Sunday, March 31, 2013

The trouble with certainty

Have militant atheists created a new religion? Despite inaccurate and projective complaints from the religious right, I think they have.

A few years ago, my sister wrote a term paper that cited me as an atheist. She had me proofread the paper, and I stopped cold when I read that. I found something viscerally repulsive about the description, a feeling that surprised me in its force. I'm certainly not religious, but atheist? Is that how I came off? And why does this bother me, anyway?

I had my sister revise the description a bit, learning a little bit about myself in the process. Turns out, I'm not an atheist, at least in the most common societal definition. I'm friends with plenty of avowed atheists, and many of them are (as Frans de Waal describes in the above link) ironically dogmatic about it. They tend to have grown up in strictly religious environments, and have simply replaced belief in a godly system with belief in a godless system. The fervor, the evangelism and the certainty all remain. 

De Waal argues that such a mindset arises from trauma, and I'm inclined to agree. The most militant atheists I know all have some past rift with their indigent church. Even if it's something minor to outsiders, it shaped everything that has come after (and makes it just as likely that they'll change completely yet again in the future).

Such trauma never hit me, probably because church was always an outside experience. We went very occasionally, and for me it always felt like an obligation. I did pick up some Catholic-centric ideas about the nature of heaven, hell and sinning — mostly through reading on my own and imagining heaven as shown on funeral cards — but they were mostly harmless notions easily disposed as I got older. I lived in numerous fantasy lands as a child, and that was just another one of them.

So despite the lamentations of many a well-meaning relative or friend, I think I came out better because of it. I never rebelled because there was nothing to rebel against; my beliefs came about through education and consideration rather than any traumatic rift. That's likely why I rarely think about what I believe, talk even less about it and never try to convert anyone. Personal morals should be an evolutionary process, one not prone to the high-pressure sales tactics of extreme evangelists. Which is why I'm no more comfortable watching Bill Maher rip up a church figure than I am watching Kirk Cameron try to convert people in the Third World. It seems cheap either way.

As to what I believe: it basically boils down to, I just don't know. None of us do. The only certain things are that 1) we're all guessing and 2) that some have preyed on that guessing as a means of real-world control. 

Any other certitude is arrogance. And that's the worst dogma of all.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

An easy one about churches and gays

Within the span of a few minutes last night, I saw repeatedly what I guess is the latest talking point against gay marriage — the question of why government needs to be involved in the first place. After all, marriage is a God thing.

I'm glad they finally got around to asking that. But I don't think they're going to like the answer.

Marriage is more than just the covenant thing with God and whatnot. In a secular society, none of that matters. What matters is that two consenting adults enter into a contract that gives them significant legal rights over each other's affairs in specific circumstances. If that partnership dissolves, many things must be settled. This would be true whether or not government officially sanctioned marriage licenses, but this way at least there is redress. It may be a mess, but at least it's a mess with recourse.

The fact that the church's designation doesn't matter in a civil sense is, in fact, the best argument for gay marriage. Because, despite what critics bray, no one is forcing churches to marry gays. Within the confines of their own structures and their own beliefs, they can choose who they marry. And that's because, at least theoretically, we have separation of church and state. The state's job is to allow marriages between two consenting adults without regard for whatever dogma the church states — therefore, the state has no reason to honor discrimination against gays. Leave that to the churches. (But if those churches use public places or outside parties in the practice of discrimination, of course they deserve legal retribution.)

If anything, it's not "big government" to allow gay marriage; it's smaller government. Because as it stands now, churches who wish to marry gays (and yes, those exist) cannot make it legal. How's that for government meddling?

By insisting that marriage is a church thing and not a government issue, critics of gay marriage highlight exactly why governments should stay out of church affairs and vice versa. Thus, government shouldn't sanction what is entirely driven by religion. In this case, not letting gays marry.

Thanks, guys!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Doubling down when equality is divisive

The equal sign has exploded on Facebook like nothing I've ever seen before (even for a medium where a constant bombardment of graphics beg you to "make this your profile pic!"). I don't change my profile picture to reflect topical events, but this was the first time I ever considered it. It's that popular and relevant.

As I said earlier, I'm heartened that gay rights has become such a mainstream movement that its success is all but guaranteed. The emergence of more tolerant generations, among other agents of change, has led to a profound cultural shift that will only accelerate. Make no mistake — no amount of right-wing pushback or occasional legal hurdles will ever shove this shift back in the closet, any more than racial bigots have brought back the days of Jim Crow. The recent flurry of endorsements by politicians, pundits and even religious leaders for gay marriage shows how far we've come, and fast.

So too can this irreversible trend be seen in the last-gasp desperation exhibited by the holdouts. The backlash profile pics on Facebook (such as crosses or the unequal sign, and all tough to separate from parody) are one example. 

