Saturday, June 30, 2012

The bottom line of the barrel

A common refrain about Bobby Jindal is that he is ruthlessly ambitious. I doubt anyone disagrees with that notion.

It's interesting, though, that many people see his enthusiastic slashing of education and other social programs as part of his presidential aspirations. It's especially screwed up that such a thing would make him attractive as a candidate.

We're living in a time of sociopathic capitalism, where the primary, if not sole, benchmark of leadership is how much money a leader can save. Everything else is expendable. In these austere times, it's downright quaint to believe that anything has a value beyond what fits in a ledger or a spreadsheet. Profits reign so supreme now that if we have to choose between earning 50 cents and educating a student, or making 51 cents and telling the kid to go to hell, we'll gladly give the kid directions.

This mindset, long the province of smoky corporate boardrooms, has spread to politics as the economy tanks ever so further. When people are broke, they often throw everything on the back burner out of desperation, and only the most immediate needs matter. When they're always fighting to catch up to the next bill, they have no time for principles or to aspire to a better life.

Republicans, never the biggest fans of the public sector, couldn't be happier about that. They prey on this misery by falsely equating our woes with that of big business. Money's too tight to enact new regulations, or enforce existing ones, or to hire new people, or even to keep people, we're told. Never mind that it's not remotely the same situation, or that business interests have a far more active hand (and stake) in this economic ruin. The public largely buys it at its own painful expense. It gives the misers in government a license to gut the programs that keep society going, which in any other context would make them look like the heels that they are.

With his latest restructuring of education funds and slashing state library funds, Jindal eclipses even Mitt Romney as the ultimate sociopathic capitalist. Jindal's viability as a presidential candidate could happen only now, in an age of historic desperation and misinformation, where people have X-ray vision that sees only dollar signs at the expense of society and humanity.

It gives me hope to see people waking up to Jindal's scorched-earth leadership. It's failing Louisiana and it would devastate the country. Fortunately, the passionate following Jindal enjoys in the beet-red Bayou State doesn't translate nearly as well nationally. But this poisonous focus on profits is larger than one man. The responsibility to make sure it doesn't overwhelm our lives lies with us.

Because we're worthwhile too.

Quote of the year

Just in case you missed it:

"In tight budget times, we prioritized funding for health care and education." 

— Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, chief budget aide to Gov. Bobby Jindal, on state library cuts

He never said anything about prioritizing it high...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Dear all the people who hyperbolically declared America dead due to the health care decision,

I don’t get it. I really don’t get it.

Yesterday was the day the United States of America died? Because the Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s health care reform?

This is what destroyed America, something that slavery, civil war, two world wars, the Great Depression, numerous assassinations, the Cold War, 9/11 and the Patriot Act all could not do?

Yes, health care reform did that. Because it is just that sneaky.

You know, you guys used to harbor some real fears. The Communists. The Bomb. Terrorism. Sure, all were up for debate, but they appealed on a visceral level. They were outside threats, which means not only that they came from external antagonistic forces, but they could actually destroy us. You’ve really fallen since then. Now it’s welfare, taxes, Congress and Democrats. You find your villains within your own country, in your own government, within your own people by virtue of mild disagreement. To you, there’s little difference between a terrorist and a government agency you don’t like.

So it’s really no surprise that you save your most vociferous hate for programs that help downtrodden Americans. For a while there, you maintained the facade that your opposition was economic, that we couldn’t afford the programs. But now it seems to be just as much (if not more) that you just plain hate the people affected. You’ve stopped pretending it isn’t about prejudice and value judgment. I appreciate that, because that’s the only way your tangled views make sense.

You think your country is all about you, or at least what you imagine yourself to be. And of course, you’re the exemplary, hardworking, superlative American who has never once asked for or benefited from anything governmental. And those who need help are all shiftless and lazy and have no desire to improve. They don’t count. If we ignore them, they’ll make themselves better. Or they’ll vanish, apparently. Win-win.

I don’t know how else to explain why you’ve never objected to the universal health care we fund in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and U.S. prisons. Oh, I get it: war, torture and incarceration. A few of your favorite things! Never mind.

Indeed, your hatred of President Obama has you tripping over your own beliefs all the time. Like the Fast and Furious scandal. You’re mad about the free and unfettered spread of firearms? That’s a first! Steamed over executive orders? They weren't invented in 2009.

Regardless, you think everything Obama does is The Worst Threat to America. “With the stimulus, America died today.” “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is dead, and so is America.” “With his latest liberal Supreme Court appointment, Obama has killed America. Twice.” “Socialism will murder America.” How many times has America died since he entered the Oval Office? (The country keeps popping back up like a zombie buried in the pet cemetery, apparently.)

You’ll oppose literally everything the Obama administration does, just because his name is on it. And that has never been more clear than today. So-called “Obamacare” is a political compromise based on a working model implemented in Massachusetts by, uh, Mitt Romney. You know, the guy you’re going to vote for? To be fair, he calls it the worst mistake he ever made. And I agree, in the sense that helping regular people is a severe impediment to Republican Party success.

The Supreme Court’s upholding of health care reform didn’t kill America — it killed a malignant tumor on its ailing body. The treatment is far from over, but for now it’s in remission. Our nation faces many threats, but compassion and fairness aren’t among them. Hate and spite, on the other hand, remain two of our biggest plagues.

Please see a doctor about that.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Be careful in the future

People fall for Internet hoaxes all the time. But it's usually for reasons like, "OMG Starbucks hates the troops?!!" or "Obama finally admitted he hates America!" — because someone wants to believe something. 

But why so many people fell for this, I'll never understand. 


To be fair, I realize that I've probably seen all three Back to the Future movies more than Robert Zemeckis has. I can recite every line and every sound effect. I totally geek out on this trilogy. I try to keep that in mind.

Even so, several things still puzzle me:

1) Back to the Future isn't exactly a cult phenomenon. My Facebook feed is often clogged with references to obscure sci-fi shows or other series with slavish fanbases that I've never seen. I miss those references, but I get that others appreciate them. But while I get that there are people who haven't seen the films (or at least not enough to absorb every detail), Back to the Future is ingrained in the American imagination for all time. The DeLorean will always be a time machine. "Hello, McFly" remains a catchphrase. Flux capacitor. 1.21 gigawatts. The fact that people pronounce it "jigowatts." Hoverboards. "The Power of Love." Making out with your mother. OK, maybe the last one didn't catch on. The point is, this is a major detail of a major film series that I wouldn't expect a casual observer to get wrong, let alone fans.

2) It's obviously photoshopped. Compare the numeral 2 from the 2012 date to the 2 on the time just to the right of it. Different. Case closed. The times shown on the display indicate that this screen shot is from the beginning of the first film, whereas they travel to the future — specifically, Oct. 21, 2015 — in the second film. That's obscure and I'm rolling my eyes at myself just typing it, but no sense in ignoring that discrepancy.

The irony (paradox?) of yesterday's date is that it's a photoshop fail because it looks better than the actual display did in either sequel. There are times in II and III where the month looks like it's printed on a piece of paper. They should have traveled to the future and brought back some CGI.

3) What was the original artist's point? Why would someone have perpetrated this hoax in purpose? To look like an idiot two seconds later when someone debunked it? Well, that didn't happen. I'm guessing the original artist made this for a different reason (such as a blog) and it just got picked up as real. I hope so. Because there are much more obscure movie memes to fake successfully.

