Saturday, April 30, 2011

So much for my presidential bid

(Note: I promise this is the last time I indulge this birther stuff. I realize that they will always find fault with something. Still, I couldn't let the latest objections pass without comment.)

A while back, I wrote about my own birth certificate — excuse me, certificate of live birth. Don’t want to misrepresent.

In light of the latest allegations from the “All we want is the long form” crowd about President Obama’s long-form birth certificate, I’ve decided to illustrate some points with pieces of mine — but not the whole thing. You’ll have to wait for my presidential run for that, when I’m sure everyone will be clamoring for it (cough).

I’m doing this because what I have is not a newfangled digital copy of a short-form certificate, but a certified copy of the original long form dated March 4, 1983.

It's crooked...JUST LIKE IAN.
It’s through a sheer stroke of luck that I still have this birth certificate; I tossed it in the trash during a move in 1999, and had the can on the curb when I just happened to spot it among the refuse. I doubt that any replacement today would resemble that copy. But in either case, I can get a driver’s license, passport, etc. by showing it as proof.

I’m guessing it was the same deal with Obama. At some point between his first driver’s license/passport and his presidential candidacy, he apparently lost whatever document he had. Despite the birthers’ claims, that’s not some supernatural, conspiratorial force at play. That’s common.

The point of this exercise is to show that everything that naysayers question about Obama’s certificate can also be questioned about mine. In fact, mine might be worse. To say nothing of yours.

The new theory going around is that Obama’s long-form document is photoshopped, which can be clearly seen by stripping it of its layers. OOPS!! Way to think things out, co-conspirators!

The video below (and others I've watched so you don't have to) show that when you strip the letters, you see white space where they were. This is where they hope you're ignorant of how photoshop programs work. If it were a truly layered (altered) document, when you stripped off the text, you’d see an uninterrupted swath of green watermark (as you see when he draws and removes his own doodle). Stripping the letters off in the fashion shown in the video is the opposite of impressive — it’s a basic function of any photoshop program. And it proves not that they're right, but that the original image is static and Illustrator itself chops it up (these programs differentiate between text and background just as iPhoto won't saturate skin tones if you saturate a photo). 

This guy cites differences in darkness between letters and within signatures as if it's the missing link and not, as I can attest from my own experience, a product of differing pressures with the pen. I encountered that issue years ago when I created a blog flag out of my handwriting. But even if this guy were 100 percent correct about his observations, it seems pretty lousy to waste alterations on a few letters of mom's last name rather than, say, everywhere else. He's not grasping at straws — he's grasping at molecules.

The green watermark on Obama's document is raising already-raised eyebrows, because it is uniform across the whole document rather than consistent with the bent document. Do I even have to point out how ridiculous this is? The paper on which the copy is printed is green, not the certificate itself. This is done for the same reason automobile titles and dollar bills get printed this way— so that you know it’s official paper, not just some hack print job done with any widely available stock. As seen above, my COLB has the same copy method, but on plain white rag. Because of this, mine has an official, raised seal.

Oh, about that seal. See, some birthers are complaining that Obama's document has no seal. Well, there’s no seal because the one in the binder doesn’t get one. Copies have in the past, like the digital version that Obama offered up in 2008. What this long-form copy has instead of a seal is the special green paper and a signature stamp. Similarly, the most recent copies of my university transcript (from 2011) don’t have embossed seals, though older ones did. When I asked why this was the case, they said it was because the newer paper stock had it within. Same applies here.

The oft-noted four-day discrepancy between the president's date of birth and date of filing is abnormal only in its relative speed. As you can see, mine took twice as long to file as his.

I would bet that everyone’s has this discrepancy, for the simple fact that paperwork is slow and tedious. Though in Obama's case, I suppose there's an off chance that a bunch of conspiracy stuff happened in that four-day span. I’ve already outlined that conversation in detail.

I hope this is the death of the birth talk for me, but somehow I doubt it. This “issue” is the kind of thing that takes on a life of its own, and after you shoot holes in it, becomes a zombie. Or born again. Whichever heavy-handed reference works better.

Our snotty attitude toward health care

I'm writing this blog in part because I can't sleep.

I can't sleep because I have what appears to be a sinus infection, which makes it hard for me to lie down, let alone drift off into dreamland.

I've suffered from this three times in the past two and a half years. The last two times, I was able to pop into a clinic and obtain some prescribed antibiotics. I was able to do that because I had health insurance. But now I don't, so I have to hope DayQuil and expired Mucinex do the trick. Maybe some Vitamin C drops if my budget allows. In the meantime, I can only hope I don't infect anybody around me (a tough call given that it's Festival weekend, and as a job-seeker I stay home enough as it is). 

All of that got me thinking about something I've heard in the past, that some people choose not to have health insurance. It's one argument people often use against universal health care, the idea being that such a mandate would infringe upon the right to be free.

I've had several friends and co-workers in the past who opted out of available health plans, and you'd be hard-pressed to find much ideological unity among them. To a person, they said they didn't feel the cost was worth the risk. I can understand that line of thinking, even if I don't agree with it. (Side note: One of them wound up in the ICU after a freak accident, and bore a tremendous cost as a result.)

But I wonder: is there any reason other than cost for which someone would refuse insured health care? That's the case for me; keeping my health insurance from my last job would have cost $400 a month, which is a tough go when you're unemployed. And yet, many critics of health care reform tell me that there's some noble foundation of freedom at play here. If there is, I don't see it. It always seems to come down to being broke, or trying not to be broke.

And if the bottom line's strictly what it's about, then it's inexcusable to have the health care system we have in America. Scratch that — it's just sick.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jumping Jack Flash

Ever wanted to see me sporting Kennedy hair and showing appropriate reverence at Saint Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square? Well, aren't you in luck!

This! Is! New Orleans!

Attention non-birthers!

Just like I knew the birthers would not be satisfied with President Obama's long-form birth certificate, I also had a feeling that some liberals would hate the move. And many have registered their disgust across the Internet and elsewhere. 

These critics say that Obama's action is capitulation. That it humors racist people who don't deserve to be humored. That it has led to only more criticism, so why bother?

Yes, why bother? I agree. After yesterday, that is.

As I said yesterday, I thought the release was a shrewd and unexpected move. It specifically addressed the dominant question among birthers, namely, "Where is the long-form birth certificate?" I was pleased with the decision not because I thought Obama owed them the evidence (I didn't), but because he gave them what they claimed they wanted. As a result, the birthers continued to raise questions or, as my friend put it, moved the goalposts. And while I suspected they would should this ever come to pass, it's now plain to the entire world that they did.