Hate the sin, love to hate the sinner.
Here's another example of the wrong-side show, from The Looking Spoon:

I chose this graphic because it touches on several points I've seen separately elsewhere. As a straight white male with no immediate intent to get married, I want to clear up some things:

• My support for gay rights has nothing to do with anything I saw in the media; it has everything to do with compassion and human decency. That's true of everything I believe. I don't recall my befriending of a gay classmate in 7th grade when other kids were throwing things at him to be influenced by a gripping Peter Jennings commentary, but it was many years ago. So who knows?

I do know that, having spent nearly my entire career in media, it isn't the mind-control mechanism so many conservatives think it is. If it was, don't you think they'd hypnotize some revenue out of people before bothering with the echo chamber?

Same goes for Hollywood, by the way. I've appeared in nine movies and a TV series, and I have yet to have a director tell me how we're going to brainwash people. (Maybe that's a lecture they save for the credited actors.)

Oh, and forget college. If going to a university in south Louisiana didn't make me conservative, it isn't going to make a conservative liberal. Well, OK, maybe the second one. Knowledge has a way of opening minds.

• "Real courage" is not the term I'd use to describe adherence to discrimination. There's a reason we consider Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers courageous, and not Lester Maddox, George Wallace and Bull Connor. Right and wrong are often fluid concepts, but sometimes they're granite.

• "Traditional and moral values" have been used to excuse every terrible institution about America since slavery. They never hold up over the course of time, and won't now. It's disingenuous anyway, because where in the Constitution (or even in the Bible) does it say that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman? And where is abortion? Regressive taxation? Did I overlook those passages? 

• Gay marriage will make America stronger because it represents faith in freedom rather than repression. That we can admit our longstanding wrongs and right them. That we won't adhere to glaring double standards or bend to aggressive bigotry. That's the kind of nation I believe the U.S. needs to be, and was meant to be — America the Beautiful.

That, not the last gasp of rationalized hatred, is the future of our nation. Praise Jesus.

A long-overdue equal sign

No matter what the Supreme Court decides on Prop 8, gay marriage is happening. At this point, the worst the Court can do is uphold the legislation for a few more years. That worst-case scenario doesn't have a chance of stemming the social tide on gay marriage — not that I think the Court will rule that way. This is a done deal. The future. Gay marriage will be seen by babies already born as something they won't believe was ever a fight.

Just a few years ago, the debate on gay marriage was defined by the ick factor. A comedian whose name escapes me once encapsulated the sentiment perfectly. He said (I'm paraphrasing here) that the debate weighed heavily in favor of marriage because all the other side could say was, "They're FRIGGIN' QUEERS!" That's only partially true — opponents also had the Orwellian "special rights" argument (also used to justify racism) and Rick Santorum's telling "man-on-dog" slippery slope. Oh, and that hetero marriage would be demeaned or something. These and other heart-hardening, head-scratching "arguments" were enough to turn the tide of the 2004 election.

Nine years later, even Bill O'Reilly admits that the anti-gay contingent has nothing substantial on their side. Sure, he could just be pandering; but even that fact, if true, reflects the scope of the social shift. Who thought in 2004 that pundits and politicians would side with gay marriage to gain broad appeal? Between then and now, it went from being political poison to being obvious. In less than a decade. Astonishing.

One could argue that advocates successfully sold the arguments that I've long advanced — that a civil contract between two consenting adults should be recognized by a secular government and that gay people deserve the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. 

But I think it's more than that. One of the redeeming traits of the American people is our capacity to evolve. That evolution, even in the face of lingering ignorance, is toward acceptance and enlightenment. Always. We've gone from being a nation of slaveholders to one that is on the cusp of finally granting gays full civil rights. What drives that evolution? Empathy. Education. Love. 

In a country where freedom is so often defined as the right to hoard money and to discriminate, it's heartening to see a true example of freedom burst forth. I'm excited for what legal gay marriage will mean for all of us — ever so gradually, a more perfect union. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Good luck sleeping tonight

Oh, the power of a black-and-white printer.
I needed a copy of my driver's license for a movie gig. What I got was my next LinkedIn picture. Oh yeah. Picnic in the park?

Friday, March 22, 2013

It's about the rod, not free speech

Yesterday, a student teacher in Lafayette was suddenly relieved of his duties and escorted out of his school. The termination was related to some comments he’d made at a school board meeting the previous evening.

When I first heard about this, I was outraged. I’m not a fan of free speech costing you your job, especially in the education profession, nor have I ever been a particular fan of the school board. But after listening to his speech, I understand why the board took action. It wasn’t about speech; he said he wanted “the tools” to do his job. Considering his remarks that discipline alone (not poverty or neglect) is the problem, and that he’d have handled a recent confrontation “in another manner,” I suspect he wants the latitude to beat unruly kids.

I’m not an educator or a parent, nor am I in this guy’s shoes. I’m not here to argue his points (some of which are, in his defense, on the nose). But I know people, and some have itchy trigger fingers (metaphorically speaking). They’re the ones who fight hard for corporal punishment, because they can think of so many times when they’d use it. That’s a red flag in my book.