4) I get it. I'm a BTTF nerd. Even so, I still feel like anyone with a passing familiarity with the films remembers that they went only to years that ended in 5 — 1985, 1955, 2015, 1885. Try not to read any of those years without either Michael J. Fox or Christopher Lloyd gloriously chewing them up.

The good news is, this error gives us a little over three years to rectify most people's genuine reaction to this hoax: "Look how wrong they got the future!" 

There's still hope. Get on it, Mattel.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A fast and furious media shower

Forget al-Qaida, the Taliban or Osama bin Laden's fish-desiccated corpse — if you ask some people, the real villain in the U.S. is the mainstream media.

Ah, the mainstream media ... or as critics often abbreviate it, the MSM. I like seeing “MSM” in text, because it’s a quick and easy cue to be skeptical of what I’m reading.

It’s difficult to define “mainstream media,” because the concept is fluid. Many right-leaning people will lump every major media outlet that isn’t Fox News together. Bloggers will lump Fox News in as well, along with every other source bigger than a blog. Liberals may bemoan any news entity with a corporate parent that isn’t MSNBC. But however they define it, all critics agree that the mainstream media isn’t looking out for the best interests of the public.

So who do these people suggest we turn to? The answer ranges from “me” to “people who agree with me.”

To a degree, the mainstream media does have its faults. And enterprising people outside of the establishment can certainly break stories. But the valid criticisms aren’t typically the front-page material.

A journalist friend of mine tipped me off to these two pieces about the state of journalism in America. The first, by Miami Herald commentator Leonard Pitts Jr., argues that “citizen journalists” can’t and shouldn’t supplant traditional news gathering. The second, by blogger Jim Lakely, pretty much eviscerates Pitts’ stance.

Both make fair points about how the media does and should operate. But both also err. Pitts, for example, blames the collapse of the daily model on English majors making business decisions. And while it is true that English majors make terrible business decisions (such as majoring in English), I don’t think they run most publications; this is mostly a case of businesspeople making terrible business decisions.

Lakely’s shortcomings are far more significant. In trying to disprove Pitts’ point that hard journalism is best left to professionals, Lakely inadvertently proves it. He pounces on Pitts’ citation of Matt Drudge and Sarah Palin as proof that the media seeks to repress independent voices due to the liberal agenda. (I guess in Lakely’s world, no liberals ever savage the mainstream press.) Lakely turns this into an example of liberal bias, although it seems to me that if Pitts had a left-wing equivalent of either Drudge or Palin to feed off of, he could have made the same point. (If anybody is aware of any counterparts, let me know.) The resultant persecution complex shines through in everything Lakely says afterward. (“A third slam on Palin!” he wails at one point.)

Lakely chides Pitts and the press for ignoring “important stories” that brave, intrepid, independent, fearless conservative muckrakers wind up breaking. He argues that those people personify the true spirit of journalism, regardless of how the elite see them. And then he drops a paragraph that’s paradoxically both right and wrong:

OK. Let’s pop the “professional journalism” balloon right now: “Reporting” is not hard. Journalism is not a profession for which one must earn credentials. It is a trade. Reporting is a skill anyone with common sense, curiosity, and an ability to communicate can learn and hone. It involves merely a desire to pursue the truth — verifiable facts — and having the ability to report them clearly to the public. And if you’re good at it and reliable, you’ll gain readers and links and — gasp! — move a story to a state of critical mass that even the MSM has to report, as in Fast and Furious.

I don’t think Pitts would disagree at all with this supposed criticism — after all, Pitts argues that journalism is about pluck, professional conduct and endurance. But Lakely shows exactly why people like himself and his favorite news sources cannot and should not direct the national conversation: because they’re not about “pursuing the truth” and “verifiable facts.” Fast and Furious has been a conservative hot button because it involves two of their least favorite people, President Obama and attorney general Eric Holder. Coverage overwhelmingly slams them with blame for the issue, while often leaving out that the program arose from a George W. Bush initiative in the first place. The mainstream media has in fact dissected the issue completely, as they often do with conservative “scoops,” and found it be both less apocalyptic and more complex than the hysteria, as they often do with conservative “scoops.”

In the minds of the Lakelys, the failure of the media to trump up excessive right-wing controversies is proof that the media is liberal. Or as they might say, “I’m peeved that my pet scandal is not getting the amount of press I think it deserves, which is screaming headlines on every front page, website and newscast in America. It can only be because said media wants to hide the truth. I want to get the truth out there — and by truth I mean, whatever ideological construct I already have in mind.”

As the saying goes, you’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. It seems to me that those who want to challenge the mainstream media — wherever they sit on the fence — want to be liberated from the duty to facts and ethics more than anything else. They think their ideological spin should replace meat-and-potatoes journalism, a view that displays a staggering ignorance of (or contempt for) news standards.

So don’t give them the keys just yet. At least wait until they get their learner’s permit.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's a guy thing. Maybe you'd understand?

Yesterday's bout with intense homophobia left me shaken, as such things tend to do.

It wasn't for the obvious reason, because I'm not gay. But I do sympathize with the LGBT community and support full gay rights. And in Louisiana especially, that sets off the gaydar of many a person who would probably deny they have gaydar.

Two questions I'm often asked in Louisiana almost never came up in my four years in Missouri: "Where are you from?" and, "Are you gay?" One substantial difference I noticed between living in Louisiana and in Missouri is the makeup of my friends in each respective state. Throughout my adult life in Louisiana, most of my closest friends have been women. In Missouri, the gender makeup was closer to 50-50, often skewing male. I wasn't a radically different person in Missouri, but I think the men were. 

The guys I hung out with — many of whom were fellow transplants — had similar interests and personalities to mine. They were equally at home on the football field and in the coffeehouse. Even the "tough guys" of our crew would happily sit down and play Apples to Apples. They could hold conversations, too. Despite being in one of the whitest cities in the U.S., my friends spanned numerous ethnicities, ages, careers, politics and walks of life. This was true of the women as well as the men. We became family. We all parted ways at different points, but I wouldn't have minded terribly if we hadn't. 

I've had plenty of good male friends in Louisiana too, but they've never been the majority. Here, my propensity for hanging out with girls often turned heads. Gender was rarely a conscious consideration for me; still, many people asked or insinuated that I was gay. It's cool to hang out with one girl, but more than a few turns you into either Friend Zone Guy or One of the Girls. Sometimes I'd even be dating one of the women, but that didn't matter. In any case, I hung out with whoever I felt like and screw everyone else. There's nothing wrong with being gay, so what do I care if that's the vibe I give some people?

Overall, I think the main reason I have more girl than guy friends in Louisiana is because I don't have a lot in common with other dudes here. I don't hunt. I don't fish. I don't cook much. I'm not a huge fan of sitting around and drinking beer. (Football is an obvious exception. I love football.) Mostly, though, it's that I'm not macho. Manly men populate my corner of the state, and that doesn't appeal to me at all. Big trucks, drinking prowess, guns, camo — not in my repertoire. Neither is insecure masculinity, which is frankly what drives macho culture. Nobody wants to be a girlie man, except for the girlie men. And to many, you're either one or the other. That's the logic.

