Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pop quiz for strict constructionists

As real as real really gets real

OMG, you guyz! Mitt Romney totally hasn't secured the Republican nomination! Sure, it looks like he has, but the widely reported delegate tally fails to take into account all of the technically undecided state caucuses that are surely all going to feel the breaking winds of THE RON PAUL REVOLUTION! Or so says this not-at-all biased website. Its exhaustive GOP delegate tally shows Romney with a 672-186 lead over Paul in actual delegates, which leads them to the natural conclusion that this is FAR FROM OVER.

Few of you might recall this, but I had a similar website during last year's NFL playoffs that showed how the Saints could advance even if they came up a few points shy of the 49ers. Because the media was hiding the REAL score from us, or our cult-like devotion would never let reality intrude, or something.

No, really!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Who is, and isn't, a hero?

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes has taken all kinds of static for saying that military service is not an automatic qualification for being a hero. Some said he was being unpatriotic. Others said it was an inappropriate remark on Memorial Day weekend. But aside from yelling such an assertion during the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, I can’t think of a time when it’s inappropriate to express that opinion. That’s what freedom is about, right?

I’d feel that way whether or not I agreed with Hayes’ sentiment. But I do. I bristle at the overuse of the word “hero.” I feel like we’ve expanded its definition to cover “inspiration,” “role model” and “hardworking person,” which not only dilutes the meaning of heroism, but also makes it harder to defend what should be a perfectly defensible position.

Being any combination of inspiration, role model and/or hardworking person is something worthy of credit. And anyone who degrades those qualities invites valid criticism. But such qualities are not necessarily synonymous with being a hero.

True heroism, if there is such a thing, would seem to involve sacrifice above and beyond what’s expected of someone. It’s a fluctuating bar depending on the person and circumstance. Which is why it’s so difficult to define.

It’s tempting to say a hero is someone who puts themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis — but does that make every member of the armed forces, or every firefighter, police officer, medic or anyone else with a potentially dangerous job a hero? Is heroism as simple as a career choice? If so, doesn’t that diminish the value of being a hero?

Is a hero someone who stands up for their beliefs? Not necessarily. In nations with free speech, there’s little genuine peril in publicly advocating for anything (especially when the issue is socially acceptable or otherwise not conducive to angering violent people). And when someone’s beliefs do attract danger, it’s not heroism that drives people — it’s security in the righteousness of principle. Which would make some of them heroes and some foolish fanatics.

Is a hero someone who sacrifices their well-being for the sake of another? That sounds like a better definition. But again, it goes back to the job question — many people electively do this for a living. Is someone a hero for doing their job? And even if it isn’t part of a job, many people train for such situations and react out of instinct. Is it heroic to act on instinct, or otherwise do something you’re prepared to do?

Is a hero someone who dies or gets injured over a selfless act? Maybe. But that also doesn’t seem like it should be automatic. Or the primary definition of heroism. Heroes and martyrs shouldn’t be interchangeable. Do heroes always need to be in situations of conflict? 

It’s easier to say who’s not a hero: the person who switches on your power after a storm. Entertainers or athletes by sole virtue of being good at what they do. Babies. Someone clinging to life after an accident. Political commentators. And that’s fine. Not everyone you look up to has to be a hero. Again, inspiration, role model, hardworking person. All worth respect, all different.

If anything, it’s probably best to have fewer heroes in the world. The word implies some extraordinary, pedestal-raising quality in flawed human beings. Since most heroes don’t assign the tag to themselves, it’s a descriptive that really says more about us (and our desire for impossible perfection) than the people to whom we grant it. With that, I’ll conclude this with the end of a newspaper column I wrote years ago on the same subject:

Be your own hero. If you’re not who you want to be, then what’s the point?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day memorial

By Earl “Clem” Bob
Tea party contributor

Happy Memorial Day! Clem here. Hope you had a terrific day with your loved ones, eating hot dogs and apple pie and driving your Chevy to the fireworks stand on the levee. I sure enjoyed my day off work, though since they cut back my hours at the plant I never work Mondays anyway. And I’ve been divorced ever since gays in Massachusetts ruined my marriage, so I didn’t have the wife around. Mostly I spent the day watching the national remembrances on Fox.

Ol’ Clem holds nothing but the utmost respect for our nation’s military. I admit I didn’t serve myself, but my father, his father and his father before him all tried. I come from a long line of 4-Fs. But I try to serve my country in other ways, such as cheering whenever we go to war. And paying extra-careful attention whenever a National Guard ad starring Kid Rock airs. Also, I recently joined the Facebook, where I liked a “Remember” graphic all of my friends were sharing, so there’s that.

This morning while waiting to cross the street, I saw an old man driving his Buick affixed with the bumper sticker, “Love your freedom? Thank a vet.” He was in full uniform and scanning an American Legion magazine at the red light. I walked up to his window and lent my thanks. He beamed and I noticed a tear well up in his eye. Touched, I offered to drive him to the VFW. But when I opened his door and tried to push into the driver’s seat, he got all indignant and peeled off. In that split-second, he made a face that probably resembled the one he made while storming the beach at Normandy. It’ll haunt me always.

All gave some. Some gave all. Billy Ray Cyrus said that.

Today is a day to lay down politics and other divisions and unite to honor the brave men and women of our military. Without them, we wouldn’t be free to express ourselves. Our armed forces stand on a wall every day and night to keep us safe. We are blessed with the finest defense force in the world, and every member — from the lowest cadet to the highest brass — deserves our unending respect.

Except for the commander-in-chief, that Kenyan usurper. And the Democrats. The whole un-American lot of them.

I just watched the annual laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They don’t know who the guy is? Typical government incompetence. I noticed also that a guard soldier had to help Obama guide the wreath to its proper spot. That was such a perfect metaphor for his presidency that I looked up the word “metaphor” so now I know what it means.

