Monday, July 30, 2012

# Rejected Olympic Events

(As seen by hundreds of annoyed people on Twitter)

100-meter rash
Synchronized steroids
Mounting the pommel whore
Perpendicular bars
Polo Ralph Lauren
Menstrual cycling
Table taekwondo
Disc volleyball
Salad dressage
Mitt Rugby
Oakland Athletics
Octomom decathlon
Coal vault
Long dump
Rowing vs. Wade
200-meter tax cut
Water torture
Anarchy in the UK
High driving
Toe jam football
Postmodern pentathlon
Creative scoring
Synchronized sinning
Turning Japanese
Arithmetic gymnastics
Political handstanding
Golden Girls' Gymnastics

Not for the bleeding of heart

What you’re about to see is a real thing.

A hard-workin’ man ridin’ a tractor while wearing an XL “USA” T-shirt and a Jeff Gordon cap, suddenly sees his American flag and stops working.

Patriotism sparked, he’s immediately inspired to write a song, the first line of which is, “The Democrat secular progressive move / political correctness is killin’ us too.”

The chorus then taps into the pulse of the Republican Party with its rousing chorus: “We can’t vote for a Democrat, whoa no, oh no no no, no, no no no, no no no no, no, whoa no, oh no no no, no, no no no, no no no no, no.”

After scrawling his lyrics/complete stance on every issue on paper, Glenn Acres then records the song to CD (apparently) and passes it on. Its cover reads, You can go there and order the song on CD. That is exclusively how they sell the song online. Allow 1-3 weeks for delivery. Or don’t because, if this video is any indicator, eventually you’ll just have someone hand it to you.

Some guy jams to the music while welding. A very unfortunate graduate gets a copy as a gift. June Coulter dances while doing dishes while the welder’s stereo plays in her kitchen. Some college kid with a giant poker belt buckle has it as the only song on his iPod, which means he converted it himself to mp3. Cut to shots of flags and Marine stuff. Some guys share the CD while playing tennis. A woman tending to her horse sees it leaning against a stereo and makes a face as if to say, “Again with this shit?” The whole time, the musician plays on his roof, which he probably built himself with no adherence to communist building codes.

Finally, the farmer writes atop the notebook page, “Please Don’t Vote for a Democrat,” lest he forgets. He then steps back on his tractor, which apparently was running the whole time even though he clearly killed it at the beginning, and rides off into the red state.

Mike Meehan “would like to thank Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, Glen Beck [sic] at Fox News and Rush Limbaugh talk radio host for their inspiration to do more than just listen and watch while we are being attacked in more ways than one.” Oh, and he erected billboards with the song’s title and pictures of the smoking Twin Towers for which he later had to apologize.

This song is from 2008, as if that matters. It’s timeless.

There's a new "Double Down" sandwich in town

On Friday I wrote a post about why the Chick-Fil-A boycott matters (this coming from a past fan who typically shuns boycotts based on personal politics). Since then, I've steeped myself in many of the ongoing debates about this. And these are five of the six views I see most often:

• Chick-Fil-A deserves no business until it recants its condoning of discrimination.

• God bless the Chick-Fil-A family for their convictions.

• I never ate their sour-grapes sandwiches anyway, so whatever.

• Drag queens and other in-your-face gadflies should totally occupy the place.

• I'll eat wherever I want, regardless of personal politics.

As I wrote last week, my personal choice is to not eat there — but as strong as I feel about that, I'm not going to pressure or guilt anyone else into my decision. That's not how convictions are supposed to work. I believe in letting people make up their own minds based on what they see before them.

But then there's that sixth common view that I absolutely cannot abide or respect. And this picture sums it up:

That's Sarah and Todd Palin proudly posing with their easily acquired chicken sandwiches in Texas. Why is this worthy of a photo-op? Because this picture was taken on Friday, after Palin told a cheering crowd she planned to stop by Chick-Fil-A. She said this, as many Republican politicians recently have, specifically because of Dan Cathy's anti-gay remarks. So the sixth view is, I will proudly eat at Chick-Fil-A even more now because of its discrimination

That, even more than Cathy's comments, will disincline me to eat there in the future. Or vote for any of these people or their surrogates.

As Dick Cheney might say, that's a major-league mistake.

A fleeting thought about guns

It's often said that "If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns."

Fair enough. But where does the previously law-abiding citizen factor into this? Most, if not all, of the recent American shootings and bombings happened at the hands of people with spotless, and even exemplary, records.

I wonder.

Lessons in PR

Every so often, I get e-mail queries from people asking if they can contribute a post to my blog. These are inevitably form letters (and often slightly reworked ones at that), but sometimes almost don't seem like it. Some writers even follow up.

Anyone who actually reads this blog understands how I feel about contributions. But just in case I haven't made it clear before: This is my blog, reflecting my thoughts and creativity. I don't address dry, academic topics like web-based graduate programs or the value of MBAs for entrepreneurs. This site took no discipline or credentials to set up. It doesn't have a huge readership. So there's no reason for anyone to find value in imposing their words, here, through me.

That being said, it's still best to at least put some effort into your form letter instead of sending this:

I came across your blog post while conducting research ...

Hey, I get that my blog posts are absolutely inspirational. Still, pick one. It can be the latest entry if you're pressed. Telling me, "I loved your blog post 'May 2011 archive'" makes me think either 1) you don't speak a known language or 2) you don't care. I hope it's the first, because that's slightly more defensible than the second. If you don't care, why should I?

I'll bet — hell, I hope — that in the near future I get another one of these solicitations that cites this particular post as its catalyst. "I came across your blog 'Lessons in PR' while conducting research for a resource on web-based cockroach management and extermination. I'd like to submit an article to your blog about the importance of cockroach webs that I think will be of interest to your readers."