When I undertook substitute teacher training two years ago, most of the session involved how to handle bad behavior. And the main lesson was, DO NOT LOSE YOUR COOL. My teacher friends tell me that much of the certification process runs along the same lines. Conduct is a vital aspect of teaching that matters every bit as much as the lesson plan, possibly even more so. I don’t have kids, but if I did, I’d rather have them taught by a calm, qualified professional than someone who thinks all problems arise from lack of beatings.

Punishment should always be a last resort, a regrettable use of authority that, when employed, should be measured and not counterproductive. Just like with spanking, use of weapons, going to war or any other decision that can lead to pain, it shouldn’t be something shouted off the mountaintops as a first resort. Those who push hardest for those measures are usually the ones who should have the least discretion to use them.

For that reason, I support at least a disciplinary period against the teacher. Anyone who thinks this is about free speech is missing the point (though I’m sure that is a valid issue in other circumstances). If the teacher in question really cares as he says he does, he’ll use this as a teachable moment. I hope he does and can bounce back as a result. If not, let it be a lesson to others.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The next New York Times #1 Bestselling Novelty?

The latest Republican pan-flash for 2016 is a man named Benjamin Carson. The African-American doctor who lambasted President Obama during a prayer breakfast is turning heads in conservative circles — for being an African-American doctor who lambasted President Obama during a prayer breakfast. If that doesn’t cover every item on the party’s HR checklist, it’s at least a huge bite.

Carson is seen by many as the next Herman Cain or Clarence Thomas. I will not argue that point.

Oftentimes when I hear a black Republican (or a young conservative of any race or gender, for that matter) speak on a national stage, I wonder how they got there. It isn’t that they’re bad or stupid necessarily, but most have a mediocrity about them. Almost as if they won a “You can be a public figure!” contest.

Then it occurs to me — oh, they’re black. Or young. Or a woman. Or they were poor once. And that’s enough. The GOP’s biggest hurdle to inclusiveness is its complete lack of interest in inclusiveness. At the same time, it knows it can’t survive long-term on the increasingly rare 97-octane resentment juices of the Rich Angry White Male, so it has to at least make a token attempt at diversity. Tokens are precisely what the party gets as a result, because most truly civic-minded people aren’t willing to be a pretty face for an ugly platform. In baseball terms, this leaves the Republicans with a shallow bench. They have to take what they can get, and their lineup of politicians and pundits reflects that.

I’ve often joked that if I were a conservative, I’d at least have a radio show by now. But I’m not sure how much of a joke that really is. Young/black/female liberals just don’t merit the national focus their conservative counterparts get, because the novelty factor isn’t there. And neither are Fox’s deep pockets.

Carson is the latest line of supposed stereotype-busters destined for at least short-term fame, and possibly a show on TV or radio. That doesn’t mean he’s the voice of an emerging movement — it means the exact opposite. If black conservatives were a dime a dozen, the GOP could trade up from its Carsons, Cains and Thomases and present someone who isn’t a transparent token.

Or, better yet, not have to present them at all, because they’d be too common to make waves.

Now there’s a novel idea!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Settling on a fair price

You know what? I can get on board with this one.

We hear a lot from the conservative corner that "Freedom Isn't Free." It's one of those universal truths that's been hijacked in recent years to, among other things, justify a horrific war in Iraq.

But the sentiment, stated this way, isn't so bad. The first part, especially, is one I'm glad to see the conservatives posting this getting behind.

After all, economic prosperity doesn't happen in a vacuum — it requires a societal and economic structure that allows people not only to be successful, but also to protect what they've earned. Both of those actions require maintenance of the involved infrastructure. That requires regulations, law enforcement, education and many more public works, funded by taxpayer monies. In recent decades, however, many of the richest people (and corporation-people) have done all they can to shirk that responsibility and accountability. They've succeeded in a lot of ways, leaving us teetering on the economic edge (and with themselves holding most of the cards). They've also been successful in convincing many of the people they're screwing to see their way by appealing to greed and ego. The result is a deep divide between rich and poor, made worse by the rampant notion that it's every person for themselves.

So I'm encouraged to see at least some people come around to the need for the nation's biggest exploiters to do and pay their fair share. Responsibility and accountability! 

That is what they mean, right?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The many cramps of the Jindal tax plan

Do you ever read or hear something so stupid, that your brain cramps from trying to make sense of it?

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tax proposal comes to mind. In a nutshell, it aims to eliminate all sales taxes, making up the lost revenue by increasing sales taxes on most items. My brain’s already cramping.

The plan is also supposed to be revenue-neutral, so it promises the same abnormally low level of tax revenue but the rich will pay even less of a share and the poor (of course) stand to get soaked. But still, it’s supposed to be better for all of us somehow. Ow, my head.