I myself went to the Arlington National Cemetery about a year ago. I was always afraid to go before that, but then I heard that Washington, D.C. and Virginia are technically in the South, and the Republicans had just won back Congress, so I figured it was safe. One thing immediately struck me about those hallowed grounds: Ted Kennedy has a grave all by himself on a hill. I guess none of the dead people wanted ol’ Chappaquiddick near them, huh? I guess they were afraid he’d drown them to death ... again. Zing! Ted Kennedy may be dead, but the jokes will live on forever. Remember always.

I regret that I didn’t get to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. But I got thrown out after I took off my shirt and smacked it on top of JFK’s grave, which was on fire. They tell me that’s something called an “eternal flame,” which seems to me like it needs lots of fuel. Drill, baby, drill! Just goes to show you.

Now I have the Bangles in my head. Make it stop! “WE’LL PUT A BOOT UP YOUR ASS / IT’S THE AMERICAN WAY” ... OK, better.

Anyway, I hope y’all took time out of your day to remember that people are laying their lives on the line every day so that people like us can pontificate about how people are laying their lives on the line every day so that people like us can pontificate about how people are laying their lives on the line every day so that people like us can pontificate about ... mmm, pie!

Happy Memorial Day!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Bain Capital Culture

While pondering this excellent blog on the Times-Picayune’s corporate-inflicted bleak future, it occurred to me that we’re deep into what I’m calling the Bain Capital Culture.

Simply put, it’s more profitable to decimate a business than to run it.

It’s increasingly hard to imagine, but profit used to be the byproduct of creating things and meeting public needs and wants. Factories, businesses and public works built an economy that included everyone. Government regulations (especially after the Great Depression) ensured that one sector of the economy didn’t destabilize things for everyone else.

In other words, we had an economy conducive to, and dependent on, things getting done. And we needed everybody to keep it rolling.

But along the line, something happened. It no longer was enough to make a tidy profit — it became a holy duty to wring every possible dollar out of an enterprise. Entire industries cropped up, devoted exclusively to helping companies retain money. Firms made money solely on the idea that they knew how to retain money. And guess what? The money wasn’t in producing! Production is expensive. But you know what helps line pockets? Cutting back!

And thus was born the new logic: If a business makes a healthy profit selling a popular item made under ethical conditions, but that business can give its executives and shareholders a few more pennies by moving its plant to Sweatshopistan and downgrading quality, then it’s not just OK — it’s an imperative. Civic responsibility, workplace harmony, sense of purpose, even market needs — all of those were distantly secondary. Today, to talk about decent salary and benefits or high-minded principles is to have most Americans laugh in your face — most of them because it’s so hard to find these days, and half of those because they insist that such things are too idealistic to matter anymore.

And why do so many average Americans buy into this logic? Because we lionize the wealthy. That’s another thing that changed. Go back to the early 20th century and you’ll see that the wealthiest titans were usually the worst people. Utterly greedy and completely unchecked, we called them what they were: robber barons. Americans wanted better lives for themselves, sure, but knew from their daily grind that comforting the rich at everyone else’s expense wasn’t the ticket to it. Such workplace strife led to historic strikes, unions, workplace safety, living wages and trust-busting. People (and even politicians) fought for better lives for everyone, not just for those with the most money. Because the prevailing philosophy then was that we all deserved a fair shake — that a decent life wasn’t something you earn admission into once you get rich.

Thinking (and acting) that way led to decades of consistent prosperity. And while you had rich, middle class and poor then as now, the differences weren’t so drastic; that was because we all needed each other. But that matters less in the new economy, where the big money essentially never leaves the hands of the top brackets. Look at any list of the most lucrative jobs in America, and about half of them involve helping people with money make more money. More service-oriented professions are increasingly associated with personal sacrifice as opposed to being ways to make a living. Teachers are one example. Journalists are another.

Newspapers are beset by the notion that they are going extinct. In a sense, that’s true, because nothing lasts forever. But the way many larger corporations are handling it hastens the demise. And their reactionary, cannibalizing actions often have little cause-and-effect with how a particular publication is actually doing. Lots of individual newspapers are actually doing quite well — it’s the pre-emptive strikes that kill them. And there’s often no sense that the deep-pocketed executives making the decisions have any understanding of — or even care about — whether their courses of action are correct. After all, they have their paychecks and, on paper at least, have successfully saved money for the company. In our Bain Capital Culture, that matters for something.

Everything else is nothing.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Your ruler

Rule #210: Not this all over again
When Yogi Berra said, "It's deja vu all over again," he was being funny because that's a redundant thing to say. He didn't mean that you could never say "deja vu" without "all over again" ever again. Every time I hear that it's just like ... the last time I heard it.

Rule #211: Elbowing off the table
I've got to learn, as a left-handed man, to not sit next to right-handers at the dining table. Or anywhere else.

Rule #212: Not right about ... some things
Right-handed people have to stop telling me to just deal with it. Being left-handed is the exact opposite of being right-handed. Telling me to reverse how my brain is wired is like telling someone at risk of cancer to not get cancer. It's pointless. I'm lucky I actually do many things right-handed, like use scissors, play a guitar and fire a squirt gun, because I don't know how full-on left-handers handle that.

The fact is that this is a right-hander's world. We lefties know that. It's not a small thing, either; I've scalded myself on a french-fry scoop made for right-handed use, and struggled with a weapons drill because my spatial sense is often a mirror. We do what we can. Don't mock or trivialize us for it. Write a mile in my shoes and you'll know what I mean.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Spreading it thick

Rule #208: Piss like a radish horse
If you bill something as mustard, it should be mustard — not mustard AND HORSERADISH. I've also nearly imbibed nacho cheese that had unbilled horseradish. What the hell? I hate horseradish! It's a very pungent and distinctive flavor. I get that many people like the mustard-horseradish blend. Fine. But what train of thought would compel anyone making my sandwich to assume that's what I want when I ask for mustard? What's so hard about plain, default yellow mustard? 

"I would like mustard."