Web-based graduate programs 
Web-based graduate programs
Web-based graduate programs
Web-based graduate programs
Web-based graduate programs

The value of MBAs for entrepreneurs
The value of MBAs for entrepreneurs 
The value of MBAs for entrepreneurs 
The value of MBAs for entrepreneurs 
The value of MBAs for entrepreneurs  

Cockroaches cockroaches cockroaches
Cockroaches cockroaches cockroaches 
Cockroaches cockroaches cockroaches 

Fire away.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Why a Chick-Fil-A boycott matters

Man, I really wish Dan Cathy hadn't explicitly come out against gay marriage the way he did. I love Chick-Fil-A; their spicy chicken deluxe sandwich is one of the best any restaurant makes. Their lemonade actually originates from real, freshly squeezed lemons. Those chocolate-chunk cookies, mmmm. Their service is great, too. And that's why I've largely ignored their righteous ways up until now. As a southern liberal American, I pretty much have to expect that anything I buy is going to have some connection to a cause I don't care for. It works the other way around as well.

But this time is different. Contrary to what many apologists are saying, criticism of Cathy's remarks is not a free-speech issue — it's about not accepting bigotry. Gay rights are civil rights, and opposing them is no different than a business saying it disapproves of blacks. I don't care how soft or indirect it is, how many Bible passages you quote or how positive a spin you put on it — hate is hate. And it's inexcusable in a way that pro-gay ads from Oreo and JCPenney aren't. Cathy says he's "guilty," and that's about the best way to put it.

Chick-Fil-A also messed up badly by claiming their recall of Muppet toys was a safety issue rather than the Muppet masters severing ties over the issue. The restaurant posts a life-size cardboard cutout explaining why they are closed on Sunday — why not own up to this "Christian" principle as well? That's not just discrimination — that's cruddy PR.

Intolerance is the one thing none of us have to tolerate. Until the Chick-Fil-A family realizes that, let's all eat mor somewhere else.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2 Guns, 1 Walk

On Monday and Tuesday, I became immortalized in cinematic history (that is, provided they don't cut it out of the film):

The movie "2 Guns" is being shot (sorry) in Amite, Louisiana. It stars lots of A-list actors. And I walk down the street in it. And cross in front of Denzel Washington.

Originally, I got on as a background driver. The crew put prop plates on my car and even a prop inspection sticker. 

Even my car was in character.
OK, so the plates didn't match. Put that on IMDB Goofs, why don't you?
Dude, it's like, the future and stuff!
They wound up not using my car at all, though I sat in it with a walkie-talkie for several hours watching Mark Wahlberg act and stand around staring in my general direction.

Later I heard a local say about Mark, "He's as tall as that guy," referring to me, meaning he isn't tall. The next day, I got mistaken by a few people for his stand-in, which led to a mini-swarm of pictures I'm sure got deleted quickly thereafter.

Pretty much the entire town of Amite amassed around the set, taking pictures like paparazzi and doing other starstruck things I'd imagine I'd also do if I lived there. "This is the most exciting thing that has ever happened here," one resident told me.

A fellow extra, whose dad is a former NFL player, told me that most of the storefronts we could see were built specifically for the film, and look much nicer than the half-vacated facades that were there before. He also told me the diner that plays a pivotal role in one scene (and later erupts in flames) is built around a real house. It's right next to a railroad track, and the passing trains were worked into many scenes. I'd be so stressed about the timing, but they pulled it off. That's saying something, too, because one camera flash from a bystander would have ruined the entire shot.

Every fake traffic sign, storefront, picture car and prop could pass for real. Such is the benefit of a high budget and attention to detail.

Though I never drove in the scene (as I did for two scenes in Beautiful Creatures, both in my car and in the main character's vehicle), I did land a role as a pedestrian. The crew shuffled me around, at first walking with two guys, then with a "girlfriend" (a stunning redhead dancer) and then finally solo, in the pattern illustrated above. I didn't notice until the second take that Denzel walks out of the bank door right next to me. We were so close that I had to divert my path a little. As my mind scrambled to process this surprise, I heard him say, "No, no." At first I thought he was talking to me, but it was his dialogue as he talked on his phone on his way to meet Mark. Ever the consummate professional, I waited until I walked out of shot before making a face that read, "DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?"

For the rest of that day and the next day, we filmed that same walk over and over. I started in the middle of the crosswalk, so I stood there a lot. They'd close the (busy) street to traffic just before the take, which meant the production assistant in charge of me reminded me repeatedly not to get run over. It became a running joke, but one more helpful than she probably realized.

I quickly amassed an adoring crowd for some reason. Not just the usual bevy of gorgeous women (yep) but children and guys too. I freely mingled with them between takes, telling stories, hearing theirs, mugging for their cameras. It's fun pretending to be important. I think entertaining a crowd may be my favorite feeling in the world.

"Ready for your close-up, Ted Bundy?"
And no, I didn't get to meet Denzel or Mark. They had a lot going on, like peeling out of burning diners in a vintage Dodge Challenger. And crossing my path. That didn't stop people from trying, though, or from making enough references to Marky Mark and "Good Vibrations" to turn us all crazy like Mark Wahlberg in "Fear."

Watch this movie when it comes out in 2013. It looks AWESOME.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

So that's what she meant by "U.S. Americans"


I was born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana. For 26 years, I attended Lafayette schools, went to Lafayette activities and festivals, patronized Lafayette businesses, made Lafayette friends, dated Lafayette girls, played sports for Lafayette teams, worked for Lafayette employers and paid Lafayette taxes. Despite this, many people have told me I'm not really of Lafayette.

I know what they mean. I may have Cajun blood, but I don't have the name. Or the accent. Or the hobbies. Or a taste for seafood. Definitely not the politics. No one's ever going to hold me up as the quintessential south Louisianan. Under the narrow cultural definition of such, I just don't fit. 

But narrow cultural definitions are dangerous. Those who subscribe to them tend to declare themselves the norm and others as dangerous outsiders. And what does that lead to? "LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT!" "TIME TO TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK!" "I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL YOU MOVE FAR, FAR AWAY FROM HERE."*

When Rush Limbaugh says Barack Obama cannot relate to the American experience, what he's saying is that the American experience is a static thing, and is something Rush is qualified to judge.

So just what is The American Experience? There are many, many answers. No, strike that — there's exactly one: "Whatever someone experiences in America." 

