus saving the vaunted taxpayer money. No they won't.

• Nothing, really.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Less ambitious movies

It's a Twitter meme, but I did it anyway.

Sit By Me
Cannonball Jog
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Tenure
B Team
Easy F
Ignoring Private Ryan
Ace Ventura, Pet Peeve
American Pop-Tart
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life Cereal
Bill and Ted's Average Potluck
Dumb, Not Dumber
Falling Asleep (1993 - Michael Douglas)
Field of Naps
Stinging Weapon
Even Less Than Nothing to Lose
Model Planes, Toy Trains and Matchbox Automobiles
Pretty Safe Business
Idling (1994 - Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock)
25 First Dates
Weekend Fill-In Reporter (2004 - Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate)
Civilized House
Cast Aside
Fahrenheit 7-11
Sleep in, Vietnam
Content Gilmore
Tepid Shots!
The Original Archdukes of Comedy
The Yard That Wasn't the Longest
Calm Max
Minor League
Rudy's Waterboy
This Might Be Spinal Tap, Maybe?
Staying in the Same Places (1983 - Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd)
Harold & Kumar Get Stoned and Sit on Their Asses
The Secret of My Sucking (1987 - Michael J. Fox)
Willing to Share (1994 - Kirk Douglas, Michael J. Fox)
There's Nothing About Mary
The Wedding Guest
Reasonable Science
Revenge of the Jocks I-IV

(Note: I just tossed these off by glancing at the videotapes and DVDs on my shelf. I realize others might have come up with some of the same names. If they did, it's a case of great minds thinking alike. Or maybe mediocre minds. Don't want to get too ambitious, after all.)

Monday, January 03, 2011

Not Right About Anything: The Best of 2010

In 2010, the Saints won the Super Bowl. The next day, I had jury duty. The day after that, my mom had potentially dangerous surgery on her colon. Ever have weeks like that? Well, for me, 2010 was pretty much an entire year of that. Ups and downs, highs and lows, dental copays and...well...eventually paying the rest of it as well.

I hurt my back, my ankles, my sinuses, my ears, had pinkeye and — just in time for Christmas — got a black eye and a near-concussion. And I chipped my tooth (on my laptop, no less) on New Year’s Eve. Also, the Republicans fed a wave of mildly informed anti-incumbent sentiment back to power for 2011. There was that, too.
For me, one of the truly great things about 2010 was my renewed passion for blogging. I also caved and started a Twitter account. Having a vocal, appreciative audience to go with both really helped. Thanks, you guys, and keep reading!

And now I present the Not Right About Anything Best of 2010!

My decade in life

I started out the year with this series of timelines from every year in the past decade. I stopped at 2006 because of time constraints, and then I realized that every year afterward was too boring for a timeline. So it’s more like my half-decade in life.

2000 (1/1) 2001 (1/3) 2002 (1/6) 2003 (1/9) 2004 (1/12) 2005 (1/14)

Meet the new bums. Same as the old bums.

Sarah Palin's roaming hand (2/9)
All the ways her hand notes were sad.
A post filled with unbridled passion (2/21)
Why can't I be as passionate about anything as the tea partiers are about government spending?
More on that damn billboard (2/23)
"Miss me yet?" No.
Hoax Hoax Hoax (3/1)
Arguments against global warming are often hot air.
A doctoral thesis on health care (3/23)
My reaction to the passing of health care reform, and my reactions to others' reactions.
I'm trying. What's your excuse? (4/5)
Being principled is hard, unless your principles serve only to rationalize greed and bigotry.
Louisiana, now would be a good time... (5/4)
My initial thoughts following the BP oil spill.
My hero of the day: Laura Bush...?!! (5/15)
When Laura Bush came out in sympathy of gay marriage, I respected her for it.
Missouri voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition C, which would exempt state residents from having to comply with the federal health care mandate. So much for the Constitution, frivolous lawsuits and out-of-control state spending, huh?
In anticipation of a Republican bloodbath, I wrote this on Election Day. My comment section promptly dashed all of my hopes, which wasn't all that unexpected.
My succinct reaction after the results were in.
With the new TSA airport regulations causing an uproar, especially after a video captured a child traumatized by the process, I offered something for parents to say beforehand.
Rule #164: Generation Gap Kids (12/14)
A plea to baby boomers: please stop telling us how much better you had it and how screwed we are. We know it's true and we know who's responsible.
I thought I was a cynic until I got on the Internet and met some genuine cynics.

Enter Earl "Clem" Bob, stage right

In 2010, I tapped loyal tea party member Earl "Clem" Bob to guest-blog on Not Right About Anything. His righteous political anger "at both parties, especially the Democrats" shined through on the printed e-mails he'd send via overnight mail. Clem will tell you he had a very good midterm year, and hopes that his various hardships will go away once Mitch McConnell and John Boehner assume power and end the government.