"OK." (Spreads stuff that is half mustard, half acquired taste)

"I won't notice this until I get home and it's in my horrified mouth."

Do they also mix their mayonnaise with toothpaste? Actually, that sounds like a winner.

Rule #209: iHad
I'm not sure how giving a spammer my credit card number to give me money to buy an iPad so I can send it to them is supposed to improve my credit rating, but that's why they're the experts. Sign me up!

Long live Dr. King

He's majestic, but could always be even more grand.

This game for ages 48 and up

I’m spending much of this week in Washington, D.C., camped out at a hotel that includes Capitol Hill as scenery. Our nation’s capital is packed with venerable institutions and tributes to history. What isn’t in abundance is a pack of young leaders.

Minimum age limits on elected offices vary depending on state or locale. At the federal level, the Constitution mandates that presidents must be 35, senators must be 30 and representatives at least 25. Locally, a student at my university became mayor pro tem of his hometown when he was just 19. I admit that I’ve never thought too hard about these age limits until now; after all, I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to expect a certain maturity and experience with the most powerful offices.

But as I creep ever closer to presidential age (I’ll be eligible next cycle ... let’s get those bumper stickers rolling), I’m wondering exactly what impact, if any, my generation* is likely to have in D.C.

Yes, I said, “if any.” The baby boomers are likely to shadow us for a very long time. Why?

1) Sheer numbers. Just like the name implies, baby boomers are the product of the post-WWII rise in hot reproduction that lasted roughly from 1946 to 1964. And while the oldest boomers are already gray and AARPing it up, the youngest turn 48 this year. Boomer Barack Obama was 47 when he took the oath of office, and we consider him young and breezy. And that actuarial wizardry is why the boomers are likely to stay relevant deep into our generation’s peak years.

Technically, our elders.
2) Boomers are the coolest, hippest, smartest, most culturally important and best-at-sports generation ever. If you ask them. Every generation thinks to some degree that they’re the best, and every one does have its contributions to history. The only reason baby boomers accept their moniker is because “Greatest Generation” was already taken by the people who halted Hitler. Then the boomers named us X, because they thought that much of us. And yes, the music is awesome, and the ’60s will always be synonymous with cultural shift. The problem was that not only did the boomers never relinquish the cool-youth trope, but they completely switched attitudes over time. By the 1980s, they were yuppies, gobbling up money, electing Reagan, dismantling the cooling rods of the economy — all while convinced they were still the peace-loving, defiant dodgers of The Man. Those of us born in the 1980s and later saw only the yuppie aspect firsthand, and are now living with the effects of decades of greed and arrogance. But it’s still going strong, and those of us in X/Millennial Land wonder if we’ll ever get our shot to address the mess. Fortunately for the boomers and older generations,

3) We’re broke. Running for office takes so much money that even thinking about it costs $25,000. (Oops.) What was already a costly endeavor has been made worse in recent years as the entrenched interests aim to hold on to their bounty. Even (especially?) the most civic-minded 20- or 30-somethings are usually just trying to get by in life, period. I, for one, am not about to challenge anyone for any office. As much as I dismiss most tea party talk about “real people” running for office, it’s true that politics attracts certain moneyed types. And those types tend to be older and from a select few professions where income matters first and relevance matters second.

4) We’re on Facebook. We’re the first generation in history to document, in real time, every insignificant thing about ourselves. It’s a positive development in many ways, but the pitfall is that all of our worst moments are there too. Concurrent to this phenomenon is the birth of a collective tsk-tsk mentality that kills the careers of anyone so tactless as to hold a plastic cup in a picture. Social networking would have devastated the baby boomers, but somehow they got by and produced some decent leaders. Our generation may not have the same luxury, even though we’re arguably less experimental than they were.

As a kid, I spent most of my time between my boomer parents and my WWII-era grandparents. One major difference I noted between them was that my grandparents would never waste anything and recycled, while my parents were looser on those matters. When I asked my grandparents why, they’d say, “We were in the Depression. We know what it’s like to have nothing.” That used to annoy me. It doesn’t anymore.

I think my generation will ultimately adopt the best aspects of both generations, since we’ve seen both boom and bust. And that’s why I hope that, in spite of all the obstacles we face, my generation will make a major impact in D.C. someday. Not when we’re too old. And I’d like to see political demographics skew younger in general. Because we’re the young generation. And we’ve got something to say.

*-Being born in 1980, I’m lumped with either X or Millennial, depending on who you ask. I claim an overlap, which is how I see the generations ultimately being remembered.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Headlining the birdcage

Rachel Maddow just held a cool contest where fans could write politically loaded headlines for real stories — what she calls “infoxification.” As a onetime headline writer myself, I thought it would be fun to get my own hands dirty with the grit of infoxification. And now, your top headlines (mostly from when I started this a few days ago): 

Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi dies in Libya

Lockerbie bomber disappointingly dies of natural causes

Smith slaps male journalist attempting to kiss him

Poll: Will Smith now favorite celebrity among conservatives

Chinese activist who fled house arrest heads to U.S.

Unpatriotic, handicapped, illegal communist immigrant invades U.S.

Evidence: Zimmerman bloodied, marijuana in Trayvon's blood

Pot traces in Martin’s blood point to self-defense by Zimmerman

Donna Summer dead at 63

Death of Summer puts global warming theories in doubt

Obama expected to push for growth at G-8 summit

Obama to urge rival nations to surpass U.S.

U.S. ceases sanctions on Myanmar as reward for democratic reforms

U.S. bends to Burma over lip service

A Kennedy Is Remembered for Struggles, and Warmth

Kennedy death jokes rise from dead

Stakes are high on Facebook's first day of trading

Will the magic of the free market “like” Facebook?