Rush Limbaugh making millions upon millions with his media empire? That's his American experience.

Barack Obama's humble origins and rise to the American presidency? That's his American experience. 

Struggling to get a financial foothold despite education and experience? That's a much-shared American experience.

A drug-addicted homeless woman who lives under a highway overpass and pimps her body for a fix? That's an American experience too.

I could go on all day. Hell, for the rest of eternity. Because the American experience is an infinite concept experienced not just by all Americans and all American visitors every second of every day, but also comprises the entire history of everyone who was ever here before. To reduce that to the rich, white, male, Republican happy ending is a grave omission at best. At worst, it's the latest addition to the orchestra of dog whistles meant to appeal to a segment of Americans who think they're more worthy of the tag than their neighbors.

America is far too diverse to accept that. At least, that's my experience.

* - Someone once actually told me this in Lafayette. And he wasn't even from there.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

My latest single: R-Money

This fake photo would be the real cover.
(To the tune of "Hold Me" by Fleetwood Mac)

You don’t understand me
Romney, don’t you hand me that line
You don’t think we matter
You’ve flipped and flopped plenty of times

There’s no money in the future
Oh baby are your chances remote
Out of step, you have no chance to
Wrap your hand around my vote

R-Money, R-Money, R-Money
R-Money, R-Money, R-Money

You’d do so much damage
How would we manage with you?
You’re the one-percenter
And we’re the fools paying the dues

We’re sitting on the corner
If you’ve got a free dime to spare
We’ll be waiting for you
If you ever decide to care

R-Money, R-Money, R-Money
R-Money, R-Money, R-Money

R-Money, R-Money, R-Money
R-Money, R-Money, R-Money

Talking guns with somebody

Somebody: “Damn shame what happened in Colorado, huh?”

Me: “Yeah. Who knows what was going through that guy’s mind?”

“Who cares?”

“I do. I’m sure a lot of people do.”

“The guy is deranged scum. No excuses. End of story.”

“I find it fascinating that the guy was a doctoral student in neuroscience.”

“If you ask me, they shouldn’t even publish the guy’s name and picture. Why give that sicko the fame he deserves?”

“It’s not about giving him fame. It’s journalism. It’s useful to know the facts.”

“The press should focus on the victims.”

“Victim coverage is all over the place, as it should be. Those stories can coexist with stories about the shooter.”

“What value can come from glorifying the shooter?”

“You mean reporting on him? Well, that’s what newspeople do. It informs us about who the suspect is, how he did it and perhaps provides some insight as to why.”

“That just leads to copycat crimes by people wanting to be famous.”

“Look, if people are willing to be famous for that reason, they have much bigger problems.”

“And don’t they ever. Just look at this generation! Shootings left and right. You didn’t see this 30 years ago. We were tougher.”

“Well, not as often anyway. Violence is as old as time itself, though the rash of random public shootings is indeed a recent trend.”

“I can tell you why. Look at these movies and video games out now! To say nothing of the secular humanists corrupting our kids through their textbooks.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of how much easier it is now to obtain assault weapons, combined with the increasingly bleak prospects a lot of Americans feel like they face. Many people can’t handle it, and a small fraction of those have exactly the wrong tools to lash out.”

“Baloney. Those are just excuses.”

“And blaming it on video games isn’t?”

“Today’s video games are realistic and violent shoot-em-ups.”

“Yes, gun violence is a terrible thing.”

“That’s not what I mean. Guns are a God-given right! Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

“With guns.”

“Guns are harmless objects in and of themselves. They won’t hurt a fly without a human’s touch.”

“I have the same thought about drugs.”

“Not the same thing. Drugs have no positive use to society.”

“Actually, many do. What good are guns for besides killing?”

“Lots of things!”

“Like what?”

“Well ... you can shoot targets.”

“And pistol-whip people too.”

“Yeah! Good one! But mainly, just having one gives me peace of mind that I can protect my family.”

“So it’s like a placebo. A potentially deadly placebo.”

“There are so many bad people with guns. It makes sense for good people like me to carry one too.”

“So you consider yourself good?”

“Yes indeed. I’m a law-abiding citizen.”

“Not at all prone to split-second lapses of judgment and anger.”

“I practice. And I’m always ready at a moment’s notice.”

“So you want to be a hero. Quite a burden.”

“Hey, if some pistol-packing nut tries that Joker shit with me, you better believe I’ll be prepared! I’m not like those sheep in the theater who just sat back and did nothing. I will kick ass and take names!”

“I would commend you on your eyesight, instinct and ability to withstand tear gas. But would shooting back really be the best thing to do? Wouldn’t you stand the chance of hitting innocent people?”

“If the guy knew everyone was packing, he wouldn’t have tried it in the first place.”

“That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking specifically if you had a gun and somehow drew it within the required reaction time, you’d shoot it in a dark theater filled with tear gas without hesitation?”

“Damn straight.”

“How is that any better?”

“Because I’m killing the bad guy. He might kill again. I won’t.”

“Somehow I don’t believe that. And neither would any bystanders you hit.”

“Didn’t you hear about that old man in the coffee shop who thwarted a robbery?”

“Didn’t you hear about George Zimmerman?”

“Look, you can’t rely on the police to save you. They can’t always be there when you need them. And they shouldn’t need to be, because a true citizen can take care of themselves!”

“Police officers don’t like vigilantes. The kind of people who carry guns into peaceful places are generally the ones itching to use them. Adding bullets to a situation always makes it more unsafe. Professionals know this, which is why police shootouts are mostly the stuff of movies.”

“So many movies. Like Batman.”

“Batman hates guns.”

“Batman is a bad American.”

“If that’s how you define it.”

“An armed society is a polite society.”

“Most polite societies live in fear.”

“Fear is all around us. Some of us choose to do something about it.”

“I do too. I put faith and stock in the durability of our free society. It’s been at least 200 years since the only thing keeping it from collapse was a line of muskets.”

“Back then, there wasn’t a big prison system. They gave criminals the swift justice they deserved! As far as I’m concerned, James Holmes is a barbarian. Take him behind the barn and shoot him in the head. Bam. The end. It’s quick, cheap and satisfying.”

