Sunday, June 30, 2013

(Very) personally ours

You can find this fine little throwback in a bathroom in my parents' house:

It has an expiration date of June 1998, which means it remained fresh well after K&B itself expired. It predates our family moving into the house, which means either we brought it with us from the old house, or the previous occupant of the house left it there. Either way, it's far too old to throw away now. I guess that's the sentiment.

We used to have a jar of grape jelly like that.

Raining on the Neighborhood

You know those loopy conversations friends have late at night that they rightfully want never spoken of again? Well, someone taped one of those, hacked into Fox News and aired it.

Seriously, don't watch this.

I'm as snarky as anyone, but Mr. Rogers? Come on. Only one person ever effectively made humor out of Fred Rogers, and that was Eddie Murphy (who, it must be noted, is not on Fox & Friends). And he did it not by lampooning the character, but by setting the same show in a bad neighborhood. Rogers actually liked the sketch so much that he approached Murphy personally to express his appreciation. That's the kind of person Rogers was, which is why he doesn't deserve this.

Rogers' message was that every child is special exactly the way they are. Like too many people these days, the Fox Friends apparently think "special" is a synonym for "spoiled." But I see the message the same way I did when I was a child — that one should not be insecure in their own skin, or try to be someone they're not. That they have intrinsic value, flaws and all. For some kids, their visit to the neighborhood was the only time they ever heard this. It's one of the greatest lessons anyone has ever taught.

And yet, Fox & Friends sees fit to mock Rogers and his lessons. They blame him for 25 years of self-absorption among young people — which aside from being an absurd allegation, also lowballs how long the Neighborhood was on the air. If he's to blame for the shortcomings of the most recent generations, he's also culpable for his role in molding the baby boomers sitting in those anchor's chairs.

Yes, some people take the "you are special" message and run with it into the realm of arrogance and entitlement. But for the most part, it's a desperately needed message in a cynical age where good people are increasingly urged to accept banal lots in life.

If nothing else, it's a far more appealing outlook on life than the one adopted by those who dismiss it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A test of my faith in humanity

Rebecca Onion at Slate shares with us today a shocking Louisiana voter-literacy test from 1964.

Let me qualify what I mean by "shocking": I already knew that Southern counties and parishes often used arbitrary and deliberately frustrating "literacy tests" to stymie black voter registration. I saw that movie where a black woman had to correctly guess the number of jellybeans in a jar to register. And I'm aware it continues even today with the high-sheen voter-ID laws and the Supreme Court's recent and unbelievably boneheaded decision to end federal oversight of state voter laws. I didn't think I'd be surprised by anything of this ilk.

But until now, I'd never seen one of the actual tests. I'll never unsee it.

See the whole three-page headache here
Anybody else's head hurt? After reading each question five or six times (which took way longer than the entire allotted time), I began doubting my ability to read (which is apparently the point). I'd have to raise my hand a few times:

• What does it means to "draw a line around" something? Is that different than circling it, as demanded in later questions?

• What relevance does my ability to squiggle a line around some weird diagram have to literacy? Or, for that matter, the right to vote?

• On question 11, can I cross out all the zeros? That would make it technically correct, but I understand I'm being held to a rigorous standard here.

• What the hell is a "curved horizontal line," question 28?

• I'm pretty sure question 30 isn't even an independent clause. 

• By question 16, it should be poignantly clear to even the least-educated person that this entire test is a farce. I wonder if anyone ever got that far, considering the 10-minute time limit and the zero room for error.

I have a master's degree in English, which is a bombastic way of saying I'm literate. And I'm as flummoxed by this test as by the notion that it somehow underlies my ability to select my governmental representatives. Fortunately, I never would have taken it, because it was aimed at those with less than a fifth-grade education (or who couldn't prove such, because apparently one can?).

Funny thing, though — my grandmother had only a fifth-grade education (and no photo ID), and she voted all her life. I guess you could pass this test after all!

Oh, wait, she was white. Ah.

This, friends, is why we had the 1965 Voting Rights Act in the first place. That's what it took to get Louisiana and every state like it to stop this madness. I'm convinced several parishes here would still be doing this today if they could. Some might try again now, albeit in more stealth ways (the above-mentioned ID laws are already in the works).

For this reason, I think that every registered citizen over 18 should have their vote legally and constitutionally protected. Yes, that includes felons and the incarcerated. This is a new stance for me; in the past, I've been OK with the idea that those stripped of their freedom through a fair conviction should also be barred from voting. But I wonder now if it's possible to deny anyone the vote without blowback to others. Is barring felons from the polls worth the ability of officials to purge non-felons with the same names from the rolls? Are we worried that criminals will waste/mock their votes when many lawful voters do exactly the same thing without the value judgments? Is there any new restriction — voter ID, fewer polling locations, registration crackdowns — that won't deter honest people from voting? At best, these rules prevent a microscopic number of bad votes; at worst, they're weapons for America's worst leaders to enforce corruption and prejudice. Just like in the good ol' days.

To this day, some still think voting rights should be tied to taxes and/or property ownership. Many also insist racism is over. That these thoughts (which overlap considerably) exist is all the proof we need that the good old days aren't all that old.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

This seems to be the thing to do today

How I think marriage should be:

• Between any two single, consenting adults.

• The state can't tell churches who they must marry.

• Churches can't tell the state whose marriages it can recognize.

• Churches need not be involved in marriages if couples so choose.

• The government, however, must register marriages to address any legal issues that may arise.

• The government does not interfere with a partnership, except where legal issues and/or immediate endangerment arise.

• All states should honor all legal marriages, because rights shouldn't stop at state borders.

• Divorce should not require unfair burden of proof.

I realize that complex legalities lie in between these lines. But these should be the only lines they have to lie between.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Wendy Davis - Now that's better!