Facebook's Zuckerberg Announces Marriage

Facebook founder affirms marriage sanctity between man, woman

Congressional Republicans push for votes to prevent broad tax increases

Congressional Republicans push to protect hardworking Americans from further theft

Romney Defends His Record at Bain

Romney not ashamed of financial success, American Dream

Goodell Is Sued by a Saint Suspended in Bounty Case

Bounty kingpin files frivolous lawsuit against job creator

Paralyzed woman moves robotic arm using thought alone

Thought alone: the innovative new approach to health care


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Something I learned the hard way

OCD and the art of car maintenance

Last night, I did something I've wanted to do for awhile — I filled out the maintenance book for my car. I'm hitting my 50,000-mile oil change today, so I thought now would be a good time.

I gathered all of the receipts I could find, dating back to 2007. That wasn't difficult, because I'm an organized pack-rat (well, more like an organized hoarder). Most of them were in a packet in the glove compartment, while others were in my fireproof lockbox. I've never missed an oil change or tire rotation, so organizing the timeline by mileage went pretty fast. I also took the opportunity to whittle down the big stack of documents in my glove compartment, jettisoning expired warranties and now-irrelevant car-note paperwork (though in a nod to my anal ways, I stashed them in the lockbox). The goal was to have a complete and verified car-maintenance record — not only for me, but for anyone else who winds up owning it. The car will be worth a lot more on resale because of it. But more importantly, it runs newer and cleaner through this upkeep.

I carried over this habit from my previous truck, whose parts failed so cyclically that I had to keep tabs on what was going to break down again next.  
The whole process took maybe half an hour. However, I hit a snag: one, and only one, of the receipts was missing. If two or more had been gone, I could have lived with it. But being so close to having everything, well, that drove me nuts. I turned my place upside-down for two hours trying to fill the gap, but my sleuthing led to nothing. As diligent as I've always been about never throwing away car receipts, this one somehow vanished. Fortunately for me, I remembered that the service appointment in question had been mere days after the Saints won the Super Bowl. And after checking an old bank statement (because I keep those too), I was able to fill in the date. I still don't know the mileage, and that drives me batty, but I at least don't have a total gap in the record.

I mentioned this misadventure on Facebook, with a self-deprecating crack about how exciting my life is. Most of the replies involved how OCD I am, and how I should probably get help and/or be an accountant. Another implied that I'm spending too much time caring about something unimportant.

And you know, I get all that. I understand how trifling this seems in the grand scheme of things, and how OCD often cripples people. But here's how I see it: I am solely responsible for myself and I can't afford, either literally or figuratively, to be disorganized and irresponsible. I live on my own and have nobody immediately available to bail me out of a pickle. Pretty much every car my family has ever owned (including my old truck) has spent some time rotting in the driveway. Not only do I want to avoid that hassle and expense, I have to. And you know what? I like taking care of things. I try to treat my car as well as I treat my body, my place, my friendships and everything else. I'm a born curator to boot, so why not organize the paperwork I've collected?

It might seem like OCD to some people, but consider the opposite. No one would find it odd if I didn't take care of my car and had a slovenly pad. And that's what I find weird.

UPDATEFound them!

A question for the contrarians

I've noticed a lot of liberal-leaning people express disdain for President Obama's support of gay marriage. They say it was political or insincere or whatever. 

What I want to know is, in what situation would Obama's support satisfy you?

I feel like there is no answer to this. But I'd love to hear one.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Here's an idea

Since the richest brackets in this country are the "job creators," and want extensive tax breaks for the sole altruistic purpose of creating more jobs, this is what we should do:

Give every tax break back in the form of vouchers. Allow the "job creators" to apply that money to the employee or employees of their choice. It's certainly a better idea than the current, broken system of tax breaks we have that amounts to a giant black hole of lost revenue.

This solution combines two terrible Republican ideas (vouchers, tax cuts) with the chance of redemption for both. The only drawback would be that the wealthiest Americans would actually have to use the money for the purpose they claim they need it for. That alone would kill this idea right away.

The idea that rich people as "job creators" deserve deep tax cuts is very anti-free-market. Their tax breaks involve a defunding of the very government and public works that "job creators" use to get rich — in other words, it's a handout. Give that same money to people more likely to spend it, and it becomes a stimulus to the economy, which is a more organic form of job creation. When economic inequity leads to people being too poor to spend, the economy suffers. Tax breaks for the rich may give the rich more money, but it has no inherent value for the economy. And that's the best-case scenario; at worst, it has an adverse effect. And that's because tax breaks for the wealthy aren't used to create jobs. If they were, we'd have the most thriving job base in our history. But the truth is nearly the exact opposite.

So yeah, I don't see why we don't police the hell out of these tax breaks like we do with all other government aid.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Advice for college graduates

My sister graduated from college yesterday, officially making me old enough to dole out some advice to college graduates everywhere. 

You’re not even you yet.

It’s now been seven years since I graduated with my master’s degree, which I earned after seven years in college. Did I change much from ages 18 to 25? You bet. But I evolved even more from 25 to 32. Mostly for the better, I hope. If I play my cards right and keep learning at life, I’ll be a sage, charming fame magnet by the time I’m 80. My point is, personal growth doesn’t stop once you’ve reached the academic finish line — if anything, you find out even more about who you are once you’re out. College will be a distant memory sooner than you think. So always look forward. Oh, and wear your goggles — life often hurls giant bugs right at your eyes.

GTFO

If you’re at all text-savvy, you know what I’m talking about. If you have yet to leave your hometown, now’s the time to do it. Whether it’s for a job, to experience a new culture or if you just want to go backpacking (lucky you), travel somewhere. You can always come back. And you’ll be the wiser for it. I always considered myself a fairly worldly person, but it took lots of trips and a four-year stint in the Midwest to realize just how different just 700 miles can make in culture and thought. Even more importantly, I learned that there is still much I have yet to learn. If circumstances don’t allow you to physically GTFO, then do it some other way. Take up a new hobby. Toss out some old clutter. Adopt a new attitude. The point is, make a change. Renew yourself.

Keep an ear open to advice and the other ear open to let it out.