Oh, but the poorest people will supposedly get prebate checks or something like that to deal with the sudden, surging costs. You know, because conservatives hate red tape and government dependence. Anybody got an aspirin?

It’s especially awesome to hear Jindal defender Tim Barfield insist that businesses will bear the burden of the change, despite the plan supposedly being hailed as pro-business. (And what’s the common conservative refrain about businesses passing on costs to consumers?) I need an Alka-Seltzer, because now my stomach’s queasy too.

Some say Jindal’s plan, whatever its fate, is the latest page in his President Portfolio™. Because a nationally ridiculed figure intent on eroding the one fan base he does have has a surefire ticket to the White House. Bring on the Excedrin Migraine!

And then there’s Jeff Sadow. Wow. Might as well grab the Midol now.

Sadow’s piece on The Hayride aims to reframe the debate in a conservative perspective — in other words, through semantic distortion, half-truths and whatever the opposite is of what he calls “empty demagoguery.” (I’m guessing full demagoguery?)

I could spend all night and most of the next day parsing everything that’s wrong and terrible about his editorial, but my cocktail of anti-cramp medicines is already too heavy. Suffice to say, much of it can be summed up in one of Sadow’s sentences:

Too often forgotten by conservatives, at least among those who aren’t populists, is that the increased intellectual demands underpinning their philosophy make cognitive demands on many unfamiliar with its study that causes what appears obvious to its articulators not to be understood fully by those receivers.

(Go ahead, read that five more times. I’ll wait.)

Translation: If someone doesn’t grasp conservatism, it’s because their brains are too feeble to handle its majesty. That’s not your fault. Continue to write condescending and pretentious run-on sentences.

The whole article makes my head pound, and each throb makes it harder for me to think clearly about the tax plan. No wonder Jindal and his apologists seem so intent on bringing the pain.

Dream cleaning

I've had a recurring dream for years, that goes like this:

I'm in the bedroom of the house in which I grew up, one which I commandeered at 11 and lived in until I was 19 (as of now, almost 14 years ago). The dream takes place in the present, always during the daytime, and sunshine is always streaming through the room's five windows. 

I am there to pick up a handful of things I left behind when we sold the house. In real life, we kept the house vacant for several months after we moved into the new one, and I actually did leave a couple of boxes in the room for awhile. When I first started having the dream, it reflected that reality. But over time (and sometimes in real time in the dream), more and more items returned to the room. Eventually, everything returned — my bed, my various items, clothes, large stacks of magazines, photos, piles of papers, even my old entertainment cabinet with its TV, stereo, VCR, videotapes and CDs.

And yet, my job was still to clear all of it out. I wasn't doing a very good job.

At some point, I gave up all but the most cursory efforts to organize anything and would visit from time to time just to watch old videotapes on my old Zenith TV. I felt like I shouldn't lose touch with my old technology. That was less burdensome than the increasingly Herculean task of trying to organize my life.

But last night, something happened. I cleaned it up. At least, the worst parts. My brother saw me staring at some papers and said, "If you haven't needed it for this long, just chuck it, man." So I did. And it felt good!

I woke up very refreshed. Hoping this is a harbinger of good news soon.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Are Republicans finished with humans?

According to this new report, the Republican National Committee has decided that it needs to learn how to reach out to youth, minorities and women.

Yes, learn how to reach out to them. Because they’re aliens, apparently, what with their weird languages and seamless spacecrafts and mysterious hand-feet that can vaporize normal humans with a lethal ray of ESP toe-thought.

But hold on.

It’s too easy to blast the GOP for being out of touch with today’s diverse society. Before learning of this report, I was preparing a blog on how the right often refers to Democrats “fooling” or “snookering” their base — a testament to Republican arrogance and bigotry.

What the report shows is that the party’s problem is actually far broader. It’s not just that it can’t relate to youth, minorities and women; it no longer relates to humans at all.

Check out these choice, juicy quotes pulled from the GOP plan by AlterNet’s Bill Scher to see what I mean:

“Establish an RNC Celebrity Task Force of personalities in the entertainment industry … as a way to attract younger voters.”

“RNC must rebuild a nationwide database of Hispanic leaders ... develop a nationwide database of African American leaders ... [and] APA [Asian and Pacific Islander] leaders.”

“Women need to hear what our motive is — why it is that we want to create a better future for our families and how our policies will affect the lives of their loved ones.”

“Instead of connecting with voters’ concerns, we too often sound like bookkeepers. We need to do a better job connecting people to our policies.”

“We can’t expect to address these demographic groups if we know nothing about them.”

“Our candidates and office holders need to do a better job talking in normal, people-oriented terms.”

Don’t you just feel the love?