Which is why from here on out, Obama should never address the issue again. Everything else after this — nitpicking over names, signatures, boxes checked, leading, kerning, watermarks, paper scrutiny — is conspiracy material. And for Obama to get into that would be ridiculous. He's done way more than he needed to do, gave a quick speech about how it's time to move on and moved on.  

Releasing the birth certificate wasn't capitulation; it was a show of confidence. And it shined a harsher light on the birthers' true motivations than had yet been beamed. It's often said that Obama plays chess. Well, checkmate.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Attention birthers!

Reading that President Obama released his long-form birth certificate was a hell of a way to start the day. I spent last night partying in New Orleans, so this was an intellectual hair of the dog for me.

My immediate reaction was unbridled joy. I watched Obama's brief statement, wherein he said it was time to focus on more pertinent issues. BAM. Case closed! 

Afterward, I tweeted, "What are the birthers gonna bitch about now?" It doesn't get much more direct than responding to your most vociferous and unhinged critics who are demanding your original long-form birth certificate with, "Here's the long-form birth certificate."

It barely took a nanosecond for me to answer my own question, and not much longer to read other excuses I hadn't thought about. Which is why I would like to address you birthers directly.

• Don't carry this any further. Ever since you decided Obama's citizenship was not convincing enough for you, you have been griping about how unsatisfied your are with the proof. It might have been a legitimate issue for a few minutes back in 2008, but the Obama campaign acted fast by producing a certified Hawaii birth certificate. But of course, it was a recent printout, the kind that Hawaii issues to everyone these days, so that wasn't enough for you. Show us the long-form certificate, you said. There must be some reason Obama is spending millions to repress it, etc. Yadda yadda yadda. Where's the long form? Where's the long form? Long form? Long form! LONG FORM!!

Well, now you've got it. And still you're not satisfied. You still have questions such as, why did it take so long to deliver?

It took so long because you're awful. Most of us were satisfied with this issue long ago. Many who bought into the notion early on have since changed their tune. That's left us with a shrill vocal minority, amplified by cartoon characters like Donald Trump.

(Quick aside — if you think Donald Trump believes any of this horseshit for a second, you deserve to vote for him. He's a businessman first and foremost, and all about building his brand. His reaction to today's news shows that it's all about HIM.)

To Obama, that shrill minority probably wasn't worth addressing. Frankly, I'm surprised that he did. But in doing so, not only has he gone the extra mile to provide what you wanted, but also proved that you are not acting on good faith. That was not in your best interest, to put it mildly.

Be honest with yourselves. Now that you have the long-form birth certificate you've craved for years, you'll no doubt be nitpicking every detail of it for a long time to come. You'll laser in on a handful of "discrepancies" that will become the new birther talking points, and will become the latest way to waste the president's time. I'm not sure what they'll be. I saw one objection already that the attending physician's signature isn't on it (it is, so I've saved you one). They'll probably involve the paper quality or something. Whatever it is, it'll no doubt seem desperate.

Nobody who questions Obama's legitimacy ever seems to like Obama. You never hear anyone say, "I support Obama and like that he's president, but questions over his birth rub me the wrong way." In fact, every birther I've ever heard seems to hate him with a passion. And you know what? That's fine. I, for one, despised George W. Bush immensely. When he refused to release his full military records in the wake of allegations that he'd gone AWOL, I joined the chorus of citizens calling for them. And I imagine that if he had, I and everyone else would have been satisfied with the result. I know I wouldn't have alleged that the documents were fake without probable cause. In that case, there was a legitimate question, not some personal vendetta.

Which is why I'm asking you birthers to be honest with yourselves. Rejection of the long form proves that you are less interested in the truth than in bringing down Obama. I have a feeling that if God itself came down from the sky with a projector and played footage of Obama's actual birth (complete with establishing shot of the hospital) and a firsthand account from Obama's mom, your first question would be, "Why did God wait until now?" Followed by, "What is God hiding?"

I don't know what's stronger with you birthers: your hatred for Obama, or your love for conspiracy. But they're both equally reprehensible. And I hope today is the day that you admit that you just wish the president was illegal so you didn't have to deal with him or the idea of him. And that nothing will ever convince you that your predetermined prejudice is anything but legit. At least be honest about it and spare us all the bullshit.

We're better than this. We're better than you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

This reads like a bad blog

The best way I can sum up the thesis of this article is to use an analogy: "Fans of President Obama are more likely to be younger, more liberal, more creative and more likely to live in cities. Or, as some might say, communists."

I think the Mac vs. PC debate, like most feuds over consumer choices, is frivolous. Both systems have their strong points and both have weak points, and it comes down to your personal preference. In my experience, Macs have been better for what I do. Every newspaper I've worked for from high school on up used Macs for story composition and layouts. I've owned two PCs, and both had power, virus and crash issues I haven't had with my current MacBook Pro. On the other hand, my MacBook's trackpad took less than two years to break. The PCs came with graphics programs that were far from professional, yet were miles above anything Mac gave you (which was nothing). And if I worked in programming, graphic design or math-related fields, I'd probably feel more inclined toward PC. Overall, for me, Mac wins the debate. But it's not a shutout. And I wouldn't suggest that my outcome is the correct outcome for everyone else.

In any case, this blog is not about the Mac-PC debate. It's about how the CNN report and poll arrive at what kind of people use Macs and PCs. And the conclusions couldn't be more reductive if Mac made Volvos and granola bars, and Microsoft made Hummers and sirloin steaks.

It's probably true that Macs enjoy a fervent following of educated 20-somethings. After all, more education means you're more likely to have a professional job and (at that age especially) geek out over what computer lines have to offer — whereas most people are good with any decent PC. Including most educated 20-somethings. To use another analogy, I'm sure the recent run of boxy cars (Scion xB, Nissan Cube, Kia Soul) appeals to the same age group, but that doesn't mean most young people drive them. All it means is that those products have a special niche within a demographic. There's nothing groundbreaking about that.

Market research aside, I don't see the point in correlating what people wear, eat and read to what kind of computer they use. Unless it's to reinforce stereotypes. This poll and article both seem tailored toward establishing PC tastes as normal while Mac users enjoy snooty things like San Pellegrino Limonata. (I'd really like to see the poll itself. I have a feeling that it was multiple choice and influenced by talk radio.)

Also, there's a dig at higher education, as if everyone with an advanced degree is a condescending know-it-all. And no one who lacks one ever is.