Which is where gay rights comes in. Macho men aren't concerned with gay rights, except maybe to outdo each other on who opposes them the hardest. Any guy who cares about gay rights (or otherwise isn't an obnoxious homophobe) HAS to be gay himself. The stereotype is so bad here that I've even seen gay friends believe it. It's virtually unheard of for a heterosexual man to openly express enthusiasm for gay rights here, even in 2012. And that's beyond sad.

You don't have to be gay to understand the need for gay rights any more than you need to be straight to be a macho, macho man.

A dip in the fan mailbag

So I got a delightful message from a friend of a friend this afternoon. Here’s a very small excerpt:

you little faggot ... fags such as yourself need to stop fucking each other in the ass and then spreading it to other people. that is why homosexuals dont live past 60 80 percent of the time and why aids is such a huge problem within the gay community Have you thought about that? ... you little queer ... People like you make me sick.

What did I do to deserve that, you ask? Well, he had posted a lengthy Facebook status wondering why gay activists allegedly flipped off a portrait of Ronald Reagan at the White House. To him, that was an affront to who he considers the best human being ever to hold the presidency. Then he went off on how liberals hate America and “do not deserve their first amendment right.

So I sent him a short personal message that read in part:

When Ronald Reagan was president, he completely ignored the AIDS crisis due to its gay stigma, and in turn it became a major epidemic. That might have been why the gay activists you mentioned flipped off his portrait. I don't think it was a classy move on their part, but that's a more understandable reason than the frankly ignorant reasons you came up with.

He responded with a very long, rambling, misspelled, single-paragraph diatribe, including the choice epithets above. Much of it is a boilerplate explanation of why Reagan deserves sainthood (twice) and couldn’t have done anything about the AIDS crisis: “You want to know why he was probabaly not worried about AIDS? what is he suppose to do about the spread of AIDS? why has nobody else come up with a solution to stop aids? How are you going to make yourself look this stupid and uneducated to blame reagan for AIDS?

More highlights:

Several calls to debate me anywhere at any time on any topic, but also this: “so do yourself a favor you little queer and it goes for the rest of your little fag hag friends, dont message me again.

His response to my conceding the gesture wasn’t classy: “thats the problem with you liberals, you believe it is ‘classy’ to flick off Reagan.” Huh?

On kids these days: “it;s the generation such as yourself who is ruining the fabric of this country was built on.” Judging by his Facebook picture and our mutual friends, he is apparently either my age or younger.

My short response to this was that I wasn’t interested in debating him, because his worship of Reagan was strong even for a conservative (unlike, for example, my ability to see wrong in Obama). I also informed him I wasn’t gay, and that all opinion writers should expect, and be able to handle, criticism. That was going to be the end of it for me, but then he posted this on his wall:

apparantly a guy messaged me saying how didnt like my post about tha gay activists going to the white house and flicking off reagan saying im ignorant with what i said. and this is for anybody who says im ignorant simply because somebody doesent agree with what i say.this person said the reason the activists flicked him off is because reagan didnt do anything about the aids problem? are you serious? This is what liberals are going to try and blame reagan for? It;s reagan's fauLT FOR THE aids problem? this is just pure typical of a hardcore liberal.This is an invitation for anybody who privately messages me saying what i say is wrong and ignorant, name the time, topic and place, and i will debate anybody anytime on whatever you want to talk about. I will make you look like a damn fool. Any person who defends these activists for going into the oval office and showing disrespect to one of the greatest men, should be jailed and penalized does not deserve to even step foot in the white house

I suppose I am a damn fool, but not for the reason he thinks.

I’m mentioning this here only to note that thinking like this still openly exists in America. As a straight man, I’m passionate about gay rights precisely because of bully rhetoric like this. It’s tragic that so many people still refuse to have an adult conversation about this. I defended some gay activists (or, more accurately, explained the real anger behind their misguided gesture) and not only does this guy automatically assume I’m gay, but unleashes all the fury that he thinks being gay deserves. To say nothing of his call for those who disrespect Reagan to be jailed. (Jailed!!)

I’m a straight stranger who made a very mild point in the face of toxic anger. For a gay person, far worse often happens. Many have DIED just because bigots had a problem with who they were. That, not what someone thinks of a public figure, is the real goddamn travesty.

If I have to choose between being an open-minded liberal and an arrogant, bigoted “patriot,” I’ll be the first every time. Unlike sexual preference, that IS a choice.

Our future depends on making the right one.

UPDATE @ 8:51 p.m.: After sending me several more messages reiterating his main points and spewing many more irrelevant points and character assassination, he blocked me on Facebook. I didn't get to tell him that most of the stuff on his wall fails the Snopes smell test. Also, his friend chimed in with some very choice, homophobic insults. Had she known the "feminine ass bitch" was me, she might have felt differently about one of her favorite former employees.

Presenting my new product line!

It never ceases to amaze me how many people dwell on what should be remote, last-resort situations, such as self-defense or the apocalypse. When I hear a guy say, "In [extremely unlikely hypothetical situation], you bet I'll kick his ass," I hear the blustery cry of insecurity. When I hear someone panicking that we're in our final days, I hear the cries of someone eager to live in a bunker and live out the plot of Hunger Games Beyond Thunderdome.

Nevertheless, this is a rich market for tapping. Which is why I'm unveiling my new First Resort product line. In an uncertain world, you never know what life is going to throw at you. This gear will show not only that you are always dreaming up new scary scenarios, but that you'll do the right thing in all of them. This makes you a better person. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Stereotype writer

Someone asked me today if I knew where to get weed.

It may be time to cut my hair.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Debbie Schlussel and her terrible direction

When talking about politics and/or religion, I often come across someone who says something to this effect:

“Read this and you’ll understand.”

The implication being, of course, that my failure to agree with them is based on the fact that I haven’t read something — and obviously I haven’t, because I am not 100 percent, unquestionably converted to their view. Pretty powerful stuff.

Almost to a person, these types skew libertarian politically, or Christian religiously (though most who lean those ways are not like this). It’s no surprise, then, that these are generally the same people who freak out anytime someone expresses a differing view.

Debbie Schlussel is one of those people. CenLamar turned me on to this inspired mind-turd of hers, in which she accuses a member of the boy band One Direction of attempting to convert fans to militant Islam. Or, as she puts it, “pimping Islam on your kids.” (Can you pimp on someone?)

Well, he is pimpin'. Clearly.
So how is Zayn Malik attempting to perpetrate his mission of jihad against the Western world? By showing off his Arabic tattoo and also by wearing clothes! And by tweeting Muslim platitudes such as, “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is the prophet of God.”

Oh my! WHERE DO I SIGN UP FOR JIHAD? Oops! Almost had me for a second there! See?!! Glad Debbie set me straight! Like milk on a spicy tongue.

That sucker in his mouth is us.
Seriously, it’s insanely stupid to equate Zayn’s words to terrorism. I’m sure Eric Rudolph said, “Praise the Lord Jesus” when planting his bombs, but that doesn’t make it a battle cry. It’s a declaration of faith — nothing more, nothing less. Zayn doesn't strike me as a bomb-planter. If he is, he’s going about it pretty badly, what with being famous and beloved and peaceful and all that. More likely, he’s simply stating a tenet of his faith, just like Judeo-Christians do all the time.