There's an odd comfort in seeing politicians having to break the law to pass terrible legislation, even if they've been nitpicking about parliamentary procedure all night, and even if they get away with it in the short term.

It's not a great comfort, but it is one.

A premature requiem for racism

The absurd logic behind the Supreme Court's new ruling striking down federal oversight of state voter laws reminds me of another brilliant move we collectively made 13 years ago.

When George W. Bush campaigned for president in 2000, his platform revolved largely around the idea that the U.S. Treasury had too much money, and that taxpayers deserved it back. (Yes, kids, terrorism wouldn't be on Bush's radar for another year, despite what his party's retroactive outrage over the USS Cole would have you believe.)

The Republican Party's view in 2000 was that our ship was righted, and thus it was time to restore the GOP to its 1980s glory. It's a pretty Orwellian thought, but it resonated with just enough Americans to sort of work (with an assist from the Supreme Court, of course).

With its latest decision, the Supreme Court is operating under similarly cracked logic — that because racism is allegedly over, there is no more need for some of the regulations that have diminished it.

Racism is NOT over. If it was, such a decision would be irrelevant. But to the degree that racism has fallen out of favor as a public sentiment, credit is due to the laws that curb state lawmakers' more nefarious impulses. Those people might not have had a change of heart, but they still faced accountability when making public decisions. No matter how much they wanted to, they couldn't simply change voting laws to disenfranchise groups of people. As a result, minorities were able to vote, if not completely free of impediment, at least free of the worst racial whims.

Those in favor of this ruling would have you believe that such institutional improvement was due to warmer hearts. It never was. These rules came to exist and still do in the first place because plenty of white people in power still wish, for whatever reason, to make it tougher for certain groups to vote.

Those are the people who cheer this decision. They publicly subscribe to the notion — and, sadly, have officials who should know better agreeing with them — that an unpleasant rule is one that isn't needed. This poisonous mindset is the one that has removed a lot of the cooling rods that governed the economy and civil rights in the past 12 years. Because, we're told, we don't need them anymore. By people who are dying to not have to follow them anymore. People who are living, breathing examples of why we did — and still do — need those laws in the books.

The Supreme Court, just as it did with its pet presidential case 13 years ago, dropped the ball here. They hope we didn't notice the inverted cause-and-effect at play in both cases. We did. And we won't forget it at ballot time.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

In the crossfire with Paula Deen

Since Paula Deen's not-so-savory racial tendencies came to light this week, I've seen a handful of people defend her. Some say we've never heard her actually say any of things alleged in the court document, so it's best not to pass harsh judgment. Others argue a more nefarious point — that she's being punished due to a racial double-standard regarding the N-word.

"They can say it. Why can't I?"

I've heard that argument as long as I've been old enough to argue. White people, drop it right now. It's a losing proposition, and one you don't want to win anyway.

The best that can be said about the N-word is that the group once degraded by the term has reclaimed it. You see this a lot among persecuted groups as a form of empowerment. That said, such empowerment only goes so far, and the word has long since lost any positive connotation it might have had. Very few, if any, people say the word with an academic, intellectual connotation these days; it's mostly the province of R-rated entertainers and undereducated thugs. 

Which brings us back to Paula Deen. She's an older, Southern white woman who up until now has not shown a particular affinity for hip-hop culture. But if the deposition is to be believed, she does have a penchant for casual use of the epithet. Her desire to host a minstrel-themed wedding would be inexcusable if it were ironic, let alone as earnest as it apparently was. This isn't someone who based her use of language on what Kanye West was dropping; at best, she's a product of her generation and culture. Even so, she's unflinchingly comfortable with the idea of second-class citizenship, and she's had plenty of time to see the folly of that, as many her age have.

White people who are jealous of black people for saying the N-word overlook that the only people saying it are older racists and young/faux thugs. I can't imagine why anyone would want to emulate either group. But then, I don't understand the burning desire to use the word in the first place. Or the hatred behind it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Alternative title: "What's in it for me"

Elbert Guillory is a Louisiana state senator who recently switched (back) to the Republican Party. In this video, he explains why. In this blog, I take his words apart.

I wanted to take a moment to explain why I chose to become a Republican. And also to explain why I don't think it was a bold decision at all."

"It's because I'm a politician in Louisiana, and I want to stay in office."

"Somehow it's been forgotten that the Republican Party was founded in 1854 as an abolitionist movement with one simple creed: that slavery is a violation of the rights of man."

Yes, forgotten by the Republicans themselves in the age of the Southern Strategy.

"The first Republican president was Abraham Lincoln."

The first black president is a Democrat.

"It was the Republican president Dwight Eisenhower—"

A moderate nonpartisan with virtually no connection to today's GOP—

"—who championed the Civil Rights Act of 1957. But it was the Democrats in the Senate who filibustered the bill."

Actually, the filibusterer in question was Strom Thurmond, who later defined the racist right of the Republican Party. Until the early 1960s, the Democratic Party was such a monopoly in the South that the designation meant virtually nothing (much like the direction the GOP is heading in Louisiana). But then Thurmond and other conservative-leaning "Dixiecrats" began beelining in droves for the Republican Party. Why? Civil rights. 

Pictured: Obamabots.
So far, Guillory isn't too impressive with his grasp of history. Let's see how he does with politics.

"At the heart of liberalism is the idea that only a great and powerful big government can be the benefactor of social justice for all Americans. But the left is only concerned with one thing: control."

And if today's conservatives abhor anything, it's control. Why, they hate it so much that they don't want to control you, or help you in any way, at all! But still, give them your vote so they can enrich themselves while you're free to enrich yourself unencumbered by "help."