I bristle at this poll because of who I am, and because of who I'm not. True, I am a liberal, and was on the tail end of 20-something when I got my Mac. I have an advanced degree. I'm creative. I'm urban. I prefer fuel-efficient vehicles. I watch what I eat. But I know many PC partisans who are exactly the same way and, conversely, Mac users who think people like that are stooges of big government. As far as the self-satisfied hipster — the one the article incorrectly credits Justin Long as personifying — well, very few of my friends could be described that way. I'm as out of place among hipsters as I am at a Young Republicans rally. Also, I know hipsters who are young Republicans. See? People are complex.

I don't even know what San Pellegrino Limonata is.

Furthermore, while I can't speak for every Mac user, I bought my Mac because I liked its attributes, not because I wanted everyone to know I had one. In fact, I was so self-conscious about coming off that way that I almost reconsidered. But in the end, I realized that buying a PC for that reason would have been just as pretentious a move as buying a Mac for the status. Instead, I went with what I wanted. Just like people generally do, regardless of what pop culture dictates.

There are far better and more accurate ways of outlining our cultural divide than Mac vs. PC — CNN vs. Fox News, for one. Maybe not.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

An anecdote for Easter

I can't take credit for this one. I read a version of it in an issue of Reader's Digest that was old even when I was a kid.

On the last day before Easter break, a 1st-grade teacher asks her kids to write a theme on what they will be doing for the holiday weekend. The classroom gets quiet as the kids get busy writing. The teacher sits quietly at her desk catching up on grading papers.

It doesn't take long for little Johnny to shuffle up to the teacher's desk. He asks, "How do you spell 'gun'?"

The teacher is surprised by this question, but obliges. Her policy is to write on the chalkboard any new words the children want to learn. So she dutifully writes "G-U-N" on the board, leading to murmurs from the class. She quiets them down and goes back to her desk.

Not even a minute later, Johnny walks back up and asks, "How do you spell 'die'?"

Perturbed, the teacher nonetheless writes D-I-E on the blackboard. The whole class gasps. The teacher stares at the two words, and is increasingly disturbed. Finally, as Johnny is about to come up again, the teacher cracks.

"Johnny, look at these words! What on earth are you going to be doing?"

Johnny beamed as he replied, "I'm gun' dye Easter eggs!"

My time as a Nintendo designer

Take a look at this. On the surface, it appears to be an ordinary, well-worn notebook. But it’s so much more than that. It’s the most enduring reminder of an era of Ian. And not because it contains notes or homework or other pointless junk, because it doesn’t — indeed, there isn’t one page of this notebook that contains anything productive. No, this volume was all about something much better. Wasting time. And boy, was I efficient at it!

Almost all of the content in the notebook dates from 1989-90, when I was in 4th grade. That year, I attended Myrtle Place Elementary in Lafayette for gifted classes. Because the school was out of my home zone, no buses passed by my house. However, one did stop right in front of the bank where my mom worked. So for most of that school year, I’d ride with her to her office, catch the bus and return to the bank in the afternoon. This gave me considerable downtime in both the morning and afternoon, with very little in the way of diversions. But what I did have was a notebook that I originally allocated for French, but wound up not needing. The rest is history.

If you asked me to define my obsessions in 1989-90, Nintendo games and magazines about Nintendo games were right at the top of a very long list. So was making up things from thin air. And from those pursuits was born the Moonshine line of Nintendo games.

Moonshine. The Challengers. Collect 'em all!
I drew up a line of games for the entire family, especially if your family was entirely 9-year-old boys. Games pictured include: Cyborg, Palace of Math, Sideswipe, Dennis the Menace, Big, Garfield, The Master of Disaster, Superman (crossed out), Indy 500, Boxing, Brawl!, Livin' In On America, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, RXR: A Train Story, Sprint, Don't Sweat!, Helicopter Hunt, Archery, Mr. Spook, Dartan, Football, Soccer, Baseball, Lacrosse, Dartan 2, Hockey, License To Drive, The Castle of Terror, Star Trek, Karate, Rom, Ernest Goes To Camp, Smallfoot, Wrestling, The Castle of Terror 2: The Saboteur Quest, Skateboard! and something ending in "ng" that might also be a skateboarding game. A total of 37 titles. Truth in advertising.

Perhaps inspired by Dum-Dums lollipops, I also thought up the idea of a mystery cartridge, which would combine two random Moonshine games into a playable mishmash. Mr. Spookfoot, Killer Klowns from Ernest, RXR: Helicopter Hunt, things like that. No giveaways. No manual. Nothing but fun.

I even drew up detailed proposals for some of these games, going so far as to mail one for The Castle of Terror off to Nintendo of America. I never heard back from them, but I know my mom sent it off like she promised she would. And I know that because, while I never saw my concept come to fruition, video games with both castles and terror soon followed. Heh.

The Castle of Terror, incidentally, was the cornerstone franchise of the Moonshine lineup, to the extent that I dreamed up nine sequels. Some of them were even fleshed out.

Not just content to merely draw ads for my game line, I also fashioned a comprehensive strategy guide. I've included the best and most complete tips. So, career Nintendoids, sit up and take notice.

Make your scores go skyrocketing!
One set of strategies involves the game Boxing, the cover art of which I was particularly proud.

Next up is Dartan, an adventure game unlike any you have ever seen.

A blimp caravan in a cave? You're welcome, world.

And Dartan II: The Fireball Castle. Because the world always needs more Dartan.

The 5th and final tip (on a jump page) said, "Don't feel bad if Wizard ZZZ-RA kills you. He can be destroyed. Just ?!?!?! ..."

Smallfoot was also a made-up game, in that I made up some seemingly unrelated screens and called it a day. The bus must have come early that morning.

One of my favorite made-up games was the awesomely anarchic RXR: A Train Story. I still think this should be a game.

There was also a game whose name escapes me, but that I remember describing as "a space-warped rad dude" stuck in an ancient cave full of monsters. He has nothing but a skateboard and his wits. And presumably something to kill the monsters with. This is an illustration of the final boss thing striking our hero. Notice my gaping lack of awareness of 8-bit graphical limitations.

(Tiny Tim was a made-up system. There's nothing I didn't make up as a child.)
In addition to my original games, Moonshine also held licensed versions of famous TV shows, movies and characters. Among these titles (all of which had at least partial strategy guides in the notebook): License to Drive, Ernest Goes to Camp, Rom and Star Trek. I originally had Superman as well, but it turns out an NES cartridge already existed (shocking, I know); so I did the 1989 equivalent of photoshopping by scribbling it out of the advertising.

I based the Rom game on the Marvel comic book character. I had received an issue in my stocking for Christmas in 1986, and for several years it was the only comic book in the house to which I had a legit claim. So I liked it. This adaptation actually contains some elements of the character, his world and canon. A little bit, anyway.