The GOP’s objective is not to keep up with the times, but to find more creative ways to sell the same old dung (to an audience with which it shares a mutual loathing, no less). The party’s top-down strategy employs buzzwords in its quest to reach desired demographics by appealing to what they think those groups are like based on market research (meaning stereotypes). If that last sentence made you comatose, then you’ve tasted what the Republicans are cooking — it’s as if they’re the squids from Galaxy Quest, sewed up in human suits and trying desperately to figure out earthling emotions and those crazy “people-oriented terms.” 

Mitt Romney’s nomination suddenly makes a lot more sense.

At this point, the Republican Party could exist entirely without carbon-based life forms, humming along in corporate presentations across the U.S. The GOP, once the party of Lincoln and more recently the party of the rich white male, is now the party of the quarterly report.

Too bad for them it’s still humans who vote.

Why you should hope for a gun grab

I've seen this graphic and others like it enough lately, and I'm sick of it.

The dreaded take-all-yer-guns scenario is not a logical extension of sensible gun-control measures. To insist that it is, is like arguing that licensure of barbers is a ploy to eventually send all the barbers to concentration camps. You’d sound pretty stupid objecting to licensure on those grounds, and would be better off criticizing, say, excessive fees or bureaucratic hurdles. And those in favor of licensing could then spend their time explaining why it’s good to have an accountability system for hair-care professionals, rather than waste energy defending some absurd scenario that they don’t even support.

The number of Americans who want full confiscation of firearms probably can’t be counted in divisible numbers. No politician who wants a career in politics would so much as write “I hate guns” in their private diary on Opposite Day. Our leadership ranks are thus filled with people who universally support the Second Amendment to some degree (maybe not your degree, but neither does anyone support its repeal). Considering that we’re a country that recalls toys when two kids die but won’t even consider gun reform after the fifth mass shooting, I’d say gun rights remain our least-threatened freedom.

But OK. I’ll indulge those of you who think that complete confiscation is a real thing that could conceivably happen. Let’s pretend that President Obama really has the Soetoro Memorial Gun Grabber Bill of 2013 on his desk, and is waiting for the ghosts of Saul Alinsky and Inaccurate Hitler to give him the thumbs-up on signing it.

You should hope it happens. Why? Because it’s a chance for Obama-era conservatives to validate their cherished belief that government is a tyrannical, incompetent spendthrift. What could be better ammo for that than a costly, failed federal effort to take all personal weapons?

And it would fail, guaranteed. Even if the government could scrounge up the manpower and weapons necessary to overpower the most armed citizen (it’s not like one guy would knock on the door and politely ask), rounding up guns is like rounding up cockroaches — even if you had them all, you wouldn’t have them all. The government can’t even count all of its citizens, and the census is a constitutional mandate that rarely involves cold, dead defiance. What hope do the feds have of leaving no guns behind?

Not that such speculation matters, because the government doesn’t want a gun grab any more than you do. A PR crisis of that magnitude wouldn’t be worth whatever they’d hope to gain with such a move. A gain that exists mainly in the minds of those prone to flights of defensive fantasy.

It’s those people — the most extreme gun nuts, not the government — who make this debate necessary in the first place.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The hashtag: Not a status symbol

Or, I should clarify, Facebook itself is now experiementing. Many Facebook users have been experimenting with hashtags for a long time already.

Is this development good or bad? Hard to say. I like hashtags on Twitter, at least as long as they accompany a legible message. And sometimes, a hashtag on Facebook makes for a funny punch line. But hashtags, by definition, came about as a way to maximize Twitter's forced conciseness. On Facebook, where character limit is barely a thing, hashtags scream, "I am all about the SEO for my social presence!" Or, to put it more succinctly, #yourepretentious.

I'm #hangingout in #LFT! It's #changed so much since I last visited. #lafayette #myhometown #cantfindanything #grrrrr #city #louisiana #google

There's simply no excuse to abbreviate so obnoxiously, or append 12 tags to what you wrote. Write like you talk, not like Google's spiders want you to talk.

At the very least, have the excuse that you cross-post on both Twitter and Facebook. And then stop doing that. They're two different forums with different strengths and weaknesses. Embrace them.

But if people must hash it out on Facebook, at least it'll mean something now. Probably something awful like greater exploitation of user data. And we have the awful statuses to thank for that.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ugh. Just, ugh.

On a Lafayette TV station's Facebook thread yesterday (it was good news — a missing woman was found alive), someone made a comment (since removed) in exaggerated Ebonics to this effect:

"Y'all need to keep track of your people, when black folks lose somebody, they might just be in jail."

And of course people were outraged — because if a white person said that, wouldn't it be racist?!! Huff huff huff! 

Actually, yeah, it is racist. Because the Ebonic-plagued profile in question was very obviously the work of a white person. So it stands to reason that anything coming from it is racist. 

Check it out here if you really want to. Take a note of their "friends," too, at least one of whom actually has "Obama" as part of her name. Fake pictures, fake names, fake stats, few likes, few friends, recent timeline — everything points to these being the creation of white Acadiana residents who find badly outdated black stereotypes funny. (One even lists Compton, Illinois, as a hometown, because bigotry has no time for avoiding epic fails.)