Your elders are likely to impart upon you their words of job-seeking wisdom. It’ll come in mighty handy if you find yourself in 1985. At least one well-meaning person will ask if you’ve considered working 40 years with a company and retiring on a generous pension. Another might call you entitled because you think your degree should help you land a job commensurate with your expertise and experience. Every class faces its own unique strengths and struggles. Your strength will lie largely in how you handle the bleak economic climate you face. And one day you’ll have your own outdated advice to impart to the next generation who’ll say, “Skid that fail” or some other future slang. Speaking of jobs:

You are not your job.

I once dated a woman who, when asked what she was, called herself a poet. Part of that had to do with her limited work visa, but mostly it was that she didn’t define herself by what she did to make money. At times you’re likely to find yourself doing things that don’t form the best picture of who you are. So don’t feel the need to answer everyone’s favorite ice-breaker question with, “Department-store drone.” If it’s more interesting to say, “Amateur comedian and champion dreamer,” run with it. Actually, I wish everyone did this.

If success is a ladder, sometimes the rungs are greased.

Since I’ve graduated college, I’ve found myself unemployed for both one-year and five-month stretches. These times alternate with well-paying, gainful employment. Right now, I’m only working part-time. It’s very easy in these situations to feel very low self-worth, not to mention the financial and social pressures that compound it. But when you do land the gig you’ve always wanted (or anything at all), that span has a tendency to fade very fast. Roll with the punches. You never know where those blows might make you look.

Opportunity knocks, but sometimes it’s a ventriloquist act.

Very little of what I’ve achieved in life was a direct result of going for it — instead, a failure led directly or indirectly to a success. I tried and failed to get a job as a copy editor in Louisiana — but the same person who couldn’t hire me there hired me for the same job in Missouri. I always wanted an athletic scholarship, but I sucked at sports. I got one anyway, though, because the university needed a track manager and I had been a solid football manager as a sophomore and junior. In both cases, someone remembered something I had done and it paid off in unexpected ways. So, go for things. Whether or not you get them, you could be planting a seed for something you never thought of — something better.

Leave the rat race to the rats.

It’s perfectly fine to not buy a house and a big car. You don’t have to work in a cubicle. If you’re happy, self-sufficient and compassionate, you’re rich.

Start a collection — of experiences.

When I was a teen, I often pictured my life in my 20s and 30s. It’s too boring to recount here; let’s just say it involved the accumulation of stuff and being safe in all life decisions. That works perfectly fine for some people, but I know now that such a life would have left a hole in me. My favorite post-college memories have nothing to do with money, things or even making out. I may be broke and unestablished, but I live a very absurd life full of crazy experiences. Each one is a story that I can tell well after it gets stale. And those are more long-lasting and satisfying comforts than any toy could ever be.

Listen to George Clooney.

Clooney once said he didn’t want to vote for someone who has spent their whole life running for president. In the age of social media, we’re more worried than ever about doing things that might make us unattractive to peers or potential employers. The good news is, we’re all in the same boat. So the best thing to do is own every situation. Live your life. You may slip up once in awhile, but it’s better than living your life in fear (and, in turn, not living at all). You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it and become a more awesome person.

What everyone should have is a place to trash “what everyone should have” lists.

The only things people SHOULD have by a certain age are: the ability to take care of themselves; a genuine empathy for others; and a sense of what makes them happy. Everything else is peer pressure.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Romney's a little off the top

If you haven't heard, there's a story circulating about Mitt Romney allegedly tackling and forcefully trimming the hair of a gay classmate. Several people involved — both Democrats and Republicans — independently corroborated the story. The incident is one of the harder-edged acts amid a long recollection of Romney's prankster days at the prestigious Cranbrook School in Michigan.

This revelation is hardly going to make or break Romney for me; he has no chance of earning my vote anyway. If he did, this wouldn't have necessarily disqualified him. Not if he'd own up to the incident, apologize for it and explain with sincerity how one can learn from the mistakes of the past.

But, nope. He's claiming amnesia. OK. It's plausible. Who remembers every little thing they did while in school 50 years ago? Especially since, as one of Mitt's accomplices recalled, things happened so fast. (GOP apologists are seizing upon this, as if the fact that the whole school doesn't recall the attack means it didn't happen. No, the sudden, momentary bullying of a gay student by a few guys in a homophobic culture can't be substantiated merely by everyone involved, can it? Everyone has to have surely heard about it and talked about openly in the decades since. And if they're only finding out about it now and are outraged, they're phony. After all, Mitt would never do that! Such a nice boy! Because that's never been the plot of many, many movies. (Nice try, Zombie Breitbart.) Fie on those bringing up a true story at a relevant time! They're the real haters here. Take notice, kid who shoved me into the urinal in 6th grade: if you run for president, you've got it in the bag. Who'll believe the liberal who waited until the campaign to go national with his piss-soaked underwear?)

Sorry, that got way off track.

Romney could have handled this mess in many ways. The most obvious course would have been to acknowledge it, own it and offer it up as a teachable lesson on the need for human compassion and redemption. We all do things in our lives that we regret and that don't paint us in a flattering light. It would help Mitt seem more human, which never hurts. Option two would be to double down, dismiss it as a harmless prank and placate the homophobic voters he's forced to court. That's a shady option, but hardly an unprecedented one in politics.

But instead, Mitt is claiming he doesn't remember that incident, and offered a blanket apology. OK. That's stupid for a lot of reasons: 1) it's such a specifically verified incident that it's hard to imagine the article wouldn't have at least jogged his memory — unless maybe such haircuts happened all the time, a different problem entirely; 2) few of the many pranks outlined in the original article warrant a retroactive apology of this magnitude; 3) he already has a reputation for being a square, aloof rich guy who has steered clear of consequences throughout his life; and 4) oh, really isn't the best pal to gays to begin with.

With all the buzz about how this story broke just as President Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage, it's easy to forget what a clod Romney was and is being about the issue. I think that would have been crystal clear no matter when the story broke. But more than anything else, it shows what kind of decisions the man who would be president makes — bad ones, followed by bad damage control. That's a stark lesson all by itself.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Something that bears repeating

If you don't like President Obama, fine.