As opposed to Star Trek, where I didn't even bother with Gene Roddenberry's universe:

The object of the game was to kill the sun. With ice bullets.

Taking a cue from Nintendo's earliest titles, Moonshine classified its games by genre. You've already seen the Adventure Series above. Now check out the Power Pad series!

Livin' In On America, despite its cringeworthy title, was another ambitious game. Basically, it was every event in the Olympics, with a few hybrid events thrown in, and each player would represent a different country. I saw the game as the spark for a worldwide Nintendo athletic competition, where the champions would have their likenesses preserved in 8-bit glory in future editions of the game.

Don't Sweat! was more run-of-the-mill by comparison, but by my lofty standards, that's not saying much.

You can tell I'd just learned the word "repetition."

When it came to educational games, I was of the Atari school of subtlety. Witness Palace of Math:

And last.

Who could forget the Nintendo Zapper? Not the challengers at Moonshine!

Light guns don't kill people. People kill helicopters.

And sports fans, rejoice! At last, sports games for the NES!

The very last page of the notebook features the baseball game Hit & Run!, which reflected my budding interest in baseball, which would soon sap my ambition to design video games altogether.

This was done during two different sittings, in case you can't tell.

And what strategy magazine would be complete without even more ads? Here's a Game Boy teaser:

And Dank Caverns, which fills the cavernous void left by having no games with "Dank" in the title:

In retrospect, the chalice could have been bigger.
So when you think of video games, think of The Challengers. Moonshine.

Next time in the notebook: The story of Mr. Macho Man!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Law Less

Over the past two years, I've written numerous blogs about how those on the right attempt to hide their true intentions to save face. Examples of this include the tea party notion of "taking our country back" (apparently from immigrants, Obama and government-enabling liberals); pushing for "neighborhood schools" (de facto segregation in many areas); "rewarding success" (tax kickbacks to the rich on the backs of everyone else); and passing laws demanding birth certificates of presidential candidates (well, you know).

That last example is indicative of the latest trend in Republican legislation: passing seemingly benign laws that reassure constituents without being effective or particularly constitutional. Well, once again, we have another sterling sideshow in this circus. It's not the first of its kind, but it's catching on.

The House in the state of Missouri, my alma mater, has voted to ban Sharia law. Phew! Well, no. Technically, it bans any foreign law from being the law of the land. Which is interesting, because the U.S. didn't exactly draw up its own legal code from scratch. To say nothing of Louisiana's reliance on Napoleonic Code, which should be interesting if the state legislature decides to draft a bill similar to Missouri's.

But of course, probably no one thought of the implications of such broad language when drafting the bill. Instead, the emphasis was on, "Let's make sure we don't work the terms Sharia or Islam into this law, because that would make us look like bigots." Yeah, wouldn't want that.

Such overreach in Missouri reminds me of the law Louisiana voters passed in 2004 that outlawed gay civil unions. Of course, in an attempt to make the legislation seem less anti-gay, lawmakers sought to outlaw ALL civil unions. I'll bet a lot of heterosexual common-law families who couldn't vote yes fast enough were absolutely rocked when they figured that one out. 

Like the civil union fiasco, a ban on sharia law is the worst kind of reactionary pre-emption. It's a way of dealing with a threat that isn't even a threat. We might as well pass a law that forbids the nuclear annihilation of America. That'll show 'em!

Even if you're certain that, any minute now, fundamentalist Muslim forces are ready to swoop into the United States, uproot our government, force every woman to wear a burqa and force every man to vote for Democrats, do you really think some symbolic legislation in Missouri is going to stop it?

Things would have to have gone pretty far south for Americans to give up that easily. As I recall, we fought pretty damn hard — at times, even with each other — to earn and preserve an independent United States. But to listen to these lawmakers, it's about to evaporate at any moment. Come on now. As long as you're harping on faith, guys, why not have some faith in the resilience of our legal system? And of our people?

It's not Sharia law I fear. It's fear law I fear.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Total Recall (1990)

For a few months in 1995, I had a friend named Chad. We were both 15 at the time. One day, while discussing childhood memories, he told me, "I don't remember anything from 1980 to 1990." In other words, everything he recalled and understood about the world had happened in the past five years.

Everyone has a point in their lives when they start remembering things. For me, that was probably two years old (though I have distinct memories from well before that). For most others, it's probably a bit later. But Chad was the first and only person I knew who claimed nothing before the age of 10. (The only other guy who came close was the college friend and co-worker born in 1983 who said he didn't know any song older than Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "Crossroads," from 1995.) My sister was 10 years old in 2000, and I can't fathom her not remembering all my baby-sitting, games and sage, wisened guidance.

For me, those years were among the best. Mostly due to innocence and default than anything else. As a teen, I met the father of a friend who told us, "Life gets harder as you get older, but it gets better." He had a giant house. 

I find he's correct in the sense that I like being an adult over still being a child. Most of the things that made me excited as a child don't now, and many of my family members (and even some friends) have died in the ensuing years. I look forward, not backward. Still, I don't always agree that life gets better. It's more cyclical, especially in these uncertain times. And that was true long before I ever had a concept of good and bad times; I'm just more aware of it now. These days, I can look back and recognize hardship in retrospect — the years my family of five shared one tiny Toyota Corolla, the differences between one side of town and the other, the considerable fluctuations in quality of school newspapers and football programs from one year to the next, to name a few examples. But I still remember what got me through the rough spots: happy memories. I'm glad I've been able to retain them for so long.

It also makes liking '80s music way easier.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lighten up

This morning's Daily Advertiser runs a letter that begins with aplomb:

Will the socialists who are trying to make the government to make all places smoke-free stop whining?

The rest is your typical rant about personal freedoms, market forces and how if you don't like it, go away.

Upon first encountering this letter, as often happens, I paused at the third word. Socialists. Now, I've long since grown accustomed to hearing the word "socialist" thrown around with all the discretion of beads at a Mardi Gras parade through the Playboy Mansion — it is, after all, a convenient catch-all term for anyone who wants to share anything more than a sunset. But even given that, it's an odd term to use here.

I suppose it's possible that the writer sees the proposing ban on smoking as an example of government overreach, so it's only natural that socialists want it. But that association is possible only in our current political and media climate, where raving pundits love to bark "socialism" at all things gubmint without ever taking one stab at the actual definition and tenets of socialism. Presumably because it's more fun to brand all advocates of a law/issue with the broad brush of a poorly defined but loaded political philosophy. The first sentence conveys a telling anger that threatens to overshadow the stated issue altogether, before he can even address it. It brings to mind one of my favorite Onion articles, "I Can't Stand It When Jews Talk During Movies."