“So you believe that the press should report only one side of the story; that entertainment and education lead to violence; and that vigilante justice overrides the criminal justice system.”


“What’s American about any of that?”

“The Second Amendment, son!”


Friday, July 20, 2012

A Dark Blight Rises (Again)

We have a serious sickness in this country.

I’m not quite sure what it is. Is it a fetish for guns? An overwhelming hatred of the authorities? A complete lack of empathy for others? A need for instant fame or notoriety, no matter what the means? All the above? None of the above?

What kind of human being strides into a movie premiere, sets off tear gas and murders people? After booby-trapping his apartment with explosives? WHAT THE HELL COMPELS SOMEONE TO DO THAT?

“Oh, he’s clearly sick.” Well, if he is, why is he out on the streets? No one gets to this point without a lot of missed intervention. Maybe he alienated his friends and family. Maybe he couldn’t afford the help he needs. All of the above? None of the above?

Or maybe he isn’t just sick. Maybe he’s as cold and calculating as the Unabomber, or the Columbine shooters. That might be worse. In that case, I wonder how the United States of America can keep stamping out so many defectives.

I’m tired of us treating these like isolated incidents. Have you noticed that? The first thing we always assume in times like this is that the shooter has connections to terrorism. And when we think that’s the case, we’ll apply every enforcement muscle we have to topple this conspiracy of death! After all, America is the land of the free — and we aren’t about to let sociopaths destroy our domestically peaceful way of life. And if it takes trading in a few of our civil liberties to preserve it, well, can’t be too careful.

Of course, when it turns out the gunman is some lone local nut job, we ease off, don’t we? Easy now. Let’s not get all crazy about gun control. The Second Amendment is a sacred right, dontcha know. Not at all subject to interpretation. If anything, incidents like this prove we only need MORE GUNS!

Whatever your feelings about the Second Amendment, I can’t imagine anybody thinks that it’s meant to enable madmen to shoot up innocent people. And whatever your feelings on health care reform, I can’t imagine anyone thinks that our long-decimated mental care system is worth the cost savings.

“Oh Ian, how dare you politicize this tragedy?” Bite me. You can’t even begin to address this problem without going there. It’s not lost on me that most of the people who want to avoid discussing this are those whose lust for unfettered access to firearms and disinterest in public health care are made to look bad. I’m not looking for a political fight, but I’m also not someone to say, “So senseless and tragic. Let’s pray for the victims.” Look, pray if that makes you feel better. But prayer is not going to bring anyone back, and it’s not going to prevent future tragedies if we don’t examine the root causes here on Earth. We have problems and we’re the ones who are going to have to solve them. And solving them will involve, at the very least, an honest examination into whether we’re as civilized and superlative as we think we are. It looks to me like we still have quite a way to go.

To paraphrase what I said after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, it’s never too soon to talk about this — it’s too often too late.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A little rich for my taste

Ann Romney’s comment today about husband Mitt’s tax returns is very telling.

Depending on the source, she said, “We’ve given all you/our people need to know and understand about our financial situation and how we live our life.”

After watching the video, I think her lips (at 0:13) lean toward “you” in what may or may not be a Rick Santorum-style pause of denial plausibility. But ultimately, the actual word (or breath) doesn’t matter, because in all cases the sentiment is the same: the public doesn’t need to meddle in the financial affairs of these deep-pocketed and famous would-be leaders.

The Romneys have drawn public contempt in recent months for a very good reason: because they are rich. Not because they are wealthy — but rich. There is a difference.

Being wealthy means having a lot of money. It is a trait.

Being rich means affecting the detachment that goes with having lots of money. It is an attitude.

People with a “rich” attitude feel that the rules of the social contract apply only to a certain financial point. And once they cross that point, they answer to no one, nor do they owe any credit to the various machinations that helped them get there. Some are born into the bubble, and can’t comprehend that there even is a bubble. Others are aware and clueless, and still others are aware and actively look down at the outside world.

The cornerstone of the “rich” attitude is a mythical man-as-island belief, accompanied by a lack of empathy and understanding.

Not all wealthy people act rich — many are completely wonderful, sympathetic and benevolent human beings. (This is why, to answer a common conservative cry, it’s not hypocritical for liberals to respect affluent activists.) On the flip side, plenty of people with few assets are every bit as condescending and exclusionary as the Romneys. (They can usually be found voting against their real-life situations at every turn.)

The Romneys are both wealthy and rich. They have a lot of money, and don’t particularly care what the public thinks or wants. That lack of concern might not be a liability in the sealed-off corporate boardroom — but in running for a job where the public is the boss, it’s fatal.

In the end, Ann is right — we do have all we need to know and understand the Romneys’ financial situation and how they live their lives. It shows they have no business trying to run ours.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sins of the Paternos

It’s looking pretty bad for Penn State. The Freeh report indicates a massive web of coverup of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children by head coach Joe Paterno and other high-ranking officials. Every one of the (living) people implicated deserves a lifetime ban not just from football, but from anything involving youth and mentorship. And, prison sentences as appropriate.

That said, I think the calls for the dismantling of the football program are a bit extreme.

“There you go again Ian, letting your love for sports cloud your judgment of justice. Think of the children!”

Look, institutions can’t commit crimes, just like corporations aren’t people and getaway cars don’t serve jail time. It’s the people inside them that do wrong. Punishing them is the right way to go. Killing the utilities and shuttering the doors is just revenge theater. Only one of these options brings any modicum of true closure.

College sports are an opportunity for many players to get an education that otherwise might not be easily accessible to them. The games are a rallying point for alumni, fans and donors. In the case of Penn State, it’s a chance for a long-beloved program to redeem itself by cleaning house and starting over. Nobody can undo what happened, but we can take steps to ensure that it never happens again.

No one can or should defend the unspeakable crimes that Sandusky committed while administrators turned blind eyes. But neither should we turn a blind eye to the positive aspects the program brings when in non-abusive hands.