But stop pretending you ever did.

"Celebrity President Barack Obama is leading us into socialism and is now desperately pandering for votes because he knows he's about to become the next Jimmy Carter! He's undermining marriage, weakening national security and bowing to the Saudis! Also, ACORN, Solyndra, Wright and Alinsky! I can't believe I voted for the man!"

No you didn't. Shut up.

You'll sound more convincing if you complain about Obama's lagging actions on Guantanamo Bay, GLBT rights, the Patriot Act or any other liberal bugaboo. A Ron Paul pin or bumper sticker wouldn't hurt, either. Do your research. Until then, I'm going to assume every "disillusioned Obama voter" who talks like a tea partier is as fake as the reality in which they live.

Applying myself

Sometime in college, it occurred to me that most of the women I had dated up to that point shared a common thread — an absence of fathers. It wasn't that they didn't know their dads — most of them loved their fathers greatly. (And when I did meet dads, they were almost invariably kind, welcoming people.) Mostly, it was that their parents were divorced or lived far away. One dad suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Another was in jail. But in nearly every situation, the girl's father was not someone who I could readily meet. I don't know if it was subconscious or coincidental or what, but the realization blew my mind (and made me feel kind of bad). But after seeing this, I see that it's just as well.


I'm actually annoyed I never got to fill this out. I would have had so much FUN with it. Hmmm.....

Rulefest

Rule #203: Endorse a dark horse? Of course, of course

Rick Santorum endorses Mitt Romney? No shit? How about no more rote endorsements by ex-candidates instead?

Rule #204: Rays schism

Before igniting a race war, please settle on a skin color.


Rule #205: Torn between two types of lovers

Let’s concede that there are reasons two consenting adults should be denied a marriage license. Such as, one or both already have a valid license with someone else. Or, the consent was obtained at gunpoint and therefore isn’t really consent. Or ... that’s it, really.

Rule #206: Status symbolic

If you’re live-commenting about something, and it’s not obvious what, I will assume it’s a reality show. Because it always is.

Rule #207: D = Diploma

If 40 percent of West Virginia Democrats voting for some incarcerated felon instead of Obama for president proves anything, it’s how insignificant most state primaries are. We’re talking about a conservative, coal-mining state with one of the lowest literacy rates in the country — 60 percent of the party vote is actually pretty good. It’s a passing grade. And to use Rachel Maddow’s football analogy from 2008, West Virginia is on the GOP 1-yard line. Democrats are as worried about losing West Virginia as Roger Goodell is worried about losing Louisiana as a fan base. Is there a term for less than not at all?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

It's just a number, ladies. How about yours?

Today, I am 32. Whoop de doo.

It’s kind of cool, actually. I’m not as subconsciously depressed about it as I was at 30 and 31, even though it’s true that the splintered door of death is ever closer. I guess being on movie sets and playing college students sort of eases the sting.

I never thought I’d be where I am right now, which is (nearly) the same place I was at this time last year. This coiled, steaming dungheap of retroactively useless and possibly harmful advice insists that you have to get all your stuff together in your 20s so that you aren’t homeless and/or dried up for the rest of your life. By the end of my 20s, I had a steady corporate job, my own apartment, a new car and little to no debt. Granted, I didn’t pump out a unit for its own sake, so I failed as the perfect American adult drone. That’s probably why now I’m a part-time movie extra playing characters who still have a few years to not fail in life. Must be my eyes.

I’ve learned that advice is mostly grains of salt, because life is always changing. And sometimes, even as it’s scary, change isn’t all that bad. As someone who always found the idea of settling in too early pretty frightening, I welcome that. I don’t always do the right or the most prudent thing. But when I do, I drink Dos Equis. Actually, I don’t drink much. And that would be a lame commercial.

But if anyone wants to shoot it, I’m available. I’ve got stories.

Stay thirsty. For life.

Now get off my lawn.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The problem with liberals

I’m a liberal.

I want to say that upfront so conservatives drawn to my title don’t think this is going to be another satisfying diatribe on how liberals hate America and want to kill God or any similar nonsense. And I apologize in advance to any liberal reading this who thinks the title refers to how we need to be ideologically pure and even more insufferably militant. Because I’m not getting into any of that.

The problem with liberals is that we’re our own worst enemy, in pretty much every way possible. We’re socially repellent, we’re too cool for our own good and we somehow turn what should be universal principles into narrow niches.

Everyone in the world wants clean air, a steady paycheck and a good education for their children. But you’d never know that by listening to many Americans’ political opinions. They think a clean environment is an impediment to commerce. They call for tax breaks on employers on the off chance that it might eventually trickle down to their own shrinking paychecks. They see public education — the greatest achievement of any civilization — as just another failing business. I could go on and on. How did we as Americans become so self-defeating toward our best interests?

At least part of the answer, I think, is that liberals suck at reaching out. Oh, we make tons of noise and we’re definitely committed to our principles, but a lot of it is, frankly, a circle jerk. True change comes from integrating practices into everyday lives; that happens when people not only are able to effortlessly do so, but feel compelled to act. They see value in what they’re doing and feel like they’re making a difference. It’s hard enough to motivate the average, apolitical person to improve their lives — it’s harder when their role models are trust-fund kids and/or activist stereotypes. Because the fact is, most people are too comfortable and/or apathetic to make any kind of change without the additional mental block of associating that change with, say, becoming a dirty hippie.

The downfall of many liberal activists is that they’re too righteous to be relatable. It’s annoying to go out to dinner with someone who spends the entire meal telling you why you’re an unethical person 12 times over for eating your hamburger. Conservatives, for all their faults, are able to chill out on occasion. And that’s no small thing. Guilt plays a huge role for both sides — liberals have too much and conservatives don’t have enough. Conservatives fiddle while their cities burn, whereas liberals won’t even pick up the fiddle until every trash fire in the world is snuffed out. That aspect alone draws away many people who otherwise might identify with us.