I could debate that one hangup all day. Suffice to say, not everyone who supports a business smoking ban is a socialist. The same goes for virtually every other relevant issue in America. Nothing supported exclusively by socialists would have any kind of traction in the United States, because there aren't that many socialists here (at least in the real sense of what socialists support). There are far more conservatives, corporatists and fundamentalists to cancel them out in both society and in all levels of leadership. So breathe easy, friend.

Speaking of breathing...let's move on to the smoking issue itself. A smoking ban in most businesses, such as one currently being hotly debated in Lafayette, seems like it could be a cut-and-dry political issue, but it's not. I know liberals and conservatives who want it, and both who don't. It seems to be more of a smoker-nonsmoker divide than a political one (though libertarians I know hate it regardless of smoker status). For the record, I'm all for a smoking ban in all indoor, enclosed spaces in businesses that cater to the public.

Full disclosure: I'm not a smoker, never have been and hate being around it. I have many friends who smoke, but more who don't, probably because of natural migration. Thus I've been accused in the past of being self-interested in my stance (as if I'm the only one). I think my side of the issue has more merit. Here's why: smoking is an obtrusive and dangerous habit. Not smoking is not. If a smoker and a nonsmoker share the same air, it should be the smoker, not the nonsmoker, who should adjust. Those opposed to a smoking ban feel the opposite should be true. But it's never made sense to me to cast out the people who aren't invading others' airspace. Where is the sense in that?

But I get it. No one's going to listen to me on the issue. After all, I don't understand what it's like to be addicted to nicotine. Also, I'm a pompous socialist who hates freedom so much that I want smoke-free air and health care. Fine. Agree to disagree.

However, there's another angle on this issue that's harder to argue: workplace safety.

A smoking ban would be an absolute boon for employees and employers alike. Nonsmoking employees should never have to withstand secondhand smoke throughout a shift. Not only does it endanger health without their consent, but it also leads to higher costs for employers who provide health insurance (other costs include more sick days). To me and other proponents of a smoking ban, it's no different than any other workplace-safety mandate, such as machine guards, hard hats, etc. No job should kill you, nor should you be pressured into quitting a job for demanding a safe environment. Especially not in this economy.

For those of you who want to debate with me the effects of secondhand smoke: don't. I'm not swayed by tobacco-funded junk science. I'm also not moved by the broad definition of freedom many want to apply to things like the "freedom" to quit your job or stay home if smokers bother you. This isn't about those who choose to smoke; it's about those who don't. Nonsmokers who want to breathe clean air aren't hurting a captive audience, whereas smokers adversely affect others as well as themselves. And because we as Americans apply the right-infringing principle on every other front, there's no reason not to apply it with regards to smoking.

So, yes, smoking is a workplace safety issue. There are ways for both smokers and nonsmokers to coexist, and no one is calling for illegalizing cigarettes. But just like workplaces must meet local and federal codes of safety, they should also be smoke-free.

There's already a smoking section: outside.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Reasons to smile

• Colors are pretty.
• Nothing has killed you yet.
• The Constitution doesn’t protect the rights of cockroaches.
• You’ve never been tortured to within an inch of your life, and then died from it.
• It is not illegal to think in most jurisdictions.
• You live in one of the few times in history where you don’t spend every minute of your wretched existence covered in feces.
• Employers can’t kill you for just any reason.
• The Unabomber doesn’t have an e-mail address.
• Your fingerprints will never be confused with any terrorist’s.
• Talent is not a requisite for YouTube videos.
• Hitler is still dead.
• Daffy Duck.
• Pizza tastes great.
• If you’re reading this, chances are you’re not currently having your eyes gouged out.
• Someone might eventually invent hoverboards.
• Corn dogs can’t be made out of human fingers anymore.
• Laws prevent Glenn Beck from walking into your house uninvited and giving you a lecture on how liberals are out to get your lawn gnomes.
• They still make music.
• Skin oil doesn’t short out keyboards.
• That time you had to sit in a corner and do busywork because you chased a girl on the playground in 3rd grade doesn’t count against your credit rating.
• Steering wheels are no longer guaranteed to impale you in head-on collisions.
• States have different names, which makes travel easier.
• Soylent Green may be people, but you can’t find it at Target.
• In terms of real time, you spend very little of your life screaming in agony over pulled muscles.
• We’re not living in the year 2000 with hindsight.
• The Dollar Store hasn’t yet changed its name to The Dollars Store.
• “Jersey Shore” is not “Must-See TV.”
• “The Wonder Years” ended its run well before we got to see Kevin Arnold with a mullet in 1991.
• People tend to get what they deserve, whether it’s a karmic slap or a bonus smoothie.
• Your digestive system. Seriously, how cool is that thing?
• Speed limits over 55.
• Books can’t shoot you in the face.
• Speed limits under 85.
• Sewers.
• That this list is the first draft of a much longer project I hope to expand.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My interview with Ayn Rand

On the occasion of this weekend’s premiere of the new motion picture adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, Not Right About Anything sent its cub blogger Ian McGibboney to interview the author of the literary “classic,” the late Ayn Rand.

Ms. Rand, thank you for your time.

What are your premises?

You can read all about them on my blog.

Ah, yes, your blog. You know, I read it from time to time.

I didn’t know they had the Internet in hell.

Yes, though the wi-fi’s a bit iffy down in my circle. Ted Bundy has the same gripe. He can hardly stream Glenn Beck most days.

Let me guess...Windows Vista?

On Compaqs. The ones that didn’t pass factory inspection.

The horror.

Hell’s just like any other free-market utopia. Satan went with the lowest bidder. That’s all that matters.

You stink.

Well, I smoke. Do you?

No, I don’t.

You should. Smoking represents man’s dominance over fire.

Kind of like how cancer represented nature’s dominance over your lungs?

Cancer affirmed my philosophy by taking my lung with its parasitic ways. Cigarette?

No thanks.

I wasn’t asking. Take these with you. Light up when you get a break.

You know, you’re not the first woman to jam a pack of cigarettes in my hand and say that.

I’d hope not.

One summer, when I was 19, I worked directing traffic for a bank that had relocated its drive-thru. I stood on the sidewalk all day, and thus met some interesting characters. Among them was this chain-smoking lady who insisted I start smoking, and gave me a pack of Winstons.

She must have been quite the thinker.

I think she was a hooker. Or at least homeless.

Did you rape her?

No, I didn’t rape her!

She gave you smokes. You owed it to her.