The collective punishment over the Sandusky affair is considerable. Make the guilty parties wallow in it for as long as they live. But don’t force the sins of the past onto the innocents of the future. They have enough to worry about.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More Facebook fun

This oldie-but-goodie comes to you courtesy of the Facebook group "I pledge allegiance to my country, not my President," a fount of astonishingly ironic out-of-context quotes and birther nonsense:

Tempting as it may be to tackle, I'm going to overlook the implication that the U.S. military is God's deputy squad. Forget too the low-hanging digs at professors, atheists and the ACLU. What bugs me the most isn't even political...

This claims that it's OK to attack, knock out and potentially split the skull of another human being just because you're offended by his ideas. Because God Bless America and the troops!

See, this is why I blog. It cuts the chance of head injury nearly in half.

I leave you with another post from the same group, offered without further comment:

Book Cover Review: The 4% Solution

Any book that starts off with, "Foreword by George W. Bush," is promising from the start. Just as every profound intellectual journey must avoid peaking too soon, so too does every riveting football season need a preseason to get its act together.

The 4% Solution comprises proposals to unleash the economic growth America needs. It's awfully benevolent of the George W. Bush Institute to offer these solutions, considering the stunted American economy was their bad to begin with.

And yes, apparently there is a George W. Bush Institute. Its symbol is an American flag shaped like an open book. I'll bet they had to explain that shape to The Decider.

There are more George W. Bush jokes about giving 4% (and about solutions) than I think are polite to put here.

Brendan Miniter edited this book, which probably consumed his life force because, hey, foreword by George W. Bush.

The cover looks like a cereal box. One of the healthy fiber cereals whose commercials feature jogging women, not Boo Berry as the motif should be.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"They're exactly alike," said the sheep

I've said it before and I'll say it again.

Complaining that both major presidential candidates are exactly alike is not an admirable stance. It's not smart or informed, and it's certainly not true.

I imagine what most people mean when they say this is that both Obama and Romney are too moneyed and/or mainstream for their tastes. OK, that's fair. But if that's the case, say that.

Anyone who insists there isn't a dime's worth of difference between the candidates is wildly overstating that point. Of course candidates are watered down — they're attempting to draw the support of a majority of Americans. That's the nature of mass appeal. I'm pretty sure both Obama and Romney, if left to their own devices, would be much ideologically purer men. And even then you'd probably find issue with them, because you still wouldn't agree with them 100 percent (because this is a direct democracy and no one who isn't weak ever compromises).

The no-difference argument is ultimately a way of patting yourself on the back for being superior, while aggressively avoiding any heavy lifting. In other words, it's a copout. It would be smarter to say, "While I wish we had candidates less driven by money and politics, our choice in November is between Obama and Romney. And I'd definitely rather see one in office than the other, if for no other reason than to pave the way."

The awesomest mutation of this strain is people who declare that they won't vote at all. Talk about a shock to the system! "Polling data shows Jack Schitt of Peetopia didn't show up today. This is serious, Mr. President. Have your revolution speech ready."

Not voting is a petulant act of protest. It's like going on a hunger strike because all you have to eat is a frozen chicken cutlet, and you want foie gras. Eat the cutlet so you can fight for the foie gras another day.

Not voting has as much effect as physically talking to your computer — if you're not speaking the language of 1s and 0s, you're not being heard. Everything else you have to say is hot air if you don't register your voice where it really counts.

Throwing your hands up isn't what makes you a good citizen — that requires reason, intelligence, compromise and participation. Otherwise, you're just some heckler in the corner, likely to have the featured act turn the crowd against you.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Advancement of one color of people, for sure

Yesterday, after Mitt Romney's speech to the NAACP ruffled some feathers, perhaps deliberately, he told a Montana fundraiser that if black people want welfare, they should vote for the black boy. OK, it was the dog-whistle version of that, but the difference is negligible at this point. 

Is saying that fair to Romney? Perhaps I'm misreading yesterday's chain of events, and it's simply a case of a principled man refusing to pander to a potentially hostile crowd. Well, if that's the case (and yes, I already know it isn't), then the official Romney campaign website has a really unfortunate banner picture on its home page:

I've scanned this photo four times and I don't see a single, clearly non-white person in it (one woman above Mitt's hand might be black, but I'm not sure because she's blurry, and it doesn't change my point either way). How does that happen? I lived in a city that has a 94 percent white population, and I still saw African-Americans and Asians all the time. I can't recall ever being in an all-white crowd, anywhere I've ever been. You almost have to deliberately construct that. But OK. Maybe that's in fact possible and beyond the campaign's control.

But this is an official photo on the front of the official campaign website. Normally, the GOP would have at least a few prominently positioned minorities in attendance, and within sight of the camera lens. Such pandering is pathetic, but represents at least some slight effort to deflect the charge that Republicans have nothing to offer minorities. They want to put their most diplomatic, public face forward when promoting themselves.

Apparently, this campaign doesn't care to do that. Make no mistake: this photo is no unfortunate accident. Everything about it — the Caucasian color of the crowd, the angle, its inclusion on the site — is deliberate. They want you to know how massively white (and mostly older) the crowd is. It's a selling point. Romney's comments yesterday, both in Texas and in Montana, were also part of the pitch.

Can you hear the pitch of that whistle?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Transcript of Mitt Romney's speech to the NAACP*

“Good afternoon, you fellow Americans. It’s always great to be here in Houston! And at the NAACP national convention, too. Yes sirree.

“Let’s rap for a minute. [Pause for laughter/gasps.] You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here before you today. Well, I think it’s important to reach out to every voter. Some accuse me of being out of touch with you people. But nothing could be further from the truth — why, I’ve been in the black all my life. My ‘baby daddy,’ George Romney, was an auto executive in Detroit. Some of his best friends made ’64 Impalas.

“As for me, I used to impersonate police officers for fun. But it was done only out of the utmost respect for our finest public servants that blacks and Republicans no doubt share.

“I was the governor of Massachusetts, a state with 11 percent Republican registration. You could say I’m in the minority.

“And if all that isn’t enough to make me an honorary African-American, I’m unemployed.