"And they disguise this control as charity. Programs such as welfare, food stamps, these programs aren't designed to lift black Americans out of poverty."

They're meant to offer a short-term helping hand to anyone who is struggling to make ends meet. That's one of the primary functions of our government — to serve the people it represents.

"They were always intended as a mechanism for politicians to control the black community. The idea that blacks, or anyone for that matter, need the government to get ahead in life, is despicable."

What's truly despicable: equating social programs with race, when the statistics don't bear out those connotations. Also despicable: the idea that blacks are a monolith of easily snookered people. And Republicans wonder why they have a racist image?

"And more important, this idea is a failure."

What is a failure, that government provides aid to its most downtrodden citizens? The only failure I see is that such programs constantly get cut to the bone while massive subsidies to the rich and well-connected continue unabated and unencumbered by racially charged sophistry.

"Our communities are just as poor as they've always been. Our schools continue to fail children. Our prisons are filled with young black men..."

Yes, we should really give Republicans a crack at fixing communities and schools and reducing the incarceration rate of young black men. It's high time the GOP brought jobs and infrastructure to the inner cities; increased funding of public schools; and stemmed the tide of an increasingly privatized prison-industrial complex that punches its ticket on arbitrary drug laws and substandard public defense that disproportionately dooms young black men to extended prison sentences. It's practically the party's linchpin!

"Our self-initiative and our self-reliance have been sacrificed in exchange for allegiance to our overseers—"

Overseers, elected representatives, same thing, amirite?

"—who control us by making us dependent on them."

This is something a white Republican politician can't politely say. But Elbert Guillory can! 

"Sometimes I wonder if the word freedom is tossed around so frequently in our society that it has become a cliché. ... It's the idea the economy must remain free of government persuasion."

I'd say that's tossing around the word freedom...

"It's the idea that the press must operate without government intrusion. And it's the idea that the e-mails and phone records of Americans should remain free from government search and seizure."

Because Republicans would never draft and pass legislation that would allow for exactly that. Right?

"It's the idea that parents must be the decision-makers in regards to their children's education, not some government bureaucrat!"

No. Many parents aren't fit to make that decision. It should be up to an elected body of qualified school officials to ensure that every single school is worth attending. The Republican idea that schools should be in competition with each other is one born of greed and elitism. Oh, and it doesn't work.

"But most importantly, it's the idea that the individual must be free to pursue his or her own happiness, free from government dependence and free from government control. Because to be truly free, is to be reliant on no one—"

I've known lots of poor people of all races, and virtually all of them wanted a better life. What they didn't want was the prospect of being completely abandoned by society in the likely event that such a transition would be difficult. It's not as if people's needs vanish in times like that. Ayn Rand never thought that one through, apparently.

"—other than the author of our destiny."

So much for self-reliance, huh?

"So, my brothers and sisters of the American community, please join with me today in abandoning the government plantation—"

Wonder how long that winning line sat on a speechwriter's desk before it became useful?

"—and the party of disappointment."

I guess when the alternative offers zero expectations, disappointment isn't an issue.

"So that we may all echo the words of one Republican leader—"

Let me guess ... the non-Republican Martin Luther King Jr.?

"—who famously said, 'Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we're free at last!'"

Man, I'm good. (Or Guillory's far too predictable. Can it be both?)

Forget his incomplete history lesson; Elbert's real reason for defection is political expediency. His deal with the devil is that, in exchange for validating condescending racial rhetoric, he can be the latest Black Republican Rising Star. That's something the Democrats can't offer, with the deep black bench they attract organically.

Critics might be tempted to accuse Elbert Guillory of being a turncoat or a race traitor, but I don't think those allegations are fair. No, he's simply another politician thinking in the short term, so that his term isn't short. It's all about his own prospects.

In that sense, he's right where he wants to be. And where he belongs.

Such a Louisiana observation

Bent, expired inspection stickers are the beer-in-a-paper-bag of the automotive world.

We know exactly what's up. Why even bother?

Monday, June 17, 2013

When comedy is not at all funny

On the same day Sports Illustrated ran this excellent guest column by Steve Gleason, two Atlanta DJs and a third employee were fired for mocking his ALS affliction.

My immediate reaction was, "good." But after talking with two journalist friends about it, I had to re-examine my feelings a bit. One of them reminded me that shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy routinely feature Stephen Hawking-type characters for laughs, something I've never objected to before. The questions became: 1) Was the suspension out of line with free speech? 2) Is Gleason impervious to spoofery in a way that Hawking isn't? 3) Were we, as outsiders, being oversensitive in a way that a public figure might not be? 4) Had any of us heard the actual bit before passing judgment? Let's take these one by one, as I see them:

1) Was the firing out of line with free speech?

No, it was not. Freedom of speech does not equal freedom from the consequences of that speech. Now whether the punishment was appropriate, that's a better debate. I'll save it for the final question.

2) Is Gleason impervious to spoofery in a way that Hawking isn't?

No, he isn't. But the devil is in the details. When you see Hawking play himself on The Simpsons or see a similar character on Family Guy, consider where the jokes lie. Respectively, it's Hawking being a funny guy and a professor who uses his monotone computer voice to express excitement, sarcasm and boastfulness. (Years ago, my friend had a program that read her e-mails over the phone. I sent her one where the voice pleaded with her to hold him. Same gag, no disabilities involved.) In neither case is the ALS affliction the butt of the joke; the closer it gets to ALS, the less amusing it is.

The Gleason mockery was all about his ALS. He had nothing to do with the bit, and its entire basis for being was that he struggles to communicate. It also badly misrepresented that struggle, given that Gleason isn't prone to randomly spewing knock-knock jokes. At the very least, the mockery should be accurate. 

3) Were we, as outsiders, being oversensitive in a way that a public figure might not be?