There’s also the contrarian factor. I suspect the George W. Bush presidency had a lot to do with this. We’re so used to opposing everything on every level that it’s a habit we can’t quite shake. We’re used to a president and a united Congress who get everything they want, when they want it. And what they want is always in their best interests, not ours. Good news was few and far between, and usually had an angle that canceled it out. Good news is Kryptonite to liberals, because good news is not good news unless all other news in the world is good. And it never is, thus there’s no need to ever feel good about anything. Which is why Joe Biden can go on TV and express support for full gay-marriage rights, and half of us will link it in Facebook and say, “Fuck Joe Biden.”

And forget about supporting President Obama. Ever. Any positive development is just a reminder of how much terrible policy he has yet to reverse. And because he hasn’t yet reversed them, he is obviously in full support of them. That makes him as much of a bastard as his predecessor. Actually, Obama’s worse, because ... something. I realize that Bush set a new standard for a president doing whatever the hell he wants. But I remember us thinking that was a bad thing, at least until Obama took the oath.

Which is why I suspect that much liberal activism is like the meaner side of feminism — it’s not about equality, fairness and diligence; it’s about having your turn to be a dick. That’s a turnoff to those of us not inclined to revenge. On the flip side, those earnestly interested in change are often too single-minded to draw wide interest. We have to address both problems before we can collectively effect a lasting legacy.

The truth is on our side. Let’s all be on our side too.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

French impressions

When Francois Hollande beat Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidency of France, my first thought was, "Man, what a perfect name for a president of France. And Holland. I hope the next U.S. president is named American Englande." My second thought was, "Carla Bruni in consolation mode can't be that bad." My third thought was, "Good job, France!"

My fourth thought was, "I hope Mitt Romney doesn't change his name to American Englande." 

Saturday, May 05, 2012

From luxury to heartache

Whenever I heard the name Junior Seau, I always thought of this picture:


That's from the Information Please 1991 Sports Almanac, which chronicled the 1989 NFL season (I guess it's a lead-time thing) and the 1990 draft. Here's how the accompanying article conveys Seau's excitement:

Moments before, Seau had been selected with the Chargers' first pick in the April 22nd draft. Now he was waving the jersey and pumping his fist. Seau, who calls himself a "mama's boy," was overcome with emotion after having been drafted by the Chargers. His family lives about 40 miles from San Diego. 

And that will come in handy. Seau may be a linebacker, but after all, he's really just a kid, and he can probably still use some parental guidance and mama's cooking.


I first read this article when I was 11 years old, and it stuck with me. This was about the same time I aspired to play a pro sport, and I thought, how cool would it be for your hometown team to draft you? Talk about stepping up your game! It certainly worked for Seau, who played all the way through 2009 and left a considerable pile of highlights in his wake. But no matter whose uniform he wore or how old he got, my mind would always click back to the picture above and his mama's home cooking.

It makes his suicide all the more shocking and heartbreaking. While I'm less than thrilled with the league's current (and arguably insincere) handling of the situation, the increasing number of post-career tragedies is a definite problem. I wish we could really understand what goes through the troubled minds of the Junior Seaus in their final moments. But we may never know.

I wish we didn't have to wonder.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Mitt's awk words

There's something oddly appropriate about Mitt Romney explaining his appeal to youth through a conference call (to older reporters, no less). It's one of those things that's magnified by all the other ways he's been clueless in reaching out to voters. Here are some other ways I imagine Romney will laser in on key demographics in 2012:

An Osmonds concert to court the NAACP;

A $2,000-a-plate dinner to reach out to the middle class;

A bicycle-awareness motorcade;

Occupying Wall Street at the fabulous Downtown Marriott;

Courting young activists with a rousing rendition of "Hippy Hippy Shake";

Appealing to young, hip conservatives as if they're a thing;

At midday on a college campus, coordinating a flash seminar;

Giving his stump speech when the barista's just trying to make his smoothie already;

Attempting to show his fun side by appearing on a late-night TV infomercial;

Throwing out the first pitch at a Nuggets game;

During a speech on student loans, having his kids ask him for money;

At an unemployment agency, hiring a bunch of people to shine his shoes;

Flying over Detroit in a private jet to see how bad it is;

Riding in a yacht past New Orleans and remarking, "I see you all down there!";

A stop at a San Francisco bar to debut his "And I'm a Mormon" video;

Come to think of it, any religious-right function to debut that video;

Appearing on BET and moving any muscle at all;

Telling older tea party voters that it's either him or Barack Obama, in a way that makes them want Obama

The sexless state of Virginia

When I first learned about Conservative Teen magazine, I made it a point to lampoon the cover page of its abstinence story (pp. 24-26). Little did I realize that when I acquired access to the article itself, it would be so much worse than I’d ever imagined. And not in a silly way, either. 

“Abstinence education” is a joke. It’s as if a driver’s-ed class only taught you that a car is a scary monster guaranteed to kill you, and that your first time behind the wheel should be in the lot the day you buy your first brand-new car. Until then, kid, you don’t need to know what that big round wheel thing does.

Abstinence can’t be taught any more than you can teach someone to not ride a bicycle. Abstinence is simply the absence of sex, which is why all a sex-education teacher should ever have to say about it is this:

“Abstinence is the choice to refrain from sex. You have every right to assert that option, and no one should ever pressure you into changing your mind one way or the other. Now, here’s everything you need to know to be sexually educated and responsible.”

Teenagers who are abstinent don’t need to learn about abstinence, but they still need to learn about the realities of sex. Just like I had to learn algebra even though I took a vow of math abstinence that I have yet to break. OK, enough class analogies.