“If I did not believe that my policies and my leadership would help families of any color — be they white or colored — I wouldn’t be running against President Obama. If someone had told us in the 1950s or 1960s — or the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s or up to 2008 — that a black man would serve as president, many would have been surprised. Indeed, many of us still are.

“What’s even more surprising is that this black president hasn’t cured black unemployment. For generations, the African-American community has been waiting and waiting for our nation to fulfill its obligations. Has Obama delivered on all those centuries of promise? No, he hasn’t. Vote for me and I’ll make sure you get your 40 acres and mule, metaphorically speaking. [Pause for awkward silence.]

“We also need to stop sending your kids to mediocre schools. The inequality of our educational institutions is a serious matter; each and every one deserves to be of the highest standard. Which is why, when I’m president, I’ll make sure each separate school is equal.

“Being poor and uneducated are good ways to ensure failure in life. As a pedigreed Republican, I understand that. I propose we attack these scourges head-on by defending traditional marriage and extending more tax cuts to America’s biggest industries. And also, by repealing such nonessential, expensive frivolities as Obamacare. [Long pause for boos.] That’s right, I boo when I hear that word too! It’s time for Washington to word up!

I hope to represent all Americans, of every race, creed or sexual orientation, from the poorest to the richest and everyone in between. ... If you want a president who’ll make things better in the African-American community, you’re looking at him. [Pause for laughter.] I hope you can find it in your black hearts to swing some support my way. To quote the celebrated thespian James Walker, that would be ‘dynamite!’

“Thank you, and God Bless Africa-America.” [Polite standing ovation.]

(*-This is something of an interpretation. Sadly, I feel the need to point that out.)

Poor Me

I suppose that I'm grateful that I can make all my car payments and start saving for retirement while most of my friends are living at home and working part-time jobs -- but I often find myself lamenting the fact that I'm not living at home and not working a part-time job. From my perspective, these are just some of the life-changing, character-building experiences that I may never have.

I’m not going to deride Taylor Cotter for her age (22), as many are doing. (As I always say, the kids are all right.) It might be easier and definitely more satisfying to dismiss her words as the works of a naive whippersnapper. But plenty of people with a dozen years on her say the same kind of stuff.

I’ll grant that a lot of it is well-intentioned. Few people with a conscience want to think of themselves as insulated from the trials of the real world. It’s not cool to be a Romney. Unfortunately, many take it too far in the opposite direction, which is equally clueless.

How people view struggle is often an inverse function of how much they actually struggle. Anyone who lionizes having to live on Ramen noodles and eking out bills is someone lucky enough to not have to do that. People who worry about the ethics of their food are people with enough money to be that discerning. Suburbanites and hipsters drop big money to wear vintage and/or pre-worn clothing, to replicate a look popularized by people too broke to wear anything new.

Sympathy for the poor is a fantastic thing. But the nobility in being poor is in keeping one’s head up in the face of adversity, not in the lifestyle itself. I doubt less than 100 percent of poor people would chuck it in an instant in order to be comfortable. 

For the truly poor, it isn’t a sport. But those who plunge into it willfully see it as a challenge, as if it’s just another extreme sport to try. Wanting to do that should make someone feel as bad as they supposedly feel for living a comfortable life.

If you’re interested in helping the poor, help them find ways to elevate themselves. Lowering yourself to their level actually has the opposite effect.

So why do Cotter and others pine for the poor experience? I’d guess it’s the same reason they pine for a lot of life’s rote benchmarks. Such an attitude leads college students to think that if they don’t live in dorms or rush a frat, their experience is not legit. It leads otherwise fulfilled people to feel bad about not being married by a certain age. Or about not climbing the ladder of success in a constant upward trajectory. In every case, people feel cheated by the very detours that actually make their lives worth living and examining.

I’ll admit I fell for this at times. I wasn’t allowed to have a driver’s license in high school. I didn’t date much as an underclassman in college. I didn’t live on my own until my mid-20s. All of these things tainted my experiences as I was having them, and only later did I realize that what was missing barely mattered — and in fact my life was pretty damned interesting. And it still is, through all of the professional and personal highs and lows.

Now I celebrate both the good and bad in life, because it’s what makes you, you. I’m glad my life didn’t turn out as I micro-planned it many years ago. That would have been boring as hell. And worst of all, I’d probably have nothing interesting to say.

Life has a funny knack for throwing real challenges at you, at every age. There’s no sense in creating your own problems out of obligation.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Racist 'not a racist'

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Calling for “good people to take our country back from the Kenyan usurper in office and everyone who voted for him,” local white racist Chad Cavanaugh said Monday that he is not a racist.

The 62-year-old made the comment during an impromptu interview at a tea party rally, where he walked up to a reporter and introduced himself as “Non-racist Chad.” Carrying a sign that said, “End Obama’s slavery in 2102 [sic],” Cavanaugh denied that the sign carried racial undertones, insisting instead that it refers to economic slavery.

“It’s as if there are two Americas: one full of people who work hard, and one where everyone’s on welfare,” he said. “I’m tired of my tax money going toward people who’d rather sit at home and watch Maury tell men they ain’t the baby daddy. That hits me in a very sensitive place — my pocketbook.”

Cavanaugh suggested that the nation should take cues from past prosperity as a way to rebound. “In the years following WWII, America used to be a powerhouse,” he said. “Back then, neighborhoods were safer. Everything was cleaner. You knew who the bad guys were. Everyone knew their place. And political correctness wasn’t yet a thing; you could say whatever you wanted.

“But then ’64 rolled around and Lyndon Johnson screwed everything up with that, you know, that act of his.” Asked to clarify, he replied, “The War on Poverty. It put us on the road to socialism. We’ve been paying for it ever since, especially for the past three years. Having Barack Obama in office proves how far we’ve fallen since the dark days of 1964.

Cavanaugh said his opposition to President Obama arises from numerous factors, none of which involve race in the slightest. “For one thing, he might be from Kenya,” he said. “It’s important that our presidents are American in accordance with the Constitution. Second, I don’t like his appointees. Eric Holder? Sonia Sotomayor? Susan Rice? Lisa P. Jackson? I can’t tell any of them apart. Because they’re liberals. And like I said, there’s all those people Obama gives government checks to so they’ll gladly tip their 40s at the polls. That’s just pandering.