Schlussel is upset because she thinks anyone who reads Zayn’s tweets will automatically convert to Islam. Judging by her own words, she seems to think she can counteract him if she invokes God/G-d enough times. Can you imagine if our minds — and faiths — were really this weak? We’d all convert several times an hour! And no one’s beliefs would mean anything. There’d be no point in having any.

In a way, it makes sense. People who are insecure in their beliefs are averse to examination. They can’t stand the slightest challenge to their views, because they know (at least subconsciously) that they lack a firm foundation. Perhaps they even fear that they will swing to an opposing point of view with all the fervor that they currently possess. That has to be frightening for them.

Paranoia makes for a boring world. Open-mindedness and critical thinking make it beautiful.

I wish Debbie Schlussel would read this and understand. After thinking it through, of course.

The Warren mission

Salt Lake Tribune: Feds sue Hildale and Colorado City for religious discrimination

The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against two towns dominated by a polygamous sect on Thursday, accusing officials of failing to protect nonmembers and enforcing the edicts of leader Warren Jeffs above the law. 

The complaint filed in Arizona’s U.S. District Court accuses the twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, of "operating as an arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints," for at least 20 years. It marks a departure for the federal government, which has until now steered clear of filing cases against FLDS members.

Good. If you're uninitiated, the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints) is the orthodox Mormon sect that still practices polygamy and obeys a variety of other edicts that separate them from the mainstream LDS (which they consider as wicked as anyone else, which is everybody). In practice, it's basically a cult run by Warren Jeffs. Since talking the helm of the FLDS, Jeffs has done things like order all the dogs killed and all outside books burned, and even banned the color red. Just recently, he mandated that all members stop having sex, save for a handful of powerful men who can lay claim to any woman or girl they want.

Yes, girl. Did I mention Jeffs is in prison for life? Seems he had a thing for girls as young as 12. He should be in prison for way more than that, but his predilection for prepubescent girls was what did him in. He always claimed God moved him in his decisions. And God just happened to want him to hold absolute power over thousands of people and have sex with anyone he wanted. How humbling that must have been.

It says much about Jeffs and the FLDS that even after going to prison in 2006 — and revealing to his brother in a videotaped phone call that he knew he was not the prophet — his followers still continue to obey and revere him. Not bad for a guy with the most sleep-inducing voice I've ever heard.

You might wonder how something like the FLDS can flourish in 21st century America. Well, you'll notice above that the cult centers mostly around two adjacent border cities — Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. These cities are isolated by geography and culture. Kids are taught from birth that the world beyond their mountain fortress is wicked and everyone wants them to turn evil and/or die. Anytime they do venture out in their FLDS clothing, hecklers often give them a hard time, further reinforcing the illusion. 

That isolation is helped by the FLDS-heavy police force, which enforces a certain divine law on top of civil law. Even the hospitals are said to defer to and/or cover up abuse by FLDS bigwigs. Women in the community often drive cars without license plates as a way to keep them in town — the local cops look away because they get it. All this and much more is chronicled in the excellent book "Escape" by Carolyn Jessop.

I'm happy to see the federal government get involved in this, finally. It's a bigger issue than one lawsuit; no local law enforcement agency should ever feel unchecked. I've been enough places in the United States to understand that local culture can run deep, and can profoundly affect how justice operates. Religion, racism, connections, autocracy — these aspects make some places in our supposedly free country perilous to traverse if you fit certain profiles. Or just if the sheriff needs some revenue or is bored. 

In those cases, I have no problem with federal involvement, provided it too is fair. It's long past time to crack down on local corruption, especially when it has such a huge reach. Arizona is a good start. Say hi to Joe Arpaio while you're there, guys.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Using tea party logic...

... The owner of this truck is un-American.


Don't count me among the many laughing at what's apparently the end of one man's cross-country quest to spread the gospel of the Mitt Romney campaign. This guy drove more than 40,000 miles following the candidate around in his worn-out pickup, enduring both cheers and vandalism, and living cheap in the process. I'm no fan of Romney, nor of anti-Obama fanaticism, but I give credit to Jim Wilson for making such an effort. The campaign eventually embraced him which, given his everyguy image and constructive criticism, it frankly needed to do.

Mostly I feel bad for the guy. So I hope the tea party people don't give him crap for the American flags he threw on the ground. You know that if this had been an Obama supporter, they'd post this picture everywhere as proof that the driver hates America. And also that he wants to destroy Chevrolet. And is a hypocrite about saving the environment while belching black smoke into the sky. And they'd probably laugh and say how it's a sign from God. And how those coolers probably had beer and pot in them. Haw haw.

I know the tea party won't do that. Not this time. Snopes can rest easy. Or, at least, not add to their already-astounding work flow.

To answer the question...

Often the question is asked: "Death or dishonor?"

Are you kidding me? I'll take dishonor! Heaps of it!

I can count on maybe one knuckle the things for which I'd die. Perhaps if someone were in immediate danger and I could absorb the blow for them. That's about it. Abstract concepts, not so much.

Dishonor can lead to a renewal of honor. But death cannot lead to a renewal of life.

I think that's an honorable answer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Your life flashing before your iPhone

I dig church signs. Sometimes they breathe hellfire. Sometimes they're unintentionally hilarious. And sometimes they're brilliant. This one seen in my former domicile of Springfield, Missouri, is especially apt:

From the Springfield News-Leader
This sign, while brilliant on its face, inadvertently also points out what bothers me about arrogant behavior in general.

Since texting became a thing, I have been nearly hit or driven off the road repeatedly by texting drivers. Experts say texting is on par with or even worse than alcohol as an impediment to driving. So when people say text-driving is worth the risk, or that they’re OK to take the wheel after a couple of drinks, or that seat belts / smoking bans are affronts to their freedom, I scoff. Because you’re not only endangering yourself, you’re endangering me as well, someone who is not doing any of those things but will pay the consequences if you do so.

If you want to visit Jesus faster, fine. But please don’t take me (or anyone else) down/up with you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Poverty is not just in the pocket


I’m mentioning this not because of the merits of the argument, but because it doesn’t have any. It’s just a bunch of right-wing ideologues who think simplistic and infantile solutions count as insight.

No, the real value of this discussion lies in what it says about conservative leaders in America. They want everyone to think everything is their own fault. Not only does this jibe with their stated* belief in rugged individualism, but it also conveniently absolves them from any responsibility or sense of duty in solving our problems.

(*-I say “stated,” because no conservative ever says, “If you’re against abortion, don’t have one” or, “Greed is a mental disease.” This attitude is limited strictly to conservative bugaboos.)

Conservatives love to tell poor people that they need to get an education, to not have unwanted children and to get any job they can — all the while gutting public schools, dumbing down sex education and making sure every job is “any” job. Even if the key to a good life really was that simple, the GOP seems to want to make it harder for the disadvantaged to get there.

Meanwhile, they insist that support for the Democrats (who they jeeringly call the “Democrat Party”) is illegitimate because the party offers something for its supporters. That’s a pretty stupid thing to criticize on its face, because that’s what all political parties do — the Republicans, after all, don’t offer nothing (at least, not to their base). They do offer nothing to the poor and minorities, and then can’t understand why that doesn’t work for them.