Apparently, article author Peter Sprigg has never taken a sex-ed class, or he would know that there’s so much more to it than learning to use a condom. Hell, I took sex ed in 7th grade — for a few weeks, anyway — and at no point did we see a condom demonstration. (I’m guessing it’s a south Louisiana thing, because my friend who’d transferred from Florida told me his sex-ed class watched video of a blooming erection. As if any adolescent boy needs to know what that looks like.) But my class did learn about the reproductive systems in both men and women; acts and consequences of sex; all the delicious varieties in the VD buffet; and sexual slang (“The scrotum holds the testicles. I think you guys might call it ... bag?”).

We also learned that sexual urges are natural, something else Sprigg apparently doesn’t realize. He says that the libido’s “proper channel” is marriage and procreation, as outlined in the Bible. See, this is what’s so hard to take seriously. The sex drive is a natural and powerful force that humans, like all mammals, possess. It’s one thing to make the (idiotic) argument that following some book can temper natural impulses, but it’s an altogether different level of lunacy to suggest that the book itself controls the human body. The singular obsession with marriage derails the entire argument in this article. If he’d simply said that long-term relationships make for better sex, he’d be on to something. The aphrodisiac power of a piece of paper and a vow to the Skyfather is harder to argue.

Anyway, your wedding night is not the best time to find out you’re sexually incompatible with your new spouse. First times often suck, and sexual chemistry is as important in a relationship as any other trait. Most people don’t marry the first person they bed, and that’s OK — or better than OK, if it means you’ve learned something along the way and/or found a partner better suited to you. Only someone who believes in a virgin/whore dichotomy would insist otherwise.

About that virgin-whore dichotomy — it’s CRAP. It’s a stamped ticket to Self-Loathing Land, especially for women. It turns sex into some kind of severe character weakness instead of a natural human trait to harness. When you’re raised to think of sex as filthy and vile, but then one day have it and like it, that messes up your mind in unfathomable ways. “I guess I’m a whore,” you might say. “But I enjoyed lovemaking. I see why there are whores.”

Oh, and sex isn’t caused by rap music or TV or pornography or liberal college professors — it’s caused by hormones. Hormones affected by close proximity with another willing person. Late nights. Dark rooms. Privacy. Sometimes even those things aren’t necessary. Abstinence education pretends that people can turn off those kinds of urges in every conceivable situation, and deserve all of the terrible consequences if they can’t. “Maybe you should have prayed harder.”

As for the assertion that schools don’t teach sex the same way they treat “drugs, underage drinking, tobacco use or violence,” well, there’s a reason for that — all of those are destructive things. Sex is not, unless we let it be. Learning of the dangers of drugs is not the same thing as scaring teens out of sex. But there is one parallel — any successful program will acknowledge that some people enjoy all of these activities. There’s no point in lying about that. A responsible program would explain the consequences that balance out or outweigh the benefits — in the case of smoking, drinking, drugs and violence, the drawbacks are powerful and unavoidable. Sex doesn’t inherently contain the same pitfalls.

It’s all but guaranteed to, however, if all we teach to teens is ignorance and shame about sex. How fitting is it that the very next page begins an article about abortion?

Too damn fitting.

One fake ID law

The push by many states to require photo ID for voting troubles me.

It's an issue pushed by nearly lock step by Republican governors and legislatures, over an issue that is virtually nonexistent.

ACORN is defunct today because enemies of truth and ethics like James O'Keefe decided that the organization wreaked havoc with voter rolls. BUT HERE'S THE THING — ACORN paid people to register others to vote, and paid them by the ballot. And because a lot of the people they hired were exactly the kind of down-and-out people who needed to make a living this way, they padded the applications with names of mascots, sports stars, etc. When ACORN officials discovered these, they pulled them out and announced that they had done so. Which is why any of us knew about it in the first place. But even if ACORN had deliberately registered the fake names, it's not as if someone was going to walk into their polling station and vote as Mickey Mouse. And even if that did happen, it would be enough of an isolated incident to merit national coverage.

So basically, ACORN's downfall lied in doing its job as an agency. It prevented false ballots from being registered as real, even as making them real would have had few, if any, consequences. Meanwhile, the Breitbart idiots commit several felonies in trying to prove such fraud and comparatively skate by.

Not that any of that matters anyway, because voter registration fraud is a different animal than voter fraud.  And I don't hear a lot of these politicians all that concerned with registration fraud, which seems like the bigger deal of the two. No, they're instead fixated on what they claim is an epidemic of people walking into polling stations and voting as someone else — a statistic I've seen represented only by thousandths or less of a percent. In other words, an urgent crisis.

So why dwell on demanding photo IDs at the polls? Well, it's actually a stroke of political genius. See, as long as civil rights has been a thing in the United States, right-wing conservatives have done all they can to subvert the voting power of minorities, women, the poor and other undesirables. Poll taxes. "Literacy" tests. Arbitrary questions with impossible answers. Misinformation campaigns offering the wrong election date. The expunging of alleged "felons" from voting rolls, whether they did anything or not — or just happened to have the same name as a convicted felon. All of these were effective means to Block the Vote, but these days aren't the coolest actions. So now it's the claim that voters need a state-issued picture ID. At least now they can say they're concerned about voter integrity with a slightly straighter face.

Of course, those who have no valid, state-issued picture ID tend to be minorities, the poor, the elderly and other undesirables who lean Democratic. People who have the right to vote, but who now face obstacles to that right.

It's hard for a lot of us to imagine, but millions of adult Americans do not have sufficient ID to meet such laws. Maybe the IDs are expired. Or the people can't afford them. Or don't have sufficient mobility to get one (after all, DMVs aren't as ubiquitous as polling stations). Or maybe they don't work or otherwise need one in their daily lives. That might make it hard for them to get by in today's world, but it doesn't make them ineligible to vote. As I put it in a blog in 2008:

My grandmother lived to 86, was an active voter until the age of 80 and never had a driver's license or ID card. When I think of mandatory-photo-ID rules, I don't think of Mohammad Atta being turned away; I think of my grandmother. Anyway, Atta had a valid Florida driver's license. What's the point?

The point is to clamp down on Democratic voters. Period.