“I don’t care if he’s black, white, green, yellow or purple,” Cavanaugh concluded. “We don’t need a food stamp president.”

Further disavowing any animosity toward minorities, Cavanaugh said he admires Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. “He’s proof they aren’t all bad,” he said.

New Rules

Rule #213: Mud Flap

People into the “country” lifestyle must stop being so defensive about it. It’s almost as if sneering defiance is as much a part of it as huntin’, fishin’, ropin’, ridin’, drinkin’, muddin’ and country music. As urban and liberal as I am, I can see the attraction of those things, even if some of them are stupid (as many fun things tend to be). But defining your country persona by how superior and/or persecuted you are, well, that’s every bit as telling as your huge mud truck.

Rule #213-B: You Lost. Get Over It.

Stop arguing about Ford vs. Chevy. Toyota won.

Rule #214: Her Solemn Voucher

The definition of religion isn’t “yours.” Recently, Louisiana state Rep. Valarie Hodges expressed dismay when she found out that the new school-voucher legislation (for which she voted) could be used to fund Muslim schools. She said she supported the teaching of Christianity in schools, which apparently is why she voted for it. (At least Bobby Jindal pretended this was something other than a windfall for religious schools.)

But the best part of this isn’t that Hodges exposed what, if not the main motivation behind this legislation, is one of its biggest elephants in the room — it’s that she didn’t consider the broader implications of her evangelical fervor. In "I Am America (And So Can You!)," Stephen Colbert joked that the shorthand for the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church is “church.” Does that even count as a joke anymore when jokers are saying this for real?

Rule #215: Over, Share

When you ask, “Can I share a little bit of my faith with you?,” you already are. You’re telling me that your faith, rather than serving as a deeply personal guidepost, is something you impress upon total strangers in a transparent bid to convert me without regard for my morals and feelings. So, no.

If sharing your faith is your goal, then live your life in a way that makes yourself an example to follow. Help someone out in a time of need. Be a fair and loving person. Don’t make it all about you. That will get attention.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Oh, that's nice

Police have announced that they have arrested and charged Brandon Scott Lavergne in connection with the May disappearance of Mickey Shunick in Lafayette. Just the little bit of evidence disclosed to the public makes it seem like an open-and-shut case. 

But still, this sign is tasteless. For one thing, this picture was taken in between news announcements of his arrest late yesterday and the official police press conference confirming the arrest early this afternoon. That's a very small window at a time when not much was known.

Second, no business looks good when spelling out high emotions on its marquee. It reminds me of when a service station near my house put up after 9/11, "Find out who did it and kill them all!" Maybe Brandon deserves to burn in hell, like the 9/11 masterminds. I doubt anyone will disagree once we know more about this case. But that's exactly why this sign is such a poor gesture — it's trumpeting something that should be a regretful thought. Why not say, "Our thoughts are with you, Mickey"?

I get that emotions are high; I've been following this case from the start. But I feel like we, the good people, can do better than "burn in hell." The search for Mickey brought out a lot of love. I'd like to see more of that on the street.

Southern rebel talk

Ever have a car seat that moves, but just won’t click into place? And it feels vaguely weird for awhile, but then the car hits a bump in the road and the seat finally clicks? Well, that bump in the road is this article, and the seat that clicked was my mind.

I really don’t know how else to put it. The article articulates something that I’ve vaguely felt for most of my life but couldn’t place. Sara Robinson argues that the aggressive conservatism currently reigning in politics is a manifestation of the southern plantation mentality, a strain historically blocked from national leadership even by other conservatives.

If you’re not inclined to read the whole piece, at least take this away from it:

For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society). While they've done their share of damage to the notion of democracy in the name of profit (as all financial elites inevitably do), this group has, for the most part, tempered its predatory instincts with a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind. Your own legacy depended on this. [...]

Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility -- the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.

Robinson makes it clear that she’s comparing prevailing attitudes of Civil War-era North and South elites. The distinction is important because she isn’t arguing that either attitude is confined to its borders, or that they necessarily describe everyone who lives within those borders (a point that nearly every critical comment misses). Indeed, that’s why this clicked with me: because I’m a southerner who subscribes to the northern view, and there are plenty of us (and vice versa).

(To keep it simple, as Robinson does, I’ll refer to north versus south as a way of comparing the two attitudes. Don’t take it personally and don’t tell me to move to New York unless you’re buying the ticket.)

Even before I moved to the Midwest for a few years, I felt a vaguely rotten undercurrent about the South, my home turf. As if it was the greatest place in the world, but only if you were the right kind of person, which I was. The veneer of that began to erode as more people realized my political views, and responded to them with a hostility that suggested I’d let them down. But it wasn’t just about race or politics: it was the law the school board passed that required students to say “ma’am” and “sir.” It was hearing a teacher say that school uniforms were good practice for the real world, where you had to “CONFORM.” It was about the never-ending cacophony of voices talking about “kicking ass” and daring someone to confiscate their guns. It’s about women who surrender their lives at a man’s request. It’s the child who isn’t allowed to call me by my name out of “respect” even though that’s what I’m comfortable being called. Our cultural mores involve rote and enforced respect, obedience and knowing your place — or, at least, making sure others know theirs. When you think hierarchically like this, you don’t have a lot of room for community or sympathy. We're better than we used to be, but it's not hard to see how we took these views to inhumane extremes 150 years ago. And how many politicians, from all over, want to take us right back there.

To the extent that such attitudes can be distilled into regions the way Robinson does, I lean toward the northern view. With great power comes great responsibility, and I believe that we all have to succeed together. I hope it’s not impolite to say that. It shouldn’t even be that controversial.