As far as beckoning voters goes, “Vote for me and I’ll make sure you don’t collapse into devastating homelessness” is a pretty low bar. No wonder we’re in such dire economic shape — every Democrat is on welfare. That’s a huge bloc!

In reality, I have never met a poor person who delighted in being poor. Likewise, I don’t know any rich people about to chuck it all to get on the Earned Income Tax Credit gravy train. To say nothing of the struggling middle class, which Boortz doesn’t either.

Boortz’s rhetoric ignores what should be obvious to every American — sometimes terrible things happen to good people, and good things happen to terrible people. People can work full-time at well above the minimum wage and still struggle. Sometimes educated people have to bite the bullet and take a job that requires no education. Sometimes people lose their jobs through no fault of their own and cannot find another one. What makes wealth for one person can result in poverty for another. The world is not a straight game of individual cause and effect, nor is anyone an island. Any decent debate will acknowledge those truths.

Too bad Boortz and everyone like him live in a fantasyland where the only thing keeping a homeless man from being Mitt Romney is laziness, and where dog-whistle (and blatant) racism is OK — as long as it’s white on black. For everyone else, racism is an excuse.

If embattled conservatives wonder why they’ve seen their support erode so much in recent years, they need look no further than this article. It’s one thing to undercut the American poor via greedy policies intended to make the rich richer and to pander to racist tendencies — it’s another to be so naked about it. If mainstream Republicans don’t disavow such rhetoric, then they deserve poor showings at the polls.

And I’ll feel as bad for them as they do for the plight of the impoverished.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The message is clear

(Inspired by this)

In the early morning hours of Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina churned toward the coast of Louisiana. Our presses had stopped, it was dark, a few people were doing all the work and what little information we could compile was sent out in brief, bloggy bursts.

For our efforts, we won two Pulitzer Prizes. And that’s when we realized the value of cheap, online, on-the-fly journalism. And we figured, why not just do it that way all the time?

Beginning this fall, we will become a news operation focused on digital journalism. Again. But this time, the Katrina that will shut down our daily press is us.

After all, online is where the clicks are in the 21st century. In the aftermath of Katrina, our page views went from 800,000 a day to 30 million. Those three digital days have inspired our new business plan, wherein we hope for a new disaster every three days.

The reality we face today is that newspapers have experienced 22 consecutive quarterly declines in national ad revenue, dating back to 2006. I’m not sure how that stat relates to our specific revenue figures, but it sure sounds bad, doesn’t it?

In its salad days, The Picayune set itself apart with its entrepreneurial boldness. It put out a quality product with efficiency and profitability. But change and innovation are also in our blood. And these days, the innovation is in creating a corporate model that involves a firearm and a foot. Or a hara kiri blade. Anything other than the traditional, outmoded model that made the Picayune so popular.

Our response in the past to shrinking revenue and increasing demand for immediacy has been to reduce pages and payroll, and to ask more of our leftover staff. We've whittled away at our business, and we all know it. But it’s clear that those efforts staved off a day of reckoning. And now we’ve created our own day of reckoning. See? It happened!

Our news organization has decided not to sit idly by as passive witnesses to our own decline; we choose to be active participants in our decline. This week, we announced that we will reduce the size of our staff through layoffs that will cause us to lose many talented colleagues. It was a deeply painful decision. But we made it in order to preserve and grow the journalism we and our community value. No, really.

The response to that last bit of news has been passionate. At least, that’s the rumor. We no longer have the resources — or the interest — to verify that.

Readers no longer want today's news tomorrow. They want it now, no matter how little information is available or whether or not it’s been vetted. They certainly don’t want the verified, in-depth pieces that are a hallmark of print media. Which is good, because our new online model ensures that overworked journalists won’t be able to pull themselves away from the pressure of generating constant online updates to devote the time necessary for a deeper story.

We are listening to your concerns and suggestions for the website and acting on them. (The paper itself, not so much.) It should be a site that feels familiar and gives an overview of the important stories, as well as the constantly updating stream of news in no particular order of relevance.

We want nola.com to be as much a part of your daily news habit and the glue that binds our community as The Times-Picayune is. Such a reputation takes decades to build, we know, but we’re asking for it now.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we proved that great, essential journalism does not require newsprint and a printing press. What it does require is great journalists, people who know our city and have a sense of mission about keeping readers informed and engaged, no matter the obstacles. Our commitment to that mission is undiminished.

Except for all the veteran reporters we fired remotely from New York. They were obstacles.

Hey, we’re a business. And business is expensive. Especially when all you’ve got is online revenue. When you look at it like that, this all makes sense.

The message is clear: adapt, or fade away. We will.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Some stripping for you

Another thing about the molester murder

I can see why people would be OK with the beating death of a man who was caught in the act of trying to molest a 4-year-old girl. I think everyone agrees that child molesters are the worst kind of people. We can debate whether the father deserves a jail sentence for the act, and/or whether its circumstances truly constitute self-defense. That's all fair and good.

But when you start cheering for the man to earn Father of the Year awards, I think that's going too far. Something like this should be seen as a regretful situation. The father himself said he is "very remorseful" that the man died. While the father prevented one terrible thing from happening, another happened in its place. Death and violence, even when involving a true heel, carries emotional baggage of its own, especially if the little girl witnessed the fight. Whether it's the girl, the father, the family or all of the above, someone will carry a heavy toll over the outcome of this. The dad definitely will, even if he has no regrets.

Self- or parental defense, like war, are things that should be given the weight they deserve. They should always be a last resort and never the subject of fist-pumping. As disturbing as the incident was, it's also disturbing to see people want to put this father on a pedestal. He doesn't want to be there; he did what his instincts told him to do. We can argue the ethics of that, but stop with the bloodlust. Please.

The culture of overcompensation

Today I planned on writing a blog about the dad who punched to death a man trying to molest his daughter. It was going to criticize the disturbingly high number of good people who cheered this act of vigilantism under the delusion that two wrongs make a right. But I kept reading responses to the “You’re not special” speech and those reactions continue to nag me as well. It’s hard for me not to see the support behind this speech as an overreaction to perceived failings in raising a generation of kids — times are tough, kids are idiots, obviously we’ve failed in making them think they’re special to us. So, hey, kids, you’re not. The world is indifferent to you and, by the way, you suck at your activities.

Apparently it isn’t enough to teach them that they have to earn their place in the world — now we’re telling them they aren’t even special to their loved ones until they amount to something. You know those movies where a child strives to succeed to please his parents, but then in the end the parents love them for who he is? Well, I suspect we’re going to see more Tiger-Mommish cinematic moments from here on out.

Overcompensation. That’s what we’re about now.

Someone commit a heinous crime? Let’s form a mob and kill the bastard!

Are our kids arrogant? Let’s tell them they’re no different than ants, and offer nothing but conditional love!

Terrorists attack our country? We can attack their (or some) country so much better!

A decade-long dip in the economy due to reckless deficit spending and irresponsible tax cuts? Time for drastic austerity measures that punish those who didn’t cause it!

Global warming? Not only is it not real, I bought a massive SUV just to spite you!

The NFL. Enough said.