I didn’t pay for the cigarettes either in money or in rape. In fact, I dumped them the first chance I got.

You pathetic moocher.

Getting back to you, you eventually died of heart failure.

The heart will always fail you.

Prior to 1982, were you aware that you had a heart?

Yes, but it was of no consequence to me, like my appendix. I actually tried to get my heart removed along with my lung, but they told me that would cost twice as much, and I wasn’t going to give more of my hard-earned dollars to some parasitic surgeon.

Don’t you mean, hard-earned Medicare dollars?

Keep your government hands off my Medicare!

You died one day after John Belushi. Did that piss you off?

Is John Belushi money?


Then, no.

So let’s get into the meat of this interview. What makes Ayn Rand stink?

That would be my distinguished literary career, which was but a vehicle for my philosophy, which I call Objectivism.

I want to ask you what Objectivism is, but I’m terrified you’ll answer.

It’s summed up in the famous climactic speech in Atlas Shrugged.

The one that’s 60 pages long?

That’s the one. It doesn’t get much more direct than that.

You also compiled a book titled, The Virtue of Selfishness. Would you say that this tome is the 1964 literary version of Cee-Lo Green’s “Fuck You”?

Cee-Lo stole my entire shtick. But you know, it’s just like his kind of people to do that. Have you heard this rapping, hip-pop “music”? All they do is cut up talented people’s songs and talk about shootings and killings and drinking crystals and bling-blong-ping-pong and whatnot. This is a tough call for me because, even though rapsters are the worst kind of parasites, they also make a lot of money. I’m glad I never had to deal with that kind of ambiguity. Or any kind, really.

Anthem is another one of your books. It was assigned reading at my high school.

It’s the least your government indoctrination center could do.

I have to say, it was interesting, but I didn’t get into it like so many of my classmates did. A lot of them fell in love with you and dove into Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, even though they weren’t on the syllabus. That was quite a feat, considering the ever-present temptation of America Online.

What a banal observation on your part. Of course they got into my work! What’s puzzling is that you did not. Clearly, you have issues that cause myself, just like all productive people, to look down upon you.

I don’t know about that, but some of my classmates appreciated the justification for their already selfish ways. Others got that way afterward.

If I made just one extra person selfish, then all of my efforts were worthwhile. And I made millions selfish. Give me credit where credit’s due.

You do swing a big dick when it comes to teenagers.

I’d like to reach them when they’re even younger, though. All kids go through the “Mine!” phase. Sadly, most parents see this pivotal aspect of development as an aberration, rather than as the template for how kids will need to act for the rest of their lives. “Mine” phase. Hah! Sharing should be the phase. If we nurtured this vital need for greed earlier, then teenagers wouldn’t have to discover my work later. But hey, as long as I get paid, whatever.

Your literary style tends to be didactic, with few paragraph breaks and virtually no humor.

Well, I spit up yellow bile only on the original manuscripts.

Not that kind of humor. Funny humor. You know, ha ha?

Don’t follow.

Forget it. You were famous for protesting requested cuts to your works. When faced with that recommendation for Atlas Shrugged, you replied, “Would you cut the Bible?” Now, considering you were an atheist, don’t you find that association to be ironic?

Ironic? Meaning flawless, like something that’s been ironed?

No. Like...hell, never mind. It’s no secret that you have no use for God or any spiritual realm. I’m what some would call a weak atheist, in that I don’t believe in any deity, but am open to the idea of one because I don’t know the truth and don’t think I ever will.

It’s not just your atheism that’s weak, it’s everything. I can’t believe your smarter classmates support you. What would happen to you today if they all went into hiding?

I haven’t seen most of them in 13 years. So, probably not a whole lot.

Your problem is, you have chosen to open yourself up to the idea that there is a God. And that there’s a government, and a society. Each of those alone would make you the worst kind of person, no different than the animalistic sons of bitches who stole plasma TVs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.


And by the way, I loved Hurricane Katrina, because the public-built levees failed and the federal response was grossly incompetent. Not to mention that it flushed out all those worthless leeches. For a while, it was every man for himself out there. Later, responsible private enterprise fixed up the city, at least the parts worth saving. Indeed, I can’t think of a better example of a Randian utopia than New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Moving on...Let’s talk about your upbringing. As a native Russian, you saw firsthand the hardships that government control of private enterprise can perpetuate.

Government bureaucrats seized my father’s prosperous business. I’ll never forget that. It traumatized me so much that, once I came to America, I became a staunch anti-Communist. I knew that such a flawed, extremist system was wrong for the individual, wrong for innovation, wrong for profit. It taught me that the only true option was the polar opposite — a brutal capitalistic utopia that values the profiteer and leaves the stupid and lazy to twist in the wind.

So one could say that your ultra-capitalist views are every bit as reactionary as those who credit their political awakening to 9/11.

The events of 9/11, if you can divorce yourself from the human cost of them —

I try not to.

— Also represent my teachings in a profound way. Here you have this group of ragtag movers and shakers who had a problem with a decadent government, and they did something about it! They formed a coalition outside of any recognized state, secured private funding and toppled the ultimate symbol of American excess, the World Trade Center.

That’s very Fountainhead.

Isn’t it? I mean, it’s true that the terrorists didn’t design the World Trade Center themselves. So I guess that part’s different. But once the planes took a suicidal dive to make their statement, was any amount of government response good enough? No, it wasn’t. How many of those New York firefighters, police officers and rescuers died in the aftermath? Typical government incompetence.

You, sick, heartless, stank bitch.

I’m richer than you.

You’re also dead. Speaking of which, how do you feel about being dead? You’re in hell now. So obviously there has to be at least the possibility of some afterlife.

No. You see, you’re not really interviewing me. You’re coming up with words based on what you think I would say if I were still alive. And because I’m so ridiculously one-dimensionally sociopathic, it isn’t hard for you to come up with a very accurate account of what I would say. So I live on, in your brain.

You’re like a virus. You can’t be killed.

Very apt! I admire viruses for their pluck and can-do spirit. You don’t see them relying on bacteria for sustenance.

My ability to channel you proves hell is real indeed. How do you feel about selling me on that belief? Oh, I forgot, you have no feelings.

Feelings are but a trifle to fill the hole left within you by lack of capital.

You don’t speak like most people, a fact reflected in every word of your dialogue.

This is how intelligent people speak.

Most intelligent people I know aren’t so pedantic.

That’s because they’re not intelligent. A relatively small number of people share my inflection because we are an elite corps. Great thinkers like us don’t expect the unwashed, groupthinking masses to understand us. All we want is to do our thing. You owe us nothing, and we owe you nothing. We only coddle people with our charity.