It's sad, but not at all surprising. One of Lafayette's radio stations still has a morning-show character named "Tawana," a sass-talking ghetto woman who I've been told is voiced by a white man. I found it offensive 15 years ago, never mind today.

Acadiana is far more diverse than other places I've lived, but the sense of humor often reflects the opposite — that no white person has ever met a real, thinking, feeling, black person. Instead, they watched Chappelle's Show, stripped all its context and rolled with it. ("If a black comedian can make fun of blacks, it'll be just as funny when I do it!")

I'd give people the benefit of the doubt, but frankly there are too many closet racists here. And racists aren't known for being especially clever. "Well, see, I wanted to satirize the insensitive and inaccurate racial tropes that hinder understanding between cultures..." 

I know better. I've lived here too long. And it's "jokes" like these that make me embarrassed to admit it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In these popeless times

So I see it’s the home stretch of election season for the pope. And in true Catholic Church form, the election involves a handful of old men in a room, sequestered from the modern world, who will blow smoke when it’s over.

I can’t wait to see which of the like-minded old men will lead the church into a new era of hostility to progress. Pope Benedict XVI’s hand-picked henchmen will do us proud, I’m sure, in picking someone who will also do nothing about abuse scandals and everything else that turned people off to the institution they once held dear.

Oh, but I’m sure the “Catholics Come Home” movement will be a rousing success. That’s right, blame the victims. It’s their fault they’re turned off by a once-grand institution that has essentially become a PAC against gays and abortion. And, not to put too fine a point on it, harbored child molesters. “It’s OK,” the church says to its converted skeptics. “We forgive you.”


I’m not about to go “home.” I’m a lapsed Catholic only in the sense that someone who wasn’t me said I was a Catholic child. And even then, I only occasionally went to Mass and never partook in any ritual apart from one communion wafer when I was 18 — and that was at a funeral where I was a pallbearer. I find all religion to be human construct, and while I hope there is something cool and redemptive in the afterlife, I know that I’ll never know as long as I’m alive. But I do know that I don’t belong in an organization so patriarchal and hypocritical that it literally evokes the image of an abusive father. So the future holder of “il papa” is, at best, a subject of curiosity for me.

But I genuinely feel sorry for real Catholics, the ones who chose their faith and continue to believe in its mystery despite the Vatican’s shortcomings and repellence to change. I know most don’t condone child molestation or second-class status for women and most are just fine with adapting to the realities of today’s world. They wouldn’t be averse to altering the worst aspects of dogma, as has happened many times before. It’s those people who deserve a pope worthy of what the Catholic Church is capable of being.

My greatest hope is that the Catholic leadership, with the pope it elects, proves me wrong about its politics. Then I’d be happy to say, “Welcome home.”

3 a.m. thoughts

• When I was very little, I thought my dad's real name was Daddy. And I thought this knowing full well that everyone else's fathers had real names; my dad just happened to have Daddy as his real name. When I learned otherwise, I believed his name was the one he used on the radio, which didn't end in McGibboney. I guess I figured that they made up that name just in time to give my brother and I something tough to spell. Also, I objected to my brother sharing my last name because I thought everyone in the world had a unique name.

• I think auto dealerships should have store brands for discount cars, just like supermarkets carry store-brand products. You know, Driver's Choice, Valu-Vehicle, Sav-SUV, Costler, Af-Ford, Cheaprolet, Best Beast, General Foods International Cars (Compare to General Motors), etc.

• I want to work. Like, badly.

• But not badly enough to latch onto your pyramid scheme, so please stop asking. I'm broke, not gullible.

• I like washing other people's cars because they're always way dirtier than mine and I feel a greater sense of accomplishment as a result. I hate washing other people's cars because I always wind up doing it every time I say something like this.

• It's almost 4 a.m. as I get ready to post this, threatening to negate the title. But since it's newly Daylight Saving Time, it still feels like 3, so I'm sticking with it. Even if it's weirdly felt like we gained an hour. I've been off for two days now. I woke up from a nap at 6:30 p.m. and it was still daylight out. That really messed with my head.

• And yes, it's Daylight Saving Time, not "savings." At least according to official sources that no one knows about.

When the Santorum came marching in

So apparently Rick Santorum came to Lafayette this past weekend. I always joke that such illustrious visits aren't news — Dick Cheney used to come here all the time, because OF COURSE HE DID. But judging by the odd lack of local coverage, it really wasn't news. 

I have no idea what Santorum spoke about in the Cajundome, but I'm sure it involved plenty of nice words about Jesus, family values and why the world would be better if we lived according to the Christian principles that shaped this country when Republicans created it in 1980. And I'm sure he mentioned gays at some point, because THE CHILDREN!