The common thread in these examples is that the solutions don’t address the real problems, but they do satisfy primal urges. Times are tough, we’re told, so we don’t have the time, energy or money for thoughtful, responsible and lasting solutions. We do it because even if we have doubts, “something must be done.” We must be reactionary, hoping two wrongs make it right this time. (Hey, it works in countries that have been fighting for 2,000+ years!)

The reverse — solutions that actually help and don’t scratch our vengeance itch — is not popular:

BP oil spill? No talk of banning all drilling, or even of making it safer.

Woefully underfunded government? No talk of raising taxes.

Dangerous chemicals or fats in foods? Eh, buyer beware.

Justice through the justice system? What fun is that?

Nope. Overcompensation is satisfying, and we’ve decided tough times make the perfect excuse. Nowadays, even our solutions have to keep us entertained.

I yearn for a better show.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A special parsing

Whenever something comes out that everyone loves and I don't, I feel like I have to revisit it to see if I missed something. Such is the case with the viral “You’re not special” graduation speech.

People are nearly unanimously deifying this speech, but I found parts of it to be cranky and bitter. I emphasize “some,” because there were points I agreed with 100 percent and others I cared for less, but not enough to be riled up about them. That’s why I avoided writing a direct rebuttal to it — it’s nowhere near the worst academic speech I’ve ever read (that would be this, which fortunately is fake). I’ve read lots of these speeches lately, and they led me to talk about a broader point here.

Really, the only thing I objected to in this speech was the main point, that the kids were wrong to think of themselves as special. And even then it was mostly how he put it.

Before I get into that and why I might be wrong, let’s lead off with the reasons why I bristled at this speech:

The title immediately hit me with a bad first impression. It smacks of the militant, “get in line” philosophy that Americans claim to despise when it comes to communist countries or the social contract, but otherwise glorify at every turn. Strike one.

In my experience, such calls against specialness typically go hand-in-hand with complaints about “political correctness” and “the liberal agenda” in schools. This rhetoric naturally arises from conservatives, whose answers to education troubles involve their favorite pastimes: social Darwinism, corporal punishment and privatization. Strike two.

I’m not a big fan of anything that people praise as “telling it like it is,” because that usually means something is harsh and mean-spirited, which people mistakenly equate with truth. They claim they don’t want to sugarcoat, as if the only alternative is blunt force trauma. Many people take pride in this trait: “I’m not a jerk, just honest. If you don’t like it, it’s not my fault you can’t handle it.” Yeah, sure it is. Batter out.

I also don’t subscribe to the notion that you have to shock and shame people into being responsible. While that’s sometimes necessary, I think it says more about our obsession with authority and control than about the degree of our problems. If we really cared, we’d fix them over time instead of trying to snap students awake during the appropriate dramatic moment. Strike four.

Personally, I think the kids are all right and always will be. Concerns to the contrary arise from adults glorifying their own childhood and seeing the next generation from an opposing and threatening perspective. Strike five.

There’s something amazingly projective about baby boomers telling teenagers that they’re self-centered and entitled. If true, where did that attitude come from? Two outs.

As someone who has sat through three graduation speeches of my own and countless others as a spectator, I understand the value of a unique, outstanding, even provocative speech. But however well-received this one was, I’m pretty sure I would have been seething if the speaker implicated that I was worthless and an entitled brat for thinking otherwise. Fly out. And that’s the inning.

When first reading this speech, I did so through the lens of my own scholastic experience. Shortly before I turned four, doctors diagnosed me as developmentally disabled. I went to a developmental preschool for more than a year before starting kindergarten (where I took speech therapy). I felt inside like a normal kid (and others agreed), but outwardly like a mental patient. It was hard to reconcile the two at five years old. Early on in first grade, my teacher promoted me to the best reading group in the class, Reading Group 3. For me, that was the first inkling that maybe I was right about myself. It gave me confidence. I made straight As. By second grade I was in gifted classes.

My grades were never that good again, but were good enough for me to remain in gifted through 12th grade. For the rest of my academic career, my grades largely reflected my interest in the material. Even when I made Fs, I never groveled, because I knew they were my Fs. I did what I had to do, usually. And with my parents so often having bigger fish to fry, I did it largely under the radar. The result: I never failed a class in 21 years (though I did drop one and repeat a couple to make better grades). I wouldn’t have fared so well if I hadn’t had some confidence boosts along the way. I’ve struggled with self-esteem my entire life, and feeling special motivated me. So I hated see someone bemoan specialness as a cause for our problems.

But then I talked to friends and read it again. And in another context, I see some truth to it.

Others, as I’ve since learned, see it through the eyes of an educator plagued by entitled brats (students who feel money should buy a degree) and helicopter parents (who think their child is of an elite pedigree on account of being their child). In that case, yes, they’re not special. (I’ll never forget being in middle school science, where bringing in batteries meant extra points. The richer kids in the class would skip projects and bring in crates of batteries. One day the teacher snapped, said you can’t buy all your points and flunked many of them on a project. That made me feel special.)

I think the “special” spiel would be superb for parents at an early point in their child’s education. Because helicopter parenting takes a possibly irreversible toll after 12 years. Maybe if we caught it earlier, there wouldn’t be so many graduates who are entitled brats. Would it help? It’s worth a shot. Overcompensating too late won’t.

I think life will quickly take care of any sense of entitlement real fast for these students. I foresee this generation turning out much like my grandparents', given that we’re seeing hardships similar to that of earlier generations — war, depression, thrift, the dangers of greed and arrogance, etc. They’ll need to feel special, in the right kind of way, to barrel through life. And hopefully it will be a great, fulfilling, special life.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Another boring dream blog

Yesterday, I had a dream that someone assigned me to drive a school bus. It was packed with adults, many of whom were my neighbors, and I had to take them somewhere. I had no idea where to go or even if it was time for me to leave the stop — and also I fretted about not having a CDL — but I hit the gas and pressed on anyway.

I've never driven a bus before, but it felt to me like just a larger cargo van. It handled OK, though the brakes were not as responsive as I expected and I nearly hit some guy and a cute girl on rollerblades. (In my defense, both darted out in the street just in front of me.) I then entered a tunnel, emerging in a big, busy metropolitan area. I made a left turn, after which I realized I was flying blind. So I stopped and yelled out, "So, where exactly are you guys headed?" (Apparently, my unfamiliarity with the bus spread to lack of awareness of the microphone.) To my surprise, several people said, "You're at our stop," and everyone got off.

This happens a lot in my dreams. I never know where I'm going, but I always get precisely where I need to be. What does that mean?

Don't answer that. I know exactly what it means.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

One of those faces

I'm oven it


I can think of eight more reasons:

• There's lots of enthusiastic frying

• Being able to order trans fats is freedom, baby

• You'll get better treatment if you idle in a car rather than walk up

• Both enjoy a rigged game of Monopoly

• The people making things can't afford to buy them

• You're not a customer, you're a "job creator"

• The food may look different, but it's all the same stuff inside. And a token salad.

• In both cases, you're dealing with clowns and robbers

Friday, June 08, 2012

Obama's Coro Nation


These disenchanted liberals apparently wanted Obama -- upon taking office -- to have instantly transformed every campaign promise into law by the simple wave of a pen. Or maybe they would have preferred Obama to have walked out onto a White House balcony where, in a scene reminiscent of the musical "Evita," he would be greeted by adoring throngs waiting below, and on the spot, declare that all his ideas were now the law of the land.