Which reminds hate charity or any kind of giving, but you offered me cigarettes earlier...

Yes. And?

Were you expecting me to rape you?

Only if you were a man.

I think of myself as more of a dude. A dude who doesn’t rape people.

That’s too bad. When you see opportunity, you have to seize it.

Well, rape is against the law, on top of being really, really wrong.

Spoken like a true slave to government and society.

Guilty as charged. So what do you think of the movie adaptation of Atlas Shrugged?

It’s low-budget, poorly paced and packed to the rafters with stilted dialogue and one-dimensional caricatures. So it’s very faithful to the book. I do, however, take exception to Taylor Schilling’s portrayal of Dagny Taggart. At one point, she smiles. That’s Hollywood for you, always dumbing it down.

The authoritative word. You heard it here.

And I said it. Not Ian. He’d have no blog today if it weren’t for me.

Is there money in hell?

Hell is all about money. Which makes it heaven to me.

Do you still write books?

Occasionally I’ll pen some porn.

Afterlife change you that much?

Everything I ever wrote was porn. Utopian porn. Lust for money, for selfish desires, for rape. Where all wealthy people are smart and all smart people are wealthy, and everyone else isn’t worth a moldy bowl of borscht. And the reader can place themselves in the industrialists’ shoes and pretend that they, too, are genuises to whom the world should bow. And that everyone’s refusal to do so is the reason the world is a corrupt, harsh place.

I can see how that would appeal to people. Kind of like Penthouse Forum.

The market has spoken.

Yes, yes, I’d say it has. Which reminds me, I must be off to the surface now. I have to go post this interview so that I can get it done with and look for paying work.

Wait a’re not even getting paid for this?

Only in personal satisfaction.

Personal satisf-wha? Out of my sight, you, you...what’s the word?



Friday, April 15, 2011

Now Playing in Arizona: The Born Identity

Now here's a real beauty of a bill courtesy of our friends in the Arizona Legislature. Yes, you know where this is going. As reported by the Arizona Republic:

The Arizona Legislature has become the first in the nation to pass a measure requiring presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship in order to get on the state's ballot.

House Bill 2177 got final approval Thursday night from the House. It will be transmitted to Gov. Jan Brewer, who will then have five days to sign it, veto it or do nothing and allow it to become law. [...]

HB 2177, sponsored by Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, would require presidential and vice presidential candidates to provide the Arizona secretary of state with documents proving they are natural-born citizens.

Those documents can be either a long-form birth certificate or two or more other permitted documents, including an early baptismal certificate, circumcision certificate, hospital birth record, postpartum medical record signed by the person who delivered the child or an early census record.

It's a stupid bill from a legal standpoint, because the Constitution already mandates that a president be a natural-born citizen. This is the legislative equivalent of, "Hey, you know that law? We like it."

(I wonder what that says about the constitutional laws they choose not to endorse.)

It's a stupid bill from a logistical standpoint, because when do candidates need to file with the secretary of state? Will everyone have to do it or just those "of interest"? Is there an appeal board if the secretary of state is a birther nutjob and decides to reject the document? Will grounds for rejection apply equally to all candidates? Will other states follow if Arizona decides to leave a candidate off the ballot? 

It's even a stupid bill from a birther standpoint, because of the secondary documents the state would accept as proof. The entire movement is based on the notion that the only birth certificate that matters is the long-form version that gets stuck in the books the day you're born. Isn't the whole beef with Obama's released certificate that, despite being approved and released by Hawaiian officials in the standard manner, it isn't original and thus acceptable? How does an early baptismal certificate rectify that? 

The hospital certificate is a telling inclusion, because that's not legal for much, if anything. But that's what Donald Trump released as his "birth certificate," so at least we know he's OK to run in Arizona. That's a relief.

And don't even get me started on the circumcision certificate. Who's to say a foreign-born candidate infant won't fly to Hawaii to get clipped? I say take it one step further and demand the actual penis ring. Let's get some commitment here.

Note too that the bill doesn't include short-form birth certificates. Which is weird just based on the fact that every state accepts them as records for driver's licenses, passports, etc. But it's also odd in that it leaves a gaping chasm in the document spectrum — a pit where you can almost hear the echo, "We're doing this specifically to spite Obama...bama...bama...bama..." You'd think the Arizona Legislature would be more coy about that. Or perhaps not.

Not that the opposition to the bill is much more tactful:

"Arizona is the first state to pass a birther bill. We look pretty much backward," [Democratic Rep. Ruben] Gallego said. "You might as well change Arizona to Alabama."

At this point, changing Arizona to Alabama would be an improvement. Alabama moved on a little bit.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Close Encounters of the Awkward Kind

Checkout line, big boxy store, 2:26 p.m.

White Suburban Mom: “I’d like to put these items on a second ticket.”

Black Checkout Woman: “OK.”

WSM: “Son, please stop canceling mommy’s transaction!”

Son: [Hammering keypad with attached pen] “Squee!”

Me: “Excuse me, you forgot an item in the basket, by your child’s feet.”

WSM: “Oh, thank you! Thank you! Uh...can you put this on a third...well, eh, put that on the second ticket, too.”

BCW: “Not a problem.”

WSM: “So where are you from?”

BCW: [Pause] “Not from here.”

WSM: “I know. I could tell from your heavy accent!”

BCW: “I’m from Africa, not from Louisiana. You all have the worst accents!”

WSM: [Laughs out of shock] “I have a bad accent?”

BCW: “Everybody has the worst accent here.”

WSM: “Tell us how you really feel!”

BCW: “You say I talk funny and you talk funny too. Everybody in Louisiana talks funny.”

Me: [Laughs out of awkwardness, but kind of agreeing]

WSM: “Well, won’t YOU have a blessed day! [Laughs harder, looks at me] “You know?” [Nods at me, leaves]

BCW: [To me] “Telling me I talk with an accent. Hah!”

Me: “I’m so sorry. So sorry.”

BCW: “She has an accent too. Come on!”

Me: “Everybody has an accent to somebody.”

BCW: “Exactly!”


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sequential bill theater

Last night, I broke a $100 bill at the grocery store self-checkout counter. And I got not one, but two sets of sequential bills:

I spent $3 this afternoon, so there might actually have been more of these.
These were practically stuck together.
I guess issuing bills this way has become commonplace in the age of ATMs and other automated money dispensers. But it's still cool to me when it happens, and it has twice before.

If only I could translate this kind of luck to other areas of my life, then we'd be cooking.