All I know for sure was that he was here to help raise funds for some Catholic school I didn't know existed, and that he told a talk radio station that the education system was failing. Not because of fellow scorched-earth presidential wannabe Bobby Jindal, of course, but because of erosion of family values.

It must be awesome to be Rick Santorum, and be able to answer every single question with "family values." Just like how George W. Bush's answer to everything was "tax cuts" and every religion's answer to inconsistencies is that "God works in mysterious ways." Bulletproof. Keeps you from having to think too hard, which can put painful pressure on the old noggin.

But I'm glad Santorum paid a visit, because that means he isn't the president. And for that I'd like to belatedly add my cheer to the positive reception that no doubt transpired on Saturday.

Family values!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Minding someone else's business

(E-mail to: “Student X”)

Hi “Student X,”

I read with great interest your March 6 Vermilion column “Teach business to all.” Afterward, I felt like taking a vacation to Gotham City to lie at the beach and catch some sun.

Seriously, that column was bleak. I barely know how to take it as a veteran of the job market, let alone how I would as an up-until-now motivated college student.

There’s certainly some truth in what you say. I have a master’s degree and it hasn’t made me at all special. In the eight years since I graduated, I’ve had three full-time jobs (two in my field), two yearlong stretches of unemployment and numerous part-time jobs doing things that don’t even require a GED. It’s an understatement to say that I pictured a more stable future back in the day. If anyone should agree with you about the uncertain value of a college degree in a difficult job market, it’s me.

And yet, you lost me.

Part of it is that you don’t disclose who you are. Are you a student? A business owner? Both? Neither? Knowing that would help readers figure out whether to trust your insight.

Are you a student? If so, why? After all, you allege that college is a scam and that degrees are worthless. If you’re so reckless as to urge other students to drop out, why not heed your own advice?

Are you a business owner? If so, your experience adds weight to your words. But if you’re just parroting rigid business principles you heard in class one day, then we deserve to know that too.

In any case, you offer overly simplistic advice to address a complex problem. By insisting that anyone can (and everyone should) start their own business, you’re presenting a fantasy every bit as destructive as the one you aim to debunk. A business enterprise requires capital, key connections, a specific brand of determination, the ability to withstand years of potential poverty and, most importantly, something marketable. That’s fine for someone willing and able to handle it. But not everyone can, should or wants to assume that burden. Most businesses need employees, and many people are perfectly happy with something that brings a decent standard of living. Good jobs may be harder to find these days, but they’re still out there. You’d be better off informing fellow students how to be competitive job-seekers rather than indulging in free-market fantasies.

I wonder too what the point is in lamenting the alleged loss of what you call “critical thinking” in American workers, when you also say you’ll only hire in China because it’s cheaper. Does “critical thinking” mean something different to you than it does to me?

For me, critical thinking is perhaps the most valuable asset I received from my education. It gave me an intellectual foundation that made those seven years worthwhile, even if it hasn’t been a golden ticket to Wealthville. And I recommend that everyone stick with it, including yourself, regardless of the short-term forecast. Whatever setbacks people have in life — be it in business or elsewhere — they’ll be glad they gained the tools to be able to handle life’s challenges.

Your column has convinced me that it’s business students who need more humanities courses, not vice versa. Maybe then, we’ll eventually foster a business climate more understanding of the economic value of an educated, motivated and well-compensated work force. That would be an improvement over the short-term, non-trickling-down sugar highs currently wrecking our economy. Our future needs more education, not less. The longer I’m out of college, the more that lesson resonates.

Ian McGibboney
Former Vermilion columnist

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The shame of white pride

I’m glad I don’t have “white pride.”

From what I can tell, 95 percent of white pride is bitching about the two or three privileges that whites don’t have, all of which exist to compensate for centuries of white oppression. And 99 percent of the other five percent is sneering defiance of those who are so mean as to make racism some kind of hate crime.

I’m not proud of being white, just like I’m not proud of any aspect of myself that I can’t help. Real pride arises from what you accomplish in life, because you do control that. I don’t know if there’s an inverse correlation between inherited pride (race, region, bloodline, etc.), and accomplishment pride (family, career, charity, education, etc.), but I suspect there is. The former is negative in the sense of, “I’m better and/or persecuted,” while the latter is positive: “I made this wonderful thing happen.” I’d bet that most people who complain about other racial groups haven’t done much of note in their own lives. There certainly aren’t many white supremacists who’ve ever done anything of non-racist note.

White pride is about as negative as it gets. It’s also as stupid as it gets.

Affirmative action is the perfect example. White-priders claim that this is government-mandated prejudice, completely missing the irony there. They ask where their affirmative action is. Well, it’s in America, the land where white people always have a built-in advantage in every situation. I may be a liberal in the Deep South, but I still have to open my mouth or bang out a blog for anyone to realize it. No one sees it on my face when I walk into a store. No one throws out my résumé at the sight of my name (it usually takes a paragraph or two). I can walk up to any white racist anywhere and be treated civilly, because I look like they do. I didn’t have to fight for years just so employers and admissions counselors would even consider my people for positions. That’s because “my” people were at the wheel from the beginning. And that’s why there’s no affirmative action for whites. (And why there’s no White History Month, White Congressional Caucus, white advancement organizations or anything else that a majority people never need.)