But here's the problem. Barack Obama is not a king, he's the president of the United States. ...

Being president requires some degree of compromise due to the very nature of our government. That is the way it has been for more than 200 years. While President Obama may be far from perfect -- and, I, too, have been disappointed with some of his decisions -- I certainly prefer him to a king.

I've said this before — anyone who thought George W. Bush was autocratic as president shouldn't be angry that Obama isn't. We shouldn't mistake the president's failure to enact tenets of his vision with an unwillingness to do so; he is, after all, subject to checks and balances. Often ridiculous checks and balances these days, but that's how the system is set up. And it's set up that way precisely because no branch of the federal government is supposed to grow too powerful. Having our guy in office doesn't make autocracy OK — if nothing else, you're setting a precedent for the next president, who might not be so friendly.

The system also shows why a more ideologically "pure" president such as Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich would be a disaster — either they don't compromise and get nothing done, or they do compromise and betray everything they supposedly represent. Given that, it's actually sort of amazing that we have Obama in office, and that he's getting as much done as he has. 

Obama is bad at being king, but we're also bad at being a monarchy.

A special piece

I don’t get this whole movement against self-esteem and telling young people they’re special. It seems to revel in the idea that life is a bloodsport where everyone isn’t going to win, many will lose and losing comes specifically from thinking positively.

I get that you don’t want someone to develop an inflated sense of self-importance or otherwise feel like the world owes them the universe. Selfishness is what drives greed and, consequently, the reckless behavior that shoulders a lot of the blame for our nation’s woes. (And inspires insufferable Ayn Rand disciples.) But I don’t think those repellent attributes arise from encouraging a kid. In fact, they seem to coexist with the same competitive, winner-loser mindset that worries about them in the first place.

There’s a difference between rightfully curbing arrogance and beating down an individual. This is a staple of many religions: that you’re insignificant and must not think otherwise for the good of the whole. It’s also true in the military and many tougher workplaces, where workers grovel to please (or not piss off) the big, stern boss. There are times when a hierarchy is essential to function. But insisting that we need to treat students this way is mean.

There has to be a middle ground where a kid can feel confident about themselves, while understanding their place in the vastness of the world around them.

Whenever I hear someone bemoan participation trophies or complain about possession of specialness with intent to distribute, the word that usually comes to my mind is “pushy.” These are the people who want to be No. 1 for its own sake. Their happiness is predicated on how high they (or their kids) can rise above the competition. So when they win a trophy, they don’t want anyone else to have one. If everyone else is happy, they are not. When they win the Olympic gold, it burns their asses that others have silver and bronze on their walls. Even when it comes to graduations and other non-competitive achievements, they want to be able to come out on top. It’s not about being the best one can be; it’s about being the best to shove it in others’ faces. It speaks to a profound insecurity.

I don’t think it’s coddling someone to show them support. Most people, children and adults alike, are naturally critical of themselves. Encouragement from others can make all the difference in how confident they become to pursue their potential. Negative influences abound, because it’s easier to tear someone down than it is to bring them up. We need all of the counteracting forces we can muster to marginalize that negativity.

Whenever someone says, “You’re not special,” what they really mean is, “Give up on your unique hopes and dreams. Either you’re Bill Gates or you’re working for him. There is a workaday world out there and it won’t work itself. Get in line, pay your dues and wait your turn.” It’s no surprise that these are the same people who ask Liberal Arts graduates what they plan to do with their degrees. And the same people who relish in telling all graduates, “You’re on your own, cog. I got mine. Life is hard. Enjoy this economy.”

That’s the last thing creative people ever want or need to hear. Because that workaday world is always going to be there. Despite the high unemployment rate, it’s harder to avoid getting sucked in than it is to get in. It will always be there. Your special opportunity might not be. So if that describes you, go for it. Don’t feel like you have to concede right away. Bitterness is a bitch.

Yes, you’re special. Don’t let people who aren’t bring you down.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Other things wrong with vouchers

Sayeth Gov. Bobby Jindal (via Dig): "We are letting parents decide what is best for children, not the government."

Sayeth Education Superintendent John White: "To me, it's a moral outrage that the government would say, 'We know what's best for your child.' Who are we to tell parents we know better?"

Who are you? You're THE STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION! You should be telling every parent in the state, "I am a qualified educator. I am in charge of the largest, most expansive school system in Louisiana, and as such I am bound to ensure that all of our schools are safe, effective and accountable. While our schools aren't perfect, you can be sure that our thoroughly vetted and scrutinized curriculum is much better than you will find in the basement at Jethro's Jesus Shack."

But that would require White to be competent in his position, and as a conservative in government, he has a sworn duty to be a train wreck. Such words would also do nothing to address the staggering lack of public education funds going to Jethro's Jesus Shack, Revisionist Learnin' LLC, Lord's Gym and Academy Sports & Outdoors Academy.

So instead of improving public schools or otherwise not shirking his responsibilities, White insists that parents will be smart shoppers. HAS HE EVER MET ANY PARENTS? Most of them suck at stuff like this. That's true even if they're excellent, hands-on parents, which many parents frankly aren't. Either they're too busy, too ignorant, too drugged-up, too tired, too complacent or just unqualified to make a decision that could adversely affect how their child fares in life. And really, should they even have to do that? Isn't the whole point of compulsory education that all schools offer all children the chance to learn and succeed? Sometimes the state does need to step in. Someone has to be able to say, "Those uneducated parents are making a mistake sending their kid to the Vicious Cyclery of Little Knowledge. Here's a better plan."

On the other hand, maybe all parents are better judges of schools than White. He seems like a total dunce.

Also:

• No matter how this turns out for Louisiana education — whether it's apocalyptic or merely an unmitigated disaster — its advocates will consider it a success. This is a guarantee. It'll sound something like this: "Kids who used vouchers are now testing two grades above their public school brethren. See? Like, it totally works!" Yeah, it works for the students for whom it works. What about the other ones in the crumbling schools who aren't doing any better? Are they a control group? Do they now exist solely to be the Washington Generals to the superstar Harlem Globetrotters? Apparently, because no one seems to want to teach the Generals any special tricks; they're too general. So take any measure of success with a grain of salt; they'll be focusing on the winners at the expense of the losers over something that shouldn't even be a game.

• "Mini-vouchers" will allow parents to shop (oh boy!) for classes, apprenticeships and tutoring offered by private companies. As is the case with many of the state-approved voucher schools, many of these will offer materials of dubious quality taught by questionably qualified instructors with ulterior ideological intent. But hey, profits! At least that lesson will stick.

Union versus the snake

Republicans hate governments and unions because they are powerful bodies accountable to the people, and that gets in the way of complete hegemony of corporations. When they say that governments and unions are too powerful, what they're really saying is, corporations aren't powerful enough. They hold up flaws in governments and unions as proof that they must be marginalized, but never make the same point about corporations. They paint those groups as thugs, hoping that you don't notice that their side has even less accountability.

Make no mistake: the GOP isn't about curbing so-called "thuggery"— it wants the monopoly on it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

My biased opinion on bias and opinion

(Inspired by Point 9 of this impressive piece)

People who read or watch the news often claim that it’s biased. They’re right. But they’re also very wrong.