New Rules

Rule #171: Contrary to popular beef
President Obama is not President Kucinich with a unanimous Congress behind him. Much liberal criticism of Obama seems to suggest that he is. And it's tiring. There's enough to gripe about, I think, without throwing things Obama hasn't fixed yet and/or measures that politics have made complicated into the mix. To say nothing of promises that others projected upon Obama (drawing down in Afghanistan, for example).

Among the numerous terrible things that George W. Bush left us is the idea that the president has complete ideological autonomy. Remember how we hated that back then? Well, we don't have it and shouldn't want it now. And we certainly shouldn't give up on the president, just because we might not like every move that's happened under him. The responsibility doesn't just lie with Obama; it lies with us as well. If we believe in progressive change, we need to send more liberal Democrats to Congress in 2012, along with Obama back to the White House. That, more than contrarianism / spoiler talk / staying at home, is our best hope.

Yes, we're not getting 100 percent of what we want, but neither are we getting zero, which is what the tea party-led Republicans promise us. And that wouldn't be any different under a President Kucinich (in fact, it might be worse). So stop fretting that the grass would be greener and try watering what we've got, lest others turn it into a parking lot.

Rule #172: It's like this, chat
When you're wrapping up chatting with someone on Facebook, no matter how ungodly the hour, someone else will always sprout up. And this will happen a minimum of three times.

All the rules

No wonder I sleep so deep these days

Last night, I dreamed something that probably made me laugh out the time.

Newspapers don't generally do April Fool's Day, but I dreamt that I had gotten a job with one that did (retroactively, apparently). Their idea was to run the front page of the April 1, 2001 edition as the front page 10 years later. The idea was that it was subtle enough of a joke to fly right past most readers, even if they examined the date. We were howling with laughter in the dream, and I resolved that, when I woke up, I'd put this idea on my blog (it was one of those self-aware dreams). 

Then I woke up and realized that not only was it not that funny, but it would probably tell us more than we'd want to know about our readership. And, given that the 2001 paper would be too large to fit on today's smaller print pages, it would also remind us of the industry's decline. Not to mention our decline in general.

Oh well. Still better than most of my romantic dreams.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Snooki Situation

My recent epic Facebook politics thread wasn’t all flames and trolls; occasionally, my opponent and I settled down and quietly considered some of the more serious implications of today’s American labor force.

“Ian, what does it say about you that Snooki has a job and you don’t?”


I guess I had that one coming. After all, this is the USA, the land of opportunity, where every few years American citizens line up in descending order of intelligence, creativity and moxie and are given jobs while supplies last. And once the country runs out of available gigs, everyone left standing in line gets a copy of Atlas Shrugged. Not for free, because that would be welfare. Instead, they pay off the price of the book at 25 percent interest, and rent-to-own in less than a year!

It’s for the best that Snooki has a job, though, because by her own admission, she wouldn’t read Atlas Shrugged. Or pretty much any book, ever. Which leads me to the first of two answers to my non-friend’s burn of a question:

1) Snooki sucks. People are interested in her because she’s a trainwreck, which is the case with most celebrities these days.

Once upon a time, we looked up to celebrities. Now, we look down on them. I’m not sure exactly when the scales tipped, but it seemed to hinge maybe on Michael Jackson, and definitely on O.J. Simpson. Celebrities went from being our idols and sources of inspiration to people we want to tear down so that we feel better about ourselves. Jackson and Simpson were among the few to be both revered as the pinnacle of their respective fields and the ultimate low in personal behavior. Neither hindered that decline with their behavior (though I think MJ’s case is more circumstantial than Simpson’s), and both became the archetypes of fallen idols. Were they the first famously scandalous stars? Of course not. But a 24-hour media and Internet saturation ensured that their transgressions became the template for decades to come.

Jackson and Simpson also represented the last of their breed. During the height of their respective careers, we saw them as All-American good boys, earnestly marveling at all the talent and joy they shared with us. Who can we say that about these days? Look at any celebrity blog and you’ll find dirt on Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black, to say nothing of anyone old enough to own a car. We just assume our young celebrities are going to dive sooner or later, and we’re all too happy to push them past that breaking point. Why? Because Charlie Sheen is entertaining!

Reality TV streamlined that decline to the point where we don’t even bother with the “talent” phase anymore; we just cultivate the trainwrecks directly. Nobody watches “Real Housewives” or “Jersey Shore” because these people are inherently better than us; it’s precisely because they’re worse. These real-life cartoon characters are an assurance to regular Americans that even rich and (theoretically) beautiful people have the same angst, petty drama and antisocial skills as the rest of us, and that fame makes them even worse. It makes us feel better about our own lives, and so what if that makes our culture worse as a result?

I think this is only going to get worse as time goes by. One day, the Tom Cruises, Charlie Sheens and Lindsay Lohans will go. Even Paris Hilton will seem like a remnant of a bygone era when celebrities at least pretended to do something other than be famous for its own sake. All we’ll be left with is...Snooki. Who sucks.

2) I don’t suck. In high school, some of my more academically inclined friends used to bemoan football pep rallies and wonder why there wasn’t an academic pep rally. As both a gifted student and a football player myself, I thought the sentiment was nice, but still kind of dumb. An idea I later confirmed when our school actually did throw an academic pep rally. It was just...weird. That’s not to say that academic ceremonies can’t be awesome, but time, place and audience are important. And thought-provoking endeavors will never have the kickbutt, in-your-face party atmosphere brought on by sporting events and reality-TV watch parties.

Now, I’ll admit that I think of nearly everything in sports terms, especially my own life. I began seeing my life through that filter when I was 10 and first got heavily into sports. It’s a motivator for me. Will the Ian of 2011 go farther than the Ian of 2010? Or will he squander his potential like he did in 2005? Did the trade to Missouri benefit the team? Will Louisiana fans hail his return to the state? I even think of job hunts in draft terms. Will I be the first choice? A sleeper pick? Mr. Irrelevant? Will I go undrafted and have to prove myself harder? Finally, will I live up to the hype?

I do this within because I realize that it doesn’t happen out there. A Snooki will always be more popular than an Ian McGibboney, because she’s more appealing on a visceral level. Just like you don’t have to turn on your brain to enjoy a football game, you pretty much have to shut off your mind to watch (or, sweet Jesus, read) Snooki. And people like to turn their brains off. If you gave most people the option of Snooki’s book or this single blog to read on the beach this Saturday afternoon, which do you think would emerge the victor? I’m not delusional. This is a blog that deals with ideas and runs too long for what people think a blog should be. But 304 shallow pages of Snooki always fits the bill.

So yes, it is sad that Snooki has a job and a book and I don’t. But it’s not sad for me — it’s sad for what it says about America.