I just hate to see our cultural and political export to the rest of the nation be the most shameful mindset we've ever possessed. 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Why I'm proud to not be busy

(Inspired by this stroke of genius)

Eleven years ago this summer, I had what held the title for many years as My Worst Job Ever. It involved working at a very popular — and very frantic — fast food restaurant. It sucked for so many reasons that it would require 3-D technology to address them all. One of the worst aspects was that we were always required to “look busy.” For example, even if we had just finished servicing both of our drive-thru lines and the walkup window, organized our facilities, replenished our supplies and satisfied every other low-tide duty, our manager would still bark at us to, “Look busy! Even if you have nothing to do, I want you to pretend like you’re doing something!” Talking to my co-worker friends didn’t count as looking busy; listlessly wiping the same surface 25 times did, as well as bouncing up and down in place (seriously). This especially irritated me at the time, because I had severe back and leg pains that would land me under the knife two months later. Standing still was often the only way to enjoy a respite from the pain. But hey, those surfaces weren’t going to wipe themselves clean 25 times!

On my list of concepts I wish were cancer so I could laser them to death, “looking busy” is near the top. Is there anything more indicative of the problems with the American work force than having to “look busy”?

Looking busy requires emphasis on the word “looking.” Depending on the job you do, it can be as simple as silently browsing the Internet in your cubicle (which brings lethargy after long enough). In more physically demanding jobs, it’s a farce and a waste of very real and very precious energy. Either way, looking busy can be draining, which makes your real work suffer. But I guess that’s worth it if someone is monitoring the workplace by camera and gauges productivity entirely by how well employees flail their bodies (or don’t) on screen.

Another problem with looking busy lies in the “busy” part. We apparently long ago decided that work isn’t work unless we’re so harried from it that we can barely function afterward. Picture the on-the-go person with a phone jammed in their ear, with one hand full of papers and lunch in the other — we often consider that person to possess a strong work ethic, instead of being a horribly overworked and poorly prioritized quasi-cog who will burn out by 35.

Personally, I’ve never been that type of person. I don’t think there’s any virtue of looking, or even actually being, busy for its own sake. I believe in doing any task as quickly and efficiently as I can, which — as anyone who works that way can tell you — is a good way to signal to busybodies that you’re either too lazy (!!) or too underworked. (I’ll never forget the night our team at one warehouse job literally set a speed record for fulfilling store needs; after briefly recognizing it as a phenomenal achievement, management declared it to be our new standard. Ever try setting or matching a record every night? It’s in the book for a reason!)

The common thread in all of my worst work-related experiences was a supervisor who believed that every second on the clock was a second where they could grind you into the ground. For them, workers were robots that never needed a break, no matter how big or small their responsibilities. In those situations, work isn’t a means to get something accomplished — work is a way of working. It doesn’t matter what the results are, as long as the road to those results is sufficiently long and bumpy. And for what? I’m often at my busiest when I’m not working for a paycheck at all. Conversely, some of my best paid work requires very little effort.

So screw being busy. I’d rather be productive.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Patriot protocol

This past weekend, I worked as an extra on a movie scene that takes place at a carnival. We were townspeople apparently in the present day, but locked in the 1950s. Our job was to be wowed by Brendan Fraser’s Elvis impersonator singing “Amazing Grace” (not difficult). It was a stereotypical slice of Americana. Also, the scene featured several women wrapped in American flags, and little else.

Prior to one take, as the flag girls stood in a gaggle nearby, a woman next to me said, “Oh, I hope none of those flags touches the ground. That would break my heart.”

Gesturing toward the women, I replied wryly, “Well, that isn’t exactly the most respectful use of the flag either.” She agreed.

I find it hard to be a “patriot” at times, because of how we define it. People fuss about who salutes the flag with the best posture, and reflect on our nation as if we are nothing but the sum of our bloodshed. But I think the U.S. is so much more than that. And it can yet be so much more.

We seem to be in a holding pattern as a country — talking endlessly about past sacrifices, what the Founding Fathers intended and the things that made us great, while clinging to austerity and ridiculing any major advances. It’s as if our place in the American History textbook is the review chapter. But to me, what makes this nation great is its ability to change and grow, as it has throughout its existence. That doesn’t happen unless we admit to our flaws, which I think is a much cooler way to go than pretending we’re perfect. When you think you’re perfect, you refuse to change — and everything rots around you as a result.

I believe in a country that earns its excellence in practice and, most of all, doesn’t have to be No. 1 to love itself. That’s not to say it doesn’t strive, but it also doesn’t put arrogance above reality. To me, being an American is about being an ambassador for openness and not being afraid to confront the areas where you come up short. And most of all, it’s about being yourself. That’s far more meaningful to me than any symbolism.

Enjoy yourself today. We have a pretty good country that, in spite of its troubles, has a lot going for it. That’s what everything — all the sacrifice, all the history — is about in the end.

Monday, July 02, 2012

If the beliefs are fixed, break them!

So the Texas Republican Party is calling for education reforms that predictably call for more spanking, deregulating kindergarten, denying schooling to illegal immigrants and other surprises. And then there's this:

The position causing the most controversy, however, is the statement that they oppose the teaching of "higher order thinking skills" -- a curriculum which strives to encourage critical thinking -- arguing that it might challenge "student's fixed beliefs" and undermine "parental authority."

A student's fixed beliefs? Let me tell you something about fixed beliefs.

As a kid, I was terrified of holy water. Didn't want to look at it, let alone touch it. I didn't attend Catholic mass often, but when I did, I made damn sure afterward to wash God's divine fluid off my forehead and hands. I was worried that if I accidentally ingested any, I'd disintegrate like Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (That film came out when I was 9, by the way.) Two major influences finally disavowed me of this notion: my mom and science class. But do all impressionable kids have rational parents? No. And of those who don't, how many have rational schools to temper any harmful influence?

The ENTIRE POINT OF EDUCATION is to challenge children, and to instill within them the ability to think critically. I get that such things get in the way of unblinking obedience and intellectual stagnation, but them's the breaks.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: if education is a threat to your beliefs, then your beliefs suck. You also suck if you prize your child's ability to not be confused above their attainment of knowledge. When did it become confusion to open your mind to new information and outlooks? It sure doesn't say much about the stock you put in your child's mental capacity.

Someone has to teach them about the holy water.