I have long criticized the idea of the unbiased news source. It’s a false ideal, because everyone harbors biases. Bias is like cholesterol — mostly known for being bad, but also for being essential to life in its good form. Every time an editor decides what cover or include in a publication, they are exercising bias. No one, be they journalist or reader, can wade through the infinite amount of news and perspectives that are out there. And really, who would want to? Everyone filters and interprets life in their own way. And that’s why no one can truly call themselves unbiased. A good editor will harness bias toward favoring relevance and accuracy rather than veiled ideology or revenue.

In order to be a great beat reporter, a person must take interest in their area of coverage — and with interest comes bias. A court reporter is going to have some notion, be it intellectual or emotional, about how the judicial system should work (and when it doesn’t). A music/arts reporter will inevitably gravitate toward a certain artist, period or genre. A religion reporter probably isn’t neutral on the subject. A sports writer will hold allegiances to their favorite teams. It’s natural. But if the scribes are any good, it’s the interest more than the bias that will shine through in the coverage. You get strong journalism by people who know what they’re talking about.

(Conversely, unbiased journalism isn’t necessarily better journalism. No one should be plunked into a beat where they have no knowledge or interest, strictly in the name of objectivity. That’s likely to lead to flat, incomplete and inaccurate stories.)

Even political bias, the form of bias most people think of and fear, isn’t that big a deal. Consumers of news often worry about political bias, shaped largely by the view that reporters are not only neutral in coverage, but are also neutral within. And that simply isn’t true. I know plenty of journalists on a personal level, and virtually all of them are incredibly opinionated (and not all are liberal). You’d never know it from their work (and most of them don’t recklessly blog like I do), but some of them would put my ferocity to shame.

Like any good journalist, I am able to jettison, or at least harness, my biases when necessary. I am aware of them, and I want others to be aware of them. It leads me to take an extra second to ask myself if I’m being fair. Fairness is paramount. When I can’t do it, I won’t do the story. But I’ll always do my best when I do. That’s what we do.

Not that showing bias is always bad, either. Many of history’s most memorable journalists are remembered for that very thing. For example, Walter Cronkite famously declared that Vietnam had become “a stalemate, at best.” Editorials abound in every newspaper, publication and news website in the world. Despite the corporate trend toward interchangeable cogs, a memorable writer will always stick with people. A publisher once told me that writers shouldn’t be afraid to take stances when appropriate, because readers deserve to take that into consideration. He and I didn’t agree on much ideologically, but we agreed on that.

So don’t worry about bias — worry about ethics. Bias is personal, but ethics is shared. An ethical newsroom breeds professionalism. Someone with strong ethics will temper (or accent) their biases when necessary out of a sense of journalistic integrity. Ethical behavior ensures that a journalist won’t accept bribes meant to influence coverage. It means they will disclose any potential conflict of interest. But most of all, it means they’ll exercise good judgment and apply the correct standards for the situation at hand.

Ethics, not bias, matters most in a news organization. One that honors a code of ethics and acknowledges its biases is honest and trustworthy. One that doesn’t, isn’t.

That’s my opinion, anyway.

Newsflash

There is no "zombie apocalypse" happening. What you're seeing is two things:

1) Connections between bizarre news stories that aren't there. This is partially because of sensationalist reporting, but also because people on the Internet are indulging in a bit of fun. See also, Summer of the Shark.

2) A major news fail. I get someone on Facebook tying a bunch of incidents together and joking about it, but why journalists lend it credence is beyond me. As far as I can tell, these are pretty serious attacks, at least some of which involve the use of a new designer drug whose long-term effects are largely unknown.  

I don't know if these attacks really are happening more or if the reports are just out there in greater numbers, but I think that's worth looking into. If we do have a serious crisis on our hands, let's deal with the causes. No one should be chewing off someone else's face. If we're just gonna laugh that off, then maybe we're the zombies.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Better put than I could ever say

"Forgive me for noting that conservatives seem to believe that the rich will work harder if we give them more, and the poor will work harder if we give them less." — E.J. Dionne Jr.

Jonah Over The Hill

Here’s a story where the headline buries the real lunacy within:


That headline actually misrepresents what Jonah Goldberg says, which is that conservatives should “beat out” of youth the (apparently popular) idea that socialism is better than capitalism. It’s a staggeringly broad, ignorant and meat-headed thing to say, but it seems to me more metaphorical than literal.

No, the real lunacy here is that Goldberg says the voting age is too low at 18 because teenagers are “so frickin’ stupid about so many things.”

I guess he would know. Goldberg has long been considered a voice of young conservatism. Even now, his Los Angeles Times bio touts him as “one of the most prominent young conservative journalists on the scene today.” Yes, at 43, Goldberg counts as young in the GOP. So when he says the voting age should be raised, well, chalk that frickin’ stupid thing up to youthful naivete.

When the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1971, it wasn’t because Richard Nixon thought he could mine a new demographic of socked-to-me youth votes — it was because someone noticed you could get drafted for three years before you were able to vote. Whoops! If you’re old enough to die for your country, you should be able to vote for the leaders who ship you off to war. That’s exactly the kind of discrepancy that deserves a constitutional amendment.

But it’s no surprise that Goldberg disagrees. Conservatives often place value judgments on what they see as youth issues. They don’t want to raise the minimum wage because, they say, only teenagers and uneducated people earn it. They disparage the youth vote by saying they’re too stupid to know what they want (until they start voting Republican, that is). This mentality insists that anyone who votes against old-school, aristocratic conservatism is an idiot and doesn’t count. Republicans know they can’t appeal to youth with what they’ve got, and they’re fine with that.

The GOP today is a collective of rich, white, older, ultraconservative males interested only in maintaining the status quo. They have the wealth and the power and they want to keep it that way. They are not interested in youth because the future does not matter to them. They scoff at environmental issues, education, poverty, infrastructure — the very problems U.S. youth will have to address in the years ahead. And the next generations will do so with an undercurrent of progressive thought. Yes, you will always have conservatives, liberals, libertarians and other ideologies in society, but they will coexist under more progressive norms than past generations. We care more about the environment than we used to. We cannot fathom segregation. A college education isn’t a rich man’s trophy. We’re more wired to the world. This isn’t idealism; it’s already happened and will continue to happen. No wonder older conservatives want no part of this.

They want you to think that age alone brings wisdom. Older people have experience and wisdom, sure, but they also tend to be set in their ways and resistant to new ideas. Conversely, young people may lack experience, but they have more expansive imaginations and thus some the best, outside-the-box ideas. And they’re much less likely to say things like, “outside the box.” Also a plus.

Everyone hits an age — it’s different for each person — where they start shaking their fists at “the young people.” It happens when the person realizes they’ve emerged from the anus of the youth chrysalis, or otherwise when they feel they’ve earned some wisdom that comes only with hard knocks. In any case, they fervently embrace the idea of mature adulthood and put away childish things. And they become absolutely insufferable.

At 32, I’m old enough to have succumbed to this many times over. And at times, I have (albeit mostly in the form of being aggravated when kids have no sense of time or space in crowded public places). But I adamantly refuse to subscribe to the notion that an entire age group is inherently stupid, or automatically smart. I know 22-year-olds I’d trust with the keys to this country right now, and at least one 43-year-old I wouldn’t.