Perhaps. One of my friends argued that Gleason, being the witty and sometimes self-deprecating guy that he is, would just laugh it off. But regardless of how he takes it, I (and every other listener) have a right to be offended and upset by it. Similarly, the station had a right to make a personnel decision via its own instinct. 

4) Had any of us heard the actual bit before passing judgment? 

Admittedly, no. Much of our outrage was based on the much-reported quote that fake Steve didn't know if he'd be alive next week. But then I found an audio link to the bit and it was far worse than I'd imagined. Not because the DJs were cruel and unforgiving — but because they were cruel, unforgiving and horribly unfunny

As a student of humor, I believe that nothing is off-limits if it works — a solid gag will transcend any taboo. That said, however, joking about things out of a target's control is almost always too mean to work. Aspects such as race, disability and even appearance require a delicate touch that's rare in the type of shock jock most likely to work those angles. If there's even a hint of genuine hostility toward the targets, the joke is derailed entirely. It's touchy territory at best, which is why only a handful of well-known comedians get a free pass for delving in it. And even then, they have to elicit big laughs every time or face a backlash.

These DJs made that long-shot gamble and came up short. Should they have been fired for missing the mark? No; comedy is always hit-or-miss. But professionals of their stature are supposed to know what risks are worth taking for the payoff, and they failed astonishingly in that regard. That poor judgment goes far beyond a single comedy bit, and it's for that reason that termination is a fair punishment.

They had to be funny. They could have been mean-funny. But unfunny and mean is just plain mean.

UPDATE (6/19/13): I got called out, indirectly, on another blog for an alleged double standard on this one. The blogger cited my defense of The Onion after it tweeted that really terrible remark about Quvenzhan√© Wallis as proof that my stance on comedy changes depending on who's being lampooned. She suggested that I must identify more with Steve Gleason than with the child star — and that race is a factor. Frankly, that's a cheap shot that I find as surprising as it is insulting. And I don't think there is a double standard, because the jokes aren't comparable. If The Onion had mocked Wallis for being black or poor, yes — but they called this cute and sweet little girl an inappropriate (and, importantly, random) epithet to poke fun at their own (fake) rudeness. The DJs, on the other hand, attacked Gleason for having ALS. It was mean (and calculatedly so) all the way through, and there was no indication that the joke was on anyone but Gleason. Intent is everything in comedy.

The one similarity in my view is that in both cases, the comedy landed with a thud. As it should have.

An open letter to Michael Collins

Hi Michael,

I just read your blog titled, "Saints fans are the worst in the NFL." I found it ridden with factual inaccuracies that, as a fellow writer and journalist, leave me worried about the integrity of your work. Allow me to set the record straight so we fans can continue our rivalry on an enlightened note:

• Saints fans are indeed the worst in the NFL, in the sense that we're the worst at disloyalty. Perhaps it was a space or kerning issue, but chopping off the "at disloyalty" part from your header casts it in a dubious light.

• You alluded to "good taste" preventing you from embedding the tweets that compelled you to write your blog in the first place. It would much easier to address the allegations you made if you sufficiently backed them up with the tweets in question. "Good taste" is no excuse, because it implies there was any good taste to be prohibitive.

• The picture of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as Hitler was not, despite your assertion, "classy." Perhaps that was some sort of linguistic trick on your part, but I can't imagine how such a turn of phrase can be taken at anything other than face value. As a Saints fan, I'm no defender of the Classy Commish, but neither will I defend such a sign. There are much more appropriate and creative ways to address Goodell's actions than that. I wrote him a letter, myself.

• I'll grant you that some Saints fans are awful and illiterate, because some people in Louisiana are awful and illiterate. But the Internet attracts awfulness from all corners, doesn't it? Considering how they behave in person, I can't believe you'd ever compare New Orleanians to the Philadelphia fan base that booed Santa Claus and threw battery-packed snowballs at players. New Orleans is a hotbed of hospitality; even if it wasn't, though, I'll bet most Americans would brave booing and projectiles to enjoy the French Quarter and the Superdome. (Come to think of it, Mardi Gras is all about projectiles, isn't it?)

• The Saints haven't been the "Aints" for awhile. The last time the Saints faithful wore paper bags en masse, I was young enough to be carried in one. Because I was an infant. I'm 33 now. This Aints talk reminds me of those who mock President Obama for being just a community organizer, because that was his job from 1985-88. He's accomplished a lot since then, and so have the Saints. That criticism is especially ironic because — how can I put this delicately — John Elway.

• Yes, Atlanta has New Orleans beat in number of pro sports teams. Housewives too. 34-19.

• Atlanta, contrary to your assertion, is the City Too Busy to Hate. We Saints fans are certainly too busy to hate it. Does that make New Orleanians better Atlantans? Work on that!

• "Who Dat" is not defined as "callow, en masse" in any textbook. It's an inquisitive query as to who can best the Saints in athletic competition. We ask because, most of the time, we don't know the answer. That question gets especially repetitive in the Georgia Dome, hence your understandable confusion.

I hope I have offered my corrections in an earnest, literate, dispassionate and non-callow manner. By refraining from any cracks about the dirtiness of your birds and how lucky you are that Gary Anderson missed that kick that year, I hope to be an ambassador for all that is good in Who Dat Nation. Thank you for opening up this dialogue. Can't wait for football season!

Yours in NFC South blogdom,

UPDATE! Collins had this to say:
And this:

Heck of a job, Heck

I'm a big believer that people should not be held responsible for the sins of others. Also, teenagers shouldn't have their reputations permanently damaged for ignorant stuff they say on account of being teenagers.

That said, however...