Sensible white people know that while there’s no shame in being white, there is shame in white pride.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Rand Paul's Broken Clock

Since yesterday's filibuster, I've noticed numerous conservatives and even liberals practically canonizing Rand Paul. They say he made some good points about drones and domestic policy and whatnot. And that he might be the future of a party in dire need of a savior.

Fair enough. But Rand Paul, like his father, is the proverbial broken clock — right for those two minutes a day when it's all but impossible to be wrong. It's during the other 23 hours and 58 minutes where he comes up short. 

Indeed, much of politics has been taken over by Broken Clock Syndrome, and it's clouding our already-cloudy collective judgment. Disappointed as we are by politicians who aren't on call with us 24-7, many have instead decided that the opposite extreme — two flashy minutes — is preferable. This is why President Obama disappoints so many supporters on the drone issue and why Rand Paul attracts those same people.

If Rand was just caulk for Obama's dent in the armor, he could be written off a sugar high, were it not for another symptom of BCS — the "real" factor. It's in vogue these days (for politicians and people alike) to be "real," as in, not a demagogue. Chris Rock called it "being a person" as opposed to being a partisan. The sentiment behind that is good; no one likes a person so beholden to the party line that they can't think rationally. But many people take it to the opposite extreme, so determined not to fall into Democrat or Republican camps that they adopt glaringly inconsistent and/or ignorant views just to hammer home that they're thinking for themselves.

It's this fervor to which Rand Paul caters. He knows that he must attract two types of people to his side — contrarian liberals disappointed with agreeing with Obama only 90 percent of the time, and conservative/libertarian Paul disciples in need of a publicly palatable issue. The best way to ensnare both is to say the right thing on a slam-dunk issue at the right moment — the Broken Clock moment.

Eventually, as it always does, the novelty of the Broken Clock will wear off. Most people will realize, as I often put it, that a Broken Clock politician is like having a boyfriend who beats the crap out of you, but recycles. In the end, the downside isn't worth the benefit.

Anyone who supports Rand Paul, and also supports civil rights, workplace regulation and a functioning government, needs to wake up for more than those two dazzling minutes per day.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Executive decision

I'm officially declaring a break.

I don't know how long it's going to last — maybe a few minutes for all I know. Probably a few days at least.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Comedy: The Other C-Word

Last Sunday, The Onion spit out a now-infamous tweet about 9-year-old actress Quvenzhané Wallis during its live Oscars snark-cast. The tweet called her the C-word, that word not being “cute.” The fallout from the remark was so severe that the editor of The Onion apologized for it, and promised to discipline the writer involved. This is unprecedented in the publication’s 25-year history.

I know how I’m supposed to feel about it. Supposed to.

I have a niece who turns 1 year old in a couple of weeks, a 10-year-old step-niece and a sister who was born just prior to my 10th birthday. Even though my sister is 23 now, I’d still hate to hear anything mean said about her, never mind about the little girls. In that sense, I understand why someone would object to a crack at a child, even a famous one.

But if someone did make that crack, it would tell me one of two things about them: 1) they are small, pathetic jerks, or 2) they have a misfiring sense of humor. In The Onion’s case, it’s the latter. It’s a much-beloved comedy publication that often veers into outrage (and yes, even jokes about children on occasion). The Wallis tweet’s real offense, in my view, was that it was a cheap shot. It wouldn’t be particularly funny directed at an adult celebrity, so aiming it at a child star made it even less likely to elicit laughs. The downside far outweighed the upshot, a fact perhaps overlooked during the flurry of live-tweeting.

My immediate reaction to the tweet was not laughter, but neither was it outrage. And this is where I'll defend The Onion. In the aftermath, people reacted exactly how they’d be absolutely justified to react had some misogynist pedophile said the same thing. Or a politician. Or anyone else whose stock in trade isn’t provocative comedy.

That’s not to say that provocative comedy doesn’t have limits or never misfires. But we already know (or should know) that successful practitioners of the craft are not who they pretend to be. I’m glad the top brass at The Onion recognizes the impact this had; it shows that they have heart. But is that really, honestly, a surprise to anybody? Would The Onion be a comedy empire if its staff was dark-hearted enough to think Quvenzhané Wallis really was worthy of such an epithet? No, because their only chance to be funny is if we know they’re kidding. Just ask Michael Richards how much that distinction matters.

Bad jokes should never spark the same contempt as genuine hate. Genuine hate deserves much more scorn. Not to mention, much more scrutiny.

When are we going to get an apology for that?