I speak for all Americans (5/27)
Well, he does, dontcha know!
Bumper stickler (8/10)
Clem gets static in his small town for his anti-Obama bumper sticker, which looks so much like a real Obama sticker that they think he turned all Commie and whatnot.
Fahrenheit 9/12 Project (9/9)
Clem gives his common-sense take on three current events that prove America is back, hoss!
Seein' a bright future ahead (11/8)
Clem gets glasses and a new focus on things. But don't worry, he ain't turnin' socialist or nothin'.
Forever young (until this year)
Only in my dreams (2/23)
There's this recurring dream that I have more often than any other (except maybe for the one where I have to renew my high school diploma and fail), and I describe it in as much excruciating detail as I can recall. It's become even more clear recently, with the unattainable objects sometimes taking the form of people crowding into a building. A tryout for something, perhaps?
What a concussion feels like (4/6)
Inspired by Esquire magazine's series "What it feels like," I chronicle a massive head injury I endured in 2000.
Thoughts on turning 30 (5/8)
My mind's telling me no. But my body, my body's telling me yes!
The hotter, the better (7/11)
A longer version of a short piece I wrote for the Springfield News-Leader.
Drilling into the core of my bedrock (7/25)
I got in a tense debate with some Lafayette friends on Facebook over the oil and gas industry. Just like old times!
I expect this to be more divisive than my political posts (8/22)
Inspired by a regular Onion AV Club feature, I talk about elements of pop culture that are super-popular but that I don't like or otherwise never got into.

Stuff that makes me feel old (8/30)
Old, meaning 30. An old 30.
A whole different ball of wax (9/22)
I lost hearing in my left ear and had to have both of my ears drained. Admit it. You're dying to read this.
To a doctor! Scat! (11/15)
Then I came down with pinkeye and everyone assumed I rubbed feces in my eye. Thanks, Knocked Up!

Stuff other people do and/or did

The 14 old friends you make on Facebook (10/16)
Everyone, and I mean everyone, you used to know falls into one or more of these categories.
Oh, fiddle-de-de, Hattie (11/24)
Why do people take off their hats in public? Some will say it's a sign of respect. I say it's silly. How disrespectful of me!
This isn't what they meant by "White Christmas" (12/3)
I have to write at least one parody song per year; a snowman shaped as a Klansman inspired this "Frosty" knockoff.
Another white trash, another white trash... (12/29)
This is what I get for trying to help. My bad.

Lombardi Gras 2010

The New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV! And in 2010, were poised for another playoff run. Wheee!! This group of posts came in the early part of the year, both before and after the Super Bowl.
Optimism time: Saints edition (1/10)
Ahead of the divisional playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals, I note some facts and trends working in the Saints' favor. My score prediction: 48-27, Saints. The Saints actually won 45-14. Close enough.
Welcome back, Saints (1/17)
A post-game analysis featuring several pictures of Kurt Warner looking like he's kissing other players.
Playing horseshoes (1/29)
No respect.
Any 17-15 win must be impressive if it includes #18 (1/30)
I compared every Colts score with every Saints score. The Saints came out on top in 13 of 18 contests. And yet, the Colts are supposed to have the better offense. No respect.
Football fans saw a lot of drinking games proposed for the Super Bowl. Mine was arguably the safest for livers all over America.
My non-New Orleans Mardi Gras experience (2/16)
One week after the Super Bowl, I visited Louisiana to help out my mom and enjoy my first Mardi Gras in four years. I shared some of the more suitable highlights.
No sudden death for sudden death (3/2)
New NFL OT rule fixes clearly broken playoff system (3/26)
I got into some pretty heated debates on Facebook about the NFL's proposal to change sudden-death overtime. I've always been against the idea. Some friends thought I was out of line to suggest that the NFL's final proposal was specifically a reaction to the Saints-Vikings game. But it totally was!
I saw Drew Brees last night (5/19)
I was in the same room as Drew Brees. It was a big ballroom, granted, but still. He acknowledged me, and I gave money to charity. Everybody won!

Sports (non-Saints)

2010 NFL preview (9/12)
I was right about the records for the Ravens, Redskins and, amazingly enough, the Lions. That's all.

This made Saints offensive lineman Jonathan Goodwin laugh his ass off.
Things I hate about college football (9/7)
But don't stop me from watching it.
Second chancers (12/28)
On Michael Vick, President Obama and redemption.

SOFA flag football

The Springfield Open Football Association (SOFA) is the name of a loose coalition of players who assemble every Sunday for flag football. It went strong throughout 2010. What didn’t go strong were the famed recaps, which remained very popular, but became increasingly hard for me to write as more and more new people showed up (and I got admittedly lazy from various burnouts.)

Jan. 17 recap (1/21)
Recaps for the past month (3/6)
March 7 recap (3/12)
Recap and successful April Fool's joke (4/2)
Any given Easter Sunday (4/10)
April 11 recap (4/17)
SOFA recap: Sterilization edition (4/21)
SOFA recap: "I touched him!" edition (5/1)
The power of perseverance or something (10/11)

From that last blog comes the most unfortunate photo of the year:

I bruised my knee. Honest.
Here are a couple of better snaps from the same time:

 And, for good measure, here's one that's even worse:

Christmas Crapbook

Holiday memories, 1980-91! Subject to revisionism.
1980 (12/7) 1981 (12/9) 1982 (12/10) 1983 (12/13) 1984 (12/14) 1985 (12/16) 1986 (12/20) 1987 (12/22) 1988 (12/23) 1989 (12/24) 1990 (12/25) 1991 (12/30)