Parents are a child's No. 1 influence. When a teen regularly tweets astoundingly bigoted messages for the whole world to see, one (or both) of two things is happening:

1) The child is learning such behavior from their parents, and/or

2) The parents aren't giving sufficient oversight to the child's activities.

The second point would seem especially relevant for someone who holds high elected office, as a member of a party trying to shake a reputation of prejudice. Short of that, surely Joe Heck wants to be a decent parent at least. One would hope.

Yes, it's no given that offspring reflect the political or social views of their parents, especially at 16. But in my experience, every racist I've ever met had parents who held similar views. 

Given how little I know about Joe Heck, I can't say for sure what he holds in his heart. But if how his son talks is any indicator, his first impression isn't too good. And this doesn't help:

'I am extremely disappointed in my son’s use of the offensive and inappropriate language on twitter: that type of language has never been permitted in our home,' Heck's father said in a statement to Buzzfeed. 

What kind of apology is that? He might as well have said, "I am extremely disappointed in my son's use of bad words when expressing his hate for blacks and women. I would prefer he use more polite words when tweeting that hate."

The words aren't the problem; the hate behind them is.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hittheroad for Humanity

The Metro Council in Baton Rouge has approved funding for a program that gives homeless people bus tickets out of town.

Its original name? Clean Sweep.

I didn't make that up, because I couldn't make that up. 

Now it's called HOPE (Homeless Outreach Prevention Efforts), which leaves the modification of "prevention" in question. But hey, it's Baton Rouge. We should be happy they didn't call it White Wash. Or worse.

Like so many ideas that arise from a conservative culture, this one has a seemingly charitable premise that turns horrible with a little critical thought. The stated idea is that many of these people traveled from elsewhere, encountered hard luck and just need a ride home. But that raises a few questions:

1) To how many people does that specific scenario apply?

2) Do those people even want to go home, the place that compelled them to see Baton Rouge as a better alternative in the first place?

3) If so, and they fulfill the requirement that they have open arms to return to, how likely is it that those arms can't forward them the money?

4) What is the parish doing about improving the lot of the native homeless?

5) Isn't this a signal that the parish cares less about providing opportunity than sweeping itself clean of undesirables to appease the upper class?

I'd like this plan better if it offered relocation to residents who want more than the area can offer. But of course things like that don't happen. Clean sweeps happen.

The only saving grace is that it's underfunded. Of course it is.

They don't say which generation

I know very few profligate spenders these days. Most are in some degree of debt, but it's over necessities such as medical care, child care and/or a decent roof over their heads. Living within your means is a sensible idea in principle — but the fact is, most people are in debt, sometimes cripplingly so. And humans haven't yet evolved to the point where vomiting and sweating replaces eating and drinking, so they still have to consume something to break even in a sentient sense. Some things you have to do regardless of fortune and financial acumen.

Even with a steady income and the most grounded spending habits, it can be tough to get by these days. Those people don't deserve to be judged as if they're Gordon Gekko on an Al Bundy budget. People my age (the "generation" under question here, I imagine) don't have the 1980s yuppie mentality. Even where we do go nuts over shiny things, we're humble enough to not equate bling with superiority.

I grew up in a rough neighborhood, and I've never been shy about saying so. This always embarrassed Mom and Dad, because they thought I was saying they were bad parents. But to me (and my peers), it was a badge of honor, proof that I wasn't a clueless and soft rich jerk. It was, in fact, a compliment to my parents' resolve — that they lived with what they had. For them that was perhaps less of a virtue, because their generation was about the supremacy of upward mobility. 

My grandparents, being Depression survivors, had a quirk — if I started a soda and didn't finish it, they'd finish it off. After all, the Depression. My parents, on the other hand, would just tell me to throw it away. Now, I definitely don't finish out anyone's drinks out of principle, but I do value the virtue of thrift. And I yearn for the stable economic times that allowed my parents, even with their struggles, to not worry about every last sip of Faygo Moon Mist. There's much to learn (both up and down) from our elders of all generations, and I think we're in a unique spot to make the most of it. Because if we've learned one thing in our short lives, it's how to make the most of things.

Electing some of our own to high office would help too.

The logic involved in adding hashtags to Facebook

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This is only partially serious self-pity

Yesterday on Facebook, a friend of mine referred to me by name. It led one of his friends to reply, "Who?"

It's an innocent enough question, coming as it did from someone I've never met and who lives hundreds of miles away. Still, oh, the pain! Specifically, I think it stung because the friend who tagged me is a working journalist who likes my writing and was vaguely referring to it.

About 10 years ago, when I was a columnist and freelance reporter, my sister told me about an encounter she'd just had. She was taking a course at the local public-access TV station, and one of the instructors there was a writer. She offhandedly mentioned that I was a writer too, and he asked who I was. She said, "Ian McGibboney" and — I'll never forget how she mimicked his apparent reaction — he immediately said, "never heard of him." She aped a flourish that suggested, "I wish you hadn't wasted my time by assuming I'd be familiar with such a plebe. Moving on!" 

I had and still have no idea who this guy is; but if that account is accurate, I hate him.

Some model in Maxim once said that she wanted to be so famous that she couldn't even walk down the street or get groceries. I've never been (that much of) a narcissist, but it is nice to feel valued for the skills that one has. In that respect, writing can be frustratingly lonely — it's a tool of people who want to be heard, but there's so much noise that it's easy to be silenced. 

So no matter how realistic I try to be about it, I still hurt inside whenever someone isn't familiar with what I do (and in turn, what I am about). It means I've failed in my own personal goals. I don't know what to do about it. Develop a healthy perspective, maybe?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Who's your daddy? And his daddy? And his daddy?

What's so great about heritage, anyway? It's something you can't control and exclusively involves what other people did in different times under different circumstances. In most cases, people you've never met and who wouldn't understand you if you did.

Culture is different. Culture is active and alive. You're part of that. You have the ability to improve upon the lifestyle that's home to you. And if you don't fit in with your culture, well, you're free to break from it and reshape yourself.

Heritage is a flimsy excuse to avoid personal growth and introspection. At worst, it's what allows grown men in modern America to hate and kill people for looking different. Who needs it?

"I love your Saints. I do not like your Saints fans."

Monday, June 10, 2013

Southwestern style

I'm surprised how many people on this Lafayette Memories Facebook thread prefer "USL" to "UL." 

The way I see it, UL is a much better name for the second-largest public university in Louisiana. The point of the name change (despite the compromising politics involved) was to shake off the regional connotation. As someone who attended the school during the name change in 1999, I admit it took me a while to catch on. But ultimately I loved the change. Once it became habit, there was no going back.

Since then, the university has made a concerted effort to label the school UL or UL Lafayette, and not ULL. The success of that effort is mixed and confined largely to Lafayette. But at least those who say ULL are copping to the name change and everything it implies. Apparently, the name change hasn't even yet reached some of the natives.

I guess it's no accident that most of the people who prefer USL are older. That's the power of nostalgia. 

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The kids are still all right

As times continue to be tough for millions of Americans, fingers inevitably keep on pointing in all directions. One group critics keep hitting particularly hard is my generation. And I think a lot of it is unfair.

I was born in 1980, which falls either under Generation X or the Millennials (aka Generation Y), depending on who’s counting. Personally, I identify with both groups equally — X for my early cultural influences and experiences, and Y because I still hold a youthful outlook and can identify with recent graduates’ rough economic prospects. For this blog’s purposes, I’m going to lump the generations together; the differences between X and Y are far less substantial than between them and the baby boomers. Plus, it’s fun to be the self-appointed voice of two generations.

Every generation has people who are industrious and others who are lazy, because that’s human nature. Circumstances, more than innate quirks, define generations — give one a World War to win, and their resolve will be remembered forever. Give another quieter times, and they might slip by silently. Greed might sink yet another. But again, these are overarching descriptives that don’t necessarily flatter or indict individuals. No generation is all perfect or all terrible, and people shouldn’t necessarily be judged by their actuarial pigeonhole. Humankind is far more complex than that.

Nevertheless, generational gaps persist. And the prevailing stereotype about mine from on high is that we’re spoiled, entitled brats. That we’re too coddled to succeed.

My generation gets to hear how good everything used to be, inevitably followed by how everything has since gone to hell. Absent during most of this reminiscing is precisely why things went bad. Rarely absent is at least some soft admonishment that it’s our fault. That we’re ungrateful, unprepared for the real world and ask for too much.

How true this is depends on how we define “too much.”

A common refrain is that my generation thinks they deserve everything right out the gate. And no doubt some think exactly that. But in my experience, that isn’t what most people my age expect. All they want is a future consistent with the sweat they’ve put into attaining it. That’s why they labor toward college or vocational degrees, often while slaving away at one or more menial jobs. They’ll also work at internships and apprenticeships, building skills for the career they choose. Even if they wind up not working in their field for whatever reason, their discipline, work ethic and networking skills can prove valuable assets in another line of work.

Increasingly, such paths don’t pan out as hoped. Graduates are swallowing their pride and are taking what’s available, even if (as is often the case) it’s far below their abilities and needs. For their trouble, they’re labeled as whiny and wanting “too much.” Expecting hard work to pay off gets them lumped into the same category as bratty trust-funders. Somewhere along the line, the sensible wisdom of “you have to earn it” became the Orwellian “don’t expect it just because you earned it.”

We’re the generation hit by the perfect storm of job-killing technological leaps and a job-killing economic crash. Many of us were in school when this happened. The old joke about useless philosophy and basket-weaving degrees now applied to journalism, teaching, agriculture, engineering and pretty much everything else. Even vital blue-collar jobs like manufacturing, clerical positions and civil servants became increasingly redundant. Aspirations gave way to survival.

My first full-time job out of college was in retail. Not sales, but pulling stock off warehouse shelves and sweeping floors. That was seven years ago, and even then the employees included (like me) students with graduate degrees, computer programmers and other stalled young professionals. None of us considered that our ideal job — our pay certainly didn’t reflect it — but we performed like it was. Because when you’re inclined to do your best, you do it always.

That’s also true of the tens of thousands of troops who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan — and continue to maintain a presence practically everywhere America has ever fought a war. Most of those wars and occupations have been questionable at best, begun by older generations with varying degrees of practicing what they command. But those troops sure have done their jobs — entirely on a volunteer basis, no less. That by itself should cement that my generation is anything but soft.

The entire point of the United States of America, if what we’ve been taught our entire lives is true, is that it’s the land of opportunity. That with hard work and education, we can make better lives for ourselves. That social contract has fallen through for a lot of us. We’re the first generation to be chided for wanting to believe in the American Dream. We’re making the best of our cards, but forgive us if we find that upsetting at times.

We’re in a new age of discouragement, telling students not to expect too much. Perhaps that’s preferable to the apparent bait-and-switch that blindsided this generation, but it still seems wrong somehow. It’s one thing to acknowledge reality; it’s another entirely to resign oneself to it. We should always strive to improve, no matter how much of a struggle that is. Past generations didn’t settle, and neither should we.

A lot of us have had to downgrade our dreams, perhaps permanently. But don’t dare call us any variant of lazy. Cleaning up the mess we were left for the rest of our lives doesn’t give us time to be lazy.

Indeed, it might define our generation forever.

Inspired by several recent conversations

Guy who swears he isn't racist: “A lot of our problems would go away if black people stopped annoying white people.”

Me: “What?”

“I’ve lived lots of places and I’ve never seen racial tension like we have here in Louisiana. The blacks in other places are friendly. Over here, the blacks seem intent on making life as hard for white people as possible.”

“Wow, that’s incredibly racist.”

“RACIST?!! How DARE you call me a RACIST! What is racist about that? It’s the TRUTH!!”

“OK, calm down. How does this annoyance manifest itself?”

“Well, I was at McDonald’s the other day and the black clerk was surly to me.”

“A lot of fast food clerks are surly.”

“Yeah, but every time I go to this particular place, the blacks always roll their eyes at me. I see them being nice to the other black people, but I ask for one Big Mac with two Big ‘N’ Tasty patties cooked medium rare and step on it, and suddenly I’m the bad guy.”

“And you think that has nothing to do with your overly finicky order and bad attitude?”

“They wouldn’t have a problem with it if it were another one of the blacks making that order.”

“Maybe the problem is that you keep saying ‘the blacks’ like they’re aliens.”

“Don’t get me started on the illegals! Look, I know it doesn’t fit in with your idealized P.C. view of how things should be, but let’s face it: blacks in Louisiana are a hostile breed. I see it everywhere I go.”

“Could that impression be in any way related to the dripping contempt you’re broadcasting?”

“Hey, I don’t burn crosses on lawns or say the N-word!”

“You think you have to be that blunt to be racist?”

“Hey, pal, you don’t know me.”

“You’re right. I just have what you’re saying to go by. I’m sure that’s been true for lots of people you’ve encountered.”

“Blacks need to take responsibility for their resentment.”

“Have you taken responsibility for your role in said resentment?”

“It’s not my problem. It’s theirs.”

“You don’t think it’s even slightly bigoted to suggest that you’re all right and they’re all wrong?”

“No. In fact, YOU’RE the racist.”


“That’s right. You’re the typical Democrat Party progressive, preaching tolerance but being intolerant when it comes to views that don’t match yours.”

“I’m intolerant of intolerance.”

“You’re a hypocrite. The Democrat Party is the true racist party.”

“That’s ‘Democratic’ Party. How is it racist?”

“The soft bigotry of low expectations. You don’t think blacks can stand on their own two feet. That’s why you have to baby them with social programs and vote for their candidate out of white liberal guilt.”

“First off, I support social programs for anyone who needs them, regardless of race. Second, Obama was a solid candidate and is a decent, though not perfect, president. Third, he earned it. If Democrats wanted a black president for its own sake, we’d have elected Jesse Jackson in 1984. It’s Republicans who put up unqualified candidates like Herman Cain and Sarah Palin and hope blacks and women vote for them just because of what they are. Talk about soft bigotry.”

“Republicans believe blacks can stand on their own two feet. But the blacks don’t see that, so they vote for Democrats because they like their welfare and low-tax gravy train.”

“What does the GOP have to attract blacks? Or, for that matter, women and youth?”

“We want them to have the opportunity to succeed on their own merits, without government interference.”

“So, nothing.”

“Right. It’s an incentive to succeed.”

“So why do rich people vote Republican?”

“To look after their best economic interests.”

“By your logic, though, shouldn’t they vote Democrat, so that they stay on their toes?”

“That’s nonsense.”

“Well, that’s what you’re asking of minorities.”

“It’s what’s best for them, even if they don’t know it.”

“So you know better than they do what they need?”

“Yes I do.”

“And why is that?”

“Because they keep voting for Democrats under the delusion that they need to be cared for. They continue to be fooled by liberal rhetoric.”

“So you’re saying blacks are stupid?”

“I’m saying they’re easily hoodwinked.”

“You think blacks are being hoodwinked by the Democrats.”

“That’s right.”

“And you think that they should blindly vote Republican out of tough love.”


“I detect massive condescension in that line of thought.”

“All I’m saying is, if blacks were nicer, smarter and willing to work with us, things would be better.”

“But minorities have almost never been in power in Louisiana. Crumbling roads and gutted schools aren’t a product of racial tension — if anything, much of that is thanks to rich, white conservatives being greedy.”

“See? That’s you bringing race into it yet again! Typical liberal hypocrite.”

“My point is that your rage is misguided. Maybe look at the individuals actually causing the problems, who are far removed from the target of your anger. That isn’t an indictment of all rich, white conservatives — but it is of those who are culpable.”

“Bobby Jindal is Indian. I voted for him. So there.”

“That’s very non-racist of you.”

“Exactly! I looked at his content of character, like Martin Luther King said. And Jindal has good character. He isn’t bad like the others.”

“I see.”

“Are you about to suggest that I’m a racist again?”

“No, you’re pretty much doing it for me.”

“Stop projecting your racism on me, you progressive Democrat racist bigot.”


“Always playing the race card! Anything to please the blacks.”

“I’m done.”

Friday, June 07, 2013

Theological conundrum of the day

Serial killer Richard Ramirez, known as the "Night Stalker" for his murderous rampage in southern California in 1984 and 1985, died this morning of liver failure.

Ramirez was an avowed Satanist, which raises the question: if there's an afterlife, is he in hell now? If he is, isn't that heaven to him? So shouldn't he go to heaven, his hell, instead? If that happened, though, wouldn't that make heaven hell for those in heaven, for whom heaven was previously heaven and is now hell?

At times like this, it's almost comforting to imagine that we're just for the worms.

Thursday, June 06, 2013


I may have said this before, but I'll say it again.

"Tolerance" is the idea that we accept different cultures and viewpoints. We may or may not identify or agree with such expression, but it's allowed and welcomed in society. The idea behind this, aside from general humanity, is that learning more about others makes us better people.

What it doesn't mean is that we have to be tolerant of intolerance. 

Racism, misogyny, violence and any other form of bigotry have no place in this cultural conversation. Any ideology that is steeped in the negative rather than the positive — be it white supremacy, terrorism or anything similar — does not deserve a place at the table.

If you ever find yourself criticizing "tolerant" people for their hypocrisy, it might be time to consider what it is they don't like about your views. It may be the hate they don't tolerate.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Harnessing the basic instinct

In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, a teenage girl wants to try sex but her mom disapproves. The mom's stance is that she's too young and maybe they should start going back to church. Steve Carell's title character offers to take the daughter to a sex education class, where he secretly hopes to learn something himself. After an explicit lecture on sexual maneuvers, the teen decides she's too grossed out to get busy for now.

Taking the mystery out of sex is a far better deterrent against irresponsible sex than abstinence. I learned about the mechanics of sex at an early age through books and pamphlets, and it struck me as something not to take lightly. The specter of venereal disease, in particular, ensured that I'd never engage before I was responsible enough.

Michael Douglas' recent statement that HPV caused his throat cancer is another stark reminder of that. Though there's been debate over the accuracy of his admission, it is indeed a plausible scenario. So even if it turns out Douglas is simply a victim of other throat-thrashing hard living, the awareness brought by his remarks should remain in the public consciousness.

The HPV vaccine has been the catalyst of debate for a while, with conservatives objecting to its use among schoolchildren. It's not hard to see the link between this stance and the "it'll just give them ideas" opposition to sex education. As statistics show, though, abstinence education is not particularly effective — whereas sex education fosters safe sex and, interestingly enough, abstinence. Similarly, the HPV vaccine could prevent plenty of infections in the future — assuming fear-mongering forces don't stop its application.

When it comes to sex, education is always the way to go. Even if that education isn't always the sexiest of images.

Monday, June 03, 2013

The high road, less traveled

As you can tell from the two posts underneath this one, I engaged last night in what could be broadly considered trolling. Over time, I've learned to temper the urge to counter every stupid thing I read on the Internet. Similarly, I've banned a few people from engaging on this blog because their trolling capabilities outweighed their coherence. I struggled with that decision, because I don't like suppressing speech. At the same time, overwhelmingly negative energy in the form of trolling made me wonder if I shouldn't just pack up my fighting gear for good.

But at times I'm still drawn to arguing — such as if the person is otherwise amenable to reason, or if they're a high-profile jackass who deserves to be called out. Lately I've been combing political Twitter hashtags and doing just that. And yes, I'm conflicted about it, because I never like to stir up hostility — but I also don't necessarily find it civil to let falsehoods and bad comments fester untouched. To the extent that 21st-century digital technology can do so, such words spark a primal urge.

Jessica Valenti, with an astounding sense of timing for my purposes, says that's OK in her piece out today. As a feminist, she argues that if being classy means allowing misogynist rhetoric to go unpunished, then class is overrated.

At first she thought she was doing her readers a favor by ignoring mountains of illiterate and sexist hate mail. But at some point, the hate became too massive and pertinent to ignore. Some might have objected to this approach under the "don't feed the trolls" trope, but Valenti simply couldn't anymore. She decided she needed a detour from the much-touted "high road."

I've said as much before in sports terms — that while taunting a defender after a touchdown is obnoxious, its classy opposite is not stoic silence. My barometer of class is a complex instinct; I know when to hold and when to fold, so to speak. That instinct is sometimes at odds with how others define class, granted. Some people will tell you I'm an intense fireball of indignity; others will tell you I'm the quietest introvert they know, and still others will say I'm an ideal, level-headed employee. One thing I'm not is someone who tolerates abuse in the name of being classy. Sometimes "showing class" is nothing of the sort.

I like to think that if you're assured in who you are, then you're generally doing the right thing. The best you can do in an argument is trust your instinct and — this is a big one — be the better person. I suppose that's what I want most when primally drawn to the meaner strain of commentary: to steer the discussion back on the high road.

And sometimes that means not taking the high road.

This one is just ... is "odious" the right word?

Did you hear the joke about why Ben Affleck can't eat M&M's? They keep falling through the holes in his hands.

That joke doesn't work, does it? No. Because Ben Affleck isn't known for having holes in his hands. In fact, his hands are very famously hole-free. So making fun of him over the way he eats M&Ms is pretty stupid. And it goes without saying that the person telling this joke shouldn't have holes in their own hands.

That's about the best way to explain this Twitter exchange:

Of all the stereotypes you hear about liberals, it's rare to hear that they're book-stupid. Brainwashed Obamabots? Absolutely. But as far as education goes, the typical stereotype is that liberals are overly intelligent without being smart — textbook academics with no idea of how the real world works. That they're too cooped up in their ivory towers learning pretentious words and killing God with science to bother with common sense and real folks.

If anyone is associated (fairly or otherwise) with illiteracy and limited vocabulary, it's the tea party. From the easily debunked talking points to the misspelled protest signs to the dripping contempt for public education, it's not difficult to mock a tea party Republican for not knowing what "odious" means. Even if most of them do know the definition, it's still a passable premise in a broader sense. But joking that even a college-indoctrinated, intellectual liberal doesn't know the meaning of "odious" is like, well, joking about Ben Affleck eating M&Ms. With holes in your hands.

Jokes are far funnier when they reflect reality. Pressed for any clarification, the Bunny simply replied, "Nope." She holds this half-truth to be self-evident.

Is there a word for that? Oh, yeah. Odious.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Tweet of the year

So I have relatively short and telegenic hair? Nice non-insult!

And yes, I am thin-skinned. Literally. I'm finishing up a round of prescription cortisone cream and that's one of the side effects. So he's correct on both counts.

Not bad for a guy who was criticizing me for suggesting that people like him are sometimes hateful. And is bald.